NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Thunder bolster frontcourt in trade with Nuggets — Since the start of the offseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder have refused to stand pat with the squad that reached the 2016 West finals. Although Kevin Durant’s departure via free agency necessitated some changes to the roster, OKC has nonetheless been active in the trade market. First, it dealt Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic for Victor Oladipo and yesterday, the Thunder swung another deal, landing young big man Joffrey Lauvergne from the Denver Nuggets. Eric Horne of The Oklahoman provides insight on how the trade affects the Thunder:
In two NBA seasons, Lauvergne (6-foot-11, 220 pounds) has averaged 6.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for Denver in 83 games. The 24-year-old is fresh off a summer representing France in the Olympics, where he was the team’s third-leading scorer at 9.8 points per game.
Lauvergne will make $1.7 million this upcoming season before becoming a restricted free agent in the summer of 2017.
By trading for Lauvergne now, the Thunder is utilizing its cap space before it’s absorbed by players brought in on training camp contracts. For Denver, the Nuggets are acquiring picks while creating more playing time for its current crop of bigs. The Nuggets were facing a logjam of young frontcourt talent with the budding Nikola Jokic and Jusef Nurkic.
The move further fortifies the Thunder’s long-term frontcourt depth. Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Mitch McGary, Domantas Sabonis and Lauvergne are all signed through the 2016-17 season and are each 24 or younger. The Thunder also still has 7-footer Dakari Johnson, 20, who could join the team next year after another season with the D-League Oklahoma City Blue or an overseas club.
In the wake of this summer’s signings of Alex Abrines and Ronnie Price, the Thunder now has 16 guaranteed contracts on its roster. It has until opening night (Oct. 26) to get back down to 15.
While it has parted with two picks in next summer’s draft in order to acquire Lauvergne, the Thunder still owns its first-round pick in 2017. The Thunder now has five players from the 2013 NBA Draft on its roster: Victor Oladipo (No. 2 overall), Adams (12), Andre Roberson (26), Abrines (32), and Lauvergne (55).
No. 2: Dellavedova says playoffs are the goal in Milwaukee — In the course of three seasons, point guard Matthew Dellavedova went from fan-favorite/seldom-used player as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers to vital contributor on a Finals-winning team and a capable backup guard. He was traded to the Bucks this summer and he should have a significant role on a Milwaukee team hoping to rise up in the Eastern Conference. In an interview with ESPN.com’s Jake Michaels, Dellavedova talked about the team’s goals for 2016-17:
Dellavedova was traded to the Bucks at the end of last season, after helping the Cleveland Cavaliers secure their maiden NBA Finals championship over the Golden State Warriors, but the new challenge has him excited about the next phase of his career.
“Leaving Cleveland was tough because I had a great three years there and they gave me my first opportunity,” Dellavedova told ESPN.
“Winning the title is going to give you a bond with those guys for life, and the way the city embraced me made leaving even harder.
“But I’m excited about the opportunity in Milwaukee, especially to step into a bit more of a leadership role. Obviously at Cleveland we had Kyrie [Irving] being the point guard which puts a ceiling on what you can achieve.”
A significant motivator behind Dellavedova signing with the Bucks was the opportunity to work closely with head coach Jason Kidd, someone the Australian has long admired.
“To be able to learn from one of the greatest point guards of all time in Jason Kidd is going to be cool, and something I’m really excited about. I cannot wait.”
The Bucks managed just 33 wins last season to finish bottom of the central division, but they have a host of young talent, including fellow Australian Thon Maker and 2014 No. 2 draft pick Jabari Parker, and Dellavedova insists the focus is firmly on returning to the playoffs.
“We definitely want to get into the playoffs, that’s our main target,” Dellavedova told ESPN.
“They made the playoffs two years ago and looked really good in the first round against Chicago. It was a bit of a down year for them last year with injuries, but the development of their young players is really exciting for the future.”
No. 3: Ibaka excited about new opportunity with Magic — As we mentioned above, the Oklahoma City Thunder went through some significant roster changes this summer. One of those players who is no longer in OKC is shot-blocking big man Serge Ibaka. In his offseason diary on SportsIllustrated.com, Ibaka details how he learned about his trade to the Orlando Magic and, while he didn’t want to leave the Thunder, is embracing a fresh start:
It took me a long time to get over our loss to the Golden State Warriors. Up 3–1 in the Western Conference finals, we had them. Honestly, I’m still not over it, but I couldn’t talk about that series, or basketball, for a couple of weeks afterward. During the NBA Finals, friends came over to watch one of the games, but seeing the Warriors on the screen got me so upset I had to leave.
It was actually my 10-year-old daughter who finally snapped me out of my funk. We were out at dinner one night, and a TV was showing the Finals. I kept turning my head, trying to avoid watching, and my daughter saw how unhappy I was.
“It’s O.K., Daddy,” she said. “You did everything you could.”
Hearing that from someone I love brought me back to life. I realized it was time to get on with my life and take advantage of the summer. NBA players don’t get that much time off, so it’s important to take advantage of what little vacation we get to spend time with our families and refuel our souls.
This summer, my schedule included a ton of traveling. The plan was to visit Milan, Paris, Barcelona and then Antalya, before heading to Las Vegas. Of course, then Orlando was added to the itinerary, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Then came June 24, Thursday night, and my phone started buzzing with alarming frequency. We were at dinner when I started to get text messages, tweets — all types of people reaching out and asking about the rumors. At first, I had no idea what anyone was talking about. Then I recalled it was draft night, and saw talk that the Thunder, the team that drafted me in 2008 and the only NBA team I’ve ever played for, were thinking about trading me.
Still, I assumed the rumors were just, well, rumors. We live with these kinds of things all the time, and there are always rumblings around draft time, so I was confident that this was nothing of substance. I was so confident, in fact, that I decided to turn my phone off, and after dinner went straight back to the hotel to go to sleep.
I slept well that night, too.
When I woke up that Friday, I checked my phone and saw that I had missed calls from my agent, manager and dad. That’s when I knew that the rumors must have been true, and that my time in Oklahoma City had come to an end. I called my manager, who asked me to meet him in the hotel lobby. There he told me that I had been traded to the Magic. I spent most of that day on phone speaking to different people, including Orlando GM Rob Hennigan. He used to work for the Thunder, and I’ve known him for a while. He told me how happy he was to add me to the team, how he trusted me and believed in me. That conversation made me feel good about my new opportunity and the future.
I never asked to be traded, even though there was a lot of media conjecture that I was unhappy with my role. I had an exit meeting with Billy Donovan and Sam Presti after the season, and both went well. But this is still a business, everybody has to do what’s best for them, and I let my agent deal with the business side of things. I just focus on basketball. I’m not the kind of guy who’s going to go in and ask for a trade, and I would have been happy staying with the Thunder. Playing in the NBA was my dream, and I’d be happy playing anywhere.
Still, I’m really going to miss Oklahoma City. The fans love basketball there and the Thunder is one of the best organizations in sports. It’s been a tough summer for them for sure. I didn’t know what Kevin was going to do but I know it was a big decision for him, and if it makes him and his family happy then I’m happy for him. I have the utmost respect for both him and Russell Westbrook. Obviously, I’m disappointed that our group was never able to bring the city a championship, but I had some great times there, and so many moments I’ll never forget.
Right now, though, I feel like a rookie again. I’m thrilled to be in Orlando. I know that might sound crazy to some people, that I’m excited to go from a contender like the Thunder to a rebuilding team, one that hasn’t made the playoffs in four years, but playing now for Frank Vogel, a coach who prides himself on defense, is very exciting for me. We have a core of like-minded, young, athletic players, which is going to be very fun. We are an old-school, smashmouth team, and I can’t wait to don a Magic uniform on opening night.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: A closer look at the New York Knicks’ point guard situation … Milwaukee Bucks forward Steve Novak says he’s pain-free and will be fully ready for training camp … Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard is shooting 19-footers to try and help his free-throw stroke … Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle will be out about two weeks after suffering a cut on his hand while practicing … Orlando Magic swingman Evan Fournier, a native of France, “hated” being left off France’s Rio 2016 squad …