Thunder Rumors

Pacific Notes: Davis, Vezenkov, Lamb, Bazley

Terence Davis, an unrestricted free agent after the season, has seen his playing time plunge this month. He got a chance to play big minutes on Saturday due to injuries and delivered a 21-point, seven-rebound game for the Kings, Chris Biderman of The Sacramento Bee writes. Davis acknowledged that he needed an outing like that.

“I haven’t been playing well,” the Kings guard said. “So that’s just point-blank, period. I haven’t been playing well. I haven’t been locked in, honestly. I’m just trying to get that rhythm back. The opportunity opened back up for me and I was able to take advantage of it.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Kings GM Monte McNair and VP of player personnel Phil Jabour traveled to Greece to watch draft-and-stash prospect Sasha Vezenkov play, columnist Shot Vetakis tweets. The Olympiacos Piraeus forward is considered the favorite for the EuroLeague MVP award, according to Javier Gancedo of Kings players have endorsed bringing in Vezenkov, who is averaging 18.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 28 EuroLeague contests this season.
  • Anthony Lamb‘s new contract with the Warriors only covers the rest of the season, Hoops Rumors has confirmed. That will make Lamb a restricted free agent after the season. The swingman was promoted from a two-way deal to a standard contract on Friday.
  • Forward Darius Bazley said that getting traded from the Thunder to the Suns jolted him, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. “It was kind of tough,” Bazley said. “When it first happened, it was one of those moments when you’re like, ‘Dang.’ That’s all I knew. A lot of those guys, I’ve been with them since I first came here.  In the NBA, your teammates and staff, you spend more time with them than you do your own families.” A restricted free agent this summer if extended a qualifying offer, Bazley has only made two cameos with the Suns.

Jalen Williams Showing Star Potential

  • Thunder wing Jalen Williams has climbed to second place in The Athetic’s rookie rankings and is showing legitimate star potential, according to Sam Vecenie. Williams has helped keep Oklahoma City in the playoff race by averaging 19.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 4.4 APG, and 2.2 SPG on .563/.467/.873 shooting in his last 15 contests (33.5 MPG).

2023’s Most Valuable Traded Second-Round Picks

Fans of lottery-bound NBA teams will be keeping a close on the bottom of the league’s standings down the stretch because of the effect that “race” will have on the draft order and lottery odds for the 2023 first round.

However, it’s not just the first round of the draft that’s worth keeping an eye on. Those reverse standings will also dictate the order of the draft’s second round, and an early second-round pick can be nearly as valuable as a first-rounder.

[RELATED: Traded Second-Round Picks For 2023 NBA Draft]

Here are a few of the traded 2023 draft picks that project to land near the top of the second round:

From: Houston Rockets
To: Indiana Pacers or Boston Celtics
Current projection: No. 32

The Rockets initially traded their 2023 second-round pick, with top-32 protection, to Memphis at the 2020 trade deadline as part of a Bruno Caboclo/Jordan Bell swap. The Celtics later acquired that top-32 protected second-rounder during the 2020 offseason in the deal that sent the draft rights to No. 30 pick Desmond Bane to the Grizzlies.

As part of the complex four-team James Harden blockbuster in early 2021, the Rockets agreed to send the Pacers their 2023 second-round pick if it ends up at No. 31 and No. 32. So the Pacers are on track to receive that Houston second-rounder if it’s one of the first two picks of the round, while the Celtics would get it otherwise.

We took a closer look at this draft-related subplot of the NBA’s race to the bottom last week, noting that the Pacers could instead end up with a pick in the early 50s if the Rockets’ second-rounder slips to No. 33. Missing out on Houston’s pick wouldn’t be quite as bad for the Celtics, as we outline below.

From: Portland Trail Blazers
To: Boston Celtics or Oklahoma City Thunder
Current projection: No. 36

If the Rockets’ second-round pick ends up at No. 31 or No. 32, the Celtics will almost certainly receive Portland’s pick instead. If Houston’s second-rounder lands at No. 33, Boston would get it, while the Thunder would acquire the Blazers’ pick.

Should the Blazers’ recent slide continue, their second-rounder may not actually be much less favorable than Houston’s — only four spots separate them for the time being.

The Blazers originally gave up their 2023 second-round selection when they acquired Rodney Hood from Cleveland just ahead of the 2019 deadline. It was subsequently flipped to the Pistons (in the 2019 offeason), the Clippers (in the 2020 offseason), the Hawks (at the 2021 deadline), and finally the Celtics in a three-team trade during the summer of 2021.

When they acquired Mike Muscala from the Thunder last month, the Celtics agreed to send OKC the least favorable of their two 2023 second-round picks, which is why the Thunder would receive Portland’s pick if Boston gets Houston’s.

From: Chicago Bulls
To: Washington Wizards
Current projection: No. 37

The Bulls remain in the thick of the play-in race in the Eastern Conference, so it’s possible their second-rounder could slide all the way to the mid-40s if they make the play-in tournament and then earn a playoff spot. However, the Wizards – the team the Bulls are chasing for the No. 10 spot in the East – have extra incentive to stay ahead of Chicago, thereby increasing the value of this pick.

The Wizards acquired this Bulls second-rounder with top-36 protection when they sent Otto Porter Jr. to Chicago at the 2019 deadline. The Bulls agreed to remove the protections as part of their sign-and-trade deal for Tomas Satoransky later that year.

Interestingly, the Wizards actually traded Chicago’s 2023 second-rounder to the Lakers as part of the Russell Westbrook blockbuster in the summer of 2021, but got it back from L.A. a couple months ago in the Rui Hachimura deal.

From: Indiana Pacers
To: Sacramento Kings
Current projection: No. 38

Like the Bulls, the Pacers are still in the play-in race in the East, so there’s no guarantee this pick will land in the top 10 of the second round. But Indiana has a banged-up roster and doesn’t appear overly incentivized to make the play-in tournament.

This pick changed hands in the Domantas Sabonis/Tyrese Haliburton mega-deal at the 2022 trade deadline. Technically, the Spurs would receive it if it lands between Nos. 56 and 60, but we can safely rule out that possibility at this point.

Other picks to watch:

Given how congested the play-in races are in each conference, there are a handful of other second-rounders whose value could surpass that of a couple of the picks listed above.

For instance, the Jazz‘s second-round pick is currently controlled by the Hornets, the Spurs own the Raptors‘ second-rounder, and the Thunder will acquire the Wizards‘ second-rounder if it’s more favorable than OKC’s own pick.

SGA Sits Out To Rest Abdominal Injury

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander pumped in 35 points against New Orleans on Saturday but the Thunder are still playing it cautious with his recent injury. He sat out the second game of a back-to-back against San Antonio on Sunday due to what the team described as abdominal strain injury management, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. The Thunder star guard has exceeded the 30-point mark in his last four outings.

And-Ones: Team USA, Referees, Most Improved Player, Oden

Ahead of this year’s World Cup, Team USA will play a pair of exhibition games in Abu Dhabi in August, writes ESPN’s Brian Windhorst. The U.S. national team will face Germany on August 18 and Greece on August 20 in the World Cup tune-ups.

As Windhorst outlines, the exhibition games seem to be part of a concerted effort by the NBA to further establish itself in the Middle East. The Bucks and Hawks played a pair of preseason games in Abu Dhabi this past fall, and the league opened its first brick-and-mortar store in Abu Dhabi in 2022.

Additionally, foreign sovereign wealth funds are now permitted to become minority shareholders in NBA franchises by purchasing stakes of up to 20%. According to Windhorst, Mubadala (Abu Dhabi’s fund) has reportedly displayed interest in making that sort of investment in an NBA team.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • After blasting the league’s officiating – and singling out referee Ben Taylor – Raptors guard Fred VanVleet received a relatively light fine, which will give players the “green light” to continue criticizing the game’s officials, Windhorst stated during a Get Up segment on Friday (YouTube video link). VanVleet could have been fined up to $50K, but was only docked $30K, which Windhorst notes is less than Ja Morant and Marcus Smart were penalized earlier in the season for “heat-of-the-moment” curses at referees during games.
  • Josh Robbins, Kelly Iko, and Eric Nehm of The Athletic debated the frontrunners for Most Improved Player and weren’t in total agreement on which player deserves the award at this point. Robbins and Iko like Knicks guard Jalen Brunson, while Nehm favors Jazz forward Lauri Markkanen. All three writers have Shai Gilgeous-Alexander of the Thunder as their current runner-up.
  • Mirin Fader of The Ringer takes an in-depth look at former No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden‘s efforts to continue finding joy working in basketball following his brief, injury-marred NBA career.
  • Bill Duffy‘s BDA Sports is being acquired by WME Sports, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, who explores what the purchase means for the two agencies, Duffy, and BDA’s clients (a group that includes Luka Doncic).

Trade Breakdown: Dario Saric To The Thunder

This is the sixth entry in our series breaking down the significant trades of the 2022/23 season. As opposed to giving out grades, this series explores why the teams were motivated to make the moves. Let’s dive into a deal between the Suns and Thunder

On February 9, the Thunder traded forward/center Darius Bazley to the Suns in exchange for forward/center Dario Saric, Phoenix’s 2029 second-round pick and $1MM in cash.

The Thunder’s perspective:

On the surface, this seems like a pretty minor trade that got lost in the shuffle a bit due to all the blockbusters leading up to the deadline. That said, I thought it was interesting for a number of different reasons.

As our Luke Adams explains in our glossary entry on traded player exceptions, even though this seems like a straightforward one-for-one swap, this was actually a non-simultaneous deal for both the Thunder and the Suns, making it mutually beneficial.

A non-simultaneous deal means a team can trade away a single player without immediately taking salary back in return, allowing it to create an outstanding trade exception.

This deal showed the value of having a large ($10,183,800) outstanding traded player exception, which permitted the Thunder to take on Saric’s $9,240,000 contract for “nothing.” That also allowed them to generate a new TPE, worth $4,264,629, which is what Bazley is making this season.

The Suns created their own TPE because they only traded one player and took back less salary than they sent out. It’s worth $4,975,371, which is the difference between Saric’s salary and Bazley’s. Both teams will have until next February to use their new TPEs.

There are plenty of examples of large TPEs not being used at all. Often that has to do with the team’s proximity to the luxury tax and its willingness (or lack thereof) to pay a huge chunk of cash for what could amount to a rental player (many players involved in deadline deals are on expiring or pseudo-expiring contracts — both Saric and Bazley could hit free agency this summer, for example).

The Thunder were in the sweet spot of being over the cap but far enough below the luxury tax line that they could use their large TPE to create an additional asset of sorts to possibly create future value. It also netted them a second-round pick and a little cash, since the Suns were motivated to move off Saric’s contract.

Cap aspects aside, when it was first announced, my first thought was to wonder if Saric might reach a buyout agreement or get waived, even though the Thunder were (and still are) in the play-in race. A handful of days after the deadline, it definitely sounded like he wasn’t going to pursue a buyout, praising the organization and saying he was “open-minded” about his potential role.

However, a report late last month indicated that he nearly was waived as Oklahoma City sought flexibility with its last roster spot, instead choosing to release Eugene Omoruyi.

My second thought was, wait, did the Thunder just make an on-court upgrade and get draft capital back? That very rarely happens.

That’s not to say the Thunder made a win-now move, far from it. The primary objective was landing the second-round pick and creating a new TPE. Saric is on an expiring contract and I’m sure the Thunder’s front office wouldn’t mind if they missed the postseason, though they haven’t shown any signs of blatantly tanking to this point.

He may not be a household name, but Saric is an accomplished player, providing solid value with all three of his previous clubs (he started with Philadelphia and was traded to Minnesota in the Jimmy Butler deal back in ‘18/19). He holds career averages of 11.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 1.9 APG on .443/.360/.838 shooting in 402 games (217 starts, 24.0 MPG).

Saric missed all of last season while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in Game 1 of the 2021 NBA Finals. He had a second surgery last May to repair a torn meniscus, making it an open question what his form would look like upon his return from two major knee surgeries.

He (understandably) had a very slow start to 2022/23, only appearing in 22 of Phoenix’s first 41 games with averages of 3.8 PPG and 2.8 RPG on .358/.351/.857 shooting in 11.6 MPG. That’s why I said his free agent stock was trending down when I wrote about him in January.

However, he was a rotation fixture in the 15 games (seven starts, 18.5 MPG) leading up to the deadline, averaging 8.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG and 2.3 APG on .485/.438/.800 shooting. Saric’s solid play has continued post-trade, as he’s averaging 10.1 PPG and 3.7 RPG on a scorching hot .627/.458/.889 shooting line through nine games with the Thunder (14.9 MPG).

The 28-year-old has an excellent feel for the game, using his high basketball IQ to overcome his relative lack of athleticism. He is a below-the-rim finisher, but has good touch and lots of tricks around the basket – he’s shooting 67.1% at the rim this season, which ranks in the 71st percentile, per

The Thunder run a five-out offense where every player on the court is capable of dribbling, passing, screening and shooting. All of those are strengths of Saric’s.

He isn’t a great defensive player at either frontcourt position, and he’s undersized against some centers (he’s listed at 6’10” and 225 pounds). That said, he’s generally in the right spots, he just lacks the foot speed to stick on the perimeter and the length to protect the paint.

Oklahoma City has had a ton of draft picks over the past few years, and still has loads more in the future. Bazley was one that didn’t work out.

The No. 23 overall pick of the 2019 draft, Bazley entered the NBA as an excellent athlete with raw skills. He turned into a solid defensive player, but struggled mightily offensively.

I gained a newfound respect for Bazley as a person after I saw a video of him talking about his diminished playing time this season (he only appeared in 36 of 54 games for an average of 15.4 MPG). His team-first attitude and self-awareness were admirable.

While Bazley is certainly young and talented enough that he could develop elsewhere, he was viewed as unlikely to be in the Thunder’s long-term plans even if they had kept him through the deadline. The harsh reality is trades are part of the business.

The Suns’ perspective:

Phoenix’s primary, secondary and tertiary reasons for making this deal were financial. As Luke Adams details in our glossary entry, the NBA’s luxury tax is set up so that the penalties become increasingly punitive the further teams go beyond the tax line.

Trading Saric for Bazley saved the Suns approximately $20MM toward their estimated luxury tax payment. According to Eric Pincus of Sports Business Classroom, the Suns are currently $22,249,841 over the tax with an estimated luxury tax bill of $53,436,904. And that’s after this trade was made.

Saric started to pick up steam prior to the deadline, was a key contributor to the team’s culture, and played a role in its run to the Finals a couple years ago. Would he have provided $20MM worth of value for the remainder of this season? In the most optimistic scenarios, maybe? But probably not.

Trading for Kevin Durant means there won’t be many minutes at power forward in the playoffs. Ditto at center behind Deandre Ayton. The Suns still have several options to explore backing up those frontcourt spots, including Torrey Craig, T.J. Warren, Ish Wainright, Jock Landale, Bismack Biyombo and Bazley.

Maybe the Suns like Bazley as a defender and believe he has untapped upside on offense. He’s still just 22 years old. But he had also only appeared in one of a possible seven games (for seven minutes) entering Wednesday’s matchup with his former team.

In all likelihood, Bazley’s role will be minor going forward. As a championship hopeful, the Suns can’t really afford to play him when it counts, because opposing teams dare him to shoot and he’s only converting 50% at the rim, which is in the sixth percentile of all players, per DunksAndThrees.

Given Phoenix’s cap situation going forward, plus its window of contention and where Bazley is at in his development, the odds of him receiving a qualifying offer to become a restricted free agent seem slim. If that scenario plays out, he would instead become an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.

The $4,975,371 TPE the Suns created as part of the deal could be used to acquire a player who makes more than the minimum at some point in the future. Losing one second-round pick several years down the line isn’t a big deal, as a few are typically up for sale in every draft.

How far the Suns go in the postseason will ultimately be determined by their star players’ health. Obviously, Durant suffering an ankle sprain just three games after returning from a knee injury isn’t ideal, but they’ve still been on a roll lately, winning 16 of their past 21 games.

The Suns are betting they have enough depth behind Durant and Ayton that losing Saric won’t come back to bite them – a reasonable position, particularly considering how much money they saved by moving him.

Kevin Durant Believes The Thunder Are Headed In The Right Direction

  • Kevin Durant sees a bright future for his first NBA franchise, per Dana Scott of The Arizona Republic. The Thunder will be the opponent tonight when Durant plays his first home game with the Suns. “You got some potential up and down the lineup, guys that can be impact players in this league, a front office and coaching staff that understands what that’s like developing players,” Durant said of the Thunder. “So the last couple years they’ve been trending in the right direction and I feel like they’re working their way to being a playoff team.”

EuroLeague Star Micic Hires New Rep

  • Serbian guard Vasilije Micic has hired the Wasserman Media Group as his new representative, HoopsHype tweets. Micic, whose draft rights are owned by the Thunder, is a two-time Euroleague Final Four MVP and is considered the best guard in Europe. However, it’s unclear whether the Thunder would have a role for the 29-year-old if he pursued an NBA career next season and he could be traded if he wants to make the jump.

Checking In On Traded 2023 First-Round Picks

We still have nearly five weeks left in the NBA’s regular season, and play-in results, tiebreakers, and the draft lottery will further clarify what this year’s draft order will look like.

However, as the season enters its home stretch, we’re starting to get a clearer sense of which traded 2023 first-round picks will actually change hands (as opposed to falling in their protected range) and where those first-rounders will land. Here’s where things stand right now:

Picks that will be protected

  • Pistons‘ pick (top-18 protected) to Knicks
  • Hornets‘ pick (top-16 protected) to Spurs

The Pistons and Hornets are currently the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference and appear unlikely to move any higher in the standings. There’s obviously no chance that they’ll end up picking the back half of the first round, so they’ll hang onto their first-round picks for at least one more year.

Once both of those picks are officially protected, the Pistons will owe the Knicks their 2024 first-rounder with top-18 protection, while the Hornets will owe the Spurs their 2024 first-rounder with top-14 protection.

Picks on track to change hands

  • Sixers‘ and Nets‘ picks (unprotected) to Nets and Jazz.
  • Bucks‘ and Clippers‘ picks (unprotected) to Clippers and Rockets.
  • Mavericks‘ pick (top-10 protected) to Knicks
  • Timberwolves‘ pick (unprotected) to Jazz.
  • Suns‘ pick (unprotected) to Nets.
  • Knicks‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Trail Blazers.
  • Cavaliers‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Pacers.
  • Celtics‘ pick (top-12 protected) to Pacers.
  • Nuggets‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Hornets.

Let’s work backwards and start with the obvious here. The Nuggets currently have the NBA’s second-best record, which would result in the No. 29 pick. The Celtics’ third-best record would give them the No. 28 pick. So Charlotte and Indiana, respectively, will definitely get those picks, but they’ll be pretty late in the first round.

Given the unpredictability that the play-in possibility injects into the playoff race, it may be a little early to lock in the Cavaliers and Knicks as automatic playoff teams, but they’re certainly trending in that direction. If the season ended today, Indiana would get the No. 26 overall pick from Cleveland and Portland would get the No. 23 selection from New York.

The Timberwolves’ and Suns’ picks have no protections, so they’re definitely changing hands — the only question is where they’ll land. Right now, Phoenix’s No. 21 pick would go to Brooklyn and Minnesota’s No. 18 pick would go to Utah.

The fact that the Mavericks’ pick is top-10 protected instead of lottery-protected means it could convey to the Knicks even if Dallas doesn’t earn a playoff spot. Right now, the Mavs are the seventh seed in the West and would owe the No. 17 seed to New York, but the playoff race is so tight and the play-in has such potential for fluctuation that Dallas’ pick could move a few spots in either direction.

The Nets will have the right to either their own pick or the Sixers’ pick, whichever is more favorable, with Utah receiving the less favorable of the two. Right now, that means Brooklyn would hang onto its own first-rounder (No. 22) while the Jazz would get Philadelphia’s pick (No. 27).

The Rockets won’t get to take advantage of their ability to swap their own pick for Brooklyn’s, but they have a second set of swap rights that should come in handy — Houston has the ability to swap Milwaukee’s first-rounder for the Clippers’ pick, with L.A. getting the less favorable of the two. That means if the season ended today, the Rockets would be in line for the Clippers’ first-rounder at No. 16, while L.A. would get the Bucks’ pick and move down 14 spots to No. 30.

One caveat here: If the Clippers’ first-round pick happens to land ahead of the Thunder’s pick, Oklahoma City would be able to swap its own pick for L.A.’s, then Houston could swap the Bucks’ first-rounder for OKC’s pick. For now though, that looks like a long shot, with the Clippers far better positioned than the Thunder in the Western playoff race.

Picks that remain the most up in the air

  • Bulls‘ pick (top-4 protected) to Magic
  • Wizards‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Knicks
  • Trail Blazers‘ pick (top-14 protected) to Bulls
  • Lakers‘ pick (unprotected) to Pelicans via swap rights

If the season ended today, the Bulls would be seventh in the draft lottery standings. That would give them a 31.9% chance to move up into the top four, meaning their pick would have about a two-in-three chance to go to Orlando. The Magic’s odds of acquiring the pick will increase if Chicago finishes the season strong.

If the Bulls manage to hang onto their pick this year, they’d owe the Magic their top-three protected first-rounder in 2024.

The Wizards are 10th in the East and have a decent chance to secure a play-in berth, but their odds of capturing a playoff spot are longer. If they lose in the play-in (or miss it entirely), they’ll keep their first-rounder rather than sending it to the Knicks, and would instead owe New York their top-12 protected pick in 2024.

The Trail Blazers are in a similar boat in the West, still in the play-in hunt but with increasingly long odds to actually make the playoffs. If they don’t get a first-round series in the postseason, they’ll hang onto their pick rather than sending it to the Bulls. Chicago will have to wait until Portland makes the playoffs to get that first-round selection, which remains lottery-protected through 2028.

Meanwhile, the Pelicans’ ability to swap first-rounders with the Lakers has been one of the most fascinating draft assets to monitor this year.

At one point in the first half, with Los Angeles off to an awful start and the Pelicans firing on all cylinders, it looked like New Orleans would be able to use that swap to move from the 20s into the top 10. Today, both teams have identical 31-34 records and have been trending in opposite directions. If that trend continues, New Orleans will end up keeping its own pick rather than swapping it for the Lakers’ first-rounder.

Pokusevski Practicing With Thunder's G League Team

  • Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski was briefly assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue to practice with the G League team as he recovers from the left leg fracture that has kept him on the shelf since late December, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter links). Pokusevski will probably assigned and recalled for practice purposes a few more times, Mussatto adds, noting that the 21-year-old’s return isn’t imminent quite yet.