Russell Westbrook

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.”

Thunder Notes: Roberson, George, Abrines

A top-five ranked defense took a major hit Saturday evening when Thunder swingman and 2017 NBA All-Defensive Second Team member Andre Roberson had his season end abruptly after rupturing his left patellar tendon. Erik Horne of The Oklahoman opines that the team has two good options: make a trade, or seek a difference maker on the buyout market later this month.

A trade may be difficult, as the Thunder don’t have a first-round pick to trade until 2024, and not many attractive assets with whom the team would be willing to part. The Thunder do have two trade exceptions acquired in the Paul George trade, but the larger of the two exceptions is only worth $2.5MM – an amount unlikely to fit a salary equal to Roberson’s value.

Should the team test the buyout market, Horne mentions Andrew Bogut as a potential option to maintain the team’s defensive prowess, with more names to materialize after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

Here’s more on the Thunder:

  • George initially being omitted as an All-Star ending up working out in the Thunder’s favor, writes Royce Young of ESPN. George, who will make his fifth All-Star Game appearance in his hometown of Los Angeles on Feb. 18, received an outpouring of support from teammate Russell Westbrook after being overlooked for this year’s event, and George clearly noticed. Now, the two L.A. natives will be teammates on Team LeBron, and it stands to reason that the closer the two become, the more likely it is that George will remain in Oklahoma City.
  • If the Thunder are unable and/or opt not to replace Roberson via trade or free agent acquisition, look for second-year player Alex Abrines to step up his role for the team, reports Brett Dawson of the The Oklahoman. Head coach Billy Donovan stated before yesterday’s game that he “definitely” wants to find more minutes for Abrines, saying of the Spaniard, “I’ve got to find ways to get him on the floor and help him because I think he can help our team.”
  • In his latest piece for Bleacher Report, NBA Capologist Eric Pincus analyzes whether the Thunder will dole out the cash necessary to keep George in Oklahoma City should he wish to stay. Facing the repeater tax and Carmelo Anthony‘s all-but-assured decision to opt in next season, the Thunder could be faced with a roster costing somewhere between $250MM and $300MM.

George: Westbrook Making Free Agency Decision Easier

While the Lakers are still expected to be a strong contender for Paul George in free agency this summer, the forward’s latest public comments suggest he might be leaning toward remaining in Oklahoma City. As ESPN’s Royce Young writes, Russell Westbrook, who told reporters in strong terms on Wednesday that George should have been an All-Star, is a key reason why George will seriously consider re-signing with the Thunder.

“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make… the character Russ [has],” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.

“It was awesome for a teammate to have your back and to stand up,” George continued. “And to be honest, he should be a starter. He’s been the MVP, been the best player at his position. He should’ve been a starter, but that’s another story. But the fact Russ had my back, that’s my guy forever, and it’s more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”

Although George sounds today like a man ready to stick with the Thunder when his current contract expires, plenty could change in the next five months — an early playoff exit, for instance, could hurt the team’s offseason recruiting pitch. Still, Oklahoma City will have George’s Bird rights, giving the team the ability to offer more years and more money than rival suitors, and the front office has to be encouraged by the relationship between its star forward and star point guard.

Westbrook is under contract with the Thunder through at least 2022, so if George wants to continue playing with the reigning MVP, re-upping in OKC on a long-term deal this summer would be the logical move.

NBA Competition Committee To Review Out-Of-Bounds Replays

Just last week we highlighted how the growing tension between NBA players and officials had gotten to a point where leaders of their respective unions felt compelled to meet. Then, in response to an NBA Officiating Last Two Minute Report, LeBron James came out and stated that the issue irking him most about the officiating is when an official refuses to acknowledge that an infraction occurred (per Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

Now, based at least in large part on a call missed by the officials during the Bucks win over the Thunder on Friday night, the NBA’s competition committee will look into making missed out-of-bounds calls replayable, according to Royce Young of ESPN.

The controversial non-call occurred with less than 5.0 seconds remaining in the game. The Bucks called timeout and set up a play for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who spun around Josh Huestis and finished with a dunk over Russell Westbrook. However, replays visible in the arena clearly showed that Antetokounmpo stepped out of bounds on his way to the hoop.

Unfortunately for the Thunder, the officials were not permitted to review the play because it did not meet the criteria to trigger a review. In order for a review to be triggered under the current replay system, the officials would have needed to make a call on the floor signaling that Antetokounmpo was out of bounds.

As succinctly explained by head official Derrick Stafford after Friday’s game, “In any reviewable matter, there has to be a whistle called on the floor. There was no whistle blown for the play, so we couldn’t review it.”

The NBA’s competition committee will meet in March to discuss this and other issues, but a change, if any, would not be implemented until the 2018-19 season.

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Huestis, Abrines, Jones, Jazz

In the middle of the Thunder’s resurgence and winning streak has been reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook. As Oklahoma City has tried to create a balance for Westbrook and two other All-Stars, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George, the team has struggled to find consistency. Playing behind Westbrook’s lead and not with him trying to lead is how the Thunder will find success, ESPN’s Royce Young writes.

After a slow start, OKC is in fifth place in the Western Conference with a 20-16 record. Anthony believes that Westbrook’s hot streak and the team’s improved play are no coincidence.

“I think the fact that Russ is just playing — not trying to defer to anybody, to any one of us — just playing his game and letting us play off him … I think he’s much more effective by doing that rather than deferring to myself or Paul,” Anthony said. “We know what we bring to the game. We understand it. We accept it. And by that, he’s able to just play his game, relax and do what he does best. We need that. We need that Russ out there. Not the one who defers to us. Let us figure it out.”

Check out other Northwest Division news below:

  • After the Thunder lost to the Bucks on Friday, head coach Billy Donovan said the team needs Alex Abrines to play better, Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes. Abrines, 24, got the start on Friday but OKC was down 24 points after one quarter and he never returned. “My feeling is that Alex needs to help our team, and trying to find ways to get him going would be positive for our team,” Donovan said. “That’s why I kind of started him.”
  • Following Abrines’ removal, Josh Huestis got the chance to play the rest of the game and showed some defensive promise against the Bucks, Dawson writes in a separate story. 
  • With Jeff Teague sidelined 2 to 4 weeks with a left knee sprain, Tyus Jones will take over the Wolves‘ starting point guard role for the second time this season and he feels prepared, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune writes. “Just because it’s not the first time now,” Jones said. “It’s something I’ve done, something we’ve gone through as a team. I’m just ready to go. My first-time experience, I learned it was still just basketball. You’re in the game to start rather than coming in a few minutes into the game, but it’s just basketball at the end of the day.”
  • The month of December has not been kind to the Jazz as the team searches for an identity, Eric Woodyard of the Deseret News writes.

Central Notes: LeBron, Oladipo, Osman

LeBron James is well on his way to another First Team All-NBA selection and perhaps a fifth MVP Award. And while the Cavaliers star will be the first to tell you that that he plays for team accomplishments, even he was able to admit how sweet it would be to add more personal hardware to his trophy case, reports Nick Friedell of ESPN. James also elaborated on what his continued excellence over time could mean for future NBA generations.

“Team success is always the No. 1, but along the way if you’re able accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel, and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation.”

“Hopefully I can break the mold, so when the next guy comes, he can still get $200 or $300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break. It’s not just about me, it’s for the next crew, as well … I’ll be 33 in 15 days. This is my 15th season, and this is the best I’ve felt in my career.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Despite the recent narrative that being traded to Indiana from Oklahoma City (and particularly away from Russell Westbrook) has generated a career season for Pacers guard Victor Oladipo, the opposite is actually true, reports Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Oladipo himself specifically references how Westbrook’s level of play made him realize how much work it takes to become a star. “Going there and seeing (Westbrook) do that, just seeing his year overall last year definitely helped me realize that I gotta put in a lot of work to get on that level,” Oladipo said. “So, he definitely helped influence my growth both on and off the court. He was an amazing resource, especially last year, to learn from him. And I apply it to everyday life today.”
  • In a piece for the The Plain Dealer, Terry Pluto opines that this season’s Cavaliers team has so far had a much more encouraging regular season than last year’s team. Among other topics, Pluto analyzes the surprising fit of Jose Calderon and general manager Koby Altman’s decision to give him a fully-guaranteed contract, head coach Tyronn Lue’s relationship with newcomer Jeff Green, and how potential All-Star Kevin Love seems to be thriving in an environment without Kyrie Irving.
  • After being traded to Cleveland from Minnesota on draft night in 2015, Cavaliers swingman Cedi Osman had spent the last two seasons playing overseas in Turkey, waiting for his NBA break to come. And now that he’s in the NBA, Osman is looking to make the most of his opportunity, writes Chris Fedor of In last night’s win against Utah, Osman scored a career high 10 points in 23 minutes (also a career high), with Lue opting to keep Osman in during crunch time in the fourth quarter.

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 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 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 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.”