Mike Muscala

Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

Thunder unload stars for all the right reasons

2 Comments

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

Reports: Thunder signing Nerlens Noel, Mike Muscala, Alec Burks

Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Facing another larger repeater-tax bill, the Thunder reportedly want to trim salary.

That’s why Oklahoma City appears to be just picking around the edges of free agency – with Nerlens Noel, Mike Muscala and Alec Burks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Royce Young of ESPN:

Leave it to the tight-lipped Thunder not to reveal salaries. But given their tax situation, don’t expect large figures.

Noel played very well for Oklahoma City in a limited role last season. It’s possible he parlayed that into a somewhat substantial deal. I would have guessed a larger contract if he signed elsewhere.

Muscala is a decent stretch big. After landing him the Thunder could try to unload Patrick Patterson and his $5,711,200 salary.

Burks hasn’t had a good season in a half decade. The shooting guard looked promising with the Jazz, but injuries have sidetracked his career. Maybe he’ll contribute off the bench if healthy. I’d be surprised if he got more than the minimum.

Three Things to Know: Activated? Laker bench veterans are disaster in ugly loss to Grizzlies

Associated Press
14 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Activated? Disconnect more like it. Laker bench veterans disaster in an ugly loss to Grizzlies. How much trouble are the Lakers playoff hopes in? Fivethirtyeight.com projects the Clippers and Spurs to finish with 44 wins and get the final two playoff seeds in the West. For the Lakers to get to 45 wins and be in they need to go 16-6 the rest of the way.

LeBron James said he activated playoff mode early — and Monday night he had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists (which moved him into fifth, past Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time triple-double list) — but the Laker bench was a disaster in a 110-105 loss to a Memphis team that traded away Marc Gasol, is without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson due to injury, and is trying to lose games so they keep their pick in the draft. Yet those Grizzlies played with more poise, cohesion, and passion.

LeBron keeps blaming guys not focused on the game — is basketball the most important thing in your life? After this loss it was, “If you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, this is the wrong franchise to be a part of.”

It feels like that is a shot at the young Lakers.

It shouldn’t be. It’s the veterans — the guys Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka signed last summer who have been the problem. It was that way Monday night — the Laker bench of Rajon Rondo, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tyson Chandler, Lance Stephenson, the traded for Mike Muscala, and Josh Hart went 3-of-14 shooting for 7 total points in 70 minutes of game action. It’s not just this one game, either.

Rather than put shooters around LeBron, Magic said the Lakers wanted to go their own way, bring in the veteran playmakers, but only the ones they could get on one-year deals. This is the result. The Lakers get pushed around inside, they lack a game-managing point guard (Rondo isn’t that guy anymore, and it is not Lonzo Ball’s strength, plus Ball is out with a bone bruise in his ankle anyway) and they have stopped caring on defense. And if LeBron wants to complain about defensive effort, well…

Brandon Ingram had 32 points on 12-of-18 shooting against Memphis and was aggressive again — he had another strong game. Although, Avery Bradley broke Ingram’s ankles at one point.

Kyle Kuzma had 22 points in his one. He continues to play consistently well.

Which is to say the guys at the heart of all those Anthony Davis trade talks were just fine, maybe the trade talks did not destroy the psyche of this team. It’s the veterans that are the issue.

Going 16-6 seems like a longshot at best after this loss. The way the Lakers are defending right now, they might as well start ending their team huddles with “1-2-3 Cancun.”

2) James Harden’s 30+ points per game streak comes to an end in Rockets win over Hawks. It had to end eventually. And when James Harden’s streak of 30+ point games did end it was not going to be because some team just locked him down, it was going to be a game where he didn’t need to take over to get the win.

That’s what happened in Atlanta.

Harden wasn’t sharp — 7-of-21 shooting to get to 28 points — but this was a night he could be off and the Rockets still got the 119-111 victory.

Harden had 28 as time ran down, but rather than go for 30 he dribbled it out — while the Hawks threw a quadruple-team at him just in case.

Harden’s streak reached 32 games, second longest 30+ points streak ever behind Wilt Chamberlain’s ridiculous 65 games. Harden admitted he didn’t expect to reach that number. So he settles for the second-longest streak ever, and in doing so got his team back in the playoff picture and himself back in the MVP race.

For the Hawks, Trae Young knocked down eight three-pointers and scored 36 on the night.

3) Classy move by Doc Rivers in tribute to Dirk Nowitzki. And by the way, the Clippers look like a playoff team. With 9.4 seconds remaining in a decided game (the Clippers won 121-112), Doc Rivers called a timeout. He then walked over to the scorer’s table, picked up a microphone, and got the crowd at Staples Center to give Dirk Nowitzki one last standing ovation.

Classy move by Rivers.

This was a big win for Los Angeles, which is now in sole possession of seventh place in the West. On a night where the Lakers/Kings/Spurs all lost the idea of the Clippers in the postseason seems more secure, much to the delight of owner Steve Ballmer. Fivethirtyeight.com has the Clippers with a 75 percent chance of making the postseason.

Which is incredible for a team that two trade deadlines in a row has sent away its best player (Blake Griffin last year, Tobias Harris this year). The Clippers were shrewd with those moves, staying competitive while setting themselves up to be bigtime players in free agency.

This season the Clippers have leaned on Lou Williams to score, watched Montrezl Harrell develop into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate in his own right, and had solid seasons from veterans such as Patrick Beverley and Danilo Gallinari (who has stayed healthy this year), plus the move of trading up in the draft to get Shai Gilgeous-Alexander seems. The Clippers rebuilt on the fly — all while freeing up cap space to chase two max free agents next summer.

The Clippers have been a model “how to rebuild on the fly” example, and this summer may land Kawhi Leonard or another free agent, they are in the mix for the big names. Do that, and this will be one of the great rebuilds of all time in the league.

Tobias Harris on staying with Sixers: ‘I’m hopeful it can be a long-term partnership’

3 Comments

Tobias Harris hopes to stay a while with his new team after bouncing around the NBA throughout his career.

Harris was the centerpiece of a blockbuster deal the Philadelphia 76ers made early Wednesday morning to bolster their chances at making a run at a championship. The 26-year-old forward was having a breakout season with the Los Angeles Clippers before coming to his fifth team in eight seasons.

He joins All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, along with Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick, to form perhaps the best starting lineup in the Eastern Conference.

Harris is in the final season of a contract but the Sixers certainly will want to keep him around after trading sensational rookie guard Landry Shamet and four draft picks along with forwards Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala to Los Angeles. Center Boban Marjanovic and forward Mike Scott came to Philadelphia as part of the deal.

“The top of the list for me is winning culture and No. 2 is loyalty,” Harris said Thursday. “Just finding the right situation for team basketball, a winning culture and loyalty from both sides. This team has made a big trade and I’m hopeful it can be a long-term partnership.”

Harris is averaging 20.9 points and shoots nearly 50 percent from 3-point range. He gives Philadelphia another shooter it needed. The Sixers, who were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs last season, are 34-20 and in fifth place in the East.

Harris said he had dinner with coach Brett Brown upon arriving in town and they discussed his role.

“He’s going to let me go play my game and figure things out on the fly,” Harris said. “When you have a team with this much talent, see what works and fueling off each other on the floor. We have a lot of talent but smart players, too.”

Harris is excited to play with Simmons, the talented 6-foot-10 point-guard.

“He’s a beast in the open court,” Harris said. “Matching up against him, the toughest thing is how well he passes the ball and gets other guys involved. I’ve always been a big fan of his game and how he plays, his size and speed and skill level.”

Marjanovic, a 7-foot-3 backup center, provides depth behind Embiid. He averaged 6.7 points in 10.4 minutes played.

“Big fan of (Embiid),” Marjanovic said. “I like how he plays, how he moves. I’m really impressed with that. Now, I’m on the same team. We can both help each other.”

Scott shrugged off a question about added pressure because the expectations have grown for Philadelphia and Marjanovic deferred to Harris, one of his best buddies. Harris handled it diplomatically.

“We understand the team invested a lot in us,” he said. “It was a big move. It was a win-now move. That means a lot. This is already a winning culture and we look to bring our games to it and help as best we can.”

The Sixers made two other moves before the NBA’s trade deadline, sending former No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz to the Orlando Magic, according to two people familiar with the negotiations. Philadelphia gets guard Jonathan Simmons, a 2020 first-round pick that the Sixers used to own but was conveyed in other deals. Philly also get a second-round pick this year. Fultz has played in only 33 games since the Sixers traded up to select him No. 1 overall in the 2017 draft.

Earlier, the Sixers added forward James Ennis from the Houston Rockets in exchange for draft considerations, according to a person familiar with the deal. Ennis, who averaged 7.4 points for the Rockets this season, has also played for Miami, Memphis, Houston and New Orleans. He’s a career 36 percent shooter from 3-point range and will add to Philadelphia’s bench depth.

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds and AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston contributed to this report.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/NBA and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Sports

Five big takeaways from NBA trade deadline

Leave a comment

So much for a quiet trade deadline — from when New York surprised Knicks’ fans by trading their favorite player, through the end of the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, there were more than 20 NBA trades.

A few that shifted the landscape, a lot that were more about the salary cap or setting things up for the future. And the biggest trade of all did not happen.

Here are the five big takeaways from the NBA trade deadline.

1) Anthony Davis is still a Pelican, now Boston gets into the mix and this saga will drag out into the offseason. Rich Paul’s gambit failed. He told the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis would not re-sign with the team — which wasn’t surprising news to the New Orleans front office — and then demanded a trade. Then leaked that trade news to the press (and got Davis fined for it). Everything was orchestrated to get Davis to the Lakers to team up with LeBron James (another Paul client). The Lakers were all-in on the idea and put everything they could into an offer – Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, first-round picks and more were all on the table — to the point it has led to team chemistry issues.

And the Pelicans didn’t want to play. They listened to the Lakers, but never seriously engaged. Part of the reason for that, according to sources, is that people high up the food chain in the New Orleans organization didn’t want to be pressured into making a trade on someone else’s terms, to just blindly trade Davis where he wanted to go. They wanted some control over the process.

The other main reason for the delay is the Pelicans wanted Boston to get involved. While trades in the last few days weakened a couple of Boston’s potential first-round picks — the Clippers now will likely fall out of the playoffs and keep their pick; Sacramento got better so that pick gets a little worse — the future Memphis pick looks even better as the Grizzlies start their rebuild. Plus, if Jayson Tatum is in the mix, the Pelicans want him — almost every team/scout I have spoken to has him rated much higher than any of the young Lakers.

Add to all that Pelicans want to see how the draft lottery shakes out — if the Knicks get the No. 1 pick things get interesting. They want to see if a surprise team — maybe the Clippers now? — get in on the bidding. They want to wait.

This will get resolved by early July at the latest. But for now, Anthony Davis is a Pelican and the Lakers are worse for it.

2) There was an arms race at the top of the Eastern Conference and the East playoffs are going to be insane. Starting with the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, it could be a bloodbath. As happened in the West for many years (but not this one, at least not at the top), there was an arms race among the top teams.

It started when the Sixers traded for Tobias Harris from the Clippers — Philly now has the second-best starting five in the NBA. At least on paper. Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid can match up with anyone. The team needs to add depth, and the Sixers stars need to show they are willing to sacrifice points/touches for the betterment of the team, but the Sixers just got demonstrably better.

That woke up the other teams in the East.

Milwaukee responded by trading for Nikola Mirotic, the sharpshooting big man who will be a great fit with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Mirotic will thrive the same way Brook Lopez has in coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Remember how much Mirotic looked good playing next to Anthony Davis in the Pelicans’ playoff run last season? Now the Bucks add that to the team with the best record in the NBA already.

The Raptors topped that with the addition of Marc Gasol in a trade from the Memphis Grizzlies. He provides floor spacing shooting, strong rebounding, fantastic passing, and just a high IQ game that Nick Nurse can use to great effect. Gasol is versatile and gives Toronto more ways to matchup in the postseason.

All of those teams got better, and the team we haven’t mentioned Boson — they have won 9-of-10 and have looked like the East favorite we expected of late. (And they got what they wanted at the deadline with Davis not getting traded.) Boston could still come out of the East.

The playoffs cannot get here fast enough.

3) The Clippers, Knicks, and Mavericks set themselves up to be big-time players this July. While a few teams went all in on right now, a few teams made some shrewd moves thinking about July.

The Clippers are at the top of that list. Los Angeles made the calculation that they could fight for the eight seed in the West, win it, lose their first-round pick this year (to Boston, lottery protected) and get smacked around by the Warriors in the first round. Or, they could trade Tobias Harris, takes some steps back out of the playoffs, keep their pick, get a haul of draft picks from Philadelphia in the deal — including a much coveted Miami 2021 unprotected first rounder — and clear out one max cap slot, plus set themselves up to have two (if they can trade Danilo Gallinari after the season). The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and are in the mix for him this summer, Los Angeles has the assets to tempt teams with a big trade (Davis?), and they can chase a second free agent. This is a team poised to make a move.

The Knicks are right there with the Clippers in bold free agent planning — and what they did created a lot of buzz around the NBA. By trading Kristaps Porzingins and the nearly dead money contracts of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee, the Knicks now have two max cap slots open next July (plus the Knicks picked up picks in the trade). Do they know something about Kevin Durant? KD hates that speculation, but it is all over the NBA (not the media, I mean front office types), as is the idea Kyrie Irving will follow him. The playoffs can change a lot of plans, but the Knicks seem confident.

Dallas did more than just add Kristaps Porzingis to Luka Doncic this deadline — although that in-and-of-itself was a bold move that could give the franchise two cornerstone pieces for a decade (if Porzingis can come back from his ACL injury to full unicorn status). However, moving Harrison Barnes to Sacramento also freed up cap space, and the Mavericks could have nearly $30 million of it next summer. Want to come play with Porzingis and Doncic? Dallas is setting itself up to be very good soon, if things break their way.

4) The race for the eight seed in the West is going to be fun. As of the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Clippers are the eighth seed in the West and with that own the final playoff spot. (The Spurs and Jazz hold down the six and seven seeds, but neither of them looks like they are going to fade away.)

As noted above, the Clippers traded their best player and have made a conscious effort not to chase the eight seed hard (not that they will admit that). It opens the door.

The Sacramento Kings are trying to barge through it. The team with the longest playoff drought in the NBA (12 years) is a surprising 28-26, just 1.5 games back of the Clippers. They traded for Harrison Barnes to give them the big wing/four they have needed in the rotation, a guy who can be a shot creator (mostly for himself) and get buckets in addition to De’Aaron Fox. While it’s fair to question the long-term ramifications of this move for the Kings, but in the short term Sacramento got better and they want that spot.

Just behind them, the Los Angeles Lakers. They were a playoff team in the East before LeBron James injured his groin, the conventional wisdom has been they would return to that form and own the spot. But Lonzo Ball is injured, and the Anthony Davis drama took its toll on the Lakers’ psyche, and it showed when they got blown out by 42 in Indiana. The Lakers are on the road (the Grammys forced them out of Staples Center) and are in the toughest stretch of their season. If the Lakers stumble a little, can they still catch the Kings?

This race got fun.

5) Markelle Fultz is getting a fresh start. Could Carmelo Anthony get one, too? The trade deadline saw a few players who wanted or needed a change of scenery getting one. Thon Maker wanted out of Milwaukee, now he gets a chance to come off the bench in Detroit. Stanley Johnson is out of Detroit and is now in New Orleans getting a chance, and Marquese Chriss will get some run and opportunity in Cleveland.

Nobody needed a fresh start more than Markelle Fultz, however. And he got it, the former No. 1 pick is now a member of the Orlando Magic.

Fultz was drafted with a lot of fanfare and a lot of pressure to be the third part of a “big three” in Philly with Embiid and Simmons, but after a short but decent Summer League, Fultz showed up at training camp with a new shooting form that was a disaster. Whether it was due to injury or trainers or alien abduction, it was a mess. Fultz missed most of the season getting injury treatment, spent the off-season working with a shot doctor, and by the end his confidence was clearly shot. He was in his own head. Then Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and spent most of this season in rehab.

Orlando traded Fultz for Jonathan Simmons, a top-20 protected first-round pick (via Oklahoma City) and a second-round pick (via Cleveland). The trade raised a lot of eyebrows around the league because it was more than most thought they would get.

Orlando is a perfect spot for Fultz — not a big market, not as bright a spotlight, less pressure, and some other young stars he can grow with. Orlando has a lot of player development to do, but they have potential on that roster. We’ll find out what Fultz really has.

One other guy to watch: Carmelo Anthony.

The Lakers made a two-for-one trade sending Michael Beasley and Ivica Zubac down the hall at Staples Center to the Clippers for Mike Muscala — who can help the Lakers as a pick-and-pop big who will stretch the floor. But that’s not why everyone is talking.

That move opened up a roster spot on the Lakers, LeBron has said he wants Anthony on his team, and the Lakers have said the thing holding them back was a lack of a roster spot. Now they have one. Word is the Lakers are going to check out the full buyout market and see if they can land someone who can help them get to the playoffs, but don’t be shocked if that slot ends up going to Anthony. Which would send Lakers’ nation into a frenzy.