Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

Now what for Thunder? Trading Russell Westbrook could be on the table, reportedly

31 Comments

One year ago, the NBA world was celebrating the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Small market OKC had gambled on trading for Paul George when his people had warned everyone he wanted to go to Southern California. Then, after one season next to Russell Westbrook, George signed up for four more. He was staying, the Thunder had their two stars and were relevant again. Oklahoma City had won.

One year later, just earlier this week, George’s agent Aaron Mintz walked into the office of team president Sam Presti and demanded a trade. Specifically to the Los Angeles Clippers. George wanted to go home after all and now team up with his friend Kawhi Leonard. The Thunder were flat-out blindsided by the request. George denied this was about issues between him and Westbrook (despite some rumors of disenfranchisement between the two).

Whatever the reason he asked out, the Thunder had no choice but to comply, a season with an unhappy George moping around would be bad for everybody.

Presti played the Clippers off the Raptors and got a serious haul: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (who the Clippers are very high on), Danilo Gallinari, and five first-round picks (the Clippers first-round pick unprotected in 2022, 2024 and 2026, the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 pick and Miami’s lottery-protected 2023 first-round pick, plus the right to swap picks in 2023 and 2025).

The question facing the Thunder is now what?

They are already a team $16.2 million into the luxury tax, something ownership would pay to stay in a title chase in the wide-open West. But now?

Do they try to stay relevant, watch Russell Westbrook chase another triple-double season, and count on Steven Adams, Gallinari, and the rest of the role players can push them into the playoffs again? The Thunder, as currently constructed, are not a bad team. Yet, even if they make the postseason, after two straight years of first-round eliminations is the goal a third one of those, the most likely outcome for this roster in a very deep West?

Or, do they think about trading Russell Westbrook and hitting the reset button?

Westbrook and his agent sat down with Presti to talk about all of that already, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City’s All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and his agent, Thad Foucher, are engaged with Thunder GM Sam Presti about the next steps of Westbrook’s career, including the possibility of a trade prior to the start of next season, league sources told ESPN.

The two sides have 11 years of history together and both understand that the time has likely come to explore trade possibilities for Westbrook, league sources tell ESPN.

Wojnarowski says the chance of the retooling of the roster, as was done after Kevin Durant left, is “unlikely.”

Trading Westbrook, especially before next season, is much easier said than done.

Westbrook is owed $38.2 million this season and then $41 million in 2020-21, $43.9 million in 2021-22, and a player option for $46.7 million in 2022-23. Or, 169.8 million over the next four years taking him out to age 35, assuming he picks up his option year (which is a safe assumption).

Throw in his ball-dominant style that has frustrated some teammates in the past and not every organization is going to want to get in on the Westbrook sweepstakes. That said, next summer is a weak free agent class and there will be teams that will have cap space them but decide it’s worth it to take on that salary now to land a superstar.

Whatever happens with the Thunder, Presti and company will not be rushed into a poor decision. There will be no immediate action in reaction to George demanding a trade. Presti is too smart for that.

But keep an eye on the Thunder as we move through the summer. Westbrook is on the market now.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

Leave a comment

There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
2 Comments

Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

4 Comments

Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
8 Comments

Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.