Report: Westbrook hasn’t told Thunder he wants to leave. But can they bet on that?

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Talk to people around the league and they are beyond convinced Russell Westbrook is not long for Oklahoma City. Many thought he was more likely than Kevin Durant to leave as a free agent, and that was before Durant bolted for Golden State. Beyond that, teams are convinced the Thunder can’t take the risk of losing Westbrook for nothing, too.

But around Oklahoma City, there is still optimism — maybe guarded optimism, but optimism — that Westbrook stays, something most recently reported by Anthony Slater at The Oklahoman.

Westbrook has given the Thunder no indication that he currently wants out. To the contrary, one source described him as ticked off about the Kevin Durant departure, determined for this new challenge and eager for the season to start: “He’s ready.”

Does anyone doubt the fierce competitor that is Westbrook plans to take advantage of the situation, play like a beast, put up crazy numbers (he’s a smart bet to lead the league in scoring) and take OKC as far as he can while he’s there? Of course he will.

That’s not the question, the dilemma facing Oklahoma City: Not saying you’re leaving is not the same as saying you are staying.

The Thunder would love for Westbrook to sign a contract extension, but he’s not going to do that — even if he wants to stay with OKC playing this season, becoming a free agent, then re-signing nets him two more guaranteed years and more than $75 million more guaranteed dollars.

The problem for the Thunder is this: Even if he wants to stay right now (and that’s up for debate), his mind could change. Or maybe he heads into free agency next summer like Durant did this one: He probably stays, but he just wants to listen to what other teams have to say. The Thunder can’t take that risk; they can’t lose two Hall of Fame level players for nothing.

Of course, trading Westbrook is not that simple, either. Westbrook can still be a free agent next summer. A source speaking to Celtics’ Blog laid it out perfectly:

“No team is going to pay a hefty price without getting a commitment from Westbrook,” the source said. “Someone may pay a cheaper price without a commitment, but OKC probably doesn’t do a deal like that.”

Westbrook probably wants to leave his options open for next summer. Which puts the Thunder in a bind. But hypothetically let’s say Westbrook’s agent finds a team that wants him and where he wants to be, and they privately assure said team Westbrook will re-sign: Then the question is the price it takes to get Westbrook. Think Carmelo Anthony leaving Denver — he got where he wanted to go, but the team was gutted, notes Slater at the Oklahoman.

But that’s where the Carmelo case serves as a cautionary tale for Westbrook. He’s hyper competitive and obsessed with winning. Forcing a trade could inhibit the future of his future team.

Let’s take the Lakers for example. He’s from Los Angeles and many have speculated about his desire to live and play there. The Lakers have a batch of young pieces that would intrigue any trade partner — such as DeAngelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. But wouldn’t Westbrook prefer to join a Laker team with them, not one that just gave them up? He could opt to wait until next offseason.

For Westbrook, if he is going to leave, it would be better to do so via free agency. Which comes back to the bind the Thunder find themselves in — move him now for less than he’s worth, or roll the dice that he stays. There are no easy answers.

But the sense around the league is the Thunder are most likely to move him before the season starts, if they are going to do it at all.

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.