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Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com: 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, NBA.com’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.

Blogtable: How important was it for Thunder to keep Westbrook?

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?


> After losing Kevin Durant to the rival Golden State Warriors, how important was it for the Thunder to lock up Russell Westbrook to a long-term deal?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Only as important as it was for those frontier towns that got lucky 150 years ago when the transcontinental railroad got built through their neck o’ the woods. Losing Westbrook on the heels of Kevin Durant‘s departure – and let’s face it, GM Sam Presti would have had to deal Westbrook between now and the February trade deadline – would have positioned OKC as a tumbleweeds franchise as far as future NBA free agency. I write that with full compassion for the Thunder and their fans – I spent 20 years covering Minnesota, one of those markets that basically teeters on a two-legged stool (draft, trades) of player procurement because the third leg (free agents) isn’t realistically available to them. Such teams occasionally lure someone by overpaying but then, that’s what they wind up with – overpaid, underperforming salary-cap ballast. Westbrook helps himself – bigger paydays now, bigger contract next time – and has a sound supporting cast to now thrive as his team’s alpha dog. OKC avoids a plummet in the short term and has the chance to keep its title hopes afloat while courting Russ 24/7 for at least the next two years.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Absolutely critical, though it’s not exactly a long-term deal. He can become a free agent in 2018. The notion of Russell Westbrook walking out the door right behind Kevin Durant would have been a message that doomed OKC to second-class status, perhaps permanently. His decision to stay gives GM Sam Presti a foundation to build upon and keeps a team in place that can still be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The importance cannot be overstated. Locking up Westbrook is that big of a deal for the Thunder. (And, really, Oklahoma City as a whole.) Even if Westbrook would have stayed in the long run, with a new deal after becoming a free agent in summer 2017, this eliminates a storyline that could have dominated the Thunder’s season — “Durant just left, and now Westbrook could be next.” Now the Thunder can deal with certainties more than what-ifs. This only pushes Westbrook’s possible free agency out one more season, but it takes his departure off the table for the foreseeable future. That’s huge.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: They bought him for an extra year. That’s all. There’s no big commitment from Westbrook. This isn’t the same as James Harden‘s extension with the Houston Rockets. Mark it down as a half-vote of confidence from Russ when OKC needed a full vote.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s important, because talent acquisition and retention is the most critical thing in the NBA. If the Thunder were forced to trade Westbrook, there’s no telling when they’d get another player who’s just as good. But essentially (since Westbrook will have a player option in 2018), it adds only one year to his deal. So the positive of this summer are still far outweighed by the negative (Kevin Durant‘s departure) in Oklahoma City.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Getting Westbrook to stick around Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future is colossal victory for Sam Presti and the Thunder, given the way free agency began for them this summer. Two more seasons with Westbrook as the head of the snake keeps the Thunder relevant. Whether or not they will be among the playoff elite in the Western Conference remains to be seen. Westbrook’s supporting cast has to remain healthy and performs to its potential and beyond in order for them to compete in that realm. You can craft a playoff team around Westbrook, we know this much. Whether or not they are a true contender in the Western Conference depends on the continued improvement of guys like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and others.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is a coup for a small-market team to defy trends and convince a star like Westbrook to not only take less money but to not return home to play for the Lakers in 2017, as has been rumored for the last year. It speaks to the program that has been built in Oklahoma City, regardless of Durant’s departure.

Their talent has been diminished by Durant’s move, absolutely, and yet the identity of the Thunder is stronger than ever. The old stylistic tension of Durant vs. Westbrook is no more. They are now indisputably a hard-driving defensive-minded team based on the tireless personality of Westbrook and his leading teammates, and the way they play will serve as a reflection of their community. The fans in Oklahoma City are invested in their team more so than any other fan-base in the NBA, and Westbrook has shown that he is invested too.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It was either crucial or it was just ok, and I’m not sure which it was just yet. Crucial because after losing Durant, the Thunder clearly needed to keep Westbrook around to have a shot at even remaining competitive next season. And by keeping Westbrook under contract for the next few seasons, the Thunder have a solidified foundation upon which to build. Then again, it may be just OK because we still don’t know if Westbrook is the kind of player you can build an NBA championship team around as the main player. They’ve secured his services long-term, but can he lead a team to a title?

 

All-Star Westbrook signs contract extension with Thunder

From NBA.com staff reports

The Oklahoma City Thunder and their superstar point guard, Russell Westbrook, will be together for a few more seasons.

Westbrook has signed a contract extension with the Thunder that will reportedly keep him in Oklahoma City for up to three more seasons.

“I am grateful to extend my contract with the Thunder and continue to play with the only organization that I have played for and have loved being a part of since I was drafted into the NBA,” Westbrook said in a statement released by the team. “I’m really excited about moving forward with this group of guys and continuing to play in front of the best fans in the world.”

“Russell has been an outstanding leader of this team since he was drafted by our organization eight years ago. His competitiveness, character, and unique athletic ability have propelled him to the forefront of the game,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti. “Russell personifies many of the traits that are synonymous with Oklahoma and Oklahomans. We are excited that Russell has chosen to continue to build the legacy of the Thunder with us as we move forward together.”

According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first broke the news overnight, Westbrook and OKC agreed on a 3-year, $85 million deal that will keep the All-Star guard from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. According to the report, Westbrook will hold a player option for the 2018-19 season.

Oklahoma City has undergone a series of roster changes since it lost in the Western Conference finals, starting with it trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic on Draft night (for Victor Oladipo and others) to seeing former NBA MVP Kevin Durant leave via free agency for the Golden State Warriors.

Wojnarowski has more on Westbrook’s new deal:

Oklahoma City Thunder star guard Russell Westbrook has agreed to a three-year, $85 million-plus maximum contract renegotiation, league sources told The Vertical.

Westbrook, a five-time All-Star, and his agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, are planning to fly to Oklahoma City on Thursday morning, sign the deal and likely hold a news conference with Thunder ownership and executives, league sources told The Vertical.

For the Thunder, the Westbrook commitment is a significant statement in the wake of star Kevin Durant’s departure for the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook is no longer a free agent in the summer of 2017, and Thunder GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan have a longer window to continue improving the Thunder roster around Westbrook without the fear of losing him in free agency.

Westbrook will be under contract for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and will hold a player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources said.

In the most likely scenario, Westbrook will become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 again.

In the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook new deal could be instrumental in recruiting another elite free agent to the Thunder’s talented core next summer. Oklahoma native Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers will be a serious target for the Thunder, league sources told The Vertical.

Westbrook is already fond of the returning core of talent in Oklahoma City, including center Steven Adams, guard Victor Oladipo and center Enes Kanter. Westbrook has been working out for the past several days in Los Angeles with Oladipo, with Donovan in the gymnasium, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Ramona Shelburne also reported on the deal between Westbrook and the Thunder:

All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder have reached agreement in principle on a new three-year contract worth $85.7 million, league sources told ESPN.

Westbrook, 27, will sign the contract on Thursday in Oklahoma City, sources said.

Talks between the sides centered on the addition of two more years to Westbrook’s current deal, which expires after the 2016-17 season. The new deal calls for an $8.7 million increase in Westbrook’s salary for this season, from $17.8 million to the maximum $26.5 million. He would then earn the max the next two seasons.

Only one of those two seasons is guaranteed, though.

In the wake of former MVP Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder made locking up Westbrook to a long-term deal their primary offseason objective. Oklahoma City removed its qualifying offer to restricted free agent Dion Waiters to free up cap space to offer Westbrook a max extension. Waiters agreed to a deal with the Miami Heat last month.

Westbrook averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season and finished fourth in the MVP voting.

The 27-year-old Westbrook is one of the top stars in the NBA and piled up 18 triple-doubles last season, tying Magic Johnson for the most in the last 30 years. He also notched seven triple-doubles in March, the most by an NBA player in a calendar month since Michael Jordan in April of 1989.

“On behalf of the Thunder organization and the entire State of Oklahoma I want to congratulate Russ and offer my sincere appreciation for not only his profound presence and skill as a player, but for his high character, personal integrity and extraordinary leadership,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder chairman. “We are thrilled he will continue with us and we look forward to exciting days ahead for the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

The five-time All-Star averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season as the Thunder reached the Western Conference finals, in which they lost in seven games to the Golden State Warriors after jumping to a 3-1 series lead.

For his entire career, Westbrook had been paired with a fellow superstar in Durant and together they turned Oklahoma City into a perennial NBA title contender. The Thunder have reached the conference finals in four of the past six seasons, but advanced to the NBA Finals only once, falling to the Miami Heat in 2012.

Even without Durant, the Thunder is hardly bereft of talent to go with Westbrook. Steven Adams showed during the playoffs that he rapidly is moving up the ranks of NBA centers, and another post player, Enes Kanter, finished third in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant says Harden underappreciated | Team USA understands the gold standard | The return of Amar’e?

No. 1: Durant says Harden underappreciated — There are few NBA players who probably have as much appreciation for James Harden as Kevin Durant. They may be on different coasts and different teams these days, of course, but a few years back they played together on the Oklahoma City Thunder and made a run to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. Harden was traded soon after, and Durant left Oklahoma this summer in Free agency, but as a former teammate, Durant has a unique perspective on what it’s like to play alongside Harden. And with Team USA in Houston for tonight’s final exhibition (8:00 p.m. ET) before the Olympics, as Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle writes, Durant spoke about how he feels Harden can be underappreciated…

Kevin Durant and James Harden, former Oklahoma City teammates, opted against becoming teammates again this summer when the Rockets star chose not to play in the Olympics and Durant did not consider signing with Harden’s Rockets as a free agent. But before the USA Basketball practice at Toyota Center on Sunday, Durant argued that Harden is greatly underappreciated for his play in that arena.

“Nobody really appreciates what he does except for the players in our league,” Durant said. “Everybody on the outside doesn’t really appreciate what he brings. Anybody that can put up 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and not make the All-NBA team, that’s like a sin to even think about not putting a guy like that on the All-NBA team.

“As a player and someone that played with him and a fan of the game I was (angry) because somebody is right here in front of you and you can’t appreciate him. If he were to retire tomorrow, we would have so many stories and videos about how great he is, but he’s here right now doing it. Appreciate what he brings.”

***

No. 2: Team USA understands the gold standard With Team USA ready to head south to Brazil, where they are the favorites to win gold, it’s clear that the expectations haven’t changed through the years: Gold, or bust. But as our own Fran Blinebury writes, Team USA is playing to reach a standard that may be impossibly high…

It is the bar that was set impossibly high by the original Dream Team of 1992 that featured all-time greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to name a few. They not only swept through the Olympic tournament in Barcelona winning by an average of 44 points per game and never once requiring coach Chuck Daly to call a timeout, but they left a mark on the wall that successive American teams will always be measured against.

“Definitely,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “You don’t want to disappoint. Since ’06, Team USA hasn’t lost a game. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has only lost one game his whole coaching career with Team USA. We really don’t want to be that team that lets him down or the country down. People expect a lot out of us as they should.

“I think the world has gotten better since the Dream Team. You see it now in the NBA game. There’s so many international guys on every team. I think we had 100 last year. So I think the world influence is a little bigger than it was back then. Nobody’s gonna remember the score as long as we come along with the gold. But, yeah, living up to the reputation is always in the back of your head.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has become the de facto leader of the 2016 team, now playing in his fourth Olympics, a career that began with the desultory 2004 performance in Athens when Team USA limped home with a bronze medal that led to the revamping of the entire program.

“We try to keep that edge to know that if we do what we have to do it’s a very high chance that we could win games by 30 or more points every game,” Anthony said. “But if we come out and be too complacent and just think we got it from the jump, it won’t happen.”

It is both the driving force that pushes them on and a burden that each member of every new edition of Team USA must carry as they pick up the torch for the Olympics and World Cup.

“I know that’s out there,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “I don’t really try to think about it in terms of how much we’re beating people by or stuff like that. I think more about the tradition of how we do things. It’s doing things the right way, doing things as classy as possible and represent our country that way. That’s what we’re expected to do. It’s not about blowing guys out by 30.”

***

No. 3: The return of Amar’e? — Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, will Amar’e Stoudemire announce his return today? Apparently so, although it won’t be a return to the NBA. According to report from ESPN.com, Amar’e will return to play this season in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he partially owns…

Sources told ESPN.com that basketball officials in Israel say Stoudemire’s move to join Hapoel Jerusalem as an active player is now a mere formality.

A report earlier Sunday from international ‎basketball reporter David Pick says the deal is done for Stoudemire to play for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016-17 after he announced his NBA retirement last week.

Stoudemire is scheduled to travel to Israel next week as part of an NBA Cares initiative organized by the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA — Sacramento’s Omri Casspi — and has taken a great interest in the country over the past few years since revealing that he has Jewish roots on his mother’s side. He has held an ownership stake in Hapoel Jerusalem since the summer of 2013 after Israeli tech magnate Ori Allon became the club’s majority owner.

On Tuesday, Stoudemire signed a contract with the New York Knicks and was immediately waived in a move designed to allow him to retire as a Knick.

“I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that,” Stoudemire said Tuesday in a statement. “Carmelo [Anthony], Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his injury in the Finals, Andrew Bogut made his return to action with Australia … The Heat are looking at Dion Waiters as a presumptive starter at shooting guard … Former NBA forward Josh Howard has reportedly been hired as a college coach … Take a trip down memory lane with Richard JeffersonDirk Nowitzki wished Mark Cuban a happy birthday, although his math seems a little fuzzy

Morning shootaround — July 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant says he didn’t tell Westbrook he was coming back | Wade’s move shocks Anthony | Stoudemire wanted to retire with Suns

No. 1: Durant says he never made promise to Westbrook — Kevin Durant was one of, if not the biggest, names in free agency this summer. His decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors made ripples throughout the NBA that are still being felt today. On a recent podcast, ESPN.com’s Royce Young said Durant had essentially told his All-Star teammate in OKC, Russell Westborook, he was coming back to the Thunder. (Young has since clarified that statement back a bit.) Durant, in an interview with The Vertical’s Shams Charania, says he never said anything of the sort to Westbrook:

Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant refuted a report that he told his ex-Oklahoma City teammates – including Russell Westbrook – that he planned to re-sign with the Thunder.

“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.

“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”

In a quiet corner before USA Basketball’s practice at the United Center, Durant admitted he has heard – and refutes – the perception that he turned his back on Westbrook and his former Thunder teammates. “There were never promises given in a meeting before July,” he told The Vertical. “I went through the process.”

He held meetings with six teams – the Warriors, Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics and Miami Heat – and committed to a two-year maximum contract with Golden State. Since joining the Warriors, Durant and several teammates, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have fielded questions about acclimating the one-time NBA MVP to the starting lineup.

“I’m not coming into a team where a guy is playing my position and we have try to fit in two guys playing the same position,” Durant told The Vertical. “I’m not coming in trying to play the point guard, trying to play the shooting guard. I’m a small forward. The team didn’t have a small forward when I signed. Steph, Klay, Draymond, the bigs, we all play different positions.

“Whether it’s minutes, shots, opportunities, any good team will have players sacrificing. That’s the nature of the game. I’m not coming into a game saying that I need my 18 shots and I need to get to the line 12 times. I let the game flow naturally.”

***

No. 2: Anthony shocked by Wade’s move to Chicago — New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and new Chicago Bulls signee Dwyane Wade have been friends for years, dating back to before both were taken in the top 5 picks of the 2003 Draft. The two have had their share of memorable one-on-one showdowns through the years, even moreso over the last six seasons since Anthony was traded to the Eastern Conference. While Anthony should continue to face Wade on a regular basis in 2016-17 and beyond, he was like many others this summer who found themselves surprised Wade left the Miami Heat to sign with the Bulls. ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell has more:

“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

***

No. 3: Stoudemire says Suns weren’t receptive to him returning — After six All-Star Game apperances, a Kia Rookie of the Year trophy, and being named an All-NBA player several times, Amar’e Stoudemire retired from the NBA on Wednesday. Stoudemire was a free agent this summer and decided to hang it up as a member of the New York Knicks, whom he played for from 2010-15. Although Stoudemire had some memorable days in New York, most associate his peak seasons with the Phoenix Suns, who drafted him in 2002. Stoudemire told the Arizona Republic‘s Paul Coro he wanted to retire as a Sun, but the team didn’t seem receptive to that idea:

Amar’e Stoudemire gets sentimental the moment he reflects on his first eight NBA seasons spent in Phoenix, where a raw teenager became a skilled All-Star.

“Where do you want me to start?” Stoudemire said Thursday, shuffling through his mind’s fondest Suns memories. “It doesn’t stop.”

Stoudemire quickly recites Suns times like flying with a Phoenix contingent to recruit Steve Nash out of Dallas, watching Leandro Barbosa and Goran Dragic arrive in Phoenix from foreign countries, his career’s most successful seasons as an individual and a team, experiencing a preseason tour of Italy and Germany, watching Nash’s soccer skills on the Suns practice court and using his Hollywood connections to entertain teammates on the road.

All of that, dotted by conference finals runs and five All-Star Games as a Sun, will carry more weight in time than his decision to retire on a one-day New York Knicks contract for his less successful NBA home of 4 ½ years.

Stoudemire just did not feel the same love back in the past two offseasons, when he hoped to return to the Suns to close his career. That prompted him to reach out to New York this month for a ceremonial contract with a “Once a Knick, Always a Knick” quotation to cap his 14-year career.

“The last two years, we made phone calls to Phoenix but I wasn’t getting any positive response,” Stoudemire told azcentral sports on Thursday. “That would’ve been the perfect way to go out. I didn’t want to beg Phoenix. My heart was in two places – Phoenix and New York. I just went where I was wanted.”

“I love my fans in Phoenix. Most of my high times and highlights were in Phoenix. I put forth the effort to finish my career in Phoenix but it wasn’t well-received.”

Stoudemire watched Steve Nash be inducted into the Suns Ring of Honor last season and thought, “I might be next.” There are currently 14 members.

Even with missing nearly a full season during his eight-year Phoenix stay, Stoudemire ranks highly in Suns career annals – fourth in points per game (21.4), third in total rebounds (4,613), fifth in total blocks (722), third in free throws made (3,044) and seventh in field goal percentage (54.3).

“I’m praying for that,” Stoudemire said of a Ring of Honor induction, “because my glory years are in Phoenix. My best times are in Phoenix. I bleed purple and orange. My roots are in Phoenix and the tree bloomed from there.”

 

Stoudemire wanted to make it clear that his positive feelings for the franchise remain in tact, especially his respect for Suns fans and managing partner Robert Sarver.

“I never have received so much love and loyalty than I did with Suns fans,” Stoudemire said. “I love them unconditionally.

“I understand what Robert is trying to do. I know Robert is trying to win and I know the organization is trying to create a winning environment. I respect what they are trying to accomplish. If they need my help with anything, I am here for them.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: ICYMI, the Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers will square off in a regular-season game in London next season … The cost of the Washington Wizards’ new practice facility just went up … Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler says he no longer has a chip on his shoulder motivating him, but he’s just as driven as ever … Sacramento Kings VP Vlade Divac is predicting a big Olympics for his team’s star center, DeMarcus Cousins … Gerald Green is glad to be back where his NBA career started — with the Boston Celtics …

Waiters agrees to deal with Miami

For those casual NBA critics you run into occasionally – particularly the ones who finally have come off their hackneyed “no one plays defense” or “the regular season means nothing” salvos, only to replace them this summer by grumbling about the flood of TV money and overpaid mediocre players – we offer: Dion Waiters.

Waiters, a shooting guard who already was an object of bemusement for some NBA reporters on social media, appears to be adding another chapter. The Miami Heat have signed Waiters, who most recently played for Oklahoma City, to a reported two-year contract worth around $6 million.

Mediocre? Overpaid? Not in this instance. If the reported salary is correct, Waiters will play in 2016-17 for less than he was paid last season and not even half what he could have gotten by re-signing with the Thunder. But Waiters’ inconsistent play, and the gap between his skills and his perception of those skills, apparently meant less of a market for a guy who was the No. 4 pick overall in 2012. Waiters averaged a career-worst 9.8 points while shooting 39.9 percent and continuing a career-long trend as a minus player in net rating (99/108 in 2015-16).

Here is some context from Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman, including details on why the Thunder pulled their qualifying offer to Waiters:

The number is eye-popping. Waiters is a 24-year-old shooting guard who, despite his flaws, showed decent ability on both ends of the floor deep into the playoffs this past season. Many speculated that Waiters would get $10 million or more per year in this seller’s market.

But his restricted free [agency] dragged on deep into July. The Victor Oladipo trade last month, combined with the Kevin Durant departure, allowed the Thunder to take a new direction. After signing Alex Abrines, OKC had little interest in bringing Waiters back. So the Thunder rescinded a qualifying offer last week that, if Waiters accepted it, would’ve made him $6.8 million next season.

He then became an unrestricted free agent and, apparently, there wasn’t much interest out there despite available money from teams like the Nets and Sixers. So Waiters has agreed to a short-term, bet-on-yourself, pay-cut deal with the Heat.

Morning shootaround — July 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Iguodala says OKC should have won title | Lakers’ Nance Jr. injures handConley builds a legacy in Memphis

No. 1: Iguodala says Thunder should have won 2016 title — It will likely be a long time before any NBA fan forgets the epic seven-game series the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder waged in the Western Conference finals. From the storylines to the impact the Warriors’ rally to win the series had on both franchises, this playoff matchup will live on in NBA lore for years. One of the key performers in that series, Golden State forward Andre Iguodala, had some praise for the Thunder after the Warriors’ loss in The Finals has settled. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on what Iguodala told Power 105.1 radio in New York:

More than a week later, Kevin Durant‘s stunning departure still stings Thunder fans for a variety of reasons. Andre Iguodala just added another one.

Appearing on a recent New York City radio show, Iguodala told the hosts that the Thunder, not the 73-win Warriors or NBA champion Cavaliers, was the best team in the playoffs and should’ve won the title.

Quite infamously, OKC blew a 3-1 series lead and a double-digit second half cushion in Game 6, melting away its title hopes to the same Warriors who snagged away the face of the franchise a month later.

“Now that we got KD, I can say it: They were the best team last year in the league in the playoffs,” Iguodala said. “They were better than us. They were better than Cleveland. They were the best team in the playoffs. They should’ve won a championship.”

Why didn’t they?

“I mean, we just hawked them down,” Iguodala said. “But they were better than us. They played us better than anyone. They played us better than Cleveland. Some of the stuff they was doing, it’s like…oh, man. We gotta play perfect.”

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Blogtable: More surprising move — Durant to Warriors or Wade to Bulls?

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: More surprising move: Durant’s or Wade’s? | Your lasting memory of Duncan? | Assessing Duncan’s meaning to Spurs?


> More surprising move: Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder to join the Warriors, or Dwyane Wade leaving the Heat to join the Bulls?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Wade leaving Miami after 13 years was the bigger surprise. Durant’s decision wasn’t entirely unexpected (although I was in the majority of folks who thought he would re-up with OKC on a short-term deal). But Wade taking his business with the Heat into the street struck me as a leverage ploy rather than an actual disintegrating relationship with Pat Riley & Co. Given the Bulls’ slide toward irrelevancy before they landed him, it makes sense that Chicago provided a comfortable landing spot for Wade and gave him the Kobe Bryant Golden Parachute contract for all he’d done … for a rival team?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Wade to Chicago, for sure. Because it just doesn’t make sense. I’m not talking about leaving Miami or anything to do with his legacy. I just don’t know what the hell they’re doing in Chicago and don’t see how this move makes the Bulls better. First time Wade’s legs act up, all the homecoming good feeling goes right out the window.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat. Durant’s move is more rim shaking for the league, but was an option all along, even if what seemed to be a slight one at times. Wade taking a one-way ticket out of South Florida never seemed like a real possibility, though, maybe because he had been there about as long as the Everglades and maybe because there had been previous July staring contests with the Heat and everything worked out. They needed him there and he wanted to be there. The same thing would happen this time, right? Wrong.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Wade leaving the Heat isn’t as seismic as Duncan leaving the Spurs prior to retirement, but close. Few players identified more with a city than Wade with Miami, and I’ll even say Wade, three titles later, is the No. 1 athlete in South Florida history, ahead of former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino. But he did the Heat a favor. Pat Riley didn’t want to tie up three years on an aging star. Riley’s allegiance is to owner Micky Arison, the guy who signs the checks, not Wade. So there are no bad guys here. Riley did what he had to do while Wade looked out for himself, even if he left Miami for just $3 million, the difference of his 2-year deal with Chicago and what Miami offered (no taxes in Florida).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: As shocking as Kevin Durant’s move to Golden State might seem to some, the rumors of the two sides eying each other in free agency cranked up last summer. Dwayne Wade leaving the Miami Heat for his hometown Chicago Bulls was much more surprising, especially when you consider his final season in a Heat uniform. Wade was fantastic, vintage Wade even, as he guided the beat down Heat to the Eastern Conference semifinals. It’s hard to imagine either side wanting things to end the way it did. He’s one of those players you figured would finish his career with one team, a practice of yesteryear it appears in today’s free agent climate.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I always, always thought Wade would remain in Miami — that both sides would see the bigger picture and come to yet another contractual understanding for one another’s benefit. But it’s less and less that kind of world anymore. Which really puts Tim Duncan’s career with the Spurs into perspective.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Wade to Chicago. While I suspected Durant was likely to stay in Oklahoma City and was rather surprised to hear he was leaving, I don’t think most people even believed a Wade departure was anywhere near the table. In many ways, Wade *is* the Miami Heat, and his departure over a few million dollars is shocking. The Thunder haven’t even been in Oklahoma City all that long, but the Heat and Wade have won titles and made real history together in South Florida, a relationship which is now literally history.

Durant announces he’ll join Warriors

From NBA.com staff reports

The most sought-after free agent of the summer spent the weekend mulling a variety of offers.

Although Kevin Durant (and every other free agent on the market) cannot sign until the free agency moratorium is lifted on July 7, he penned a column on The Players’ Tribune in which he revealed he is joining the Golden State Warriors:

This has been by far the most challenging few weeks in my professional life. I understood cognitively that I was facing a crossroads in my evolution as a player and as a man, and that it came with exceptionally difficult choices. What I didn’t truly understand, however, was the range of emotions I would feel during this process.

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player — as that has always steered me in the right direction. But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth. With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.

I’m from Washington, D.C. originally, but Oklahoma City truly raised me. It taught me so much about family as well as what it means to be a man. There are no words to express what the organization and the community mean to me, and what they will represent in my life and in my heart forever. The memories and friendships are something that go far beyond the game. Those invaluable relationships are what made this deliberation so challenging.

It really pains me to know that I will disappoint so many people with this choice, but I believe I am doing what I feel is the right thing at this point in my life and my playing career.

I will miss Oklahoma City, and the role I have had in building this remarkable team. I will forever cherish the relationships within the organization — the friends and teammates that I went to war with on the court for nine years, and all the fans and people of the community. They have always had my back unconditionally, and I cannot be more grateful for what they have meant to my family and to me.

Thunder chairman Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti issued a statement Monday addressing Durant’s news:

Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett: 

“Kevin’s contributions to our organization during his nine years were profound, on and off the court. He helped the Thunder grow and succeed in immeasurable ways and impacted the community just the same. We thank him for his leadership, his play, and how he represented Oklahoma City and the entire state of Oklahoma.”

Thunder Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti:

“Kevin made an indelible mark on the Thunder organization and the state of Oklahoma as a founding father of this franchise. We can’t adequately articulate what he meant to the foundation of this franchise and our success. While clearly disappointing that he has chosen to move on, the core values that he helped establish only lead to us thanking him for the many tangible and intangible ways that he helped our program.”

 

Morning Shootaround — June 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Jazz seek depth | More straight talk, less Bull, please | Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax

No. 1: Jazz seek depth  — The reported addition of George Hill allows the Utah Jazz to turn their focus to role players, according to Jody Genessy of the Deseret News, after a 2015-16 season in which injuries pulled back a curtain on a roster lacking depth:

Though Utah brass like their young core — including rehabbing Dante Exum and Alec Burks, both expected to be healthy by training camp — the organization has an offseason objective of fortifying the roster.

That means, if possible, acquiring more talent via free agency and/or trades.
Securing veteran playmaker George Hill — whom ESPN’s Zach Lowe described as “a really good point guard” — was a good start for this playoff-hungry franchise.

But Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey has even more in mind. He’s used words like “active” and “aggressive” in describing how his staff will approach the upcoming free-agency period.

In retrospect, Lindsey took responsibility for not having enough depth on the Jazz roster in 2015-16 to help Quin Snyder deal with the unexpected rash of injuries that the team experienced, including to Exum, Burks, Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors.

“We’re not going to sit here and alibi. Every single sports team has injuries,” Lindsey said the day after the team’s 40-42 season ended a couple of wins shy of a playoff spot. “Ultimately, I’m the most responsible up here on the dais — not Quin, not the coaches, not the players — about roster construction.”

The Jazz’s plan last offseason seemed to make sense. The team had finished the 2014-15 season on a tear, winning 21 of their final 32 games led by a dominating defensive surge.

Instead of rolling the dice on acquiring experienced free agents to bolster the up-and-comers, Lindsey & Co. opted to gamble on youth. Injuries — and a late-season collapse — made that plan backfire on a team that came oh-so-close but not close enough.

“If we do this the right way with the right character — and Quin’s such a good communicator — we’ll be able to manage the season better,” Lindsey said. “The players are like everybody else. They saw what happened last season and they know that we know that we need some reinforcements. Come early July, we plan on being very active in the free-agent market.”

***

No. 2: More straight talk, less Bull, please — A year ago, it was the coach’s fault. This season, it was the players’ fault. At some point, it’s going to be management’s fault, even if the Chicago Bulls’ top-heavy down management style doesn’t acknowledge that. Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has a reputation for backing the suits in his front-office, be it with the Bulls or the MLB White Sox. But sooner or later, general manager Gar Forman and VP of basketball operations John Paxson are going to face some measure of scrutiny and have to ‘fess up for the team’s underperformance the same way former coach Tom Thibodeau did in 2015 and the way Derrick Rose did with his trade last week to New York. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune looked at the Bulls’ monolithic approach and the growing distrust from many of the teams’ fans:

The bigger issue that emerged is this: Will Bulls fans trust a rebuilding plan designed and executed by a man so many find hard to believe?

With Rose gone, Forman instantly becomes the most polarizing member of the organization, lacking Butler’s popularity while eliciting the most emotional reaction. Lately, it’s Grrrrrrr, Forman. Chicagoans can detect BS as easily as they can spot red-light cameras, and they dislike both.

Forman first sounded disingenuous when he insisted on saying the Bulls are retooling, not rebuilding. Then consider Forman’s muddled confirmation of the Bulls’ interest in Providence point guard Kris Dunn, selected fifth by the Timberwolves

“We liked him. … We had talks like we do about moving up,” Forman said.

Of course the Bulls did. On draft day, teams in flux as much as the Bulls weigh a variety of options, which is what made Forman’s flat denial of [Jimmy] Butler trade talks so implausible. How did the Bulls admittedly explore trading up for Dunn with the Celtics and Timberwolves without dangling Butler — whom both teams wanted?

Forman comes across to those of us who know him as likable and funny, but you never will hear the words candid or transparent used to describe the Bulls GM. With a return to respectability the most realistic goal for 2016-17, the Bulls could use a little candor and a lot of transparency. Anything less threatens to turn people off. A team likely to struggle on the court need not give fans another reason to look away.

The Bulls have no worries related to attendance — the United Center regularly sells out — but the Rose deal reminds us that this is the wrong week to ignore how perception can shape reality in Chicago sports. No metric accurately measures civic confidence, but experience tells me the Bulls rank lower in that category than any other professional sports team in town, at least rivaling the lack of faith in the White Sox. Since the day the Bulls replaced coach Tom Thibodeau with Fred Hoiberg — Forman’s hand-picked candidate — skepticism has surrounded a team whose dysfunctional decline only intensified the scrutiny

Everybody understood how badly Rose needed a change of scenery because of his incompatibility with Butler. But isn’t it fair to wonder how Hoiberg’s arrival exacerbated the problems that hastened Rose’s departure? And who is most responsible for Hoiberg coaching the Bulls? The same executive who just added “I Traded Derrick Rose” to his legacy.

Yet the Bulls have left no doubt whom they want associated most with their latest plan to get past LeBron James. To articulate the Bulls’ biggest transaction of the post-Jordan era, Forman appeared alone to face questions. To discuss drafting Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine, an excellent pick that created a positive ripple, Forman again sat solo behind the microphone.

***

No. 3: Reputations sway Orlando-OKC trade reax — Reputations matter. So do resumes. So when a successful team completes a trade with an unsuccessful team, there might be some bias involved when folks on the outside evaluate the deal, tilting its apparent merits ever so slightly. That’s what Orlando Sentinel columnist Brian Schmitz sees in the reactions to the Magic-Thunder trade in which veteran power forward Serge Ibaka was shipped to central Florida in exchange for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the draft pick that became Domantas Sabonis. What allegedly looks so lopsided to some doesn’t appear that way to Schmitz:

This is what happens when you lose as much as Orlando has the past four seasons: You lose credibility locally and nationally.

A lot of what you do will be panned by the public – no matter if essentially trading Victor Oladipo for Serge Ibaka makes sense for the Magic.

The Magic had, as [GM Rob] Hennigan called it, a “logjam” of wing players, thus making Oladipo expendable. The Thunder had a stable of big men, thus making Ibaka expendable. The underlying theme in both scenarios is that Oladipo and Ibaka will be looking for new contracts after next season. Neither player was particularly happy at times with their role last season.

So instead of the trade being portrayed more as good for both teams – ESPN’s Chad Ford did call it that — it is being hailed as a win for the Thunder.

“We need to call the cops — OKC robbed Orlando,” tweeted HBO Sports’ Bill Simmons.

“I don’t bet against [Thunder GM] Sam Presti when it comes to picking players. Trading Ibaka for Sabonis/Oladipo/Ilyasova? Advantage, OKC,” tweeted Skip Bayless of Fox Sports.

After I lauded Hennigan’s move, I received an-email from a ticked-off Magic fan that echoed others: “That’s a bad trade and a bad column. Let’s face it. This Magic GM is just as bad as the last one.”

Perception is a funny thing.

The trade made by the Thunder is largely considered genius because they’re contenders. The deal made by the Magic is largely considered wrong-headed because they’re bottom-dwellers.

Orlando also is perceived as a somewhat dysfunctional franchise, and it’s not without merit. They couldn’t keep Dwight Howard or — most recently — Scott Skiles from walking out.

I get it: OKC earns the benefit of the doubt.

But when you have All Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, any move the Thunder make tends to look brilliant. They skew the evaluation system.

Why, all of a sudden, Oladipo has morphed into Dwyane Wade and Ibaka is viewed as a spare part. An ESPN.com article even suggests that this trade moves OKC ahead of Golden State in the West. Wow, if Oladipo had that kind of impact, the Magic should have won more games.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: With Kyrie Irving and Harrison Barnes on board, Team USA’s roster finally looks set. … There is a Minnesota media crush on Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio that might not be shared by new coach Tom Thibodeau and it has some in the Twin Cities fretting. … What is life like for Knicks’ prospect Kristaps Porzingis back home in Latvia? Esquire magazine with the answer to everyone’s most pressing question.


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