Nerlens Noel

Thunder Notes: Roster, Paul, Diallo, Abrines

A challenging early-season schedule may determine whether the Thunder decide to push for the playoffs or sell off their assets and start rebuilding, observes Brett Dawson of The Athletic. Oklahoma City will begin the season with 10 of its first 16 games against teams ranked in the top 10 by FiveThirtyEight.com. That will take the club into late November, close to the unofficial start of trade season when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be dealt on December 15.

OKC’s obvious trade candidates are Danilo Gallinari, who has an expiring deal worth $22.6MM, and Chris Paul, whom the organization tried to move shortly after acquiring him from the Rockets. Dawson also points toward Dennis Schroder, who has two seasons left at $15.5MM each, along with Nerlens Noel and Mike Muscala as other rotation players who could be on the move.

“Obviously the most important season is (this) season, and we want to maximize that season the best that we can,” GM Sam Presti said. “But not at the expense of continually and aggressively making sure that we’re repositioning and replenishing the team so that we have a platform and a runway for the next great Thunder team to take shape. I don’t think those things are mutually exclusive.”

There’s more from Oklahoma City:

  • Regardless of how long Paul stays, the Thunder can count on his competitive nature to drive the team, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Not only does Paul want to extend his streak of 50-win seasons, but the better he plays, the more he will drive up his trade value. “Obviously Russell (Westbrook) was an unbelievable competitor — I think Chris is an incredible competitor, too,” coach Billy Donovan said. “The biggest thing I’ve always tried to do with all these guys is to try to always be open and be honest and try to communicate. And I think that’s the way Chris is.”
  • Hamidou Diallo showed in Summer League that he is fully recovered after having arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in mid-April, notes Nick Gallo of NBA.com. Diallo was an important part of the rotation early in the season, but got into just six games after the All-Star break. He looked good in July, averaging 14.8 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals in four Summer League games. “In this league you’ve got to be ready for anything at any given time, and sometimes you face adversity, but you still have to learn how to fight through and learn how to push through,” Diallo said.
  • In an interview with Basket en Movistar+ (Twitter link), Alex Abrines speaks out about the mental health issues that drove him out of the NBA and credits Westbrook for trying to be a calming influence.

Thunder Re-Sign Nerlens Noel, Agree To Sign Alec Burks

JULY 2, 10:07am: The Thunder have officially re-signed Noel, according to the NBA’s transactions log. Most NBA contracts can’t be finalized during the July moratorium, but one- or two-year minimum-salary deals can, so this strongly suggests that Noel will be returning to Oklahoma City on the veteran’s minimum.

JULY 1, 3:41pm: The Thunder are once again in agreement on a deal for big man Nerlens Noel, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter). Noel and the Thunder appeared to reach a deal early in free agency, but a follow-up report indicated that the center wanted to reconsider things.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City has also agreed to sign free agent shooting guard Alec Burks, a league source tells Royce Young of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Terms of the two deals aren’t yet known, and neither is the Thunder’s agreement with Mike Muscala, which was reported on Sunday. However, OKC entered the offseason with limited resources at its disposal to upgrade its roster, so it’s probably safe to assume that the team won’t be paying big money for any of its three new rotation pieces.

Noel, who served primarily as Steven Adams‘ backup at center last season, averaged 4.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 1.2 BPG in 77 games (13.7 MPG). Depending on what other moves the Thunder make, he could play a similar role this year, though it’s possible that Muscala’s arrival will eat into his minutes.

As for Burks, the former lottery pick is a career 35.5% three-point shooter, so he may be able to provide Oklahoma City with some much-needed floor spacing. Last season, he appeared in a total of 64 games for the Jazz, Cavaliers, and Kings, averaging 8.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, and 2.0 APG in 21.5 minutes per contest.

No Deal Yet For Thunder, Nerlens Noel

9:29pm: Three hours after having apparently committed to the Thunder, Noel has asked for time to re-evaluate the deal, according to Wojnarowski, who tweets that the two sides continue to discuss options.

6:29pm: The Thunder are re-signing free agent center Nerlens Noel to a deal, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). The terms of the agreement are not yet known.

Noel will enter his second straight season with the organization, coming off a campaign which saw him average 4.9 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per contest. He appeared in 77 games, the most of his five-season NBA career.

Prior to joining the Thunder in the summer of 2018, Noel held brief stints with the 76ers and Mavericks. He was the No. 6 pick of the 2013 NBA Draft after spending one year at Kentucky.

Thunder’s Nerlens Noel To Opt Out

Thunder center Nerlens Noel won’t exercise his 2019/20 player option, league sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). According to Charania, Noel and the Thunder figure to discuss a potential reunion, but the big man is expected to draw interest from other suitors as well.

If Noel had opted in for ’19/20, he would’ve locked in a salary worth his minimum, $1,988,119, per Basketball Insiders. Instead, he’ll become an unrestricted free agent on Sunday.

After signing a minimum-salary deal with Oklahoma City last summer, Noel enjoyed a solid season as Steven Adams‘ backup, averaging 4.9 PPG, 4.2 RPG, and 1.2 BPG in 77 games (13.7 MPG). The 25-year-old may not reach the ceiling that some experts anticipated when he was selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft, but his versatility and athleticism should appeal to some teams seeking frontcourt depth.

Assuming Noel signs elsewhere, the Thunder will have limited resources to replace him. OKC’s current commitments for 2019/20 already put team salary well above the projected tax threshold.

Now that we know which direction Noel is going, we’re just waiting for one last player-option decision, as our tracker shows. Nene‘s decision on a $3.8MM player option with the Rockets is the only one that has yet to be reported.

Northwest Notes: J. Howard, Jazz, Nuggets, Noel

Before he reached a deal to become the new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines, Juwan Howard reportedly drew interest from the Timberwolves as they considered whether to retain head coach Ryan Saunders or go in a different direction.

While Minnesota ultimately opted to retain Saunders and Howard left the NBA for a college job, the Wolverines’ new head coach revealed today that the Timberwolves’ interest was real. According to Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com (via Twitter), Howard said that the Wolves offered him their associate head coach position – presumably under Saunders – but he declined. “My heart is with Michigan,” he said.

Let’s round up a few more items from around the Northwest…

Thunder Notes: Roberson, George, Morris, Noel

Thunder swingman Andre Roberson, who has missed the last season and a half due to knee problems, is on track to be ready for training camp this fall, he told reporters, including Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman, during his end-of-season presser on Thursday. Roberson, who initially suffered a patellar tendon tear, estimates that he was about 85-95% recovered when he suffered a major setback in the form of an avulsion fracture.

“By me rupturing my patellar tendon it kind of shut off the blood supply to the patellar bone, which causes it to be weaker,” Roberson said. “And then when I was coming back I was working harder than the revascularizing of the tendon was happening, so you kind of see where the problem was there, and we did not know that at the time, unfortunately.”

Before his injury, Roberson was one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. If he returns to anywhere near that form, the Thunder will have happy to get him back in their lineup for the final year of his contract in 2019/20. He’ll earn $10.74MM before reaching free agency in 2020.

Here’s more out of Oklahoma City:

  • As Lee details in another story for The Oklahoman, Paul George hinted today that he may undergo surgery on his troublesome right shoulder during the offseason. “I will address it soon,” George said. “Try to get it fixed and get back out there come this next season.”
  • Markieff Morris was extremely complimentary of the Thunder today, calling it the best stop of his career from an organizational standpoint, tweets Brett Dawson of The Athletic. However, Morris didn’t express much interest in returning to play the same role he had down the stretch this season. The veteran forward averaged a career-low 16.1 MPG in 24 regular season games with the Thunder, then just 11.8 MPG in five postseason contests.
  • Nerlens Noel‘s minimum salary contract with Oklahoma City features a 2019/20 player option, but he’s not ready to commit one way or the other on it. As Dawson tweets, Noel said today that he’ll let his agent figure that out. I’d be a little surprised if Noel doesn’t seek at least a modest raise on the open market after a solid season as Steven Adams‘ backup.
  • With the Thunder’s offseason underway, Sean Deveney of Sporting News examines the major decisions facing the franchise, while ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) previews their summer from a cap perspective. Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer, meanwhile, explored the challenges of building a roster around Russell Westbrook.
  • We opened up our own discussion on the Thunder’s offseason on Wednesday.

Free Agent Stock Watch 2019: Northwest Division

Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Northwest Division:

Tyler Lydon, Nuggets, 22, PF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.45MM deal in 2017
Lydon was the 24th overall pick in 2017 and acquired from Utah in a draft-day deal. He didn’t make much of an impression as a rookie, as the Nuggets declined his third-year option in October. Lydon has appeared in 21 games this season, mostly during garbage time. At the G League level, Lydon has averaged 5.3 three-point attempts and made 36.7%. He’s also rebounded well (8.5 in 31.3 MPG). He’ll be seeking a fresh start this summer, most likely with a rebuilding team that can offer him a greater opportunity.

Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 33, PF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $5.75MM deal in 2018
Tolliver carved out a steady role under former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and delivered a career year last season. He averaged 8.9 PPG in 22.2 MPG and shot 43.6% from distance, and when he hit the free agent market, he drew interest from the Clippers, Mavericks, and Sixers as well as the Timberwolves. It hasn’t gone well in Minnesota, as Tolliver completely dropped out of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in mid-November. He’s seen more action under Ryan Saunders but hasn’t made an impact. He’ll likely have to settle for the veteran’s minimum this summer to stay in the league.

Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 24, PF (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $3.74MM deal in 2018
Noel has a player option worth less than $2MM and it’s likely he’ll decline it and take his chances on the open market. Noel has carved out a steady bench role with the Thunder and provided a defensive presence, along with an occasional scoring outburst. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating, according to Basketball-Reference, is an outstanding 5.8. He posted a 22-point, 13-rebound stat line in 22 minutes in a loss to New Orleans on Thursday. Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, has revived his career to some extent after a lost season in Dallas.

Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers, 28, PF (Up) — Signed to a four-year, $30MM deal in 2015
The quintessential glue guy, Aminu never puts up big numbers but he does a little bit of everything for a playoff-bound team in the West. He’s averaging a career-best 7.9 RPG in 29.0 MPG and his defensive versatility makes him indispensable on a team lacking in stoppers. He’s also become a respectable – if not prolific – 3-point shooter (35.8%). It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Aminu re-signs with Portland but he’ll have several suitors in July and shouldn’t have any trouble getting a multi-year deal.

Royce O’Neale, Jazz, 25, SF (Up)– Signed to a three-year, $3.8MM deal in 2017
O’Neale, undrafted out of Baylor, has been a rotation player all season for Utah. He’s often the the last offensive option on the court but he’s pumped up his production this month. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG in the last four games prior to the All-Star break. He’s shooting an outstanding 43.9% from long range and advanced defensive metrics are also kind to him (2.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus). O’Neale’s $1.62MM salary for next season isn’t fully guaranteed until next January but the Jazz might do that a lot sooner and perhaps even negotiate an extension with the swingman.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Noel, Butler, Fultz

Joel Embiid‘s back soreness is creating a dilemma for the Sixers as they battle for home court advantage in the playoffs, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia may prefer to rest Embiid, but the team leads Boston by only a game and a half in the race for fourth place and is in the middle of a challenging 12-game portion of its schedule.

Embiid said his back was “pretty tight” after Saturday’s loss to the Thunder, but his first choice is always to play. He missed his first two NBA seasons with a broken bone in his foot and appeared in just 51 games last year as the team was being cautious about his condition.

“I have to keep getting treatment on it,” Embiid said of his back, “and it’s going to get better.”

Pompey observes that Embiid moved gingerly on the court yesterday and used a heating pad on his back when he went to the bench. It could turn into a season-long question for the Sixers as they balance the value of home court advantage against the prospect that Embiid won’t be 100% at playoff time.

There’s more Sixers news to pass along:

  • Nerlens Noel‘s appearance in Philadelphia yesterday with the Thunder served as a reminder that he could have been the rim-protecting backup center that the Sixers need, Pompey notes in a separate story. The sixth player chosen in the 2013 draft, Noel spent two and a half seasons in Philly before being traded to the Mavericks. He signed with Oklahoma City last summer.
  • Two months after acquiring him from the Timberwolves, the Sixers are still working to make Jimmy Butler fit with all their other pieces, according to Derek Bodner of The Athletic. He finds that Butler’s usage rate when he’s on the court with Embiid is just 18.1%, well below the 28.2% mark when he’s playing without Embiid or 27.8% when he and Ben Simmons are together without Embiid.
  • The Sixers welcomed Markelle Fultz back to the team this weekend, but his future remains cloudy, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Fultz will remain with the organization as he does rehab work after being diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, but there’s no timetable for him to start playing again. “It’s great to see him … it’s good to have him back,” said coach Brett Brown, who added that the team needs to assess whether he’s in basketball shape after being away so long.

Nerlens Noel Diagnosed With Concussion After Hard Fall

2:18pm: The Thunder have issued a press release confirming that Noel has been diagnosed with a concussion. He has been placed in the league’s concussion protocol and will have to exhibit symptom-free behavior before resuming basketball activities. The team didn’t provide an estimated timeline for his recovery.

10:27am: Thunder center Nerlens Noel took a scary fall during the third quarter of Tuesday’s game against Minnesota, hitting his head against the court and laying motionless beneath the basket for a few minutes. As Royce Young of ESPN.com details, Noel was moved to OU Medical Center after being taken off the floor on a stretcher, and was held there overnight for evaluations.

Those evaluations are expected to continue, but the early diagnosis on Noel is good news, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links). League sources tell Charania that Noel – who was “alert in the aftermath of his fall” last night – sustained a concussion, but avoided any fractures.

We’ll have to wait for a formal update from the Thunder to get an idea of Noel’s official diagnosis and what his recovery timetable might look like. Still, it’s good to hear that he appears for now to have avoided a major injury.

If Noel has to miss extended time, it will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City handles the backup center minutes. Starter Steven Adams may be leaned on a little more heavily, while Patrick Patterson could see more time at the five.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets’ D, Rose, Thunder

Despite scoring being at a near-all-time high early on this NBA season, one team has still been able to hold every one of its opponents to less than 100 points in each game played thus far – the Nuggets.  And while one may not think of the up-and-coming Nuggets as a defensive juggernaut just yet, head coach Michael Malone is a defensive guy at his core, writes Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com.

Yes, it’s awfully early to make any long lasting conclusions about a team’s defensive prowess this season, but Malone is excited about the potential for this year’s team to be one of the best defensive teams to come along in Denver in a while. This is the defense I dream about,” Malone said. “Ever since I got here.”

Asked why exactly it is his team is playing so well on the defensive side of the ball so far during the 2018/19 campaign, Malone lauded his team’s effort and want-to. “I would say just an overall buy-in and commitment. You can talk game plan and you can talk strategy but at the end of the day, for me, defense comes down to pride. Do you want to go out there and give it everything you have to defend?

Additionally, Dempsey opines that adding defensive-minded players like Torrey Craig, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee has helped the mentality around the team morph into a more defensive-oriented group.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves’ head coach Tom Thibodeau evidently thinks backup guard Derrick Rose still has a lot of gas left in the tank, despite a bevy of evidence to the contrary, telling Jace Frederick of the Pioneer Press that “as long as (Rose is) healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in the league.”
  • The Thunder, praised as one of the best teams in the deep Western Conference to begin the season, have gotten off to a rocky, 0-3 start. Yet, as Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes, there exists reason for optimism, with rookie Hamidou Diallo and newcomer Nerlens Noel both providing a spark off the bench in Sunday’s loss to the lowly Kings.
  • In other Thunder news, Brett Dawson of The Athletic is reporting that guard Alex Abrines, who left Sunday’s game in the first half with a mouth contusion, and who will compete for Diallo and Terrance Ferguson for minutes until the return of Andre Roberson, is not expected to miss any additional time.