- Thunder shooting guard Andre Roberson remains sidelined indefinitely, coach Billy Donovan told Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman and other media members. “He’s worked hard, he’s doing all he needs to do but he’s still in the rehab process.” Roberson suffered a season-ending left knee injury last January and suffered a setback in late November when an MRI revealed an avulsion fracture in the knee.
As Smith notes, Oklahoma City is averse to taking on much – if any – money due to luxury tax concerns. Currently, the team’s tax bill projects to be easily the highest in the NBA. Still, the Thunder feel they need at least one more big man to their roster for the postseason, Smith adds.
Noel has been a solid backup center for the Thunder this season behind Steven Adams, but took a scary fall during Tuesday’s loss to the Timberwolves and was diagnosed with a concussion. Noel appears to have avoided a more serious injury, such as a fracture, but his recovery timeline is up in the air. He’ll need to show that he’s symptom-free before he can resume basketball activities.
Even with a healthy Noel, it might be in the Thunder’s best interests to add one more frontcourt contributor. Adams and Noel are strong defenders, rim protectors, and inside scorers, but many of their skills overlap and neither player shoots from outside. Between the two of them, they’ve attempted just one three-pointer this season.
Oklahoma City could use a big man who can stretch the floor a little for certain matchups — Patrick Patterson was supposed to be that player, but has struggled since arriving in OKC in 2017, making just 37.9% of his shots. He’s shooting 30.8% on three-pointers this season.
Based on Smith’s report, it’s not clear if the Thunder are more focused on the trade market or on a potential free agent addition, perhaps on a 10-day contract. I’d expect the team to explore all its options leading up to next month’s trade deadline.
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.
“The problem is: You have a rookie GM [Koby Altman]—who’s a really good guy and has done some really good things and is trying to prove himself. And you’ve got a delusional owner [Dan Gilbert],” a Western Conference executive tells Berger. “And they’re going to think they’re supposed to get something for the guy. You’re not getting an asset for him under any circumstances.”
Love, who remains sidelined with a foot injury, with will make approximately $28.9MM next season in the first year of the extension he signed last summer.
“It’s a lot to ask someone to take on $144 million for a 30-year-old with an injury history,” another executive said. “You’re dealing with a very small, narrow marketplace for him.”
Love isn’t eligible to be traded until January 24, which is the six-month anniversary of him signing his extension in Cleveland. Finding a suitor will be an issue. The Cavaliers will hope that a contending team will be willing to take a huge risk in order to inch closer to the Warriors atop the league’s hierarchy.
The Rockets and Thunder both make sense as landing spots should a trade occur, one Western Conference executive speculated. The Nuggets have Paul Millsap‘s $30MM salary coming off the books next summer and are fans of Love’s game. The Trail Blazers could use a floor spacer and the Pacers may see the upside he provides. The Hornets and Mavericks have eyes for the big man, Sam Amico of Amico Hoops hears, but finding a deal for either team is no easy task.
“It’s going to have to be a playoff team in a non-destination market,” one of the executives tells Berger. “A team that has a couple of stars that isn’t going to get anybody in free agency because they don’t have the room or nobody’s going to go play there.”
The Thunder-Love scenario is intriguing. Love and Russell Westbrook remain friends and have been close since their days at UCLA. Westbrook’s massive deal worth over $200MM runs through the 2022/23 (with a player option on the last year), which is the exact same timeline as Love’s contract. Paul George is under team control at least through the 2020/21 season and with those contracts, as well as Steven Adams‘ $100MM contract on the books, the team isn’t going to have cap room anytime soon.
“[GM Sam Presti] will figure it out in three years when Russell and Paul are coming to the end of their run,” the Western Conference GM said of a potential Love-to-the-Thunder trade.
It’s difficult for OKC to construct a deal for Love that doesn’t involve giving up one or more of the team’s key contributors due to the big man’s $24.1MM salary. Dennis Schroder ($15.5MM), Alex Abrines ($5.46M), and Patrick Patterson ($5.45M) would make up an interesting package, though Schroder has brought much-needed playmaking for the team, taking some of those duties off of Westbrook this year.
Adams’ salary clocks in at slightly under $24.2MM and if the Thunder have confidence that Nerlens Noel can step up into a bigger role (a big if), perhaps trading their enforcer in the middle makes sense.
However, it’s hard to envision why the Cavs would make such a deal beyond Adams’ contract expiring two years earlier than Love’s. Cleveland covets young players and draft picks as it begins a rebuild. Bringing in an additional team on a three-way trade might be the solution should a deal come together, though that is simply my speculation.
Love’s defense adds another risk to a complicated situation, as people within the league believe he is a liability on the defensive end.
“When we need a bucket against Cleveland, that’s who we attack,” an anonymous coach tells Berger. “Guys like him become hard to hide. There’s always been a premium on pick-and-roll defense, but even more so now. Everybody is spreading the floor and driving and kicking and trying to generate something going downhill.”
One executive groups Love’s contract in with John Wall‘s, calling the pair of deals the “two worst contracts in the league.”
“How many teams are really looking for a dinosaur face-up 4-man, or a 5 who can’t switch pick-and-roll?” the exec said of Love (via Berger).
Most of the pessimism comes from Love’s contract. The executive compared Love to Brook Lopez – an offensive-focused player who landed just a one-year $3.4MM deal with the Bucks this past offseason – suggesting that Love wouldn’t receive much on the open market.
The evaluation seems extremely pessimistic. Love still has value; the questions is: what is that value? He can still help a team in the win column and it’ll only take one team willing to meet the Cavs’ demands to make a deal.
Despite playing only half their games so far this season with both of their All-Stars – Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry – in the lineup, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s best records. Their 30-12 mark puts them a half-game ahead of the 28-11 Bucks, though they technically trail Milwaukee by percentage points.
With Lowry now back in the lineup after battling back and hip issues and Leonard potentially ready to start playing in back-to-backs soon, the Raptors are well positioned for a big second half. And the team’s performance the rest of the way – and in the postseason – could go a long way toward determining whether Leonard remains in Toronto beyond this season, a subject Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com.
Mannix’s article features several interesting notes and tidbits on Kawhi and the Raptors, so we’ll round up a few highlights here:
- According to Mannix, the Raptors are prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason, and don’t view that sort of an investment as a risk.
- While Leonard’s upcoming free agency is rarely discussed in the Raptors’ locker room, everyone knows how important his decision will be in determining the future of the franchise, per Mannix. “We need him to stay,” Serge Ibaka said. “He keeps everybody safe — no one is safe if he leaves.”
- Even before the Raptors acquired Leonard, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been itching to shake up his roster, according to Mannix, who reports that Ujiri approached the Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
- Speaking of George, Mannix writes that Raptors officials have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George emboldened them to roll the dice on Leonard. Of course, George’s bond with Russell Westbrook contributed in large part to PG13’s decision to remain in Oklahoma City. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry can be that same sort of recruiter, given his “frosty” relationship with Ujiri, who traded away his best friend DeRozan.
- When the NBA issued a memo last month reminding teams of its anti-tampering rules, it was viewed by most as a response to LeBron James‘ comments about Anthony Davis. However, several clubs, including Toronto, interpreted the memo’s reference to “intentional” and “repeated” social courtesies as a message to the Clippers, says Mannix. The Clips have reportedly been sending officials, including president of basketball ops Lawrence Frank, to a number of Raptors games this season as they eye Leonard as a 2019 free agent target.
The Lakers are wasting an opportunity to prove they can be successful without LeBron James and may be getting a clearer picture of the value of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. L.A.is 1-4 since James suffered a strained left groin, and the team learned Friday that he won’t be re-evaluated for another week.
The most troubling game in that stretch was last night’s loss to the Knicks, who have been near the bottom of the East all season. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Oram writes, Ingram became a one-dimensional player, making just one of five shots, while Ball tried to force passes and committed a couple of key turnovers.
“Brandon and Lonzo right now are our primary ballhandlers,” coach Luke Walton said, “and I think they led us in turnovers tonight. I’m not putting the blame on them, but that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard, or being a primary ballhandler-slash-playmaker, is taking care of the ball and getting guys going, getting other guys easy looks.”
There’s more Lakers news to pass along:
- Ingram may be the next young talent sacrificed in the quest to build a super team in L.A., suggests Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. The Lakers have already parted with D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to clear cap room, and it may become necessary to do the same with Ingram to have a shot at Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans hang onto Davis and he becomes a free agent in 2020, the Lakers can’t afford the $21.8MM cap hold Ingram would have as a restricted free agent. However, he could turn out to be a valuable trade piece if Davis turns down a supermax offer and New Orleans feels compelled to move him this summer.
- Paul George got an unfriendly reception from Lakers fans this week, but he explained that he made a business decision to stay in Oklahoma City, relays Brett Dawson of The Athletic. There was hope last season that George might return to his native Southern California in free agency, but he decided he had a better situation with the Thunder. “The Lakers is one of the best, most historical franchises in the world,” George said. “It is what it is. I’m with another great organization.”
- The Lakers gave strong consideration to taking Mitchell Robinson with their first-round pick last summer, but the rookie center believes he’s better off with the Knicks, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. With L.A. hoping to make the playoffs, Robinson thinks he might have spent much of the season in the G League rather than as an NBA starter.
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:
Raul Neto, Jazz, 26, PG (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $4.4MM deal in 2018
Neto’s $2.15MM salary for next season becomes guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 6. Even though it’s not much money, Neto has given the Jazz little reason to keep him around. He’s not in the rotation with Dante Exum backing up Ricky Rubio. Except for a blowout win over the Knicks in which he played 20 minutes, Neto has either been benched or seen fewer than four minutes over the past 10 games. With Rubio headed to unrestricted free agency, it’s conceivable Utah could exercise that option as insurance. The Brazilian native is more likely to continue his career elsewhere, probably overseas.
Trey Lyles, Nuggets, 23, PF (Down) – Signed to a four-year, $10.4MM deal in 2015
Lyles has received rotation minutes but his offensive numbers have declined. He’s shooting just 41.1% from the field and 24.1% beyond the arc, compared to a 49.1/38.1 slash line last season. He was mired in a terrible slump last month, making just 32.3% (18.6% from distance) of his field goal attempts. Lyles will be a restricted free agent if the Nuggets extend a $4.63MM qualifying option. That may depend on some other factors. They hold a $30MM team option on Paul Millsap‘s contract. It’s also predicated on whether they believe Michael Porter Jr. will contribute significantly next season.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Thunder, 23, SG (Down) – Signed to a three-year, $4.26MM deal in 2016
Luwawu-Cabarrot, a 2016 first-round pick by the Sixers in 2016, got some opportunities in his first two seasons with Philadelphia. His court time has diminished considerably in Oklahoma City. After playing in 69 games (19 starts) in his rookie year and 52 last season, Luwawu-Cabarrot has languished at the end of OKC’s bench despite Andre Roberson‘s injury issues. He’s played just 12 minutes since November 28. The Thunder didn’t pick up Luwawu-Cabarrot’s option during the offseason, so he’ll be unrestricted in July. It will be interesting to see if any team believes he has untapped potential or whether he’ll have to seek overseas opportunities.
Taj Gibson, Timberwolves, 33, PF (Up) — Signed to a two-year, $28MM deal in 2017
Gibson has become a more efficient offensive player in recent years while providing his usual toughness in the paint as well as rebounding. Gibson remains one of the top offensive rebounders in the league (2.7 per game) and has kept a positive attitude despite the addition of Dario Saric, which has cut into his minutes. If Tom Thibodeau remains in charge, the Timberwolves will likely try to re-sign him. Otherwise, Gibson will find work as a 25-30 minute option at power forward for a suitor looking for an upgrade at that position.
Nik Stauskas, Trail Blazers, 25, SG (Down)– Signed to a one-year, $1.6MM deal in 2018
Stauskas is playing for his fourth organization in five seasons. He will be on the move again if his shooting doesn’t perk up. After a strong start, Stauskas has gone into an offensive funk. He made just 24.3% of his 3-point attempts in December and went scoreless in a nine-minute stint against Sacramento in his first 2019 appearance. Stauskas reached double figures in five of his first eight games with the franchise but has hit that mark just twice since that point. With first-rounder Anfernee Simons showing no signs of taking Stauskas’ rotation spot, the Blazers may try to acquire a wing player before the trade deadline.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle is trying to put a damper on speculation that Dennis Smith Jr. will be dealt. Carlisle said that Smith and rookie sensation Luka Doncic form a ball-handling duo that can coexist and put steady pressure on opposing defenses, Dwain Price of Mavs.com tweets. “We have two point guards out there. Let’s quit looking at it as Dennis is getting relegated to playing off the ball,” Carlisle said. “We’ve got two point guards out there, which is a great advantage, and we’ve just got to take advantage of that and create a balance and cause problems for teams.” A report surfaced earlier this week that Dallas was gauging the market for the second-year guard.
We have more from around the Western Conference:
- Chandler Parsons has been medically cleared to play and has participated in four 5-on-5 scrimmages but it’s uncertain when the Grizzlies will begin using him again, according to David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Parsons, who has been battling knee soreness since being sidelined in late October, has yet to be activated. “He is dying to play,” Parsons’ agent, James Dunleavy, told Cobb. Parsons is making $24.1MM this season and another $25.1MM next season before his contract expires.
- The duo of Taj Gibson and Dario Saric has provided a comfort level to Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes. They have shared the spot since Saric was acquired from the Sixers in the Jimmy Butler deal. “Taj is playing unbelievable, and so is Dario,” Thibodeau told Hine. Gibson, who is making $14MM, will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
- The backup power forward spot has been problematic for the Thunder, according to an Oklahoman report. Jerami Grant is averaging 12.4 PPG and 4.8 RPG as the starter but there’s a dropoff when he needs a rest. Patrick Patterson, the most likely candidate, has seen his minutes decline. He’s averaging just 3.9 PPG and 2.5 RPG in 15.9 MPG. Patterson holds a $5.7MM option on his contract for next season.
DECEMBER 28: The Thunder have officially signed Grantham to a two-way contract, the club confirmed today in a press release.
DECEMBER 27: The Thunder are turning over one of their two-way contract slots, announcing today in a press release that they’ve waived center Tyler Davis. According to Brett Dawson of The Athletic (via Twitter), Oklahoma City will replace Davis by signing Donte Grantham to a two-way contract.
Davis, who went undrafted in June after forgoing his final year of college eligibility to declare as an early entrant, signed a two-way contract with the Thunder in August. The 21-year-old big man appeared very briefly in just a single game for OKC, but racked up double-doubles for the club’s G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. In 15 NBAGL games, Davis averaged 17.2 PPG and 11.5 RPG in 26.7 minutes per contest.
As for Grantham, this will technically be the second stint with the Thunder for the former Clemson forward. Grantham, who tore his ACL during his senior season, signed a camp deal with Oklahoma City during the offseason, but was cut before the regular season began and joined the Blue. He has posted 10.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 2.8 APG with a .400 3PT% in nine G League games so far, as he gets back to full health.
There will likely be plenty of turnover in the two-way ranks in the coming weeks, since January 15 represents the deadline for clubs to sign players to two-way deals in 2018/19.
Rookie swingman Deonte Burton holds the other two-way contract slot in OKC.
- The Thunder decided to go with Abdel Nader in lieu of Patrick Patterson to fill in for Jerami Grant at power forward on Tuesday. Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan said he went with Nader due to the Rockets going with a smaller lineup, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. “It means a lot that he has confidence to put me in at that time,” Nader said.
- After he served a one-game suspension and hadn’t played since last Monday, Thunder guard Dennis Schroder was thrown into the fire against the Jazz over the weekend, Horne writes in a separate story.