Russell Westbrook

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.

Western Notes: Rockets, Jazz, Westbrook, Allen

The Rockets have reduced their rotation to seven players but they won’t use fatigue as an excuse for their second-half collapse against the Warriors in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle reports. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry have all played more minutes per game than any Rockets player, Feigen notes. “Fatigue is never a factor in the playoffs,” Rockets forward Trevor Ariza told Feigen and other media members. “This is what we prepare for. This is what we work hard all summer for. They started playing harder. They started making shots. That’s it.” 

Also around the Western Conference:

  • The Jazz might keep their core group intact going into next season, GM Dennis Lindsey told Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News“My best guess is the option that we’ll ultimately consider, is bringing the team back intact, but I don’t know what other things are going to come our way,” Lindsey said. In order to do that, they’d have to sign unrestricted free agent Derrick Favors and restricted free agent Dante Exum. If both players receive significant raises and the Jazz make other moves, they could find themselves close to the luxury tax. They currently have approximately $90MM in salary guarantees next season.
  • 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.
  • Duke combo guard Grayson Allen could be an option for the Kings if he slips into the second round, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. Sacramento holds the No. 36 overall pick and Allen is currently ranked No. 30 by ESPN’s Jonathan Givony. Allen would be a fit because the Kings need guards who can provide size and shooting, Jones adds.

NBA Announces 2017/18 All-NBA Teams

The NBA has formally announced the All-NBA First, Second, and Third Teams for the 2017/18 season, with James Harden and LeBron James leading the way as the two unanimous selections for the First Team.

The voting results will have major financial implications for the three All-NBA centers, Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Karl-Anthony Towns. As Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter), Davis is now eligible for a supermax extension from the Pelicans next summer. Davis will be eligible to sign that deal, which projects to be worth $230MM, as of July 1, 2019.

As for Embiid, missing out on a First Team nod means his maximum-salary contract will remain at 25% of the cap rather than being bumped up to 30%. That means he’ll miss out on approximately $29MM over the next five years, as Dan Feldman of NBC Sports details.

Towns, meanwhile, will be eligible for an extension worth 30% of the cap this summer, Marks tweets. An extension of that sort, which would make the cap outlook in Minnesota very interesting, would go into effect for the 2019/20 season.

The full All-NBA teams are listed below, with their vote totals in parentheses. Players received five points for a First Team vote, three points for a Second Team vote, and one point for a Third Team vote, so Harden and James scored a perfect 500 — First Team nods from all 100 voters.

First Team

  • Guard: James Harden, Rockets (500)
  • Guard: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers (432)
  • Forward: LeBron James, Cavaliers (500)
  • Forward: Kevin Durant, Warriors (426)
  • Center: Anthony Davis, Pelicans (492)

Second Team

Third Team

Among those results, the tightest race saw DeRozan edge Curry by a single point for a spot on the All-NBA Second Team. Both players received two First Team votes and 39 Second Team votes, with DeRozan grabbing one extra Third Team vote (38 to 37) to bump him up to the Second Team ahead of Curry.

As for the players who didn’t quite make the cut, Rockets point guard Chris Paul (54 points), Jazz center Rudy Gobert (51), Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (42), and Sixers guard/forward Ben Simmons (36) received the most support.

Al Horford (Celtics), Nikola Jokic (Nuggets), Andre Drummond (Pistons), Clint Capela (Rockets), Draymond Green (Warriors), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Steven Adams (Thunder), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), Klay Thompson (Warriors), Trevor Ariza (Rockets), DeMarcus Cousins (Pelicans), Dwight Howard (Hornets), Kevin Love (Cavaliers), and Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks) also each received at least one All-NBA vote.

Northwest Notes: George, Mitchell, Patterson

There’s no indication that Paul George has decided what to do as a free agent this season but Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes that we’ve already seen a glimpse of what’s possible if he decides to stay with the Thunder and continue to suit up alongside Russell Westbrook.

The scribe writes that the forward’s decision to leave or stay with the Thunder will be seen, fairly or not, as a referendum on playing next to the club’s superstar. George himself lamented that it was a significant adjustment tweaking his game to complement Westbrook’s but the pair would occasionally fall in step and thrive.

George’s first season with the Thunder saw him touch the ball five fewer times per game and also hold possession for less. That’s not all that surprising given that he was necessarily obligated to play off the ball but it could play a role in the decision he makes heading forward.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Yes, Donovan Mitchell had an impressive rookie campaign, but plenty of other players had solid first years before plateauing. One particularly intriguing perspective that may reassure Jazz fans that they’re not witnessing the next O.J. Mayo is teammate Thabo Sefolosha‘s. “I was a teammate with Derrick Rose when he was a rookie, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant when they were young in their first two seasons in OKC, and the talent level is right up there with those guys,” the 34-year-old told Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News.
  • There’s no denying that Patrick Patterson is a sharp-shooting veteran presence for the Thunder, exactly what he was expected to be when he signed a three-year, $16MM deal last summer, but declining athleticism limited his ability to contribute off the bench in 2017/18, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes.
  • He may not win the Rookie of the Year award (according to our own staff) but ESPN’s Mike Schmitz believes that Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell has the highest future potential of any of this year’s rookies. Co-writer Kevin Pelton placed him No. 2 behind Ben Simmons but Schmitz raved about the Louisville product’s demonstrated ability to improve upon his weaknesses.

Thunder Rumors: Westbrook, Anthony, Donovan, George

The Thunder need to change their offensive system if they’re ever going to get deep in the playoffs again, Zach Lowe of ESPN argues in a detailed look at the team’s scheme over the years. Their overreliance on Russell Westbrook proved to be their downfall once again in the series against the Jazz. Westbrook used up 38% of their possessions in the series, a higher rate than even LeBron James had for the Cavaliers in the first round, Lowe notes. The Thunder need their other star players to have more coherent roles as well as build a better bench, so that they can hold their own when Westbrook rests. Lowe adds.

In other Thunder-related news and musings:

  • Trading Carmelo Anthony is the least likely outcome this offseason as the team tries to figure out what to do with the aging and disgruntled forward, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes. Not only would it be tough to trade his contract if he picks up his $27.9MM option, he also has a no-trade clause, Horne notes. A buyout or utilizing the stretch provision are more viable options, or the team could simply retain him and hope for better results, Horne adds.
  • Making a decision whether to retain coach Billy Donovan ranks as the biggest issue immediately confronting the team, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News opines. Trying to hold onto impending free agent Paul George and figuring out a way to shed Anthony are two of the other major issues hanging over their head, Deveney continues. The recovery of defensive ace Andre Roberson from a knee injury is another concern, Deveney adds.
  • Donovan will probably keep his job but it could be even more difficult next season, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman argues. While the players generally respect and like Donovan, they don’t always follow his orders, Tramel continues Things could get even dicier next season if George doesn’t re-sign.However, Donovan still has two years and $12MM left on his contract, and that should work in his favor, Tramel adds.
  • George is quite aware how important he is to the organization and its future, Horne writes in a separate piece. George has been impressed with the franchise during his first season in Oklahoma City but there’s no telling if he’ll return. “We’ve had the high moments where we’ve seen what we can be,” George told Horne and other media members. “That’s the consistency part of just getting an identity as a group. I think we’re close. I think we’re close to accomplishing something bigger here.”

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, George, Butler, Trail Blazers

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook will be available for tonight’s Game 5 after being fined but not suspended for going onto the court during an altercation, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. The league levied a $10K fine against Westbrook, who became involved in a fourth quarter shoving match during Game 4. Players are typically suspended for leaving the bench area during a fight, but Westbrook was given a break because he was about to check into the game when it happened.

“I was at the scorer’s table waiting,” he said. “The foul went, the horn blew. So, I walked on the court. I was already in the game. Once I was in the game, they told me to wait because they told me I was going to review it or whatever. Once they did that, then obviously the altercation happened so I was already on the floor.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Paul George‘s upcoming free agency becomes more interesting with every Thunder loss, notes Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated. George said earlier this season that he wouldn’t make a decision based on the playoffs, but obviously a first-round exit won’t help Oklahoma City’s chances of keeping him. Sharp acknowledges George’s talent, but questions whether he can be a team leader and speculates that things may not turn out well for the Lakers if they sign him but not LeBron James.
  • It’s conceivable that Jimmy Butler could wind up back in Chicago after next season, according to Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times. The Timberwolves traded for Butler last summer to bring a veteran presence to the organization, but he can opt out of a $19.8MM salary next summer and may be tempted to leave if Minnesota can’t make an impact in the playoffs. Bulls president Michael Reinsdorf remains a huge fan of Butler and would be interested in a reunion. “I loved the city of Chicago, and I love the Reinsdorfs,’’ Butler said. “I’m forever grateful for them in taking a chance on me, allowing me to become the player that I am today. It’s still incredible to me that I got to hoop in a Bulls jersey. I got to play in the house that [Michael] Jordan built, that [Scottie] Pippen played, all that stuff. That’s because of the Reinsdorfs. If the time comes where I say, ‘You know what, I do want to end this thing in a Bulls jersey,’ I think that would be amazing. But it’s all about being wanted and winning.’’
  • The Trail Blazers posted all their exit interviews on the team website after a surprising first-round sweep by New Orleans.

Pacific Notes: Chandler, Kings, Ballmer, Pachulia

Suns center Tyson Chandler is unsure when he’ll be able to play again because of a neck injury, Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic reports. Chandler has missed five of the last six games due to swelling in a neck joint. That swelling has caused his neck to spasm and even lock up, Chandler told Bordow. “Coming back from the All-Star break I was looking forward to playing really well down the stretch,” Chandler said. “So it’s disappointing coming back having to deal with this.” The Suns miss Chandler’s leadership when he’s out, Bordow writes in a separate piece, noting the Suns are 5-25 when either he or Devin Booker doesn’t play.

In other news around the Pacific Division:

  • The fact that Kings coach Dave Joerger has agreed to a 10- or 11-man rotation shows that he has a good working relationship with GM Vlade Divac, Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee writes in a mailbag column. Joerger had been asked to expand the rotation to get more minutes for his younger players, even though he’d probably prefer a shorter rotation, Jones continues. Divac also consults with Joerger on when to send players to the G League, Jones adds.
  • Clippers owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t believe in tanking despite the team trading away Blake Griffin to the Pistons late last month. Ballmer made the statement at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and the quotes were relayed by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz. “I think bottoming out is a dangerous game,” Ballmer said. “If you have to play it, maybe you have to play it. Then again, superstars don’t want to go to teams that look like absolute losers. … In a way you’re being dismissive of your fans by taking that big a step back.”
  • Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was not disciplined by the league for falling onto Thunder All-Star Russell Westbrook on Saturday, Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post tweets. Westbrook called Pachulia a dirty player after the incident.

Northwest Notes: George, Schedules, Rose

As we’ve already touched upon, fans in Los Angeles who hope to see Paul George don a Lakers uniform next season serenaded the five-time All-Star with chants during this past weekend’s All-Star festivities. And while Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook would obviously like to see George remain in Oklahoma City, the speculation about George’s future likely won’t stop until a decision is made this summer, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman.

George, who is scheduled to make $20.7MM next year on the final season of his current contract, has the ability to opt out and become a free agent this summer. Doing so would afford him the chance to make upwards of $30MM next season in the first year of his new contract, whether it be with the Thunder or another team.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer reports that while some NBA executives still feel that George is drawn by Los Angeles and will leave unless the Thunder reach the NBA Finals, others have become increasingly skeptical that he’ll depart Oklahoma City. Regardless of what happens, George says he wants wherever he ends up to be a long-term commitment.

“I’m not looking to bounce around and play for multiple teams throughout my career,” George said. “The decision I make will ultimately be to build something. So, this next decision, whatever it is, is to make sure I’m there for a duration.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Some members of the Timberwolves believe that the new NBA schedule, implemented this season to reduce the number of back-to-back games and ensure teams now don’t play four games in five nights, is actually making the season feel longer, reports Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune. “You can tell there’s a big difference,” says Taj Gibson. “A lot of guys are getting hurt. The fatigue is there.”
  • The Jazz, on the other hand, have one of the most favorable slates in the whole league going forward after drudging through a 5-10 December that saw them play the toughest schedule in the NBA. And Mike Sorensen of the Deseret News opines that the favorable schedule could see Utah, now 10th in the Western Conference standings, move as high as the No. 5 spot by the time the playoffs roll around.
  • In another article for the Star Tribune, Zgoda writes that Timberwolves All-Star Jimmy Butler, while a fan of free agent guard and former teammate Derrick Rose, will not try to influence the team to sign Rose. “That’s not my job,” Butler said. “Is he a hell of a player? Yeah. But that’s up to Thibs and everybody else to figure if he has a place on this roster and this team. Obviously, I’ve played with him before. I know the talent he has. (But) It’s not my job to say.”

Thunder Notes: Durant, Westbrook, George, Technicals

Kevin Durant is taking the blame for the strained relationship with former teammate Russell Westbrook, according to an article on NBC Sports Bay Area. Since Durant left the Thunder in July of 2016, he and Westbrook have been engaged in a simmering feud, and Durant believes he could have handled the situation better.

“Well I just got outta my own head, got out of my own ways and stopped thinking it was even a thing,” he said when asked about the topic at today’s All-Star Weekend press conference. “… I feel like I made it a thing when it a thing when it shouldn’t have been. It’s cool to kind of get past that and just appreciate these guys for who they are and what they do. And it’s all love at the end of the day.”

Westbrook seemed less open when asked about his feelings toward Durant. “Communicatin’, that’s about it,” he responded. “All the other stuff is kind of irrelevant. Just keeping it cool, talking when we need to and just moving forward.” Durant and Westbrook are All-Star teammates for the second straight year, this time on the squad captained by LeBron James.
There’s more Thunder-related news tonight:
  • Fans in Los Angeles, hoping to see Paul George sign with the Lakers in free agency this summer, serenaded him during the press conference with chants of “We want Paul,” tweets Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript. Westbrook quickly dismissed that possibility, shouting at the crowd, “Paul ain’t goin’ nowhere! It’s over for that,” relays Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (via Twitter).
  • When reporters asked George if he knows what he will do when he becomes a free agent, he responded, “I don’t,” then paused and said, “I know what I feel is best.” (Twitter link)
  • Thunder players understand better than anyone the on-court tensions that led to today’s meeting between representatives of the players’ and referees’ unions, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. OKC leads the NBA in technical fouls with 41 in 59 games. Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams each has seven, with George close behind at six. “The reality is, the officials have a really hard job, and our players have a hard job, and it’s a very, very competitive game,” said coach Billy Donovan, who has seven technicals of his own. “There’s going to be emotions that get in there. The communication part is really important. The officials want that, the players want that. … But the reality is, you have to have a coexisting relationship there. I think it’s important you have to control your emotions and you can deal with them, because again, they do have a hard job.”