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Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

Morning Shootaround — Aug. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? | Group B gets crazy in Rio | Lebron’s new deal about more than money | Thomas convinced rest of the league knows Celtics are on the rise

No. 1: Fear factor vanishing for Olympic team? — All it takes is a couple of close calls in Olympic competition for the legion of doubters to appear for Team USA in Rio. That aura of invincibility vanishes with each and every tight game survived by this current group of All-Stars led by superstars Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving. Michael Lee of The Vertical shines a light on the turning tide in Rio as Mike Krzyzewski and his coaching staff continue to search for an identity for this particular group (perhaps in time for today’s game against France, 1:15 p.m. ET):

The hilarious Snapchat prank sessions, Facebook sing-alongs and Instagram video shenanigans were much more entertaining than the actual games for the United States men’s Olympic basketball team through a barnstorming exhibition tour and two effortless but sloppy beat-downs to start these games in Brazil. But just as this group was headed toward earning the playful title of the Meme Team, the Americans have encountered some genuine adversity in their past two games that – if mistakes aren’t corrected or adjustments not made – could find them on the wrong side of the joke.

Team USA might survive these Olympics unscathed. Ten All-Stars, including a former MVP, might prove to be all that the Americans need to escape the Rio games with gold medals around their necks. Getting shoved around by Australia and gasping for air until Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic’s potential tying 3-pointer drew iron, however, should give anyone pause that “the real world” – as coach Mike Krzyzewski has dubbed his team’s current predicament against superior opponents – is theirs to dominate. The Americans won’t be beatable until they actually lose, but the veil of invincibility has been exposed in too-close-for-comfort wins against Australia and Serbia.

“They are just players,” said Serbian center Nikola Jokic, the promising Denver Nugget who bludgeoned the U.S. for a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 loss. “If you think about who they are, you are not going to be good at this. Maybe Australia showed us they can get beat. They can get beat.”

Even without LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Chris Paul, the talent on Team USA is overwhelming in comparison to the other teams in this tournament. The performances have been extremely underwhelming, though, exposing the vulnerabilities and deficiencies without those aforementioned stars.

The off-court camaraderie that this group has developed appears authentic, as players have repeatedly discussed the bonds that have been formed in less than a month. But they are still learning to play with each other. Before confronting a fearless group from Australia, Team USA’s games were played at All-Star Game-level intensity and provided little in the form of preparation for what would be in store against legitimate competition outside the United States. The ease with which won made it easy to overlook that the team has 10 players making their Olympic debuts, including six who have never played any international competitions.

The Americans have all been asked to assume roles that are different than the ones they play on their NBA teams and the adjustment has been far from seamless. On the previous two Olympic gold medal-winning teams, Paul or James controlled the floor, Kobe Bryant embraced the role as defensive stopper, Dwyane Wade and later Westbrook came off the bench as cold-blooded assassins and Chris Bosh and later Tyson Chandler served as the defensive anchor protecting the rim and covering mistakes.

Through four games, this team is still waiting for those positions to be filled. Wins over Australia and Serbia were claimed in disjointed, grinding fashion. 

Team USA hasn’t looked sharp. Winning the past two games by a combined 13 points makes it obvious that something is amiss, but before trouncing Venezuela by 43, the Americans were tied with one of the worst teams in Group A after the first period.

“We got to expect this,” said DeMarcus Cousins. “Every time we step on the floor, guys are going to give us their best effort, everybody wants to beat Team USA. We know that coming in, but at the same time, we can’t crumble the way we’ve done the past two games. Right now, we’re hurting ourselves. Not taking away credit of how Serbia played, because they played amazing tonight. But we’ve got to be a lot stronger mentally.”

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Why Westbrook re-upped with OKC | Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure | Wade’s wife excited about move to Chicago

No. 1: Inside why Westbrook re-upped with Oklahoma City — The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a major victory of sorts yesterday when All-Star guard Russell Westbrook put pen to paper and signed a contract extension. His new deal keeps him in town for as long as three more seasons and saves face for the Thunder after they watched former MVP Kevin Durant bolt for the Golden State Warriors this summer. So why did Westbrook avoid his chance a free-agency riches next summer and stick with OKC? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported Westbrook’s deal, has the details:

When Russell Westbrook traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with general manager Sam Presti in the aftermath of the franchise’s lost weekend in the Hamptons, Westbrook held no interest for a post-mortem on Kevin Durant. For a front office still mired in angst and anger, Westbrook delivered a sobering splash of ice water: What’s next?

No nostalgia, no reflection and no regret: In Westbrook’s world, Durant had been deleted like his old teammate’s text message saying goodbye on the way to Golden State.

So, what’s next?

Westbrook’s free agency loomed in the summer of 2017. The Thunder couldn’t afford to lose two All-NBA players for nothing in consecutive years. If Westbrook had left an impression that the loss of Durant left him unenthusiastic about the franchise’s future – never mind unwilling – sources say the next step would’ve come swiftly: Westbrook would have been moved into the marketplace, traded for a package of young players and draft picks.

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency.

“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

As much as Durant had people of influence coming and going in his life – a revolving door of agents and spiritual gurus, personal trainers and various hangers-on – Westbrook’s inner circle never changed. His parents, his wife and his agent. With Durant, there was perpetual calculation of who had his ear and who had nudged his way into prominence. This was important information for those recruiting him to stay, and those recruiting him to leave.

Trading for Westbrook was an immense risk, because there’s no penetrating his world. Rival players couldn’t recruit him as Draymond Green and the Warriors did with Durant, because Westbrook has never shown an inclination to become buddies with his competitors. He wants to destroy them. Durant’s best relationships were outside the team, but Westbrook counts Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Nick Collison among his closest friends in the league. He invited Victor Oladipo to train with him in Los Angeles, the Thunder’s new backcourt bonding over the sweat inside a Santa Monica gymnasium.

People always had it right with Durant: He was a community treasure, a gentleman who forever took time for those big and small within his orbit. Only, it happened that Westbrook’s fierce on-court disposition – and his sometimes brusque demeanor with the media – caused the outside to mistake his core.

If his fashion forays took him to runways in Paris and New York, he was still mostly comfortable tooling around Oklahoma City, delivering free Jordan Brand gear to lower-level team employees, bringing donuts to blue-collar workers and answering his front door to come out and play with the neighborhood kids.

For everyone waiting on Westbrook to unload on Durant, they could be disappointed. Yes, he has his thoughts and opinions on Durant’s move, but it is unlikely that he’ll be moved to share them in dramatic detail. What’s more, there’s a significant chance it could be years before Westbrook and Durant ever engage in a meaningful conversation again. Westbrook doesn’t do nostalgia, nor disregard slights – real or perceived.

Durant is deleted. Done and gone and no longer part of his world. “What’s next?” he asked – and the Thunder connected with Westbrook on a plan to construct their next act. Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it’s a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.

For now, this is Westbrook’s chance to become a recruiter, a gatherer, and bringing back Griffin could make these Thunder a legitimate threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. Between now and then, Westbrook walks back into the Thunder’s downtown arena on Thursday, takes his seat on the podium and the image will be unmistakable: His franchise, his city.

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No. 2: Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure — In eight seasons together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the Oklahoma City Thunder to The Finals and both players accomplished more than a few personal accolades. Yet that duo is no more, what with Durant now on the Warriors and Westbrook staying put in OKC. So how did Westbrook learn of Durant’s exit? What is the status of their friendship now? Westbrook addressed those queries and more in his news conference Thursday, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Their paths, now different, still likely end in the same place: the Hall of Fame. Around OKC, the sting of Durant’s departure will slowly subside. Time will create perspective. The past eight years will eventually be remembered as a golden age in Thunder hoops.

But when it’s discussed, the relationship between Russ and KD will dominate the conversation, just like it has become Shaq, Kobe and not much else when you bring up the early 2000s Lakers.

The partnership was fruitful, the highlights electric, the friendship, for the most part, genuine. But the ending, well, has been surprisingly sour, adding another layer to a relationship that’ll long be remembered and debated.

Those around Westbrook say he fumed about it for a couple weeks, particularly how KD handled the exit and how little communication Durant maintained with him at the end.

“(I found out) like y’all found out,” Westbrook said. “On the news, on the cellphones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

From their late teens to their late 20s, the two, together in a city random and new to both, built up a relocated franchise into their identity. Those around the team tell legends of their early-morning combo workouts, racing each other to the gym hours before practice and bonding in a quiet facility. Durant has talked about how both Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins were there for him a few years ago when he was going through some family issues. Durant attended Westbrook’s wedding last summer.

“Some people handle things differently than others,” Westbrook said. “That’s the way he wanted to handle it and it’s fine. My job now is to see what’s ahead of me.”

Durant’s landing spot, of course, added an extra dagger. He didn’t bolt for a random team in the East. He went to a rival. The team Westbrook and Durant had just battled in a 7-game bloodbath a month earlier. Did that make it sting more?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook said. “Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam (Presti): ‘What’s next?’”

Durant is currently in Brazil preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On Thursday, he was asked if he reached out to Westbrook to congratulate him on the extension.

“Nah, that’s a touchy subject, I’ll see once everything dies down,” he told reporters, before saying he was happy for him. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City.”

A couple weeks ago, out at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Durant was pretty candid on a number of subjects about his departure. But when questions about Westbrook arose, he got visibly uncomfortable. It’s clearly a sore subject KD has little interest in speaking about. Durant was recently quoted as saying he was unsure if their relationship would ever be the same.

On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook was asked if it would be.

“We’ve been together eight years,” Westbrook said. “You don’t throw that away. Obviously he’s now with a new team. But we definitely will talk. Eventually. But, obviously, now we haven’t.”

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No. 3: Union says Wade, family excited about move to Chicago — When a free agent makes a decision to switch teams in the offseason, his choice affects not only the team he’s leaving and the team he’s going to. The player’s family, friends and his life and general feel the aftershocks of the choice, too. Such is true for Dwyane Wade, his wife, Gabrielle Union, and his children after he moved from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls. In an interview with BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy, Union talks about the move to Chicago and what she sees next for Wade:

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins is messing with reporters’ minds in Rio … Fantastic read on the origins of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Spencer Haywood … In honor of Russell Westbrook‘s deal yesterday, Oklahoma City’s mayor made Aug. 4 “Russell Westbrook Day” … Things have come full circle for Jim O’Brien in Philadelphia … Here are six key questions to ponder about the Oklahoma City Thunder … New Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks thinks Bradley Beal and John Wall could comprise NBA’s best ‘two-way backcourt’ … Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker will miss  having Jeremy Lin on the team, but is happy for him, too … Why the Thunder may hold off on contract extensions for Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams

Curry named Players Association MVP

From NBA.com staff reports

The National Basketball Players Association announced their second annual Players Voice Awards on Thursday, with Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry being named MVP among a slate that ranged from the standard to the eclectic. The awards, listed below, were voted on solely by NBA players.

      • Best Rookie: Karl-Anthony Towns
      • Comeback Player Of The Year: Paul George
      • Best Off The Bench: Jamal Crawford
      • Best Defender: Kawhi Leonard
      • Toughest To Guard: Stephen Curry
      • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
      • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
      • Best Home-Court Advantage: Golden State Warriors
      • Coach You’d Most Like To Play For: Gregg Popovich
      • Clutch Performer: Stephen Curry
      • Best Social Media Follow: LeBron James
      • Most Influential Veteran: Tim Duncan
      • Global Impact Player: Kobe Bryant
      • Most Valuable Player: Stephen Curry
      • Best Teammate, by team:

Blogtable: What grade do you give OKC’s offseason?

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?


> Overall, how would you grade the Thunder’s 2016 offseason?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: B-. Can’t give the Thunder an A; that would have required Durant to re-up. But I’ll go as far as the B- even though they lost a proven MVP still in his prime. The Westbrook extension allows the franchise and the city, as well as the remaining players, to breathe. And swapping out Serge Ibaka (and unofficially Dion Waiters) for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova is a strong now-secondary move. Ibaka’s impact was in decline, and with Steven Adams on the rise, the rotation up front is more streamlined now. The team still could use help on the wing, but that seems like a quibble in the wake of Westbrook’s re-upping.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWhen you lose one of the top three players in the league the report card takes a hit. But keeping Westbrook saves the Thunder from flunking summer school. Getting it done before the start of training camp to remove the uncertainty from the 2016-17 gets extra credit points. OKC is no longer among the elite, but I’m giving the Thunder a C+, which includes an A for effort.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBad. You want a letter grade? Let’s say D. The Russell Westbrook deal is big and adding Victor Oladipo could make for a very nice backcourt, but there is no way getting around the bottom line that losing one of the best players in the world, Kevin Durant, without getting anything in return is a crushing setback. The team that could have been a title contender isn’t any more. That’s the bottom line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ll give them a B. They lost Durant, but the Westbrook deal and getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade made the most of a tough situation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost one of the three best players in the world and two of their three most important defenders. Adding some depth and tacking another year onto Westbrook’s deal turns an F into a D.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think a B-minus is more than fair. Since I don’t grade on a curve, the Thunder didn’t make the honor roll. You just can’t when you lose an iconic player like Kevin Durant in free agency. But they salvaged their grade by convincing Westbrook to stick around. We don’t know what the loss of Serge Ibaka will do to this team, if anything at all. If GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan are certain that they have a legitimate top-five center in Steven Adams and a potential star in Victor Oladipo, then they could be in line for a grade change.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s a disappointment — with a huge asterisk. They lost Durant and there is no replacing him. His loss removes them from championship contention next season. But they avoided another potential free agent departure by moving Serge Ibaka while they could for three players who will help immediately, including Victor Oladipo, whose rights will be restricted. Based on the events that they could control, they did as well as they could to come out of this summer with a like-minded roster and some level of contractual certainty for the next several seasons.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI liked trading Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, although I would have liked it much more if Durant was on the roster. Re-signing Westbrook is better than seeing him leave. But then, even while considering the good things the Thunder did, it is impossible to ignore that the Thunder also lost one of the best players in not only the NBA today, but in NBA history. And they got nothing in return. And he went to one of their most bitter rivals. So if I had to assign a grade, I’d say D+. A nice trade, a good extension, but to me they are further away from their goal of a championship than they were three months ago.

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 — 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 …

Morning shootaround — July 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Early reviews of Saric | Free-agent impact around NBA | Buddy Hield is ready to go

No. 1: Early reviews of Saric — It will likely be a while before anyone gets a handle on the most mysterious rookie of the 2016-17 season. That’s because Dario Saric is two years “late” coming to the Sixers and played out of sight of most NBA fans in Europe. All we know is he’s a fluid big man who brings hope to a Philly team that suddenly is stockpiling young talent. Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News took a sampling of scouts’ take and here’s what he compiled:

Acquired on draft night in 2014 when the Sixers selected Elfrid Payton with the 10th pick, then traded him for Saric, who was selected by Orlando at No. 12, Saric played two seasons for Anadolu Efes in Turkey, as anticipation of his arrival to Philadelphia rose with each passing season. It really didn’t seem to matter what type of player he was or whether his game could translate to the NBA. He was someone former general manager Sam Hinkie had acquired – along with a first-round pick from Orlando – and the faithful couldn’t wait for his arrival.

The wait is over: It appears his signing is imminent, as he arrived Thursday afternoon to meet with president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Sometimes, the anticipation is better than the event. Could that be the case with Saric, or might he turn out to be a big piece of this process moving forward? Fans who haven’t seen Saric will get to during the Olympics. He led Croatia to a win over Italy in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament last weekend by posting 18 points and 13 rebounds, garnering him MVP honors. He is a Philly player through and through, with plenty of toughness in his game that undoubtedly will make him a fan favorite.

But to look deeper into how he might fit into the NBA, I talked to numerous people who have seen him play since he became property of the Sixers. There are mixed reviews on just how good he will be in the league and how he might fit with the Sixers’ roster.

“I don’t see it,” said one executive. “To me, he’s a below-the-rim player who is going to be way behind, as far as speed and quickness. His shot isn’t horrible, but it isn’t good enough for defenses to really respect it yet. So to begin with, they’ll be playing him to get to the basket. Once he does that, he’s looking to draw contact more than anything else.

“He does have good passing skills. He’s a capable ballhandler where he was, but I’m not sure that he’ll be quick enough in the NBA to do what he wants when he gets the ball in his hands.”

Another executive saw it much differently: “He has great handle for his size, is a solid to good rebounder, is a special passer, is tough and is a winner.”

When broken down from the handful of people who have watched Saric in person, here is the kind of player the Sixers appear to be getting:

Offensively

There is little doubt Saric’s best offensive ability is passing the basketball. Like Ben Simmons, he can grab a rebound, start a break and hit long outlet passes, throwing bounce passes when necessary and hard chest passes at other times. He has a flare to his passing game, also; the no-look, over-the-shoulder pass seems to be a favorite. Oftentimes, his good ballhandling skills will get him to where he needs to be to make the pass. When standing on a wing, he often will send a soft, quick touch pass into the post when the ball comes his way.

One characteristic Philly fans will love about Saric is the physicality he brings at both ends of the floor. In that previous game against Italy, his team basically gave him the ball, put four guys down on the baseline and let him go to work. He got to the lane and, more times than not, was able to draw contact.

Defensively

This is where Saric’s struggles will begin right away. As one scout said, “He’ll be way better at the offensive end than he will be at the defensive end, where he could be a liability.”

The reasoning is twofold. One is his lack of speed and quickness. The other is that he’s not very long. He’ll have to play power forwards on defense because he simply doesn’t have the speed to chase small forwards. He is a very physical player, and the thought is that when he is getting beaten by speed, he will look to slow down opponents with contact, which could lead to a lot of fouls – especially as a rookie.

The plus side is that Saric possesses a strong basketball IQ, which leads many to think he will be able to overcome deficiencies with his mind and translate it to his style of play.

His best asset at the defensive end could wind up being rebounding. If he can rebound on the move defensively and start a break, whether himself or by getting the ball out to the likes of Simmons, that is where Saric could be at his finest.

***

No. 2: Impact of NBA free agents for 2016-17 — The free-agent spending spree is nearly over and, billions later, we don’t know the scope of the impact and what’s in store for the immediate and distant future. Trying to make sense of it all is Bobby Marks of The Vertical; the former league executive takes a educated look at the decisions made and the ramifications that could and should follow:

ROSTER TURNOVER
One of the goals of the collective bargaining agreement that was signed in 2011 was to incentivize teams to retain their current free agents by allowing them to add extra years along with percentage salary increases.

Although player movement certainly occurs every summer, the cap rising to $94 million eliminated the incentive for players to remain with their own team as more than 70 percent of players switched franchises.

Had the players association agreed to the NBA proposed cap smoothing and not for the cap to jump from $70 million to $94 million, Kevin Durant likely would have remained with the Thunder.

THE $100 MILLION DOLLAR CLUB
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets sent shock waves through the NBA with their $100 million-plus payroll.

Fast-forward three years and now there are 10 teams with $100 million payrolls with five more hovering north of $95 million.

The new TV money will certainly off-set player salaries in the future, but the financial picture of the NBA, with 15-man rosters, now looks more like the NFL’s with 53-man rosters.

LUXURY TAX BECOMES A NON-FACTOR
The days of the Cavaliers’ $54 million tax bill this past season and the Nets’ $90 million one in 2013-14 are long gone.

The rise in the cap, for at least one year, has eliminated the luxury tax that teams such as the Miami Heat once feared.

A major sticking point in the 2011 work stoppage was for the NBA to implement a progressive luxury tax that would penalize teams for overspending along with creating rules that would hinder player movement for tax teams.

Since going into effect in the 2013-14 season, the NBA has collected over $300 million in luxury tax with 50 percent of that amount distributed to teams that fell below the tax threshold.

Although teams such as the Clippers and Cavaliers, repeat offenders from last season, hover around the $113 million tax threshold, the rest of the NBA has little to worry about.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS STAYING PUT
Although the cap jumped $24 million from the previous season, restricted free agents continued the path of past summers and remained with their teams.

Even the large offer sheets the Nets agreed upon with Miami’s Tyler Johnson and Portland’s Allen Crabbe were matched.

The rise in the cap certainly played a role in the salary amounts each player agreed upon and could have lasting financial repercussions for Miami and Portland.

ROOKIE SCALE EXTENDED
From a headline perspective, a player drafted in the first round certainly has appeal. Along with the label of being a first-round pick also comes two years of guaranteed money.

The additional cap relief teams received this summer however unofficially extended the rookie scale into the second round.

Out of the nine second-round picks currently signed, eight mirror the rookie scale of a first-round selection.

Although there is no scale for players selected in the second round, teams have taken advantage of the additional cap space to lock up players to cap-friendly contracts.

Grizzlies second-round pick Deyonta Davis, for example, signed a three-year, $4 million contract that is similar to one signed by a first-rounder selected in the early twenties of the draft.

THE IMPACT ON THE 2017 FREE AGENTS
The excessive spending this summer will have an impact with the excellent free-agent class next summer.

The field of 27 teams with $20 million-plus in cap space this past summer could be sliced in half by the time next July rolls around.

Even with the cap rising from $94 million to a projected $102 million, early projections forecast only 12 teams having $15 million-plus in cap room.

With unrestricted free agents LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Serge Ibaka, JJ Redick and Derrick Rose set to hit the open market, free agents could be remaining with their own teams.

***

No. 3: Buddy Hield is ready to go — Take Summer League for whatever it’s worth; the Pelicans aren’t sweating the inconsistent shooting of their top draft pick, Buddy Hield. There’s simply too much at stake for a franchise that’s trying to put important pieces around Anthony Davis to worry about 5-for-20 shooting in July; that was Hield’s first game. He has settled down somewhat since then, and the Pelicans love his aggressiveness. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the former Oklahoma star:

“Our message to Buddy all year was, ‘Don’t change, don’t change,'” said Lon Kruger, the Sooners’ head coach, in a phone interview. “When you start getting those national accolades and recognition and player of the year conversations, don’t change, don’t change.

“Even when he received the awards, we said don’t change anything. When you get drafted, don’t change anything. You’ve got something unique and special as a personality. When you get to the NBA, don’t change anything.”

Such a player would seem like an easy fit in a league trying to cash in on an everyman capable of superhuman shot-making. Like Stephen Curry, Buddy enters his pro career with a ready-made persona, a backlog of big-game highlights — including besting a “Mini-LeBron” in Ben Simmons with the almighty 3 — and the ability to walk the line between charm and confidence. He’s a supremely gifted athlete who also pulled himself up by the boot straps.

He’s your buddy, but he’s also an on-court killer who idolizes — and now shares an agent with — Kobe Bryant.

“The qualities Buddy has are the ones you’d want everyone to have,” Kruger said. “What I think balances it is sincerity and maybe the work ethic. His peers like him, the coaches like him, the administration likes him, the people in town like him. It’s not like he flaunts anything. It’s not like he gives off that he’s entitled. It’s not like he’s expecting anything back. Buddy’s a giver. Which is pretty rare when you think of a player with those abilities.”

The Buddy brand also comes complete with three self-given alter egos: “Buddy Fresh,” which he’s prone to belt out to spark self-motivation; “Buddy Love,” which is “for the ladies,” as he recently told The Starters; and “Buddy Buckets,” which on draft day lined his suit jacket in Bahaman colors.

“I’ve got good branding skills,” he said with a smirk. “Attracts the crowd a lot too.”

Even “Buddy” is an alias. His mother, in what is now Hield lore, saw a likeness between her infant son and the character Bud Bundy from “Married … with Children,” and so his given name Chavano became Buddy.

Those who know him well agree it fits.

“He’s always had that swag,” said Sacramento Kings rookie Isaiah Cousins, Hield’s former roommate at Oklahoma. “It’s just a part of his culture.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: How much can the loaded Warriors fetch from ads on jerseys? Early estimates have $15 million a season … Dwyane Wade said he has worn Bulls gear every day since signing.

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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