Sam Presti

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Presti, Nuggets, Ingles

Players who spent time with the Thunder this season will receive bonus checks because the team’s total salary is so low, writes Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. The current league-wide salary cap is $112.4MM and the minimum salary floor is 90% of the cap, which is roughly $101.2MM. Oklahoma City’s total salary was about $79MM, and the remaining $22MM will be distributed to the players.

The Players Association will vote on how the money will be divvied up, but Mussatto says players who were on the roster for at least 41 games are likely to receive full shares, while others will get half or quarter shares. The final determination is kept private.

“We lay a lot out on the floor and we work hard all year,” Luguentz Dort said, “and we’ve got to thank the organization for doing that for us, just all the players.”

General manager Sam Presti considered taking on extra salary at the trade deadline in exchange for draft assets, but ultimately decided to hold onto the team’s cap space.

“When we were sitting there at the deadline, we just didn’t like anything that was being thrown at us to use that space compared to the opportunity to roll it over to the draft,” Presti said. “Now, it doesn’t roll over to July 1, but we will have that room at the draft. I would put the odds of using that room pretty low. But I’d still rather have those odds than the things that were being presented to us (at the trade deadline).”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Presti is a strong supporter of an in-season tournament, Mussatto adds in a separate story. The proposal didn’t have enough support to receive an official vote last year, but it’s likely the Thunder would have voted yes. “I think it’s very future-oriented,” Presti said, “and it takes courage to put something out there that is going to probably be maligned a little bit, maybe won’t get the immediate love, but they’re thinking bigger picture.”
  • The Nuggets only got one playoff victory, but they consider this season a success because of all they had to overcome, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. In addition to playing almost the entire season without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., Denver was missing PJ Dozier, who suffered an ACL tear in November. “I say we beat adversity a lot of the times,” Monte Morris said. “Without Mike and Jamal, two great players, we still found ways in tough, hostile situations to win. That shows the character and how good we can be.”
  • Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian examines whether Joe Ingles will have any value to the Trail Blazers beyond his expiring contract. The 34-year-old had a torn ACL when Portland traded for him in February, and he may not be ready to return until midway through next season.

Thunder Notes: Dort, Bazley, Giddey, Salary Cap, Draft

The Thunder are interested in reaching contract extension agreements with Luguentz Dort and Darius Bazley but only if the price is right, GM Sam Presti told The Oklahoman’s Joe Mussatto and other media members on Monday.

“They’re both great guys,” Presti said. “I want to hear what they’re thinking, and I need them to understand we have to also balance the interest of the team as well.”

Presti indicated extension talks with Dort haven’t begun, Mussatto tweets.

“We’ll definitely have a conversation on that,” Presti said. “I don’t know when those conversations will pick up. We’ll have some different options. I don’t want to get into all of them.”

Here are some other highlights from Presti’s annual end-of-season press conference, via Mussatto:

  • Dort (shoulder), Bazley (knee) and Josh Giddey (hip), among others, didn’t finish the season due to injuries but Presti expects everyone on the roster to be ready for training camp.
  • The Thunder will play in two summer leagues, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Giddey and Aleksej Pokusevski will play in Salt Lake City.
  • The Thunder have only $54MM on the books for the 2023/24 season and will continue efforts to keep their salary sheet clean leading up to a new CBA in the summer of 2023.
  • If they’re not playing meaningful games as next season progresses, the Thunder plan to once again go into development mode as the season winds down. “We’re not just trying to figure out how to win two more games next year,” Presti said. “We could do that, but that solution doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best long-term solution for the team.”
  • There’s a slim chance the Thunder could hold onto all four picks it currently possesses in the draft. “One thing I don’t think has been explored enough in the NBA is just drafting everybody and then figuring it out,” Presti said.

Northwest Notes: Gordon, Murray, Forrest, Gobert, Mitchell, Presti

Aaron Gordon doesn’t want Jamal Murray to play until the Nuggets’ star guard is completely healthy, the forward told Mike Singer of the Denver Post. Murray has been rehabbing all season from the ACL injury he suffered last spring. “I told him to take his time,” Gordon said. “You don’t want to rush this. This isn’t something to rush coming off of injury, especially coming back in such a high-level game, as a playoffs.”

We’ve got more from the Northwest Division:

  • Jazz guard Trent Forrest has been diagnosed with a left mid-foot ligament sprain after undergoing an MRI on Thursday, according to Eric Walden of the Salt Lake City Tribune (Twitter link). Forrest, who played 12 minutes against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, will be reevaluated in a week. He’s appeared in 60 games this season, averaging 3.3 PPG in 12.8 MPG.
  • While many people consider the Defensive Player of the Year race to be wide open, former winner Rudy Gobert believes he should be a lock. In an interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews on NBA Today, the Jazz center said, “If anybody else not named Rudy Gobert was doing what I do this year and having the impact that I have this year, they would be the frontrunner and it would be clear. … Why should I be penalized for being consistent year after year?”
  • The Jazz are headed for a roster shakeup, with a breakup of the Gobert-Donovan Mitchell duo almost an inevitability, John Wilmes of RealGM opines. Though the Jazz could win 50 games, there remains a lot of acrimony between the stars of the team.
  • The stash of draft picks Thunder GM Sam Presti has accumulated is more quantity than quality, according to Keith Smith in a Spotrac story. Packaging those picks in trades won’t be as easy as it sounds, unless Presti is willing to move some of the young players they’ve already drafted and developed, says Smith.

LeBron Clears Air, Wants To Stay With Lakers For “As Long As I Can Play”

LeBron James reiterated his desire to finish out his career with the Lakers and said he doesn’t “push the buttons” when it comes to personnel decisions, as he told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and other media members after the team’s loss to the Clippers on Friday night.

James is under contract for one more season and will be eligible to sign a two-year extension this summer.

“This is a franchise I see myself being with. I’m here. I’m here,” James said. “I see myself being with the Purple and Gold as long as I can play.”

James raised a lot of eyebrows with his comments during All-Star weekend that he wouldn’t close the door on a possible return to Cleveland. He also stirred the pot by heaping praise on Thunder general manager Sam Presti for his ability to identify talent.

James also expressed his desire in an interview with The Athletic to eventually play with his 17-year-old son, Bronny. However, James said Friday he hopes that will occur in L.A.

“I also have a goal that, if it’s possible — I don’t even know if it’s possible — that if I can play with my son, I would love to do that,” he said. “Is that, like, something that any man shouldn’t want that in life? That’s like the coolest thing that could possibly happen. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be with this franchise.”

Bronny would not be eligible to play in the NBA until the 2024/25 season.

In terms of his relationship with the front office, James said his comments about Presti were not a potshot toward GM Rob Pelinka.

“If I comment [on] or compliment the GM that’s in OKC — I really believe he’s done a phenomenal job. And you guys spin that to me saying that Rob is not doing a great job,” James said.

Super-agent Rich Paul, whose agency represents James and Anthony Davis, met with Pelinka and owner Jeanie Buss on Tuesday in what could be characterized as a clear-the-air session.

Pelinka consults his superstars regarding potential moves, including the Russell Westbrook trade with Washington that contributed significantly to the Lakers’ poor season. There were also reports James and Davis were unhappy the front office stood pat at the trade deadline.

James says he doesn’t have final say on trades.

“I don’t push the buttons,” James said. “They ask for my opinion, and I voice my opinion and what I believe. But I don’t press any buttons. That’s what our front office is for, and that’s what our leadership group is for.”

He also feels the influence that he and his representative have within the franchise sparks jealousy.

“I mean, I think a lot of people are, to be honest, just jealous of the relationship that Rich has with the front office and with this team and with the relationship that I have, that I’ve grown over the last four years. I mean, that’s what I think it boils down to,” he said.

Northwest Notes: Towns, Presti, LeBron, Jazz, Jokic

Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns staked his claim of being the greatest shooting big man ever by winning the three-point contest on Saturday, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

Towns defeated several guards and wings to win the contest, including Trae Young, Zach LaVine and Patty Mills. He’s averaging 24.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game this season, shooting 41% from three-point range. Prior to this season, he’s shot above 40% from deep in three of his six campaigns.

“I remember everyone told me to do the same way. ‘Have your back to the basket. Why is Karl shooting 3s? There’s no reason for him shooting 3s. We’re experts. We know better than you,'” Towns said. “Me and my dad said screw them. We’re going to do it our way.”

Here are some other notes from Northwest:

  • Thunder general manager Sam Presti recently received praise from LeBron James, who called him the MVP of Oklahoma City’s franchise, Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes. “The MVP over there is Sam Presti. He’s the MVP,” James said when asked about Josh Giddey and the Thunder. “I mean, Josh Giddey is great. But Sam Presti, I don’t understand this guy’s eye for talent. He drafted [Kevin Durant], Russ [Westbrook]Jeff GreenSerge IbakaReggie Jackson, Josh Giddey and the list goes on and on and on. This guy is pretty damn good.”
  • The Jazz will have many questions to answer after the All-Star break, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News writes. Utah is 36-22 on the season, dropping a 106-101 road game to the Lakers before the break. “Come back ready to go,” Donovan Mitchell said on what needs to happen. “We have no choice. It’s not like we can say anything else. We have no choice but to be ready.”
  • Mike Singer of The Denver Post explores the story of how Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic once hated a Denver assistant coach. Jokic and the coach, Ogi Stojakovic, are now great friends. “He’s like a big brother, like a mentor, father, he’s like a really good friend,” Jokic said of Stojakovic. “He’s really everything. … How much he helps me on the court, he helps me off the court just to get out of the basketball … We hang out, for real. When we have a day off, my family is always with his family.”

Celtics Notes: Brown, Udoka, Schröder, Hernangomez

The Celtics dealt with lots of turmoil last season: injuries, a short turnaround from the Orlando bubble, and COVID-19 outbreaks affecting several players, including star Jayson Tatum. The team is hoping to turn the page entering training camp, and Jaylen Brown appears optimistic, particularly about new head coach Ime Udoka.

“I’m completely bought in,” Brown said of Udoka. “I’m looking forward to this season and being an extension of him on the court.” (Twitter link via Keith Smith of Spotrac).

President of basketball operations Brad Stevens, the former head coach, says that Brown has been cleared by the team’s doctors after recovering from wrist surgery, and will be a full participant in practice, per Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Udoka participated in media day virtually through Zoom, instead of in person, because the first-year head coach is in the last day of quarantine after contracting a breakthrough case of COVID-19, per ESPN News Services. Udoka is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, according to team spokesperson Christian Megliola. He’s expected to join the team tomorrow for the start of training camp.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Dennis Schröder mentioned yesterday that Tatum and Brown both called to recruit him to the Celtics, but they weren’t the only ones. He told reporters today that Stevens, Udoka, and former Hawks teammate Al Horford called him as well, adding, “I know Al Horford will have the locker room under control.” (Twitter link via Keith Smith of Spotrac).
  • Schröder also consulted with Thunder general manager Sam Presti prior to signing with Boston, and Presti endorsed the Celtics organization, per Smith (Twitter link).
  • Juan Hernangomez, who dislocated his left shoulder over the summer in an exhibition game prior to the Olympics, says the shoulder is 100 percent now, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Jazz, D’Antoni, Wolves, Bolmaro, Walker

The Nuggets‘ season was over long before they expected it to be, especially given the stellar play of star center Nikola Jokic, which was rewarded with an MVP award. But a devastating knee injury to point guard Jamal Murray, the team’s leading scorer in last year’s playoffs, in addition to some disappointing play from key contributors, left the team reeling after a four-game sweep at the hands of the Suns.

Now, there are questions that must be answered, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. One area of focus will be shoring up the Nuggets’ frontcourt, as Paul Millsap, JaMychal Green and JaVale McGee are all free agents. Singer also touches on how despite a disappointing end to his second year, Michael Porter Jr. is still very much a player worth keeping faith in, as he enters the first healthy offseason of his career.

Singer, along with Mark Kiszla and Matt Schubert of The Denver Post also answered a few of the most pressing questions facing the Nuggets, such as Aaron Gordon‘s future after his struggles stepping into a scoring role in the second round, potential areas of improvement for head coach Mike Malone, and Austin Rivers‘ impending free agency.

We have more from around the Northwest Division:

  • Like Denver, the Jazz‘s season also ended in ignominious fashion after they surrendered a 2-0 lead to the Clippers to lose in six games, culminating in a blown 25-point lead in Game Six. Tony Jones of The Athletic takes a look at where the Jazz can go from here. One area of focus will be finding another forward along with Royce O’Neale who can take the tough defensive matchups on the wing. There’s also the question of Mike Conley‘s free agency to consider, and the related question of whether the Jazz want to try to turn Donovan Mitchell into their full-time point guard. The roster isn’t far away, Jones says, but it still needs some work if Utah is to have any hope of taking the next step towards being a bona-fide contender.
  • Mike D’Antoni is getting a second interview with the Trail Blazers sometime this week, tweets ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Becky Hammon has already met with Blazers ownership for her second interview, and Chauncey Billups is set to do the same later in the week. Those three appear to be the finalists for the head coach job in Portland, though it’s possible other top candidates haven’t been reported yet.
  • The Timberwolves could be an interesting landing spot for Ben Simmons if the Sixers decide to trade him, writes Michael Rand of The Star Tribune. With an elite-shooting big man in Karl-Anthony Towns and another high-level shot creator in last year’s number one pick Anthony Edwards, Simmons could focus on defense and passing, the way he has always wanted to. The question comes down to cost. The Wolves have D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley, either of whom could hold some interest to the Sixers, but Sixers GM Daryl Morey may want to hold out for more.
  • The Timberwolves aren’t crying over lost picks, writes Chris Hine of the Star Tribune. “We prepared accordingly,” GM Gersson Rosas said pre-draft lottery, about the possibility of losing their first-round draft pick. “We drafted a player last year that has the opportunity to come this season in case there wasn’t a pick.” That’s a reference to Leandro Bolmaro, a very interesting point guard prospect recently named “Most Spectacular Player” of the Spanish league. Rosas also emphasized the added financial flexibility from not having to pay a high-end rookie-scale contract. “That’ll allow us to be more aggressive in terms of trades and free agency based on our financial position,” Rosas said.
  • Thunder general manager Sam Presti hasn’t had a chance to meet with new addition Kemba Walker yet, as Walker has been out of the country, tweets Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman. Presti did say that he liked Walker’s fit with star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has grown used to playing with multiple lead guards — he spent much of the 2019/20 season playing alongside Chris Paul and Dennis Schröder.

Celtics Notes: Stevens, Fields, Presti, Ainge, Holtmann

The Celtics promoted Brad Stevens from head coach to president of basketball operations today, but they never considered having him handle both roles, according to Tim Bontemps of ESPN. Stevens said he would have been happy to continue coaching if Danny Ainge was still running the front office, but he began considering the move in conversations with owner Wyc Grousbeck when Ainge started talking about retirement.

Grousbeck said he considers coaching and personnel decisions to be “two separate jobs,” and Bontemps adds that neither Stevens nor management pushed for a dual role. The idea of having a head coach with a prominent voice in front office decisions has become less common across the league in recent years.

“I think it’s too much (to do both jobs),” Stevens said. “All of my intention, energy, focus is doing this job well, and hiring a great coach and trusting they will do their job well. I think that everyone will benefit from that approach. To me, that would have been a lot to be able to do both of those things. I know some people have done it, some people have done it really well, but that would have been a great challenge.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Hawks assistant general manager Landry Fields has been mentioned as a candidate to become GM of the Celtics, a source tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News (Twitter link). Bondy notes that Fields could complement Stevens because of his history in dealing with agent and player relationships.
  • Before turning to Stevens, the Celtics thought about trying to land long-time Thunder general manager Sam Presti, sources confirmed to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. A Massachusetts native, Presti has been with the organization since 2007 when it was still in Seattle. Several other internal candidates were considered, according to O’Connor, who adds that there have been rumors for months that Ainge might be leaving, with speculation that he would be interested in working for Utah, where much of his family lives, or possibly Portland.
  • Ainge’s decision to step down has been in the works for a couple of months, tweets Mark Murphy of The Boston Herald. Sources tell Murphy that Ainge informed ownership of his intentions shortly after the March 25 trade deadline.
  • Ohio State’s Chris Holtmann is a strong “sleeper” candidate as the Celtics begin their search for a new head coach, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. Like Stevens, Holtmann is a former Butler coach and has enjoyed success in the college ranks. Hollinger mentions Dayton’s Anthony Grant as another under-the-radar possibility.

Northwest Notes: Favors, Thunder, Clarkson, Rubio

Longtime Jazz reserve big man Derrick Favors spoke extensively with Eric Walden of the Salt Lake Tribune about his past and sunny new future with Utah, noting that he wasn’t surprised when Utah sent him to the Pelicans for future draft equity during the 2019 offseason to clear cap space for incoming point guard Mike Conley‘s contract.

“I wanted to be here,” Favors said. “I wanted to stay. I thought I was going to stay. But it was because of the money, the business side.”

The Jazz could have declined their $18MM team option on Favors for the 2019/20 season, but the Pelicans were happy to pay that sum in full upon making a deal. “If Utah would have waived me, I would have lost a lot of money, but they ended up trading me, and I’m blessed and thankful that New Orleans was willing to pick up that option for me,” Favors noted.

Favors’ Pelicans teammates raved about his fit within the club’s locker room and on the court. “Nothing but respect for D-Fav,” New Orleans guard Lonzo Ball said. “We know he did all the little things that we needed to win games.”

Favors was excited to get another opportunity in the 2020 offseason with the Jazz, who were all business in their recruitment.

“They literally just said, ‘Hey, you want to come back? We want you, here’s what we’re offering. Do you want to take it or not?’ It kinda felt like that!” Favors noted. “I didn’t want to waste my time or waste an opportunity… and I knew with Utah that they had other guys that they wanted to go after if I didn’t commit, so I didn’t want to waste Utah’s time.”

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder will likely receive inquiries on just about every player on their roster, as team president Sam Presti looks to acquire even more future draft picks, but Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman thinks veteran role players like George Hill, Al Horford, and Mike Muscala could be next in line to be dealt.
  • Jazz reserve guard Jordan Clarkson, the current favorite for 2021 Sixth Man of the Year honors at present, has taken a massive stride in his scoring output — but the growth of his passing deserves recognition, too, writes Sarah Todd of The Deseret News. “It’s just another growth part of my game that I’m trying to keep improving on,” Clarkson said.
  • After a rough start to the 2020/21 season, Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio has turned things around in the month of March, so much so that the 30-year-old vet has become a potential trade chip for a Minnesota team that now may not want to deal him away as the deadline looms, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. A reinvigorated Rubio seems to have developed great chemistry with No. 1 2020 draft pick Anthony Edwards and (former No. 1 draft pick) Karl-Anthony Towns.

NBA Agents Talk Offseason, Finances, Execs, More

NBA agents are generally in agreement that the 2020 offseason will be an unusual one due to the coronavirus pandemic and its ripple effect, but they don’t all agree on what exactly the offseason will look like.

Ben Standig, Mike Vorkunov, and other writers from The Athletic conducted a survey of 20 player agents to get their thoughts on the coming offseason and state of the NBA. And while some of those agents believe financial concerns will limit player movement this fall, others believe there will still be plenty of movement — even if it doesn’t happen in free agency.

“My fear is there will be a lot of teams and ownership groups that sit out free agency,” one agent said. “… In terms of player movement, I think there will be a lot. Not just signing guys. Nobody wants to pay the tax. Everybody is going to try to clear space for 2021. I can definitely see a sizeable amount of player movement. But not a lot of dollars spent.”

One agent who spoke to The Athletic suggested that some teams will be in cost-cutting mode and, for financial reasons, may move players they wouldn’t have traded in a normal year. However, another agent believes there will still be plenty of clubs willing to spend to compete for the postseason and for a title.

“Teams want to win and they’re going to spend to win,” the agent said. “Ultimately, as we saw with Denver, there’s a lot of teams within striking distance of contention and they’re not going to be cheap. The Clippers fired a coach with two years on his deal. We’re going to be fine.”

As for how many NBA franchises will be in legitimate financial peril during the coming year, one agent is skeptical that any will actually be in trouble.

“They’re going to blow so much smoke up our a– about how bad the business model is and everything like that, but Minnesota is going to sell for $1.5 billion and it’s the worst market, as far as basketball,” the agent said. “They sold 18 years ago for $88MM and they’re going to sell for $1.5 billion? You can’t tell (me) you have a bad business.

“There’s going be revenues that are greatly reduced, but I would say to any of these teams that feel like these businesses that they can’t pour cash into to carry it through this rough spot, they should sell. Because they have opportunities. We’ll find them a buyer in a month.”

Here are a few of the other most interesting takeaways from The Athletic’s agent survey:

  • Thunder point guard Chris Paul is the highest-profile player that most agents expected to be traded this offseason, while the Sixers are considered the team most in need of a major roster move. “Philly is at the point where it’s a make or break year for just about everybody,” one agent said.
  • Of the 19 agents who weighed in on the subject, 18 said they expect Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo to remain in Milwaukee beyond his current contract.
  • LaMelo Ball comfortably received the most votes as 2020’s most intriguing draft prospect, but he’s viewed as a somewhat risky investment. “I think he has such a high ceiling but the difference from his top to bottom is the biggest of anyone in the draft,” one agent said. Another offered the following assessment: “That could go really good or really bad.”
  • One agent said he has “never heard less enthusiasm” from teams that have high picks in this year’s draft.
  • One agent speculated that centers will be hit hardest by teams’ financial limitations this offseason, since clubs are focusing on players who can defend several positions. Another said that he thinks many clubs may prioritize veterans over young prospects, since cost-conscious teams may not want to use back-of-the-roster spots on guys who won’t play at all.
  • Thunder GM Sam Presti easily received the most votes as the NBA’s “smartest” team executive, but Pat Riley of the Heat and Masai Ujiri of the Raptors got more votes when agents were asked which exec they’d want to hire if they were running a franchise.