- Among several excellent aspects of an interview with Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report, Warriors forward Kevin Durant spoke candidly about the Thunder and their move from Seattle to Oklahoma City. An under reported asset that the Bay Area offered Durant in free agency is a similarity to the Pacific Northwest town in which he broke into the league. “To be part of a franchise moving, no player, especially a rookie, expects that,” Durant said. “I didn’t even think that was in the cards. Obviously, I wasn’t in on the deal, nobody asked me any questions. So as long as we got to play somewhere, it was cool with me. I was 19, I didn’t know the effect a team moving had on fans or a city. As I got older, I realized how huge a team leaving a city is, how devastating that must have been for the fans. Every time we’d go to the West Coast, we’d see Seattle jerseys and you’d start to realize that was a huge, huge part of people’s lives.“
- While he hasn’t gotten off to a great start with his new franchise, the Thunder are aware that offseason addition Patrick Patterson will be a valuable shooter for them eventually. Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes about the forward’s struggles getting back into routine following offseason knee surgery.
Here are today’s G League assignments and recalls from around the NBA:
- The Pacers sent center Ike Anigbogu to their Fort Wayne affiliate, the team announced on its website. A second-round pick in June, Anigbogu has seen limited playing time in Indiana, amassing 17 minutes in six games.
- The Thunder recalled guard Terrance Ferguson, who was sent to Oklahoma City Blue on Tuesday. Ferguson turned in a 24-point performance for the G League team.
- The Hawks assigned swingman Nicolas Brussino and center Miles Plumlee to their Erie affiliate. Brussino has appeared in four games for Atlanta, while Plumlee has yet to play because of a strained right quad.
NBA rosters will undergo some changes over the course of the 2017/18 season, particularly around the trade deadline, and those changes may have an impact on teams’ cap sheets for future seasons. Based on the NBA’s current rosters, however, we can identify which teams are most and least likely to have cap room in the summer of 2018, which will dictate the type of moves those clubs can make in the offseason.
We’re taking a closer look at each of the NBA’s 30 teams by division this week. Today, we’re tackling the Northwest division. With the help of salary information compiled by Basketball Insiders, here’s how the summer of 2018 is shaping up for the five Northwest teams:
The Trail Blazers reduced their future commitments by trading Allen Crabbe to Brooklyn earlier this year, and Ed Davis will come off the books next summer, giving Portland a chance to avoid the luxury tax in 2018/19. However, their $110MM+ in guaranteed salaries for next season doesn’t include a contract for Jusuf Nurkic, who will be a restricted free agent. If they want to re-sign Nurkic and don’t dump another salary, the Blazers figure to return to tax territory.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $110,233,979
Projection: Over the cap
The Timberwolves’ salary commitments look a lot different now than they did a year ago. Gorgui Dieng‘s lucrative new extension went into effect this summer, and Andrew Wiggins‘ max deal will begin in 2018. Throw in substantial salaries for offseason acquisitions Jimmy Butler, Jeff Teague, and Taj Gibson, and Minnesota projects to be well over the cap for 2018/19. With a potential extension for Karl-Anthony Towns looming for 2019/20, the Wolves won’t have cap space for the foreseeable future if they intend to keep their current core group together.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $89,903,848
Projection: Over the cap
The Nuggets’ guaranteed salaries for 2018/19 currently sit around $90MM, but even based on a $101MM cap projection, we shouldn’t expect the team to have any room. There are too many factors working against it.
For one, Denver will face a tough decision on Nikola Jokic — exercising his ultra-affordable $1.6MM team option would put him on track to become an unrestricted free agency in 2019, so the club may opt to decline that option and make him a restricted free agent. In that scenario, a new contract for Jokic would push the Nuggets over the cap.
Even if they simply pick up Jokic’s cheap option, the Nuggets will also have to consider player options for Kenneth Faried ($12.8MM) and Darrell Arthur ($7.5MM). Arthur is a good bet to exercise his option, and even though Faried hasn’t always loved his role in Denver, it’s possible he’ll pick up his too, since it features a pretty player-friendly salary.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $88,907,222
Projection: Over the cap
Carmelo Anthony‘s early termination option for 2018/19, worth nearly $28MM, is a major X factor for the Thunder, whose guaranteed team salary would increase from approximately $89MM to nearly $117MM if Anthony opts in. Taking into account Carmelo’s age, his production trends, and the current state of the free agent market, it makes sense for him to play out the final year of his current deal, so we’re penciling in Oklahoma City as a probable over-the-cap team.
Even if Anthony opts out and Paul George doesn’t re-sign, OKC could only get up to about $8.8MM in cap room. That’s barely more than the projected value of the mid-level exception, so even in that scenario, the Thunder may simply remain over the cap to avoid renouncing all their exceptions.
Guaranteed 2018/19 team salary: $67,839,543
Projection: Up to approximately $28MM in cap room
Only six Jazz players have fully guaranteed salaries for 2018/19, while seven others have non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed salaries, or are restricted free agents. That gives Utah some flexibility if the team wants to maximize its cap room.
However, retaining Thabo Sefolosha for his reasonable non-guaranteed salary of $5.25MM would cut into the Jazz’s space, as would re-signing Rodney Hood and/or Dante Exum. Realistically, unless Utah decides to only hang onto those six fully guaranteed players and make major changes around them, we shouldn’t expect the club to enter July 2018 armed with a ton of cap room.
- 2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Atlantic Division
- 2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Central Division
- 2018 Salary Cap Outlook: Southeast Division
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Rookie center Dakari Johnson is making a case to stay in the Thunder rotation once Steven Adams returns from injury, writes Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. The 48th pick in the 2015 draft, Johnson saw his first significant NBA playing time Friday and responded with nine points in 23 minutes in a win over the Clippers.
- Raymond Felton‘s steadying effect on the Thunder bench has been a bright spot in a disappointing start to the season, notes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. The veteran point guard signed with Oklahoma City for the veterans’ minimum over the summer and is now on his seventh team since entering the league in 2005. “I think the glue guy to that group has really been Raymond,” OKC coach Billy Donovan said. “I think having veteran leadership back there from him at least allows me to communicate, and then he’s so good at managing the game, that regardless of the personnel that’s out there he can do a really terrific job of getting everybody where they need to be.”
In the latest episode of The Woj Pod, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski was joined by ESPN’s Bobby Marks and Royce Young to discuss a handful of topics from around the NBA. Since Young covers the Thunder, much of the conversation focused on Oklahoma City’s early-season struggles, but the ESPN trio bounced around the league to touch on several other teams and subjects too.
Let’s round up a few highlights…
- Despite the fact that the Thunder expressed a willingness to go deeper into luxury-tax territory next year to keep Paul George and Carmelo Anthony around, Wojnarowski is very skeptical, suggesting it will probably just be a one-year run with the current roster. “This would be an incredible [tax] bill for the New York Knicks, the Lakers or Steve Ballmer to pay, never mind Clay Bennett in a small market like Oklahoma City,” Woj said.
- Meanwhile, Young and Marks questioned the Thunder‘s decision to decline Josh Huestis‘ fourth-year option, indicating that it was likely related to tax concerns. The trio observed that the idea of replacing Huestis with a minimum-salary veteran goes against the draft-and-develop strategy the Thunder have practiced in recent years.
- With the Cavaliers looking vulnerable and several Eastern Conference teams off to decent starts, Wojnarowski believes that the wide-open nature of the conference could have an impact on the trade market. One executive tells Wojnarowski that it wouldn’t be surprising to see some talent head from the West to the East, since Western teams are less inclined to believe there’s an opening to make it to the Finals, with the Warriors looking as strong as ever.
- According to Wojnarowski, the Suns were initially seeking a good young player and a first-round pick – or two – in exchange for Eric Bledsoe. Of course, the return Phoenix got from Milwaukee in exchange for Bledsoe didn’t come close to that. Bledsoe’s value had taken a hit because of the public nature of the situation, but Marks points out that most teams already have solid point guards and weren’t ready to make a major trade so early in the season, further limiting the Suns’ options.
The new-look Thunder were expected to be one of this season’s prime challengers to the Warriors’ crown, but things aren’t off to a great start in Oklahoma City. The Thunder dropped their fourth straight game on Thursday night in Denver, and are now 4-7 on the season, including 0-6 against Western Conference teams. The latest loss prompted a closed-door meeting for the club, as Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.
“It was just good to get everything out on the table,” Paul George said. “Especially where we’re at right now, it’s no good if we’re bottling it up, because then we could carry it over to the next game and the next game. Just leave everything out in the open.”
As Oklahoma City looks to turn things around after the team’s slow start, let’s round up a few more items from out of the Northwest…
- George, Russell Westbrook, and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan were fined $15K apiece earlier this week for critical comments aimed at referees, notes Royce Young of ESPN.com. The trio took exception with a flagrant foul call against Carmelo Anthony in Sunday’s game against Portland.
- Will Barton has been taking on some point guard duties for the Nuggets this season in the wake of Jameer Nelson‘s release, per Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com. The timing is right for Barton to take on more responsibilities and a larger role, since he’s in a contract year — showing off an expanded skill-set should only increase his value on the open market next July.
- New Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is still working to develop chemistry with incumbent star Rudy Gobert, as Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News details. “I’ve got to learn his game, he’s got to learn mine,” Rubio said. “It’s just a process. We’re trying but we don’t want to overdo it. It’s going to come with time.” Added Gobert: “I think it might be overthinking. We’ve just got to play basketball.”
During the offseason, the Thunder added two forces in Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to play alongside reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, but the offense has yet to look explosive. The team is scoring just 102.5 points per game, a figure that ranks 23rd in the league.
George, who can become a free agent at the end of the season, believes the team’s struggles are due to playing too much iso-ball.
“We put pressure on individuals,” George said after the team’s loss to the Kings on Tuesday (via Brett Dawson of the Oklahoman). “When we get stagnant, we put pressure on individuals, and we’re too good of a team one through 14 – especially with that starting five – we’re too good of a team to allow ourselves to put pressure on one another.”
According to Dawson, Anthony ranks second in the league in isolation possessions with 6.6 per contest. Westbrook comes in at 3.2 per game (ranked 19th in the league) and George is at 3.0 (21st).
Here’s more from the Northwest:
- Westbrook isn’t concerned about the Thunder’s lack of cohesion on the court, Dawson adds in the same piece. “I’m encouraged by the group of guys we have in that (locker) room,” Westbrook said. “I will be better. I take ownership in how we’re playing. I will be better and we will be better, so I’m not worried.”
- Meyers Leonard could return to the court next week, which is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a right lateral ankle sprain, Mike Richman of the Oregonian relays. The Trail Blazers center sustained the injury on October 25 and was expected to miss four-to-six weeks.