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Monday Bolts: 4.30.18

Nick Gallo recaps Saturday’s Thunder exit interviews: “First up on Saturday morning at End of Season Interviews was Head Coach Billy Donovan, who even in the immediate aftermath of the Thunder’s 96-91 loss to the Jazz on Friday was discussing the optimism that he has for what this iteration of the team can be moving forward. Each year Donovan has coached this team the personnel has been drastically different, but because of the way the players in the locker room stuck together all year, Donovan is confident they will be able to make progress on the most important problem to tackle this summer: consistency. “From start to finish they were constantly trying to work on things to help us be a better team,” Donovan said. “The consistency stuff is what we have to put all of our heads together on,” Donovan added. “We can be more consistent on what I call the ‘controllables’.”

Royce Young on the potential end of the OK3 and the Thunder’s plan coming to a crashing halt: “With George headed for free agency and the yearlong recruitment not going to plan on a promise of sustained top-end success, another judgment on Westbrook and the Thunder is coming. The grand, one-year experiment didn’t pan out. But, and it’s a big but, it could also be Year 1 of an extended restoration project. George has talked repeatedly about “building” with this group, and he even referenced it being “Year 1.” Maybe the Thunder end up coming out of this clean after all. Trades can be re-litigated in hindsight, but the Thunder would make both of the splashy moves they made last offseason 100 times out of 100. They have a transcendent star in Westbrook, and they aim to pay off the promise of maximizing the prime of his career. They have a chance to re-sign George, which is all they ever really wanted. They also have Anthony at age 34, with his $28 million player option looking like an albatross, especially with a grotesque luxury tax bill ahead for a noncontender. It’s a complicated future for the Thunder, whichever way it goes.”

Ben Golliver (SI) on the future of Paul George: “In the face of a demoralizing and hard-fought loss, George struck a positive and optimistic tone. “It was an amazing season,” he said. “Really, a learning experience playing off of Russ, playing off of Melo. Steve-o. Seeing what the potential was like having Dreout there. It was great.” George’s extended comments about Oklahoma City stood in stark contrast to his comments about Indiana last year. Following a Game 4 loss in a sweep against the Cavaliers, George was asked about his interest in remaining with the Pacers. “I ain’t even at that point, Bob,” George said curtly, addressing a local reporter by name. “Next question.” He was traded roughly two months later.”

Erik Horne on Paul George, like KD before him, knowing what’s at stake in free agency: “When George sat down for his exit interview at the Thunder’s practice facility on Saturday, the 27-year-old was trying to simultaneously acknowledge the potential of Oklahoma City while guarding his thought process on his first time in the free agency waters. “I haven’t really put everything in perspective,” George said Saturday afternoon, about nine hours after the Thunder landed in Oklahoma City following its Game 6 loss in Salt Lake City. “I think the biggest thing is just trying to keep a relationship with Sam (Presti, general manager of the Thunder), continue to talk with Sam. Continue to talk with Billy, with Russ, and figure out the direction we want to go as a group, more so than anything.” Then, George had a subtle slip. “I think that’s option one,” he said before correcting himself. “… or that’s the first thing I want to do before free agency or any of that, before we get to that point.”

Chris Thompson (Deadspin) on a defiant Carmelo Anthony refusing a bench role: “He’s awfully sure about that starting role, for a guy who’ll be 34 years old next season! Listen. Carmelo Anthony is still a fine basketball player, but he is no longer a very good NBA player. This season he produced a dismal 50.3 True Shooting percentage, and an even shittier 48.3 percentage after the All Star break. He’s been an inefficient scorer and a poor defender for at least the last four seasons. No one has yet hit on a particularly persuasive metric for measuring individual NBA defense, but all you had to do was watch teams target Melo at the defensive end this season to know that the days when he could be counted upon for passable perimeter defense are long gone. He’s not enough of a knockdown shooter to play as an off-ball spacer, and he’s nowhere remotely close to good enough any more as a shot-creator to make centering an offense on his mid-post footwork a non-catastrophic idea.”

Erik Horne & Brett Dawson inspect OKC’s Melo options: “If Anthony picks up that $27.9 million option, the Thunder can essentially pay him to go home. It doesn’t necessarily have to be for $27.9 million, either. The Thunder and Anthony could negotiate a buyout for a smaller number. This might be addition by subtraction. Yes, Anthony’s relationship with Russell Westbrook and Paul George is solid, and may play a role in George returning to Oklahoma City, in which Anthony’s place would be further justified. But if the Thunder prioritizes putting out the best possible team, Grant has to play more. That may mean cutting the loss and simply getting Anthony out of the locker room if he’s not fully on board.”

Paolo Ugetti (Ringer) on the end of the Thunder season: “This is still Westbrook’s team, for better or for worse, and the Thunder have little choice but to lean into his aggressive style. But building a team around Russ may be more difficult than ever. If Melo opts in, the Thunder will have $117 million committed in salary before George makes his decision, and that figure is already over the projected cap. Roberson will be back next season, but Jerami Grant is an unrestricted free agent. The athletic forward was a revelation for OKC this season; the Thunder’s net rating was significantly better when he was on the floor than when he was off during these playoffs. He’s a better option than Melo at his position, and the Thunder should do everything they can to keep him. There also may be a way to get better internally. This might be a personal bias, but Adams seems ready for an even bigger role in the offense. He’s only 24 and is coming off a career season shooting from the field (62.9 percent). He can be more than just Russ’s sidekick.”

Zach Buckley (B/R) on the top Thunder offseason priorities and targets: “Officially, the Thunder only have three eight-figure contracts on the books for next season. But Anthony will make it four as soon as he exercises his $27.9 million player option, money he wouldn’t come close to collecting on the open market.  Tack on Anthony’s salary with those of Westbrook, Steven Adams, and Andre Roberson, and that’s already $97.4 million on the books. Give George a new deal, and you’ll have blown past the projected $101 million cap and maybe the $123 million luxury-tax thresholds as well. This doesn’t mention the other five players under contract, who will collectively earn $19.4 million. It also doesn’t account for the five headed for free agency, including a postseason starter (Corey Brewer) and two rotation reserves (Jerami Grant and Raymond Felton). Money is tight, in other words.”

John Gonzalez (Ringer) on what the 76ers can learn from the Thunder: “History burps up all kinds of cautionary tales, but the loudest comes courtesy of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Not even a decade ago, the Thunder were supposed to be the Sixers. Long before anyone knew what the Process was, OKC had the kind of talented young core that seemed set to be a dominant league power indefinitely. See if this sounds familiar: In 2008-09, the Thunder won 23 games. The next season, they made a massive leap and won 50 games with Kevin Durant (then in his third year), Russell Westbrook (second year), James Harden, and Serge Ibaka (both rookies). Last season, the Sixers won 28 games. This season, they made a massive leap and won 52 games with Embiid and Dario Saric (both in their second year), and Ben Simmons (the favorite for Rookie of the Year). They also have Markelle Fultz, who might even possibly be good. Perhaps. Even if he’s not, the Sixers are set up pretty well, and they’ve already gotten further than the 2009-10 Thunder, who lost in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.”

Around the League: LeBron led the Cavs to a Game 7 win over Indiana…. Victor Oladipo says the Pacers earned everyone’s respect…. The Rockets smacked the Jazz in Game 1 of the second round…. The Pelicans are in deep trouble against Golden State…. Jaylen Brown is questionable for Game 1 vs Philly…. ESPN analysts make their conference semifinals predictions.