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Rumor: Paul George is “gone” in Oklahoma City

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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George recently said it’s too soon for him to think about his pending free agency. We knew that was just talk, especially given the amount of time and server space that’s been dedicated to writing about rumors George is destined to choose somewhere more to his liking, probably the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, with the Thunder season over thanks to the Utah Jazz, we can talk openly once again about where George might be headed. And as we’ve heard before, there are rumblings that George is soon to make his exit from Oklahoma City.

Speaking on his radio show this week, ESPN’s Ryen Russillo said that his source close to the team believes George leaving the Thunder is all but a done deal.

Via ESPN (transcribed by Slam):

Russillo: “Today is the first time I’ve heard from anybody that I trust that George is gone.”

To L.A.?

Russillo: “I don’t know where. It’s a ‘He’s gone’ deal.”

I heard (ESPN reporter) Royce Young say George thinks he’s leaning toward staying. George made it seem in the press conference after Game 6 that he genuinely was torn and maybe even wanted to stay…

Russillo: “I’m skeptical of sharing it […] because all of us watching (the press conference) were like, ‘Why would you even come back to this thing?’

“And I was like, Where is he going then? And (the source) was like, ‘All we know is that he’s gone.’ […]

“I know what Royce Young said, and I saw that coverage of it. Royce is fantastic and he would know better than I because he’s there.

“But Paul George also is somebody who knows what to say. But I wouldn’t trust anything he says.”

George going to the Lakers is the favorite hypothetical scenario, especially when you look at the other teams with enough cap space to sign him to a deal outright. It’s basically the Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Indiana Pacers. The Sixers are the most intriguing out of that group, obviously, but the rumor there is more about LeBron James.

So if George picks the Lakers, where does that leave the Thunder? It’s not a great position to be in considering the teams preparing for the Golden State Warriors’ window to close. That includes the Houston Rockets and younger teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves. OKC is sort of caught in the middle and they’re probably about to lose their second-best player.

The joke is that Sam Presti drafted three MVPs and managed to keep the worst one. That skips over the context of losing Kevin Durant, although trading James Harden in order to keep Serge Ibaka will not be a career highlight for the Thunder GM. More importantly, the roster construction for Oklahoma City is patchwork outside of Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson.

Hell, if Carmelo Anthony really does opt-in to the final year of his contract and continue to be a stickler about being a starter, the Thunder might take a bigger dip than we expect next year without George. Watching Westbrook go nuclear on people could be hard to indulgently watch if the team around him gets worse.

So while the grabbing headline here appears to be George, the continued degradation of the Thunder roster following a high water mark in 2012 and a quick tumble following Durant’s departure might be the real story long-term.

We’ll have to wait to see what George does, but no doubt it won’t be in the best interest of Thunder fans.

Michael Jordan takes another shot, enters high-end tequila business with Jeanie Buss, other owners

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Michael Jordan’s drink of choice? Tequila. And not the cheap stuff poured into a weak house margarita at a tacky chain Mexican restaurant, we’re talking the good, sipping tequila. The stuff the rest of us think we can afford about three drinks into the night already.

Now Jordan is getting into the tequila business with several other NBA owners — the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss, the Bucks’ Wes Edens, and the Celtics Wyc Grousbeck plus his then-fiancée-now-wife Emilia Fazzalari — and the brand has just launched.

Chloe Sorvino at Forbes Magazine had a more detailed breakdown about how this idea came together over a dinner they all shared at an owners’ meeting in New York in 2016.

By the time they were seated, this multibillion-dollar table was discussing the specific characteristics they wished they could find on the shelf—a tequila with a smooth, long finish like a fine cognac or whiskey.

“That was when we realized there was an opportunity in the market to create a new tequila, a better tequila,” says Fazzalari, who spent 29 years in financial services, in part developing information platforms for the energy sector, and has been heading up the project as CEO. “We let our hair down and became true friends that night.”

Tequila-fueled gamesmanship aside, the idea for Cincoro came at the right time. The United States consumes more tequila than any other nation–about 18.3 million cases last year, or 56% of global consumption, according to consultancy IWSR Drinks Market Analysis… The ultra-premium side of the American tequila market (where the starting price is $45 a bottle) is also growing fast—a 19% increase each year since 2013.

Having Jordan’s name and brand attached to the product also can help sales, as Nike will happily attest.

Maybe this works, maybe it doesn’t — much like the restaurant business, the liquor business is a fickle one that tends to defy expectations. These people have the money to afford a little loss, but they didn’t get rich taking losses very often.

Just expect if you’re sitting in the high-end seats near the court this season to watch LeBron James or Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kemba Walker, there will be certain, somewhat pricy tequila available on the menu.

NBA lowers 2020-21 salary-cap projection to $116M

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The Knicks, Raptors, Hawks and Grizzlies project to have major cap room next summer.

Just a little less now.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The salary cap won’t be set until the summer it takes effect. So, there’s plenty of time for the exact number to fluctuate. But this projection was updated after evaluating how teams spent this summer – a key factor.

For perspective, the salary cap is currently $109,140,000. So, going to $116 million next offseason would still be a significant increase – just not as large as previously expected.

Next year’s free agent class is weak. It’s Anthony Davis then… maybe not a single other star. So, small shifts in the cap projection will create only minor ripples.

Everyone has their eyes on the 2021-22 cap. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Bradley Beal, Rudy Gobert, Victor Oladipo, Jrue Holiday, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan could all be unrestricted free agents that summer. That amount of talent availability requires careful planning.

Magic exercise Markelle Fultz’s $12M team option

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Magic general manager John Hammond said he had “no idea” when Markelle Fultz will play.

A couple encouraging assessments and an uneventful video later, and Orlando is guaranteeing Fultz $12,288,697 in 2020-21.

Magic:

That’s the power Fultz still holds as a former No. 1 pick. Even Anthony Bennett had his third-year option exercised. (He just never made it to the third season of his rookie-scale contract, taking a buyout instead.) It’s tough to cut bait on premier young talent.

But Fultz’s NBA career has been so miserable so far. With the rookie scale increasing under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, he’s due a significant salary.

Because the 76ers drafted Fultz, Orlando had more leeway to decline the option without embarrassment. But the Magic are clearly committed to Fultz.

They had until Oct. 31 to decide on these options, which are for the 2020-21 season. These were easy calls on Jonathan Isaac ($7,362,566) and Mohamed Bamba ($5,969,040). But it’s nearly unfathomable Orlando didn’t evaluate the mysterious Fultz in training camp, preseason and even into the regular season before deciding on his future.

Perhaps, the Magic believe the early show of faith will give Fultz much-needed confidence. If so, this is an expensive bet on a player totally unproven at this level.

At least there’s major upside to it.

Rockets owner: Harden and Westbrook talk like brothers ‘instead of one thinking that he’s the mentor’

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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta hasn’t hidden his discontent with Chris Paul‘s shortcomings.

Sure, Fertitta says plenty of niceties about Paul, whom Houston traded to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook. But even Fertitta’s optimism about James Harden and Westbrook – who were friends as kids and played together in Oklahoma City – includes what sounds like criticism of Paul.

Fertitta, via Sam Amick of The Athletic:

James and Russ go back a long ways in California, so they can talk to each other like brothers, you know, instead of one (player) thinking that he’s the mentor. I just think it’s going to go well.

At the very least, it’ll be impossible to convince anyone that assessment is uninfluenced by seeing Paul throughout the previous two seasons. At most, it’s a deliberate shot at Paul.

Paul has always been the general. As he has gotten older, that has bended into being the mentor.

It’s often very helpful. Paul’s focus, discipline and intensity have generally served his teams well. His teammates have benefited from following his lead.

But Paul can also wear on people. I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened with Harden, who’s better than Paul and had established himself as Houston’s franchise player before Paul ever arrived. Paul had never even gotten past the second round before teaming with Harden. If you were Harden, how much would you want to hear Paul telling you the right way to do things? There were clearly issues between the two.

Now, Harden and Westbrook get a fresh start together. They sound quite eager about teaming up.

But don’t assume it will definitely go better. It’s like friends becoming roommates. Sometimes, it strengthens the relationship. Sometimes, it ruins the relationship. It’s often difficult to tell which way it will go until moving in.

Remember, Harden and Paul were initially enthusiastic about their partnership.