Russell Westbrook

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Bird, Okogie, Reed

Thunder star Russell Westbrook is nearing his return after missing the team’s first week of action, targeting Sunday’s home game against the Kings, according to ESPN’s Royce Young.

The team currently lists him as out for the game, but cautioned that his status is always subject to change. Should Westbrook miss the game against Sacramento, it’s possible that he makes his return on Thursday against the Celtics.

“A lot of it is him and the medical staff talking to each other and him giving feedback,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “In my conversations with him, it’s always how he’s feeling the next day. And I think for him, he needs to be right because you don’t want to have something lingering. And he knows his body better than anybody else.”

Westbrook underwent a preemptive arthroscopy surgery on his right knee last month, the fifth knee operation of his 10-year NBA career. He held per-game averages of 25.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 10.3 assists last season, and has played in at least 80 games throughout the past three seasons.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • WNBA star Sue Bird is meeting with the Nuggets executive staff this week, which could turn into a job with the team, Chris Dempsey of Nuggets.com reports (Twitter link). Bird is still an active WNBA player, meaning she cannot work full-time with the organization.
  • Timberwolves rookie Josh Okogie played a solid role in the team’s game against Dallas on Saturday, filling in for Jimmy Butler at small forward and showing flashes of potential on both ends of the floor. “I knew where to pick my spots and what my role is when I’m on the court with them,” Okogie said, as relayed by Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “I came in the game ready to make an impact. I knew I just had to come to the game, rebound, do the dirty stuff, let the others shine.”
  • The Salt Lake City Stars drafted former NBA center Willie Reed with the No. 1 pick in this year’s G League draft, banking on his experience and close ties to the organization, as written by Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News. The Stars are the G League affiliate of the Jazz, a team that features the likes of Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Ekpe Udoh at center.

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Schroder, Neto, Harkless

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook is progressing in his rehab from knee surgery, though it’s unclear when he’ll make his return to the court, Royce Young of ESPN.com writes.

Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery in his right knee on September 12, and the former NBA Most Valuable Player is still unable to participate in full-contact drills. His status for Tuesday’s season-opener against Golden State is uncertain.

“Every day for him, he feels better and better,” coach Billy Donovan said after a team practice Thursday. “I don’t want to say [if he’ll be ready for Tuesday]. I know you guys want to know that, but that’s too far out and there will be a lot of things that will go into that decision.

“There’s certain things he’ll have to go through to get himself fully cleared to play, but he’s certainly moving in the right direction and he’s worked really hard at his rehab to get himself back.”

Despite not being able to play with full contact, Westbrook has participated in portions of team practices this month. The Thunder hope he can make his return next week, but they refuse to rush the process.

“He’s been in controlled situations that the medical staff has allowed him to do,” Donovan said. “And hopefully with the way he responds physically after going through a workout, they’ll be able to add a little bit more and more.”

There’s more notes out of the Northwest Division:

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.

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Mitchell, Plumlee, Roth

Thunder guard and former NBA MVP Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee earlier this week. The procedure was described as “maintenance” and he will be re-evaluated in four weeks. Westbrook is expected to miss the preseason but his status for Oklahoma City’s season opener on October 17 is to be determined.

Westbrook is coming off another outstanding season for the Thunder as he averaged a triple-double for the second consecutive season. As The Oklahoman details, Westbrook’s injury already has had ripple effects on the Thunder roster and will continue to do so until his impending return.

Check out more Northwest Division notes below:

  • Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell had an outstanding rookie season for Utah, a season that would’ve earned him Rookie of the Year honors in nearly any other season. Frank Urbina of HoopsHype examines Mitchell skillset and projects how and when Mitchell could make the jump into superstar status.
  • Nuggets‘ big man Mason Plumlee needed offseason surgery after playing another season of at least 70 games. NBA.com previewed Plumlee’s upcoming 2018/19 campaign as he prepares to be Denver’s primary backup at center.
  • Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune looks at the Timberwolves‘ strategy for trying out players for the G League team. “Everybody’s just looking for the diamond in the rough,” Iowa Wolves coach and former Timberwolves player Scott Roth said. “Everybody wants the next Jonathan Simmons to walk into their building. 

Russell Westbrook Has Arthroscopic Procedure On Knee

Russell Westbrook had arthroscopic surgery today on his right knee, according to Royce Young of ESPN. The procedure was done for “maintenance” and the Thunder guard will be re-evaluated in four weeks. He is expected to miss the preseason, and his status for the October 17 opener will be determined at that time.

The operation was successful, the team posted on its website, and the decision to have surgery was prompted by inflammation in the knee over the weekend. The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles with medical personnel from the team in attendance.

Westbrook has been remarkably durable since having three surgeries on the knee in a nine-month span in 2013 and has played in 80, 81 and 80 games over the past three seasons. Still, any physical problem is a concern as Westbrook will turn 30 in November and is entering the first season of a five-year, $205MM extension.

Westbrook made his seventh All-Star appearance last season and averaged a triple-double for the second straight year with a 25.4/10.1/10.3 line, leading the NBA in assists.

Northwest Notes: Jazz, Towns, Westbrook

The Jazz didn’t make any major headlines over the course of the summer, electing to stand pat on a roster that shocked the NBA world and emerged as a Western Conference contender. Heading into 2018/19, the club is as dangerous as ever, Chris Herring of FiveThirtyEight writes.

Of course the biggest hurdle for the Jazz will be to win ball games despite the fact that opponents won’t take them for granted. Now that the rest of the league is aware of what they’re capable, they’ll have to bring their best game every night out.

Herring wonders if Ricky Rubio will be able to continue to shoot the ball as well as he did in the second half of last season after a career of sub-par percentages. Similarly, he considers just how scary the team can be on the defensive end with a hopefully healthy Rudy Gobert in the lineup for a full season.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The fact that Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t signed a five-year max rookie scale extension is “eyebrow raising,” Brian Windhorst of ESPN says (h/t Dan Feldman of NBC Sports). Per Windhorst, there has never been a player that hasn’t signed such an offer.
  • A recent feature on 2018 Hall of Fame inductee Maurice Cheeks paints the retired point guard and former Thunder assistant as a “Russell Westbrook whisperer.” Royce Young of ESPN details the coach’s impact on the early years of Westbrook’s career.
  • It’s never too early to start talking about next year’s free agent crop. Our 2019 NBA free agent rankings are now live. Two of the four most valuable potential acquisitions? Timberwolves stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler.

Northwest Notes: Schroder, Lillard, Towns, Crowder

In an extended analytical piece, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer takes a look at how the Thunder‘s soon-to-be acquired point guard Dennis Schroder will fit with incumbent starter and All-Star Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City’s backcourt.

Consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in passing metrics, Thunder head coach Billy Donovan has regularly spoke about how he wants better ball movement on offense. But, as Donovan admits, “There’s a balance between [giving the ball to your stars] and then trying to play faster with more ball and player movement.”

Enter Schroder, who can create against a defense with his quickness perhaps better than any other point guard the Thunder have had in recent years outside of Westbrook, including Reggie Jackson.

Only time will tell whether or not Westbrook and Schroder will be able to play together, but if they can, Donovan will be able to install more pace and ball-movement concepts featuring multiple ball handlers running the show, rather than relying on Westbrook alone, which should help the Thunder be less one-dimensional against the better Western Conference teams come playoff time.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • While the Trail Blazers may not have been able to bring in as much talent as they had hoped for during this summer’s free agency period in an effort to improve upon last season, Damian Lillard says that he’s ready and excited for the upcoming season and that he has a “deeper connection” with the city of Portland that goes beyond basketball, per Sean Meagher of The Oregonian.
  • As part of a Wolves’ mailbag, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic opines that although the relationship between Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves could obviously use some work right now, the opportunity for repair remains, as Towns likely would have cancelled his recent basketball camp in the Twin Cities had he already completely written off Minnesota as a long-term home.
  • After struggling on-court to adjust to a new role and new teammates at the beginning of last season and coping off-court with the death of his mother from cancer, Jae Crowder finally feels at home with the Jazz, writes Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult,” Crowder told The Tribune. “It was hard being thrown into the fire. But, from Day One, the locker room and my teammates [in Utah] were great. The coaching staff was great. … It helped build toughness.”

Northwest Notes: Noel, Thomas, Favors, Blazers

Five years removed from being drafted No. 6 overall in the 2013 NBA Draft, newly-acquired Thunder big man Nerlens Noel is looking to rehabilitate both his game and reputation in Oklahoma City, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman.

A one-and-done talent at college powerhouse Kentucky, Noel is aware of the rumors surrounding his game – that he’s a talented but unwilling to work – but he’s ready to come out this season and turn things around.

The Thunder are ready for that too, which is why head coach Billy Donovan and All-Stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George all made recruiting pitches to Noel on the first night of free agency.

“I’m excited about having him,” Donovan said. “He’s early in his career, and I know his career probably hasn’t evolved into what he’d hoped when he was a rookie. But he’s still very young, and he’s still got a lot of time to continue to get better.”

Noel has yet to have much of any success at the NBA level so far. He sat out his first season in Philadelphia recovering from injury and then saw his playing time dwindle after the Sixers drafted up-and-coming star Joel Embiid. But now that Noel feels he has a new home where winning is a priority, he is ready to prove his worth.

“You want to be in a situation where you’re wanted on a team that really wants to win,” Noel said. “That means the utmost to me, and that’s what my game is. I don’t think playing on teams that are really headed in the other direction complements me as well or makes me look as good as I might want to.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Armed with deep motivation after having his career curtailed by injury, Nuggets point guard Isaiah Thomas is eager to play for a team who wanted him, reports Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com. Thomas, who played for head coach Mike Malone in Sacramento during his breakout season in 2013-14, credits Malone’s trust in him as a key to his continued success.
  • Per Aaron Falk of UtahJazz.comJazz forward Derrick Favors is looking for an increased role on offense next season. During his free agent meeting with Utah’s front office, the two parties spoke about getting Favors more cuts to the basket and playing out of pick-and-roll or dribble-handoffs more often.
  • The Trail Blazers have made a couple of minor roster moves in the past day or so, deciding to retain guard Wade Baldwin and part ways with center Georgios Papagiannis.

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Tolliver, Noel, Roberson

The Trail Blazers are looking to make trades to upgrade their roster, Sean Meagher of The Oregonian relays via an NBA-TV interview. Portland retained Jusuf Nurkic with a four-year deal and added guards Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas in free agency. They also used a slice of their mid-level exception to sign second-rounder Gary Trent Jr.

“There’s a great foundation there, we need to continue to add veterans,” Trail Blazers GM Neil Olshey told Leigh Ellis of The Starters. “The draft was the draft, we didn’t have a lot of resources in free agency – we had the tax-payer mid-level, we broke that up – and now we’ll go into the rest of the offseason looking to make trades to bolster the top nine guys in our rotation.”

In other news around the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves valued veteran power forward Anthony Tolliver as much for his defense as his 3-point shooting and veteran leadership, coach Tom Thibodeau told Jerry Zgoda of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Tolliver signed a one-year, $5.75MM contract after a solid season with the Pistons. “We wanted to address the defense of the second unit, and we think he’ll be a great fit,” Thibodeau said. “Whatever he’s asked to do, he does it. He always stars in his role. We can’t have enough guys like that.”
  • Nerlens Noel was recruited by Russell Westbrook and Paul George to join the Thunder, he told Nick Gallo of the Thunder’s website. Noel signed a two-year deal with a player option, adding depth to OKC’s frontcourt. “They called the night of free agency when I was meeting with coach Billy [Donovan],” Noel said of the Thunder’s 1-2 punch. “They told me, let’s get it done and that we want to do special things this year. I definitely felt where they were coming from. I gave it a little thought and with as much love as they showed, it became an easy decision.”
  • Thunder guard Andre Roberson says he’s on track to be back in action for the start of the season, according to Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. He ruptured the patellar tendon in his left knee in January. Roberson is able to do some light shooting and ball-handling drills but hasn’t started running.

Lowe’s Latest: James, Thunder, RFAs

The Lakers may not necessarily need a star in place to lure LeBron James, Zach Lowe of ESPN writes in a massive round-up of free agency notes. If James were to sign in Los Angeles alongside the team’s existing young stars and plethora of cap space they’d immediately become one of the league’s most appealing destinations for the next 12 months.

The comment comes in response to the notion that the Lakers are growing desperate to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs prior to James’ opt-in deadline tomorrow at 10:59pm CST. As things stand, both the Celtics and Sixers appear poised to offer better packages than what Lowe speculates L.A. might.

The King’s decision will have a ripple effect on the rest of the league, especially the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors, for example, were to watch James head to the West, it would make keeping their current core in place more appealing considering that their path to the Finals would be hypothetically easier.

Here’s a taste of the rest of Lowe’s findings:

  • If the Thunder can convince Paul George to return to Oklahoma City, it will be a monumental victory for general manager Sam Presti. If he leaves, the club would be forced to at least think about blowing the current squad up and trading Russell Westbrook.
  • Only six teams have notable amounts of potential cap space and half of those – the Hawks, Bulls and Kings – are telling teams that they’re interested in using that space to absorb bad contracts and pick up assets.
  • It’s unclear that there will be much of a market for Derrick Favors beyond, potentially the Mavs. It may make more sense for the big man to stay with the Jazz after finally starting to click alongside Rudy Gobert in Quin Snyder‘s offense last season.
  • The two best candidates to sign a qualifying offer this summer and approach next summer as unrestricted free agents are Celtics guard Marcus Smart and Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic. Lowe writes that Nurkic turned down a “rich” four-year extension last fall but might have a hard time finding a team willing to offer more than the mid-level exception this summer.
  • It stands to reason that Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker will yield significant offers from the Magic, Bulls and Bucks  respectively but none of those teams have reason to offer a max contract right away.
  • The Pacers could make life harder for the Magic by putting together an offer in the $20MM range for Gordon. Lowe writes that there has been “mild discontent for years” about Gordon’s role in Orlando’s offense.
  • The Nuggets tried “feverishly” to trade for a second first-round pick last Thursday in the hopes of nabbing Zhaire Smith. Denver’s 2019 first-rounder was on the table in those talks.

For more free agency notes, including some potential contract extension candidates and the reasoning behind Nikola Jokic not getting a player option in the fifth year of his new deal with the Nuggets, check out the full feature at ESPN.