Russell Westbrook

Southwest Notes: Westbrook, Vasquez, Grizzlies

Following up on his recent report that Russell Westbrook amended the payment schedule on his contract upon being traded to the Rockets, Marc Stein of The New York Times provided some additional details in his newsletter this week.

According to Stein, Westbrook’s contract previously called for 25% of his $38.5MM salary to be paid on August 1 and again on October 1. As part of his trade to the Rockets, those installments were adjusted downward to 12.5% of his salary, meaning they’re now worth $4.8MM apiece instead of $9.6MM, Stein writes.

The changes will allow Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta to avoid paying half of Westbrook’s $38.5MM salary by October 1. Under Fertitta, the club has been averse to making significant upfront payments in a variety of transactions — when Houston traded cash in three separate deals during the 2018/19 league year, it always sent that cash in many installments, rather than in a single lump sum.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Former NBA point guard Greivis Vasquez, who played for six teams over the course of seven seasons from 2010-17, has been named the associate head coach of the Pelicans‘ new G League affiliate, the team announced today in a press release. Vasquez will work under Ryan Pannone, the head coach of the expansion Erie BayHawks.
  • New Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins spoke to Peter Edmiston of The Athletic about how he filled out his coaching staff and what traits he and the front office prioritized as they hired assistants. According to Jenkins, Brad Jones will be his lead assistant.
  • Boban Marjanovic had his best NBA season in 2018/19, averaging 7.3 PPG and 4.6 RPG in 58 games (11.7 MPG) for the Clippers and Sixers. Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News looks at what sort of role Marjanovic might have with the Mavericks after signing a two-year contract with the club.

Southwest Notes: Doncic, Roby, Ivey, Westbrook

Callie Caplan of SportsDay reports that 2018/19 NBA Rookie of the Year, Mavericks guard Luka Doncic, is working his tail off this summer to become better conditioned as he becomes a focus night in and night out for Mavs’ opponents during the 2019/20 season.

Per Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle, “it’s just a natural progression that every player needs to have going from Year 1 to Year 2, especially someone like Luka that had such a great first year. People are really going to be coming for him in his second year, and the continued work on body and conditioning and developing his game is going to keep moving him in the direction of becoming a really great player.”

Doncic, who is training in his native Slovenia this summer, has not yet returned to Dallas to join his Mavericks teammates, but Carlisle, assistant coach Jamahl Mosley and teammate Dwight Powell all visited him this offseason and liked what they saw. “I know he’s working his butt off this summer,” Carlisle added. “I know he’s very motivated for this (upcoming) season.”

There’s more news from around the Southwest Division this afternoon:

  • Newy Scruggs of NBC5 Dallas-Fort Worth (h/t to SportsDay) suggests that although the $1.5MM first-year salary for rookie Isaiah Roby may seem high, it was not an overpay by the Mavericks because of the lack of guaranteed salary in years three and four. Moreover, at least one source told Scruggs that Roby has Kyle Kuzma-type potential. If so, his contract will be a steal.
  • Niele Ivey, the first female assistant coach in Grizzlies history, believes that outside of being a head coach, a move to the NBA was the next step in her professional career, writes David Cobb of The Commercial Appeal. “I was like, ‘you know what? I felt like I’ve worked really hard and I’m at a great point in my career now and — outside of being a head coach — this would be next level for me.'”
  • As we noted yesterday, Rockets point guard Russell Westbrook agreed to alter his payout dates when he was traded from Oklahoma City in order to ease the initial/upfront financial burden on Houston ownership.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Murray, Westbrook, Hartenstein

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma expects big things from three ex-teammates who were shipped to the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, relays Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both former No. 2 picks, were sent to New Orleans along with Josh Hart in the deal to get another star to pair with LeBron James. Kuzma thinks the freedom of a new environment should benefit all three players.

“They were excited,” Kuzma said. “It’s a little bit less pressure. They didn’t (actually) say that. But obviously being in L.A., there’s more pressure. They can be themselves now. They can go to New Orleans and develop into the superstars they were supposed to be.”

There had been rumors for months that the Lakers were willing to part with young talent, including Kuzma, to acquire Davis. Kuzma said management told the players they weren’t eager to give up so much of their young core, but everyone understands that Davis is a rare talent.

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Injured Spurs guard Dejounte Murray tweeted today that he has received medical clearance to continue his summer workouts. It’s the latest encouraging sign for Murray as he tries to work his way back from a torn right ACL he suffered during a preseason game last October. Murray was coming off a promising 2017/18 campaign in which he earned second-team All-Defense honors while posting an 8.1/5.7/2.9 line in 81 games. He is eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer.
  • As part of his trade from the Thunder to the Rockets, Russell Westbrook agreed to alter his contract, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. The changes will make his deal “more team-friendly and less front-loaded,” sources tell Stein.
  • Isaiah Hartenstein and Michael Frazier are trying to seize opportunities with the Rockets through extensive offseason workouts that are heavy on 3-point shooting, writes Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Both players will come to camp next month without fully guaranteed deals. Hartenstein has a 50% guarantee on his $1,416,852 contract for this season, while Frazier has the same salary with no guarantee.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Bird, Westbrook, Presti

Keeping his young core group together is enough to make the Nuggets a prime Western Conference contender, general manager Arturas Karnisovas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on “The Woj Pod” (hat tip to the Denver Post’s Mike Singer).

“Definitely we’re banking on our continuity,” the Nuggets GM said. “A lot of teams that made changes and added huge pieces and stars, they’re still dealing in hypotheticals. We’ve watched this group show us last year, take us to a 54-28 season, having the best home record, 34-7, so this group is (established) and they’re still the third youngest group in the league.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Longtime WNBA star Sue Bird has a wide variety of duties as a basketball operations associate with the Nuggets during her league’s offseason, as Alex Coffey of The Athletic details. She observes games and practices, sits in on front office meetings, watches film and helps scouting college and international players. She also provided advice to point guard Monte Morris, which he found insightful. “She helped me stay encouraged when things were getting tough,” Morris said. “She would tell me things she noticed in how I played. It wasn’t always positive. There were times when she was like, ‘This guy’s guarding you this way. Try to counter him this way.’ Just little things like that.”
  • The Thunder have lost superstars before but the trade of Russell Westbrook to the Rockets has left a void, as Brett Dawson of The Athletic details. The bond between Westbrook and the city was stronger than any other star player.
  • Thunder GM Sam Presti remains hopeful the team can be fairly competitive next season despite trading away Westbrook and Paul George, Nick Gallo of the team’s website writes. “It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years,” Presti said. “The way we were able to pivot has given us the opportunity to have a much brighter future going forward and still have a team coming back this season that we feel good about.”

Inside The Rockets’ Trade For Russell Westbrook

Two days before the agreement that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston was completed, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was pessimistic that it would get done, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes in a retrospective of the deal. Feigen traces the steps that led to the Rockets’ latest high-stakes gamble and the Thunder’s decision to part with their franchise player.

Everything began late on July 5 when Kawhi Leonard announced he was joining the Clippers, followed by the news that Oklahoma City was trading Paul George there as well. Morey sent text messages to owner Tilman Fertitta and his son Patrick suggesting that a huge shakeup could be in the works in OKC. Other team officials were included in the discussion the next morning, then Morey talked to James Harden, who had already spoken to Westbrook.

“The discussion at that point among the basketball staff was, ‘Hey, we need to check in and see if this changes the direction.’ I guess there was a thought they might trade other guys like Russell,” Morey said. “You never know. At this point, it was pretty unknown.”

Morey placed a call to Thunder GM Sam Presti, but their early discussions remained general. They spoke frequently over the next few days as international prospects and other players were considered in a deal that eventually became Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft picks. Morey alerted Paul and his representatives that a potential trade was brewing. He also tried unsuccessfully to get a third team involved, although he wouldn’t reveal who he talked to.

“It didn’t seem that there would be a fit for both parties,” Morey said. “I told them (Tilman and Patrick Fertitta) quite a bit that it wasn’t going to happen because that’s what I believed. I didn’t think the pieces lined up. That’s why a three-team deal made sense. And I thought other teams would be more involved than we were; teams that had more fits.”

A day before the deal was completed, Presti expressed a preference for a two-team trade that was heavy on draft picks. The Thunder wound up with Houston’s top-four-protected selections in 2024 and 2026, along with two pick swaps that include top-four protection in 2021 and and top-10 protection in 2025. Once an agreement was reached, Morey tried to expand the deal by involving other teams, but he found interest was low. He said the hardest part was having to tell Paul that their partnership was over after two seasons.

“I hated that call,” Morey said. “I’m sure he hated it more. He’s been such a great player for us. We were moments away from winning a title with him.”

Russell Westbrook Talks Rockets, Harden, OKC

After an eventful 11-year run in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was officially introduced as the newest member of the Rockets on Friday. For some, it was likely odd to see Westbrook don the Rocket red after it seemed he was destined to conclude his career in a Thunder uniform. For Westbrook, it’s the latest chapter in his pursuit for a championship.

In addition to his new team, Westbrook addressed James Harden, a former teammate in OKC and now his co-star in a chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy. ‘Brodie’ also addressed his departure from the Thunder and how he thinks he will adjust to Houston’s style of play, per ESPN’s Royce Young.

Check out Westbrook’s comments down below:

On leaving Oklahoma City:

“It’s tough. It’s something that will stay with me the rest of my life. Because I basically grew up there, in Oklahoma City. Eighteen years old in Oklahoma City and the people, the organization, never done me wrong. They always stood up for me and my family — always had my back — and I’m very, very grateful and I don’t take that for granted. Like I said, Sam [Presti] and Mr. [Clay] Bennett [OKC’s owner], Coach [Scott] Brooks, Coach [Billy] Donovan, the whole staff, everybody over there always had my best interests, and I can’t do nothing but be thankful and grateful for what they did for me and my family.”

On being teammates with former MVP James Harden:

“We both understand that we have one common goal and that’s to win a championship. We understand what we have to do. I’m not worried about it, and I know James isn’t worried about it. I can play off the ball; I don’t have to touch the ball to impact the game. That’s the best way for me to come in and impact this team. I can do other things on the floor to make sure we have a better chance to win.”

On joining a new system in Houston:

“I’ll fit right in, personally. Floor spread, it gives me the opportunity to attack, penetrate, kick. Defensively, it’ll give me an opportunity to switch and guard and rebound at a high level. Push the break, get us out on the break. A lot of different things. I think the style of play is great, something I’m looking forward to, just getting out in space in the open floor, shooters all around and playing that way.”

Inside Kawhi Leonard’s Path To The Clippers

The Clippers were portrayed as a distant third in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes before the opportunity developed to trade for Paul George, but their work behind the scenes paved the way for success, according to Jovan Buha and Sam Amick of The Athletic in a detailed look at one of the offseason’s most important stories.

Everything came together late on the night of July 5 when a tentative deal was reached with the Thunder that would deliver George for a generous return of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari, five first-round picks and two pick swaps. The Clippers’ front office then held its collective breath during a phone call to Leonard and his representatives to make sure he was on board.

When the answer came, L.A. vaulted into a short list of the league’s elite teams. Pairing Leonard and George gives them a pair of two-way stars in their prime who are capable of delivering the first championship in franchise history. It also brings a pair of Southern California natives back home, but the authors suggest that storyline was overblown in Leonard’s case.

From the start of free agency, Leonard was focused on finding a team that could contend for a title every year. He spoke to the Clippers several times each day once free agency began, continuing the conversation past his official meeting on July 1. The team’s selling points included owner Steve Ballmer’s commitment to winning and to spending whatever it takes to get there, a player-friendly environment and a planned new arena in Inglewood.

It turns out that discretion also worked in the Clippers’ favor. They have a history of making major deals without leaking to the press, as evidenced by recent trades involving Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris. It’s an approach that Leonard’s camp insisted upon, and it helped them as Leonard sorted through his options.

The payoff came late that Friday night as George and Leonard committed to joining forces. As Buha and Amick note, the moves validated everything the Clippers have set up since Ballmer bought the team and allowed them to cash in the assets they collected in the Griffin and Harris deals. All the small moves they had made in recent years suddenly turned into a very big deal.

There are a few more significant details from the Athletic story:

  • In contrast to the Clippers‘ reputation to operating in the shadows, the Lakers tend to be very public about their business. Some observers believe their chances at Leonard were severely damaged when details of his meeting with former team president Magic Johnson became public. “I truly believe that when Magic started telling the media about the meeting he had with Kawhi and (his uncle and confidant, Dennis Robertson) that sealed the fate of the Lakers,” a person involved in the process told the authors. “I think that right there was when Dennis and Kawhi decided we can’t trust the Lakers as an organization. And that was it. I think that was it for them.”
  • Before learning of the opportunity with George, the Clippers ran through exhaustive scenarios about NBA stars who might be available. They contacted the Wizards about Bradley Beal and the Rockets about James Harden, but were turned down in both cases. Leonard, meanwhile, reached out to Jimmy Butler and Kevin Durant about coming to Los Angeles.
  • George and Russell Westbrook both talked to the Thunder in June about shaking up the franchise, frustrated by a second straight early playoff exit. However, Oklahoma City management believed everything had been smoothed over by the time free agency began.
  • Leonard, who has built a reputation of knocking off “super teams,” wasn’t especially interested in forming another one by joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers. “Elite players like Kawhi earn their stripes, and he was not going to be a guy who joins a so-called ‘super team,’” a source told The Athletic’s Shams Charania. “Now, if a super team forms around him, there is nothing he can control. The Clippers were the best long-term fit.”

Southwest Notes: Harden, Westbrook, K. Williams, Barea

Rockets star James Harden made his first public comments on a reported rift with former teammate Chris Paul, relays Brian T. Smith of The Houston Chronicle. After Houston was knocked out of the playoffs, stories emerged that Harden and Paul had a toxic relationship and could no longer exist in the same environment. Harden admits on-court arguments with Paul, who was traded to Oklahoma City last week, but insists the reports were exaggerated.

“It was just pretty funny how guys can speculate or make up false stories on the TV and then you’ve got people believing it,” he said. “That’s where guys have to make sure their facts are true before they put stuff in the media or on national television. But for me personally, and I’m sure for Chris as well, we never paid any attention to it. And Chris has been unbelievable these last two years. He’s helped me as a leader, as a mentor, just all that good stuff. I guess it’s life. It’s the business, how things don’t work out. But he’s a great dude. I have nothing negative to say about him.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Harden told Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle that he has no concerns about meshing his talents with Russell Westbrook‘s, citing their previous experience playing together in Oklahoma City and with the 2012 Olympic team. “When you have talent like that, it works itself out,” Harden said. “You communicate. You go out there and compete possession by possession. You figure things out. Throughout the course of the season, you figure things out. That’s just what it is. When you have talent, you have guys with IQ, you have guys willing to sacrifice, it always works itself out.”
  • Pelicans small forward Kenrich Williams received a $200K guarantee on his contract for 2019/20 by remaining on the roster yesterday, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic. Williams’ $1,416,852 salary will become fully guaranteed on opening night.
  • Mavericks guard J.J. Barea has decided not to play for Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup tournament, tweets Tim MacMahon of ESPN. It has been less than eight months since Barea had surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles, and although he is encouraged by his progress, he believes it’s too soon to risk playing competitively.

Thunder, Rockets Swap Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul

JULY 16: The trade is official, according to a Thunder press release.

“We recently had conversations with Russell about the team, his career, and how he sees the future,” GM Sam Presti said. “Through those conversations we came to the understanding that looking at some alternative situations would be something that made sense for him. As a result, and due to his history with the Thunder, we worked together to accommodate this,” said Presti. “Our ability to have these types of conversations and work so closely with Russell and his agent Thad Foucher is only possible because of the depth of the relationship that has been built over the last 11 years.
“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state. None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

JULY 11: The Rockets have acquired Russell Westbrook. According to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com (Twitter link), Houston will send Chris Paul, two first-round picks and two pick swaps to Oklahoma City in exchange for the eight-time All-Star.

The Thunder will receive the Rockets’ first-round picks in 2024 and 2026, according to Wojnarowski. Shams Charania of the Athletic tweets that those selections are each top-four protected.

Oklahoma City will also have the right to swap first-round picks with the Rockets during the 2021 and 2025 drafts, though those have protections as well. The 2021 swap is top-four protected, while the 2025 swap is top-20 protected, per Charania.

GM Sam Presti worked with Westbrook and his agent to send the point guard to Houston, which was his preferred destination, Wojnarowski tweets. Westbrook will reunite with James Harden, whom he previously played with on the Thunder (before the team traded Harden to the Rockets). Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle (Twitter link) hears that the push for a reunion came from both sides.

The Paul George trade request opened the door for another superstar to move this summer. The Thunder began an unexpected retooling process in the wake of trading George, leaving Westbrook in a curious position.

Rumors of the Paul-Harden relationship souring popped up this summer, with a report from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports describing the relationship as “unsalvageable” and suggesting that CP3 wanted a trade. Both Paul and GM Daryl Morey shot down that report, but there was still widespread speculation that the team would try to move Paul.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com tweets that Presti has spoken to Paul’s agent, Leon Rose. Rose, who also represents Carmelo Anthony, worked with the team last summer on an exit strategy for ‘Melo.

The Thunder’s plan as of now is to keep Paul alongside Danilo Gallinari and remain competitive, Sam Amick of The Athletic hears (Twitter link). Still, Amick cautions that at this stage in his career, the point guard isn’t going to be patient.

Paul, whose contract runs through 2021/22, will make $38.5MM in the 2019/20 season, with roughly $86MM due to him over the following two seasons. Westbrook will also make $38.5MM this upcoming season and he’ll take home $132.6MM over the ensuing three seasons. The two deals are essentially identical, with Westbrook’s running for an extra season. Both of the point guards also have a player option on the end of their contracts, though it’s unlikely that either will decide to hit the open market a year early.

Westbrook has a 15% trade bonus in his contract, but because he’s already earning a maximum salary, the bonus will be voided, ESPN’s Bobby Marks adds on Twitter.

Paul, 34, slowed signs of slowing down during the 2018/19 season. Injuries limited him to just 58 games, and his 15.6 PPG and .419 FG% were both the lowest marks of his 14-year career. However, he still chipped in 8.2 APG and 2.0 SPG while helping to lead the Rockets to the Western Semifinals.

As for Westbrook, his scoring average (22.9 PPG) was his lowest in five years and he went through some major shooting slumps en route to a .428/.290/.656 line. The 30-year-old still managed to average a triple-double for the third consecutive year though, contributing 11.1 RPG and a league-leading 10.7 APG to go along with 1.9 SPG.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Western Notes: Smith, Cuban, Fertitta, Daniels, Clarke

The Lakers are unlikely to sign shooting guard J.R. Smith once he clears waivers, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets. The Cavaliers cut Smith loose on Monday after failing to find a trade partner. The lack of interest shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering the Lakers have signed shooting guards Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Troy Daniels in free agency.

We have more from the Western Conference:

  • Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has been fined $50K by the league for leaking information from the Board of Governors meeting, ESPN’s Tim MacMahon reports. Cuban revealed the vote to allow coaches to challenge an official’s ruling next season.
  • The league has also fined Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta $25K for making public comments about the Russell WestbrookChris Paul swap before it was officially completed, Marc Stein of the New York Times tweets.
  • Troy Daniels chose the Lakers over the Warriors and Thunder, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Daniels was wooed by Anthony Davis during the decision-making process. Daniels signed a one-year, minimum salary contract.
  • Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke, the 21st player selected in the draft, has been named the Las Vegas Summer League MVP, David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal relays. Clarke averaged 14.7 PPG and 9.8 RPG in 22.0 MPG over six games.