Victor Oladipo

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 general manager 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 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 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 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.

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 Notes: Mudiay, Jokic, Oladipo

It wasn’t long ago when Emmanuel Mudiay was being touted as a key component of the Nuggets franchise. One year later, his future with the organization is uncertain, says Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post.

Over the course of the 2016/17 campaign, the second-year guard has seen his role in Denver shrink. In the eight games since the All-Star break, Mudiay has seen action just three times. It’s a precipitous drop for a 21-year-old once taken with the No. 7 pick in the NBA draft but an understandable one considering the stable of young talent on the Nuggets roster.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division.

  • The Timberwolves are running out of times to sneak into the Western Conference playoff picture, Jerry Zgoda of the StarTribune writes. With just 17 games left in the season, the Wolves will have to leapfrog three teams and make up 3.5 games in the standings.
  • After missing a pair of games with a flu, Nikola Jokic returned to action for the Nuggets. “I can still feel it in my chest, and my throat is a little sore when I start coughing,” Jokic told Nick Kosmider of the Denver Post. “It feels really good to be back.”
  • Though he missed six games resting his back, the time off helped Victor Oladipo in more ways than one, Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman writes. “It was amazing for my wrist, actually,” Oladipo said. “I’m not one to complain. It wasn’t 100 percent, but that rest kind of helped it out a little bit. It’s a lot better now.”

Northwest Notes: Stephenson, Hayward, Ezeli, Cole

After appearing in four games with Minnesota earlier this season, Lance Stephenson appears likely to rejoin the team on a second 10-day contract. According to Jon Krawczynski‏ of The Associated Press, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said Stephenson is “coming along” in his recovery from an ankle sprain and should sign a new contract soon (Twitter link). Injuries have sidelined Stephenson’s 2016/17 campaign; “Born Ready” has played in a combined 10 games with the Pelicans and Wolves. 

More from around the Northwest…

  • Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer writes that Gordon Hayward is “one of the most coveted upcoming free agents” that no one is noticing. Hayward, who is expected to decline his 2017/18 player option, has averaged a career-high 22.1 points per game, helping the Jazz maintain a comfortable hold on the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Hayward doesn’t register on casual fans’ radars, O’Connor writes, but the seventh-year wing “might be the key to unlocking Utah’s title chances.
  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman answered some questions about the Thunder for his online chat. Tramel called Domantas Sabonis “one of the few bright spots” in a recent loss to the Suns, with the caveat that he will soon be moved to the bench. Similarly, Tramel forecasts a move to the bench for Alex Abrines once Victor Oladipo returns from injury. When it comes to the offseason, Tramel writes “OKC doesn’t have the flexibility to sign a big free agent. It would have to do some kind of sign-and-trade deal, and the Thunder doesn’t have the kind of assets (draft picks) to pull that off. Plus, you have to convince free agents to come. So the likelihood is not strong that the Thunder can change the roster via big-name free agent.”
  • Festus Ezeli‘s season-ending surgery will involve tissue from a cadaver donor, Tim Brown of The Oregonian writes. Per Brown, Ezeli received bone marrow injections in his left knee in August, with the intention of helping him play in 2016/17. It would be pretty surprising to see the Trail Blazers exercise Ezeli’s $7.733MM option for 2017/18.
  • Norris Cole, who has scored 13 points over three games with the Thunder, is “learning on the job,” Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes. “I think for him, being pressured and coming into a new system and a new style and having to be a point guard and run the team, it was a difficult task for him,” Billy Donovan said of Cole. “These are the moments I think that will probably help him get better. He’s a veteran guy. He’s smart, he’s bright and he’ll be able to get better from this.”

Northwest Notes: Cole, Oladipo, Nurkic, Davis

Veteran point guard Norris Cole is thrilled to be back in the NBA after nearly a year away from the league, writes Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman. The Thunder signed Cole for the rest of the season on Wednesday, giving them a veteran point guard to back up Russell Westbrook. The job belonged to rookie Semaj Christon when the season started while Cameron Payne was rehabbing from a foot injury. Christon got it back again when Payne was traded to the Bulls last week. Now Oklahoma City has a more experienced option in Cole, who saw plenty of playoff action during his three and a half seasons in Miami. “I think he understands what he’s walking into and what he’s got to do,” said coach Billy Donovan. “And it will take some time. I think he understands that. Just need him to run our team when he’s in there, make good decisions, defend – all the things he’s done for most of his career.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Donovan isn’t worried that Victor Oladipo‘s back injury will become a long-term problem, Dawson tweets. Oladipo missed his fourth straight game with back spasms Thursday night, but the coach believes it’s just a muscular issue and the recovery time is normal.
  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic made a powerful impression Thursday in his first home game since being acquired in a trade with the Nuggets, notes Casey Holdahl of Nurkic put up  18 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and five steals, making him the first Portland player ever to reach all those numbers in a single game. “I feel great to be here, excited every day to spent with those guys in this city,” Nurkic said. “They give me a lot of opportunity when I came here, so I just try to play and have fun. I know who I am… I know I’m going to be on the court. I just go there and play.”
  • Blazers big man Ed Davis discusses his decision to have season-ending shoulder surgery with Joe Freeman of The Oregonian and says he will definitely be ready for the start of next season.

Northwest Notes: Motiejunas, LaVine, Nurkic, Oladipo

The Timberwolves had planned to work out free agent forward Donatas Motiejunas, but the Pelicans swooped in before that could happen, according to Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune. Minnesota brought Motiejunas into town, but his agreement with New Orleans stopped a planned meeting and workout session. “His agent cancelled and we never got a chance to sit down with him,” said Wolves coach/executive Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets drafted Motiejunas in 2011 with a pick they acquired from Minnesota. He spent four seasons in Houston before becoming a restricted free agent over the summer.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Wolves guard Zach LaVine has become a candidate for Most Improved Player, contends Shams Charania of The Vertical. The third-year guard has raised his scoring average from 14.0 to 21.1 points per game and has become an important part of what Thibodeau calls the team’s “core three” along with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Charania added that owner Glen Taylor plans to commit financially to keeping all three.
  • Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic has vowed to be professional about his reduced role, even though he’s clearly unhappy with the arrangement, writes Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post. Nurkic started the season’s first 25 games, but even then he didn’t always get starters’ minutes. Nurkic shared time with Nikola Jokic and only once topped 30 minutes in a game. His playing time has been cut even further since the Nuggets got healthier, and he was stuck on the bench for four straight games last week. “For sure it’s tough,” Nurkic said. “I’m 23 years old. I’m not here to sit on the bench. I’m here to play basketball. And it’s a tough decision for me, from a starting spot and 20 minutes to four straight [games of not playing]. … You control what you control, and I let my agent do the rest of the stuff.” The Nuggets have already exercised Nurkic’s option for 2017/18 at nearly $3MM.
  • Victor Oladipo returned to the Thunder lineup Saturday after a nine-game absence, relays Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. Oladipo hadn’t played since spraining his right wrist in a December 11th game.
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