Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

This sounds like good news for Oklahoma City Thunder fans.

Paul George is thrilled with the support he received from teammate Russell Westbrook after his All-Star snub and hinted his impending free agency decision may lead him to stay in Oklahoma City as a result.

“Russ is the reason why this decision is becoming even more easier to make,” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “A stand-up guy, and he has his teammate’s back.”

On Tuesday, Westbrook told reporters it was “outrageous” that George wasn’t selected as a Western Conference All-Star reserve.

“It was awesome for a teammate to have your back and to stand up. And to be honest, he should be a starter,” George added of Westbrook. “But the fact Russ had my back, that’s my guy forever, and it’s more apparent what this decision needs to be made when it comes down to it.”

These are fairly strong words from a player widely expected to depart Oklahoma City – perhaps for his hometown Los Angeles Lakers – this summer. George was traded to the Thunder by the Pacers last June so Indiana could recoup assets under the belief he intended to leave.

George could still pass on free agency and opt for the final year of his current deal with OKC at $20.7 million for 2018-19. Westbrook’s supermax contract extension kicks in this summer and keeps him with the Thunder until 2023.

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Carmelo Anthony has witnessed communication crumble between NBA players and referees over the past decade and a half.

With tensions mounting between the two parties, the Oklahoma City Thunder swingman compared the dynamic between them to when he first entered the league in 2003.

“The game has changed a lot since I came in 15 years ago, the players and the officials had that dialogue, whether it was good or whether it was bad, there was always a point where they would let you get a little steam off, and then would come to you and say that’s enough, let’s move on,” Anthony said Tuesday, as quoted by ESPN’s Royce Young.

“And now, the trigger is too quick. You look at somebody wrong, you get a technical foul. You say one wrong thing, you get a technical foul. So I think that’s the difference from when I came in, the dialogue and communication and the relationship the players and officials (had) when I first came in and from now is a lot different. … Now, the communication is not there.”

The issue has materialized in a multitude of ways this season, such as ejections – including the first of LeBron James‘ career – and referee Courtney Kirkland going forehead to forehead with Warriors guard Shaun Livingston. Officials have received criticism over controversial calls, with L2M reports largely making matters worse for them. It’s getting so ugly that the respective associations representing the players and referees reportedly met last month to discuss the rising conflict.

NBPA executive director Michele Roberts explained players are fed up with being ignored, being told to ‘shut up,’ and being hit with a technical when trying to address officials.

Asked what he thinks caused the hostility, Anthony opined:

“I think it just changed with the game. The rules of the game changed, the style changed, the game is faster, so I don’t think they have as much time to forge relationships anymore nowadays.”

Russell Westbrook knows team success will be the most persuasive free-agent sales pitch the Oklahoma City Thunder can make to Paul George this coming summer. But, while Westbrook suggested a Thunder championship would convince George to stick around, George said simply showing meaningful growth as a team could be enough.

“I’ve got a lot to think about,” George told ESPN before the Thunder decimated the Los Angeles Lakers – widely rumored to be his top choice in free agency – on Wednesday night. “This summer will be huge. I’ve got a lot to think about. If we’re trending, if we’re going in the right direction, if I feel there is something that we’re building, and there’s a foundation, it would be kind of clueless, just stupid on my behalf to up and leave.

“I’m very conscious that we’re only together for a year so far, and we continue to go in an upward trend. It’s best to stick with what we have and work on building. So, I wouldn’t say it’s championship or bust, or championship and I’m out. It’s all about building. If I like where we’re building or the level that we’re going at, it would be stupid to walk away from that.”

It’s way too early to make a determination one way or another, but after a rough start to the Westbrook-George-Carmelo Anthony era, the Thunder have righted the ship and appear to be trending in the right direction. They’ve won 13 of their past 18 games, have the third-best point differential in the Western Conference, and are 4-2 against the top five teams in the NBA. (The Lakers, meanwhile, have lost eight straight and now have the league’s second-worst record.)

George feels the Thunder’s biggest issue at the start of the year was that Westbrook was being too deferential to his new star teammates.

“The biggest change was myself, Melo, telling Russ he has to be who he is,” George said. “All of us were kind of afraid to step on toes, deferring. I felt at times Russ was looking to get others involved when sometimes he has shots that he has to take, and it was throwing everybody out of rhythm. Now he knows that we got his back. We trust him, he trusts us. We got a rhythm. We’ve all been shooting the ball well lately. We’re in a group, we’re relaxed, we’re comfortable out there.”

Their progress won’t necessarily continue along a linear track, and none of it will matter if they can’t make meaningful noise in the postseason. But, if George is to be believed, the Thunder have a path to keeping him that doesn’t necessarily involve beating the Golden State Warriors.

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant took some time to reflect on leaving the Oklahoma City Thunder, and then he let everything out.

Durant admitted he was upset by how OKC fans turned on him after he chose to sign with Golden State, but he’ll ultimately look back fondly on his eight seasons with the Thunder.

“That stuff right there is going to last forever,” Durant told Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report. “That stuff is way, way more important than a championship. Me and my family didn’t just erase those eight years in OKC. D.C. and OKC is where we grew up – my mom, my brother, me.

“I am OKC. I’m still OKC. That blue is going to be in my blood forever. That place raised me. I have people there who would take a bullet for me and vice versa. But there’s a point in a young man’s life, just like when he goes off to college, or when he moves to another city to get a job, he’s got to make a decision for himself. You’ve got to make a decision that’s best for yourself and you would expect the people that love you the most to say they understand.”

The response from Thunder fans was similar to that of Cleveland when LeBron James left for Miami in 2010, after Durant’s announcement on The Players’ Tribune that he would take his talents to the 73-win team that eliminated the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Durant instantly went from being their favorite son to being hated, as fans responded by burning his jersey, flooding his social media mentions, and one person went so far as to fire an automatic rifle at his old uniform.

His former Thunder teammates followed suit. Russell Westbrook, who Durant once called his brother, played up the rivalry at every possible opportunity, which further endeared him to Thunder fans and made his bitterness toward Durant into a national storyline.

For better or for worse, these are people in his life that he’ll cherish, regardless of whether he gets the same love in return, or not.

“Those people really mean a lot to me to this day. No matter if they talk to me or they’re mad at me. Whether it’s Sam Presti or Troy Weaver or Russell Westbrook or Nick Collison. Whether it’s Wilson Taylor or Clay Bennett and his family, I love them from the bottom of my heart. We’re not talking, but eventually we will,” Durant said.

Russell Westbrook might be the most aggressive basketball player on the planet.

That approach to the game had Jason Kidd comparing the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard to one of the most feared boxers ever.

“He is the (Mike) Tyson of basketball,” the Milwaukee Bucks coach said Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Nick Friedell.

“When the jump ball (goes up), he is coming as Tyson did (in getting) off the stool. When the bell rings, he’s coming for you. Whenever he’s on the floor, he plays at one speed and that’s fast and hard.”

Kidd, who had a Hall of Fame-worthy career as an NBA guard, wasn’t done praising Westbrook.

“He’s the best in the game,” the 10-time All-Star said. “Puts a lot of pressure on your defense, offensively and defensively.”

Those words rang true later Tuesday, as the reigning league MVP registered 12 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists in 26 minutes as OKC stomped the Bucks 110-91 at Bradley Center.

No matter what Phil Jackson or the New York Knicks threw at him last season, Carmelo Anthony remained professional and committed to the club.

That didn’t go unnoticed by his teammates, who voted him 2017 Teammate of the Year.

Kristaps Porzingis praised the manner in which Anthony handled off-court drama, including Jackson’s public and relentless efforts to get rid of him.

“You could never tell that something was going on,” Porzingis told ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“He was always calm, collected – every day. It was no big deal for him, all the off-court stuff. And that’s one thing I can learn from him – ‘don’t give a sh–‘ (about the drama). He was just doing his thing and focusing on things he needs to focus on and not letting anything else come in his way.”

Other teammates echoed that sentiment, saying the 10-time All-Star stayed positive, supportive, and helpful despite everything he was going through.

“He was getting it from every angle,” Courtney Lee said. “So for him to be that mentally tough and still show up and still come to work and fight with us, our level of respect grew for him.”

Following months of trade rumors, Anthony was dealt to the Oklahoma City Thunder in September. Jackson – who was also willing to trade Porzingis after he skipped the team’s exit meeting – was canned in late June.

Having outlasted both, Porzingis has become the new face of the Knicks. The 22-year-old power forward averaged 18 points, 7.2 rebounds, two blocks, and 1.5 assists as a sophomore last season. He’ll try his best to step up and lead the team to the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Should he struggle, the New York media will not go easy on him. Luckily, Melo taught him not to give a damn.

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Oklahoma City is one of the smallest cities in America to boast a professional sports team, but it’s clear the Thunder‘s bankroll is anything but tiny. Even after reportedly agreeing to a five-year extension that brings Russell Westbrook‘s outlook to an NBA-record $233 million over the next six seasons, the franchise may have its sights set on new financial stratospheres.

The Thunder’s ownership group is reportedly committed to taking on a massive luxury-tax bill next season, according to former NBA general manager and current ESPN analyst Bobby Marks.

That suggests the Thunder don’t envision recent offseason additions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony as rental players and will attempt to retain their new core past 2017-18. George and Anthony each have player options for the 2018-19 season reportedly valued at $20.7 million and $27.9 million, respectively.

George will almost certainly decline his option, entering unrestricted free agency. The Thunder hold his Bird Rights, allowing them to go over the salary cap to re-sign him, and if he makes an All-NBA Team, he’ll be eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Extension – what Westbrook reportedly agreed to Friday.

Anthony may very well decide to execute his player option, as he’ll be 34 years old next summer and, depending on how this year with the Thunder goes, may not be able to attract a significantly better deal on the open market.

The 2018-19 luxury tax threshold is projected to be $123 million, based on the league reportedly informing teams to budget for a $101-million salary cap. Teams whose salaries exceed the tax limit pay additional fees based on how much they overspend. Unless the Thunder dump about $13 million in salary before the end of this season, they’ll have to pay the even more exorbitant repeater tax, after being a tax-paying franchise in three of the past four seasons.

For instance, the Thunder would pay an additional $2.50 per dollar every dollar over the tax limit, up to $5 million; the taxes become increasingly punitive for each tax bracket, eventually reaching $4.25 per dollar for teams that spend greater than $20 million over the tax limit. If the Thunder entered 2018-19 with a $143-million team salary, they would pay approximately $65 million in luxury taxes.