Reports: Issues existed between Serge Ibaka and Thunder, trade won’t affect Kevin Durant’s decision

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The Thunder traded Serge Ibaka to the Magic for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova.

The biggest question: What did Kevin Durant think?

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Ibaka had grown unhappy with his role, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports, and was considered likely to leave as an unrestricted free agent in 2017. Though Ibaka had not requested a trade, it was reasonable to expect that such a request could be on the horizon.

The first thing to understand is that the trade never would have been made if there was a chance it would have affected Durant’s decision in free agency; it won’t, said a person close to the All-Star and former MVP.

Royce Young of ESPN:

But it’s also about Ibaka, and the stuttering relationship he had in the locker room in OKC.

Again, what does that Durant guy think? His relationship with Ibaka never existed anywhere really than on the court, and both with Durant and Westbrook, Ibaka was often a target of on-court rebuking. The Thunder stars were often frustrated with Ibaka’s mental mistakes, with the heated arguments breaking out in huddles regularly. Durant is a team player, and defends anyone wearing the same jersey as him, but behind the scenes he was always open to moving Ibaka. In the summer of 2013, Durant spent a week working out with Kevin Love, and told some close to him he’d trade Ibaka for Love.

Kevin Love was way more valuable than Ibaka in 2013. Love made the All-NBA second team the following season. Ibaka received two votes. Wanting to trade Ibaka for Love does not mean Durant had a problem with Ibaka.

Of course, it doesn’t mean Durant didn’t have a problem with Ibaka.

Likewise, Durant and Russell Westbrook lashing out at Ibaka on the court doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem between them and Ibaka. Durant and Westbrook sometimes go after each other about breakdowns, and they love each other. That’s just the culture of the team.

Again, that doesn’t mean it was the same with Ibaka.

Some of this feels like the too-common tactic of demonizing a player or coach on his way out of town. If the Thunder leak negative things about Ibaka now, their trade looks better.

That also doesn’t mean the reports are untrue.

There’s a lot of give and take here.

I think the Thunder got good value for Ibaka, but I also think they might take a step back in the short term. Even if Durant and Westbrook truly had problems with Ibaka, they might miss him more than they realize. Not many players can protect the rim and space the floor like Ibaka. Ibaka’s shot-blocking covered some of Westbrook’s defensive mistakes, and both stars benefitted from Ibaka’s 3-point shooting pulling a defender from a paint.

Oladipo is an upgrade at shooting guard, and he and Durant share a D.C. connection. Ilyasova can shoot 3s and take charges if he’s not waived due to his barely guaranteed contract. Sabonis can score inside and rebound as he adjusts to the NBA. Steven Adams can fill a bigger role inside.

But Ibaka was important to Oklahoma City’s success the last several years. At minimum, there will be an adjustment period.

Does Durant really want to play through that? He’d also have to adjust with a new team, but the Thunder no longer offer as much comfort in their fit.

If you take Berger’s source at his word, this trade won’t affect Durant in free agency. If true, that’d be a little disappointing for Oklahoma City. The Thunder had to hope it’d improve their odds – and maybe it will once they have a chance to sell Durant on the deal. They seem pretty skilled at promoting their spin of it.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.