Russell Westbrook

Thunder Rumors: Roberson, Westbrook, Gibson

The Thunder’s offseason is now officially underway after the team was eliminated from the playoffs on Tuesday night by the Rockets. While the summer of 2017 won’t feature any contract situations as game-changing – and uncertain – as Kevin Durant‘s was a year ago for the franchise, Oklahoma City will have plenty of crucial decisions to make in the coming months. With that in mind, let’s round up a few of the offseason’s first Thunder-related notes and rumors…

  • Andre Roberson is eligible for restricted free agency this July, and the Thunder are “intent on keeping him,” says Royce Young of ESPN.com. Although Roberson isn’t a dynamic offensive player, he’s one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, and the Thunder believe he showed some positive development and a better understanding of his role as the season went on, per Young.
  • The Thunder will explore many avenues for potential upgrades, but there’s optimism within the organization that many of the team’s young players will continue to improve. Young points to Alex Abrines and Domantas Sabonis as rookies who will have the opportunity to develop into “high-level role players” for the Thunder.
  • While other stars around the NBA may push their teams to acquire certain players, Russell Westbrook prefers to stay out of front office business, with a source telling Young that the point guard has never complained about the Thunder’s roster.
  • Speaking of Westbrook, he’ll be eligible for the NBA’s new Designated Veteran Extension this offseason. According to Young, there’s an expectation that the Thunder will offer such an extension, which would exceed $200MM over five years. This will be an interesting situation to watch, since Westbrook’s contract is only guaranteed for one more season — if he were to turn down a lucrative long-term contract, trade speculation would likely begin in earnest.
  • Following the Thunder’s Game 5 loss, free-agent-to-be Taj Gibson said that he’d like to stay with the Thunder, as Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders tweets. However, while Gibson’s love for OKC is genuine, this summer could represent his last chance at a big payday, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News observes (via Twitter). Young suggests in his ESPN story that Gibson will likely end up signing with another team.

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, Kanter, MVP

After an historic regular season, Russell Westbrook‘s magic hasn’t been quite enough to lead the Thunder to success against the Rockets but that doesn’t mean Billy Donovan‘s confidence in the star guard is wavering, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN details.

I have an enormous amount of trust and confidence after being with Russell this season for 82 games and seeing the ways he’s closed out games and different things that he’s done,” the Thunder bench boss said.

Westbrook put up 14 missed shots in the fourth quarter of the Thunder’s Wednesday night loss, the highest recorded in the past 20 years, but his track record of success in the clutch is otherwise impressive.

Per Shelburne:

In the regular season, Westbrook’s 82 made field goals in clutch time (the last five minutes of a game, with the score within 5) were 18 more than any other player.

There’s more from the Thunder:

  • Though his defensive inefficiencies come to light when James Harden is on the court, the answer may not be as simple as trotting Enes Kanter out there when he’s on the bench, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman writes. When Kanter is on the court and Harden is sitting, the Rockets have outscored the Thunder 48-31.
  • The NBA has fined Russell Westbrook $15K for using inappropriate language in a press conference, the league reports in a press release.
  • Though it’s one of the most heated MVP races in recent memory, four of five Hoops Rumors staffers selected Russell Westbrook as this year’s winner. “James Harden’s season was special, but Westbrook’s was historic,” Arthur Hill said.

Northwest Notes: Westbrook, Oladipo, Gobert, Burks

ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy believes the Thunder should seriously consider playing Russell Westbrook the entire game during the postseason, as he told Mel Bracht of The Oklahoman. The Thunder outscored the Rockets in Game 2 by 11 points in the 41 minutes that Westbrook played. Westbrook’s 51-point, 10-rebound, 13-assist effort was wasted in a 115-111 loss that gave Houston a 2-0 series lead. Oklahoma City is better off with Westbrook staying on the court even if he wears down as the game goes on, Van Gundy told Bracht. “I think he gives them a better chance even if he is diminished somewhat due to fatigue by playing the whole game,” Van Gundy said. “Maybe it will be different at home, but the dropoff is huge.”

In other playoff developments around the Northwest Division:

  • Thunder coach Billy Donovan doesn’t want Victor Oladipo‘s shooting woes to affect his overall game, the Associated Press reports. The shooting guard is averaging 8.5 PPG and shooting 19% from the field through the first two playoff games. Donovan wants Oladipo to realize his defense and rebounding are also important. “Victor’s not a one-dimensional player — he can do a lot of different things,” Donovan said. “Taking his mindset off the ball going in the basket, and him realizing, ‘I’m not going to allow myself to be defined by that because there’s too many other things I can do out there to help this team.'”
  • Forward Doug McDermott was a bright spot for the Thunder in Game 2, as he scored 11 points in 14 minutes. “I knew I could have an impact on this series,” McDermott told Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. “I know my shot’s always gonna be there, and they have to respect that.”
  • Jazz center Rudy Gobert will remain sidelined for Game 3 of the series against the Clippers, according to another AP story. He hyperextended his left knee and suffered a bone contusion in the opening minute of the series. The Jazz were outscored 60-38 in the paint in Game 2 while going with a smaller lineup most of the way.
  • The Jazz will also be without shooting guard Alec Burks for Game 3, the team’s PR department tweets. Burks received a platelet-rich plasma injection into his left knee on Thursday. Burks, who averaged 6.7 PPG in 15.5 MPG over 42 games during the regular season, has not appeared in the series.

Northwest Rumors: Thunder, Wolves, Rubio, Blazers

In the wake of a historic regular-season performance that could earn Russell Westbrook an MVP award, Lee Jenkins of SI.com and Royce Young of ESPN.com took deep dives this week into Oklahoma City’s year, providing several interesting tidbits in their pieces. Jenkins, for instance, reports that several high-ranking executives in the Thunder‘s front office rejected job offers from rival teams within the last year, as those clubs anticipated a “post-Durant exodus” that never materialized.

Meanwhile, Young writes that after Durant left for Golden State last July, the Thunder did their due diligence by fielding trade calls on Westbrook from a number of teams, but “never remotely considered” trading their star point guard. If Westbrook had turned down the opportunity to sign an extension with OKC, the Thunder’s stance may have shifted, but the team preferred to lock up Westbrook for multiple years rather than to consider moving him.

Here are a few more notes and rumors from across the Northwest division:

  • Timberwolves head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau held his end-of-season press conference today, expressing a desire to bring back potential RFA Shabazz Muhammad, and suggesting that his club’s most pressing offseason needs are defense (specifically on the wing), shot-blocking, and shooting (link via 5 Eyewitness News).
  • Asked earlier this week if he wants to remain in Minnesota and win with the Timberwolves, Ricky Rubio said he wants to win, but was noncommittal about whether it will happen with the Wolves, noting that that decision is ultimately up to the team (link via Marca.com; translation via HoopsHype).
  • The Trail Blazers will avoid the luxury tax by the slimmest of margins after Maurice Harkless earned a $500K bonus for shooting over 35% on three-pointers. According to Bobby Marks of The Vertical (Twitter link), Portland will finish $4,462 below the tax line. By comparison, the one-day minimum salary for a rookie this season was worth $3,197.
  • After being relied on as a top scoring threat for years, Joe Johnson has thrived this year in a reduced role and as a veteran mentor for the Jazz, writes Kareem Copeland of The Associated Press. Johnson remains under contract for one more year.

Westbrook Sets New Triple-Double Record

When fans pictured the game in which Russell Westbrook recorded his record-setting 42nd triple-double, it would have certainly been impressive, but few could have conceptualized that the game that pushed him ahead of Oscar Robertson would involve a 50-point, 16-rebound, 10-assist stat line and a game-winning buzzer beater.

Alas, that’s exactly what happened.

Just days after clinching a triple-double average for the season, Westbrook went to work chasing history. Had the 28-year-old not managed to complete the feat Sunday, he’d have had two more chances before the end of the season on Wednesday.

Westbrook’s historic triple-double came on an assist when Semaj Christon nailed a jumper and it was at that moment that the Big O’s 55-year, 1961-62 record fell.

A run of seven triple doubles from March 22 to April 4 put the guard in position to tie Robertson’s mark but he was thwarted twice this week against the Grizzlies and Suns. Consider the Nuggets more welcoming of history.

Northwest Notes: Rubio, Gibson, Westbrook

The decision to not move point guard Ricky Rubio at the trade deadline has proved to be a smart one, Michael Rand of the Star Tribune writes. Since February the Timberwolves veteran has demonstrated an elite ability to contribute across the board.

In March, the guard historically criticized for his inability to shoot the ball, has shot .472 from the field while averaging 17.8 points and 10.4 assists per game. What’s more, his true shooting percentage for the playoff hopeful Timberwolves is an elite .602.

As early as last summer it appeared as though Rubio would be on his way out the door. When the Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn last June, it seemed inevitable. Lately, however, Rubio’s confidence has forced other teams to honor his jump shot.

  • Though he’s logged time with both the Kings and Timberwolves this season, Omri Casspi says the clubs are considerably far apart in terms of their respective rebuilds, Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune writes. “The Timberwolves are well ahead in their rebuilding. They’re putting the right pieces in the right places. I think this team, whether I’m here or not next year, should win 50-plus games. Sacramento, now is starting to rebuild. It will take time,” Casspi said.
  • Consider the Trail Blazers an ideal hypothetical trade destination for Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, says Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders. The veteran has been the subject of rumors for the majority of the season.
  • Veteran forward Taj Gibson returned to the lineup for the Thunder but head coach Billy Donovan thought he lacked a certain something, Erik Horne of the Oklahoman writes. The big man didn’t play with “the same kind of pop”, Donovan told Horne, so his second-half minutes were reduced.
  • Carelessness with the ball could be hurting Russell Westbrook‘s MVP chances, Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman writes. The Thunder guard has been turning the ball over more often of late, forcing the issue on passes.

And-Ones: Durant, Front Offices, Combine

Kevin Durant believes it’s unfair to criticize the top players for sitting out games, Chris Haynes of ESPN.com relays. “The truth about it is, it’s only for a couple of players in the league,” Durant told Haynes. “They don’t care if the 13th man on the bench rests. It’s only for like [LeBron James], [Stephen Curry], [James Harden], [Russell Westbrook]. It’s only for like five players. So you want a rule just for those five players?”

“It’s hard for you to just craft a rule out for the top players. I’ve seen guys that’s not even in the playoffs resting, sitting out for the rest of the season. And it’s nothing against those guys. I’m not trying to bash them or anything. [Suns center] Tyson Chandler is out. They got him sitting out for the rest of the year. I’m sure he wants to play, but they’re not saying anything about Tyson Chandler, so it’s hard for me to really talk about this. It’s not a league-wide rule. It’s not a league-wide concern.”

Durant added that he empathizes with fans who miss out on seeing their favorite player when they come to the arena. “I see it from the fans’ perspective and the players’ perspective,” Durant said. “I’m caught right in the middle.”

While the 2013/14 league MVP feels bad for those fans who show up the arena, he gives the situation some perspective.

“On the other hand, there’s a lot of people that can’t even afford tickets to the game. So, I kind of feel sorry for you, but then I don’t when I look at it that way,” he added. “Your parents spend hard-earned money, I understand you want to see your favorite players, but there’s some people who don’t even get a chance to watch a game live.”

Durant hasn’t played since February because of a knee injury, but the team recently announced that he has made “very good progress.” The small forward could see court-time again before the end of the season.

While we wait for Durant to get healthy so his fans can see him play, check out some notes from around the league:

  • ESPN.com examined every front office in the league and ranked them from top to bottom based on the guidance and leadership each organization provides and how it affects success on the court. Unsurprisingly, team president Gregg Popovich and GM R.C. Buford received the highest mark. Which team received the worst mark? The Kings came in slightly below the Knicks for worst front office in the league.
  • Thunder assistant GM Mike Winger, Spurs assistant GM Brian Wright, Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon are among the executives who are viewed as potential nominees for GM roles should they become available, Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com writes. Arnovitz adds that Wright may be a few seasons away from landing a gig, but those within the league believe he has what it takes to do the job well.
  • JK Management announced that it will hold the first annual Professional Basketball Combine at IMG Academy. The PBC will take place in the days following the league’s official combine in Chicago.

And-Ones: Tarczewski, Green, Fegan, MVP Race

Center Kaleb Tarczewski is leaving the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, to play for Italy’s Olimpia Milano. He is signing a three-month contract to join the Italian champions with an option for next year, Sportando’s Emiliano Carchia relays via La Gazzetta dello Sport. As Chris Reichert for The Step Back tweets, this is a big loss for the Blue with the D-League playoffs on the horizon. He was averaging 10.0 PPG and 7.3 RPG for the Blue. Tarczewski went undrafted last June after he averaged 9.4 PPG and 9.3 RPG in his senior year at Arizona.

In other news around the NBA:

  • Former Nuggets and Jazz guard Erick Green, who is playing for the Euroleague’s Olympiacos, could get another shot with an NBA team this offseason as a backup point, Trevor Magnotti of FanSided.com reports. Backup point guards will be at a premium this summer, Magnotti continues, and Green is a solid defender who has improved his offensive play. Green is also believed to have an opt-out clause if an NBA club comes calling, Magnotti adds. Green played in a combined nine games for the Nuggets and Jazz last season and 43 with Denver in 2014/15.
  • Agent Dan Fegan has been sued by his former employer, Independent Sports & Entertainment, for alleged unfair business practices, according to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Daily. One of the claims in the suit filed in Los Angeles by Independent Sports & Entertainment is that Fegan operated a side business which steered business away from ISE, Mullen continues. Howard Weitzman, Fegan’s attorney, called the side business claim  “a total fabrication,” Mullen tweets.
  • A survey of NBA executives puts James Harden ahead of the pack for the MVP race but it’s close, Sam Amick of USA Today writes. The newspaper polled 32 executives, including 20 GMs or team presidents, and 12 voted for Harden. Russell Westbrook received eight votes, Kawhi Leonard garnered seven and LeBron James picked up five.

Northwest Notes: Aldrich, Westbrook, Plumlee, Hood

Cole Aldrich, who signed a three-year, $22MM deal with the Wolves over the summer, was brought in to be a veteran mentor to the younger guys on the team and he’s enjoying his role, as he tells Michael Rand of The StarTribune. “Well, with [Jordan Hill], myself, [Brandon Rush] and we had John Lucas earlier in the year, it’s fun to have those guys and the young guys,” Aldrich said. “The teams we were on last year, we were all on older teams, playoff teams. Being able to bring our experience from those teams to a younger group of guys has been a lot of fun.”

More from around the Northwest…

  • Several of Mason Plumlee‘s teammates had adverse reactions to Sunday’s trade, Casey Holdahl of NBA.com reports. “I mean, the business sucks man,” Damian Lillard said. “You wish you could get a team together and put pieces together and you can keep it together. You wish you had the power to keep it together regardless of anything. It happens this way sometimes.” Plumlee, who was dealt to the Nuggets in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, had become an “adept playmaker” under coach Terry Stotts. “He’s [Plumlee] just a glue guy that you want on your team,” C.J. McCollum said. “He’s a guy who does things the right way, never complains and he’s getting better. He put together a nice string of 20, 25 games to where he’s getting double-doubles, making his free throws, finishing in the lane. And he’s a good guy. That’s what matters the most, he’s a good guy.”
  • Kevin Durant continues to get the best of Russell Westbrook, Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. KD is averaging 37.7 points against OKC this season, a span in which the Warriors have gone 3-0. Despite the loss, Westbrook appeared to enjoy the home crowd’s mental warfare against Durant. “Honestly, I used to get booed in all arenas,” Westbrook said. “So, you know, the tables have turned a little bit.”
  • Chris Haynes of ESPN was critical of Westbrook’s demeanor in Saturday’s rivalry game, writing: “That miniature exchange exemplified Durant’s frustration in playing alongside Westbrook for those eight years with the Thunder. It was always, “I’m coming. I’m coming.” Meanwhile, the team wasn’t going anywhere.” Whereas Westbrook pursued lofty stats, Haynes writes, Durant always prioritized winning.
  • Rodney Hood, who has been out of action since February 1 due to a right knee injury, is expected to return after the All-Star break, the Jazz announced on its official website. Hood has averaged 13.7 points with 3.6 rebounds through 40 games in 2016/17.

Blazers Duo, Embiid Fail To Make All-Star Cut

Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley, the Blazers backcourt duo Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum and Jazz center Rudy Gobert were among the prominent players who failed to make the cut on the Western Conference All-Star reserve unit, which was unveiled on Thursday and relayed on the NBA’s Twitter feed. Joel Embiid, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony were some of the notable names who didn’t make the cut on the Eastern Conference squad. (Twitter links).

Russell Westbrook,  Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, DeMarcus Cousins, Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan and Gordon Hayward received the most votes by the conference’s coaches, who pick the reserves. Westbrook, of course, was the biggest snub among the All-Star starters as the fan voting, which counted for 50% toward the overall balloting, put him behind Stephen Curry and James Harden.

Paul George, Kevin Love, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Isaiah Thomas, Kemba Walker and John Wall were named the Eastern Conference’s All-Star reserves.

Did the coaches get it right or was there an obvious mistake on their part? Go to the comments section and weigh in.

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