Sam Amick (USA Today) on Paul George’s upcoming free agency decision: “He’s well aware how his choice will affect the lives of others, from his actual family to this Thunder group that wants so badly for him to return alongside Russell Westbrook. So he picks his words wisely, even goes over old interviews to make sure he’s saying what he means and meaning what he says. Yet as the 3 pm EST trade deadline nears on Thursday, and with the Thunder (31-24) set to face the very Lakers team that is widely seen as the No. 1 threat for his services, there’s one thing that is helping him be more at ease: he’s not going anywhere just yet – if ever.”
Happy Friday to all. Here is the DTR on eve of the madness we all know as free agency. At 11:01 PM CST tonight, the Thunder should have somehow acquired Blake Griffin, Paul George, and Kristaps Porzingis, right? That’s how NBA free agency works, right?
Well if Blake Griffin and his injured toe don’t work in OKC, maybe Rudy Gay and his surgically repaired Achilles tendon will: “The Thunder tried to acquire Gay last October in a deal which would have send Cameron Payne and other pieces to Sacramento. That was before Gay tore his Achilles after playing only 30 games. Gay declined a player option worth $14.2 million for 2017-18. With career averages of 18.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 34.2 percent from 3-point range, Gay figures to command a higher salary when free agency open Saturday.”
Andrew Schlecht of Daily Thunder looks at Gay’s fit with the Thunder: “Will Gay accept a role? If he is a starter at either forward position, will he be satisfied spotting up? He could allow Westbrook to be off-ball some, but it would be more of a “your turn, my turn” than the motion offense that Billy Donovan wants. The truth is, if the Thunder can’t make a major splash, Rudy Gay is not a terrible option. The ideal situation would be Gay signing for a small dollar amount within one of the exceptions, and agreeing to come off the bench. This would allow the Thunder to move on from Enes Kanter without giving up any bench scoring. Gay could also close games at the power forward position. If he gets his touches earlier in the game, he would probably be fine spotting up in closeout situations.”
As July 1st approaches, a sobering reality comes into view if Westbrook declines to sign the Designated Player Veteran Exception: “Russell Westbrook called his teammates to the stage Monday night in New York. So up trotted Nick Collison, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter to stand in solidarity as Westbrook delivered his MVP speech. Irony oozed in Basketball City. The brotherhood was evident. So was the likelihood that the band is about to break up. Of Westbrook’s five teammates on stage, one (Kanter) is on the trading block and three others (Collison, Roberson, Gibson) are free agents, with none better than 50-50 of staying in Oklahoma City.”
Tim Bontemps looks at three small-market stars who could be on the move come the start of free agency: “But when Westbrook was asked a few minutes later about the potential of signing an extension with the Thunder, he did everything he could to avoid an answer. “Man, tonight is so important for me, and obviously with the contract and stuff coming up, it’s not really on my mind at the moment, honestly,” Westbrook said. “I’m just overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of blessings I’ve been able to get to be able to get this award. “Man, I’m just thinking about tonight, and then after that, I’ll move on.” Not the most reassuring of answers for a Thunder fan.”
When you have a good GM, openings will lead to rumors: “This does bring up an interesting scenario though. The past ten years (yes Presti was there for one Seattle season) SuperSonics/Thunder fans (yes there are a few of us out there) have been blessed with a young, intelligent General Manager. Unlike players, GM’s don’t switch teams unless they are 1) fired from one job or 2) one of the best GM’s in the game. It just so happens Presti falls in Category #2. So now the Big Fish of the NBA want in on Oklahoma City’s biggest off-the-court advantage.”
According to Yahoo Sports, the Thunder have been interested in Blake Griffin for months: “It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later. Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.”
Happy Transformers Day to all (at least the early screening). Here are the rumblings for this Tuesday.
Ben Collins of SLAM Magazine asks the question we’ve all been asking since the regular season ended: Why is the MVP award even up for debate?: “Fifty years from now, when your self-driving car casually plows through a half-dozen jersey barriers and into a bridge stanchion while you’re flipping around Basketball Reference, you will exit the remains of your TeslaFord 27 Coupe Presented by Starbucks™ and you will be furious. You won’t be pissed at the car. (You tried to hack the in-car blender and it messed with the GPS. That’s on you.) You will be pissed at the Basketball Reference thing. You’ll have been looking at Russell Westbrook’s 2016-17 stats and there will not be the appropriate technology to explain why a 2017 MVP debate even existed.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 20 June 2017
Why do people save money? There are usually two reasons why people save money. The first is to be prepared for an emergency. If the car breaks down or the air conditioner goes out, you have the funds necessary to replenish this item without digging into the budget. The second reason people usually save money is to purchase an item of great worth. Be it shoes, a house, or a boat, these are the items where patience becomes a virtue. Too many times, people head into a situation where they want to save, but end up either getting a cheaper knockoff or end up purchasing the item too quickly on credit, which leads to future budgeting issues.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been saving for the past 6 seasons. Emergencies happen all the time in sports. These emergencies usually involves a catastrophic injury to a key player or two. Having that salary cap flexibility of not being in the luxury tax is key to recovering quickly if your main player(s) go down. But the true essence of why the Thunder have been saving money can be traced back to October 27, 2012. That was the day the Thunder avoided going into the luxury tax by trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets.
On the surface, the trade has been a disaster for the Thunder. Harden finished 2nd in the MVP voting this past season and led his team to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder, on the other hand, have seen the last 3 seasons end in disappointment due to various injuries to key players. The players obtained in the Harden trade are known as the pennies in the saying “pennies on the dollar”. Kevin Martin was a great 6th man for one season, but signed with Minnesota the next season. Jeremy Lamb was a marginal bench player his entire Thunder career and was recently traded to the Charlotte Hornets for a 2nd round pick. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary were first round picks obtained in the trade and have been the most valuable commodities from the trade. And Alex Abrines was drafted with the 2nd round pick obtained in the trade and has yet to step foot in the United States. But the most important asset to come out of the trade was the salary cap flexibility.
To the casual NBA fan, talks of salary cap flexibility, luxury tax and repeater tax concerns, max contracts, market size, so on and so forth are the minutiae that makes the NBA offseason so boring. The casual fan only pays attention from November to June (scratch that, April to June). All they see is players, their stats, and how much they make. They don’t take into account that NBA teams have to budget and balance their checkbooks like normal people do. While its true that their budgets likely feature many more commas than ours do, the fact still remains that NBA teams have to run their organization within certain boundaries. Spend too frivolously, and your organization will likely lose money. Don’t spend enough, and your organization is likely destined for failure. Finding the balance is the key to success in the NBA. And sometimes, in that balance, difficult decisions have to be made.
The Thunder made that difficult decision when they traded Harden. They eschewed paying the luxury tax in preparation for this moment. The harsh reality is that James Harden was never going to be James Harden if he stayed in Oklahoma City. He was a redundancy on a team that already featured two great ball handlers. He knew this and, if reports are true, made the ultimatum that he either get paid max money or get traded to a team where he could receive max money. The split between OKC and Harden was a mutual split. Both parties got what they wanted in the end. What Oklahoma City got, in addition to the players and draft picks that came over in the trade, was the comfort in knowing that they could safely go into the luxury tax when the perfect opportunity arose.
On February 19th, 2015, the Thunder traded Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pliess, and a future first round pick to the Utah Jazz for Enes Kanter and Steve Novak. Kanter was in his 4th season, which meant that, with the trade, the Thunder owned his Bird Rights as he headed into restricted free agency in the offseason. In the 26 games Kanter played for OKC, he was a double/double machine, averaging 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He provided something the Thunder had never seen before since they moved to the Great Plains, an inside scoring presence. Kanter and Russell Westbrook quickly became familiar with each other in the pick and roll game. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out for much of the 2nd half of the season, Kanter stepped in as that 2nd scorer behind Westbrook. While his defense was deplorable, some of that may have been an effect of Durant and Ibaka not being there to help him out defensively.
After not reaching an agreement with the Thunder when free agency began on July 1st, Kanter decided signed a 4 year/$70 million dollar offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers, who were one of three teams who still had the cap space to sign Kanter. Reports were the Thunder offered Kanter $15.5 million per season for 4 seasons. Kanter’s representatives instead chose to wait on the market to see if a max contract was offered, which Portland did on July 9th. The max contract features a player option for the 4th year and a trade kicker. Portland tried to add all the poison pills they could to make the contract as unattractive as possible for the Thunder.
So here’s where the Thunder stand. They have until midnight tonight to match Portland’s offer sheet. This is what all the saving was for. The Thunder sacrificed a lot in the past to be in the position they are today. The beautiful thing about it is that they still have options. If they feel Kanter is not worth this contract, they can walk away from the table, and the Thunder would still be one of the top teams in the league, health permitting. But, if they feel Kanter is the final piece to their championship puzzle, they will gladly match the offer sheet with a smile on their face, knowing full well this was the moment they were waiting for.
- When: Wednesday, 21 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
- Where: Verizon Center, Washington D.C.
Finally! It took exactly half the season to get a game over .500. With the Thunder injurious past (hopefully) behind them, it is now time to conquer the next mountain, which is getting the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The schedule makers did the Thunder no favors as they face three of the Eastern Conference’s top teams on the road in the next 5 days. With little room for error, the Thunder need to start piling up the wins in bunches in order to stay afloat in the West. The four teams above the Thunder are currently on a collective 11 game win streak.
This is the 2nd and final meeting of the year between these two teams. The Thunder beat the Wizards in OKC, 109-102 on January 2nd. On that night, Kevin Durant scored 9 of his 34 in the final 6 minutes of the 4th quarter to keep the Wizards at bay in what was a very close game throughout.
The Washington Wizards currently sit at 29-13, good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. They aren’t nearly as explosive as you would think with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt, but they are great defensively. They allow just under 97 points per contest (3rd best in the league) and have the league’s 8th best defensive rating. This is where their bread and butter lies. As mentioned before, the backcourt is one of the better ones in the league. Wall has become a top-10 point guard and is moving quickly into the conversation of being a Top-5 PG. Beal has regressed a bit from the season he had last year, but is still one of the best two-way SG in the league. On the other wing, the veteran Paul Pierce continues to move up the scoring list with his perimeter shooting and penchant for getting to the line. Up front, Nene and Marcin Gortat are two fleet footed behemoths that can cause problems with their size and rebounding. Off the bench, Andre Miller always gives the Thunder issues and Rasual Butler has turned into one of the best 3-point shooters in the league. Also, Kris Humphries and Kevin Seraphin form a pretty good back-up duo that would start on some other teams in the league.
Probable Starting Line-up
- PG – John Wall
- SG – Bradley Beal
- SF – Paul Pierce
- PF – Nene
- C – Marcin Gortat
Oklahoma City Thunder
- PG – Russell Westbrook
- SG – Andre Roberson
- SF – Kevin Durant
- PF – Serge Ibaka
- C – Steven Adams
3 Keys to the Game
1. Perimeter Defense – The most important thing will be keeping John Wall (and Andre Miller, for that matter) out of the paint. Once those two get into the lane, they become chaos-creaters and can hurt you in several different ways. At the same time, the Thunder have to contend with the shooters on the outside. The Wizards have 3 rotation players that shoot 39% or better from the 3-point line. It’s a little bit of a pick your poison type recipe, as guarding a player like Wall is an “all hands on deck” type directive, while hoping that the shooters miss some of their shots.
2. Pace – The Wizards are a lot like the Memphis Grizzlies in that they have two skilled big men, a talented PG, and two good shooters on the wing. So they love to run their halfcourt offense. The Thunder on the other hand, need to turn this game into a track meet by causing turnovers and getting out on the break. The last game these two teams played together was more at the Thunder’s pace and the outcome was a Thunder victory.
3. D.C. aka The Little House of Horrors – The Thunder have not won in D.C. since the 2010-2011 season. That’s 3 straight seasons of going to Durant’s hometown and losing in front of his kinfolk. That needs to stop. Not because we want to solidify our footing in the KD2016 campaign. But because we need as many wins as possible to get into the playoffs. Thinking about this season, not the offseason after next season.
On a side note, I hope Thunder fans don’t fret too much about Durant’s decision in the summer of 2016. Is it fast approaching? Yes. But this team will do everything it can to put a winning product out there on the floor. That’s what these last few moves (the Waiters trade and the proposed Lopez trade) are about. They’re not about impressing Durant. They are about putting the pieces in place to get better. The Thunder may finally have their most talented team yet, and their record would have reflected it if it wasn’t for the injuries at the beginning of the season. Enjoy this game for what it is (a match-up of two great teams) and not for what everyone outside of Oklahoma will turn it into (small market vs. big market politics).
Oklahoma City has taken a bit of a bashing recently as the NBA’s free agency period has progressed. The Thunder have never really been a big player in free agency, and apparently, that was by design. Going into their 7th season, the Thunder have been all about development from within. Draft well, create a culture that values development, and reward the players that can be a part of a successful core. It has worked extremely well for the Thunder. Almost too well if you factor in the James Harden trade.
But this was the offseason where the Thunder would compete a bit in free agency. Because of their salary cap situation, the Thunder were never going to be big players in free agency. They were over the salary cap, which limited the amount the Thunder can give to perspective free agents. When a team is over the salary cap, the only way they can sign free agents is through the mid-level exception ($5.3 million per year) and the bi-annual exception ($2.077 million per year). With the luxury tax line increasing by over $5 million dollars, the Thunder had enough room under the luxury tax line to sign someone up to the mid-level exception. After years of acting like 6th grade boys at a school dance, the Thunder were now ready to get off the wall and go onto the dance floor.
But there’s a sort of awkwardness that happens whenever 6th grade boys first build up the courage to go out onto the dance floor. Their palms get sweaty, they start to stutter, and they begin to worry too much about how they look to other people. And sometimes, those fears are realized in the form of rejection and ridicule. With the draft out of the way, it became very apparent that the Thunder were in the market for a 3-point shooter. Luckily for the Thunder, there would be a crop of shooters from which the team could choose from. Players like Mike Miller, Anthony Morrow, and Jodie Meeks were all set to be unrestricted free agents.
But then something funny happens. The pretty girl that you’d always admired from afar, who recently broke up with her boyfriend, is suddenly eyeing you as you stroll onto the dance floor. (Side note: I know the thought of imagining Pau Gasol as a pretty girl is appalling to most, but let’s just stick to the metaphorical script here.) Her now ex-boyfriend is a rich kid who is also one of the most popular kids in the school. As you approach her, she never breaks eye contact with you and actually smiles. You start talking to her, but her friends keep interrupting, saying things like, “Ohh, look at so-and-so. His dad owns a bull farm” or “Oh wow, so-and-so is looking at you. I think his dad works on Wall Street”. Eventually, your insecurities start to creep up, but you keep talking to her anyway. Maybe she’ll see you as something different, something unique. But then, as you start to build some confidence up, she drops the bomb on you. “You know, I like you and think you are cute, but I don’t think you can provide me with what I need.”
And just like that, it’s over. She makes her way to the other side of the room and starts dancing with the kid whose dad owns a bull farm. Eventually you get over it, and start dancing with other girls, but none as pretty as the first one. You begin to fear that you’ll never be able to dance with the real pretty girls.
There you have it. That’s the feeling of most Oklahomans when it comes to NBA free agency. We are learning that, while we aren’t exactly an ugly duckling, the reality is that we aren’t as rich or as big as most other markets. We are a young city that is just now starting to grow, so we don’t have the history or nightlife the bigger markets have. It’s a problem that many other teams face (namely those team not located on either of the coasts), but this was the first time it has affected us so directly. The reality is when you are stacked up against the LA’s, New York’s, and Miami’s of the world, a place like Oklahoma City isn’t really that appealing to young millionaire athletes, especially for time frame of 3-4 years.
For this reason, the Thunder’s free agency activity is more heightened in February than it is in July. While the Thunder haven’t been players in free agency recently, they have been successful in attracting recently released veterans to join the team for late season playoff runs. Players like Derek Fisher and Caron Butler have been integral parts in recent playoff runs. This is why the Thunder usually have an open roster spot heading into the season. That roster flexibility is not only important heading into the trading deadline, but also afterwards when disgruntled vets are released. Players are more apt to join OKC during this time for two reasons: 1. Older players tend to be married and have kids, which makes OKC a little bit more appealing as a family friendly environment and 2. Even if OKC isn’t on their list as prime destinations, it’s only for a 3-4 month period and could come with a championship attached.
Luckily, the Thunder haven’t had to depend on free agency to build their team. They have literally built their team up from the bottom using the draft and player development. The Thunder didn’t come away empty handed this summer. They signed their shooter (Morrow), and ironically, one of the reasons he chose Oklahoma City is because of its family friendly environment. Maybe, in the end, there’s still hope for that 6th grade boy.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have made every right decision this summer. They drafted Andrew Wiggins, won the LeBron James sweepstakes, and have begun to assemble a supporting cast similar to the one James had in Miami (even with the same players). But all those decisions were basically made for them. There was hardly any strategy involved in making those decisions.
When Joel Embiid injured his foot a week before the draft, the decision of whom to choose was parred down to Wiggins and Jabari Parker. With Parker doing everything possible to get drafted by Milwaukee (bad workout for the Cavs, back channel gossip that he didn’t want to go to Cleveland), the choice was made even easier for the Cavs. Of course, it WAS Cleveland with the first pick. There was always the possibility they would over think it and select Jusuf Nurkic with the number 1 pick. But with a selection this easy, they was hardly anything they could do to get it wrong.
The next step was to try and convince James to come back home. After getting to four straight NBA Finals on a veteran-laden team, the Heat were starting to crumble under the weight of how they were structured. The value of their aging veterans was diminishing, one of the Big 3 was starting to break down, and the Thor-like hammer of the CBA was finally starting to take its toll on the team. With James asking for his worth and requesting the full max, the Heat were at a financial crossroads in terms of what they could surround James with. Wade and Bosh wanted to come back, but weren’t going to take steep pay cuts to make it happen. With only Norris Cole and Shabazz Napier under contract, the Heat would be really hurting if they brought back the Big 3 with market-level contracts.
James, now more mature and savvy than he was four years ago, began to see the writing on the wall. When asked why he sometimes passes the ball in late game situations, James usually answers that he always makes the right basketball play. If ever there was an opportunity to not only right his most wrong, but also make the right basketball play, this would be it. With Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, a stable of young, relatively cheap players, and salary cap flexibility in the fold, Cleveland was beginning to look like the right choice. After hashing out any old grudges between himself and Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert, James signed with Cleveland for 2 years, with a player option after the first year. Again, a decision that was made for the Cavs by James.
With James signed in, Cleveland went from being a punchline to being a destination city in NBA circles. Almost immediately, James’ ex-teammates like Mike Miller and James Jones joined the fray, with Ray Allen contemplating to make the same jump. Free agent decisions are always made by front offices, but with James in the mix, these decisions have basically been made for them. This has basically been the story of Cleveland’s offseason.
But now comes the big decisions. Cleveland as currently constructed is a young, up and coming team with the best player in the NBA. Think of the 2010 Oklahoma City Thunder with a 3rd year Kevin Durant, a 2nd year Russell Westbrook, and rookies James Harden and Serge Ibaka….Now add 2010 Kobe Bryant to that team. It would have been a dynamic mix that would’ve won 52-56 games in the regular season, but would’ve probably floundered in the later stages of the playoffs due to the inexperience of most of the core of that team. And therein lies the decision for the Cavs: do they cultivate the pieces they have around LeBron for the long haul or do they make a big splash now while the pieces are in place?
On Thursday, after weeks of denying that he was available, sources stated that Cleveland would be willing to include Wiggins in a deal for Kevin Love. A trio of Irving, James, and Love would immediately be one of the best trios in the league. But the question for Cleveland becomes, “What else would you have to give up for Love?” And therein lies the difficulty of the decision.
Any trade for Love would have to involve more pieces than Wiggins, due to Love’s $15.7 million dollar salary. This is where the decision making will come into play for the Cavaliers. The Timberwolves have already been down this road before. In 2007, they traded All-NBA power forward Kevin Garnett to the Boston Celtics for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Gerald Green, Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, and 2 first round picks. Of all the players traded for Garnett, only Ratliff was over the age of 24 at the time of the trade. The number of the players involved in this trade was largely due to Garnett’s $22 million dollar salary at the time. Any trade for Love will be on a smaller scale due to him having a smaller salary than Garnett at the time of his trade from Minnesota. But the blueprint of the trade will likely be very similar.
Any team that trades a superstar wants three things in return: a large expiring contract, young talent with potential, and future draft picks. Cleveland is flush with young assets that have loads of potential. Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson, and Dion Waiters have all shown flashes, while still being on their rookie contracts. In the last three seasons, Anderson Varejao’s name has appeared repeatedly on two lists: the players that will potentially be traded at the trade deadline list and the injured list. Varejao will once again be on the “players that may be traded at the trade deadline” list with his expiring $9.7 million salary. And, the Cavs also have all the draft picks for the foreseeable future, plus a first rounder from Miami.
Say what you will about LeBron and loyalty, but if you are one of his guys, he’ll do everything in his power to keep you by his side. He did that with his closest friends, who are now his agent and top advisors. The only 2 players he ever had that kind of relationship with was Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Varejao. You can bet that Cleveland will try everything in its power to keep Andy in a Cavs uniform this season. So that leaves the Cavs trading two or, even three of their young players to Minnesota. And that’s where it gets perilous.
Trading your young core for a proven superstar is a great plan for the present. The combination of three extremely talented players with a veteran supporting cast has been a winning formula for the past 7 seasons. Boston and Miami have ridden that formula to be participants in 6 of the last 7 NBA Finals, with 3 championships coming out of that. The only problem is that it isn’t a sustainable formula. Superstar salaries eventually rise, veteran players get older and less effective, and the CBA eventually wins over time. Three years into the experiment, you’re right back to square one. And that’s if everyone stays relatively healthy.
It’s just so strange though, because Cleveland has been down this road before. Last time around, Cleveland tried, at every turn, to surround LeBron with what they thought was the necessary talent to lead Cleveland to a championship. That led them to a bloated salary cap situation in which they were constantly cutting their nose to spite their face to retool and rebuild their team. Now that they have a team loaded with potential and a sustainable cap situation, they want to turn around and do it again. It needs to be brought up that Kevin Love has played the same amount of playoff games as Andrew Wiggins, Kyrie Irving, and Tristan Thompson. While Love is proven, he’s also still unproven when it matters most. That Cleveland is putting so much stock on someone who is so unproven should not only scare LeBron, but also Cleveland.
I have to hand it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only were they blessed with the Number 1 pick in a loaded draft, but they were also lucky enough to land the Number 1 player in the NBA during free agency. Getting Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James in the same offseason is enough to give Cleveland the offseason championship, outright.
Despite what many Thunder fans may lead you to believe, the Thunder are having themselves a great summer. Many fans will focus on the fact the Thunder missed out on Pau Gasol, let a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception expire, and used a first round pick on someone named Josh Huestis. But, quietly, the Thunder are putting together a quality championship contender that may be more dangerous than last season’s team. Here are 10 reasons why the Thunder are winning this offseason.
10. The acquisition of Sebastian Telfair
There are a couple characteristics a team wants from a veteran 3rd string point guard. First of all, a team would like them to be cheap. Like, vet minimum cheap. Secondly, a team wants them to come in knowing that they are not competing for a starting job. The job application says “3rd string point guard” for a reason. And thirdly, a journeyman with a story would be a great addition for the youngsters on the roster.
Telfair: Check, Check, Check
After spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association, Telfair turned down a far more lucrative extension to get back into the NBA. The deal is for the vet minimum and is currently non-guaranteed. That means it is basically a near risk free transaction for the Thunder. With that said, Telfair is still a serviceable player. He never quite reached the potential that was bestowed upon him for being a NY point guard legend out of high school and for being Stephon Marbury’s younger cousin, but he has put together a quality decade long NBA career.
Third string point guards usually only play in blowouts and in cases of injury. But with Reggie Jackson possibly starting, Telfair is still young enough (29) and skilled enough to be used as the primary back up point guard also. For that reason alone, Telfair is probably the perfect choice for 3rd string point guard.
9. Jeremy Lamb seemed more willing to absorb contact
Many people will focus on Lamb’s 3-point shooting (or lack thereof) during Summer League. He shot 4-23 (17.4%) from downtown. Not necessarily a number you want to see from someone you consider to be one of the few perimeter threats on the team. Take away the 3-point shot attempts, and Lamb shot a more respectable 12-27 (44.4%) from the field.
But the number I want to focus on is 20. That is the number of free throw attempts Lamb shot in the 3 games he played, good for a 6.7 per game average. One of the knocks on Lamb last season was the he shied away from contact too much and settled for too many jumpers. He only averaged 0.8 free throw attempts per game last season. Increase that to 3 FTAs per game, and his points per game average should increase also.
For comparison, let’s look at James Harden’s 2010 summer league stats: He shot a dismal 1-14 from 3-point territory, but averaged 12 free throw attempts per game for the 4 games that he played. When it comes to summer league, we never know what the organization says to the player going into summer league play. Maybe the coaches told Lamb to assert himself offensively, but also to work on driving into the lane and drawing contact. More than anything, we may be seeing the maturation of Lamb’s game.
8. Andre Roberson looked more comfortable offensively
Roberson was already working on his resume as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. Anytime he was in the game, he caused havoc with his athleticism and length. But his offense (or lack thereof) was a liability and prevented him from staying in games for long stretches of time.
The Thunder envision Roberson as a Thabo Sefolosha replacement and even tried him out for 16 starts when Sefolosha injured his calf after the All Star break. The dream scenario would be for Roberson to develop a consistent 3-point shot, especially from the corners, while also providing All-NBA-type defense from the perimeter.
Roberson did shoot 33.3% from 3-point territory in Summer League, but only on 6 attempts. He did average 9.5 points per game in 4 SL games on a variety of drives and put-backs. The most important thing was that he seemed confident with the ball in his hands. He’ll probably never be a play maker, but if he’s able to confidently drive to the basket, that can provide some semblance of an offense until he gets his shot figured out.
The only negative was his inconsistent free throw shooting. The good news is that he attempted 25 free throws in 4 games (6.3 a game). The bad news is that he only made 8 of those free throw attempts. That is a putrid 32% from the free throw line. For someone who shot 70% from the line in the regular season, here’s hoping that was just an anomaly.
7. Perry Jones was aggressive and attacking
The biggest knock on Jones coming into the 2012 NBA draft was his motor. His athletic tools made him better than most of his counterparts in high school and college, but he also had a tendency to disappear in games and not necessarily push the issue on offense. That, and a medical report on his knees (we’ll get to that later), scared teams from picking him in the first round until the Thunder took him at 28.
Jones hasn’t really done much in his 2 year career to alleviate those fears from draft day. He’s an athletic specimen, but seems content with just being there. Instead of attacking, he chooses to float around the perimeter and occasionally puts up shots. Last season, he showed the makings of a consistent 3-point shot and also showed the makings of a good defensive player. The job he did on LeBron James in January showed the type of potential Jones had.
In Summer League, Jones finally showed what he could do when he was aggressive and looking for his shot. He drove to the basket and shot the 3-point shot well (9-19). He kept on attacking even after missing a couple of shots. If he can translate into the regular season, the Thunder may have found themselves another dynamic weapon on the team.
Unfortunately, Jones had to have arthroscopic knee surgery after Summer League. He should be fine for training camp, but it is a bummer that he couldn’t continue to work on his game and improve upon his confidence in this offseason.
6. Steven Adams was a man among boys
Steven Adams was strong and played physical. Plus, he busted out a little jump hook. Nothing really different than what we saw in the regular season. Good enough for me.
5. Mitch McGary was a revelation
I know you are supposed to take Summer League performances with a grain of salt. But, oh man, was that grain tasty. I had no idea what to expect of McGary coming into Summer League. He was coming off back surgery and hadn’t played in an organized setting in over half a year. Hell, I didn’t even know whether he was going to suit up or not.
But, play he did. And very well, at that. When names like Kevin Love and Bill Laimbeer are thrown around as comparisons, no matter how hyperbolic they may be, you know you have yourself a pretty good player. A more fitting comparison would be a more offensively apt Nick Collison. McGary averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 4 games. He shot 50% from the field and showed range out to 15-17 feet, even attempting (and missing) two 3-point attempts.
His greatest quality might be his hustle. It appears that we’ve once again gotten a player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, much like we got from Steven Adams last season. He shows great role player potential and appears to be ready to contribute this season.
4. The signing of Anthony Morrow
The goal all along was to sign a shooter. That much was certain when the Thunder drafted another big man and another perimeter oriented defender. Yes, when presented with the opportunity, the Thunder flirted (actually, lusted) with the idea of signing Pau Gasol. But that would’ve been a luxurious want. A shooter was always the necessary need.
The Thunder, a team predicated on the greatness of two perimeter oriented, dribble drive players, had no one on the team that shot over 40% from 3-point territory. Without a floor spacer, teams packed the paint and dared the team to beat them from the perimeter. Durant and Westbrook still registered great regular seasons, but their stats, especially Durant’s, suffered a bit during the playoffs.
Once the flirtation of Gasol ended with him signing with Chicago, their attention was immediately turned to finding a shooter. The only available options for the Thunder were Mike Miller and Anthony Morrow. Once James signed with Cleveland, Miller going to the Cavs became an inevitability. The Thunder immediately set their sights on Morrow and signed him to a 3 year deal worth $10 million dollars. Not only is Morrow is a top 4 three point shooter in the league, but he was also signed for below market value for a top 10 shooter. The top 10 3-point shooters from last season will make an average of $4.77 million dollars next season.
3. The Thunder still have money under the tax line
Even with 16 contracts on file, the Thunder are still around $500K under the luxury tax line. Hasheem Thabeet, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett all have non-guaranteed contracts. With one of those three likely on the chopping block, the Thunder are actually around $1.5 million under the tax line. Where this will help the Thunder is at the trade deadline. With two expiring contracts in Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the Thunder will be able to be a player at the deadline with the ability to absorb an extra $1.5 million in salary.
2. Most contending teams got worse.
Most of the teams that contended last season have gotten worse, some significantly.
- Miami Heat – Lost LeBron James. ‘Nuff said.
- Houston Rockets – Lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. Signed Trevor Ariza, but lost a ton of depth. Plus, there are some rumblings that the two superstars on the team aren’t very well liked in the locker room.
- San Antonio Spurs – Basically have the same squad, but they are a year older and recovering from surgery-necessitating injuries (Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili)
- Brooklyn Nets – Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and still feature the oft-injured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.
- Golden State Warriors – May have improved a bit with the Livingston signing, but may be embroiled for much of the season in the Kevin Love sweepstakes.
1. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson)
With the Miami Heat losing LeBron James, it’s always good to remember the Thunder still have a young, and still improving quartet that features the current MVP, possibly the top point guard in the league, the best two way PF in the league, and a dynamic 6th man/combo guard.
The Oklahoma City Thunder signed PG Sebastian Telfair to a non-guaranteed veteran minimum contract. Telfair played last season for the Tianjin Ronggang Gold Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he averaged 26.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.0 assists, and 2.0 steals on 36.9% shooting from 3-point range in 35 games. Prior to that, Telfair played for seven teams in nine seasons in the NBA, averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 assists.
Telfair will earn $1.3 million if he stays on the roster the entire season, but will count only $915,000 towards the cap. Telfair will slide into the veteran, 3rd point guard role previously held by Kevin Ollie and Royal Ivey.
While not as sexy a name as Pau Gasol or Mike Miller, this is a good team-building move. Telfair is a veteran that has seen the ups and downs the NBA has to offer and will, hopefully, be a good locker room presence. He’s a good creator and floor general and will be a great asset to have on the bench.
When the free agency period first began, I thought it was finally time for the Thunder to open up their wallets a little and spend on some quality free agents. Maybe CJ Miles, maybe Vince Carter. Hell, maybe even Pau Gasol. But after seeing some of the contracts being dished out, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Not necessarily about the players I want, but about the amounts needed to bring them in. Just look at the numbers after Day 1 of free agency: Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons went a bit crazy on Day 1, bringing back visions of Joe Dumars. Jodie Meeks got 3 years and $19 million and Isaiah Thomas got 3 years and $24 million from them. Shaun Livingston got 3 years and $16 million from Golden State. Day 2, so far, has seen CJ Miles receive a 4 year, $18 million contract from Indiana.
Could the Thunder have offered something similar to these players? Yes. But here are three reasons why they aren’t.
Patience is a virtue
You see this all the time around tax time. People get their tax returns and immediately blow them on big screen TV’s, furniture purchases, or down payments for their new cars. While some of the purchases are necessary, most are done because people have some extra disposable income. And when people have disposable income, they feel obligated to spend it.
Well, apparently, NBA teams are no different than people. When the NBA announced there would be an increase in the salary cap and luxury tax line, you could already see the writing on the wall. Teams that had money were going to spend it at the first moment they could. Detroit, with Stan Van Gundy at the helm, is attempting to transform the Pistons into the Orlando Magic team that made it all the way to the NBA Finals with Dwight Howard in the middle. The Pistons have already doled out $44 million on 3 players. The Pacers, coming off a strange trip to the Eastern Conference Finals that saw them go from being the best team in the league in December to being on the brink of disaster in April, shelled out $18 million for a player that will either be their starting SG or their 6th man off the bench.
With every day that passes, more teams will continue to blow the money they have available on players that, in all honesty, probably aren’t worth it. It’s the well run teams that wait patiently until all the noise has run its course and pick up the pieces left behind by the poorly run teams. Miami knows they are basically competing against themselves for the services of the Big 3. It’s up to them to make the smart choices on who to put around James, Wade, and Bosh. San Antonio knows that the injury to Patty Mills probably puts them in the driver’s seat to keep his services.
Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti is more of a waiter than an attacker. While teams are pillaging the free agent market, Presti is content with just sitting back and watching as teams pile on mistake after mistake onto their rosters. He knows there really aren’t that many needs on a team that finished with the 2nd best record in the NBA in a tumultuous, injury-plagued season. The cupboards are loaded with superstars and young, cheap talent. Having that in mind, he knows that he doesn’t need a homerun to completely solidify this team as a championship contender. Sometimes, even when it comes to team building, you get as much out of a single, as you do out of a homerun.
Remember last season when the Nets (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirelenko, and Jason Terry), Clippers (JJ Redick, Jared Dudley, and Darren Collison) and Rockets (Dwight Howard) all won the offseason. Well, neither of those teams made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs. Remember that as we move forward in this offseason.
Young players need opportunities
With Thabo Sefolosha likely not getting extended by the Thunder, one of the needs the Thunder faced going into this offseason was a starting SG. Luckily, the Thunder got a taste of what life without Sefolosha would be like, as he missed 21 games in the regular season and was benched for several games throughout the playoffs. In his place, the Thunder started an array of young players throughout the season. Those players, Andre Roberson, Perry Jones, and Reggie Jackson, along with Jeremy Lamb and Josh Huestis, will all be vying for the starting SG position in training camp.
Now the safe move would have been to sign a veteran SG like Miles or Meeks. But with 7 rookie contracts on the roster, the time to determine who is a part of the team’s future is now. If you sign a long term veteran to the SG position, that retards the growth of a couple young players. And on a team that values cap flexibility and sustainability, finding young, inexpensive players that can fill a role is of extreme importance.
Don’t look now, but the Thunder’s top 5 players are all coming up for an extension within the next 3 seasons. First on the list is Reggie Jackson, who can sign an extension with the Thunder this offseason or go into restricted free agency next offseason. From the sounds of it, the Thunder are really trying to get Jackson extended this offseason in order to avoid having him go through restricted free agency where a team may be able to offer him a deal that would be too expensive for the Thunder to match.
In July 2016, Kevin Durant can be extended and Steven Adams can have his rookie contract extended, similar to what is happening to Jackson now. The year after that, both Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are up for extensions. The success of the team relies heavily on these players. Keeping salary cap flexibility is tantamount to keeping the core of the roster together.
Add all that up, and the idea of giving a player like Miles or Meeks a 3 to 4 year deal seems almost asinine when you are pressing up against the tax. This team is all about sustainability and internal development. Splurging, even when money is available, goes against the way the Thunder is run. But what do I know? With the rumors that Pau Gasol and Mike Miller are seriously considering the Thunder, this article could be a moot point by next week.