The Oklahoma City Thunder have Russell Westbrook locked down long-term, and they’re ready to pay even more money to keep the core together.
According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, Oklahoma City ownership is prepared to pay a luxury tax bill higher than $140 million to go all-in with what they have.
We already had a pretty clear idea that the Thunder were all-in given their big acquisitions this summer, and they’d probably like to keep Paul George long-term if they can. The luxury tax bill, for now, seems to be a secondary concern.
Though there was no single Kevin-Durant-to-Golden-State-sized splash in the NBA this offseason, teams made move after move to jockey with the Warriors in an attempt to interrupt their reign of terror.
The Rockets took a leap of faith and traded the farm for an aging Chris Paul. The Celtics used their cap space to reunite Gordon Hayward with Brad Stevens, then got rid of an asset in Avery Bradley to balance their checkbook. The Timberwolves suddenly became a legitimate Western Conference contender by ripping off the Bulls.
There were so many moves, in fact — so many trades and so many signings — that, now that the league’s transaction churn and burn has finally calmed, it’s hard to believe all that actually happened. To sum it up:
We’re going to see a lot of familiar faces in new jerseys come this fall (the preseason begins Sept. 30). But which of those players will make the biggest impact, and which teams will look the most improved? Which 2017-18 NBA squad will make the biggest leap?
It’s too early to know, of course, but below is my take on the 10 NBA teams that improved the most this offseason.
10. Denver Nuggets
Russell Westbrook is eligible to opt out of his current contract after the 2017-2018 season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder are reportedly confident they can sign him to an extension before he becomes a free agent.
Earlier in the week, Paul George implied that he and Westbrook will make a joint decision at the end of the upcoming season about whether or not they want to remain in OKC. According to Royce Young of ESPN.com, the Thunder are optimistic Westbrook isn’t planning to test free agency like George.
Westbrook showed his commitment to the Thunder after Kevin Durant left last year by signing a three-year, $85.7 million extension. He seemed to embrace being “the man” after Durant skipped town, so there’s no reason to think Westbrook would be influenced by what George does down the road.
The Thunder have openly said they have offered Westbrook a max contract and are simply waiting for his response. The reigning NBA MVP is eligible to add about five years and $207 million to the $28.5 million he is scheduled to make next season, which would be similar to the deal James Harden signed with the Houston Rockets this offseason.
With the way Westbrook has acted toward Durant since K.D. left, it would be a bad look if Russ did the same. The Thunder have already shown they are trying to build a contender around Westbrook by trading for George, and George is already looking forward to competing with his new teammate in one unique category. It wouldn’t be a shock if both decided to stick around.
The Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance on Paul George as a potential one-year rental, but it sounds like it is hardly a guarantee that they will lose the star swingman in free agency next summer.
A lot has been made of George wanting to play for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers, and that is why some teams were unwilling to get into a bidding war to acquire him this offseason. If you ask George, too much has been made of it.
In an interview with Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, George said talk of his desire to play for the Lakers has been “overstated.” He also strongly implied that he will re-sign with the Thunder if they make it to the Western Conference Finals.
“People saying I want to come here, who doesn’t want to play for their hometown? That’s a dream come true, if you’re a kid growing up on the outskirts of L.A., to be the man in your city,” George said. “But it’s definitely been overstated. For me, it’s all about winning. I want to be in a good system, a good team. I want a shot to win it. I’m not a stats guy. I’m playing this game to win and build a legacy of winning.
“I’ve yet to do that. I’m searching for it. If we get a killer season in Oklahoma, we make the conference finals or upset the Warriors or do something crazy, I’d be dumb to want to leave that.”
The Lakers are a young team with a lot to prove. While George still has plenty of good basketball left, he’s 27 and has already suffered one devastating knee injury. His NBA career could very well be more than halfway over, and he’s not going to sign with L.A. based on nostalgia alone.
“It would have to be a situation where the ball gets rolling and guys are hopping on. This guy commits, that guy commits. ‘Oh s—, now there’s a team forming.’ It has to be like that,” George said. “I’m in OKC, so hopefully me and (Russell Westbrook) do a good enough job and make it to the conference finals and love the situation, why not recruit someone to come build it with us? I’m open in this whole process.”
George has a unique opportunity in Oklahoma City, and reports like this make it sound like the Thunder could have robbed the Indiana Pacers. With Kevin Durant having crushed the hopes of fans in OKC, George has a chance to be their savior. The support he would receive during a deep playoff run just might be enough to convince him to stay.
Between the NBA Draft and free agency, the first month of the offseason is one of the most exciting times of year for basketball fans. Trades take place pre and post-draft, teams add new players via the draft, and then the wild free agency period begins on July 1.
Many teams have re-shaped their rosters. Some have lost talent, while others have made gains. Some moves have impacted organizations much more than others.
Here’s a look at 10 winners and losers from the NBA offseason so far.
1) Oklahoma City Thunder
Sam Presti strikes again. The Thunder have a rare situation where trading for Paul George, even purely as a rental, makes sense.
In 2017-18, Russell Westbrook will have some actual assistance from a second bonafide star in George, who can at least help Oklahoma City recover some of what they lost when Kevin Durant skipped town. Westbrook being the entire offense was fun, and led to some remarkable stat lines, but it’s not a long-term solution for winning.
What about the future? George will probably leave after the season, but the deal brings two other benefits aside from the obvious. First, Oklahoma City will have some cap flexibility even if he walks. Second, by making a deal like this, Presti and the Thunder have once again demonstrated to Westbrook that they are committed to building a talented group around him — which could help convince him to re-sign for the long haul when his number comes up next summer.
And after trading for George, Presti wasn’t done. He signed Patrick Patterson to a 3-year, $16.4 million deal to help make up for the loss of Taj Gibson. The Thunder are also bringing back defensive stalwart Andre Roberson on a completely reasonable three-year, $30 million contract.
2) Minnesota Timberwolves
If you didn’t enjoy watching Kevin Durant win the NBA title with the Golden State Warriors, consider how the Oklahoma City Thunder must feel.
ESPN’s Royce Young told Outside the Lines that, much as they’ve tried to distance themselves from the story, those associated with the Thunder organization are still not over Durant’s abrupt departure.
“One member of the front office told me that they’re not actors in this movie, they’re just bystanders, just standing on the sidewalk watching the production happen,” Young told the show on Wednesday. “And that’s really the approach they’ve tried to kind of take with this. But the reality is, they’re consumed by it. They are watching right along with everybody else, and they know what they lost. They look at the performance Kevin Durant put up in the Finals, and what he did in Oklahoma City, what he meant to the franchise, the city, the state, the region, and they know what they lost. And they haven’t completely moved on, and I don’t think they ever will.”
Durant obviously has no regrets about his decision. It’s no doubt hard for the Thunder, who are left to watch on like a jilted lover. One can understand the lingering bitterness there.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t clean things up in a hurry, the Houston Rockets are going to make very quick work of them in the Western Conference quarterfinals. According to starting center Steven Adams, the improvement needs to start with him.
Following his team’s 118-87 loss, Adams put the blame on Oklahoma City’s front court and singled himself out.
“The turning point was not an exact moment, but offensive rebounds and second-chance points was what really killed us,” Adams said, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “The bigs, especially me, played trash on the reads, and the pick-and-rolls were absolute garbage. We have to get back to the drawing board.”
The Thunder out-rebounded opponents during the season, but Houston beat them 56-41 in that category on Sunday. The Rockets also outscored OKC 62-38 in the paint and an eye-popping 31-4 in second-chance points.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said the entire team needs to do a better job on the glass — not just the bigs.
“They just did a great job getting offensive rebounds,” he said. “We have to do a better job as guards to rebound collectively as a team. It’s not just on the bigs, it’s on everybody to rebound.”
The Rockets are a tremendous outside shooting team, so the Thunder tried to close out and make them beat them inside. James Harden had no problem with that, finishing with a game-high 37 points despite hitting just 3 of 11 three-pointers. Russell Westbrook, who many believe will win the NBA MVP Award over Harden, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, which was a lone bright spot for OKC in that department.
Based on Harden’s criteria for being named MVP, he certainly got the best of Westbrook and the Thunder in Game 1. Adams is going to personally try to change that going forward.
Although he’ll be sitting out recovering from a knee injury, Kevin Durant is likely going to be booed once again by fans in Oklahoma City on Monday night. If you ask the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder should be doing a much better job of trying to prevent that.
According to a report from Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, the Warriors were “furious and bewildered” that the Thunder did nothing to ease the tension between Durant and his former team in the days leading up to Durant’s first return to Chesapeake Arena as a visiting player. The Warriors reportedly felt that Oklahoma City Thunder management should have addressed the media and thanked Durant for nine great years with the team.
Here’s more from Haynes:
The Warriors’ belief, according to sources, is that the Thunder’s silence contributed to the raw emotions, outrage and indignation that created an unsettling, hostile atmosphere for a player many consider to be the franchise’s all-time best.
The Warriors felt, according to sources, that for a player who meant so much to a city — a small-market city at that — a courtesy greeting was in order from top brass, who should have issued their fans a reminder and proper perspective on Durant’s role in elevating the Thunder into a perennial championship-contending team.
Durant was not acknowledged or thanked during the Feb. 11 game, but Thunder GM Sam Presti praised Durant in the week leading up to it for “helping to build a culture and identity for a franchise in its infancy stages.”
Haynes notes that Durant was “emotionally drained” after the game and felt the Thunder could have done a better job of handling the situation. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to give Oklahoma City fans the satisfaction when he made these comments after the game.
Durant will likely spend most — if not all — of Monday’s game in the locker room receiving treatment, but we can expect to see more posters and T-shirts like the ones we saw back in February. Even if the Thunder do give Durant some sort of thank you, it’s far too soon to expect fans to give him a warm reception.
With all the memes and the merriment of All-Star Weekend 2017 now officially in the books (not to mention the universe-shattering Boogie Cousins blockbuster), Thursday’s NBA trade deadline looms overs us with an urgency befitting of the Jaws theme. These next few days have the potential to turn pretenders into contenders or contenders into Crying Jordans. So as short-term and long-term destinies hang delicately in the balance, it’s time to have a gander at the five teams most in need of a move before the clock strikes 3 PM Eastern Standard Time on February 23.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Oklahoma City Westbrooks are interested in a serious playoff push, they’re going to need more than No. 0 letting out a primal roar as he charges solo into battle every night like Bluto after giving the “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech in Animal House.
While Victor Oladipo has proven to be a worthy vice president and Steven Adams has the mad game to go along with the mad ‘stache, the OKC bench has been quite the wasteland this season, especially since Enes Kanter assaulted a piece of furniture. Cameron Payne is still working his way back from foot surgery, Alex Abrines looks like Generic Euro Player No. 47 on NBA 2K, and I’m fairly certain that Kyle Singler’s basketball skills are fake news.
The numbers support the brutality as well.
Since the Kanter injury, the Thunder bench ranks 22nd in the league in points per game and dead last in field goal percentage. They’re also getting outscored by 9.1 points per 100 possessions over that span, which basically means it’s rest in peace every OKC lead whenever Westbrook sits. Would they benefit from acquiring a dynamite perimeter scorer (maybe this very available Laker?) to hold down the fort for the second unit until Kanter gets back? Perhaps. But we won’t know unless general manager Sam Presti picks up that dang phone.
2. Washington Wizards
Kevin Durant briefly allowed himself a look back, and he thinks there were a few chapters left to be written about Oklahoma City’s former Big Three.
Durant told Anthony Slater of the Mercury News that he believes James Harden could have thrived in a sixth man role with the Thunder had he not been traded to Houston.
“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”
That’s all true, but eventually, something probably would have had to break. Harden is a guy who likes the ball and is currently an MVP frontrunner in Houston. Sharing the ball with Durant and Russell Westbrook would have grown old, and he’d have wanted a bigger role.
This may be wishful thinking and reminiscing on Durant’s part. The two are known to be close still and Durant is an avowed fan. The Warriors star would have liked it to work, but finances and roles dictated otherwise.