A lot of big trades, signings and other acquisitions have taken place this summer. There are a few notable open ended situations lingering out there, including Kyrie Irving and Carmelo Anthony. However, we are far along in the offseason that it can be said with reasonable certainty which team had the best overall offseason. Despite some strong competition, the honor this year has to go to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Everything starts with the trade for Paul George. Yes, George could leave after this season in free agency. Yes, George’s camp has made it clear he has his eyes set on Los Angeles. Guess what? Considering what the Thunder had to give up to acquire George, it almost doesn’t even matter.
Let’s revisit the deal that landed George in Oklahoma City. The Indiana Pacers agreed to send George to Oklahoma City in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Oladipo is a talented player who can do a little bit of everything on offense and is, unfortunately, inconsistent on defense.
Oladipo is still just 25 years old and still has room to become the impact two-way player so many envisioned when he was selected second overall in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. However, Oladipo is set to make $21,000,000 annually through the 2020-21 season. That’s a lot of money for a player that is statistically trending in the wrong direction (though a big part of that had to do with playing alongside the ball-dominant Russell Westbrook), and doesn’t put full effort into both ends of the court. It’s also notable that the Thunder in fact save money in this deal, which is an underrated part of this lopsided deal. In moving Oladipo’s salary, the Thunder will be well-positioned in terms of cap flexibility should Westbrook decline the Thunder’s extension offer and George opts to take his talents to L.A. after this upcoming season. In effect, the Thunder gave up a young and talented player whose inconsistent defense and annual salary arguably makes him a negative asset.
Meanwhile, Sabonis is an intriguing prospect who progressively looked overmatched as he went further into his rookie season. This isn’t a major concern considering how even some of the best players in the league struggled significantly in their respective rookie seasons. In 20.1 minutes per game over 81 regular season contests, Sabonis averaged 5.9 points, one assists, 3.6 rebounds and 0.4 blocks, while shooting 39.9 percent from the floor and 32.1 percent from three-point range. Sabonis may have not had a great rookie season, but the talent is there and it’s not hard to understand why the Pacers were interested in trading for him.
Notably, the Thunder did not have to surrender any draft picks or other assets outside of Oladipo and Sabonis to land George. That’s disappointing in a vacuum but is made even worse when we consider that other teams, including the Boston Celtics, had offered trade package with a wide range of talented veterans and draft picks, as well as the fact that there was no major urgency in making this particular deal with the Thunder. The point is, in a trade environment where the Thunder had less to offer than other teams and no hard deadlines that would force Indiana to take the deal or lose it forever, they walked away with the prize without breaking the bank, which should be commended.
Like the Minnesota Timberwolves, who landed Jimmy Butler for a similarly lopsided trade, the Thunder nailed their major transaction this offseason. Unlike the Timberwolves, the Thunder have also nailed all of the smaller matters they needed to take care of.
The Thunder needed a starting caliber power forward who could stretch the floor, especially after trading away Sabonis. The rest of the league apparently didn’t get the memo that states Patrick Patterson is an underrated power forward who can stretch the floor and is a versatile defender. The Thunder signed Patterson to a three-year, $16.3 million deal, which is well below what other power forwards like Taj Gibson received this summer. Patterson and George add a lot of defensive versatility to a team that has Steven Adams at center and is bringing back defensive ace Andre Roberson. This team is going to be a defensive force and Patterson will likely play a big part in that.
Oklahoma City also addressed a major weakness by signing Raymond Felton to a one-year, $2.3 million contract. Felton isn’t a starting-caliber point guard but is more than adequate as a back up and is a nice value on this contract. The Thunder also added a nice prospect in Terrance Ferguson, selecting him with the 21st pick in this year’s draft. Ferguson is an athletic and talented wing-prospect who could develop into an impact player on both ends of the court. Ferguson skipped college to play professionally for the Adelaide 36ers of Australia’s National Basketball League and failed to put up major numbers. However, his combination of shooting, skill, length and athleticism makes him a nice long term addition to a Thunder team that may be rebuilding after this upcoming season, depending on what George and Westbrook decide to do.
The trade for George was a grand slam regardless of the fact that there’s a real risk that he ends up leaving after this season. If the season goes well and he and Westbrook thrive together, the Thunder could lock both players up to long term deals. If George and Westbrook decide to move on, the Thunder will have plenty of cap space to acquire assets, along with some young players to rebuild around. Considering the lack of overall flexibility and tools the Thunder had to work with entering the offseason, it’s incredible how much they were able to achieve. Other teams made significant progress this offseason as well, but no other team did quite as much as Oklahoma City.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN