O. J. Mayo, Kevin Durant

NBA Playoffs: Westbrook, Thunder implode in the fourth quarter

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In Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinal matchup between the Thunder and the Grizzlies, Oklahoma City was powerless against Memphis’ big men. In the early parts of Game 3, it was the Thunder’s speed that made the difference, particularly the speed of Russell Westbrook. However, the Thunder ended up falling on their own sword late in the game, and are now facing a 2-1 deficit after a heartbreaking overtime loss.

After a breakout regular season, Westbrook has had an up-and-down playoffs, mixing brilliant performances with games where he strangled the Oklahoma City offense by dribbling the air out of the ball and forcing outside jump shots. On Saturday, Westbrook had a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance that served as a microcosm of just how dangerous Westbrook can be to both is opponents and his own team.

For the first three quarters, Westbrook was masterful. He didn’t have a particularly efficient scoring performance, but he set the pace of the game. He attacked the rim constantly, pushed the pace to keep the Grizzlies from setting up their half-court defense, and did a fantastic job of setting up his teammates. Westbrook finished with 12 assists, and seven of Kevin Durant’s field goals were set up by a Westbrook assist.

When the Thunder played the Lakers in last year’s playoffs, Durant struggled to find space against Ron Artest in isolation situations, and only shot 35% for the series. With Westbrook commanding the defense’s attention and allowing Durant to either catch and shoot or roll to the rim for a dunk, Durant has been exponentially more effective. When Westbrook balances efficiency with aggression, the Thunder are a completely different kind of offensive animal than they were in last year’s playoffs.

In the fourth quarter, however, the bad Westbrook showed up, and the Thunder offense went completely stagnant. The team only scored two points between the 7:43 mark of the fourth quarter and the 0:52 mark of the game, and the Grizzlies were able to tie the game by outscoring the Thunder 15-4 during that stretch. Although the entire Thunder team deserves a share of the blame for Oklahoma City’s miserable offensive display, Westbrook was the primary culprit for the Thunder’s offensive struggles — he dribbled the ball aimlessly, didn’t look to make aggressive moves to the rim, was far too eager to settle for jump shots, and made little effort to get his teammates involved. When Durant did get the ball, he usually got the ball 25 feet away from the basket with the shot clock running down and a defender in his face, and not even Durant is able to turn those situations into high-percentage opportunities.

While the Thunder imploded offensively, the Grizzlies were slowly but surely able to claw their way into the game, and the game went into overtime with the score tied at 86.

In overtime, the Grizzlies continued to attack the basket aggressively; the Grizzlies scored 80 points from the paint and the free throw line on Saturday, and all of their overtime points came at the rim or the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Thunder continued to look confused — a beautiful James Harden feed to set up Nick Collison for a dunk only served as a reminder of just how broken the Thunder’s late-game offense was. When it was all over, the Thunder had been outscored by 20 points over the last 17 minutes of play, and they now find themselves in a 2-1 series deficit.

This was a horrible loss for the Thunder, and it could easily have been the difference between a conference finals berth and an early playoff exit. The Thunder did everything right. Westbrook and Durant were working well together, the offense was rolling, and Perkins and Co. were actually winning the battle in the trenches against Memphis’ twin towers, holding them to 12-36 shooting from the field . They were doing absolutely everything they needed to do to beat the Grizzlies and regain home-court advantage.

Then they imploded, and they now have to face the fact that they beat themselves in a game they needed to win. Winning four out of seven games against the Grizzlies is no easy task; in order to advance after this performance, the Thunder will essentially have to beat Memphis five times in seven games.

If the Thunder play the way they did in the first three quarters for a full 48 minutes, they can absolutely tie up the series before it comes back to Oklahoma City. But on Saturday, the Thunder’s inexperience was their undoing, and they may not be ready to contend for a championship until Westbrook and company can stop putting on these types of performances.

Timberwolves purchase Iowa Energy D-League team

Fort Wayne Mad Ants v Santa Cruz Warriors - 2015 D-League Finals Game Two
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves have purchased the Iowa Energy and will begin a direct affiliation with the NBA Development League team next season.

The Timberwolves announced the agreement on Monday. Owner Glen Taylor is purchasing the team, which previously had a hybrid partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves will become the 18th NBA team to have a direct affiliation with a D-League team.

It’s a growing trend across the league for franchises to use the minor league teams to help develop young players, coaches and executives and help players rehab injuries.

The Timberwolves were looking for a team close to the Twin Cities to allow for easy back-and-forth travel. Energy owner Jed Kaplan will remain with the team and partner with Taylor.

Denver reportedly claimed Mo Williams off waivers. Again. Then will waive him. Again.

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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This is starting to make Vanilla Sky easy to follow.

It’s all about the dead-money contract of Mo Williams, and the Sixers and Nuggets trying to save a few bucks. Everything starts with Williams being owed $2.2 million this season, however, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore and didn’t show up to Cleveland’s training camp. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster — and more importantly the financial books — in case they could use his salary in a trade. Which they did, shipping him to Atlanta as part of the Kyle Korver deal. Atlanta quickly traded Williams to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. However, the Nuggets didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him. Then the Philadephia 76ers claimed Williams off waivers — that moved them closer to the salary floor and negated the Nuggets savings. But we’re not done yet, the Sixers didn’t want Williams soaking up a roster spot, so they waived him.

And now we’re back in Denver, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

That would be Alonzo Gee, who they have already signed to one 10-day contract (he can have two before Denver has to make a decision on keeping him).

Why are Denver and Philly doing this? To save a little money. The NBA doesn’t just have a salary cap, it has a salary floor that is 90 percent of the cap, which means this season it is $84.7 million. Teams that don’t reach the floor — and with the fast rise in the salary cap last summer, there are a few teams in this boat — have to pay the players on the roster the money they are short of the floor (for example, if a team is $10 million, short of the floor, the $10 million gets divided up among the players on the roster). For Denver, they can shave $2.2 million off that bill by being the last team to waive Williams. Philly wanted the same thing.

Salary cap guy Albert Nahmad explained on Twitter who saved how much with all these deals.

Will Philly just claim Williams again? They can, Nahmad explained why they probably will not.

What would be funny now is another team to step in and claim Williams. Okay, it’s not really that funny.

Report: Magic offered first-round pick, Nikola Vucevic to Heat for Goran Dragic

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 26: Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat goes to the basket against Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic on opening night on October 26, 2016 at Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Manuela Davies/Getty Images)
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We already knew the Magic were interested in Heat point guard Goran Dragic.

Orlando has an excess of power forwards and centers (or players who should be at those positions) – Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – and have been better with an offense-first D.J. Augustin starting and Elfrid Payton coming off the bench. Dealing a big man for Dragic would be logical.

This isn’t that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Orlando, according to league sources, recently tried to engage Miami on a Goran Dragic deal in which the Magic were said to be offering center Nikola Vucevic and a future first-round pick.

Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and due more than $54 million over the next three years. The Magic are 18-28, 4.5 games and four teams out of playoff position.

Why would they want a player like Dragic?

Orlando should focus on building for future seasons, which means not swapping first-round picks for veterans. There will probably be better avenues for a point guard upgrade offseason. If not, the Magic can always get a solid point guard for one of its bigs and a first-rounder. There should be no rush to pursue a deal like that now, because a late playoff push is impractical.

Perhaps, the protections on the pick are strong enough to make this deal palatable for Orlando. But this just reeks of general manager Rob Hennigan mortgaging the future to show progress now, even if that’s foolish for the organization.

Miller family transfers ownership of Jazz to trust that will keep team in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 4: General view of the former EnergySolutions Arena which has been renamed Vivint Smart Home Arena, where the Portland Trail Blazers will play the Utah Jazz on November 4, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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Since Larry Miller died back in 2009, there have been some around the league that thought the Jazz might eventually be sold out of the family, most likely to an owner looking to move them out of Utah. The Miller family has denied that vehemently, and there has been not even a step that direction, but it’s easier to kill Freddy Krueger than an NBA rumor.

Monday, the Miller family killed that rumor for good, taking an unprecedented step that will keep the Jazz in Utah for a long, long, time.

Gail Miller has transferred ownership of the Utah Jazz and Vivint Smart Home Arena into a Legacy Trust that will keep the Jazz in Utah for what she said would be “generations.”

“As a family, we have always considered the Utah Jazz a community asset and it has been our privilege to serve as stewards of this team for more than 30 years,” Miller said. “There have been many opportunities to sell and move the franchise, but from the day Larry and I purchased the Jazz our goal was to keep the team in Utah. The Legacy Trust will help to ensure this commitment is kept for generations to come.”

The Miller family will continue to manage the trust (along with a board of directors) as well as the Jazz the organization. However, the Miller family will not profit from the running of the team as it had before. That eliminates the profit motive for selling the Jazz.

“As a family and company, we have always been committed to doing things the right way and working to achieve our mission of enriching lives and giving back,” said Miller. “This trust and our new corporate structure will continue this important legacy in perpetuity and represents our commitment and deep love for the State of Utah.”

Jody Genessy, Jazz writer for the Deseret News, added these notes from the press conference for the announcement.

This is a huge win for the fans in Utah. It’s also a win for the NBA — billionaires buying up teams with the promise/idea of moving them is not good optics for the league. Adam Silver has favored stability (he was one of the key reasons the Kings are still in Sacramento), and this is a step in that direction.