Paul George

Raptors Rumors: Leonard, Lowry, George

Despite playing only half their games so far this season with both of their All-Stars – Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry – in the lineup, the Raptors have one of the NBA’s best records. Their 30-12 mark puts them a half-game ahead of the 28-11 Bucks, though they technically trail Milwaukee by percentage points.

With Lowry now back in the lineup after battling back and hip issues and Leonard potentially ready to start playing in back-to-backs soon, the Raptors are well positioned for a big second half. And the team’s performance the rest of the way – and in the postseason – could go a long way toward determining whether Leonard remains in Toronto beyond this season, a subject Chris Mannix explores in his latest piece for SI.com.

Mannix’s article features several interesting notes and tidbits on Kawhi and the Raptors, so we’ll round up a few highlights here:

  • According to Mannix, the Raptors are prepared to offer Leonard a five-year, maximum-salary offer – or any other deal he’s interested in – this offseason, and don’t view that sort of an investment as a risk.
  • While Leonard’s upcoming free agency is rarely discussed in the Raptors’ locker room, everyone knows how important his decision will be in determining the future of the franchise, per Mannix. “We need him to stay,” Serge Ibaka said. “He keeps everybody safe — no one is safe if he leaves.”
  • Even before the Raptors acquired Leonard, president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri had been itching to shake up his roster, according to Mannix, who reports that Ujiri approached the Thunder last season about a possible swap centered around DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
  • Speaking of George, Mannix writes that Raptors officials have privately acknowledged that the Thunder’s success in retaining George emboldened them to roll the dice on Leonard. Of course, George’s bond with Russell Westbrook contributed in large part to PG13’s decision to remain in Oklahoma City. It remains to be seen if Kyle Lowry can be that same sort of recruiter, given his “frosty” relationship with Ujiri, who traded away his best friend DeRozan.
  • When the NBA issued a memo last month reminding teams of its anti-tampering rules, it was viewed by most as a response to LeBron James‘ comments about Anthony Davis. However, several clubs, including Toronto, interpreted the memo’s reference to “intentional” and “repeated” social courtesies as a message to the Clippers, says Mannix. The Clips have reportedly been sending officials, including president of basketball ops Lawrence Frank, to a number of Raptors games this season as they eye Leonard as a 2019 free agent target.

Lakers Notes: Ingram, Ball, George, Robinson

The Lakers are wasting an opportunity to prove they can be successful without LeBron James and may be getting a clearer picture of the value of Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball, writes Bill Oram of The Athletic. L.A.is 1-4 since James suffered a strained left groin, and the team learned Friday that he won’t be re-evaluated for another week.

The most troubling game in that stretch was last night’s loss to the Knicks, who have been near the bottom of the East all season. With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, Oram writes, Ingram became a one-dimensional player, making just one of five shots, while Ball tried to force passes and committed a couple of key turnovers.

“Brandon and Lonzo right now are our primary ballhandlers,” coach Luke Walton said, “and I think they led us in turnovers tonight. I’m not putting the blame on them, but that’s part of the responsibility of being a point guard, or being a primary ballhandler-slash-playmaker, is taking care of the ball and getting guys going, getting other guys easy looks.”

There’s more Lakers news to pass along:

  • Ingram may be the next young talent sacrificed in the quest to build a super team in L.A., suggests Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report. The Lakers have already parted with D’Angelo Russell, Larry Nance, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle to clear cap room, and it may become necessary to do the same with Ingram to have a shot at Anthony Davis. If the Pelicans hang onto Davis and he becomes a free agent in 2020, the Lakers can’t afford the $21.8MM cap hold Ingram would have as a restricted free agent. However, he could turn out to be a valuable trade piece if Davis turns down a supermax offer and New Orleans feels compelled to move him this summer.
  • Paul George got an unfriendly reception from Lakers fans this week, but he explained that he made a business decision to stay in Oklahoma City, relays Brett Dawson of The Athletic. There was hope last season that George might return to his native Southern California in free agency, but he decided he had a better situation with the Thunder. “The Lakers is one of the best, most historical franchises in the world,” George said. “It is what it is. I’m with another great organization.”
  • The Lakers gave strong consideration to taking Mitchell Robinson with their first-round pick last summer, but the rookie center believes he’s better off with the Knicks, according to Marc Berman of The New York Post. With L.A. hoping to make the playoffs, Robinson thinks he might have spent much of the season in the G League rather than as an NBA starter.

Northwest Notes: Roberson, Teague, Adams

While the Thunder have gotten off to a strong start, they would surely love to have Andre Roberson back in the lineup. Roberson has had several setbacks in his recovery from the ruptured left patellar tendon he suffered nearly a year ago. However, as Erik Horne reveals for The Oklahoman, Roberson has stayed active during his recovery and has led some defensive film sessions with the team’s young wing players.

Most notably, Terrance Ferguson has benefited the most from these film sessions, as he has stepped up to a bigger role in the starting lineup as a result of his much-improved defense. Led by quality defenders such as Paul George and Steven Adams, the Thunder have length and versatility throughout their number-one ranked defense.

The Thunder have been below average offensively this season, which highlights how much of their success is derived by their defense. And even when Roberson can’t play, he is still making his mark on the defense.

There’s more from the Northwest division:

  • Erik Horne also details Steven Adams‘ case for being an All-Star this season, highlighted by the advanced metrics that paint the picture of Adams being one of the best centers in the league. However, as Horne also points out, Adams isn’t focused on being an All-Star.
  • Unfortunately for the Timberwolves, they will continue to be without starting point guard Jeff Teague for another 7-10 days, according to Alan Horton (via Twitter), the radio voice of the Wolves. The Timberwolves have struggled in recent games as they continue to adjust to life without Jimmy Butler.
  • Speaking of the Timberwolves, Chris Hine of The Star Tribune writes that Derrick Rose has struggled with an ankle injury and could miss some time, which would leave the Wolves short at point guard as they look to bounce back from recent losses.

Community Shootaround: Second-Best Team In The West?

The 2018/19 NBA season is now over a quarter of the way through, with many teams having played at least 30 games. At this point, the Western Conference is still extremely crowded, with 12 teams that are .500 or better fighting for playoff spots. Even the top of the conference is tough to figure out, with teams like the Nuggets, Thunder and Lakers battling to distinguish themselves as the second-best team in the conference (behind a healthy and engaged Warriors team).

The Nuggets have continued to impress after a fast start, as they have withstood several injuries to key players such as Paul Millsap, Will Barton and Gary Harris. They currently own the league’s 8th ranked offense and 5th ranked defense while posting a 19-9 record, good for first in the conference.

The Thunder have used the league’s best defense to carry them to a 20-10 start. Paul George is having the best season of his career as the Thunder continue to stifle opposing offenses. The addition of Dennis Schroder has stabilized the team’s bench units, something previous Thunder teams couldn’t rely on.

Finally, the Lakers have rebounded from their slow 0-4 start to find themselves at 18-12. LeBron James has been his usual terrific self while several of the team’s young players have continued to settle in around him. Of course, it’s also possible that the Lakers make a trade to further improve their team as a result of the crowded playoff picture in the West.

When fully healthy and engaged, the Warriors are still regarded as the clear favorites in the Western Conference. However, the battle for second-best in the conference will likely continue throughout the season and early rounds of the playoffs.

With all that being said, who do you think is the second-best team in the Western Conference? Perhaps you believe that it could be a team that hasn’t been mentioned here. Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, George, Grant, Patterson

The Thunder remain the only winless team in the Western Conference but Russell Westbrook said it’s far too early to push the panic button, Royce Young of ESPN reports. Oklahoma City is 0-4 after blowing a 16-point halftime lead against the Celtics on Thursday. Westbrook had a brutal fourth quarter, missing all seven of his shots while making three turnovers. “We’re OK. We’ll be all right,” Westbrook said. “It’s early. I’m confident in my guys in this locker room, I’m confident in myself and my abilities to make sure that we have an opportunity to win a ballgame. There’s no need to panic. Obviously we’re not starting the way we wanted to, but we’ll be OK and I will make sure of that. So, not worried.”

We have more from Oklahoma City:

  • While Westbrook rubs some people the wrong way, he was an integral reason why Paul George decided to stay instead of joining one of the Los Angeles teams in free agency. “A lot of it was I liked our chemistry,” George told Young in a detailed piece on OKC’s year-long recruitment of George. “I liked what he brings to the table, I liked his competitiveness and I loved him as a teammate, as a friend, as a brother, as a dude in the locker room. He had a lot to do with me coming back here.”
  • Jerami Grant and Patrick Patterson continue to share starting duties at the power forward spot, Thunder digital reporter Nick Gallo relays. Grant got the nod against Boston because coach Billy Donovan wanted to play a smaller, quicker unit. Against a more rugged frontcourt, Donovan will go with Patterson. “For us, it’s going to be game-to-game in terms of the roster and having a plan of how to utilize those guys,” Donovan said.
  • What can the Thunder do to fix their issues? Erik Horne of The Oklahoman takes a closer look.
  • The Thunder have until the end of the month to decide whether to pick up the rookie scale options on Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Terrance Ferguson. Find out more here.

George: I Would’ve Been A Laker If Not For Trade To OKC

When Paul George was on the trade market in the summer of 2017, chatter around the NBA strongly suggested that the Lakers were his preferred landing spot. In a conversation with Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated, George confirmed as much, admitting that he almost certainly would’ve ended up with the Lakers if the Pacers hadn’t traded him to Oklahoma City.

While George’s desire to return to his hometown certainly didn’t disappear once he joined the Thunder, he eventually fell in love with his new team and new city, resulting in the Los Angeles native deciding to sign a long-term deal with OKC this past summer instead of leaving for L.A.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told Spears. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Before Indiana shipped George to OKC in 2017, the Lakers were believed to be involved in trade discussions with the Pacers, and would have had a strong chance to acquire the forward if they’d been willing to part with Brandon Ingram or 2017’s second overall pick (which became Lonzo Ball), per Spears. A source tells ESPN that George was disappointed that the Lakers didn’t value him enough to pull the trigger on a deal at the time.

Interestingly, Spears also reports that when George was still a Pacer, he discussed his potential future plans with LeBron James. However, George and James didn’t have any similar conversations after George was sent to the Thunder.

Having declined to even meet with the Lakers this past summer, George won’t be joining his hometown team anytime soon, but he feels good about his free agency decision, as he tells Spears.

“Going toward the summer and going toward free agency, I kind of had my mind made up talking with the team, talking with [Russell Westbrook] and talking with the front office,” George said. “I kind of felt good where we were at. Last [season], I didn’t get a chance to start with this team fresh. I got traded late. So, I picked up things late with the team. I wanted to get to it right away this time and start creating early.”

NBA GMs Weigh In On 2018/19 Season

NBA.com has completed its annual survey of NBA general managers, with John Schuhmann of NBA.com asking each of the league’s 30 GMs to answer an array of questions about the league’s top teams, players, and coaches. Unsurprisingly, the Warriors are once again viewed by the NBA’s general managers as the overwhelming favorites to be the last team standing, with 26 of 30 GMs (87%) picking Golden State to win the NBA championship for the fourth time in five years.

While there are many responses in the GM survey worth checking out, we’ll focus on rounding up some of the more noteworthy ones related to rosters and player movement. Let’s dive in…

  • LeBron James (30%) and Kevin Durant (27%) are viewed as the frontrunners for the 2018/19 MVP award, but two younger players led the voting for the player GMs would most want to build a franchise around starting today. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (30%) and Pelicans big man Anthony Davis (23%) led the way in that category. Interestingly, Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns didn’t receive a single vote this year after leading the way with 29% of the vote in 2017.
  • The Lakers‘ signing of James helped them earn 70% of the vote for the team that made the best overall moves this offseason. The Raptors, buoyed by their acquisition of Kawhi Leonard, finished second at 20%.
  • A ton of different signings and trade acquisitions received votes for the most underrated addition of the summer, with the Pacers‘ signing of Tyreke Evans barely leading the way with four votes. The Spurs‘ trade for DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls‘ signing of Jabari Parker, the Pelicans‘ addition of Julius Randle, and the Thunder‘s acquisition of Dennis Schroder received three votes apiece.
  • DeMarcus Cousins‘ decision to join the Warriors (35%) was considered the most surprising move of the offseason, followed by the Spurs/Raptors blockbuster trade (29%) and Paul George remaining with the Thunder (19%).
  • While Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the strong frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, GMs expect Suns center Deandre Ayton and Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. to be the best players five years from now. Meanwhile, the Clippers‘ selection of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander at No. 11 was viewed by the most GMs as the steal of the draft.
  • The Sixers (47%) and Celtics (33%) dominated voting for the teams with the most promising young cores.

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, Roberson, Patterson, Grant

The Thunder’s starting backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson should be back early in the season, GM Sam Presti told Erik Horne of The Oklahoman and other media members during a Thursday press conference. Roberson, who suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee in January, will be a non-contact participant at the start of the preseason. There is no timetable when Roberson will get back to contact, Horne continues. Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week and is expected to be re-evaluated in three weeks, Horne adds. “It was a pretty minor thing he had to have done. And he’ll be back,” Presti said.

We have more on the Thunder:

  • Presti deferred questions regarding who will replace Carmelo Anthony at power forward to coach Billy Donovan, Horne relays in the same story. Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant are the top candidates. “We have to let Billy make those decisions,” Presti said. “He’s in charge of what happens once the ball is tipped up and once we are competing.”
  • Presti admitted the team would love to have more 3-point shooting, Royce Young of ESPN.com tweets. Paul George is the only sure-fire member of the starting five who is an above-average 3-point shooter. The top way to solve the issue would be to make a deal but the Thunder would have to give up players they like, Young adds.
  • Presti provided his input on how Oklahoma City could use its quickness to maximum use in another Horne story.

Paul George: Lakers Upset Over Free Agency Decision

Paul George says the Lakers were angry that he refused to meet with them before re-signing with the Thunder, but adds that his mind was already made up. Appearing on the Short Story Long podcast, George contends there were hard feelings from team president Magic Johnson and the L.A. organization about his decision.

“I didn’t give Magic [Johnson] a meeting, which I understand,” George said. “But at that point, I knew I wanted to give it another shot [in Oklahoma City]. I didn’t want to prolong it and waste people’s time.”

A native of the Los Angeles area, George had once been considered very likely to join the Lakers when he hit free agency. The reason he was traded to the Thunder last summer is that his agent informed Pacers management that he had no plans to re-sign in Indiana.

However, George enjoyed his experience in OKC, even though the team was ousted from the playoffs in the first round. He was the first big-name free agent to announce his decision this year, making it official shortly after midnight Eastern time on July 1 at a party thrown by teammate Russell Westbrook.

The Thunder gave George a four-year deal worth $137MM with a player option for the final season. He played 79 games in his first season in Oklahoma City, posting a 21.9/5.7/3.3 line.

“Coming down to free agency, I didn’t want to waste any time,” George added. “I wanted to give it another shot. I gave them one year. We played well against the best teams. I wanted to give it a real shot.”

And-Ones: ROY Predictions, Offseason Rankings, NBAGL

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic has the best chance to win the Rookie of the Year award, according to an ESPN panel. Doncic will fill up the stat sheet and might wind up with the ball more often than second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr., according to Mike Schmitz. Top overall pick Deandre Ayton ranks second on the poll, with Schmitz noting that the Suns big man likely to get more playing time than any other rookie. Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Cavaliers point guard Collin Sexton and Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr. round out the top five.

We have more from around the league:

  • Retaining Paul George in free agency and dumping Carmelo Anthony‘s contract while receiving projected sixth man Dennis Schroder in return earned the Thunder the top spot on NBA.com’s David Aldridge’s offseason rankings. The rankings are based upon what teams have done during the offseason. The Lakers ranked No. 2 by virtue of signing LeBron James and handing out one-year contracts to other players, thus allowing them to be a force again in next year’s free agent market. The Nuggets gained the No. 3 spot by locking up Nikola Jokic and making trades that cleared roster spots and eased their luxury-tax situation.
  • Forwards DJ Hogg (Texas A&M) and Malik Pope (San Diego State) and swingman BJ Johnson (LaSalle) are among the top 10 prospects at the G League Invitational, according to Bryan Kalbrosky of HoopsHype. The invitational takes place Sunday in Chicago and over a dozen of last year’s prospects received training camp invites afterward.
  • The Warriors’ over-under odds for wins next season is 62.5, according to Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Celtics ranked second overall with a 57.5 over-under win total with the Rockets third at 54.5. The Hawks have the lowest projected win total at 23.5. The odds for each NBA team were passed along by ESPN’s Ben Fawkes.