The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be the forgotten contender out West. They’ve got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka healthy, a strong set of role players, they should be in the mix. There are questions — can Billy Donovan elevate this team as the coach? — but they should not be left off the list.
In a good sign, Durant and Westbrook got 10 of the guys together in Los Angeles for a week of workouts. From Barry Trammel of the Oklahoman (hat tip Eye on Basketball).
“It was really cool,” said the president of the fraternity, fellow by the name of Kevin Durant. “It was fun, good to see everybody. Haven’t seen all the guys since the end of the season.”
Durant chatted on the phone for a few minutes Thursday about the off-season workouts he and his pals put together this week. Ten Thunder players are working out together in an old gym on the UCLA campus. Working on their games. Connecting and reconnecting with teammates and coaches, new and old….
“Feels like we’re coming in at the same time,” Durant said. “We always want that tight-knit family atmosphere. We’ve had that (in the past). It can always get better. This week was a step in the right direction for us. We all enjoy being around each other. That was the best part of it.”
NBA players, sometimes teammates, getting together in a small group (maybe three) is not uncommon. Especially at UCLA, which has one of the best off-season runs going. However getting 10 teammates together, working out and bonding in July, is very rare.
It’s a good sign in you’re a Thunder fan.
The Thunder need to stay healthy after a season where they got more than their fair share of injuries. They need Donovan to bring a modern offense to the table. They need their defense to be elite. They need the Enes Kanter/Steven Adams center rotation to work. They need some breaks to go their way in a West stacked with contenders (the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets are in the mix, too).
But 10 guys getting together in July? That’s a very good place to start.
Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.
So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.
Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.
After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.
Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.
Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.
This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.
Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.
Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.
Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.
Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.
“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”
Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make. That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.
If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.
The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?
That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.
If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.
The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.
Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.
There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.
That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.
Pascal Siakam is going to be the face of the Toronto Raptors going forward.
This was expected. Toronto was never going to let its young star slip away; the only questions were when it a contract extension got done and the price.
The answers came Saturday, with the Raptors and Siakam’s agents reaching terms on what will be a four-year, $129.9 million max extension for the reigning Most Improved Player. Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe of ESPN broke the news.
There are no player or team options, this is a straight four years.
Last season, his third in the league, Siakam made a huge leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, took on a larger role as a shot creator, played impressive wing defense, and was a key part of the Raptors winning the first title in franchise history. He is at the heart of their future and a guy the Raptors wanted to keep through whatever rebuilding/retooling process comes in the next few years.
The Raptors could have played it out, and let Siakam go to restricted free agency next summer. However, in what will be a down free agent market, some team would have tried to poach the young wing — a real position of need around the league — with a max offer. The Raptors would have matched, but all that drama might have created bad blood. Maybe the Raptors overpaid a little, but they get to keep their guy and have him happy.
Siakam is the third player to get a max extension to their rookie contract this summer. Both Ben Simmons (Philadelphia) and Jamal Murray (Denver) signed five-year, $170 million max extensions. Siakam decided to take one year fewer, but also hits free agency again a little earlier.