Zach Lowe (ESPN) on Russell Westbrook and the future of the Thunder offense: “Oklahoma City’s failure to develop an offensive system goes beyond Westbrook. But we have been talking about this problem for almost 10 years. The coach has changed, the bench has changed, the stars around him have changed. Westbrook’s heart is in the right place; he wants to win, and when he takes a lot of shots, it is because he has concluded that is the best path to winning. More than one person described Westbrook’s process as doing math while scanning the floor: he knows he can hit X percentage from this spot. A teammate can only do better if they are in the right spot, in rhythm, in the middle of a good game. Passing brings the risk of a turnover — lowering the expected points per possession. There is a method.”
Brett Dawson on the financial limitations facing the Thunder: “The Thunder owes Russell Westbrook $35.3 million and Steven Adams $24.1 million next season. If George signs on a max deal, he could earn $30.3 million next season. That would be $89.7 million of a $101 million salary cap tied up in three players. Oklahoma City’s total payroll before signing any free agents — even its own, including Grant — would be $147 million, Marks wrote last week. The tax threshold next season is projected at $123 million, so the Thunder would be well over it, and thus would pay a tax penalty on every dollar spent beyond $123 million. Even if the Thunder rounded out its roster with players on minimum contracts, Marks wrote last week, its total bill for salary and tax could reach $268 million, which would be higher than any previous single-season total in the NBA. That’s an enormous bill for a roster that couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs, and Oklahoma City’s ownership might reasonably suggest it could get similar results for far less money.”
Sean Deveney (Sporting News) on what the Thunder will do with Paul George and Carmelo Anthony: “Keeping George in town has been the underlying goal since before the season started. The Thunder traded for George, a free-agent-to-be last summer with the hope that Westbrook could recruit him from within and persuade him to pass on a chance to go home to Los Angeles or join a contender like the Rockets in order to stick it out with OKC. There’s not much more the Thunder can do on that front. What might be more pressing is the issue with Anthony. While the Thunder want to keep George long-term, they’d very much like to find a way to rid themselves of Anthony, who could not find a role with the team and did not inspire confidence with his unwillingness to sacrifice, highlighted by his insistence that he would not come off the bench. As he turns 34 this spring and with his skills diminishing, it’s past time for Anthony to consider different ways he can contribute to a good team, if he is still interested in winning. There are times he seems to long for his days of jacking up shots for the Knicks on the way to another 30-win season. At least then he could point the finger elsewhere — the owner, the coach, the absentee team president — and come across as the mature one in the organization.”
Jason McIntyre (The Big Lead) cooked up a trade involving Russell Westbrook: “LA Clippers get: Russell Westbrook ($35 million next year) OKC Thunder get: Danilo Gallinari ($21.5 million next year), Tobias Harris ($14.8 million next year), LA Clippers draft picks 12 & 13 in 2018. / With a primary bench of Andre Roberson, Gilgeous-Alexander, Alex Abrines, Kyle Singler and Patrick Patterson. Assuming Gallo is healthy, you win probably 30-35 games, and pick in the lottery again. The Clippers would hit a grand slam, adding an LA native to sell tickets, and he’d be surrounded by a rim-protector in DeAndre Jordan (for one more year; I can’t see him opting out given the market for non-shooting centers). Montrezl Harrell isn’t someone they want to lose, so he starts at PF and the great shooter Lou Williams is a guard. You could start Westbrook alongside Patrick Beverley in what would be a pesky backcourt. That’s a small starting unit, but they push tempo.”
Dan Favale (B/R) has the next steps for every first round loser: “Maybe the Thunder can tell Anthony he’ll be coming off the bench and that’s that. Maybe that declaration convinces him to chase rings elsewhere. Maybe, just maybe, they can pitch him on opting out and signing a longer-team deal worth more money over the long haul that gives them bonus flexibility under the luxury tax. Something needs to be done here. The Thunder risk disenchanting George if they don’t have solutions laid out for non-fit between him, Anthony and Westbrook. Even then, he might leave. They’ll need to tackle a host of other questions if he does. What’s the best way to proceed? Do they try starting over with Westbrook and Steven Adams? Is Anthony more valuable to them as a No. 2 with George gone? Is Westbrook actually better off on his own, free and clear from other stars, running spread pick-and-rolls with Adams and three shooters? If so, can the Thunder cobble together the resources to add low-cost shooters in free agency and on the open market?”
Sam Amick (USA Today) on Warriors’ players showing support for Russell Westbrook: “When it comes to the debate about fans and player interactions, one that Westbrook re-sparked on Friday when he had dust-ups with Utah Jazz supporters both during and after the Thunder’s season-ending loss in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, multiple Warriors players understood the root of his frustration because they often face it too. Westbrook was highly critical of Jazz fans after Game 6, claiming they use vulgarity and heckle about the families and the children of players. “I mean what Russ says has some truth to it, you know?” said Warriors point guard Shaun Livingston, who has been in the league since 2004. “I mean he’s not just sitting up there just telling lies, you know? But I feel there has to be respect from both sides, at the end of the day. I understand the league, and the office, they want – it’s about customers, it’s about the fans, right? So they’re doing everything in their power to make sure that they’re happy, they’re content, they’re satisfied, they’re getting their money’s worth. But at the same time, there has to be a level of respect on their end too, right?”
Caitlin Burchill (KSL Utah) with the other side of the Russ vs Jazz fan story: “There is really just one reason why I wanted to do this interview. It’s not that I’m looking for exposure or, you know, financial gain or anything like that. It’s truly, I just want the public to understand, in my opinion, the other side of the story,” said Linebaugh. Linebaugh says he won’t hold this against Westbrook, but like a true team player he wants to stick up for his people – Jazz fans. “Everything that I heard and saw was, was appropriate. It wasn’t profanities. And to that end, Utah we’re a state where we welcome everybody. We embrace everybody. We hope that Russell Westbrook will come back to Utah,” said Linebaugh.”
Around the League: Inside the uncomfortable silence between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs…. Boston took down Philly in Game 1…. Ben Simmons wasn’t bothered by the Boston crowd…. Steph Curry is probable to make his return…. John Wall called out his teammates at his exit interview…. Pat Riley called out Hassan Whiteside — and got some help from Joel Embiid.