Thunder Rumors

L.A. Notes: Westbrook, Howard, THT, Mann, Batum

Before squaring off against Paul George in Friday’s Lakers-Clippers matchup, Russell Westbrook spoke to the media about the way their partnership with the Thunder ended, writes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. They developed a friendship in Oklahoma City that still exists, and Westbrook was one of the reasons that George decided to re-sign with the Thunder in 2018.

According to ESPN and The Athletic, Westbrook approached free agent Kawhi Leonard the following summer about possibly teaming up in L.A., with Leonard signing and Westbrook being traded. Leonard reportedly took that idea and presented to George, which resulted in them both joining the Clippers.

When asked about the situation Thursday, Westbrook challenged the media to reveal the source of the report, then cast doubt on its veracity.

“That’s a lesson for all y’all,” he said. “Just always remember, just because somebody writes something … you don’t know where they got it from. That’s the truth. That’s the problem. That’s how rumors and things get started.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • The Lakers used their 12th starting lineup in 24 games Friday, with Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker replacing DeAndre Jordan and Avery Bradley, notes Jovan Buha of The Athletic. It’s a clear upgrade based on performance, Buha adds, but the group was minus-7 in its 11 minutes on the court. “Dwight changed the game for us in Sacramento,” Anthony Davis said. “He was really good for us, and Coach wanted to go back to that. And I think he played well tonight as well. Protecting the paint, rebounding, setting screens, doing everything he’s supposed to do.”
  • Clippers swingman Terance Mann tells Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that the two-year, $22MM extension he received in training camp was meaningful because of how hard it was to get NBA scouts to notice him. Mann took part in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament and the G League Elite Camp, then received a last-minute invitation to the draft combine.
  • Clippers coach Tyronn Lue is optimistic about Nicolas Batum, who has missed the past seven games while in health and safety protocols, tweets Mirjam Swanson of The Orange County Register. “I don’t know (when he’ll return),” Lue said. “… but it was good seeing him back in the building, I can tell you that. It’s getting close and we definitely need him.”

Thunder Make History With Blowout Loss; SGA In Concussion Protocol

  • The Thunder made some unwanted NBA history Thursday night with the most lopsided loss since the league was formed, notes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Oklahoma City coach Mark Daigneault said the 152-79 defeat against Memphis isn’t an accurate way to judge his team, which was on the second night of a back-to-back and played without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and several other players. “This isn’t indicative of who our team is, how we’ve competed all season from training camp all the way through the games,” Daigneault said. “It’s important I think to keep that in mind internally for us.”
  • Gilgeous-Alexander was placed in concussion protocol after being fouled twice on layups in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game, Mussatto adds. He had a headache on the Thunder’s flight to Memphis Wednesday night, then felt worse after waking up from a nap Thursday afternoon. Daigneault said he would have kept Gilgeous-Alexander at home if he realized he had suffered a concussion.

And-Ones: Bulls-Heat Pick Forfeiture, Next Stars, Trade Market, Williams, Donovan

NBA executives and player agents believe the Bulls and Heat received a proverbial slap on the wrist for violating league policies in the free agent acquisitions of Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball, Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report writes.

The teams will have to forfeit their next available second-round pick, but that is unlikely to prevent other teams from trying to circumvent the rules in pursuit of free agents. Second-round picks appear more available than ever, Fischer notes.

As part of the league’s investigation and subsequent penalty, Chicago and Miami can’t trade any of their currently held future second-round draft picks until the forfeiture is resolved, Fischer reports.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Due to the success of LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey, Australia is increasingly viewed by European prospects as a springboard to the NBA, according to Ken Maguire of The Associated Press. According to NBL commissioner Jeremy Loeliger, the Next Stars program has become so popular, the league had to turn “people away in droves.” Four of this season’s seven Next Stars are from Europe and another French prospect is playing for the New Zealand Breakers.
  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks takes an in-depth look at this year’s trade market, breaking down the league’s players into three categories — those with expiring contracts; those on multi-year deals; and those with trade restrictions. Marks notes that only the Thunder can acquire a player via cap space, so the rest of the teams will need to trade salaries that match within 125%, 175% or $5MM, depending on how much salary is changing hands and whether or not the teams are taxpayers.
  • The Suns’ Monty Williams and the Bulls’ Billy Donovan have been named the league’s Coaches of the Month for games played in October and November, NBA Communications tweets. Phoenix is on the verge of setting a franchise record for most consecutive victories, while Chicago has a 14-8 record.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant Named Players Of The Month

Two of the NBA’s early frontrunners for the 2021/22 MVP award have been named the Players of the Month for October/November. Warriors guard Stephen Curry has won the Western Conference award, while Nets forward Kevin Durant is the Eastern Conference winner, the league announced today (via Twitter).

Curry led Golden State to an 18-3 record in October and November, averaging 27.8 PPG, 6.6 APG, and 5.7 RPG with an impressive .452/.412/.943 shooting line in 20 games (34.3 MPG). According to the NBA (Twitter link), Curry beat out fellow Western nominees Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, Paul George, Nikola Jokic, Ja Morant, and Karl-Anthony Towns for the award.

Durant, meanwhile, led the NBA in scoring in October and November, with 28.6 PPG. He also put up 7.5 RPG and 5.6 APG and shot .539/.389/.863 in 20 games (35.8 MPG). His Nets sit atop the Eastern standings with a 15-6 record. The other Eastern nominees for the award were Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland, Giannis Antetokounmpo, LaMelo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Tyrese Maxey, and Trae Young.

The NBA also announced its Rookies of the Month for October and November today, awarding that honor to Thunder guard Josh Giddey in the West and Cavaliers big man Evan Mobley in the East (Twitter link).

Giddey has immediately slid into the starting lineup for the lottery-bound Thunder and filled up the box score with 10.4 PPG, 7.2 RPG, and 5.8 APG in his first 20 games (29.4 MPG), though he struggled with his shooting efficiency (.391/.257/.654). Mobley, meanwhile, has been the most impressive of the rookie of the 2021 class so far, posting 14.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 1.8 BPG in his 17 games (33.8 MPG) in October and November.

The other nominees for the Rookie of the Month awards were Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Davion Mitchell, and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl in the West, and Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Chris Duarte, and Franz Wagner in the East (Twitter link).

Thunder Notes: Roby, Watson, Deck, Player Development

After playing a regular role for the Thunder in 2020/21, Isaiah Roby has been one of the odd men out of the frontcourt rotation so far this season, appearing in just 10 of the team’s first 20 games. However, with Derrick Favors and Kenrich Williams unavailable on Monday, Roby logged a season-high 27 minutes. He put up 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting and was a plus-five in a game the Thunder lost by 13 points.

As Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman writes, Roby has accepted his reduced role, telling reporters on Monday that he understands it and is just doing his best to stay ready. While Roby made a case for more playing time on Monday, head coach Mark Daigneault said there are still some things he wants to see from the forward on a consistent basis before reinserting him into the rotation.

“The things we’ve talked about is his rim protection and pick-and-roll coverage, which I thought was good at times (on Monday),” Daigneault said. “And then offensively just kinda being a floor-spacing, ball-moving, drive-and-kick player.”

The Thunder can make Roby a free agent in 2022 by turning down the team option on his minimum-salary contract, so if he continues to play limited minutes going forward, it’s possible his days in Oklahoma City are numbered.

Here’s more out of OKC:

  • Paul Watson, who is on a two-way contract, made his Thunder debut on Monday. Oklahoma City is a young team and two-way deals are typically reserved for younger players, so the choice to fill one of the club’s two-way slots with Watson (27 next month) is somewhat unusual. “You can’t develop 10 20-year-olds at the same time,” Daigneault explained, per Mussatto. “You’ve gotta have a level of functionality and allow people to develop in context. Otherwise you’re just kinda rolling the balls out and just hoping that the experiences are just adding up.”
  • Here’s more from Daigneault on the Thunder’s rebuild and the decision to try to develop players like Watson and 26-year-old Gabriel Deck: “It’s not a requirement moving forward that all of our players have to be 22. We have to continue to mine for opportunities with everybody.”
  • Having played in just five games with the Thunder this season, Deck has been assigned to the G League to get him more playing time, tweets Mussatto. The Argentine forward is a EuroLeague veteran, but has appeared in just 15 NBA contests since arriving in Oklahoma City late last season.

Williams Sidelined By Ankle Injury

  • Thunder forward Kenrich Williams is dealing with an ankle injury suffered in Friday’s loss to Washington, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. Williams, who is averaging 6.8 PPG, has been ruled out of Monday’s game against Houston.

Mark Daigneault Returned To Thunder On Wednesday

  • Thunder head coach Mark Daigneault returned to the sidelines for Wednesday’s contest vs. Utah after missing the team’s three-game road trip to be there for the birth of his first child (Twitter link via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman). Oklahoma City was 0-3 in Daigneault’s absence.

Pincus Thinks OKC Could Be Among Most Active Teams At Trade Deadline

  • Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report tries his luck at predicting which teams could be most active in trade talks leading up to the February deadline. Lottery teams like the Kings, Thunder, Magic, and Pistons are among those Pincus views as the best candidates to make moves.

How Thunder Are Simultaneously Below Salary Floor, Over Cap

When we updated our glossary entry on the NBA’s salary floor earlier this week, I noted that the Thunder are the only team currently under the floor for the 2021/22 season. Each NBA team is required to spend at least $101,173,000 on player salaries this season and 29 clubs have made financial commitments far exceeding that figure. Oklahoma City is the one exception.

Oddly enough, while the Thunder remain about $23MM below the salary floor, they have functioned since the 2021/22 league year began in August as an over-the-cap team.

The Thunder have used the mid-level exception (only available to over-the-cap clubs) to sign three different players. When they’ve taken on more salary in a trade than they’ve sent out – like when they acquired Derrick Favors from Utah – they’ve used trade exceptions to accommodate that incoming salary. And they haven’t used cap room to complete a single signing or trade, since they haven’t technically been “under the cap” at all so far in ’21/22.

On the surface, this seems like a paradox. How can a team be over the salary cap and under the salary floor at the same time? The Thunder’s unusual circumstances stem from the fact that a team’s salary in relation to the floor and the cap are determined using different methods.

Before we dig deeper into the explanation, let’s take a look at the player salaries currently on the Thunder’s books for 2021/22, with the help of data from Basketball Insiders and Spotrac:

Player Cap hit
Kemba Walker $26,238,422
Derrick Favors $9,720,900
Josh Giddey $5,988,000
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander $5,495,532
Gabriel Deck $3,676,852
Mike Muscala $3,500,000
Aleksej Pokusevski $3,113,160
Tre Mann $2,901,240
Darius Bazley $2,513,040
Ty Jerome $2,412,840
Theo Maledon $2,000,000
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl $2,000,000
Kenrich Williams $2,000,000
Luguentz Dort $1,782,621
Isaiah Roby $1,782,621
Kyle Singler $999,200
Vit Krejci $925,258
Patrick Patterson $737,066
Admiral Schofield $300,000
Mamadi Diakite $100,000
Total $78,186,752

* Note: Players in italics have been waived and are no longer on the roster.

That total, just over $78MM, is the one we’re using when we say the Thunder are well below the $101MM+ salary floor. It’s also the figure that presents the clearest picture of how much Oklahoma City is actually spending on its roster.

However, when determining whether or not a team is over the cap, the NBA also accounts for a handful of other cap charges. The salary cap exceptions a team has available – such as traded player exceptions or the mid-level exception – are included in the tally. So are the cap holds for players who reached free agency with the club and have never signed with new teams or had their cap holds renounced.

[RELATED: Hoops Rumors Glossary: Cap Holds]

The Thunder aren’t financially on the hook for these exception amounts and cap holds — they’re essentially just placeholders. The reason they count toward team salary for cap purposes is so a club can’t circumvent NBA rules by using its cap room while simultaneously retaining Bird rights to all its free agents and hanging onto exceptions only available to over-the-cap teams.

Here are the non-salary cap holds currently on the Thunder’s books:

Cap hold Cap hit
Traded player exception $12,800,000
Traded player exception $8,072,621
Bi-annual exception (full) $3,732,000
Mid-level exception (partial) $3,110,742
Deonte Burton $1,669,178
Norris Cole $1,669,178
Nick Collison $1,669,178
Raymond Felton $1,669,178
Jawun Evans $1,489,065
Kevin Hervey $1,489,065
Total cap holds
$37,370,205
Total (salaries + cap holds) $115,556,957

As that final row shows, after taking into account all the Thunder’s salaries, exceptions, and cap holds, their team salary exceeds the $112,414,000 cap by about $3MM.

The Thunder almost certainly won’t remain over the cap all season long. In order to maximize their financial flexibility and accommodate salary-dump trades before the February trade deadline, renouncing their various exceptions and cap holds makes the most sense. They could renounce all their exceptions and cap holds today if they wanted to, but there’s no rush to do so until it’s necessary for a roster move.

Even if the Thunder don’t actively try to get below the cap, it’ll likely happen naturally when their $12.8MM trade exception from last season’s Trevor Ariza deal expires. That’ll happen on February 3.

Still, for the time being, we can marvel at the rare situation the Thunder have created, with a team salary that’s simultaneously below the floor and over the cap. It’s not unusual for that to happen during the offseason before a team has filled out its roster, but it may be a long time before we see another club achieve the feat this far into a season.

Northwest Notes: Gilgeous-Alexander, Olshey, Gay, Rivers

After initially arriving in Oklahoma City as a complementary piece on a playoff roster, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has since become the centerpiece of a rebuild for a Thunder team that appears lottery-bound for a second consecutive season. While Gilgeous-Alexander would obviously like to be winning more, he told Joe Vardon of The Athletic that he’s enjoying his role as the focal point of OKC’s offense.

“Yeah, absolutely. It’s something I’ve dreamed about as a kid,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Everyone wants to be that guy, you know what I’m saying? With high pressure comes great rewards.”

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • The Trail Blazersinvestigation into Neil Olshey may be entering its final stages, according to Ian Begley of SNY.tv, who says Olshey was interviewed earlier this week as part of the probe. Sources tell Begley that Olshey is still owed more than $12MM on his current deal, which could become a sticking point if the franchise decides to part ways with the executive, as we outlined on Thursday.
  • Rudy Gay had an impressive first game back from offseason heel surgery, pouring in a team-high 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting in just 18 minutes in his Jazz debut on Thursday. The performance displayed how Gay is capable of helping Utah this season, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News.
  • Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said on Thursday that his assistant coach Sam Cassell was the first to suggest that the Nuggets would be a good fit for Doc’s son, Austin Rivers. As Mike Singer of The Denver Post details, Rivers signed with Denver last season, then re-signed with the club in the offseason and is playing regular minutes. “It’s always great when your kid is happy,” Doc said.