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NBA Daily: Oklahoma City’s Master Plan

In the midst of a complete teardown, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have some big decisions to make in the coming seasons. But, behind their war chest stuffed with draft picks and their young, star point guard, the Thunder have all of the necessary ingredients for their rebuild to be a major success

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Though it may seem like forever ago, it has only been nine years since the Oklahoma City Thunder were playing in the NBA Finals. The young quartet of Kevin Durant, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka was unable to stop the Miami HEAT’s “Big Three,” as the team captured their first of two consecutive titles.

After four trips to the Western Conference Finals in the last decade, the Thunder now are in the midst of their first true rebuild since their time in Oklahoma City began. General manager Sam Presti has been a very busy man over the past few seasons. In fact, there were five players from the All-Star game this season that once played for the Thunder.

Plenty of high-caliber players have come and gone through Oklahoma, including Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Ibaka, Steven Adams, Reggie Jackson, Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Jerami Grant, Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul and George Hill. Al Horford will soon be added to this laundry list of names.

Though many of those were brief stops, it has paid off for the franchise in terms of acquiring young talent like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and, of course, plenty of future draft compensation.

After a couple of moves before last week’s trade deadline, the Thunder now project to have 34 draft picks over the next seven years. That is 17 first round picks and 17 second round picks, with a few swap options along the way as well.

The Thunder currently have 13 players on their roster with less than three full years of NBA experience. Oklahoma City will certainly not use every one of these 34 picks on players. This is where they will need to remain patient as they construct their roster over the coming years.

The most coveted asset that any franchise can possess is future draft picks. When these teams are bad, their own picks become even more valuable. Teams will come calling when it is time for them to rebuild and/or reload their rosters. This is the key to Oklahoma City’s future.

Two critical areas for small-market teams are player development and their ability to make smart draft decisions. The Thunder have demonstrated the ability to be exceptional at both. Darius Bazley, Luguentz Dort, Ty Jerome, Theo Maledon, Isaiah Roby, Moses Brown and Kenrich Williams have all impressed this season, while the continued growth of Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort will be instrumental going forward.

In terms of financial flexibility, the Thunder are in an excellent position, too, due largely to their creativity. The work of their front office has been nothing short of magnificent.

The Thunder are in a good position in terms of player contracts as well. Aside from Horford, they do not have a player on their roster making more than $7 million this season. Darius Miller and Justin Jackson are the only other two players making more than Gilgeous-Alexander’s $4.1 million salary. They have even more money coming off their books next season and still have Gilgeous-Alexander, Dort and Brown under contract.

Oklahoma City’s draft history should provide their fan base with confidence as they proceed to rebuild. Dating back to their days in Seattle, this franchise has hit on the draft seemingly every year. In addition to Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden, they have done well with first-round selections.

These picks have not all been the same caliber as those MVP-level players but guys like Adams, Jackson and Cameron Payne were solid contributors. Though the players were traded, their last two first-round picks of Brandon Clarke and Immanuel Quickley look promising as well.

The Thunder have made the playoffs every year since 2009 with the exception of the 2014-15 season. There won’t be any postseason play for them this year but they have not embraced any form of tanking.

Despite the lack of elite talent on their roster, the Thunder still own a better record than seven other teams. Mark Daigneault may be the least recognizable coach in the league, but he has done an outstanding job with this young group. They have proven to be one of the better defensive teams as the players have bought into the system.

Oklahoma City’s situation is similar to a few other teams in recent years. The Memphis Grizzlies continue to improve each season with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr leading their young core. They have hit on those same two key areas; drafting and player development. De’Anthony Melton, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson and Clarke have all contributed to their growth as an organization.

The Atlanta Hawks are another young team on the rise but are a little further ahead thanks to some recent trades and free-agent signings. Trae Young, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter have all blossomed alongside the veteran players added to the roster. These guys benefited from the guidance of Vince Carter in his final two seasons in Atlanta.  Oklahoma City now hopes that Horford may be able to provide the same thing to their young nucleus.

Philadelphia took a much different approach when they coined their “trust the process” phrase. Tanking is no longer viewed as a path to rebuild, due to several changes that the league has made. The New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets have also taken different angles to rebuilding their respective teams.

There is no standard way of rebuilding that is set in stone for every franchise to follow. Because of their assets and youth, the Thunder have the luxury of being patient throughout the entire process.

Over the next several years, Oklahoma City will focus on the draft and explore the idea of taking on reclamation projects similar to what the Brooklyn Nets have done. When the time is right, they will be able to cash in some of their remaining assets to acquire even more talent to put them back into contention.

This is Presti’s 15th season as general manager of the organization. He has garnered a wealth of compliments and praise for his collection of assets in recent years. While it is well deserved, the expectations are that he will be able to turn this into premier talent.

It is a tall order for anyone, but the Thunder can sleep easy at night knowing that they have the right man for the job.

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Bulls’ guard Zach LaVine desires respect for new contract

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According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst, Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine wants the respect he deserves for his contract extension. On Monday morning before Team USA’s practice to prepare for Tuesday’s match against Spain, the 26-year-old guard said to reporters, “I just want my respect, that’s the main thing. I outplayed my contract. I’ve been very loyal to Chicago. I like Chicago. I just want my respect. If that’s now or later, it’s something we’ve got to work out internally.” In the 2020-21 season, in 58 games played, LaVine averaged 27.4 points, five rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 50.7 percent from the field and was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game.

Regarding the “outplayed my contract” comment, his argument his fair. Last season, with 200 three-point field goals made, he ranked ninth overall in the league. Despite the Bulls finishing 31-41 (.431) last season, he led the team in points and assists. Per ESPN, they are also reporting that Chicago is trying to work out a four-year, $105 million contract extension for their star guard. Though, this deal is expected to fall below his market value. In terms of signing available free agents this offseason, some Bulls fans are speculating the organization will pursue either Knicks’ shooting guard/small forward Reggie Bullock, Lakers’ power forward/center Markieff Morris or Pelicans’ point guard Lonzo Ball.

On July 13, 2018, the 2014 13th pick of the draft signed a four-year, $78 million contract with the Bulls. LaVine earned $19,500,000 last season, and he is set to earn $19,500,000 in the upcoming season. It is not urgent for Chicago to extend LaVine’s contract this offseason. The organization will have the full rights to re-sign him to a new deal for next season in 2022.

However, the guard will also become an unrestricted free agent next year, so the Bulls should work towards fixing their salary cap issues right now. Referencing Spotrac, center Nikola Vucevic has a cap figure of $24 million. Of this amount, his future guaranteed cash is $22 million. One notable 2021-22 cap hold is Lauri Markkanen. His qualifying offer is $9,026,952, and his cap figure is $20,194,524. On March 2, 2020, Markkanen was recalled from the Windy City Bulls of the G League.

Furthermore, on March 25, 2021, center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu were traded by the Orlando Magic to the Bulls in exchange for Otto Porter, Wendell Carter Jr., a 2021 first-round pick and a 2023 first-round pick. This is quite the gamble for the Bulls organization, considering they traded away two future first-round picks. Vucevic is set to earn $24 million for the 2021-22 season. Chicago has $56,679,846 available in cap space. Their current luxury tax space is $29,405746.

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Rockets decline Avery Bradley’s $5.9 million team option

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First reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Houston Rockets are declining Avery Bradley’s team option for the 2021-22 NBA season. On November 23, 2020, the 30-year-old guard signed as a free agent with the Miami Heat. He signed a two-year, $11.6 million deal. On March 25, 2021, the Heat traded Bradley, Kelly Olynyk and a 2022 first-round pick to the Houston Rockets for two-time NBA All-Star guard Victor Oladipo. The 2022 first-round pick is an option to trade for a potential Heat or Nets pick. Plus, Houston received a trade exception, too.

Moreover, Bradley earned $5,635,000 this previous season; the Rockets declined his 2021-22 team option of $5,916,750 for next season. In other words, both sides have mutually agreed to part ways, so the six-foot-three guard is now an unrestricted free agent. In early February, it was first reported that the Washington native would miss three to four weeks due to a calf strain. Before this injury, he averaged 8.5 points, 1.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game for Miami. Furthermore, he also shot a career-high percentage of 42.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Though, Bradley disappointed both of his teams last season, leading to the Rockets finishing 17-55 (.236), ranking 15th overall in the Western Conference. Last season was the first time since the 1982-83 season that Houston failed to win at least 20 games. Since the 2011-12 season, it was the first time the Rockets had failed to qualify for the playoffs. In only 27 games played, the 11-year NBA veteran averaged 6.4 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game. He shot 37.4 percent from the field as well.

Likewise, the Miami Heat finished 40-32 (.556) last season, regressing from the team’s 44-29 (.603) record and sixth NBA Finals appearance from the 2019-20 season. Fans across social media are already speculating that the 2010 19th overall pick will end up playing for the Los Angeles Lakers next season. If this happens, he would join the team’s newly established big three: LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook.

After Bradley signed with the Lakers for the 2019-20 season, he joined the list of players in the league’s history who played for both the Celtics and Lakers. The list includes Brian Shaw, Clyde Lovellette, Mel Counts, Rick Fox, Don Nelson, Bob McAdoo, Isaiah Thomas, Charlie Scott, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Rajon Rondo. According to Bleacher Report, the Lakers are also interested in signing Carmelo Anthony this offseason.

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Mavericks will pick up Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option

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Per ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, the Dallas Mavericks are planning to pick up center Willie Cauley-Stein’s $4.1 million option for the 2021-22 NBA season. The deadline is tomorrow. Last season, in 53 games played, the seven-foot big man averaged 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. The sixth-year player also shot 63.2 percent from the field last season.

On July 8, 2019, Cauley-Stein signed a two-year, $4.46 million contract with the Golden State Warriors. Then, on January 25, 2020, Cauley-Stein was traded to the Mavericks for a 2020 second-round pick. If everything goes smoothly, the 27-year-old center is set to earn $4.1 million next season. The 2015 sixth overall pick’s contract consumes less than three percent of the team’s total salary cap.

This news comes right after Dallas received center Moses Brown from the Boston Celtics. Brown is a seven-foot-two, 2019 undrafted player out of UCLA. In 2021, Brown was named to the All-NBA G League First Team and All-Defensive Team. On March 28, 2021, the 21-year-old center signed a four-year, $6.8 million contract with the Thunder.

However, on June 18, 2021, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded Brown, Al Horford, and a 2023 second-round pick to the Celtics for Kemba Walker, a 2021 first-round pick and a 2025 second-round pick. With Boston, Brown was set to earn $1,701,593 next season. Of course, the Mavs organization is finalizing a trade to send Josh Richardson to the Celtics as well. In other news, today is Mavs owner Mark Cuban’s 63rd birthday.

Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 luxury tax totals, the Mavs’ current luxury tax space is $52,326,531. The 2021 NBA salary cap maximum is $112,414,000. Their current cap space is $27,595,632. Cauley-Stein’s contract is recognized as a club option, not a player option or guaranteed money. Richardson’s deadline is also tomorrow, so because he is getting traded to Boston, the team will not collect his $11,615,328 player option.

Plus, Jalen Brunson’s deadline is also August 1st. His guaranteed value is $1,802,057. Leading into the 2021-22 season, Kristaps Porzingis has the highest cap figure on the team, which is an amount worth $31,650,600, consuming 22.73 percent of the team’s total salary cap. At the moment, Porzingis is a popular name in trade rumor articles. Bettors and NBA analysts are predicting a possible trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers.

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