Sam Presti

Westbrook Mulling Possibility Of Being Traded

Russell Westbrook and Thunder  GM Sam Presti are discussing the possibility of the franchise trading its longtime All-Star guard prior to next season, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports.

While Presti could explore trades for Westbrook, his massive contract could prove difficult to move. He has four years and $170MM remaining on his deal, including a whopping $47MM player option for the 2022/23 season.

Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, are in discussions with Presti regarding his future with the team. Oklahoma City is now in rebuild mode after the surprising agreed-upon swap of league MVP finalist Paul George to the Clippers. George requested a trade in order to pair up with superstar Kawhi Leonard.

Westbrook signed a five-year supermax extension in 2017 to become the highest-paid player in NBA history at the time. That could now severely hamper Presti’s efforts to trade him. The Thunder have to assume Westbrook carries negative trade value at this point, ESPN’s Zach Lowe speculates. An executive from a contender told ESPN’s Tim MacMahon he wouldn’t be interested in Westbrook because of those salary concerns (Twitter link).

The alternative of retaining Westbrook and trying to remain a contender is an unlikely scenario for Oklahoma City, Wojnarowski adds. The Thunder are well over the salary cap with a projected salary tax payment of $43MM with the existing roster. They were already in cost-cutting mode prior to George’s trade request, Wojnarowski adds.

Northwest Notes: Russell, George, Porter, Adams, Nuggets

Could the Timberwolves figure out a way to sign D’Angelo Russell? ESPN’s Zach Lowe hears that Minnesota will try to make a run at the Nets guard, who will be a restricted free agent unless Brooklyn renounces his rights (hat tip to RealGM). “There has been a lot of Minnesota (signing) D’Angelo Russell noise,” Lowe said. “And it’s not all Karl Towns commenting on Instagram because they’re friends. Minnesota has communicated to the league, not the NBA league, just the league at large that they believe they have a pathway to get D’Angelo Russell.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Thunder will get a better read on Paul George‘s status in late September, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman reports. He’s expected to miss most of the preseason after undergoing offseason surgeries to his right rotator cuff and left labrum. “He’s doing well,” GM Sam Presti said. “He’s going to make a full recovery.” Shooting guard Andre Roberson, who hasn’t played since January 2018 after suffering a serious knee injury, has been training in Texas, Horne adds.
  • Forward Michael Porter Jr. will make his Nuggets debut in the Las Vegas Summer League next month and he’s ready to go, Parth Upadhyaya of Denver Post relays. After being selected at the end of the lottery last season, Porter sat out last season to rehab from back surgery. “He’s been in the gym twice a day for a long time,” president of basketball operations Tim Connelly said. “He’s been fully cleared for several months.”
  • Thunder center Steven Adams won’t play for New Zealand in the FIBA World Cup this summer, according to Sportando.
  • The Nuggets did not retain assistants Mark Price and Bob Weiss, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets.

Thunder Notes: George, Abrines, Matthews, Donovan

Thunder All-Star forward Paul George will soon have his right shoulder re-evaluated by a specialist, Maddie Lee of The Oklahoman reports. GM Sam Presti told the media during his annual post-season press conference that George will see a specialist outside of Oklahoma City but Thunder staff members will be present.

George saw action in 77 regular-season games but took four games off to rest his aching shoulder. He was effective in the playoffs despite the discomfort, posting averages on 28.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG and 4.1 APG during the Thunder’s 4-1 opening-round series loss to Portland. Presti declared that George “was at no risk of any type of future injury” this season and labelled the possibility of George undergoing surgery as “speculation.”

We have more from Presti’s press conference:

  • He took the blame for not having enough sharpshooting wings on the roster, Lee notes in a separate story. Presti thought Alex Abrines would have a “breakout year” but the swingman missed 17 games for personal reasons and was ultimately waived. The Thunder pursued Wesley Matthews after the Knicks bought him out and waived him but Matthews chose Indiana. “Once Wes Matthews went to Indiana there really wasn’t a lot of other options out there, and that put some stress on us offensively, and you never want to be in that position,” he said.
  • Billy Donovan is expected to return as head coach despite the latest postseason flameout. Presti said he has yet to meet with Donovan on the subject because he wanted to give his coach more time to “reflect and decompress,” Brett Dawson of The Athletic tweets. “I do think getting his perspective on things is important because there’s nobody that works harder than him,” Presti said. “If anything, I think he needs to take some time to think through the season himself and have a really good conversation.

Lakers Notes: Pelinka, Walton, Nunez, Magic

The Lakers reportedly plan to retain general manager Rob Pelinka following Magic Johnson‘s shocking resignation, but the consensus from general managers and agents around the NBA is that Pelinka is part of the problem in L.A., according to Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times. Pelinka, who didn’t make a ton of friends around the league during his days an agent representing Kobe Bryant and others, received plenty of criticism from the sources who spoke to Turner.

“I just don’t see how they do anything going forward with Rob in place,” one agent said. “No one trusts him.”

“Honestly, they need to hire an experienced general manager with credibility and let him fire Rob,” another agent said. “Let that president that come in, let him have the authority to hire his staff and to hire their head coach if he doesn’t want Luke Walton.”

Agents who may have had an adversarial relationship with Pelinka during his own days as an agent might be a little biased about his performance as a front office executive. But even rival GMs didn’t have a ton of praise for the Lakers’ GM, as Turner details. One general manager told Turner that front office people don’t have a good relationship with Pelinka from his days representing Kobe and other high-profile players.

“To tell you the truth, they should go out and get a top executive in the league to run everything,” one GM said. “That’s what they need to do. Go get a guy that can get this done. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t get done. Go get an executive that’s done it or who has built something.

“Go get Bob Myers (Warriors) if you can. Go after Sam Presti (Thunder). Those guys know how to build a team. If they have the tools that the Lakers have — cap space and a big city, appeal, you got LeBron James on your roster — you got to be able to attract one of these guys to work in their front office.”

Here’s more on the Lakers:

  • Three NBA head coaches have been let go today, but Luke Walton wasn’t one of them. According to Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times, a coaching change doesn’t appear to be imminent for the Lakers, though people familiar with the club’s thinking believe Walton may be asked to make some changes to his coaching staff if he returns.
  • During their end-of-season conversations with reporters, a handful of Lakers spoke candidly about the impact that Anthony Davis trade rumors had on the team prior to the deadline, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com relays. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said that “everybody kind of lost themselves” around the deadline, while Josh Hart said social media – and the constant rumors swirling around the team – “made it annoying.”
  • According to McMenamin (via Twitter), the Lakers fired head athletic training Marco Nunez on Wednesday after a season in which nearly all of the Lakers’ top players missed time due to injuries.
  • Of all the reasons Magic Johnson had to step down as the Lakers’ president of basketball operations, money wasn’t one of them — according to Sam Amick of The Athletic (via RealGM.com), Johnson was earning approximately $10MM per year in the role.

Thunder Notes: Westbrook, Roberson, Patterson, Grant

The Thunder’s starting backcourt of Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson should be back early in the season, GM Sam Presti told Erik Horne of The Oklahoman and other media members during a Thursday press conference. Roberson, who suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee in January, will be a non-contact participant at the start of the preseason. There is no timetable when Roberson will get back to contact, Horne continues. Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee last week and is expected to be re-evaluated in three weeks, Horne adds. “It was a pretty minor thing he had to have done. And he’ll be back,” Presti said.

We have more on the Thunder:

  • Presti deferred questions regarding who will replace Carmelo Anthony at power forward to coach Billy Donovan, Horne relays in the same story. Patrick Patterson and Jerami Grant are the top candidates. “We have to let Billy make those decisions,” Presti said. “He’s in charge of what happens once the ball is tipped up and once we are competing.”
  • Presti admitted the team would love to have more 3-point shooting, Royce Young of ESPN.com tweets. Paul George is the only sure-fire member of the starting five who is an above-average 3-point shooter. The top way to solve the issue would be to make a deal but the Thunder would have to give up players they like, Young adds.
  • Presti provided his input on how Oklahoma City could use its quickness to maximum use in another Horne story.

Lowe’s Latest: James, Thunder, RFAs

The Lakers may not necessarily need a star in place to lure LeBron James, Zach Lowe of ESPN writes in a massive round-up of free agency notes. If James were to sign in Los Angeles alongside the team’s existing young stars and plethora of cap space they’d immediately become one of the league’s most appealing destinations for the next 12 months.

The comment comes in response to the notion that the Lakers are growing desperate to acquire Kawhi Leonard from the Spurs prior to James’ opt-in deadline tomorrow at 10:59pm CST. As things stand, both the Celtics and Sixers appear poised to offer better packages than what Lowe speculates L.A. might.

The King’s decision will have a ripple effect on the rest of the league, especially the Eastern Conference. If the Raptors, for example, were to watch James head to the West, it would make keeping their current core in place more appealing considering that their path to the Finals would be hypothetically easier.

Here’s a taste of the rest of Lowe’s findings:

  • If the Thunder can convince Paul George to return to Oklahoma City, it will be a monumental victory for general manager Sam Presti. If he leaves, the club would be forced to at least think about blowing the current squad up and trading Russell Westbrook.
  • Only six teams have notable amounts of potential cap space and half of those – the Hawks, Bulls and Kings – are telling teams that they’re interested in using that space to absorb bad contracts and pick up assets.
  • It’s unclear that there will be much of a market for Derrick Favors beyond, potentially the Mavs. It may make more sense for the big man to stay with the Jazz after finally starting to click alongside Rudy Gobert in Quin Snyder‘s offense last season.
  • The two best candidates to sign a qualifying offer this summer and approach next summer as unrestricted free agents are Celtics guard Marcus Smart and Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic. Lowe writes that Nurkic turned down a “rich” four-year extension last fall but might have a hard time finding a team willing to offer more than the mid-level exception this summer.
  • It stands to reason that Aaron Gordon, Zach LaVine and Jabari Parker will yield significant offers from the Magic, Bulls and Bucks  respectively but none of those teams have reason to offer a max contract right away.
  • The Pacers could make life harder for the Magic by putting together an offer in the $20MM range for Gordon. Lowe writes that there has been “mild discontent for years” about Gordon’s role in Orlando’s offense.
  • The Nuggets tried “feverishly” to trade for a second first-round pick last Thursday in the hopes of nabbing Zhaire Smith. Denver’s 2019 first-rounder was on the table in those talks.

For more free agency notes, including some potential contract extension candidates and the reasoning behind Nikola Jokic not getting a player option in the fifth year of his new deal with the Nuggets, check out the full feature at ESPN.

Thunder Notes: Presti, Donovan, Grant, T. Young

After making significant trades the past two summers, Thunder GM Sam Presti is hoping for a quieter offseason, writes Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman. Of course, that will largely be determined by Paul George, who is expected to opt out of his $20.7MM salary for next season and test the free agent market. George, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, has long been rumored to want to join the Lakers.

“We arrived here and haven’t turned the page because we haven’t rebuilt the team since 2008,” Presti said. “I’m happy about that. We’re trying to make it work as long as we can. Ultimately us, like every other team, is going to have to find ourselves in a position where we’ll have to rebuild.”

Whether George returns or not, OKC will be over the salary cap if Carmelo Anthony declines to use an early termination option on his $27.9MM contract for next season. Presti expects to spend the offseason looking for more free agent bargains like Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton.

There’s more today from Oklahoma City:

  • Coach Billy Donovan is safe for another year, but he needs to make changes to keep his job beyond that, according to Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. With two years and about $12MM left on his contract, Donovan is entering the danger zone for NBA coaches, who frequently get fired or extended heading into their final season. Donovan has two straight first-round playoff ousters working against him, but Presti understands the difficult position he has been in because of roster turnover. “If you think about the last three years for our organization, and the last three years for him, it’s been a little bit of a whipsaw in respect to just the team he inherited in 2016,” Presti said, “the performance of that team being within a couple minutes of going to the finals, then not being able to capitalize on that.”
  • Jerami Grant, part of a group of minimum-salary free agents the Thunder will have this summer, sees a good chance of returning to Oklahoma City, tweets Royce Young of ESPN. “I definitely think it’s a possibility,” Grant told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. “I know it’s a lot of moving pieces but I definitely think it’s a great possibility me being there. There’s a lot of things they have to figure out but I think it’s a good chance.” 
  • The Thunder were among the teams to meet with Oklahoma’s Trae Young at this week’s draft combine, according to Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman. The Thunder, whose first-rounder belongs to the Timberwolves, would have to trade into the lottery to have a shot at Young.

Northwest Notes: Anthony, Presti, Crawford, Snyder

Carmelo Anthony joined the Thunder last September as both a star in decline and a valuable piece for a team hoping to contend for a championship. A disappointing regular season and early postseason exit later, Anthony’s future in Oklahoma City is murky and he lacks self-awareness of his own decline, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes.

“I think everybody knows that I’ve sacrificed kind of damned near everything … sacrificed my game for the sake of the team and was willing to sacrifice anything and everything in order for this situation to work out,” Anthony said at his end of season media session. “So it’s something I really have to think about, if I really want to … finish out my career as this type of player, knowing that I have so much left in the tank and I bring so much to the game of basketball.”

The reality is, Anthony shot a career-worst 40.4% from the field, averaged below 20.0 PPG for the first time in his career, and was a virtual non-factor in the playoffs. Anthony also vocalized that he will not take a bench role next season. With declining skills paired with the belief he is still elite, Anthony could be suiting up for a new team next season if he agrees to a buyout or declines his $28MM option.

Check out more Northwest Division notes below:

  • In a separate column, Tramel writes about Anthony’s time with the Thunder, suggesting that – despite a few notable contributions – it’s likely over for him in Oklahoma City.
  • Erik Horne of The Oklahoman examined four pressing questions that Thunder general manager Sam Presti will have to address this offseason. Among those is Anthony’s future, Billy Donovan‘s coaching, Paul George‘s future in Oklahoma City, and how much better Russell Westbrook can be.
  • Brad Rock of The Deseret News writes that Jazz coach Quin Snyder is further cementing his case as one of the NBA’s smartest coaches as Utah spars with the Rockets in the second round of the playoffs.
  • Michael Rand of the Star Tribune writes that Jamal Crawford opting out of his deal with the Timberwolves was likely the best-case scenario for both sides. The 38-year-old, Rand writes, is neither an efficient player or a defensively strong one. Conversely, Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune ponders whether Crawford opting out signals trouble for Minnesota’s efforts to attract solid bench options.
  • While the Timberwolves ended a 13-year postseason drought this season, things were not all that great behind the scenes, per Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN (via Dan Feldman of NBC Sports). Minnesota reached the playoffs, has several star players, and revenue is up from previous seasons but that hasn’t helped matters. “There should be a ton to celebrate, right? Just on the surface. You look at those things. But I’m telling you, there is so much angst, and I’m telling you, disconnect behind the scenes,” Wolfson said.
  • Sean Deveney of Sporting News previewed the Timberwolves‘ offseason, which will include decisions on current players and possible free agents.

Reaction To The Paul George Trade

After weeks of negotiations and rumors involving Paul George, the Pacers surprised NBA insiders and fans alike by agreeing to trade the All-Star forward to the Thunder tonight in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Shock waves are still echoing from the deal that upstaged the first night of free agency:

  • Even today, the Celtics believed they were in a good position to acquire George, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. The Celtics made several attempts to work out a deal with Indiana, a source tells Himmelsbach, including an offer at the February deadline that entailed this year’s first-round pick from the Nets, which wound up No. 1 overall, along with three future first-rounders. Boston was confident that two years of playoffs with George would have been enough to change his mind about joining the Lakers. Talks resumed just before the draft, and the Celtics’ offer was changed to three starters and two first-rounders, but not this year’s pick from the Nets or next year’s from the Lakers. The offer evolved into two starters and three picks, but it wasn’t enough to convince the Pacers.
  • Thunder GM Sam Presti had quietly been trying to acquire George for several weeks, according to Royce Young of ESPN.com. The Pacers wanted players and picks, which Oklahoma City didn’t have, and Presti wasn’t able to find a third team willing to facilitate the deal. However, Indiana’s asking price dropped Friday and Presti was ready to pounce. One danger to the deal, Young notes, is that George and Russell Westbrook can both become free agents next summer and both hail from southern California, creating the possibility that George may try to recruit his new teammate to join him on the Lakers.
  • There was “genuine surprise” in Boston that the Pacers accepted Oklahoma City’s deal, tweets Chris Mannix of The Vertical. The Celtics believed their offer gave Indiana a better path toward rebuilding.
  • The Thunder had nothing to lose in gambling on George, claims Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post. They had to show Westbrook that he has a chance to win a title before his option decision next year. Bontemps says the deal instantly makes OKC one of the top four teams in the West next season along with the Warriors, Rockets and Spurs.
  • The Trail Blazers made a strong play for George this week, according to Jason Quick of CSNNW (Twitter link). Portland submitted an offer on Monday that Quick contends was better than what the Pacers accepted from the Thunder.
  • Patience helped Oklahoma City seal the trade, assesses David Aldridge of TNT (Twitter link). He notes that Presti didn’t pressure the Pacers to make the deal, but he knew they were fond of both Oladipo and Sabonis. Aldridge adds that George’s departure to the Western Conference instead of Cleveland lessens the pressure on Boston to make a panic move in response (Twitter link).
  • The trade leaves Oklahoma City with about $108MM in guaranteed contracts for next season, tweets Bobby Marks of The Vertical. That figure is roughly $9MM over the salary cap and $8MM under the luxury tax.

Knicks Rumors: Ujiri, Griffin, Carmelo, Mills, KP

Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri was immediately identified as the Knicks’ top target to replace Phil Jackson when the Knicks parted ways with Jackson earlier this week, but it appears Ujiri won’t be going anywhere. As Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com writes, the Knicks are no longer expected to ask for the Raptors’ permission to speak to Ujiri.

According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, one league source said that the Raptors would have asked for multiple draft picks, including a first-rounder, as compensation if the Knicks wanted to hire Ujiri. As such, the team appears to have shifted its focus to David Griffin and other candidates. Shelburne cites sources who say that Griffin has spoken to the Knicks, and is expected to have more discussions when New York moves to the next level of its search process. The club is currently assembling a list of candidates for the job.

Here’s more out of New York:

  • An NBA source tells Berman that the Knicks are unlikely to do anything with Carmelo Anthony until a new president of basketball operations is hired.
  • Current GM Steve Mills is expected to remain with the team no matter who is hired as president, according to Berman.
  • In a separate piece for The New York Post, Berman breaks down the free agency landscape for the Knicks, noting that the team may have more options with Jackson out of the picture.
  • According to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders (Twitter link), Isiah Thomas isn’t considered a candidate for the Knicks’ job, but still has owner James Dolan‘s ear as an advisor. Kyler adds (via Twitter) that Ujiri and Thunder president Sam Presti were considered “pie-in-the-sky” candidates.
  • While the pre-draft Kristaps Porzingis rumors were viewed by some observers as Jackson sending a “message” to the young big man, several members of the organization besides Jackson were in favor of a trade, sources tell Ian Begley of ESPN.com. Still, the possibility of a Porzingis trade will likely die if the team can get back on the same page with him.
  • The Knicks have strong interest in bringing back Justin Holiday, and some members of the organization consider George Hill a free agent of interest, according to Begley. Both Begley and Berman also identify P.J. Tucker as a probably free agent target for the club.