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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.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.

 

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.