- The Thunder showed a lot of interest in Bucks swingman Khris Middleton prior to the 2012 draft, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Middleton tore the meniscus in his right knee in early November of his final college season with Texas A&M and it affected his play, causing his draft stock to tumble. He was selected in the second round by Detroit with the 39 overall pick.
FEBRUARY 20: The signing is official, the Thunder announced on their website. Morris will make $573,295 over the next four months and will have a $427,288 cap hit, Bobby Marks posts on ESPN Now. Between Morris’ salary and luxury tax penalties, the total cost to OKC will be $2.2MM.
FEBRUARY 14: The Thunder have reached a contract agreement with free agent forward Markieff Morris, league sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Even after signing Richard Solomon and Scotty Hopson to 10-day deals today, Oklahoma City has an open roster spot, so no corresponding move will be required.
Morris, 29, spent most of the season with the Wizards, averaging 11.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG on .436/.333/.781 shooting in 34 games (26.0 MPG). However, conscious of their proximity to the luxury tax threshold, the Wizards opted to trade him at last week’s deadline, saving some money by sending him to New Orleans along with a future second-round pick for Wesley Johnson.
After being subsequently waived by the Pelicans, Morris – who had been recovering from a neck injury – was cleared to resume full basketball activities and reportedly drew interest from the Rockets, Raptors, and Lakers in addition to the Thunder. The Nets were among the other clubs in the mix for him, tweets Charania.
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Morris represents an intriguing addition for the Thunder, who had been on the lookout for a stretch four due to Patrick Patterson‘s inconsistent play. While Morris wasn’t exactly having a career year in Washington, he’ll be an upgrade on Patterson, assuming he’s healthy. He should also help replace the shooting previously provided by Alex Abrines, who parted ways with Oklahoma City last week.
It’s not clear whether or not the Thunder will sign Morris right away. Postponing the transaction until after the All-Star break would create some savings on OKC’s cap and projected tax bill, so if Morris is on board with it, the club may wait.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Giannis Antetokounmpo could be the next superstar prize on the Warriors’ radar screen. In a speculative piece, Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic dives into the possibility of Antetokounmpo joining Golden State when he becomes a free agent in 2021.
As Thompson outlines, pursuing Antetokounmpo would hinge on Kevin Durant departing and would also necessitate cutting ties with Draymond Green. That would give the Warriors enough cap room to sign Giannis and keep the backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson together. The possibility of Antetokounmpo wanting to leave Milwaukee could increase if the Bucks experience postseason disappointment, Thompson adds.
We have more from around the Western Conference:
- Mike Conley admits the trade rumors took a toll on him until the deadline passed, James Herbert of CBS Sports reports. The Grizzlies held on to Conley but longtime teammate Marc Gasol was dealt to Toronto. “It was emotional, man,” he said. “It was hard, ’cause part of me, obviously, is trying to lock in on my job and just worry about Oklahoma (City) and really, like, watch film and prepare. But I can’t help but, like, the other 90 percent of me is like I’m about to get traded or Marc’s about to get traded.”
- Kevin Durant claimed his relationship with ex-Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook was never as strained as it was portrayed in the media, Eric Horne of The Oklahoman relays. “I don’t think it was ever in a bad place,” Durant said. “I think a lot of you guys just got in the way and tried to make it something bigger than it was because you needed a story. I understand because that’s your job, but that’s not really your job. I understood what that was like now thinking back on it, because I never had a problem with nobody in this league, or to a point where I didn’t like anyone or hated someone. It wasn’t even that deep.”
- The Lakers are privately a little concerned about LeBron James‘ health, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. They’re not quite sure he’s fully healed from the groin injury that cost him 18 games, as he’s not moving at the same speed, nor engaging at the point of attack, Vardon continues. However, James denies he’s aching. “I feel great,” he said. “Looking forward to the second half of the season. Looking forward to seeing what we can do to get back in this playoff race. That’s my only mindset.”
While the Thunder entered the All-Stat break with a loss to the Pelicans, the team will start the second half with an added boost. Oklahoma City agreed to terms with veteran big man Markieff Morris, which should fortify the team’s frontcourt.
Morris, who spent most of the season with the Wizards, has not played since December, when a neck injury forced him to the sidelines. While his role and performance were inconsistent in Washington, Morris averaged 11.5 PPG and 5.1 RPG in 34 games. Morris figures to serve as a primary backup at the four in Oklahoma City.
Brett Dawson and Fred Katz of The Athletic examined how Morris will fit in with the Thunder’s current roster. Katz compared Morris’ potential fit to that of Enes Kanter with a more capable perimeter game. While it remains to be seen how Morris settles in, at least one new teammate is excited by his arrival.
“We’re good,” Paul George said. “We’re a good group. We added a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re gonna be ready for the second half after this break.”
Check out more Northwest Division notes:
- The Timberwolves‘ decision to start Dario Saric in place of Taj Gibson led the team to score 74 points in the paint on Thursday. Interim head coach Ryan Saunders complimented Saric on creating space with his presence, per Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “That’s one thing we like with Dario spacing the floor and having Taj in there at times, too,” Saunders said. “Karl(-Anthony Towns) has a little more opportunity to work. Playing through Karl is definitely a focus of ours.”
- Speaking of Saunders, he’s only a few weeks into the job after the firing of Tom Thibodeau. Saunders praised the Timberwolves‘ players for easing his transition into head coaching duties, Feigen writes. “Anything that’s new and sudden, it takes time to get more comfortable just in your regimen, your daily routine in things. But I felt comfortable out there,” he said. “The credit goes to the players in terms of how they make me feel, too.”
- At 27-30, the Timberwolves are four games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference. While their postseason odds are not great, the team insists there is reason for optimism entering the second half, Chris Hine of the Star Tribune writes.
Every week, Hoops Rumors takes a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents next offseason. We examine if their stock is rising or falling due to performance and other factors. This week, we turn our attention to the Northwest Division:
Tyler Lydon, Nuggets, 22, PF (Down) – Signed to a two-year, $3.45MM deal in 2017
Lydon was the 24th overall pick in 2017 and acquired from Utah in a draft-day deal. He didn’t make much of an impression as a rookie, as the Nuggets declined his third-year option in October. Lydon has appeared in 21 games this season, mostly during garbage time. At the G League level, Lydon has averaged 5.3 three-point attempts and made 36.7%. He’s also rebounded well (8.5 in 31.3 MPG). He’ll be seeking a fresh start this summer, most likely with a rebuilding team that can offer him a greater opportunity.
Anthony Tolliver, Timberwolves, 33, PF (Down) – Signed to a one-year, $5.75MM deal in 2018
Tolliver carved out a steady role under former Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and delivered a career year last season. He averaged 8.9 PPG in 22.2 MPG and shot 43.6% from distance, and when he hit the free agent market, he drew interest from the Clippers, Mavericks, and Sixers as well as the Timberwolves. It hasn’t gone well in Minnesota, as Tolliver completely dropped out of Tom Thibodeau’s rotation in mid-November. He’s seen more action under Ryan Saunders but hasn’t made an impact. He’ll likely have to settle for the veteran’s minimum this summer to stay in the league.
Nerlens Noel, Thunder, 24, PF (Up) – Signed to a two-year, $3.74MM deal in 2018
Noel has a player option worth less than $2MM and it’s likely he’ll decline it and take his chances on the open market. Noel has carved out a steady bench role with the Thunder and provided a defensive presence, along with an occasional scoring outburst. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus rating, according to Basketball-Reference, is an outstanding 5.8. He posted a 22-point, 13-rebound stat line in 22 minutes in a loss to New Orleans on Thursday. Noel, the sixth overall pick in 2013, has revived his career to some extent after a lost season in Dallas.
Al-Farouq Aminu, Trail Blazers, 28, PF (Up) — Signed to a four-year, $30MM deal in 2015
The quintessential glue guy, Aminu never puts up big numbers but he does a little bit of everything for a playoff-bound team in the West. He’s averaging a career-best 7.9 RPG in 29.0 MPG and his defensive versatility makes him indispensable on a team lacking in stoppers. He’s also become a respectable – if not prolific – 3-point shooter (35.8%). It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Aminu re-signs with Portland but he’ll have several suitors in July and shouldn’t have any trouble getting a multi-year deal.
Royce O’Neale, Jazz, 25, SF (Up)– Signed to a three-year, $3.8MM deal in 2017
O’Neale, undrafted out of Baylor, has been a rotation player all season for Utah. He’s often the the last offensive option on the court but he’s pumped up his production this month. He averaged 13.8 PPG and 4.3 RPG in the last four games prior to the All-Star break. He’s shooting an outstanding 43.9% from long range and advanced defensive metrics are also kind to him (2.2 Defensive Box Plus/Minus). O’Neale’s $1.62MM salary for next season isn’t fully guaranteed until next January but the Jazz might do that a lot sooner and perhaps even negotiate an extension with the swingman.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
FEBRUARY 14: Hopson’s 10-day deal with the Thunder is now official, according to a press release issued by the club.
FEBRUARY 13: The Thunder plan to sign guard Scotty Hopson to a 10-day contract as they look to get back to the league-mandated roster minimum, reports Royce Young of ESPN.com (Twitter link). According to Young, the signing is expected to be finalized before OKC’s game against New Orleans on Thursday.
Hopson, 29, was briefly a member of the Thunder back in October when the team signed – and then waived – him in order to secure his G League rights. He has spent the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, averaging 17.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 2.8 APG with a .551/.341/.725 shooting line in 25 NBAGL games (29.0 MPG).
This will be the second straight season in which Hopson has signed a 10-day contract. He received one from the Mavericks last February, appearing in a single game with Dallas. His only other NBA action came back in 2013/14, when he played two games for the Cavs.
The Thunder also reportedly intend to sign Richard Solomon to a 10-day contract. Assuming they finalize deals with both Solomon and Hopson on Thursday, they’ll be back to the minimum roster count of 14 players, and will keep the duo under contract for three games over the next 10 days — tomorrow’s contest, plus two after the All-Star break.
FEBRUARY 14: The Thunder have officially signed Solomon to a 10-day contract, the team announced today in a press release.
FEBRUARY 12: The Thunder intend to fill one of the open spots on their 15-man roster by signing G League forward Richard Solomon to a 10-day contract, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).
Solomon, 26, has never appeared in a regular season NBA game, though he spent training camp with the Thunder in 2014, the Hawks in 2016, and OKC again in 2018. This season, the former Cal standout has played for the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s NBAGL affiliate, averaging 13.6 PPG and 8.6 RPG on 59.8% shooting in 31 games (26.5 MPG).
Solomon is unlikely to see much action for the Thunder, who are required by NBA rules to add a player to their roster soon. Currently, Oklahoma City is carrying 12 players, two below the league-mandated 14-player minimum.
Most teams that dipped below that minimum at the trade deadline have until after the All-Star break to get their roster count back up to 14, since there’s a two-week grace period. However, the Thunder have been below the minimum since February 1, when they sent Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to Chicago, so they’ll have to make a move this week.
While this is just my speculation, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Thunder wait until Thursday to finalize Solomon’s deal. That would allow the team to avoid keeping him on the roster for longer than 10 days — 10-day contracts must span at least three games, and OKC’s next three games fall on February 14, February 22, and February 23.
Now that the Kings have Harrison Barnes, the next step is to figure out the best role for him, writes Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee. Acquired from the Mavericks last week, Barnes has played extensively at both forward spots and his usage in Sacramento may depend on the opponent, according to coach Dave Joerger.
“I’m still learning what to do,” Joerger said. “How much I do I want to play Harrison at (small forward)? How much at (power forward)? And what do the matchups look like? And I need to get it done sooner than later because we’re not going to find a rhythm if I don’t figure it out quickly.”
Barnes has played both positions extensively throughout his career, with 48% of his minutes as a three and 50% as a four. The Warriors used him mainly as a small forward when he broke into the league, but shifted him to power forward later in his tenure there. He was mainly a power forward in Dallas.
“It’s a good problem to have,” added Joerger, who said he has wanted Barnes on his team for years. “You want to be as versatile as we can be at times. It’s going to be a little bit on the run, as we know, and it’s tough on me, but guys are playing as hard as they can and that’s all you can ask as a coach. And it’s on me to figure some of that stuff out.”
There’s more from the Pacific Division:
- LeBron James hasn’t lived up to the excitement that surrounded his decision to join the Lakers, contends Bill Plaschke of The Los Angeles Times. L.A. will enter the All-Star break with a 28-29 record, placing them 10th in the Western Conference. Plaschke notes that although James has been brilliant on the court, he missed 17 games with a groin injury and affected team chemistry by maneuvering to get head coach Luke Walton replaced and pushing for an Anthony Davis deal that caused all of his young teammates to be subjected to weeks of trade rumors.
- The Lakers missed out on Enes Kanter in the buyout market, but they remain in the running for Markieff Morris, tweets ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, who names the Rockets, Thunder and Raptors as the other top contenders. L.A. is also considering Carmelo Anthony, Shelburne adds, but is concerned because he hasn’t been active since November.
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman examines whether the Clippers made the right move by trading away Blake Griffin last season.