How big a setback is the Westbrook injury to the Thunder?

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It’s not good news.

Russell Westbrook having to go back under the knife because a loose stich in the repair of his torn meniscus was causing irritation, now he’s going to miss the first four to six weeks of the regular season. That puts him back likely some time after Thanksgiving but before Christmas. He’s going to miss 15 games or so, give or take. That’s not good.

But how bad is it?

To hear the Thunder spin it, it’s not that bad. GM Sam Presti was wisely taking the long view when talking to the media on a conference call Tuesday. Here’s his quote, via NBA.com.

“From our standpoint we’d like to have him on the floor as soon as possible,” Presti said during a teleconference Tuesday. “But in this case, although we lost a little bit of time, we gained a tremendous amount of confidence in the actual progression and recovery process of the knee itself.”

He’s right. If Westbrook comes back in December, and even if it takes to the All-Star Game for him to really trust his knee again and start to play like his old self, then the Thunder are a scary team come the playoffs.

But there will be a price to play short term, one that could bite them come the playoffs.

OKC was already a thin team looking for guys like Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb to step up big. There were legitimate depth questions before this injury. Now even more pressure falls on Jackson’s shoulders (and Serge Ibaka’s) because defenses will load up on Kevin Durant. They will dare the other Thunder players to beat them.

If Westbrook was to play the first 15 games of the Thunder season, they likely go 12-3 or 11-4. Without him, that could be more like 9-6 or a little worse. If you say “that’s just a couple of wins” remember that two wins separated the two seed from the five seed in the West last season — two wins was the difference between being at home against the struggling Lakers or on the road against the Clippers. In a West six deep with powerful teams, seeding is going to matter come the playoffs.

Ultimately Oklahoma City will be just fine — this is still a team with two elite players at its core that can contend for years to come. But this injury is not a good thing when you think about the Thunder this season.

Report: Jimmy Butler less enthused about Lakers after they signed LeBron James

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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In 2014, Jimmy Butler said, “I like being a role player. Star has never been next to Jimmy Butler’s name. It never will be. I’ll always be an under-the-radar dawg.”

Then, Butler kept getting better and better. He started to appreciate his stature within the game. He took a leadership role on the Bulls. He embraced celebrity.

Maybe his trade request from the Timberwolves – ideally to the New York Knicks, Brooklyn Nets or L.A. Clippers – is the next step in this evolution.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

He is enamored with the idea of playing a central role in a big market, sources said. Butler had once imagined playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, but LeBron James‘ arrival as the franchise’s cornerstone made it less appealing for Butler in the prime of his career, league sources said.

Playing with LeBron isn’t for everyone. Kawhi Leonard reportedly became more reluctant to join the Lakers once they got LeBron. (Interestingly, Leonard is reportedly dissuaded by the hoopla LeBron would attract while Butler apparently believes he wouldn’t get enough of a spotlight).

And of course, Kyrie Irving requested and received a trade from LeBron’s Cavaliers last year. Irving and Butler are friends, and maybe Irving warned Butler about the perils of playing with LeBron.

I’m not sure how this report fits with Butler wanting to play with Irving, though. Irving is more popular than Butler. Perhaps, Irving holding a smaller stature than LeBron is enough for Butler. Maybe playing with Irving would be the exception to Butler’s desire to have his own team in a big market.

Or maybe Butler still winds up in Los Angeles with LeBron. Butler was reportedly open to it, though that’s a pretty low standard.

No matter what, Butler should pursue what he wants. NBA careers are short. Players should make the most of theirs, whatever that means to them.

Butler has so far shown he can balance working hard and playing well with stardom. He has earned the right to seek a larger public profile without major consternation about what it’d mean to his on-court production.

Would Jimmy Butler actually sign a contract extension?

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau reportedly doesn’t want to grant Jimmy Butler‘s requested trade request – to the Knicks, Nets, Clippers or elsewhere.

Just how badly does Butler want to leave Minnesota?

Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Butler is “open to signing extension” with one of his preferred destinations. That could be Butler’s silver bullet out of town.

Or it could be a miswording.

There’s a significant difference between signing a contract extension and getting traded then signing a new contract after the season. However, those different events often get described (sometimes inaccurately) under the term “extension.”

The largest extension Butler could sign while still being dealt before the February trade deadline is two years, $45,994,418 ($22,998,209 annually). It doesn’t matter whether he gets traded first or signs the extension first. That’s the limit.

However, if Butler gets traded then re-signs with his new team next summer, his max projects to be about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually).

Would Butler really sacrifice so much? If so, that’d make him a far more-appealing asset. Not only would the team getting him gain longer team control, Butler would be locked into a relatively cheap salary. Teams that want him would offer more for him in that scenario – maybe even enough to convince a reluctant Thibodeau to deal the star.

Butler could also pledge to sign a larger extension with his new team six months after the trade. That extension would be capped at four years, $100,514,631 – the same extension he rejected from Minnesota this summer.* However, at that point, Butler will be near free agency. He might as well wait until his current contract expires.

His max contract next summer projects to be worth about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually). Or, if he wants to leave his team, his max projects to be worth about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually).

Either way, Butler’s max next summer far surpasses his largest-possible extension.

Of course, Butler isn’t guaranteed the max next summer. He’ll turn 30 before playing on his next contract, and he has plenty of mileage. But it seems likely he’ll come out well ahead on a new contract compared to an extension. That’s why he rejected Minnesota’s offer this summer.*

*The Timberwolves’ extension offer was frequently reported as four years, $110 million. But Butler’s base salary for calculating an extension is lower than his cap number, which also includes a portion of his signing and trade bonuses. The $110 million figure is based, incorrectly, on his cap number.

So, I doubt Butler will sign an extension. Promise to re-sign somewhere? Sure, that could definitely happen, though it’d be a non-binding pledge.

But as long as a potential extension is being reported, we should still consider the possibility.

Here are Butler’s four major options – signing an extension in conjunction with a trade now (blue), signing an extension six months after a trade (blue), re-signing on a new contract next summer (green), signing elsewhere on a new contract next summer (green). Rounded numbers are based on the projected 2019-20 salary cap.

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Space Jam 2 closer to reality: LeBron reportedly teams with Black Panther director

Courtesy Warner Bros.
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Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James — and, we can dream, Boban Marjanovic as one of the new Monstars — could be filming next summer and in theaters in 2019 or 2020.

This has been in the works for a while. LeBron James’ production company has a development deal with Warner Bros. and a Space Jam sequel was always at the heart of it. While there had been rumors about the project for years, you knew there was some substance the talk when Warner Bros. extended its trademark on “Space Jam” a couple of years ago.

In a sign this movie is going to be a reality, LeBron has found a producer — the guy who last directed Black Panther. From the Hollywood Reporter:

In his first project since directing the record-breaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is teaming with LeBron James on the anticipated follow-up to the Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny hit Space Jam, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Coogler will produce the Space Jam movie and Terence Nance – who created HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and directed the experimental film The Oversimplification of Her Beauty – will direct. Production on the Warner Bros. film is tentatively slated for 2019, during the NBA offseason. It will be James’ first starring role after a successful turn as a supporting character in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck…

“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that when he was a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, there were no black superheroes. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

That’s a good team to make a movie, although we are all curious about the script.

Not that the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan was winning a writing Oscar, but the move was a cultural phenomenon. It had MJ going head-to-head with aliens in a battle for Earth. Kid me loved that movie, adult me re-watched it and…

I didn’t love it as much as Patrick Patterson, who wrote: “To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”

A lot of the older generation will say that, but if it’s a good movie it will do better than Uncle Drew. (Which, honestly, was better than I expected.) It could be a marketing coup for LeBron, plus add to his legacy of NBA titles and gold medals. Not everyone can put “saved the earth from annihilation” on their resume.

Report: Timberwolves president Tom Thibodeau ‘has no interest’ in trading Jimmy Butler

AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
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Jimmy Butler reportedly requested a trade from the Timberwolves to the Knicks, Nets or Clippers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For now, however, Timberwolves president and coach Tom Thibodeau has no interest in trading Butler and wants to try and return to the playoffs with him in the lineup, league sources said.

Minnesota is resistant to immediately honor the trade request, especially given Thibodeau’s tenuous status with owner Glen Taylor, league sources said.

That seems… untenable.

Butler and younger teammates like Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins had tension last season, as Butler came in and bristled at those who didn’t match his work ethic and competitiveness. Of course, that didn’t always sit well with those teammates. To be fair, everyone got along well enough for Minnesota to end a 13-year playoff drought. But how will Towns and Wiggins handle Butler’s intense and demanding style if they believe he’ll be gone in a year? And how would Butler react to even more resistance from teammates who’ve accomplished less than him?

Lame-duck leadership probably won’t work.

And Butler can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Chancing losing him for nothing – especially if the results next season underwhelm – would be a huge risk.

But my assessment considers only the overall health of the Timberwolves. The franchise isn’t a self-running entity. Rather, it’s a collection of individuals with their own agendas.

Thibodeau can be quite stubborn. Maybe he just doesn’t want to give into a trade request. That inclination could be pushed even further by a desire to impress Taylor, who reportedly isn’t sold on Thibodeau. The simplest way to do that is win, and Butler – chemistry concerns aside – is an elite player. He’d likely contribute more to winning than anyone Minnesota could trade for at this point.

Of course, this could be a bluff to maximize Butler’s trade value. If the Knicks, Nets, Clippers and other interested teams believe Thibodeau is inclined to keep Butler, they might offer more to pry him loose.