Without Durant, does Oklahoma City have to trade Russell Westbrook, rebuild?

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Oklahoma City came within a game of being in the NBA Finals, where they certainly would have been at least very competitive.

Within a year, they could be another rebuilding team in a small market.

It’s all in the hands of Russell Westbrook.

Kevin Durant has decided to play for the Golden State Warriors. There is an understandable sense of shock and betrayal by Thunder fans — they look back at the final minutes of Game 6 in the Western Conference Finals and realize that has forever changed the franchise. KD praised Oklahoma City on his way out the door, but for Thunder fans it feels like Durant went back on his words and who he said he was.

That doesn’t change the fact that in the coming weeks and months, Oklahoma City’s front office faces a very difficult decision:

Do they need to trade Westbrook? If so, then it’s time to begin a total rebuild.

The trade Westbrook question comes down to this: Does he want to stay? Westbrook is a free agent next summer. The Thunder need to sit down with Westbrook and his agent/team soon and get a sense of his plans. They can offer him a contract renegotiation and extension, something Brian Windhorst at ESPN says they will propose. They can give him three more years and add $8 million more to the deal, according to the report. However, even if he wants to stay, he will not take the extension because under the CBA he makes way more money becoming a free agent then re-signing with his team.

There is a sense from some in the league that Westbrook was always drawn to the bright lights of a bigger market, and with Durant gone he would bolt, too.

That’s not the feeling inside the Thunder front office. They have felt Durant was the one feeling the pull of outside forces to leave. Now the Thunder is Westbrook’s team, OKC believes he wants that and they can sell him on staying because and being the lone star with all the top billing.

However, if Westbrook says he’s going to take meetings with other teams next summer and hasn’t made up his mind, then the Thunder need to look at the trade market for Westbrook to get something for him now and jump start a rebuild. The Thunder would not get equal value back in a trade, but if they feel he might leave next summer they need to get some return rather than the nothing they get if he leaves as a free agent.

Westbrook would have some leverage in this trade — because he is a free agent next summer, if he tells a market “I will not re-sign with you” said team would be foolish to give up assets to get him.

If he does want a change, there are a couple of star-hungry teams that may entice Westbrook. Boston just landed Al Horford, and they are loaded with young assets and draft picks that could interest the Thunder. Put Westbrook and Horford with Isaiah Thomas and good role players, and it’s a team that could threaten Cleveland in the East.

Westbrook’s hometown Lakers is another option. The sides could exchange point guards — D'Angelo Russell — and the Lakers have other interesting young pieces that Thunder may value. Even with Westbrook and young players like Brandon Ingram, the Lakers would be a few years away (certainly they are no immediate threat to Golden State, and they would be worse than OKC with Westbrook). The pitch in L.A. is Westbrook would take over for Kobe Bryant as the face of the franchise, and this could be a very good team in a few years with other smart moves by management (Westbrook would need to decide if he trusts the current Laker management to make those moves).

There are numerous other teams that would be interested as well, from Miami through New York. Westbrook and the Thunder would have options.

Oklahoma City just hopes not to go down that road.

OKC faces other tough questions, too. The big one: Should they match offers from other teams to keep Dion Waiters (or just re-sign the restricted free agent)?

It sucks in the wake of the emotional, heartbreaking loss of Durant for Thunder fans to contemplate moving their other star, but Thunder management has no choice. Durant made his decision, and it has forced other, tough ones on the Thunder. Decisions with no perfect answer.

But in the end the call on Westbrook is clear cut: If he’s going to leave next summer, they need to get something for him while they can.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.