Thunder get busy in rebuild

Former Thunder players Kelly Oubre and Danny Green
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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

In cap-dork circles, the Seattle SuperSonics’ Kurt Thomas trades of more than a decade ago still hold legendary status. Seattle got a first-round pick from the Suns for taking Thomas’ contract in 2007 then another first-round pick from the Spurs in 2008 for sending the center to San Antonio.

Thunder general manager Sam Presti, who was running the SuperSonics at the time, just did it again with Chris Paul.

And somewhat again with Kelly Oubre.

And somewhat again with Danny Green.

A year after getting two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps for “downgrading” from Russell Westbrook to Paul, Oklahoma City flipped Paul to the Suns for a protected first-rounder. (Unlike the first-rounder the Rockets got from the Wizards in the Westbrook-John Wall trade, the Phoenix pick is guaranteed to become a first-rounder.)

The Thunder got Oubre and Ricky Rubio in the deal – not because Oklahoma City particularly valued those two, but because they were the matching salary the Suns had available.

Yet, the Thunder flipped Oubre to the Warriors for a top-20-protected first-rounder that becomes a second-rounder if not conveyed in 2021. Oklahoma City unloaded Rubio, who has a somewhat expensive multi-year guarantee, as fairly neutral value in another trade.

The Thunder also traded Dennis Schroder for the No. 28 pick and Danny Green. The Lakers obviously wanted Schroder, but given that they triggered the hard cap by using the non-taxpayer mid-level exception, they seemingly also wanted to unload Green.

No problem for Oklahoma City, which re-routed Green to Philadelphia for yet another first-round pick and Al Horford. Though dumping Horford (three years, $81 million with $69 million guaranteed remaining) was a priority for the 76ers, they also clearly wanted Green, who could start for them.

For a while, players just whirred onto and off of the Thunder’s roster at such a frenetic pace. But it felt like, at each step – whether someone was incoming or outgoing – another first-rounder stuck in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder added yet another first-rounder by trading Steven Adams – the last link to their glory days – to the Pelicans. That deal also netted George Hill.

If Hill and Horford play well in Oklahoma City, they could get flipped for even more picks. The veterans can help teams aiming to win now. However, with Horford due so much, it could be another year or two before he’s moveable.

The Thunder also acquired second-round picks in some of these trades – including one that brought in Trevor Ariza, another player who could be flipped for positive value. But the first-rounders were so plentiful, the second-rounders don’t rate.

In this year’s draft, Oklahoma City traded up for No. 17 pick Aleksej Pokusevski. The raw prospect with high upside is perfect for a team just entering its tanking phase.

The Thunder also got No. 34 pick Theo Maledon (whom I gave a first-round grade) and No. 37 pick Vit Krejci.

All these trades left plenty of flotsam on Oklahoma City’s roster: Ty Jerome, Kenrich Williams, Justin Jackson, Darius Miller, Admiral Schofield, T.J. Leaf. If any of those players help the Thunder, that’d be a bonus.

This rebuild isn’t relying on marginal players, though. The Thunder got major draft capital plus Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last offseason for Westbrook, Paul George and Jerami Grant. With less-appealing players this offseason, Oklahoma City still found ways to significantly add to its stockpile of picks.

At some point, Presti must nail the picks and build back up. But for now, he’s accumulating an embarrassment of riches to give the Thunder their best chance of eventual success.

Offseason grade: A-

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.