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Thunder’s reported goal: Extend Russell Westbrook’s contract, sign Blake Griffin

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Why did the Thunder rescind Dion Waiters‘ qualify offer?

To prevent him from unilaterally accepting it and reducing the cap space they need to renegotiate and extend Russell Westbrook‘s contract. And that’s only one component of Oklahoma City’s plan.

Not only do the Thunder want to re-do Westbrook’s deal, they hope to parlay that into signing Blake Griffin.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The move protects salary cap space for the Thunder’s primary offseason objective, league sources said: persuading five-time All-Star guard Russell Westbrook to renegotiate his contract, which would eliminate his 2017 free agency.

For Westbrook, the most likely scenario for a renegotiation would be to use the Thunder’s cap space to guarantee he will stay under contract with the Thunder through the 2017-18 season. This would give Oklahoma City the chance to recruit one of its top targets – 2017 free agent and Oklahoma native Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers – to partner with Westbrook, league sources said.

Convincing Westbrook to extend his contract won’t be easy. Neither will signing Griffin. Pulling off both moves? It’s fine to dream big, but the odds are always against completing these maneuvers.

The 2017-18 salary-cap projection dropping gives Oklahoma City a chance, though.

Westbrook is slated to earn $17,769,374 next season. As long as the Thunder have $8,770,726 in cap space — which they could get by renouncing Waiters, signing him to a lower salary than his cap hold or trading — they can renegotiate Westbrook’s salary up to his max of $26,540,100.

Of course, Oklahoma City wouldn’t give Westbrook a raise without getting something in return: Westbrook agreeing to extend his contract and forgo 2017 free agency.

The most Westbrook could earn in 2017-18 with a renegotiation and extension is $28,530,608. His max in 2017 free agency projects to be $28.8 million. That $269,393 difference is obviously a kick in the bucket compared to the $8,770,726 salary increase he’d get this year.

Two big caveats:

1. The NBA’s projections of revenue estimates, which determines the salary cap and max salaries, tend to be conservative and increase as the fiscal year progresses. Likely, Westbrook’s max as a 2017 free agent will be more than $28.8 million.

2. A new Collective Bargaining Agreement could be in effect by Westbrook’s free agency, and that could change everything. With Michele Roberts’ comments about the max and the union’s executive committee including Chris Paul, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Carmelo Anthony, there’s a good chance conditions are more favorable to superstars like Westbrook. So, locking into a multi-deal under current conditions might not be wise.

And then there’s Griffin.

His tenure with the Clippers appears to be on shakier ground than ever. His last season was marred by punching a trainerinjury, his teammates making a run with him sidelined and trade rumors.

He’ll almost certainly opt out of his contract after the season, and returning to his native Oklahoma could hold appeal. It’d certainly be more intriguing if Westbrook stays — and the potential of adding Griffin might be the splash the Thunder need to keep Westbrook.

But the timing is tricky.

Westbrook would have to renegotiate and extend his contract by Feb. 28. In all practicality, he’ll have to do it this offseason. If Westbrook isn’t amenable to renegotiating and extending, Oklahoma City will want to use its cap space to upgrade the team elsewhere.

Westbrook can add up to three years to his contract, but Griffin won’t be a free agent until July. Would Westbrook agree to stay without a commitment from Griffin? How many additional years would Westbrook accept? Would Griffin sign with the Thunder if Westbrook is only locked up for one more year? Would Westbrook extend for multiple years and risk getting trapped on a declining team that doesn’t add Griffin?

And on and on the circle goes.

This is a long shot. It also might be Oklahoma City’s best shot.

Greek Freak makes himself at home in Paris, scores 30 points, Bucks beat Hornets

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PARIS (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 12 rebounds and the NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks beat the Charlotte Hornets 116-103 on Friday night in the first NBA regular-season game in France.

Milwaukee improved to 40-6 with its eighth straight victory. The Bucks have the best 46-game start in franchise history. They were 39-7 in 1970-71 when they went on to win the NBA championship.

Eric Bledsoe added 20 points and five assists for the Bucks.

Malik Monk led Charlotte with 31 points. The Hornets have lost eight in a row.

Milwaukee rallied to tie it at 78 going into the fourth quarter. Pat Connaughton put the Bucks in front with a dunk in the fourth. Then Antetokounmpo got going, drawing a foul as he slalomed through the defense.

 

Report: Needing depth at center, Dallas trades for Willie Cauley-Stein from Golden State

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Dallas took a big hit this week when center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles. The Mavericks’ starting center was a critical pick-and-roll partner with Luka Doncic, a roll man and vertical threat that allowed Kristaps Porzingis to space the floor (along with other Dallas shooters), plus Powell was a solid team defender.

Willie Cauley-Stein is going to get a chance to fill that role.

Golden State is trading Cauley-Stein to Dallas for a second-round pick.

Dallas just made a trade for Justin Patton to waive him and clear out a roster spot for this trade.

Cauley-Stein is averaging an efficient 7.9 points and 6.2 rebounds a game for Golden State. More importantly for Dallas, he provides the athletic dive man, a threat on the roll they need to keep things open for Doncic.

Dallas could have waited out the market to try and land a better center, but this gives them a reliable fit for minimal cost (a late second-round pick, they kept Golden State’s own second rounder). Cauley-Stein will split time at the five with Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic.

For those of you crunching the numbers at home:

For Golden State, in the short term, this move creates a couple of open roster spots. One of those likely will be used to re-sign Marquese Chriss, who was waived last week. The other roster spot likely will go to Ky Bowman.

Golden State adds a pick and a trade exception for sending out a player that was not part of their long-term plans anyway.

In trade about money/roster space, Mavericks send Isaiah Roby to Thunder for Justin Patton, cash

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We have a trade…

That shifts things around on the end of the bench in Dallas so they could create a roster spot forWillie Cauley-Stein (a trade that was announced later). A trade that is mostly about saving some and rolling the dice on a project in OKC.

Dallas is sending Isaiah Roby to OKC for Justin Patton, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What is really going on here?

For Dallas, this is about clearing out a roster spot, it plans to waive Patton. That roster spot is going to Willie Cauley-Stein in a trade with Golden State, that was just reported. The Mavericks lost center Dwight Powell to a torn Achilles this week and needed to bring in a player or two — via trade or free agency — to help bolster the existing front line of Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, and Boban Marjanovic. Here is Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News.

The move also clears out a little cash for Dallas.

In Oklahoma City, they get a young player to develop but also save some money.

Roby has not played in an NBA game yet. The rookie out of Nebraska — taken 45th overall last June — is a development project, but one who passes the eye test for an NBA power forward. He did a lot of things well in college — scoring, rebounding, works hard off the ball — but can he do that at an NBA level? He’s played in nine G-League games this season, averaging 9.2 points and 7 rebounds a game.

 

Bulls: Lauri Markkanen out 4-6 weeks

Lauri Markkanen
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Lauri Markkanen ranked No. 34 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years entering the season.

Instead of building toward that promise, Markkanen has underwhelmed. His shot just isn’t falling as hoped.

Now, the news get even worse.

Bulls:

The Bulls (2.5 games and two games out) have been hanging in the playoff race. But there was already little reason to believe they’d make a postseason push. Now, there’s even less rationale to predict a longshot postseason run.

Markkanen will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason. The 22-year-old can still fulfill his potential as a 7-foot shooter with defensive versatility. But he’s running out of time to show consistent contributions. That’ll make it tougher for Chicago to offer a satisfactory extension.

Two of the very things that could happen for the Bulls are Markkanen shaking off his extended slump and landing a high draft pick.

This could help with both.