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Report: Markieff Morris signing with Thunder

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The Lakers didn’t get Enes Kanter.

They’re not getting Markieff Morris, either.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The Wizards traded Morris to dodge the luxury tax, and the Pelicans waived him. He has been just OK this year, but maybe getting healthier and escaping the drudgery of Washington will improve his play. Morris certainly brings plenty of talent as a versatile big forward.

He should provide an upgrade over Patrick Patterson as Oklahoma City’s backup power forward. Patterson is having another down season, raising questions about  his long-term health.

Morris projects to cost the Thunder $44,865 daily in salary and luxury tax. They play New Orleans tonight, and I wonder whether they’ll sign Morris in time for that game. Waiting another week – during the All-Star break – would save them a projected $314,057.

But it’d also cost him $85,640. So, he might not be down to wait.

That could be a reason he didn’t pick the Rockets. Though they have two open roster spots, they can’t yet sign two players even to pro-rated minimum contracts without crossing the luxury-tax line. They could have signed Morris and remained below the tax, but that would have meant waiting longer for another addition.

As for the Lakers, Morris is another pursued free agent who wasn’t Carmelo Anthony. If everyone keeps choosing other teams, the Lakers might run out of excuses for not signing Anthony (other than the right one).

Paul George, Russell Westbrook each have triple-doubles in Thunder win

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Russell Westbrook set an NBA record with his 10th straight triple-double, Paul George scored 47 points, and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Portland Trail Blazers 120-111 on Monday night.

Westbrook broke a tie with Wilt Chamberlain, who had nine straight triple-doubles in 1968, by finishing with 21 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists. He clinched the record on an assist to George for a 3-pointer with 3:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was his 23rd triple-double of the season and the 127th of his career.

George had 12 rebounds and 10 assists for the third triple-double of his career. Rookie Deonte Burton had a career-high 18 points and Raymond Felton added a season-high 15 for the Thunder.

Damian Lillard scored 31 points and Jake Layman added 17 for Portland.

The Thunder shot 56 percent in the first half to lead 68-49 at the break. George scored 21 points and Felton added 15.

The Trail Blazers started the second half on a 7-0 run to make things interesting, and they trimmed Oklahoma City’s lead to 87-82 by the end of the third quarter.

Westbrook had five assists heading into the fourth, and he re-entered the game after a rest with 9:36 remaining. He got his first assist of the quarter with 6:54 left, but was up to his ninth with 4:57 to play.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George lead Thunder past Suns for first win

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Thunder didn’t care that Phoenix had just one win this season, was playing the second game of a back-to-back and was missing its leading scorer.

They just wanted to get a win.

Oklahoma City finally broke through for the first time in five tries this season. Paul George and Russell Westbrook each scored 23 points, and the Thunder beat the Suns 117-110 on Sunday.

“It feels special,” guard Dennis Schroder said. “I think we can build off of that win. We’re going to keep getting better. It was a good one tonight.”

Nerlens Noel had 20 points and 15 rebounds and Patrick Patterson added 17 points for the Thunder. Oklahoma City’s victory left the Cleveland Cavaliers, who fired coach Tyronn Lue on Sunday, as the league’s only winless team.

Thunder center Steven Adams did not play after experiencing tightness in his left calf during pregame warmups, and Noel started in his place. Coach Billy Donovan was pleased with the way Noel performed in his first start.

“He did a lot of really good things,” Donovan said. “He was really, really active. He was very active defensively. He scored some points on some lobs and some rolls and he got to the free-throw line. I was really, really impressed with his defense.”

Noel has started 159 of his 228 career games, so he was comfortable in the role.

“Just do this on a nightly basis, just being a professional, ready for whatever is thrown at me in this position,” he said. “Steven wasn’t able to go, so I just kept the same mindset of being able to be ready, no matter what. I knew if I was coming off the bench, if I was starting, I’d play the same way. That’s about it.”

Rookie Elie Okobo scored 18 points and No. 1 overall draft pick Deandre Ayton added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Phoenix. Devin Booker, who entered the day as the league’s ninth-best scorer at 27.8 points per game, sat out his second straight game with a left hamstring strain.

The Thunder led 62-48 at halftime after shooting 49 percent from the field. George scored 15 points before the break, while Westbrook made just two field goals. The Thunder blew a 14-point halftime lead against Boston on Thursday, so the threat of falling apart still was there.

Westbrook hit back-to-back layups to make it 82-65 in the third. George drained a shot from just beyond half court at the third-quarter buzzer to put Oklahoma City up 96-76.

“It’s one of the funnest basketball games I’ve played in since I’ve been here,” Noel said. “Guys just play so unselfish. This team is really built the right way. Guys just want to make winning plays, and everybody is going to excel when the play style is like that.”

Phoenix outscored the Thunder 34-21 in the fourth quarter.

“A lot of positives in the game,” Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said. “You’re not going to feel better – we lost the game. But effort was there. I think we tried, and we tried for 48 minutes.”

 

Space Jam 2 closer to reality: LeBron reportedly teams with Black Panther director

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Space Jam 2 starring LeBron James — and, we can dream, Boban Marjanovic as one of the new Monstars — could be filming next summer and in theaters in 2019 or 2020.

This has been in the works for a while, and it has come together slowly (like most Hollywood projects). LeBron James’ production company has a development deal with Warner Bros. and a Space Jam sequel was always at the heart of it. While there had been rumors about the project for years, you knew there was some substance to the talk when Warner Bros. extended its trademark on “Space Jam” a couple of years ago.

In a sign this movie is going to be a reality, LeBron has found a producer — the man who directed Black Panther. From the Hollywood Reporter:

In his first project since directing the record-breaking Black Panther, Ryan Coogler is teaming with LeBron James on the anticipated follow-up to the Michael Jordan-Bugs Bunny hit Space Jam, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

Coogler will produce the Space Jam movie and Terence Nance – who created HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and directed the experimental film The Oversimplification of Her Beauty – will direct. Production on the Warner Bros. film is tentatively slated for 2019, during the NBA offseason. It will be James’ first starring role after a successful turn as a supporting character in the 2015 Amy Schumer comedy Trainwreck…

“I loved his vision” for Black Panther, James tells The Hollywood Reporter, noting that when he was a kid growing up in Akron, Ohio, there were no black superheroes. “So for Ryan to be able to bring that to kids, it’s amazing.”

That’s a good team to make a movie, although we are all curious about the script.

Not that the original Space Jam starring Michael Jordan was winning a writing Oscar, but the move was a cultural phenomenon. It had MJ going head-to-head with aliens in a battle for Earth. Kid me loved that movie, adult me re-watched it and…

I didn’t love it as much as Patrick Patterson, who wrote: “To make a sequel to Space Jam would be like trying to paint the Mona Lisa again. Sure, you can probably do it, but why the hell would you want to?”

A lot of the older generation will say that, but if it’s a good movie it will do better than Uncle Drew. (Which, honestly, was better than I expected.) It could be a marketing coup for LeBron, plus add to his legacy of NBA titles and gold medals. Not everyone can put “saved the earth from annihilation” on their resume.

Thunder secured Paul George, surprisingly kept spending

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

The Thunder clearly made headway with Paul George throughout last season.

But then signs of disaster struck internally and externally.

The Jazz ran through Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoff, exposing all the Thunder’s liabilities. It also became increasingly apparent LeBron James would choose the Lakers.

The Lakers with George would have been better than the Thunder with him, and he could have fulfilled his longstanding desire to play for his hometown team. Even if his Los Angeles interest was overstated or he wasn’t fond of joining LeBron, George had numerous other options. The 76ers and Jazz were already better than Oklahoma City. George would have vaulted either team even further ahead.

On the other hand, the Thunder looked like they might take a step back even if they re-signed George. Though Andre Roberson getting healthy would help, Oklahoma City’s payroll was getting quite high. Most small-market teams would shed salary, either by trading helpful contributors or attaching draft picks as sweeteners to unload overpaid players.

Yet, just when the walls of Thunder’s yearlong recruitment of George appeared to be caving in, George re-signed – even locking in for three years (with a fourth-year player option on his max contract). Keeping George – who likely never would have even considered Oklahoma City in free agency if he spent last season elsewhere – is a coup.

We might never know why George agreed so quickly to re-sign, not even meeting with the Lakers. Maybe he just became so attached to Russell Westbrook, George wasn’t leaving under any circumstances. But perhaps the Thunder sold him on their ambitiously expensive plan to upgrade the roster.

Oklahoma City is on pace to pay more than $93 million in luxury tax next season, which would be a record. Perhaps, the Thunder will stretch Kyle Singler. That could drop them below the $90 million-plus the Nets paid in luxury tax in 2014. But Oklahoma City is in the same range despite not nearing Brooklyn in market size.

This is the same Thunder franchise still reeling from the perception it traded James Harden over luxury-tax concerns. What a way to change a narrative.

Oklahoma City re-signed Jerami Grant to a three-year, $27,346,153 deal. That’s an expensive outlay, especially considering the Thunder are just entering the repeater luxury tax and have multiple veterans on expensive long-term deals. They’re facing a big tax bill for years to come.

Smaller moves also prove quite costly in this environment. Oklahoma City picked three players in the second round – Hamidou Diallo (No. 45), Devon Hall (No. 53) and Kevin Hervey (No. 57) – but signed only Diallo. Rostering second-round picks can save teams in luxury tax, as players signed as draft picks for less than the second-year minimum count less toward the tax than minimum free agents. But Hall will play overseas next season, and Hervey remains unsigned. Instead, Oklahoma City signed Raymond Felton and Nerlens Noel for the minimum (Noel’s cost landing even higher because he received a player option). If they signed Hall and Hervey instead of Felton and Noel, the Thunder would have saved nearly $9 million next season.

Even moves described as cost-cutting weren’t. Once the Thunder decided to part with Carmelo Anthony, stretching him became the baseline. That would have cost $9,309,380 (minus potential set-offs) each of the next three seasons. Instead, Oklahoma City traded him for Dennis Schroder, who has a $15.5 million salary for each of the next three seasons. Unlike the cap hit for a waived Anthony, the Thunder could always move Schroder later to save money. But this trade was not a salary dump.

In the Anthony trade, the Thunder also landed Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, a worthwhile wing flier. But Oklahoma City surrendered a lottery-protected 2022 first-rounder that becomes two second-rounders if the Thunder make the playoffs that year. That’s surprisingly high price for Schroder, who many viewed as negative salary.

The only creative penny-pinching Oklahoma City did was trading for Abdel Nader, who’ll count less toward the luxury tax than a free agent because he signed as a drafted player with the Celtics.

Small picture:

  • I’m not sure Grant is worth his cost. He’s a quality defender in a switching scheme, and using him at center provides a style Oklahoma City lacks otherwise. If nothing else, he’s active offensively. But his subpar shooting lowers his ceiling and becomes especially costly in the playoffs.
  • I’m not sure Felton is worth his cost. He was a bargain as a steadying backup point guard, but downgrading him to third string, maybe Oklahoma City would have been better off with a cheaper developmental piece.
  • I’m not sure Noel is worth his cost. He still has plenty of untapped potential, but there are major questions about his work ethic. How much will he play with Adams, Grant and Patrick Patterson all capable at center?
  • I’m not sure Schroder is worth his cost. Even beyond his potential felony charge, basketball questions emerge. He might hit enough spot-up 3s to thrive with Westbrook. He might not. His ability to attack after Westbrook tilts the defense is intriguing. At minimum, he’ll liven up the offense when Westbrook sits. But the idea that his cost is only the difference between his salary and Anthony’s stretch amount ($6,190,620) is limited. Potential trade partners will value Schroder at his full $15.5 million salary.

Big picture:

  • Who cares?

It’s not my money. If Thunder owner Clay Bennett is willing to spend big, that’s great for the team. Kudos to him.

With Westbrook, Anthony and Adams guaranteed huge salaries, Oklahoma City wasn’t going to clear cap room this summer. Re-signing George long-term ensured the Thunder would be capped out as long they kept their core players. So, additional spending doesn’t hinder flexibility in an significant way. It just helps the on-court product.

My only concern is Oklahoma City fails to meet internal expectations and becomes more reluctant to spend in future seasons. I consider the Thunder more likely to lose in the first round than reach the conference finals, more likely to miss the playoffs than reach the NBA Finals.

But those expectations are higher than they would have been if Oklahoma City dodged the luxury tax. Westbrook is a 29-year-old superstar reliant on his athleticism. There is no tomorrow. Every playoff game is its own reward.

If Bennett is demanding a championship for his massive expenditure, he’ll likely be disappointed. Personally, I’m just impressed with a team that’s much better than it could have been on a tight budget.

Offseason grade: A