Mike Muscala

Jarrett Allen
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What was better, Jarrett Allen’s dunk on Mike Muscala or Jarrett Allen’s block of Terrance Ferguson?

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Chris Paul took over late in the Thunder’s win over the Nets last night.

But earlier in the game, it was the Jarrett Allen show.

The Nets center dunked on Mike Muscala:

And blocked Terrance Ferguson‘s dunk attempt:

Allen is one of the NBA’s most fearless rim protectors. Unlike Aron Baynes, Allen can really get up and contest finishes.

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 desperation 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

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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

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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’

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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.

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