Oklahoma City Thunder

Draft Updates: Rabb, Boatwright, Ball, Diallo

While our friends at Pro Football Rumors cover this week’s NFL draft, we’ve still got nearly two months until NBA draft day. However, that doesn’t mean there are no draft-related stories worth following in the NBA at the moment.

For instance, as Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog.com tweets, each NBA team has now voted for its top 70 candidates for 2017’s draft combine, and the league figures to announce this year’s invitees next week. That list will be crucial for many prospects, especially for early entrants who are testing the draft waters — they don’t have to decide whether or not to withdraw until 10 days after the combine, so getting a chance to talk to and work out for NBA teams in Chicago could significantly impact those decisions.

Here are a few more 2017 NBA draft notes:

  • As expected, former Cal forward Ivan Rabb is staying in the draft. Rabb, who is viewed as a possible lottery pick, has agreed to hire Aaron Goodwin of Goodwin Sports Management for representation, per Chris Haynes of ESPN.com (Twitter link).
  • USC’s Bennie Boatwright, who had been testing the draft waters, announced (via a Twitter video) that he’ll head back to school for his junior year, removing his name from the draft pool.
  • Speaking to Shams Charania of The Vertical, top prospect Lonzo Ball said that – while he’d love to be drafted by the Lakers – he’s ready to play for any NBA club and is prepared for “the challenge of helping turn around any team in the league.”
  • A handful of NBA teams are doing their homework on Kentucky prospect Hamidou Diallo, who is testing the draft waters without an agent. As Adam Zagoria details at FanRagSports.com, Diallo’s former coach Andy Borman has fielded calls from the Spurs, Hawks, and Thunder, among other teams.
  • Sam Vecenie of Vice.com decries the practice of “concern trolling” when it comes to the high number of early entrants declaring for the draft. According to Vecenie, those early entrants are well aware that only 60 players are drafted each year, but many of them have their own personal reasons for exploring the possibility of going pro.

OKC Could Learn From Houston's Star, System Balance

  • If we learned anything from the Rockets/Thunder series in the first-round of this postseason, it’s that a franchise need not choose between investing in either a system or a superstar. Daryl Morey and Mike D’Antoni did both. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN writes about how Oklahoma City may be wise to embrace a similar attitude heading forward as opposed to so heavily relying on Russell Westbrook.

2017 Offseason Salary Cap Digest: Oklahoma City Thunder

The 2016/17 campaign was a banner season for Russell Westbrook, who may take home his first MVP award after averaging a triple-double. It was about as successful a year as the Thunder could have expected after losing Kevin Durant, but players like Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo didn’t take big steps forward after signing long-term deals, as the team might’ve hoped. Heading into the summer, the Thunder are over the cap and will have to get creative to further bolster their roster.

Here’s where things currently stand for the Thunder financially, as we continue our Offseason Salary Cap Digest series for 2017:

Guaranteed Salary

Player Options

  • None

Team Options

Non-Guaranteed Salary

Restricted Free Agents

  • Andre Roberson ($4,588,840 qualifying offer / $5,457,681 cap hold)
  • Total: $5,457,681

Cap Holds

Trade Exceptions

Projected Salary Cap: $101,000,000

Maximum Cap Room: $12,453,256

  • After Durant departed in free agency last July, the Thunder’s books looked wide open for the foreseeable future, creating a number of different paths the team could go down. However, in the subsequent months, Oklahoma City finalize lucrative extensions for Westbrook, Oladipo, and Adams. Those new deals will count for more than $72MM on the Thunder’s books for 2017/18, limiting the club’s flexibility, barring trades. With nine guaranteed salaries, the cap hold for their first-rounder, and two empty roster charges, the Thunder are carrying $113,453,256 in projected salary for ’17/18, and that’s assuming they renounce all their free agents, including Roberson. They won’t have cap room.

Footnotes:

  1. Christon’s salary becomes fully guaranteed after July 8.

Salary information from Basketball Insiders and The Vertical was used in the creation of this post.

Thunder Notes: Roberson, Gibson, Collison, Kanter

Andre Roberson and Taj Gibson should both get plenty of interest in free agency, according to Ryan Aber and Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Both expressed a desire today to stay in Oklahoma City, but they won’t be easy for the Thunder to keep.

Roberson, a fourth-year guard, will be a restricted free agent, so OKC can match any offer he receives. He made less than $2.2MM this season, but figures to get a substantial raise after an outstanding defensive performance in the playoffs. Gibson will be unrestricted after making $8.95MM this year. He became a starter after a midseason trade with Chicago and was a key contributor in the postseason. Gibson had a “long talk” with GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan about his desire to remain in OKC. “There’s gonna be teams out there, but you never know what’s gonna happen,” Gibson said. “Anything can happen. But I wanted to let Sam know I wanted to be here.”

There’s more news from the first day of the offseason in Oklahoma City:

  • Even though he saw little action this year, 36-year-old Nick Collison isn’t ready to retire, Aber and Dawson relay in the same story. He appeared in just 20 games during the regular season, averaging 6.4 minutes per night, and wasn’t used at all in the playoffs. Collison has been with the organization since entering the league in 2003, dating back to its days in Seattle. “I’ve got really good relationships with all the people here,” he said, “so I think it’ll be honest and fair and we’ll just — I think both sides just have to find the best thing, and we’ll figure it out.”
  • Rookie Domantas Sabonis will be part of the Thunder squad at this year’s summer league in Orlando and then will join the Lithuanian National Team, the authors add in the same piece. Rookie Alex Abrines won’t participate in summer league play and will spend the offseason playing for Spain.
  • Backup center Enes Kanter is trying to ignore trade rumors, tweets Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript. After averaging 21.3 minutes per night during the season, Kanter was limited to just 9.0 per game in the series with the Rockets. “It’s not in my hands,” he said. “… I’m at home. … I see this organization as my family.” Kanter still has another year left on his contract at nearly $17.9MM, then a player option worth more than $18.6MM for 2018/19.

Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City Is A Place That I Want To Be’

Thunder fans who were looking for some good news following their playoff ouster got it today from Russell Westbrook, writes Royce Young of ESPN.com.

After conducting his exit interview, the MVP candidate expressed a desire to remain in Oklahoma City, even though he didn’t specifically address a new extension.

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook signed a three-year extension last summer, but it includes a player option that could put him back on the free agent market by July of 2018. The new collective bargaining agreement gives him a chance to sign another extension that would make him the league’s highest-paid player and could total as much as $220MM over five seasons.

The Thunder are expected to make the extension offer, Young notes, adding that it would cause panic in the organization if Westbrook doesn’t accept it. However, given the loyalty he displayed last summer in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s departure, there is confidence that he will remain in OKC.

Westbrook said his primary concern is fatherhood, with his first child due in May, and he is in no rush to address his contract.

Thunder Rumors: Roberson, Westbrook, Gibson

The Thunder’s offseason is now officially underway after the team was eliminated from the playoffs on Tuesday night by the Rockets. While the summer of 2017 won’t feature any contract situations as game-changing – and uncertain – as Kevin Durant‘s was a year ago for the franchise, Oklahoma City will have plenty of crucial decisions to make in the coming months. With that in mind, let’s round up a few of the offseason’s first Thunder-related notes and rumors…

  • Andre Roberson is eligible for restricted free agency this July, and the Thunder are “intent on keeping him,” says Royce Young of ESPN.com. Although Roberson isn’t a dynamic offensive player, he’s one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, and the Thunder believe he showed some positive development and a better understanding of his role as the season went on, per Young.
  • The Thunder will explore many avenues for potential upgrades, but there’s optimism within the organization that many of the team’s young players will continue to improve. Young points to Alex Abrines and Domantas Sabonis as rookies who will have the opportunity to develop into “high-level role players” for the Thunder.
  • While other stars around the NBA may push their teams to acquire certain players, Russell Westbrook prefers to stay out of front office business, with a source telling Young that the point guard has never complained about the Thunder’s roster.
  • Speaking of Westbrook, he’ll be eligible for the NBA’s new Designated Veteran Extension this offseason. According to Young, there’s an expectation that the Thunder will offer such an extension, which would exceed $200MM over five years. This will be an interesting situation to watch, since Westbrook’s contract is only guaranteed for one more season — if he were to turn down a lucrative long-term contract, trade speculation would likely begin in earnest.
  • Following the Thunder’s Game 5 loss, free-agent-to-be Taj Gibson said that he’d like to stay with the Thunder, as Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders tweets. However, while Gibson’s love for OKC is genuine, this summer could represent his last chance at a big payday, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News observes (via Twitter). Young suggests in his ESPN story that Gibson will likely end up signing with another team.

Dion Waiters Discusses Heat, Thunder, Pat Riley

Dion Waiters can become a free agent this offseason by turning down his player option for next season. Even if he chooses that route, he hopes to return to Miami. “Hopefully, we found a home down here,” Waiter writes on The Players’ Tribune.

The Philadelphia native didn’t expect to sign with the Heat last summer. He was a free agent and heard that Miami was interested, but wasn’t sold on the fit. “I wasn’t really seeing it at first. Nothing against the Heat, but I didn’t know how I’d fit there,” Waiters writes. “Then I met Pat Riley.”

Waiters explains how Riley spoke with him about life and not just basketball during a free agent meeting. Riley also told him that if he came to Miami, the organization would get him in “world-class shape.” Waiters said he didn’t know it at the time, but now he realizes that taking the meeting with the Heat president was the best thing that happened to his basketball career. He writes:

When Pat said “world-class shape,” I thought it sounded cool, but in my head, I was like, Yeah, I got this. I’m in world-class shape. You already know. So I show up for camp, and after one week, my body is shot. I was damn near throwing up in trash cans like in the movies. And I realized, You know what? Pat was not just talking that smooth talk. This Heat thing is the real deal.

Miami came up one game short of making the playoffs after starting the season with a record of 11-30. Waiters believes that the Heat could have done serious damage as an eighth seed in the east, but regardless, he feels the season was special.

The Syracuse product also discusses how he enjoyed competing with Kevin Durant in practice and how he loved his Thunder team during the 2015/16 season. Waiters thought he was going to return to Oklahoma City after the team lost in the Western Conference Finals. “I genuinely thought I was going to be back in OKC this season, and we were going to make another run at it. But things didn’t work out that way, because basketball is a business,” he writes.

Waiters’ article is one of the publication’s best pieces and it’s worth a read. In addition to the aforementioned, he discusses his life growing up in Philadelphia, his younger basketball days, and his public persona, which includes the notion that he thinks he’s the best on the court and that he has irrational confidence.

“Listen, now you know where I’m from. Picture yourself walking into a South Philly playground at 12 years old, with [grown] men, bleachers packed with people, trying to get a run in.” Waiters writes. “You think you can survive in Philly without irrational confidence?”

League Dishes Out Pair Of $25K Fines

The NBA handed out two $25K fines, one to Rajon Rondo and one to Patrick Beverley, for separate incidents over the weekend.

Beverley got into a verbal altercation with Stuart Scaramucci, who is the son of Thunder minority owner Jay Scaramucci, after Game 3 of the Rockets-Thunder playoff series, as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com details. Beverley fell near the younger Scaramucci during the game and immediately got up and started to complain about him to officials. The point guard said that Scaramucci was screaming obscenities and waved a clapper in his face while he was on the ground.

“If the NBA won’t or help protect players in situations with fans, I’m okay with the hazing, I’m okay with the boos, I’m okay with the other fans rooting for their team but I’m not okay with the blatant disrespect,” Beverley said (via ESPN’s Calvin Walkins). “…I’m not comfortable with that.

“So if the NBA won’t protect the players in that manner, I feel the need as a man, as a grown man who has children, who has morals, stand up for the right thing. I have to protect myself and I felt like I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I felt like I addressed him and (said), ‘At the end of the day this is a basketball game this is a game, I’m a grown man, your a grown man, let’s keep it professional.’ Just like that. There’s no need for plant disrespect, and that’s all.”

Rondo was fined for something completely different. He wasn’t able to play in the Bulls’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics, but he was sitting courtside with his team. During the game, Rondo extended his leg and it appeared that he was attempting to trip Jae Crowder. After the game, he said he was not trying to trip anyone.

“When you tear an ACL, your legs get stiff on you every once in a while,” Rondo said (via ESPN’s Nick Friedell). “I stretched my leg out. I also do that throughout the game. I guess he was so deep into our bench, it looked maybe whatever may have happened.

Crowder’s teammate, Gerald Green wouldn’t completely discount Rondo’s excuse.

“He may have had to stretch his leg out. I don’t know,” Green said. “I ain’t no snitch, so I don’t know. That’s not something I grew up being a part of. Where I’m from, they know snitches get stitches. So I don’t know.”

As a reminder, the money which the league generates from fines goes to charities chosen by the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. The NBPA has its own foundation and half of the money goes to that charity, while the NBA’s half goes to it NBA Cares community partners. Some of those partners included the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, UNICEF and Share Our Strength, according to Ahiza Garcia of CNN Money.

Gibson Earning Respect In OKC; Roberson Playing Well Ahead Of RFA

Taj Gibson helped the Thunder with both his offense and defense since arriving in Oklahoma City and he’s already earned the respect of his teammates, Cliff Brunt of USA Today writes.

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, Kanter, MVP

After an historic regular season, Russell Westbrook‘s magic hasn’t been quite enough to lead the Thunder to success against the Rockets but that doesn’t mean Billy Donovan‘s confidence in the star guard is wavering, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN details.

I have an enormous amount of trust and confidence after being with Russell this season for 82 games and seeing the ways he’s closed out games and different things that he’s done,” the Thunder bench boss said.

Westbrook put up 14 missed shots in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s Wednesday night loss, the highest recorded in the past 20 years, but his track record of success in the clutch is otherwise impressive.

Per Shelburne:

In the regular season, Westbrook’s 82 made field goals in clutch time (the last five minutes of a game, with the score within 5) were 18 more than any other player.

There’s more from the Thunder:

  • Though his defensive inefficiencies come to light when James Harden is on the court, the answer may not be as simple as trotting Enes Kanter out there when he’s on the bench, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman writes. When Kanter is on the court and Harden is sitting, the Rockets have outscored the Thunder 48-31.
  • The NBA has fined Russell Westbrook $15K for using inappropriate language in a press conference, the league reports in a press release.
  • Though it’s one of the most heated MVP races in recent memory, four of five Hoops Rumors staffers selected Russell Westbrook as this year’s winner. “James Harden’s season was special, but Westbrook’s was historic,” Arthur Hill said.
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