Jerami Grant

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Thunder unload stars for all the right reasons

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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.

So many teams spent this summer trying to create star duos. The Lakers (LeBron James and Anthony Davis), Clippers (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), Nets (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) and Rockets (James Harden and Russell Westbrook) certainly succeeded.

Meanwhile, the Thunder already had a star duo in place… and disassembled it.

Oklahoma City became the first team in NBA history to trade two reigning All-NBA players in a single offseason. Why did the Thunder take the unprecedented step to move Paul George and Russell Westbrook?

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • 2021: Most favorable of Rockets (top-four protected), Thunder and Heat first-round picks
  • 2021: Second-most favorable of Rockets (top-four protected), Thunder and Heat first-round picks
  • 2022: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2023: Heat first-round pick (top-14 protected for three years then unprotected in 2026)
  • 2023: Swap rights with Clippers first-round pick
  • 2024: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2024: Rockets first-round pick (top-four protected)
  • 2025: Swap rights with Rockets first-round pick (top-10 protected) or Clippers first-round pick
  • 2026: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2026: Rockets first-round pick (top-four protected)

That’s an incredible collection of resources. Before anyone even knew a rebuild was underway, Oklahoma City got a huge head start toward its next era.

Not at a bad time, either.

The Thunder had stagnated post-Kevin Durant. They won in the high 40s and lost in the first round the last three years. Westbrook was aging. The supporting cast was expensive, especially considering the luxury-tax repeater bill. There was no clear way forward.

The Clippers offered a lifeboat. To entice Kawhi Leonard to sign, they traded five first-round picks and two first-round swaps for George. L.A.’s desperate was Oklahoma City’s gain. Suddenly, the Thunder had assets and a direction.

They traded Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a top-10-protected first-rounder. Then came the dramatic, era-ending move. Oklahoma City worked with Westbrook to send him to Houston, securing another couple first-rounders and first-round swap rights.

Of course, a large part of the Thunder’s return was taking the burdensome contract of Chris Paul (three years, $124,076,442 remaining). But it’s not as if Westbrook’s contract is desirable, and his runs a year longer with a $47,063,478 salary in 2022-23.

Paul is also still a good player. So is Danilo Gallinari, whom Oklahoma City got from the Clippers to make the salary match in the George deal.

For all their effort to tear build for the future, the Thunder have a team that isn’t much worse presently. Paul, Gallinari and Steven Adams fit well together. More than a few interesting role players could fill the gaps. If everyone stays healthy and if Oklahoma City wants to compete, this group could fight for a playoff spot.

Those are big ifs, though. In their new phase, the Thunder bought out Patrick Patterson and let Alec Burks out of his deal so he could sign with the Warriors. With the same opportunity to back out, Mike Muscala (1+1 minimum) stuck with Oklahoma City. The Thunder also re-signed Nerlens Noel (one year, minimum) before pivoting, but I like that value in any situation.

If Paul and Gallinari avoid injury, Oklahoma City might stay in the race. But it’s easy to see the Thunder wanting to boost the value of their own first-round picks.

Oklahoma City did well to delay the incoming draft picks until years later, when the Clippers and Rockets might not be as good as they are now. That allows a great opportunity to rebuild on someone else’s dime while avoiding dispiriting tanking. Or the Thunder could tank themselves and really stock up on draft capital.

After years of competing, Oklahoma City was short on prime young talent. The Thunder have a few players with potential, including No. 23 pick Darius Bazley, but no real standouts beyond Gilgeous-Alexander, who came from L.A. in the George trade.

The rebuild is just beginning. A step back after a decade of stellar play will be difficult. But considering the chance of maintaining a playoff level next season while securing this influx of assets, Oklahoma City put itself in much stronger position.

Offseason grade: A

Report: Nuggets pull Trey Lyles’ qualifying offer

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The Nuggets traded a protected first-round pick to the Thunder for Jerami Grant.

We’re learning more about about how much that deal will cost Denver.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The protections on that pick look favorable to Oklahoma City. The Nuggets will likely send a low first-rounder, but in a deep Western Conference, there’s a chance Denver slips to the high end of that conveyable range. The Nuggets at least avoid massive downside risk in the unlikely event they get a high lottery pick.

Trading for Grant put the Nuggets’ team salary just $1,877,076 below the luxury-tax line. Lyles accepting his $4,485,665 qualifying offer would have put them into the tax. Denver, which hasn’t paid the luxury tax in nine years, apparently wouldn’t risk that. This is another indicator the Nuggets won’t use their mid-level exception to upgrade the roster either.

Lyles had a breakout season a couple years ago but regressed last season. The main reason: His 3-point percentage dropped from 38% to 26%.

The 23-year-old former lottery pick still has some potential as a stretch four. He belongs in the NBA. But he’s likely looking at minimum contracts, though maybe he gets offered slightly more somewhere.

He could still return to Denver. The Nuggets could sign him to a minimum contract, stay under out of the luxury tax and preserve his Bird Rights into next season. With a bounce-back year, Lyles would have a clearer path to a bigger contract in Denver than anywhere else.

But the Nuggets’ forward rotation is getting crowded with Paul Millsap, Grant, Juan Hernangomez and maybe eventually Michael Porter Jr. Denver also likes to use two-center lineups with Nikola Jokic and Mason Plumlee.

So, Lyles will likely get squeezed out.

We’ll see how he does as in unrestricted free agency. Restricted status could have cooled his market. But he might regret not accepting that qualifying offer while he had the chance. His minimum salary is just $1,737,145 – $ 2,748,520 less than the qualifying offer.

Report: After talking to him, Thunder open to trading Russell Westbrook

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When the Thunder lost Kevin Durant in 2016, the popular sentiment was they’d have to trade Russell Westbrook. Instead, Westbrook signed an extension with Oklahoma City and threw himself into leading the small-market franchise.

Now, with the Thunder trading Paul George to the Clippers for a package centered on draft picks, Westbrook’s future in Oklahoma City has again become a major topic of conversation.

This time, it doesn’t sound as if Westbrook will recommit to the Thunder.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Trading Westbrook won’t be easy. He’s due $171,139,920 over the next four years. Westbrook is also 30, reliant on his athleticism and already showing signs of decline.

But Westbrook remains a star and a big name. It takes only one team to covet him.

A team already stuck in a difficult situations – like the Heat, Pistons, Magic, Wizards or Hornets – could pool bad contracts to deal for Westbrook. He’d provide at least a short term jolt.

How much does Oklahoma City want for Westbrook, though? Given his age and salary concerns, would the Thunder just give him away if they could? Or are they holding out for at least some positive return?

Oklahoma City could still try to compete around Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andre Roberson (if healthy). That’s a decent team with at least a chance of making the playoffs.

But as they trade George and Jerami Grant for draft picks, the Thunder are clearly headed in a different direction. Westbrook is apparently ready to spend the rest of his prime elsewhere rather than stick out a rebuild.

Report: Thunder trading Jerami Grant to Nuggets for first-rounder

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Raise the alert level on the Thunder trading Russell Westbrook.

This doesn’t prove anything about Westbrook. It doesn’t match the significance of Oklahoma City shipping Paul George to the Clippers.

But the Thunder are moving ahead in a teardown by trading Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a draft pick.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Grant (due $9,346,153 next season and holding a player option for the same salary the following year) was too expensive for Oklahoma City’s liking. It’s impossible to evaluate the trade fully without knowing the protections, but getting a first-rounder looks nice for the Thunder given where they are in team-building.

Considering Oklahoma City must replace Grant on the roster and projecting that to be with a minimum-salary free agent, this trade puts the Thunder in line to save $29,710,941 in salary and luxury tax next season. The tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season, so there’s plenty of time for that number to change.

The Thunder are now just $3,695,790 into the tax (counting that minimum-salary free agent), and they face the repeater rate. I’d be shocked if they don’t avoid the tax entirely.

Oklahoma City’s spending limitations are Denver’s gains.

Grant can play all three frontcourt positions. He gives the Nuggets someone capable of defending bigger wings now and maybe replacing Paul Millsap as starting power forward down the road. Both are important as Denver looks to continue its ascension around Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris.

The 25-year-old Grant has been up-and-down 3-point shooter in his career, but he has generally trended in the right direction. He made a career-high 39% of his 3s last season. If he maintains that, this will be an excellent addition. If not, the Nuggets will still welcome his defensive versatility and overall activity.

Denver has sat on the mid-level exception despite having the ability to use it in full and remain out of the tax. The Nuggets will use a trade exception to acquire Grant, leaving the mid-level exception available. But using it now would push Denver into the tax. Would ownership greenlight that?

The Nuggets are one of several teams that should believe they have a chance to win a title next season. Star talent is dispersed. This should be the time to spend, though the market for free agents worth the mid-level exception is shrinking fast.

One team no longer in the championship chase: Oklahoma City. The Thunder can can remain competitive with Westbrook, Danilo Gallinari (who’ll take Grant’s spot at starting power forward), Steven Adams, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Andre Roberson (if healthy). But if immediate competitiveness were the goal, the Thunder wouldn’t have traded Grant for a draft pick. They clearly have other aims.

Russell Westbrook outduels Damian Lillard, Thunder pick up win to get back in series

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook called his play in Game 2 “unacceptable.”

It was more than acceptable in Game 3. He had 33 points and 11 assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-108 on Friday night to cut their series deficit to 2-1.

Paul George added 22 points, Jerami Grant had 18 and Dennis Schroder 17 for the Thunder. They will host Game 4 on Sunday night.

Damian Lillard scored 32 points, but he had just three in the fourth quarter after scoring 25 in the third.

C.J. McCollum had 21 and Enes Kanter added 19.

Oklahoma City closed the second quarter on a 10-1 run to take a 49-39 lead. Lillard was held to four points on 2 -or-6 shooting and the Trail Blazers shot 37.5% in the half.

George hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the free throw in the opening minutes of the second half to push Oklahoma City’s lead to 55-43. Westbrook backed down Lillard, hit a bank shot and was fouled. Westbrook brought out his “rock the baby” celebration, then made the free throw to put Oklahoma City up by 15.

Lillard scored 23 points the rest of the quarter to help cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 86-82 at the end of the period. McCollum hit a 3-pointer to tie the game at 89 early in the fourth.

Oklahoma City regained control, then kept it. Westbrook’s jumper with just over two minutes remaining put the Thunder up 10.