- The Thunder are hoping to hit big with their two late draft picks, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes, noting that the fact that they’ll fall so late in the draft (No. 53 and No. 57) means they’ll come with less of a financial burden and less pressure to pan out.
After losing Kevin Durant during the summer of 2016, the Thunder made an effort to reintroduce some star power to their roster during the 2017 offseason, finalizing trades for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to create a new “Big Three” along with Russell Westbrook.
However, Oklahoma City sacrificed important depth in those deals, and it came back to haunt the team, particularly after Andre Roberson went down with a season-ending injury — the bench ranked 29th in the NBA in scoring during the regular season, and was dead last in PPG during the playoffs. Whether or not George and Anthony are still on the roster next season, OKC will have to find a way to replenish its rotation with reliable contributors.
Here are five key questions facing the franchise this summer:
1. Will George re-sign with the Thunder?
A year ago, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that George would be traded to a team like the Lakers – his preferred landing spot – or the Celtics, who had more than enough assets to put together any number of competitive trade offers. The Thunder ended up shocking the world by snatching George out of Indiana in a blockbuster deal that virtually no one saw coming.
Twelve months later, it’s tempting to once again write the Thunder off as a long-term home for George, particularly after the team’s unceremonious first-round exit from the postseason. There’s a clear path for George to return home to Los Angeles and join the Lakers, who can create enough cap room to sign two stars this offseason.
Still, we keep hearing that the Thunder remain confident about their chances of re-signing George, and Marc Stein of The New York Times wrote this week in his newsletter that there’s a “growing belief” around the league that the club’s confidence is well-founded. I’m still not entirely convinced that George sticks in Oklahoma City. After all, the last time the Thunder were conveying this sort of confidence heading into a star player’s free agency, he bolted for the Bay Area.
It would be fascinating to see what happens if the Thunder do re-sign George. A maximum-salary contract for the two-way forward would start at $30MM+. With about $89MM in guaranteed money already on the club’s 2018/19 cap, and Anthony’s expensive player option likely to add another $28MM or so to that figure, OKC probably can’t really afford George unless costs are cut elsewhere.
2. Will Anthony be on the Thunder’s roster in 2018/19?
Whether or not George is back, Anthony’s player option is a problem. He hasn’t technically opted in yet, but there’s no chance he’ll turn down a $27.9MM+ salary. He’d be lucky to receive a third of that on the open market.
Anthony’s situation is somewhat reminiscent of Dwyane Wade opting into his $23MM+ contract with the Bulls last June. Wade was unlikely to ever get that sort of payday again, so he couldn’t pass up the money, but it quickly became clear that he had no interest in playing for the rebuilding Bulls, and the two sides reached a buyout agreement that saw Wade give up about $8MM in order to sign with a team of his choice.
While the Thunder and Anthony could reach a similar agreement, Carmelo may not quite as eager as Wade was to leave his current situation. Chicago was entering a full-fledged rebuild, whereas OKC hopes to contend again next season, particularly if George returns. Paradoxically though, it looks like there’s no way the Thunder could reasonably keep Anthony on board at his current cap figure if they re-sign George. The tax penalties would be too high.
If George re-signs, I’d expect Anthony to be waived and stretched, even if he’s not willing to give up any money in a buyout. Stretching the final year of his contract over three seasons would reduce his cap charge by about $18.6MM, creating some badly-needed relief for the Thunder. Even if George isn’t back, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see OKC take that route, since doing so would move team salary well below the tax line and would generate some flexibility for other roster moves.
Oregon shooting guard Troy Brown worked out for the Spurs on Sunday, Michael Scotto of The Athletic tweets. The Spurs hold the No. 18 pick and Brown is ranked No. 19 by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Brown then worked out for the Wizards Monday and is headed to Milwaukee for an evaluation by the Bucks, Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington tweets. Washington owns the No. 15 selection with the Bucks at No. 17.
We have plenty of other workouts to pass along:
- The Lakers will work out Abdul-Malik Abu (North Carolina State), Trevon Bluiett (Xavier), Kameron Chatman (Detroit), Manu Lecomte (Baylor), Marcus Lee (Cal) and Matt Mobley (St. Bonaventure) on Tuesday, the team’s PR department tweets. Seton Hall big man Angel Delgado will get a second look from the Lakers on Tuesday, Adam Zagoria of the New York Times tweets.
- The Grizzlies will bring in six second-round prospects on Tuesday, according to a team press release. That group includes A.J. Davis (UCF), Wenyen Gabriel (Kentucky), Brandon Goodwin (Florida Gulf Coast), Devonte’ Graham (Kansas), Terry Larrier (Connecticut) and Ray Spalding (Louisville). Memphis held a workout with projected lottery pick Wendell Carter Jr. on Monday, Chris Herrington tweets. Carter is ranked No. 6 by Givony; the Grizzlies have the No. 4 pick.
- Arizona guard Rawle Alkins will be evaluated by the Warriors on Tuesday, according to another Zagoria tweet.
- Swingman Todd Withers (Queens) has worked out for the Thunder, Nets and Hornets, according to Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
- Zhaire Smith will work out for the Sixers and Suns after visiting the Wizards on Monday, Chase Hughes of NBCSWashington tweets. The Texas Tech forward is ranked No. 16 overall by Givony.
Michael Porter Jr. was impressive at Friday’s pro day in Chicago, tweets Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. Although there’s no question about his talent, several teams are concerned about Porter’s physical condition in the wake of back surgery that cost him nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri. Porter’s representatives will decide over the next few days which teams they plan to hold meetings with and who will receive his medical records.
Kyler adds that most scouts view Porter as a top three to five talent in the draft (Twitter link), but the back problems may scare some teams away. Even so, Kyler speculates that he won’t fall lower than the Bulls at No. 7 (Twitter link).
There’s more news as the draft draws closer:
- The Knicks are among several lottery teams that will travel to Chicago next week to meet with Porter, a league source tells Adam Zagoria of ZagsBlog (Twitter link).
- The Suns are trying to arrange a workout with Oklahoma’s Trae Young, tweets Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report. Team officials are expected to meet with Young before the draft, but scheduling conflicts may prevent the Suns from working him out. Because Phoenix holds the No. 1 pick and Young is unlikely to be taken that high, Wasserman cites the report as evidence that the team is trying to acquire a second top 10 selection.
- Anfernee Simons, who worked out today for the Magic, has been among the most active pre-draft prospects, tweets Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel. Simons has already been to sessions with the Bulls, Suns, Trail Blazers, Lakers and Jazz and has upcoming workouts scheduled with the Knicks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies and Bucks.
- The Cavaliers brought in Alabama’s Collin Sexton for a workout today, tweets ESPN’s Dave McMenamin.
- The Nuggets have six players scheduled for a session on Monday, according to a story on the team’s website. Expected to attend are Idaho’s Brayon Blake, Georgetown’s Marcus Derrickson, UNLV’s Brandon McCoy, USC’s Jordan McLaughlin, Wake Forest’s Doral Moore and Northern Colorado’s Andre Spight.
- Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez will work out tomorrow for the Spurs, Zagoria writes. The Mavericks will see him Tuesday, followed by the Raptors, then then Lakers on June 20. Rodriguez has also worked out for the Knicks, Nets, Suns, Thunder, Celtics, Bucks and Kings.
- The Nets have already held sessions with about 60 players, roughly the same amount the team saw through the entire pre-draft process last year, according to a story on NetsDaily.
Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac are both in Madrid, Spain, to watch Luka Doncic in the ACB Playoffs, tweets basketball journalist David Pick. Doncic, widely expected to be a top-three selection in the draft, has already secured numerous accolades, including the EuroLeague MVP, Rising Star, and Final Four MVP.
While there has been talk of Doncic going No. 1 overall to the Suns, it’s more likely he ends up with either the Kings or Hawks, who own the second and third picks, respectively. Doncic has said that it’s not certain that he will come stateside next season despite the expectation that he will be a top draftee. Just recently, a report suggested that both the Hawks and Kings may pass on Doncic and instead focus on frontcourt players.
“[The Kings] have a real hole there in the frontcourt. I don’t think that they’re in love with Willie Cauley-Stein by any means. They started Zach Randolph at the four all year long,” ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said. “What do they do there? Do they go with Marvin Bagley who is going to be a compelling prospect for them?
Check out more draft news below:
- Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is set to work out for the Knicks this Saturday, reports ESPN’s Ian Begley. The Knicks own the ninth overall pick and Bridges, along with Villanova’s Mikal Bridges have been reported as possible targets for New York.
- UCLA’s Aaron Holiday had his second workout with the Suns on Thursday, the team announced. Five other prospects were part of the workout, with Troy Brown (Oregon), Jalen Brunson (Villanova), Marcus Derrickson (Georgetown), Amine Noua (France), and Desi Rodriguez (Seton Hall) also participating.
- Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez also worked out for the Thunder on Wednesday, tweets Adam Zagoria of SNY.
- Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo has scheduled workouts with the Lakers and Mavericks, Sean Deveney of Sporting News tweets. Diallo will have also worked out for the Bulls, Wizards, Suns, Blazers, Kings, Nets, Knicks, and Bucks.
While no trades are likely to be completed until closer to – or during – draft night, Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports believes there could be a lot of movement in this year’s draft, with several teams looking to trade up or down. Appearing today on Chris Mannix’s podcast, Charania pointed specifically to the Clippers as a team that has weighed the possibility of moving up. With the Nos. 12 and 13 picks currently in hand, L.A. could put together an intriguing package, and they’ve looked “heavily” at Real Madrid star Luka Doncic, according to Charania.
Here are more highlights from Charania’s appearance on the Yahoo Sports NBA podcast:
- Addressing the Kawhi Leonard situation in San Antonio, Charania indicated that an extension or a trade are the probable outcomes for the star forward this summer — it’s unlikely that the Spurs would keep him for next season without a new deal in place. However, both sides are interested in mending fences and clearing up last season’s miscommunications. Leonard is also nearing 100% health and should be ready to go to start next season, Charania adds.
- In a look at the restricted free agent market, Charania identified Magic forward Aaron Gordon and Bulls guard Zach LaVine as two players who could command max or near-max deals and are unlikely to change teams. He also speculated that the Suns, Kings, and Pacers are among the clubs with cap room who could be fits for Celtics RFA Marcus Smart, and said that there seems to be mutual interest between the Mavericks and Julius Randle.
- Raptors guard Fred VanVleet and Bulls swingman David Nwaba are two under-the-radar restricted free agents in line for sizable raises, in Charania’s view. He expects both players to land deals worth more than $5MM, noting that Toronto may have to use its full Early Bird exception (approximately $8.5MM) to retain VanVleet.
- While outside observers around the NBA remain skeptical about the Thunder‘s chances of re-signing Paul George, Oklahoma City is still exuding confidence, according to both Charania and Mannix. Charania observes that George and Russell Westbrook have become “really close,” which could factor into the forward’s decision.
- Many people around the league don’t expect former Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo to get another NBA job anytime soon, if at all, per Charania.
Paul George has one season remaining on his contract, but he’s expected to opt out of his deal this summer and become a free agent. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski discussed George’s future on the network’s NBA Draft Special (h/t Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman), explaining how the Thunder are now in a better position to keep George than they were last offseason.
While OKC has an opportunity to keep George, the Lakers remain a serious threat. George and LeBron James will at least discuss the possibility of teaming up in Los Angeles prior to free agency, per Woj.
The Rockets will be aggressive in their pursuit of George. While Houston isn’t expected to have salary cap space, we saw what GM Daryl Morey is capable of in last summer’s Chris Paul deal. Morey and the Rockets will search for a way to get George on the roster should the small forward have interest in joining the club.
Wojnarowski also mentions that the Sixers would be a good fit for George. Philadelphia has slightly over $67.4MM in guaranteed salary on the books with the cap projected to come in at $101MM.
Thunder assistant Royal Ivey will accept a position on David Fizdale’s coaching staff with the Knicks, posts Ian Begley on ESPN Now.
Ivey, who grew up in New York, is in the process of finalizing a deal with the organization. He had interest from other teams, including the Sixers, before the opportunity with the Knicks arose, according to Begley.
Ivey has been part of Billy Donovan’s staff in Oklahoma City for the past two seasons. He played for four teams during a 10-year NBA career, finishing with the Thunder in 2014. He has prior experience with Fizdale, who was an assistant coach in Atlanta when Ivey played there.
The surgery was necessitated by swelling associated with his rehab from a ruptured patella, Young adds, though the patella itself is healing well.
The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthapedic Clinic in Los Angeles. He remains on pace to return for the start of next season, according to a team press release.
Roberson was a key component in the Thunder’s defensive scheme and was sorely missed when he ruptured the patella at the Pistons’ new Little Caesars Arena on January 27th. He underwent surgery to repair the patella the following day.
Oklahoma City’s defensive rating was fifth in the NBA at 103.1 with a healthy Roberson and dropped all the way to 15th (107) in 33 games without him.
Roberson is signed through the next two seasons. He’ll make $10MM next season and $10.74MM in 2019/20.
While it’s still a long way from training camp, Roberson’s latest surgery might play into Oklahoma City’s approach this offseason. Another defensive option along the perimeter could certainly be on the wish list if there are concerns about Roberson’s long-term recovery.
- If Paul George re-signs with the Thunder, it will deal a blow to the narrative that other stars don’t like playing with Russell Westbrook, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes. That’s why Westbrook has made public statements about wanting George to return, saying he thinks George “definitely wants to be here,” Dawson adds.