Too much Thunder offense leads to 119-108 win, Oklahoma City up 3-1 in series

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Coming into this series the big question was could Dallas get stops. This series featured the second best offense in the NBA this season in Oklahoma City vs. a pedestrian defense in Dallas (16th in NBA). Dallas’ defense was worse after the All-Star break by almost three points per 100 possessions than it was earlier in the season.

That difference was the issue again Saturday night in Dallas.

The Mavericks could not stop the top Thunder scorers — Russell Westbrook finished with 25 points and 15 assists, Kanter had 28 points off the bench, and Kevin Durant added 19 points. The Thunder ran a lot of spread pick-and-roll to expose the Dallas bigs inability to defend on the perimeter, and it worked. OKC finished with an offensive rating of 125.3 (points per 100 possessions) in this game.

They also finished with a 119-108 win that has the Thunder up 3-1 in the series. Oklahoma City can close out the series at home in Game 5 Monday night.

The game saw Durant’s streak of games where he scored 20 or more points end at 67 games, he finished one point short. He didn’t get the chance to pad that number in the final minute after he was ejected for a blow to the head of Justin Anderson. The league will review this foul and could suspend him for Game 5 (although that seems extreme, this was a guy going for a block from behind and not making an intentional blow to the head).

Dallas, coming off a hard-fought win in Game 3, did a good job of keeping the tempo under control, and their effort can’t be questioned. Particularly Dirk Nowitzki who finished the game with 27 points, eight rebounds, and he left every ounce of energy he had on the court. At age 37, he was the best and most energetic Mavericks player — he played it like it could be the last Dallas home game of the season (and maybe his last home playoff game in the building).

But he can’t defend like he used to, and the Thunder dragged him into every pick-and-roll they could. He was paired with David Lee for stretches, and that was a defensive disaster. Dallas got some good bench play out of Salah Mejri, however, he injured his hip and had to leave the game. His status for Game 5 is unknown.

The Thunder got 12 points and eight rebounds from Steven Adams, and he led the Thunder’s continued physical play that has bothered Dallas. That’s not going to change no matter how much Rick Carlisle complains.

He’s not going to have to complain about it much longer.

Report: Suns tell Chris Paul they intend to waive him, making him free agent

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There was a lot of talk in league circles that the Suns would try to trade Chris Paul around the NBA Draft — he still had $60 million over two years on the books, but only $15.8 million of it is guaranteed (all of that this season) with a June 28 guarantee date. Paul for a couple of rotation players would be a way for Phoenix to add depth to the roster.

Instead, the Suns informed Paul they intend to waive him before the deadline, making CP3 a free agent, reports Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report and Yahoo.

Soon after Haynes’ Tweet, other reports from Suns sources came out saying they are exploring options with Paul of which waiving him is just one, reports Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic and Shams Charania of the Athletic. The idea is the Suns would explore trade options — for Paul and Deandre Ayton — but waiving before June 28 could happen, according to the reports.

https://twitter.com/ShamsCharania/status/1666577080736153600

So many burning questions about this.

The first question is, why did this leak now? Why wouldn’t the Suns keep their plans quiet through the NBA Draft on June 22 — when trades will be flying around — in case CP3 fits into a deal that worked for them? Another team looking to save money might have been open to a trade. If not, the Suns tell Paul they plan to waive him closer to his deadline.

This leak changes the dynamic and market for Paul.

Which may have been the plan. Paul’s camp and the Suns met to talk on Wednesday (reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski), it’s easy to draw a line after that where Paul’s camp leaked this angle to put pressure toward a buyout, which would be his preferred option because it makes him a free agent. However it went down, this it’s a strategic blunder by the Suns this got out. (Unless the plan is to waive Paul then have him re-sign with the team for the taxpayer mid-level exception or less, which would make sense for the Suns but doesn’t sound like what Paul wants.)

Another question: Would the Suns outright waive him (saving $15 million in salary next season, but not freeing up much room to replace him) or waive and stretch him, which keeps him on the books for five years but at just $3.16 million a season? The big difference is the Suns can’t re-sign him if he is stretched, they can if he is waived outright.

After he is waived it leaves the Suns with just five players currently under contract for next season: Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Landry Shamet and Cameron Payne.

The other burning question: Where does Chris Paul play next season?

Assuming he is waived and becomes a free agent, the obvious landing spot is with the Lakers to play alongside Paul’s good friend LeBron James. CP3 has been wanting to return to his home and family in Southern California, the Lakers are a contender (at least after the All-Star break) in need of a game-manging point guard. Signing Paul to a deal (again for an exception, far less than the $30.8 million CP3 was under contract for) makes LeBron happy, but still leaves the Lakers room to re-sign Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura without going above the second luxury tax apron. 

Other teams would be picking up the phone and calling Paul, but the Lakers would be the frontrunners.

Paul, who will be 38 next season, averaged 13.9 points and 8.9 assists per game, and is still a quality point guard, but his skills on both ends showed clear slippage from his All-NBA years. Father time is winning the race. Wherever he plays next season, fans and the front office have to have reasonable expectations, but they are still getting a good point guard and one of the highest IQ players in the league. He would help the Lakers, the Suns and many other teams.

Where he lands is now a much more interesting subplot.

Is a rebuild coming to the Washington Wizards? League executives think so.

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The Washington Wizards have been stuck in the NBA’s middle ground for years (at least since 2018), with a push from ownership on down to make the playoffs rather than go through a rebuild. The result was 35 wins last season, 35 the season before that, 25 before that, and you get the idea. A team that has underperformed with Bradley Beal on it.

Is that about to change under new GM Michael Winger? No decision about the short term of the franchise has been made, Winger told Josh Robbins of The Athletic (in a fantastic profile of the man). Big decisions will tip Winger’s hand this summer, with Kyle Kuzma a free agent and Kristaps Porzingis able to opt-out and reportedly looking for an extension.

However, outside the organization, the expectation is that a rebuild is coming in the next couple of years.

Many rival executives The Athletic has polled informally over the last two weeks expect Winger to undertake a full rebuild — if not this offseason, then within the next year.

Asked about his plans for the team, Winger says he’s leaving his options open.

“The raw, unfiltered truth is, I haven’t yet crafted the immediate vision for the franchise,” he says. “There are a lot of talented and high-character players on the team. I want to get to know them a little bit. The construct of a team isn’t just a matter of what is demonstrated on the court. It’s not just a matter of the box score. Team dynamics are personal, and I think that I need to understand those things before hatching an actionable plan. And I know that that’s not necessarily measurable in this moment. But it is the truth.”

If a rebuild is coming, are the Wizards better off re-signing Kuzma and Porzingis to tradable market-value contracts they can move in a year or two? Maybe spend a season running it back, see if this team can stay healthy and what they can do, then start making moves? Or, is it time to hit the reset button now and have a frank conversation with Bradley Beal?

One way or another, the long-postponed rebuild in Washington is coming. It just might not be immediate.

Lillard said he expects to be in Portland next season, so everyone starts trade speculation. Again.

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Everyone wants Damian Lillard to leave Portland more than Damian Lillard wants to leave Portland. We trash elite players for being mercenaries jumping teams, then the minute one is loyal, everyone questions why he would do such a thing. Welcome to NBA Twitter.

The latest on Lillard is just more of the same.

Lillard appeared on Showtime Sports The Last Stand with Brian Custer and, when asked if he expects to be a Portland Trail Blazer when next season starts, he said, “I do.” This echoes everything he has said all along, he wants to finish his career in Portland (the man just built a new house there). Lillard then reiterated what he also has consistently said — he wants a chance to compete for it all in Portland. If the Trail Blazers organization decides to go in another direction, then the conversations start.

“We got an opportunity, asset-wise, to build a team that can compete. … If we can’t do that, then it’s a separate conversation we would have to have.”

But Brian Custer leaned into the drama (although he did wait nearly 50 minutes into the pod to get to the topic), and so before asking about Lillard staying in Portland, this is how he phrases a trade question to Lillard:

“Everybody keeps saying Damian Lillard is going to be traded to the Knicks, Damian Lillard’s gonna be traded to the Heat, Damian Lillard should be traded to the Celtics, Damian Lillard’s gonna be traded to the Nets. If one of those trades went through, out of those teams, which one would you be like, that’s not too bad?”

Lillard could have, probably should have shot the premise of the question down. Instead, he’s a good guy and played along and said, “Miami obviously” and praised Bam Adebayo and called him “my dog.” He then said the same thing about Mikal Bridges, now with the Nets (Bridges is a guy long rumored to be a Trail Blazers trade target, maybe with the No. 3 pick in this draft).

All of this is nothing new. Lillard hopes to stay with the Trail Blazers and for them to put a team around him that can compete at the highest levels of the conference. They have young players and the No. 3 pick this year to make a deal for a second star (although some reports say the Blazers are not making Shaedon Sharpe available in any trade, it might take that to get the Nets to even consider a Bridges deal, and even then it may not be enough). If Portland’s front office doesn’t do that this offseason, then Lillard and the franchise need to weigh their options.

That won’t stop the speculation, even from former teammate CJ McCollum.

For now, Lillard wants to be a Trail Blazer and we should celebrate that.

It’s not just Harden, Rockets reportedly eyeing VanVleet, Lopez, Brooks

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The Houston Rockets are done rebuilding, ownership and management want to shift gears to picking up some wins and making the playoffs. That means using their league-best $60 million in cap space to add difference-making veterans to the young core of Jalen Green, Alperen Şengün, Jabari Smith Jr. and whoever they draft at No. 4 (if they keep the pick).

And it’s not just James Harden they are going after, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

…sharp-shooting center Brook Lopez, is a veteran free agent on Houston’s radar, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

There will be no shortage of players on the market connected to the Rockets between now and the opening of free agency June 30… The Rockets, though, are prioritizing adding a proven table-setting point guard, then looking to acquire upgrades at the wing and center position, sources said. And for that, should Harden ultimately stick with the 76ers, Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet has often been linked to Houston as a secondary option who could perhaps slot into the team’s lead ball-handling role.

On the wing, the Rockets do hold an interest in sharpshooter Cam Johnson, sources said, although Brooklyn personnel has indicated the Nets’ plan to match any realistic offer sheet for the restricted free agent, who was part of the franchise’s return for Kevin Durant. Dillons Brooks, last seen as Memphis’ starting small forward, is another Rockets target, sources told Yahoo Sports, and appears to be a more realistic candidate to join Houston this summer.

There’s a lot to digest there.

Milwaukee is facing some hard decisions as their championship roster is getting old and expensive fast, with the restrictive new CBA’s second tax apron looming. As Fischer notes, the Bucks are expected to extend Khris Middleton, who is owed $40.4 million next season (player option), and Jrue Holiday is extension eligible soon. Lopez will demand a big salary, he finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and is a floor-spacing big who averaged 15.9 points per game last season. The Bucks would struggle to win without him, but at age 35 how will that contract age?

A lot of teams are eyeing Fred VanVleet and Toronto wants to keep him, he will have options. A lot of teams are watching Cam Johnson as a restricted free agent, but the Nets like him as part of their future and are not expected to let him walk. Dillon Brooks will not be back with the Grizzlies as a free agent, and for all the drama he is an elite on-ball defender and energy player who could help the Rockets.

Houston needs the James Harden domino to fall, then they can see what they have left to spend elsewhere. But one way or another, that will be a very different roster next season.