Victor Oladipo

And-Ones: Ayton, Thunder Trades, Wagering, Ball

Arizona freshman center DeAndre Ayton could be the No. 1 overall pick in June, according to Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders. The 7’1” Ayton has proven to be a highly productive for the otherwise disappointing Wildcats, averaging 20.4 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 1.4 BPG in his first eight college games. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and has shown a high basketball IQ, Brigham continues. At worst, Ayton should be a top-three lock, Brigham adds.

In other news involving the league:

  • The trade packages the Knicks and Pacers received from the Thunder in blockbuster deals this offseason have proven to be far better than expected, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes. Center Enes Kanter, the best player the Knicks got back in the Carmelo Anthony trade, is a good fit as Kristaps Porzingis frontcourt partner, while Porzingis has thrived as a No. 1 option in Pelton’s analysis. Victor Oladipo has actually outperformed Paul George in his expanded role with Indiana, according to Pelton’s metrics. The other player the Pacers received in the deal, center Domantas Sabonis, has improved sharply while playing more often in the post than he did in Oklahoma City, Pelton adds.
  • The league and several owners have positioned themselves to cash in on expanded betting on its games, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst examines in an in-depth piece. The league would prefer changes in current federal laws and the creation of a unified commission to oversee the expanded betting operations, Windhorst continues. The Hornets’ Michael Jordan, the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis and the Mavs’ Mark Cuban have recently invested in a company focused on real-time data distribution, which would facilitate in-game wagering, Windhorst adds.
  • Lonzo Ball‘s younger brother LiAngelo Ball has no chance of being selected if he declares for next June’s draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. LiAngelo Ball would have trouble finding a spot in any professional league, including the G-League, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter links). UCLA announced on Monday that the younger Ball intends to leave the program, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic tweets. The freshman was arrested along with two teammates in China on shoplifting charges and suspended by the school after being allowed to return to the United States.

Central Notes: Mirotic, LaVine, Wade, Oladipo

Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic admitted to having memory loss after being punched by teammate Bobby Portis, relays Vincent Goodwill of NBC Sports Chicago. Mirotic met with the media today and publicly forgave Portis for the skirmish that left him hospitalized with two facial fractures. He said the organization reached out to him in the wake of the incident, as head coach Fred Hoiberg and assistant Jim Boylen visited him in the hospital and GM Gar Forman made several calls.

“Everybody was worried about me,” Mirotic said. “So I did feel support and I appreciated that from the front office. Now their goal is to make me get back in the game. I’m working on that.”

There’s more tonight from the Central Division:

  • Mirotic and Zach LaVine will get some work in the G League before they take the court for the Bulls, according to K.C. Johnson of The Chicago Tribune. Both players are practicing with the team’s Windy City affiliate while the Bulls are on a road trip. Hoiberg said a late-December return is most likely for LaVine, who is recovering from an ACL tear he suffered last season. “He didn’t do a lot [at Tuesday’s practice],” Hoiberg said of LaVine. “He was really sore, especially in the hamstrings and quads. He’s itching to get back. He’s a competitor. But we have to be really careful about not overloading him.”
  • Business decisions have taken Dwyane Wade to unexpected places over the past two seasons, but he tells Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel that he’s happy to be with the Cavaliers. After 13 years in Miami, Wade signed with the Bulls in 2016, then came to Cleveland this season after to agreeing to a buyout with Chicago just before training camp. “Obviously, you don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day,” Wade said. “This career path we all chose in the NBA, you just don’t know what’s going to happen with it. For me, I’m OK and I’m content with what I’ve done for 13 years. Did I think it was gonna shake out this way? No. But I’m not sitting here crying about it neither.”
  • Victor Oladipo admits to being upset over criticism of the trade that sent him and Domantas Sabonis to the Pacers in exchange for Paul George, relays Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report. “Of course it bothers me,” Oladipo said. “But people’s opinions, they are what they are. I can’t control that. All I can control is how hard I work.”

Central Notes: Portis, Thomas, Oladipo, Leuer

While opposing fans won’t let him forget about last month’s altercation with Nikola Mirotic, Bobby Portis has put that fight behind him and has expressed optimism about the Bulls‘ roster and the team’s future, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

“I feel like we can be a good team in the future with all the pieces that we have and everybody starting to come together,” Portis said. Later, addressing the Bulls’ end-of-game lineup, Portis pointed out that having him play alongside Lauri Markkanen gives the club the sort of frontcourt size that many teams don’t have in their closing lineups. “I feel like that’s definitely something we can use in the future,” Portis added.

As Cowley observes, the fact that Portis is talking so much about the Bulls’ future suggests that he doesn’t expect to be traded anytime soon, despite a reported ultimatum from Mirotic’s camp.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Cavaliers point guard Isaiah Thomas still doesn’t have a specific return date set, but he has taken another important step forward in his recovery from a right hip injury, says Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Thomas, who is aiming to return around the end of 2017, is now going through contact drills, according to Fedor.
  • Victor Oladipo is enjoying a career year so far on the court for the Pacers, but his behind-the-scenes leadership has also been an important part of the team’s early success, writes Clifton Brown of The Indianapolis Star. Acquired in the summer’s Paul George trade, Oladipo figures to be a fixture in Indiana for years to come — he and rookie T.J. Leaf are the only two Pacers under contract through 2020/21.
  • The Pistons will play on Friday night for the first time since Monday, and the three-day break likely benefited a few banged-up players, including Jon Leuer, Andre Drummond, and Avery Bradley. However, as Rod Beard of The Detroit News relays, Stan Van Gundy says Leuer is “just not progressing the way he had hoped” as he battles an ankle injury.

Central Notes: Pacers, Drummond, James

The Pacers won the Paul George trade, even if the Thunder happened to win it as well, Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star writes. The scribe, who memorably critiqued Indiana’s handling of the George saga prior to the deal, says that he didn’t initially appreciate Kevin Pritchard‘s haul for their disgruntled star.

While it seems likely that Victor Oladipo won’t end up averaging the 23.8 points per game he’s averaged through eight games so far this season, he’s a more valuable player than what he came across as during his lone season with the Thunder. It’s reasonable to expect the Pacers two-guard to continue to post a scoring average in excess of the 17.9 points per game he posted in his career-high season with the desolate 2014/15 Magic.

Of course the component that makes or breaks the deal will be Domantas Sabonis. Fortunately for the Pacers, the 21-year-old big man has looked excellent averaging 13.1 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game in just 27.1 minutes.

Doyel compliments Pritchard for winning a trade that seemed unwinnable, considering the lack of leverage the Pacers were left with after George’s agent leaked that George wanted out.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Pistons have had success running Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson in the pick-and-roll. Lately, Rod Beard of The Detroit News writes, the big man has added a new tool, the ability to take his man off the dribble, giving the club another option to utilize on offense.
  • The business partner of Cavaliers forward LeBron James – long-time friend Maverick Carter – says that location won’t influence where James signs as a free agent next summer. “Could he sell a few more sneakers if he was in a gigantic market like Boston, Chicago, New York, or L.A.? Maybe. But not as much as if he wins. What matters the most is if he wins. When you win as an athlete that matters the most,” Carter said in an interview on The Rich Eisen Show (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com).
  • After vastly improving his free-throw shooting over the offseason, Pistons center Andre Drummond should look to get to the line more, Ansar Khan of MLive writes. Historically terrible from the free-throw line, Drummond has shot 70% from the line in 2017/18. He could now benefit from attacking the basket more aggressively.

Central Notes: George, Pistons, Oladipo

While Pacers fans didn’t get a revenge win over Paul George‘s Thunder, they did gain some insight into the All-Star’s decision to force his way out of Indiana. Scott Horner of The Indianapolis Star curated a handful of interviews that George has given since his departure.

In one media scrum, George mentions that he felt that the team’s window to contend had closed and that a rebuild was forthcoming. That may not exactly qualify as a hot take but it narrows down the swingman’s motivations for seeking an opportunity elsewhere. That said, the Lakers – the team George was initially said to be interested in – haven’t won more than 30 games since 2012/13.

In other interviews, George seems to question the promotional strategy the Pacers’ have used regarding his pending return to Indiana in December, while also throwing shade at the team for how they traded Danny Granger to the Sixers back in 2014.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers are going to need plenty more out of their shooting guards, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. So far this season, free agent acquisition Dwyane Wade has struggled to find a rhythm while J.R. Smith has gone ice cold from the field.
  • Not married to any particular rotation, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy intends to use the two-day period between Detroit’s victory over the Timberwolves and their contest with the Clippers on Saturday to re-evaluate the club’s lineups. Keith Langlois of the team’s official site writes that a number of players could be utilized differently in the frontcourt.
  • The Pacers have been more than satisfied with what they’ve gotten out of Victor Oladipo so far this season, Clifton Brown of The Indianapolis Star writes. “I like his pace,” head coach Nate McMillan said after the team’s loss to Paul George‘s Thunder. “He’s doing a good job of not forcing the issue. His shot selection has been better. He’s knocking down shots and in a pretty good rhythm, and we try to go to him as much as possible, because he was the one guy with the hot hand. He’s just playing with a nice pace.”

Central Notes: Pacers, Bell, Bulls

The Pacers have made a concerted effort to play a faster tempo and managed to do just that thanks to their new-look backcourt spearheaded by Victor Oladipo. As Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star writes, Indiana managed to up their pace eventually outrunning their opening day opponent altogether.

While Oladipo led the squad in scoring with 22 points in Indiana’s first game, he wasn’t the only guard to post an impressive stat line. Veteran Darren Collison added 21 and 11 of his own while reserve guard Cory Joseph – plucked from the Raptors this offseason – put in 11 points and 4 assists of his own for the victorious Pacers.

[Pacers coach] Nate MacMillan’s done an unbelievable job of letting us take the onus as point guards and kind of let us run the show,” Collison said. “He was a point guard himself. He knows what it’s like to let us see the game, instead of micromanaging every single play. If we can play like that, call a guard game, play with one another, we’ll be alright.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Bulls have gotten flak for, among other things, selling second-round pick Jordan Bell to the Warriors. Cody Westerlund of 670 The Score tweets that VP of basketball operations John Paxson said that he was “building up equity” with ownership when he sold the No. 38 pick to Golden State for $3.5MM.
  • After a down year besieged by injuries in 2016/17, Reggie Jackson has recovered and returned to the court for the Pistons. He’s “only going to get better as time goes on” head coach Stan Van Gundy told the media, Brendan Savage of MLive included.
  • The Bulls are looking to regroup after a fight in practice set the team into chaos before the season even began. Sam Smith of the team’s official website offers an inside account of what happened and what comes next.

Eastern Rumors: Jefferson, Dedmon, Pacers, MCW

The roster spot of Cavs veteran forward Richard Jefferson is in jeopardy, according to The Athletic’s Jason Lloyd. The signing of Dwyane Wade gives the Cavs 16 fully guaranteed contracts, along with Kay Felder’s partial guarantee. Even if Felder is traded or released, the Cavs will have to rid themselves of a guarantee contract and Jefferson is a likely candidate, Lloyd continues. Jefferson, 37, has a $2.5MM contract but if he’s released it will cost the club approximately $10.5MM in luxury taxes since it is a repeat offender, Lloyd points out. A second-round pick may have to be packaged to move Jefferson, Lloyd adds.

In other news around the Eastern Conference:

  • Center Dewayne Dedmon probably won’t be with the Hawks beyond this season but he can help them in the short term, as Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution explains. Dedmon, who played with the Spurs last season, will make $6MM this season with the Hawks and holds a $6.3MM player option for next season. But Dedmon would probably benefit from testing the market again if he has a solid season, Cunningham continues. He’s adept at rolling to the basket in the pick-and-roll and he’s efficient in transition but needs to cut down on his fouls, Cunningham adds.
  • The Pacers will start Darren Collison and Victor Oladipo at guard, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic at forward, and Myles Turner at center in their preseason opener on Wednesday, coach Nate McMillan told Clifton Brown of the Indianapolis Star.  The surprise on the second unit, as Brown notes, is forward Damien Wilkins. The 37-year-old hasn’t played in the league since the 2012/13 season. He’s signed to a one-year, veteran’s minimum deal.
  • Hornets backup guard Michael Carter-Williams expects to be cleared for contact early next week, he told the Charlotte Observer’s Rick Bonnell. Carter-Williams received platelet-rich plasma injections in both knees to promote healing of patella tears, Bonnell continues. He’s been restricted to noncontact drills during the first week of training camp.

Pacers Trade Paul George To Thunder

JULY 6, 12:05pm: The trade is official, according to a tweet from the Pacers.

JUNE 30, 8:42pm: Paul George will be traded to the Thunder, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN tweets. The scribe adds in a second tweet that Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis will be headed to the Pacers.Paul George vertical

The deal was quickly confirmed by both TNT’s David Aldridge and Shams Charania of The Vertical and following up shortly thereafter was Royce Young of ESPN noting specifically that there will be no picks changing hands.

While George had been the subject of trade rumors ever since he expressed his desire to leave the Pacers next summer, the Thunder were not among the teams floated as a possible destination. It has since been made clear, however, that the Thunder have been in pursuit of George since at least the draft.

The move can be regarded as a risky one by general manager Sam Presti, who will see one of the game’s top two-way perimeter players suit up alongside the ever-prolific Russell Westbrook in 2017/18. George, however, has made no secret his desire to sign with his hometown Lakers next summer.

The relative lack of a return the Pacers received from Oklahoma City, specifically no draft picks, is indicative of how nervous league executives are about George ultimately leaving for Los Angeles in 2018, Brian Windhorst of ESPN says.

Teams on the outside looking in as the Thunder welcome the year’s most coveted “rental” include the Cavaliers, Celtics, Rockets and Wizards.

As the dust settles, the basketball community will pay special attention to how this impacts the future of the Thunder organization. Will the gesture of going out and landing Geoge be enough to convince Westbrook to sign a long-term extension this summer?

Of note is that the Thunder will not have the available cap space to negotiate a significant pay raise for George, meaning he’ll inevitably hit the free agent market in 2018. That doesn’t bode well considering his widely reported desire to play for the Lakers.

As far as the other side of the deal is concerned, the Pacers will bring a familiar face back to the state of Indiana. Prior to going second overall in the 2013 draft, Oladipo spent three years with the Hoosiers. Now, after a solid but unspectacular four years with the Magic and Thunder, the 25-year-old will have the opportunity to elevate his game with another change of scenery.

In Sabonis, the Pacers acquire a skilled big man fresh off of an acceptable first campaign. In limited action behind Steven Adams and Enes Kanter, Sabonis averaged 10.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per 36 minutes. He’ll slot in next to or just behind Myles Turner in Indiana.

The blockbuster deal is the second such move that will send an elite talent from the Eastern Conference westward. On draft day, Jimmy Butler of the Bulls was moved to the Timberwolves.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Free Agent Rumors: Ibaka, Bogdanovic, Knicks

Addressing NBA-wide speculation that he’s older than his listed age of 27, Raptors free agent big man Serge Ibaka issued a statement expressing disappointment with the media for “prejudices” based on his origin. Within his written statement, Ibaka suggested that he needs to take a stand against the “false assumption” that has been circulating.

“I was born in the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville,” Ibaka wrote. “A city with a population bigger than 1 million. A city with hospitals, a civil registry, and an administration. I was born in a caring, loving and united family. I was not born in the jungle.”

Here’s more on free agency:

  • In addition to the Hawks, the Kings and Nuggets are among the teams showing legitimate interest in Wizards RFA sharpshooter Bojan Bogdanovic, tweets Chris Haynes of ESPN.com. Bogdanovic landing in Sacramento would be a fun scenario for play-by-play commentators, since the Kings have already reached a deal with Bogdan Bogdanovic.
  • Multiple agents who have been in touch with the Knicks get the impression that the team wants to add younger players and is reluctant to spend big money on a single free agent, writes Ian Begley of ESPN.com. That could mean that New York’s reported interest in George Hill has waned.
  • As they explore the free agent market, the Pacers intend to target young players with upside who may not have reached their full potential with their previous teams, says Nate Taylor of The Indianapolis Star. Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis fit that bill, according to Taylor, who hears from a source that Pacers president Kevin Pritchard has “coveted Oladipo for years.”
  • Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald lays out why the Celtics badly need to land Gordon Hayward this week. As Bulpett explains, Boston’s cap room will no longer be available next summer when new deals are due for Isaiah Thomas and perhaps Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley as well, meaning 2017 is likely the team’s last and best chance to land a top-tier free agent.

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.
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