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Posts Tagged ‘Minnesota Timberwolves’

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 27

Miami moves on from Bosh | Wall, Beal downplay rift | Spurs missing their ‘In-Tim-idator’ | Losing Middleton stymies Bucks

No. 1: Miami moves on from BoshPat Riley, Miami Heat president, went so far as to mention Magic Johnson‘s stunning HIV diagnosis. That’s how seriously and emotionally Riley and his organization were reacting to what they consider to be the end of Chris Bosh‘s NBA career in south Florida. The latest chapter in Bosh’s ongoing health concerns, stemming from blood clots that have snuffed the second halves of his past two seasons, came Monday as Riley confirmed the Heat no longer are open to bringing the All-Star power forward back. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel had the details:

President Pat Riley said Monday that the team views Chris Bosh’s career with the team as over, that the team no longer is working toward his return.

“We are not,” Riley said in his office at AmericanAirlines Arena. “I think Chris is still open-minded. But we are not working toward his return.

“We feel that, based on the last exam, that his Heat career is probably over.”

Asked if he felt Bosh’s NBA career was over, as well, Riley said, “that’s up to him.”

Bosh has been sidelined for the second half of each of the past two seasons due blood clots, recently failing the Heat’s preseason physical.

“It’s pretty definitive from us, in our standpoint, that this is probably going to be a time where we really have to step back,” Riley said

“His health, playing and economics — it’s been health, health, health,” Riley said before the start of the team’s media day at AmericanAirlines Arena. “Whatever the cap ramifications are, they are there, but we never ever thought about that.”

Of going forward, Riley said, “This one is cloudy, the environment, because of the C.B. situation, and we have to deal with that.”

The Heat would receive salary-cap relief going forward on Feb. 9 if Bosh is ruled medically unable to play by an NBA specialist.

Bosh said over the weekend he planned to continue his comeback attempt, posting on Twitter, “Setbacks may happen, but my intentions remain the same. Thank you all for the warm wishes and support.”

He then on Monday released the latest chapter of the video series chronicling his comeback attempt on the Uninterrupted digital-media platform.

“I put in all the work, so let’s see where I’m at,” Bosh said in the piece, which apparently was completed before his failed Heat physical. “I’m still hoping to have my moment.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra said the situation with Bosh has been emotionally grueling.

“I love C.B. dearly,” he said. “It was tough to watch C.B. and his family go through this the last couple of years. Your heart just goes out to him.”



Wolves’ Pekovic out for the season

HANG TIME, N.J. — In news that doesn’t come as much of a surprise, the Minnesota Timberwolves announced Sunday night that center Nikola Pekovic will miss the entire 2016-17 season with “recurring right ankle pain.”

Pekovic averaged 16.9 points and 8.7 rebounds over the ’12-13 and ’13-14 seasons, but played just 12 games last season and has missed an average of 34 games per year through his first six seasons in the league. That average will increase to 41 games after this year. He has one more year on his contract after this one.

With Kevin Garnett‘s retirement and Pekovic’s health issues, the Wolves are down two big men. But they clearly planned for this scenario, signing both Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich this summer. Reigning Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns leads the frontline that also includes Gorgui Dieng, Nemanja Bjelica and Adreian Payne.

Garnett talking buyout with Wolves

HANG TIME, N.J. — Kevin Garnett‘s career may be over.

ESPN’s Marc Stein reports that Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves are in talks about a contract buyout.

Garnett, who missed the last 37 games of last season (and the last 21 games of the previous one), had one more year (at $8 million) on a contract he signed with the late Flip Saunders last summer. His Instagram feed indicates that he’s been working out, but he’s been silent publicly.

Earlier on Wednesday, Wolves coach Tom Thibodeau told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Garnett was talking to Wolves owner Glen Taylor about his future.

“Glen and Kevin and his representatives are in discussions,” Thibodeau said. “We’ll keep that private for now, and we’ll see how it unfolds. But, obviously, what Kevin has meant to our league, the organization, he’s earned the right to have those discussions with Glen.”

Garnett played less than 15 minutes per game last season, but was a mentor for Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns. The 2003-04 MVP and ’07-08 Defensive Player of the Year ranks 17th on the all-time scoring list and ninth in career rebounds.

If Garnett has indeed decided to retire, he will join Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan in the prospective 2021 Hall of Fame class.

Blogtable: Which two teams are most intriguing in the West?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> As the start of Western Conference training camps near, which two teams are you most intrigued by? And what depth chart battle/storyline/offseason move(s) by those teams will you be watching most?

Steve Aschburner, Golden State and Oklahoma City, largely for the same reason. It’s impossible not to go full gawker on Golden State to see how Kevin Durant fits in, as well as how the Warriors’ other scorers and staff adapt to areas of redundancy while plugging holes opened primarily by departing bigs Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezili. Curious to see how they go 83-0 too. For OKC, it’s all about addition by subtraction (not just Durant but Serge Ibaka), Russell Westbrook unleashed as an early MVP favorite for all he’ll be asked or freed to do, the ongoing, entertaining saga of Steven Adams‘ NBA journey, Victor Oladipo‘s ascending star and Billy Donovan forced to work in his second pro season without one of the league’s top 3 players.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The Warriors and the Timberwolves. Golden State is obvious — fans love the addition of Kevin Durant, enemies will make it the reason to hate the defending West champions even more, but no one can deny it will be amazing to watch the adjustment play out. Win or lose, the Dubs are changing and what happens next is captivating. While I wouldn’t make Minnesota a preseason pick for the playoffs, tracking the next step on the very promising future is mandatory viewing. So is the depth chart at point guard, with veteran Ricky Rubio and rookie Kris Dunn.

Shaun Powell, Wolves and Warriors. So much is expected of both teams, to different levels of course, and training camp will unlock some mysteries. How will Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, a pair of MVPs, develop harmony? And Durant and Klay Thompson, for that matter? All three are terrific shooters and you wonder if they’ll be too unselfish initially. Meanwhile in Minnesota, camp comes down to one position and two names: Point guard, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn.

John Schuhmann, Houston and Minnesota. Putting James Harden‘s pick-and-roll playmaking in Mike D’Antoni‘s offense seems ideal, and having Ryan Anderson at the four only makes the Rockets more difficult to defend. But I’m curious to see if they can be an average defensive team or better. They still have some good defenders on the perimeter, but took a big step backward on that end of the floor last season, lost Dwight Howard, and will obviously need better defensive effort from Harden. I just want to know if Donatas Motiejunas is going to get a contract (or sign his qualifying offer), because D’Antoni could make good use of his skills. In Minnesota, I think Tom Thibodeau will take the Wolves from 27th in defensive efficiency to at least average on that end of the floor. And that, along with the development of their young talent, should have them in the playoff picture all season. They shouldn’t be shopping Ricky Rubio just yet, because he’s proven to be a key for them on both offense and defense. Zach LaVine should only be considered a two (he was a much improved shooter playing alongside Rubio), so there’s room for both Rubio and Kris Dunn at the point.

Sekou Smith, This isn’t fair to the rest of the teams in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant joining that All-Star cast the Golden State Warriors already had in place, the Warriors are easily the most intriguing team in basketball. They’ll have to redefine their chemistry, of course, and work through whatever issues that will arise from adding a player on KD’s caliber. But it should be loads of fun watching it all go down. A surprise team last season, the Portland Trail Blazers return this season with some fresh faces and plenty of momentum (generated by their impressive playoff showing). We know Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are the real deal. That underrated supporting cast that showed up in the playoffs last season is the question mark. I want to see how Evan Turner fits in that mix and see how the competition for rotation spots works out among all of that young talent.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comHow quickly will Kevin Durant adapt to the move-the-ball style of the Warriors? Will their new bench serve as an extension to that style, or will we see the personality of the Warriors becoming more traditional this season? The 82 games are going to serve as a kind of extended preseason for the Warriors, in the sense that nothing can be proved until the playoffs. As fascinating as it will be to watch the Spurs and Thunder move on without their franchise stars, I’ll be focused more on the Clippers. Is this the year it all comes together for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan? They have the talent and depth — their bench looks like a strength now — but do their leaders have the necessary resolve? Have their troubles of the last couple of years strengthened them to outfight the Warriors and other contenders?

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: The Utah Jazz, and I choose them not only because they drafted me in the franchise mode of NBA 2K17. I really love the addition of Joe Johnson to provide a steadying veteran influence, as well as George Hill. (And if I learned anything else from 2K, it’s that Michael B. Jordan is no Michael Jordan.) For a second squad, I’m really interested to see what the Grizzlies do this season under new coach David Fizdale. They’re finally healthy, and the addition of Chandler Parsons should give them some scoring help which it feels like they’ve needed forever.

Blogtable: Which rookie would you take slow approach with?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Intriguing East teams? | Intriguing West teams? | Taking slow approach with rookie

> Lakers coach Luke Walton says he plans to bring rookie Brandon Ingram along slowly and not start him immediately. Is there another rookie you’d take a similar approach with and why?

Steve Aschburner, Kris Dunn, Minnesota. Why? To tamp down some of the raging expectations (Dunn is the rookies’ Rookie of the Year pick), to provide more classroom and simulator work at point guard before tossing him the keys for behind-the-wheel training, and to make sure this team gets the most out of Ricky Rubio before rushing or forcing a transition. Rubio is a unique offensive talent — OK, he’s a preternatural playmaker with shooting issues — and an underrated defender. He’s still young (26 on Oct. 21). And if he’s not going to hang onto his job — he is not new coach Tom Thibodeau‘s preferred type of point guard — he at least needs some time to demonstrate his trade value. As a four-year guy out of Providence, Dunn might not need much time, but I’d give him some regardless.

Scott Howard-Cooper, First of all, Walton saying he plans to bring Ingram along slowly doesn’t mean anything. “Slowly” could mean bringing the rookie off the bench for the first two weeks before making the move. Or the first two games. Ingram has a lot of developing to do, but could also hold his own as a rookie. And, sources say, the Lakers need talent. He will get an opportunity. Another rookie is a better candidate for a similar approach: Dragan Bender in Phoenix, at 18 years old and after a limited role in Europe last season. I don’t like the topic as a whole, though. This isn’t baseball, where teams will limit the innings of a pitcher selected in the first round and maybe even keep the prospect in the minors just to make sure he is not being rushed. Bender or Ingram are not going to throw out their arms. How much they play will be determined by how well they play, along with team needs. I guess in that sense, Joel Embiid is the ultimate example of an NBA rookie who should be brought along slowly.

Shaun Powell, I think the Sixers would be wise to do the same with Joel Embiid. Sure, he hasn’t played a meaningful game in two years, which is why there could be a tendency to press the gas pedal, especially by Embiid. But there’s nothing to gain by shoveling him 30 minutes a night. Ease him in, get him comfortable and confident, and allow his body and performance to dictate future playing time.

John Schuhmann, Obviously, Joel Embiid’s work load shouldn’t be too heavy early on. The guy hasn’t played real basketball in more than two years. The Nets, we know, are in no rush and will take it easy with Caris LeVert as he recovers from foot surgery. And it will be interesting to see how Brad Stevens uses Jaylen Brown, given how many solid guards and wings the Celtics have otherwise.

Sekou Smith, Ask Byron Scott how that easing the rookie into things theory works. And no, there isn’t another rookie that needs this same specific plan Walton and the Lakers have in mind for Ingram. In most cases, being cautious with a talent like Ingram would make sense. But the Lakers and Los Angeles don’t constitute most cases. There is a pressure that comes with the market that suggests it will be tough to ease Ingram into the mix. Every rookie is going to adjust to his situation and the NBA game differently. I don’t think there is a right or wrong way to develop a young star. The Lakers don’t have to turn things over to Ingram now, not with other players like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson already in line for increased roles with Kobe Bryant no longer a part of the process.

Ian Thomsen, The same long-term patience should be applied to every rookie in this class except Ben Simmons. The 76ers have no quarterback, and so they need to develop their new identity through the playmaking of Simmons this season. All of the other players in this draft should be brought along more slowly because none of them is ready to take on a major role — including Ingram, whose young Lakers will be struggling now that Kobe Bryant won’t be there to shield them from the pressure and criticism.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Considering how well it worked with D’Angelo Russell, I am against the whole “bringing guys along slowly” idea. You’ve just made a significant financial investment in a player, and the clock is ticking on when your contractual control is going to run out. If they can’t play right away, unless you’re a team like the Warriors or Spurs, why waste a pick? So that being said, I wish the Lakers would just throw Ingram out there and let him play from the start. Then again, I suppose if he’s good enough, he can force that to happen.

Timberwolves still awaiting word on Kevin Garnett’s plans for 2016-17

With training camp less than three weeks away and their first preseason game set for Oct. 8, the Minnesota Timberwolves still are waiting to hear from veteran forward Kevin Garnett on his decision to play in 2016-17 or to retire.

“Kevin hasn’t told me or informed me yet if he’s coming back to play or if he isn’t coming back,” Wolves owner Glen Taylor told Thursday. “I can only assume I’ll be hearing from him in the next three weeks.”

Garnett, whose contact not just with media but also Wolves management is limited in the offseason, is under contract for $8 million to play this season. From that standpoint, no news is good news — or at least status quo. If Garnett does play, it would be his 22nd NBA season.

Garnett — the only player in NBA history with at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks — played in only 38 games last season due to chronic knee pain, averaging 3.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 14.6 minutes. His career numbers: 17.8 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 3.7 apg and 34.5 mpg.

Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves’ new coach and president of basketball operations, told Wednesday at the coaches meetings in Chicago that discussions on Garnett’s status still are between Taylor and the player.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 8


Riley: ‘We move on’ from Wade | How Magic nearly flubbed drafting Shaq in ’92 | Towns on Wolves: ‘We’ve got to make the playoffs’

No. 1: Riley has ‘no regrets’ as 2016-17 season nears — The Miami Heat have retooled their roster this summer and as part of it, watched as franchise icon Dwyane Wade left in free agency to sign with the Chicago Bulls. Team president Pat Riley knows a new era is afoot in Miami and acknowledged as much in an interview with the Palm Beach Post‘s Tom D’Anglelo:

Heat president Pat Riley is looking forward to Sept. 27, the start of yet another era in his 22 years with the Heat. While the expectations have been lowered, that does not mean Riley and the organization will approach this year any differently.

“No apologies, no regrets – except for one – no tears,” Riley told me today, obviously referring to losing franchise icon Dwyane Wade to the Chicago Bulls. “Good luck. We move on. Players come and go, but franchises move on.”

The reason for our conversation was to speak about Shaquille O’Neal’s induction into the basketball Hall of Fame on Friday. Riley took the time to speak from San Tropez where he and Heat owner Micky Arison are on a five-day journey through the Mediterranean to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of Magic and Cookie Johnson. (More in this below)

Riley, 71, does not sound like a man ready to cruise into retirement. He clearly is looking at ways to rebuild this team into one that can one day compete for the organization’s fourth title.

The Heat have been remade since losing Wade, Luol Deng and Joe Johnson among others. They are a mix of young athletic players with fewer veterans than Heat teams of recent years.

“I’m excited for our new guys,” he said before already talking about the next move. “Maybe we make a deal or catch lightening in a bottle again next summer (in free agency) like we did in 2010.”



Morning shootaround — Sept. 7


Rivers says Pierce still unsure about playing | Mitchell sounds off about dismissal | Gordon, Magic expecting playoffs in 2016-17

No. 1: Rivers says Pierce still unsure about 2016-17 — The last news we heard about Paul Pierce was that the 38-year-old former Finals MVP was leaning toward returning to the LA Clippers for what would be his 19th overall NBA campaign. Clippers coach Doc Rivers, who was speaking at a fundraiser for the ABCD Camp in Boston, told reporters he remains unsure if Pierce will play for LA next season.’s Chris Forsberg has more:

“Depends on the day I talk to him. Paul has had the summer, he’s gone back and forth,” Rivers said while back in Boston to host the annual ABCD Hoops Dream fundraiser at TD Garden. “I think he has a right to do that. I really do.

“Paul didn’t have the best year last year. I don’t think he wants to go out that way. So I think that’s why he’s working to try to come back. But he still may change his mind next week. So we just have to wait. I told him if I see him at training camp, I’m assuming he’s playing.”

Rivers plans to talk with Pierce again this week but does not expect an answer until training camp draws closer.

Rivers said he would be brutally honest with Pierce if he didn’t think Pierce was capable of helping the Clippers next season.

“If I don’t think they can play, then I tell them that. But I think Paul can play,” Rivers said. “I don’t know how much he’ll play, but he can play. I’ve always thought it’s easy for someone else to tell you to retire; I think that’s something that the player has to come to by himself.”

Rivers reaffirmed that, should Pierce choose to retire, he’ll encourage him to sign a one-day contract with the Boston Celtics in order to retire as a member of the Celtics organization.

“I think it’s important. I think we have to do that. And I think we will,” Rivers said. “[Celtics president of basketball operations] Danny [Ainge] and [assistant general manager] Mike [Zarren], we’ve already talked.

“The day [Pierce] retires, he’s going to retire a Celtic. He has to. Paul’s a Celtic. So when he retires, he’s got to retire as a Celtic. I don’t think anyone disagrees with me.”

Rivers talked with Ray Allen this summer but wouldn’t tip his hand on whether he thought Allen would resume his NBA career after sitting out the past two seasons.

“I don’t know. I won’t talk about what we talked about. I think if Ray was in the right spot, he may play,” said Rivers. “I think Ray wants to golf a lot too, right now. But Ray is in amazing shape. I don’t know how he does that. I didn’t know how he does that as a player; I don’t know how he does it as a non-player. He’s probably in top-5 shape in the NBA. So could Ray play? Absolutely, I believe he could.”

Rivers sounded most confident that Kevin Garnett would continue his playing career, even as he aids the rebuilding process with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“I think Kevin — and I know it, because I talk to him — loves the young guys on his team,” Rivers said. “He loves how they work. He thinks they have an old-school mentality. So I think he’s really gotten into Kevin, the teacher. And I honestly never saw that coming, either. Yet he was a phenomenal teacher with [Boston]; I just didn’t think he would have the patience to do it. And I think Kevin loves teaching these young guys.

“And I think Paul just loves playing. He was the one that I thought would play the longest because the way he plays, and he’s doing it.”



Morning shootaround — Aug. 12


Anthony takes solace in Olympic accomplishments | Hoiberg not expecting any issues with Butler | Wolves’ Dunn feeling fine | Report: Noel ‘very open’ to trades

No. 1: Olympic accomplishments lessen playoff sting for Anthony — As our John Schuhmann noted the other day, international teams far and wide know better than to mess with Carmelo Anthony in FIBA play (aka “FIBA Melo”). Anthony is the newly crowned all-time leading scorer in USA Basketball history, has two Olympic gold medals to his name and, if Team USA wins in Rio, will be the first U.S. player to win three golds. In an interview with’s Marc Stein, Anthony revealed how those overseas accomplishments help lessen the sting of his many, many playoff letdowns in the NBA:

As the accolades stack up for him in the international game, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony says he has no trouble tuning out naysayers who want to take issue with his NBA résumé.

In an interview with ESPN at the Rio Olympics, Anthony ‎insisted that the prospect of becoming the first U.S. male to win three gold medals in basketball more than eases the sting of an NBA playoff history that, to date, includes only one trip to the conference finals and just two trips total beyond the first round.

“Most athletes don’t have an opportunity to say that they won a gold medal, better yet three gold medals,” Anthony said. “I would be very happy walking away from the game knowing that I’ve given the game everything I have, knowing I played on a high level at every level: high school, college, won [a championship at Syracuse] in college and possibly three gold medals.

“I can look back on it when my career is over — if I don’t have an NBA championship ring — and say I had a great career.”

In his fourth Olympics, Anthony is now up to 293 points, 20 ahead of previous leader LeBron James, who has played in three Olympics.

David Robinson (270) and Michael Jordan (256) are third and fourth on the all-time U.S. list, respectively. Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the men’s Olympic record of 1,093 points. But unlike Anthony, Schmidt didn’t have his minutes restricted while playing on powerhouse teams.

“He was wanting that moment,” Team USA forward Paul George said of Anthony’s performance against Australia. “He was special tonight. We joke about it, this being his farewell tour, but he was definitely special. He’s he reason we won this.”

A 13-year NBA veteran who has starred for the Knicks for the past six seasons, Anthony won gold with the United States in 2008 and 2012 after a disappointing bronze medal in 2004.

“Of course, because we play in the NBA that’s always the goal: to win an NBA championship,” Anthony said. “But every year [there’s] a new champion, so you have an opportunity to compete for a championship every year. This is every four years.”

*** (more…)

Blogtable: Where do Thunder rank in West now?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?

> In the loaded Western Conference, where do the Thunder rank going into this season?

Steve Aschburner, Second-tier playoff team. I think the Clippers and the Trail Blazers bump up into the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with OKC now in the mix with the likes of Memphis, Utah, Houston and Minnesota for the remaining four spots. Not only has Westbrook been a terrific catalyst when playing without Durant, averaging about 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over the past two years in such games, but GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and the rest will be extra-motivated to demonstrate how good the Thunder still are and how well they can remodel a legit contender around Westbrook. They dare not slip into lottery land, at this point.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWestbrook has already proven that he can anchor the team and lead it to a winning record (45-37) two seasons ago when Durant missed 55 games due to injury. While the Thunder are no longer a championship contender, they battle the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. If all goes very well, they’re fighting for the No. 4-5 spots in the Western Conference. If not, OKC is scrambling for the No. 7 or 8 holes. Either way, this is still a playoff team, though the young Minnesota Timberwolves under Tom Thibodeau are coming up fast. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI always dislike August predictions, knowing rosters can still change before the opening of camp, but since you asked: They could still be a playoff team. Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson’s defense, Enes Kanter’s offense and rebounding — there are big holes at both forward spots, but that’s also a respectable starting point. To try and pinpoint it, I’ll say OKC is in the 8-9 conversation. I think they’re going to be very motivated and focused. They are not going away quietly, that’s for sure. Getting a boost from a second-year player (Cameron Payne) or rookie (Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines) would be a big help, especially since Sabonis can play power forward and Abrines small forward. It’s just tough to count on dependable play from newcomers, though.

Shaun Powell, Top 5. Russell Westbrook will have an MVP type season and he and Victor Oladipo will mesh in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey still a good amount of talent, but their defense is going to take a big step backward with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. I would put them behind Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and Memphis, in the mix for lower seed with Portland, Dallas, Utah, and Minnesota.

Sekou Smith, The top six is a realistic starting point. Scanning the list of contenders in a top-heavy Western Conference we have to start with that new-look crew at Golden State, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and then the Thunder. I’m not sure what to make of the Dallas Mavericks and their revamped roster. And the Houston Rockets still have James Harden to lean on. The Thunder are in that same mix with the Mavericks and Rockets, without the benefit of knowing how all of the new pieces will fit on each of those teams.

Ian Thomsen, The sure thing — health permitting — is that they’re going to make the playoffs. The top three contenders are going to be the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves the No. 4 spot wide open. Who’s to say that the Thunder won’t be able to grab it — with the promise of a delicious Western Conference semifinals rematch vs. Golden State in which virtually everyone outside the Bay Area will be rooting for OKC.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogLet’s do this by process of elimination. Eliminating health concerns, I’d say as presently constructed, the very best teams in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. I would place the Thunder within the next tier of teams, which includes (in no particular order) the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and maybe Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Thunder make the playoffs? Even if everyone stays healthy, I think it may require Russ averaging 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. I don’t know if he can do that over an entire season, but it sure should be fun to watch.