Russell Westbrook

Thunder Notes: Donovan, Westbrook, Roberson, George

The bumpy start continues in Oklahoma City as coach Billy Donovan tries to mesh Paul George and Carmelo Anthony into a cohesive unit with Russell Westbrook, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Although they are all exceptional scorers, there are concerns that they don’t fit well together, and so far Westbrook [.400] and Anthony [.422] are posting their worst field goal percentages since they were rookies. Donovan continues to experiment with different combinations off the bench as the Thunder have stumbled to a 9-12 start.

“He has a style that he knows works, and we’re all in with Billy on it,” George said. “But again, he’s good with wanting what’s best for us and wanting what’s gonna make us comfortable out there.”

There’s more out of Oklahoma City:

  • Horne offers grades for all the Thunder players through the first quarter of the season in a separate story, and the reigning MVP only gets a B-minus. Westbrook has adjusted his game to accommodate George and Anthony and is still searching for the right balance between taking over games and setting up his teammates, Horne says. Anthony also gets a B-minus, while George receives an A.
  • A change in the starting lineup might be the answer to OKC’s early-season slump, suggests Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. He proposes replacing defensive specialist Andre Roberson with a better shooter such as Alex Abrines or Terrance Ferguson to create more spacing for the first unit. Donovan increased Ferguson’s minutes this week and gave Dakari Johnson a shot in Wednesday’s loss to Orlando, but he doesn’t seem ready to change the pairing of Westbrook, George, Anthony, Roberson and Steven Adams that has started every game this season. “I think that what happens in these situations is sometimes people look for the change for the sake of change because it looks like you’re doing something,” Donovan said. “I’ve always been a big believer of pinpointing what the issues and the challenges are that we’ve got to overcome.”
  • Magic coach Frank Vogel, who coached George in Indiana, described his former star as “selfless” in trying to make the union with Westbrook and Anthony successful, relays John Denton of NBA.com. He said the Thunder will benefit from George’s defensive abilities, which he described as “Allen Iverson’s instincts in Scottie Pippen’s body.’’

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Barton, Jazz

The new-look Thunder were expected to be one of this season’s prime challengers to the Warriors’ crown, but things aren’t off to a great start in Oklahoma City. The Thunder dropped their fourth straight game on Thursday night in Denver, and are now 4-7 on the season, including 0-6 against Western Conference teams. The latest loss prompted a closed-door meeting for the club, as Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.

“It was just good to get everything out on the table,” Paul George said. “Especially where we’re at right now, it’s no good if we’re bottling it up, because then we could carry it over to the next game and the next game. Just leave everything out in the open.”

As Oklahoma City looks to turn things around after the team’s slow start, let’s round up a few more items from out of the Northwest…

  • George, Russell Westbrook, and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan were fined $15K apiece earlier this week for critical comments aimed at referees, notes Royce Young of ESPN.com. The trio took exception with a flagrant foul call against Carmelo Anthony in Sunday’s game against Portland.
  • Will Barton has been taking on some point guard duties for the Nuggets this season in the wake of Jameer Nelson‘s release, per Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com. The timing is right for Barton to take on more responsibilities and a larger role, since he’s in a contract year — showing off an expanded skill-set should only increase his value on the open market next July.
  • New Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is still working to develop chemistry with incumbent star Rudy Gobert, as Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News details. “I’ve got to learn his game, he’s got to learn mine,” Rubio said. “It’s just a process. We’re trying but we don’t want to overdo it. It’s going to come with time.” Added Gobert: “I think it might be overthinking. We’ve just got to play basketball.”

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Westbrook, Hood, Nelson

In a conversation with The New York Times’ Marc Stein, Carmelo Anthony explained that his decision not to waive his no-trade clause for the Trail Blazers was rooted in logistics, not basketball, reports John Canzano of The The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“We had a fair bit of discussion about Portland…,” Stein said of his talk with Anthony. “… He did say that it meant a lot to him how badly those guys wanted him. I think it really was the distance (that caused him to not be interested). I don’t think it was about Portland, the place… I don’t think it was about Portland, I think it was about family… presumably his wife and son are going to stay in New York for the bulk of the year. He was in constant contact with (Damian) Lillard and (C.J.) McCollum.”

Here’s more news from the Northwest:

  • The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook scored only six points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with seven turnovers in Saturday night’s 96-87 loss to the Utah Jazz.  As reported by ESPN’s Royce Young, Westbrook appears to still be adjusting and adapting to the acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony; however, Westbrook insists that this season is no different than any other. “It’s the same thing [as last season],” Westbrook said. “Basketball’s been the same for years. It’s still the same game. Obviously different players, but the game still tells you what to do. If you need to score, you score, if not, you don’t. It’s very simple.”
  • Despite not playing Saturday night against Oklahoma City as the result of a calf injury, Rodney Hood of the Jazz is primed to make his return to the court sooner than originally feared, as reported by Jody Genessy of The Deseret News.  Despite the initial concern after Hood had to be helped off the court by teammates, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was apparently never too worried. “I’ve kind of conditioned myself to not jump to conclusions about those things one way or the other,” Snyder said when asked about being relieved the injury wasn’t worse. “Sometimes when they don’t look as bad, you kind of feel like, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ and then it ends up to be worse.”
  • Jameer Nelson tweeted out a thank you to the City of Denver and the Nuggets early Friday morning after being released by the team on Wednesday. The Nuggets would have been on the hook for the entirety of Nelson’s $4.74MM salary if he had remained on the free agent market. However, as noted by Bobby Marks of ESPN, Denver will have the right to set-off approximately $470K at season’s end as a result of Nelson signing a pro-rated minimum salary contract with the Pelicans on Saturday.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Harris, Dudley

The Thunder have three players who’ve grown used to getting the final shot over the course of long, impressive careers. Now, Royce Young of ESPN writes, they’ll have to figure out who gets the ball when the game is on the line.

While Russell Westbrook was the painfully obvious choice last season, he’s joined on the Thunder by Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Both Anthony and George have traditionally been the focal point of their teams’ offenses and were often the go-to options down the stretch, the latter even going so far as to lambaste former teammate C.J. Miles for taking a last-second shot in the playoffs last spring.

Carmelo’s been a closeout guy the places he’s been, the same thing with Paul. But any time you have a team you have to do it by finding the open man,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “Clearly for us last year, somebody creating and generating a shot for himself or someone else, it was Russell. But obviously now with Carmelo and Paul being here, I think it’s about making the right play and right decision.

One knock on the Thunder in the past has been their reliance on isolation basketball when the game is on the long. Considering the roster balance last season, that style of play was more or less expected. With a number of legitimate offensive threats in 2017/18, however, the expectations for ball movement – and making sound decisions – should rise.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Details on Gary Harris‘ contract have emerged, Bobby Marks of ESPN writes. The cap hit for the Nuggets guard in 2018/19 will be $16.5MM and that mark will rise annually until the deal terminates at $20.5MM in 2021/22. There are also $2.5MM of additional, unlikely, bonuses each year.
  • There’s no clear frontrunner to fill the primary backup power forward role for the Nuggets this offseason. Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports writes about how the changing NBA could impact Denver’s frontcourt depth chart in 2017/18.
  • A prediction that the Timberwolves could send Cole Aldrich and a second-round pick to the Suns for Jared Dudley has legs, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets. Minnesota has been particularly interested in Dudley’s recovery from offseason toe surgery.

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, Christon, Grant

Russell Westbrook, who finds himself playing alongside two perennial All-Stars after GM Sam Presti made a pair of offseason trades, doesn’t believe chemistry will be an issue, as Erik Horne of The Oklahoman relays.

“I think one thing [that’s] key for everybody to know, especially you guys … you guys keep asking about the chemistry every damn day … we’re gonna get it together,” Westbrook said to the local media in OKC. “It’s a season-long thing. It’s not gonna happen overnight…We’re professionals. This is something we obviously want to see work and make it happen, so it’s gonna be a process.”

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • Semaj Christon, whose contract will become guaranteed on October 15, may be the favorite for the team’s final roster spot, as his energy and defensive ability makes him popular among the coaching staff, Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman writes. Isaiah Canaan could always steal that last spot, though it’s worth noting that the point guard didn’t play in the Thunder’s final two preseason games.
  • Coach Billy Donovan hasn’t yet had an opportunity to sit down with the front office to discuss the 15th roster spot, Dawson passes along in the same piece. “Sam [Presti] and the front office, they’re always trying to figure out and find ways to help improve our team, and I totally trust that,” Donovan said. “When we get a chance to sit down and talk about that and discuss that, we will. But right now, there hasn’t been time.”
  • The Thunder are thin at the center position with Steven Adams as the team’s only proven option, Dawson contends in a separate piece. OKC’s lack of depth likely means Jerami Grant will see time at five this season. Donovan has faith that Grant can protect the paint in a situational role. “Jerami is strong, he’s got length,” Donovan said. “He may not necessarily have the size or the height of a center, but he’s got the length to be able to alter and challenge shots. He’s a really good rim protector.”

Pacific Notes: Lakers, Teodosic, Reed, Labissiere

Russell Westbrook‘s decision to sign a max extension is bad news for the Lakers in their pursuit of two top-level free agents next summer, as Eric Pincus examines in a Bleacher Report column.  The Lakers were hopeful they could fill a max slot with Westbrook, who now has all season to convince another Los Angeles target, Paul George, to re-sign with the Thunder in the offseason, Pincus continues. Moreover, the Lakers are currently projected to have $47MM in cap space if they let restricted free agent Julius Randle walk, which isn’t enough to land two star free agents, Pincus notes. Unless they can convince LeBron James to come West, their best remaining options could be DeMarcus Cousins or DeAndre Jordan, provided Jordan doesn’t sign an extension with the Clippers, Pincus adds.

In other items regarding the Pacific Division teams:

  • Clippers point guard Milos Teodosic has a simple explanation why he decided to play in the NBA this season after gaining a reputation as Europe’s top player, as Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times passes along. “I decided long time ago that I wanted to play in the NBA, but I didn’t have that much chances because I was always under contract and I was not free agent,” Teodosic told Turner. “This summer I was free and the first big opportunity was here with the Clippers.” Teodosic signed a two-year, $12.3MM contract to be the Clippers’ primary ballhandler.
  • Clippers center Willie Reed had his arraignment hearing for a misdemeanor domestic battery charge in Miami rescheduled from today to Oct. 16, Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel tweets. Reed was booked on the charge in August. The alleged incident occurred shortly after Reed, who played for the Heat last season, signed a one-year, $1.5MM contract with the Clippers.
  • Kings coach Dave Joerger doesn’t believe Skal Labissiere will reach his full potential until his body fills out and he gets stronger, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee reports. Labissiere, entering his second season, averaged 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds in 25 games after DeMarcus Cousins was dealt to the Pelicans. “He won’t be a finished product this year either,” Joerger told Jones. “It’s three, whatever number of years from now, when he fills into his body completely.”

Thunder Notes: George, Westbrook, Injuries

While Russell Westbrook‘s new extension with the Thunder certainly doesn’t guarantee that new teammate Paul George will also choose to stick around beyond this season, the All-Star forward intends to give Oklahoma City an audience next summer, a source tells TNT’s David Aldridge.

According to Aldridge’s source, George has been impressed by the Thunder’s culture and by Sam Presti‘s approach to roster building. As the source puts it, George was impressed that Presti and the front office had the guts to essentially retool the entire roster in order to land him and Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

Whether that ultimately results in George deciding to stay in Oklahoma City and sign a new deal with the Thunder remains to be seen, but he appears more open to the idea than he would have been a few months ago. Meanwhile, owner Clay Bennett appears more open to being on the hook for a big tax bill to keep his roster together than he was a few years ago.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • Speaking on Sunday to reporters, including ESPN’s Royce Young, Westbrook declined to get into specifics on why he waited nearly three months to sign his extension, but said his commitment to Oklahoma City never wavered. “I like where I’m at,” Westbrook said.
  • Westbrook, Patrick Patterson, and Alex Abrines will all miss the Thunder’s preseason opener on Tuesday, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. “For Russell, it’s just a slow progression,” head coach Billy Donovan said of the reigning MVP, who underwent PRP therapy on his left knee. “There’s no reason just to throw him back in so quickly, but he’s doing more and more, and he did everything today at practice.”
  • Addressing the status of Patterson and Abrines, Donovan said that it’s difficult to put a time frame on either player’s return, but he doesn’t view their injuries as long-term issues. Like Westbrook, Patterson and Abrines are dealing with knee issues.
  • Earlier today, we passed along details on Rob Hennigan‘s new role with the Thunder.

Northwest Division: George, Morrow, Plumlee, Burks

Russell Westbrook‘s decision to sign an extension with the Thunder is making it easier for Paul George to decide whether to stay put when he becomes a free agent next summer, as he told ESPN’s Royce Young and other media members (Twitter link). George is impressed by the commitment between the reigning Most Valuable Player and the franchise, as Westbrook decided this week to sign a five-year, $205MM extension. George’s overt desire to leave the Pacers after this season, specifically for the Lakers, led Indiana to trade him to Oklahoma City. It appears George is now seriously interested in re-signing. “Not only in us pairing together but just knowing what type of dude Russ is and his values and his beliefs and him being committed to this organization says a lot,” George said. “And I’m one person that’s enjoying it here, so I think when that time comes the decision will be easier to make for myself.”

In other developments around the Northwest Division:

  • Anthony Morrow has apparently taken an early lead in the fight for the Blazers’ 15th roster spot, Joe Freeman of The Oregonian reports. Morrow received a one-year, non-guaranteed contract prior to training camp and is battling Archie Goodwin and Isaiah Briscoe for a spot on the opening-night roster, Freeman continues. After four days of training camp, he’s already impressed coaches and teammates with his shooting, leadership and positive attitude, Freeman adds.
  • Center Mason Plumlee will be Nikola Jokic‘s backup but he’ll have a big role with the Nuggets, coach Michael Malone told Gina Mizell of The Denver Post. Plumlee was re-signed by Denver to a three-year, $41MM deal this summer after being acquired from the Blazers in February. “He brings us a physicality and presence that, really, none of the other guys really have,” Malone said. “He is a lob threat on offense and he’s a rim protector on defense. On top of that, he’s a very skilled and capable playmaker.”
  • Jazz guard Alec Burks believes he’s finally fully recovered from the broken leg he suffered in December 2015, according to Mike Sorensen of The Deseret News. Burks is looking for a bounce-back season, even though coach Quin Snyder isn’t sure what role Burks will have this season, Sorensen adds. “This summer I felt like I was before I got hurt on that December day two years ago,” Burks told Sorensen. “I felt more explosive, more like myself. As you could tell, last year I wasn’t myself athletically, I wasn’t at all.”

Thunder Notes: Extension, PRP Injection, Recruiting

The Thunder locked down MVP Russell Westbrook through the end of the 2022/23 season and it’s not hard to imagine the impact the deal will have on the franchise as a whole. Erik Horne of The Oklahoman broke down the role the extension might have in shaping the team’s roster in the years to come.

First and foremost, the fact that Westbrook will be under Oklahoma City control for the next half-decade could entice Carmelo Anthony to stay with the club after the 2017/18 campaign. Even in a scenario where Paul George could choose to opt out via his player option, Anthony may be inclined to stay in order to continue playing alongside the perennial All-Star.

The move also serves as a message, loud and clear, that the Thunder aren’t afraid to flirt with the luxury tax if the team stands a legitimate chance of being competitive.

Finally, the extension changes the perception that small market teams can’t be a destination for big name players. Anthony’s decision to accept a trade to the Thunder could inspire other players – perhaps during buyout season next February – to consider signing with Oklahoma City.

There’s more from the Thunder:

  • Days before signing his historic contract extension, Russell Westbrook underwent a standard platelet rich plasma injection in his left knee, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.
  • While there has been some resolution in regards to Russell Westbrook’s future, there’s no guarantee that this super-team-ified version of the Thunder will exist for long considering that both Paul George and Carmelo Anthony could conceivably exit next summer. Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes that fans ought to embrace it while it’s here.
  • He may still be settling into life in Oklahoma City but Paul George is a passionate enough member of the Thunder to recruit for the franchise. “My job is to make this team as good as possible, elevate this team as much as possible. Whatever I can do I will do, and that’s whether I’m on the court or off the court. My job is to try to make things happen,” George told the media, including Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. The forward played a role in recruiting Carmelo Anthony and he tried to convince Dwyane Wade to sign with the team as well.

Thunder Sign Russell Westbrook To Extension

2:50pm: Westbrook’s five-year extension is now official, with the Thunder formally issuing a press release to announce the new deal.Russell Westbrook vertical

“I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, there is no place I would rather be than Oklahoma City,” Westbrook said in a statement, calling Thunder fans “the best in the world.”

Meanwhile, Sam Amick of USA Today reports (via Twitter) that the final year of Westbrook’s extension will be a player option.

2:18pm: The Thunder have reached an agreement on a contract extension with Russell Westbrook, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who reports that the new deal is a five-year pact projected to be worth about $205MM. The extension will replace Westbrook’s player option for 2018/19, running through the 2022/23 season.

Westbrook’s new deal is a Designated Veteran Extension, similar to the ones signed by Stephen Curry, James Harden, and John Wall earlier this offseason. However, Curry’s DVE took effect this season, while Harden’s and Wall’s won’t begin until 2019/20, so the final numbers on Westbrook’s extension will look a little different.

Westbrook’s starting salary will be worth 35% of the 2018/19 salary cap. Based on the NBA’s latest projection, that would work out to $35.35MM in year one, and $205.03MM in total. Taking into account Westbrook’s $28,530,608 salary for 2017/18, the reigning MVP will be locked up for about $233.56MM over six years, which would be the largest contract in NBA history.

It’s appropriate that Westbrook would ink a historic contract at this point in his career, since he’s coming off one of the most impressive individual seasons in the history of the league. In 81 games for the Thunder last season, the star point guard averaged a league-high 31.6 PPG to go along with 10.7 RPG and 10.4 APG, making him the first player to average a triple-double since Oscar Robertson accomplished the feat in 1961/62.

Despite Westbrook’s heroics, the Thunder were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last spring. However, the team added significant reinforcements in the offseason, acquiring Paul George from the Pacers and Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks.

Westbrook’s decision to sign an extension with Oklahoma City will make things interesting for George and Anthony, who both have the opportunity to reach unrestricted free agency in 2018. Westbrook will have a full season to convince George – who will likely decline his player option – to stick around for the long term in OKC. As for Anthony, he’s a better bet to pick up his player option if he enjoys his time with the Thunder, since it’s worth nearly $28MM, a figure he’s unlikely to match on the open market.

While Westbrook’s extension won’t have an impact on this year’s cap for the Thunder, it could create some difficult decisions down the line for the franchise. If we were to pencil in Westbrook’s projected 2018/19 salary along with Anthony’s option-year salary, the Thunder would have nearly $117MM in guaranteed salaries on their books for next season, and that number doesn’t include George or any of the Thunder’s other pending free agents or non-guaranteed players.

Still, Oklahoma City’s management and ownership groups will likely worry about future team salaries and tax payments at a later date. For now, the Thunder are presumably thrilled to lock up Westbrook, about 15 months after failing to get a similar commitment from Kevin Durant.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

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