Thunder Rumors

Doc Rivers On How Clippers Landed Kawhi, George

The Clippers were one of the big winners of the 2019 offseason, landing the top free agent on the market in Kawhi Leonard and trading for MVP finalist Paul George in perhaps the most shocking deal of the summer.

While the Clippers can look back fondly now on a first week of July that culminated with the club reaching agreements to acquire both stars, head coach Doc Rivers admits to Arash Markazi of The Los Angeles Times that it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride at the time.

According to Rivers, on Friday, July 5 at noon, it looked like the Clippers wouldn’t be able to pry George away from the Thunder. Failing to complete that deal was expected to result in Leonard signing with the Lakers or returning to the Raptors, and Rivers was particularly dismayed at the idea of Kawhi joining the Lakers, telling Clippers owner Steve Ballmer that they couldn’t allow that to happen.

“I actually told Steve jokingly that if that happens, we’re moving the team to Seattle,” Rivers told Markazi. “It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that.”

Less than 12 hours later, the deal with Oklahoma City was back on and the Clippers had secured a commitment from Leonard, shaking up the NBA world and putting Rivers in position to coach two of the game’s top players.

In his conversation with Markazi, Rivers offered a few more entertaining tidbits about the Clippers’ pursuit of Leonard and their trade for George. Here are a few of the highlights from the veteran head coach:

On the Clippers’ subtle, season-long recruitment of Leonard in 2018/19:

“I got a lot of credit, and so did [special consultant] Jerry West, but the guy that was the hero in all this was [president of basketball operations] Lawrence Frank. He did all the work. He had Steve Ballmer going to Raptors games and he went to some, too. We were warned that no more Clippers players, coaches or employees could go to games in Toronto. We were sending guys to go sit the stands.

“There was nothing wrong with what we were doing, but Steve Ballmer sitting courtside in Toronto seemed a little strange. But we didn’t say a word. We just wanted [Leonard] to know we were there and we were interested.”

On Leonard essentially giving the Clippers an ultimatum:

“He said, ‘I want to play for you,’ and he pointed at me. He said, ‘Mr. Ballmer, I love the things you do and what you stand for, but your team is not good enough and if you don’t change your team, I’m not coming.'”

On how Leonard zeroed in on Paul George as a potential teammate:

“We actually had a list of guys, which was a mistake, but we got lucky. We shouldn’t have had a list, because then he got to choose who he wanted to play with and the assumption was that we could get them. We didn’t know if we could get anybody. We just showed him guys that we thought would match him and when he saw Paul George’s name he said, ‘I want to play with him.’ We showed him everybody else and he didn’t want to hear it. He just stayed on Paul George, so after the meeting we sat down and I said, ‘We got to get Paul George. I don’t know how we are going to do it, but we have to do it.'”

On sending a massive haul of draft picks to the Thunder for George:

“Steve Ballmer was nervous about the picks. I said, ‘Steve, you keep saying six picks for Paul George is insane, but you’re saying it wrong. It’s not six for Paul; it’s six for Paul and Kawhi. So three for each. I would do that.’ You have to look at it in those terms.”

World Cup Notes: Brown, Canada, Rubio

Jaylen Brown has stepped up for Team USA since Jayson Tatum went down with an ankle injury. The Celtics wing has played in the frontcourt for USA Basketball, excelling in an unfamiliar spot.

“I feel like I’m not a position player, I’m a basketball player. 4-3-2, whatever coach needs me to do, I will make the adjustment,” Brown said (via Brian Windhorst of “Obviously with Jayson out, there’s a little more opportunity and maybe it was a little more visible. But every time I take the floor, I want to be aggressive.”

Here’s more from the FIBA World Cup:

  • Coach Nick Nurse doesn’t see many changes for the Canadian National Team next summer in the Olympics, as Michael Grange of Sportsnet relays. The team has a core of veteran players but could see prospects like RJ Barrett and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander break through next summer.
  • Thunder guard Dennis Schroder has impressed during international play, as Erik Horne of the Oklahoman writes. Germany was eliminated in the first round after losing its first two games by a total of six points, but the point guard helped the country win three consecutive games to close the tournament (the team’s final first-round game and two consolation contests).
  • Cody Cunningham of breaks down Ricky Rubio‘s 2019 FIBA World Cup. The point guard has helped Spain reach the semi-finals.

Kevin Durant Talks FA Decision, Warriors, Thunder

Kevin Durant hasn’t spoken much this summer about his decision to leave the Warriors for the Nets in free agency, but he opened up on that topic in a conversation with J.R. Moehringer of The Wall Street Journal.

As Durant explained to Moehringer, after going through an extended series of meetings during his free agency in 2016, the star forward didn’t feel the need to do the same in 2019. He didn’t even need to speak to the Nets before making his decision, having felt confident from the outside that Brooklyn was the right fit.

Durant also noted that the motion offense the Warriors run “only works to a certain point,” and that the later rounds of the postseason require him to get more creative on offense. According to Moehringer, the 10-time All-Star wanted to go somewhere where he’d be “free to hone that sort of improvisational game” over the course of the season.

The opportunity to join his “best friend in the league,” Kyrie Irving, was a plus for KD too.

Over the course of Moehringer’s piece, Durant offers a handful of interesting thoughts and observations on his fit with the Warriors, his relationship with the Thunder, and his feeling about the NBA. Here are a few of those highlights:

On never fully fitting in with the Warriors:

“I came in there wanting to be part of a group, wanting to be part of a family, and definitely felt accepted. But I’ll never be one of those guys. I didn’t get drafted there.… Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there. So me? S–t, how you going to rehabilitate me? What you going to teach me? How can you alter anything in my basketball life? I got an MVP already. I got scoring titles.

“As time went on, I started to realize I’m just different from the rest of the guys. It’s not a bad thing. Just my circumstances and how I came up in the league. And on top of that, the media always looked at it like KD and the Warriors. So it’s like nobody could get a full acceptance of me there.”

On the hostile reaction he received from the Thunder and their fans when he returned as a Warrior:

“Such a venomous toxic feeling when I walked into that arena. And just the organization, the trainers and equipment managers, those dudes is pissed off at me? Ain’t talking to me? I’m like, ‘Yo, this is where we going with this? Because I left a team and went to play with another team?’

“… I’ll never be attached to that city again because of that. I eventually wanted to come back to that city and be part of that community and organization, but I don’t trust nobody there. That s–t must have been fake, what they was doing. The organization, the GM, I ain’t talked to none of those people, even had a nice exchange with those people, since I left.”

On the business of the NBA:

“Some days I hate the circus of the NBA. Some days I hate that the players let the NBA business, the fame that comes with the business, alter their minds about the game. Sometimes I don’t like being around the executives and politics that come with it. I hate that.”

Western Notes: McKinnie, Cauley-Stein, Silva, Grant

Willie Cauley-Stein will likely start at center for the Warriors but Kevon Looney will probably play more crunch-time minutes, Anthony Slater of The Athletic opines. Alfonzo McKinnie may get the nod at small forward with Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III in reserve, since McKinnie is a high energy player who should mesh well with the backcourt of Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell, Slater continues. However, rookie Eric Paschall is a darkhorse candidate to play down the stretch due to his versatility, Slater adds.

We have from the Western Conference:

  • The Warriors preferred Cauley-Stein to DeMarcus Cousins even before Cousins committed to the Lakers, Slater writes in the same mailbag story. Cauley-Stein provided a younger option who better fit their new priorities, according to Slater. However, they never really had a decision to make because they were hard-capped after the sign-and-trade for Russell with the Nets was agreed upon. The hard cap meant the Warriors couldn’t give Cousins a max raise up to $6.4MM, Slater notes. Cauley-Stein agreed to join the Warriors on a two-year contract on July 2 and officially signed on July 8.
  • Pelicans draft-and-stash prospect Marcos Louzada Silva – aka Didi Louzada — has developed a solid perimeter jumper that should translate well to the NBA game, according to a story. The 6’5” guard can also attack the rim and has shown good strides in his development in recent months. Louzada, the 35th overall pick in June who was acquired in a draft-day deal, will play in Australia with the Sydney Kings during the upcoming season.
  • Jerami Grant should be an ideal frontcourt complement to Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, Nick Kosmider of The Athletic opines. Grant, projected as the top big off the bench, is a nimble perimeter defender who can guard ball-handlers. Grant, acquired from the Thunder for a protected first-round pick, is also a solid help defender who can block shots.
  • Jared Cunningham will work out for the Warriors on Tuesday, Marc Spears of ESPN tweets. Cunningham, a shooting guard who recently worked out for the Rockets, hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since the 2015/16 season.

Mike Muscala Discusses Decision To Sign With Thunder

News of his deal flew under the radar on the evening of June 30 as blockbuster signings and trades were agreed upon, but veteran center Mike Muscala was one of the first names off the board that night, reaching an agreement with the Thunder shortly after the free agent period began.

When the Thunder changed direction a week later, first trading Paul George and then Russell Westbrook and Jerami Grant, the team gave Muscala an opportunity to reconsider his deal. Alec Burks, who also agreed to sign with the Thunder early in free agency, took advantage of the same opportunity and joined the Warriors instead, but Muscala opted to remain committed to Oklahoma City.

In a conversation with Brett Dawson of The Athletic, Muscala explained why he decided to stick with OKC and discussed what it was like to be the Thunder’s top priority when free agency got underway. If you’re an Athletic subscriber, the Q&A is worth reading in full, but here are a few of the big man’s more notable answers:

On being Sam Presti’s top target in free agency:

“Yeah, it was kind of funny. My agent called me a few days before free agency, and he said that the Thunder were quite interested. … So the first thing (my agent) said is, like, they wanted to talk with me right when free agency started. And then it moved to, ‘They want to meet with you.’ Then it was, ‘They want to meet with you in Minneapolis.’ Then it was, ‘They want to meet you at your house.’

“For a player like me, that’s not common. It was really flattering. Even when it changed, with PG and Russell leaving, that feeling just stuck with me. I just felt like, last year being traded a couple times, it just felt really flattering and felt really nice to be wanted in that way. And that feeling didn’t leave once that situation changed.”

On why the Thunder were so interested in him, and why he was intrigued by them:

“I think mostly for my shooting and my size. That was the big reason. But I feel like as far as organizations go and what the Thunder represent, I’ve always noticed their activity in the community and thought it was cool. … That’s always been something that I’ve tried to be better at and continue to do as much as I can. I just think it’s something that’s really, really cool about basketball, that you can affect people in so many ways and inspire youth and people.”

On why he opted to sign with the Thunder even after the team shifted away from contending and toward rebuilding:

“Obviously, at the beginning, the team and how it was structured was very intriguing. And that’s what I agreed to. But then even when that changed, I think because my feelings just were so good about the organization, it stuck with me. And I just felt that even despite the change in the roster, the personnel, that it would still be a good opportunity for me and that there would still be a lot that I could learn.

“I’ve never played the game with the approach that ‘Oh, I just want to win a championship.’ It’s never been like that. For me, it’s been more about the people I meet and have met throughout my career who I stay in touch with. I think that’s what’s so cool about basketball.”

Western Notes: Paul, Collins, Gordon

Despite being traded to a presumed non-contender, veteran star Chris Paul can help steady the ship of the Thunder if both sides choose to stay together this season, Chad Smith of Basketball Insiders writes.

Paul, who’s entering his 15th season, was traded from Houston to Oklahoma City in a major deal involving Russell Westbrook this past summer. In the agreement, Oklahoma City also acquired first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 as well as pick swaps in 2021 and 2025.

While the Thunder were thought to be rebuilding after sending away both Westbrook and superstar Paul George in separate deals, the team currently has Paul, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Andre Roberson and other veterans under contract for the upcoming season.

Paul failed to keep his footing in Houston alongside star guard James Harden, but he’s made a career out of running teams at lead guard when the ball is primarily in his hands. The Thunder can opt to keep the 34-year-old, who’s due $38.5MM, $41.3MM and $44.2MM (player option) in each of the next three seasons, or look to trade him and offload his contract from their books.

There’s more out of the Western Conference tonight:

  • The Trail Blazers’ title hopes largely hinge on whether Zach Collins can properly adapt his game this season, Jack Winter of Basketball Insiders writes. Collins could be named the team’s starting power forward with Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless no longer on the roster, making it imperative that he improves his game on the perimeter and continues to adapt entering his third NBA season.
  • Eric Gordon will have four seasons’ worth of chances to guarantee the $20MM+ in the final year of his extension with the Rockets, Bobby Marks of ESPN tweets. Gordon’s extension also contains a minutes criteria that he will likely reach in order to guarantee the final season, which only happens if he makes the All-Star team or the Rockets win an NBA championship, Marks notes. Gordon has this season, the 2020/21 season, 2021/22, and 2022/23 to reach the criteria needed for the final year.

Schroder Could Be Dealt During Season

The possibility of Dennis Schroder getting traded by the Thunder will increase once the regular season begins, Brett Dawson of The Athletic opines. Schroder’s presence on the roster made more sense with a team built around stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Schroder is likely to get fewer minutes on a rebuilding club with two other natural point guards ahead of him, but once teams get a better look at their rosters and more free agents are eligible to be traded after December 15, Schroder could be on the move, Dawson adds.

Thunder Sign Devon Hall To Two-Way Contract

1:39pm: Hall’s two-way contract with the Thunder is now official, the team confirmed in a press release.

10:31am: After spending his first professional season overseas and then in the G League, 2018 second-round pick Devon Hall is joining the Thunder, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). League sources tell Haynes that Hall has agreed to a two-way contract with Oklahoma City.

The No. 53 pick in the 2018 draft, Hall joined the Cairns Taipans of Australia’s National Basketball League last summer due to a roster crunch in Oklahoma City. After spending most of the 2018/19 season down under, the Virginia alum signed a G League contract in late February and finished the year with the Oklahoma City Blue, averaging 7.3 PPG with a .422 3PT% in 10 NBAGL games (21.1 MPG).

When Hall first signed to play in Australia, his agent Daniel Curtin told a reporter that “we expect him to be with the Thunder next season.” That expectation has come to fruition, with the 24-year-old shooting guard poised to claim OKC’s second two-way contract slot.

[RELATED: 2019 NBA Draft-And-Stash Signings]

Hall will join rookie shooting guard Luguentz Dort as the Thunder’s two-way players. The team only has 15 players on standard contracts so far, leaving three openings on the 20-man offseason roster.

Nets Notes: Carmelo, LeVert, Prince, LiAngelo

In an interview with TMZ (video link), Carmelo Anthony offers little insight into a report last week that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are campaigning for the Nets to sign him. Anthony is close with the two stars and played with them, as well as new Brooklyn center DeAndre Jordan, on the 2016 Olympic team.

“That’s family,” Anthony said. “So, that’s bigger than basketball. If something happens, something’s gonna happen.”

A source told Frank Isola of The Athletic that Nets GM Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson have watched Anthony this summer and are considering adding him to the team. Brooklyn has a full roster, but will be able to sign a player once Wilson Chandler serves five games of his 25-game PED suspension. Anthony’s representatives have spoken to the Sixers as well, according to Isola.

There’s more this morning from Brooklyn:

  • Fresh off signing a three-year, $52.5MM extension, Caris LeVert tells Bill Bender of The Sporting News that his next goal is to become one of the NBA’s best players. He also believes the Nets are ready to join the league’s elite teams after their success in free agency. “When you get guys like KD, Kyrie and DeAndre, expectations rise,” he said. “We’re looking forward to that. We’ve been working for that. I think everybody loves playing on a big stage. We’re definitely looking forward to this year and the challenges it’s going to bring.”
  • Taurean Prince was a less celebrated addition for the Nets, but he could play an important role in making the team a contender, writes David Yapkowitz of Basketball Insiders. Brooklyn agreed to acquire Prince from the Hawks before the start of free agency, so he got to enjoy watching the team’s success in free agency. He called being traded “bittersweet,” but said he’s eager to be part of a rising power in Brooklyn. “I’m someone who wants to win more than they want to score,” Prince said. “My big thing is getting to the playoffs and being able to play in those type of opportunities and environment.”
  • LiAngelo Ball claims the Nets were one of three teams that talked to him about a possible Summer League role, relays Ralph Orense of ClutchPoints. On an episode of “Ball in the Family,” Ball says the Thunder and Heat also expressed interest.

NBA Teams In The Tax For 2019/20

While 2019’s salary cap increase wasn’t as substantial as 2016’s, the jump from last season’s $101,869,000 cap to this year’s $109,140,000 represents the second-biggest increase in NBA history.

The luxury tax line increased along with the salary cap, getting a bump all the way from $123,733,000 to $132,627,000 and creating some breathing room for many cap-strapped teams around the league. Still, despite the extra financial flexibility in 2019/20, a handful of teams find themselves above that tax threshold as opening night nears.

Clubs have until the end of the 2019/20 regular season to adjust team salary in an effort to get back under the tax line, and at least one of the teams listed below – the Thunder – figures to push hard to get out of tax territory. But most of the other clubs on the current list of projected taxpayers will have little leverage if they try to dump salary, so it won’t be easy to cut costs.

With the help of salary information from Basketball Insiders and Early Bird Rights, here are the teams projected to be in the tax for ’19/20 as of September 1, 2019:

Portland Trail Blazers
Approximately $12.4MM over tax line

All of the big long-term contracts the Trail Blazers signed in 2016 – for Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Maurice Harkless, and Meyers Leonard – are now off the team’s books. However, three of those deals had to be swapped for lucrative contracts belonging to Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore. Throw in huge cap hits for stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, plus an eight-figure salary for Jusuf Nurkic, and Portland projects to have the NBA’s highest team salary for the 2019/20 season.

Since last season was the only recent instance the Blazers have paid the tax, they don’t have repeater concerns yet. As it stands, they have a projected tax bill just over $22MM.

Golden State Warriors
Approximately $5.9MM over tax line

The Warriors‘ team salary falls in between the tax line ($132,627,000) and the tax apron ($138,928,000), which acts as a hard cap for the team this season. Golden State is much closer to the latter than the former, with only about $407K in breathing room below the apron.

That figure assumes Alfonzo McKinnie – who has a non-guaranteed contract – holds the 14th roster spot. The Warriors don’t currently have enough room below the hard cap to start the season with a 15th man.

The Warriors project to have a tax bill in the $15MM range, since they’re subject to repeater penalties after finishing in tax territory in 2016, 2018, and 2019. If not for the repeater penalties, that projection would only be in the neighborhood of $9MM.

[RELATED: Recent History Of NBA Taxpaying Teams]

Miami Heat
Approximately $3.8MM over tax line

Like the Warriors, the Heat are in the territory between the tax line and the apron. Some bonuses push Miami’s total team salary to within approximately $855K of the hard cap (per ESPN’s Bobby Marks), but those incentives won’t count against the team’s cap or tax bill if they go unearned.

Our projection for Miami assumes the team will retain Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn, who don’t yet have fully guaranteed salaries. With those two players and their other 12 guaranteed deals, the Heat would have a projected tax bill a little shy of $6MM.

Oklahoma City Thunder
Approximately $921K over tax line

The Thunder have managed to cut costs significantly so far this summer as they’ve retooled their roster, most notably sending Jerami Grant to Denver in a salary-dump deal for a first-round pick.

Oklahoma City briefly inched below the tax line, but only had 13 players under contract at the time. Signing a mandatory 14th (Justin Patton) pushed the club back into tax territory for the time being. The Thunder’s tax bill would be very modest (about $1.4MM) if they don’t add any more salary, but I expect the team to do all it can to make a cost-cutting trade to get out of the tax altogether.

Although only four teams project to be taxpayers for now, several other clubs – including the Cavaliers, Nuggets, Pistons, and Magic – are within spitting distance of that threshold.

A rebuilding team like Cleveland will likely be extra careful not to finish the season in the tax –particularly since the Cavs would be subject to repeater penalties. Would-be contenders like Denver may be more inclined to pay a small tax bill if it means acquiring one more impact player for a postseason run.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.