Victor Oladipo’s first game provides hope for Thunder post-Durant

Associated Press
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder saw exactly what they need to move on after Kevin Durant: buckets in bunches from Victor Oladipo.

The 24-year-old guard scored 34 points in his debut on Monday as the Thunder began their first preseason without Durant in nearly a decade with a 142-137 overtime loss at Real Madrid.

Getting Oladipo off to a good start was clearly the Thunder’s focus for the game in the Spanish capital. He made 14 of 24 shots in 33 minutes and dished out five assists, while Westbrook left the team in his hands. Westbrook settled for 18 points in 22 minutes after sitting out the second and fourth quarters.

“I think (Oladipo) did a good job of playing aggressive,” Westbrook said of his new backcourt partner. “That’s the most important part of going out and competing, being aggressive, and that’s what we need for him to do.”

Consistently driving to the basket against the nine-time Euroleague champions, Oladipo led an offense that coach Billy Donovan is trying to remake after the departure of Durant and his superb shooting touch from long range.

The problems for Donovan came at the other end of the court. With shot-blocker Serge Ibaka no longer defending the paint after the Thunder traded him to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo and other players, Real Madrid roared back from an early 22-point deficit by scoring 92 points in the second half and overtime.

“We are a work in progress. We replaced faces on our team,” Donovan said. “We were very good offensively, we scored an enormous amount of points, but . they nearly scored 95 points in the second half. So, to me, it’s much, much more us being able to sustain a defensive intensity for the full 48 minutes.”

Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, the other players the Thunder acquired from Orlando for Ibaka, also played their first games under Donovan. The newly drafted Sabonis had seven points, five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.

Oladipo, taken second by the Magic in the 2013 draft, led the Thunder in scoring just ahead of forward Enes Kanter‘s 29 points, despite misfiring from distance. He hit only one of seven 3-point attempts.

Spanish rookie Alex Abrines, however, showed how important he could be to the team built around the driving duo of Oladipo and Westbrook by making four of his five 3-pointers.

“(Abrines) is going to be huge for us. We need him, the way he shoots the ball, the way he can open up the lane for me and Russ, the way he spreads the floor,” Oladipo said. “I still got room to improve there obviously. But, again, I feel that I am special in that aspect, that I can do a lot of things pretty good. So I’ve just got to keep growing, keep getting better.”

Next up, the Thunder head east to the Mediterranean coast for Wednesday’s game against Barcelona, Abrines’ team until he made the leap to the NBA in July.

It will then be back to the U.S. for four more preseason games before the Thunder’s season opener at the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 26.

Oladipo will have until Feb. 11 to prime his game for the return of Durant to Oklahoma City, this time in a Golden State Warriors uniform.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.