Thunder Rumors

Mitchell, Jones Were Summer League Standouts

  • Ajay Mitchell‘s Summer League performance showed why the Thunder were willing to trade up to the 38th pick to acquire him, observes Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. The Santa Barbara guard, who recently signed a two-way contract, showed an ability to change speeds and finish around the basket, posting an 11-point, 10-assist double-double early in Las Vegas. First-round pick Dillon Jones displayed “flashes and flaws” in his first Summer League experience, while 2022 lottery pick Ousmane Dieng was held out of the games in Vegas after playing in Salt Lake City.
  • Nikola Topic could turn out to be a steal for the Thunder at No. 12 when he returns next season from his partially torn ACL, Rylan Stiles states in a Sports Illustrated piece. Oklahoma City was willing to wait a year for Topic to get healthy, and he could develop into a lead guard for the second unit.
  • The Nuggets will open their preseason schedule with a pair of games against the Celtics Oct. 4 and 6 in Abu Dhabi, tweets Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports. Denver will host the Suns Oct. 13 and the Thunder Oct. 15 before traveling to face the Timberwolves Oct 18.

Thunder’s Nikola Topic Undergoes ACL Surgery

Thunder rookie Nikola Topic has undergone successful surgery to address his torn left ACL, the team announced today.

According to Thunder, the procedure was performed in Los Angeles by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, with team medical personnel in attendance. As expected, Topic is projected to miss the entire 2024/25 season, postponing his NBA debut until the fall of 2025.

Word initially broke in early June that Topic had suffered a partially torn ACL, so the Thunder weren’t caught off guard by the need for surgery when they drafted the Serbian point guard with the No. 12 overall pick a few weeks later. Head of basketball operations Sam Presti confirmed when speaking to reporters following the first round of the draft that Oklahoma City expected the lottery pick to be unavailable for all of ’24/25.

Topic will be the second Thunder lottery pick in the past three years to essentially get a redshirt season. Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2022 draft, suffered a foot injury later that summer that cost him all of ’22/23.

Topic is still expected to join the Thunder shortly and spend his rookie season around the team like Holmgren did two years ago. That experience benefited Holmgren, who finished second in Rookie of the Year voting this spring after averaging 16.5 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per contest while starting all 82 games for the Thunder.

Topic will earn a $4.9MM salary in 2024/25 while he recovers from ACL surgery. He has a guaranteed salary of $5.2MM in ’25/26, followed by team options of $5.4MM and $7.5MM in his third and fourth seasons.

Hartenstein: Leaving Knicks ‘Was Definitely Hard’

Isaiah Hartenstein struggled with the idea of leaving the Knicks but he couldn’t pass up the money and chance to play for another contender. That’s why he chose the Thunder in free agency, he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Post.

“I was going to make sure I was set for the rest of my life,” Hartenstein said. “But then at the same time, if it wasn’t a team like OKC, I would’ve taken a pay cut because I loved it (in New York). But I now have an opportunity to make that money, make that pay raise, and still compete. I think that was the main factor.”

The Thunder targeted Hartenstein to pair up with Chet Holmgren in their frontcourt. They signed him to a three-year, $87MM contract, which includes a team option in the third year.

Although the Knicks wanted to retain Hartenstein, they were limited to a maximum offer of approximately $72.5MM over four years, since they only held his Early Bird rights, which allowed for a raise of up to 75% on his $9.25MM cap hit from 2023/24.  The Knicks offered him the max they were allowed.

Additionally, Jalen Brunson tried to persuade Hartenstein to stay put.

“They said whatever we can give you, we’re going to give you,” Hartenstein said. “I talked to Jalen a couple times, Jalen and the guys. They really wanted me back and I really appreciate that. But it was definitely a hard decision. I couldn’t say no to an opportunity like this.”

Brunson signed a team-friendly extension this month but Hartenstein wasn’t making big money most of his NBA career. He totalled $22.65MM in career earnings in his first six seasons. He also recently became a father.

“He’s kind of in a different situation than I’m in. Already made $100 million (in his career). He’s the star player, knows he probably won’t ever get traded. So it’s a different situation,” Hartenstein said. “But that also shows what kind of a leader he is to make those sacrifices. I don’t think a lot of people are making those sacrifices. I think our situations are a little bit different but I have a lot of respect for him as a player and a human being for doing that.”

The Knicks still haven’t replaced Hartenstein. Oft-injured Mitchell Robinson is penciled in as the starting center with Jericho Sims as his backup. All things being equal from a monetary standpoint, Hartenstein would have re-signed.

“It was hard. For me if it wasn’t a situation like Oklahoma City with a chance to win, I don’t think I would’ve left. But that money is — you have to think about it, I just had a child so. …But it was really hard,” he said. “I love New York. I love the front office, I loved my team. So It was definitely hard. If it wasn’t a situation where I felt like I really had a chance to win, I probably wouldn’t have left.”

Thunder Officially Sign Alex Ducas To Two-Way Contract

As expected, the Thunder have signed undrafted rookie free agent Alex Ducas to a two-way contract, the team announced today in a press release. The agreement between the two sides was first reported shortly after the draft concluded last month.

Ducas spent all five of his college seasons at Saint Mary’s. In 34 games in 2023/24, the 6’6″ Australian sharpshooter averaged 9.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 28.1 minutes per contest while knocking down 43.8% of his three-point attempts.

Ducas ranked 32nd on ESPN’s list of the draft-eligible players who weren’t among the 58 selected in June.

All three of the Thunder’s two-way slots are now filled. In addition to Ducas, the team is carrying Adam Flagler and Ajay Mitchell on two-way deals.

Oklahoma City also has 14 players on standard contracts (13 fully guaranteed) and has reportedly agreed to sign Malevy Leons and Buddy Boeheim to Exhibit 10 deals.

Veteran Big Man Mike Muscala Retiring

Veteran big man Mike Muscala is ending his playing career, telling Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman that he plans to retire.

Muscala’s father, Bob, informed Lorenzi that Mike plans to pursue a graduate degree in sports management, with an eye on continuing his basketball career in coaching and/or management.

The No. 44 overall pick of the 2013 draft, Muscala has spent the past 11 NBA seasons playing for the Hawks, Sixers, Lakers, Thunder, Celtics, Wizards and Pistons. He finished last season in Oklahoma City, returning to the Thunder in March after playing for them from 2019-23.

Muscala, 33, spent the first five seasons of his career with Atlanta. He was traded multiple times during the 2018/19 season before finding a home in Oklahoma City for a few years. He spent the past year-plus playing for four different teams — OKC, Boston, Washington, Detroit and finally OKC again. According to Lorenzi, Muscala said relocating so many times in a short period of time took its toll on him, but he was grateful to finish his career with the Thunder.

It means a lot,” Muscala said of his time with the Thunder back in May. “I went through a lot in my life when I was here, just the city, the fans, the way that they support the team, what the team means to the community, those are things that I feel like I can relate to.

“I’ll always be a Thunder fan no matter what happens in my life.”

In 548 regular season contests, including 45 starts, the former Bucknell star averaged 5.9 PPG and 3.1 RPG in 15.0 MPG. The 6’10” center/forward was known mostly for his outside shooting ability (37.3% career from three-point range) and for being a positive locker-room presence.

Groups Revealed For 2024 NBA Cup

The NBA has announced the five-team groups for this year’s in-season tournament, now renamed the Emirates NBA Cup, the league announced in a release on Friday (Twitter link).

Like last year, there are six groups — three each from the Western Conference and Eastern Conference — and each conference was split into five groups based on last year’s standings. One team was selected at random from each group to determine the group round matchups.

The results are:

  • West Group A: Timberwolves, Clippers, Kings, Rockets and Trail Blazers
  • West Group B: Thunder, Suns, Lakers, Jazz and Spurs
  • West Group C: Nuggets, Mavericks, Pelicans, Warriors and Grizzlies
  • East Group A: Knicks, Magic, Sixers, Nets and Hornets
  • East Group B: Bucks, Pacers, Heat, Raptors and Pistons
  • East Group C: Celtics, Cavaliers, Bulls, Hawks and Wizards

The NBA Cup begins with group play, which runs from Nov. 12 to Dec. 3. Each team plays one game against each of the four opponents in its group. The NBA released a matchup matrix to help fans follow along (Twitter link).

Just like last season, the winner of each group advances to a knockout round alongside the team with the best record in each conference that didn’t win a group. The semifinals and finals will again be played in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Last year, the Lakers won the inaugural in-season tournament over the Pacers. LeBron James was named the tournament MVP after dropping 24 points in the title game.

The full game and broadcast schedule for group play will be announced next month.

Northwest Notes: Murray, Nuggets, Trent, Joe, Sharpe, Markkanen

Shams Charania reported back on June 27 that the Nuggets and Jamal Murray were “working toward” a four-year, maximum-salary contract extension, with the team expected to make the offer and the star guard expected to accept it. Over two weeks later, there’s still no deal in place.

A report earlier this week indicated that the Nuggets and Murray will likely wait until after the Olympics to finalize an agreement, and the 27-year-old Canadian essentially confirmed as much when asked this week by Troy Renck of The Denver Post about his contract situation.

“When we get there, we get there,” Murray said after the Canadian team lost an exhibition game to Team USA in Las Vegas on Wednesday. “I’m playing games right now for Canada, so that’s not on my mind.”

A maximum-salary extension for Murray, who is entering the final year of his current deal, would be worth a projected $207.85MM over four seasons.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Gary Trent Jr. isn’t a viable target for the Nuggets in free agency, according to Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link), who hears that the 25-year-old swingman isn’t interested in accepting a minimum-salary contract and that there may not be much interest on Denver’s side anyway.
  • Isaiah Joe‘s new four-year, $48MM contract with the Thunder includes a fourth-year team option and has a descending salary structure, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Joe’s cap hit in 2024/25 will be $12,991,650 before dipping to $12,362,338 in ’25/26, with third- and fourth-year salaries of $11,323,006.
  • Although he attended Team Canada’s pre-Olympic training camp this summer, Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe wasn’t in the mix for a spot on the 2024 Paris roster. But Sharpe, who has been medically cleared following his core muscle surgery in February, is in Canada’s future plans, head coach Jordi Fernandez tells Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Substack link). “We value him as an important player in the future, being a big part of this program,” Fernandez said. “We don’t only care about this tournament. We care about AmeriCup and the World Cup and L.A. in 2028. We want Shaedon to be a part of that.”
  • Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune takes a closer look at the Lauri Markkanen situation in Utah, exploring why the Jazz might be motivated to move the star forward and what they could reasonably expect to get in return.

Team Canada Finalizes 2024 Olympic Roster

The Canadian national team has formally announced its 12-man roster for the Paris Olympics, making its final cuts ahead of Wednesday’s exhibition games against Team USA.

Team Canada’s 12-man squad is as follows:

While the group obviously isn’t as star-studded as the U.S. roster, it’s headed up by a 2024 MVP finalist (Gilgeous-Alexander) and a guard who was the second-best player on the 2023 NBA champions (Murray). In total, it features 10 active NBA players, and all of them played regular roles for their respective teams in 2023/24.

The only two non-NBA players are Birch, who spent six seasons in the league but now plays in Spain, and Ejim, a former Iowa State standout and a Team Canada veteran who has been a productive contributor for several teams in Europe since 2014.

Andrew Wiggins is among the notable names missing from Team Canada’s squad for Paris. He was on the original training camp roster but withdrew right before camp began due to what the Warriors referred to a mutual decision. Various reports, however, suggested that Golden State was the party driving that decision.

Grizzlies rookie Zach Edey also removed his name from the training camp roster in order to focus on Summer League and his first NBA season.

Trail Blazers guard Shaedon Sharpe and Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin, both of whom were coming off injuries that ended their 2023/24 seasons, were among the players who attended training camp but weren’t in the mix for roster spots for the Paris Olympics. Timberwolves forward Leonard Miller was in that group too.

This will be the first time Canada has been in the men’s basketball event at the Olympics since 2000.

Western Notes: Morant, Klay, Wiggins, Barnes, Avdija

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant has been cleared for all basketball activities, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Morant, who missed the first 25 games of the 2023/24 season due to a suspension, returned to action in December and immediately provided a spark for the Grizzlies, who won six of nine games with the star point guard in the lineup. However, a labral tear in Morant’s right shoulder ended his season after those nine games. He has been recovering from surgery in the months since then.

The Grizzlies were one of the NBA’s most injury-plagued teams in ’23/24, but head coach Taylor Jenkins told reporters back in April that only Morant projected to have a recovery timeline extending well into the offseason. With a fully healthy roster, there’s optimism in Memphis that the club can bounce back from a 27-55 year and look more like the club that went 107-57 over the previous two regular seasons.

We have more from around the Western Conference:

  • Referring to his deal with the Mavericks as a “fresh start,” Klay Thompson told reporters on Tuesday that he’s optimistic about “kind of being rejuvenated” in Dallas, as Tim MacMahon of ESPN details. “Feeling just wanted again, like I bring great value, it just gets me excited to go out there and even work out after this press conference and get shots up,” Thompson said. “Yeah, there was times last year where it was tough, where it wasn’t as joyful as it was in the past. It’s nice to kind of shed that and have a whole new fresh start, whole new group of guys to get to know, co-workers, whole new city. It’s really cool, and I’m going to embrace the heck out of this opportunity.” In a story for The Athletic, Tim Cato takes a look at how Thompson will fit in on the Mavs’ roster.
  • Aaron Wiggins‘ new five-year contract with the Thunder is worth $45MM, with $2MM in bonuses that could push it up to the initially reported total of $47MM, reports Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). The deal has a descending structure and includes a fifth-year team option, Scotto adds.
  • New Spurs forward Harrison Barnes confirmed on Tuesday that he waived his $3.7MM trade kicker to facilitate his move to San Antonio, calling it a “pretty easy decision” and adding that he’s excited about playing for head coach Gregg Popovich, tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN.
  • New Trail Blazers forward Deni Avdija admitted on Monday that he was surprised to be traded by the Wizards, according to Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (Substack link). “I think they really love me,” Avdija said of his old team. “I’ve done a lot for that organization. It was just not the timeline, I guess.” Now that he has gotten past that initial surprise, the 23-year-old is “excited” about the new opportunity in front of him. “They’ve welcomed me very well, so it’s a good start,” he said. “I’m glad to be in a place where people embrace me and love me. I’m going to bring my competitiveness, and we’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Hartenstein Impressed by Team's Progress

  • New Thunder center Isaiah Hartenstein is impressed by how the team has methodically been built into a potential powerhouse in the Western Conference, according to Joel Lorenzi of The Oklahoman. “I think they were doing it the right way,” said Hartenstein, who left the Knicks and signed a three-year, $87MM contract with OKC. “I feel like they weren’t trying to rush steps. I think every year you kind of saw them take the next step. I think every time you see them go on the court, there’s a certain competitiveness always to them. They’re very excited for each other, and I think in the NBA you don’t have that a lot where no matter who’s doing good, the whole team is excited for each other.”
  • The Thunder‘s additions of Hartenstein and Alex Caruso should benefit Chet Holmgren, Rylan Stiles of Sports Illustated opines. Holmgren will have more freedom to show off his passing and play-making skills. It also opens up opportunities for Holmgren to play alongside another big man.