Thunder GM refutes report he didn’t consult Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook before hiring Billy Donovan as coach

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As the Thunder moved quickly to install Billy Donovan as the team’s new head coach — a process that couldn’t possibly have included looking at multiple candidates, considering it was completed in less than a week’s time — reports emerged that the team’s GM, Sam Presti, was doing so without consulting his star players.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would simply be stuck with whomever was chosen, and would be forced to make things work, at least as long as the two are under contract in Oklahoma City.

According to Presti, however, that wasn’t entirely the case.

While he may not have discussed specific candidates with his players, Presti insists that he, Durant and Westbrook were all on the same page in terms of the qualities they would look for in the team’s next head coach.

From Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

There was a report that management consulted with Kevin Durant on the hiring of coach Donovan but not with Russell Westbrook and Westbrook is now upset with the organization because of it. Is there any truth to that report, and have you spoken to Westbrook since Donovan was hired to get a sense of what he’s feeling?

As I have stated before, I do not feel it is in the best interest of the guys, or team collectively, if we were to poll our players in regards to specific personnel or staff decisions. However, we have spent a significant amount of time over the last seven-plus seasons discussing, observing and defining our culture with our players, which we feel is important given their role in building the identity for the Thunder. One aspect of this recent process was to have specific conversations with several core members of the program, including Kevin and Russell, regarding important qualities that should be considered in looking for our next head coach. Fortunately, our continuity and communication over the years in combination with our more recent discussions gave us an understanding that there is an alignment with regards to the qualities that we felt were important to our progression and evolution. Multiple people within the organization have been in contact with Russ and he will be in town later this week to meet with the staff.

It would be foolish not to have cursory discussions with both Durant and Westbrook, considering each player’s ability to bolt the franchise in free agency in the coming seasons.

The reality is that the Thunder hit the jackpot in drafting two guys who are now unquestionably on the list of the league’s top 10 players, and with star free agents not exactly lining up to come play in Oklahoma City, the franchise needs to do everything in its power to entice them to re-sign — and that includes consulting them on the team’s next coaching hire, at least in a minimal capacity.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”