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Jazz forward Thabo Sefolosha: ‘I stand 100 percent with Russell Westbrook’

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Russell Westbrook profanely yelled at a fan during the Thunder’s win over the Jazz last night:

The important question: Why?

Westbrook said the fan made inappropriate and personal remarks toward Westbrook. The fan denied it. Westbrook’s teammates, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton, backed Westbrook’s account.

Sefolosha on Instagram:

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Sefolosha’s perspective is important.

Though he’s a former teammate of Westbrook in Oklahoma City, Sefolosha plays in Utah. It’d be easy for Sefolosha to stay out of this and avoid local backlash.

But what’s right is right.

Sefolosha is all too familiar with problematic power dynamics. New York police officers broke his leg while arresting him for not moving out of the way quickly enough in a chaotic situation two years ago. His then-Hawks teammate Pero Antic, who was also arrested, called it pure racism.

Westbrook has contended Jazz fans have repeatedly gone too far. At this point, they might be emboldened to continue crossing the line.

A player on their team calling for this type of heckling to end will hopefully change behavior in Utah.

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.

 

Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton suspended for Thunder-Bulls fight

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The Bulls and Thunder got into a fight Monday.

The main participants: Robin Lopez, Jerami Grant and Kris Dunn.

The most penalized: Dennis Schroder and Raymond Felton.

NBA release:

Oklahoma City Thunder guards Raymond Felton and Dennis Schröder have each been suspended one game without pay for leaving the bench area during an altercation and participating in the altercation which spilled over into the spectator stands, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.  As part of the same incident, Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez has been fined $25,000 for escalating the altercation, Thunder forward Jerami Grant has been fined $20,000 for escalating the altercation, and Bulls guard Kris Dunn has been fined $15,000 for instigating the altercation by shoving Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.

The NBA automatically suspends players one game for leaving the bench during a fight. It’s a good rule that players know. Even peacemakers, like Schroder and Felton appeared to be, can easily escalate situations. In the heat of an altercation, more people entering the fracas tends to create more hostility.

Monday’s fight spilled over the sideline near the Thunder’s bench, giving out-of-the-game Oklahoma City players a little more leeway to be involved. Schroder got right in the midst of the action, and his suspension was clear. But Hamidou Diallo was right behind Felton in the area between the bench and the fight. Apparently, Felton went just too far, and Diallo didn’t.

These suspensions will significantly affect the Thunder.

They’ll miss both their backup point guards against the Kings tonight. Oklahoma City must get creative when Westbrook rests – if Westbrook rests.

The Thunder are also in line to save $293,090 in luxury tax. Because Oklahoma City is so far into the repeater tax, even these one-game suspensions matter so much to the bottom line.

Schroder will lose $106,897. Felton will lose $16,510. Of course, Lopez ($25,000), Grant ($20,000) and Dunn ($15,000) also lose money. One-game suspensions for leaving the bench during a fight always trigger debate about that rule. But at least the fines seem fair here.

Russell Westbrook’s injury not as bad as it looked

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Russell Westbrook injured his ankle last night, and it looked bad.

But now comes good news for the Thunder star.

Royce Young of ESPN:

After the Dallas and Phoenix games Young mentioned, Oklahoma City plays the Knicks then Suns again. That relatively soft schedule could allow Oklahoma City to keep winning while Westbrook sits.

The Thunder will rely more on Dennis Schroder, who’s fine but obviously nowhere near Westbrook’s caliber. Raymond Felton should slide into the rotation.

No team is well-suited to handle an injury to its best player. But Oklahoma City is relatively deep at point guard.

More importantly, the Thunder should get Westbrook back soon enough.

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