The first round of the NBA playoffs has been set, and one of the more intriguing matchups will be the one between the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder. There is not a lot of love lost between the two Western Conference teams, and Damian Lillard is making no effort to hide that.
When it became official that the No. 3 Blazers will take on the No. 6 Thunder, Lillard admitted to reporters that there is “something there” in terms of tension between the two teams.
That isn’t exactly a secret. Earlier this season, Lillard and Russell Westbrook had some heated moments and traded words during a game. Westbrook got physical with Jusuf Nurkic during the same game, and Nurkic trolled him on Twitter after Westbrook called the Blazers big man a “clown.”
The rivalry didn’t end there, as Westbrook also committed a foul on Nurkic last month that many felt was dirty and intentional.
If you like storylines in the playoffs, the Oklahoma City-Portland series will be one to watch.
The NBA trade deadline has passed, which means we more or less know what teams will look like in the NBA playoffs. There will be a few new faces who join playoff teams, but the bulk of these rosters are in place. With most of the season behind us, we also know who will likely be making the playoffs and seeded highly for a Finals run.
Keeping in mind the trade deadline activity, here are the top ten contenders to take home the title in June.
10. Utah Jazz
The Jazz were ultimately quiet at the trade deadline despite being linked to Memphis guard Mike Conley. In the end, they will go with what they had, which isn’t bad. Donovan Mitchell is a star, and Rudy Gobert is playing with a point to prove after being a quite egregious All-Star snub. They’re not really deep enough to challenge the best of the West, and they don’t really have enough in the way of top-level talent, but they’re good enough to cause a few headaches.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are giving the ultimate honor to a player who was mostly a reserve for the team.
OKC announced on Saturday that Nick Collison will have his jersey retired, becoming the first member of the Oklahoma City Thunder to receive that honor.
You’re probably wondering why a player who averaged 5.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20.4 minutes per game during his entire career is getting his jersey retired. Thunder GM Sam Presti shared their reasoning in a statement, lauding Collison for his work ethic and instilling a professional culture within the organization upon its move to a new city.
The ceremony will take place on March 20. Here’s a video the Thunder shared about the move:
Collison began his career with the Seattle SuperSonics in 2004. He remained with the organization through last season, helping the transition from Seattle to Oklahoma City.
Several players were hit with technical fouls for their roles in a third quarter scuffle between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
Kris Dunn shoved Russell Westbrook with under five minutes remaining the quarter. Westbrook shoved him back. Then Jerami Grant came in to interfere, and Chicago’s Robin Lopez got in the middle and was the most heated of all.
Dunn, Westbrook, Grant and Lopez all received technical fouls for their actions.
A few minutes later, Lopez was ejected from the game after being called for a tech for dropping the ball onto Grant.
Lopez had it coming.
The Oklahoma City Thunder appear to be committed to Billy Donovan at least into next season, but the head coach could earn even more job security if his team impresses in the postseason this year.
Donovan had the fifth-year option on his contract picked up by the Thunder on Monday, and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski noted that Thunder Executive VP and GM Sam Presti considered the decision “largely a formality.” The real goal for Donovan will be to get more years tacked onto his contract, which is something that could happen if OKC has a strong showing in the playoffs.
The Thunder are off to an 18-10 start this year despite Russell Westbrook missing the start of the season with an injury, and they have reached the playoffs in each of Donovan’s first three seasons with the team. However, they were bounced in the first round the last two years, so they may need to advance beyond that for Donovan to convince the team he is worthy of an extension.
Donovan was criticized by Kevin Durant on social media last year, though the Golden State Warriors star later apologized. If Durant does have a negative opinion of his former coach, it does not sound like it is shared among the team’s executives.
The Philadelphia 76ers were hoping Nerlens Noel would become a max contract player when they drafted him with the No. 6 overall pick back in 2013, but the 24-year-old big man signed a veteran minimum contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason. If Noel wanted more money, the offers were apparently out there.
According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders, Noel had bigger offers than the two-year, $3.75 million deal he agreed to with the Thunder. The contract includes a player option for the second year, and Kyler notes that Noel believes in the situation in OKC and is betting on himself.
In other words, Noel is taking a similar approach to the one DeMarcus Cousins took when he agreed to sign a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors. Both players are hoping they will have successful seasons on quality teams and be able to sign bigger free agent deals next summer.
Noel averaged just 15.7 minutes with the Dallas Mavericks last season, and his career has not taken off due to injuries and some off-court issues. If he can prove himself with the Thunder, there will be plenty of teams willing to give him big money because of his age and potential.
Fans and analysts knew this NBA offseason could be crazy, with a number of big-name players potentially changing uniforms — and the league hasn’t disappointed. So far, we’ve seen the unsurprising (LeBron signed with the Lakers), moderately surprising (Paul George is sticking with OKC), and downright stunning (DeMarcus Cousins is headed to the Bay Area).
But the above moves are just scratching the surface of all that’s happened. Other teams improved through the draft and through signing players who aren’t household names but should still make a big impact.
Which squads have made the biggest leap over their 2017-18 iterations? Here’s our take on the 10 teams that have improved the most so far this summer.
10. San Antonio Spurs
The biggest move of San Antonio’s offseason, of course, has not yet happened: the trade of Kawhi Leonard, which seems all but certain to occur. And even though they’ve lost Tony Parker and Kyle Anderson, the Spurs have still had a good summer to date. Marco Belinelli won a title with the Spurs in 2014, and they’re happy to have him back. He was a key piece on the Philadelphia team that at times looked unbeatable late in the season, and he’s one of the league’s best shooters. Snagging him at $6 million a year is a real value. R.C. Buford lucked out landing Lonnie Walker, a cold-blooded creator from Miami, at No. 18 in the draft – one of my favorite picks. He’s shown shades of Dwyane Wade.
While they surprised many people when they managed to convince Paul George to sign a long-term extension this summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder are still going to have a significantly different look next season.
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Royce Young reported on Friday that the Thunder will part ways with Carmelo Anthony this summer, either by way of a trade or using the stretch provision. Anthony chose to opt into the $27.9 million he is owed for the 2018-2019 season, and the Thunder could save $90 million in luxury tax by dropping their tax bill from $150 million to $60 million if they use the stretch provision on Carmelo.
The Thunder could also look into a combination of a buyout and using the stretch, or they could find a trade partner for Anthony. Any trade Oklahoma City agreed to would likely be with a team that is looking for a sizable expiring contract, and Anthony would probably be waived and become a free agent. For that reason, Wojnarowski and Young note that he is unlikely to block a deal by invoking his no-trade clause.
Anthony has expressed concerns about his role with the Thunder, and his decision to opt into the final year of his deal seemed like it was strictly a financial one.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to get Paul George and Russell Westbrook some pieces.
According to Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports, the Thunder have agreed to terms with free agent center Nerlens Noel on a two-year deal.
Once the sixth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Noel’s career has not gone according to plan. Injuries and off-court issues have derailed him, and he only averaged 15.7 minutes per game with the Dallas Mavericks last season. The Thunder will be hoping he can recover some of that untapped potential and help the Thunder make an impression in an increasingly crowded Western Conference.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are paying dearly to put the best product on the court that they can.
The Thunder have 11 players under contract for 2018-19 now that they’ve agreed to deals with Paul George and Jerami Grant. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, their payroll is projected to be $156 million. Their luxury tax bill would be at least $130 million due to their status as a multiple repeat violator.
What really kills the Thunder is the Carmelo Anthony contract. Melo was a bust for them last season and opted into his contract for just under $28 million this year. The team could significantly reduce their tax bill if they waive him via the stretch provision.
You have to wonder whether the Thunder will consider this option.
Between George and Russell Westbrook, they will be paying around $70 million. Add in Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant, and you’re at around $110 million, which pushes them well over the salary cap. They’ll have to seriously weigh keeping Melo.