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Tuesday Bolts: 5.22.18

ESPN picked Russell Westbrook as the 34th most famous athlete in the world — Melo at number 43: “Even in small-market Oklahoma City, Westbrook is a household name. His worldwide jersey sales ranked seventh in the NBA this season after a No. 4 mark the previous year. Apparel is another passion for the 29-year-old, who has collaborated on projects with Nike and Barney’s New York and this past November launched his own “Honor the Gift” label. His book, “Russell Westbrook: Style Drivers,” was published last year. Westbrook also spoke out for Oklahoma teachers in their demands for increased pay and better working conditions.”

Fred Katz on the Thunder’s wait-and-see approach to Paul George’s future: “The Thunder need George not just because he’s a five-time All-Star in the prime of his career, but also because there isn’t much they can do to recover if he were to leave. They’re well over the salary cap with Westbrook’s, Anthony’s, Adams’, Roberson’s, Alex Abrines’, Patrick Patterson’s and Kyle Singler’s deals already on the books for 2018-19. This season may have been a letdown with George around. Just imagine if he weren’t. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the Thunder would replicate a bleak season if George were to return. They could be better. George talked all season about this being the group’s “first year” together, referencing improvement as everyone’s familiarity grew. He talked about how Roberson’s injury hurt the team’s chances. And he probably wasn’t wrong. The Thunder were rolling, in the midst of a 10-game winning streak, when Roberson got hurt.”

Cody Taylor (USA Today) on Thunder brass meeting with Paul George’s agent: “The Thunder apparently met with Aaron Mintz, the agent for Paul George, at the Draft Combine last week, according to Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders. It’s unclear what Thunder general manager Sam Presti and assistant general manager Rob Hennigan were discussing with Mintz, but it was apparently a “pretty heavy” conversation. Of course, George can be a free agent this summer so there will likely be a heavy dialogue between the two sides from now until the time when free agency opens in July. The two sides could have also just been discussing the upcoming draft as Mintz represents some upcoming prospects, but we’re willing to bet PG’s free agency was discussed at some point during the conversation.”

Erik Horne on why the Thunder needs to keep Raymond Felton: “While Paul George is the priority when July 1 and free agency arrives, Felton fits a key role for the Thunder, as the embodiment of second tier of free agent the team must hit on this summer. Whether or not the Thunder brings back Felton, who played for the veteran’s minimum this past season ($2.3 million), players of his ilk are crucial. Even if Paul George leaves, the Thunder is likely to be a team operating above the $101 million salary cap, meaning there are few options to add to the team outside of the minimum contracts allowed when a team has exceeded the cap (Ex. Felton), Bird Rights (Ex. re-signing Jerami Grant), or via the mid-level exception price ranging from $5.3 million to $8.67 million (Ex. Patrick Patterson). Most importantly, players like Felton willing to accept their roles and execute them well are keys to any successful NBA franchise.”

Brett Dawson on the continued development of Dakari Johnson: “Johnson started six games during the season, all because of Adams injuries. The Thunder went 5-1 in those games, and Johnson averaged 5.2 points and 2.2 rebounds in 15.2 minutes per game as a starter. In 25 games off the bench, Johnson averaged one point and 0.8 rebounds in 2.8 minutes. None of that suggests he’s ready to be a consistent contributor in the NBA. But Johnson is working at it. He’s slimmed down and wants to continue in that process. He admits it’s “going to take time” to become a quicker, more explosive athlete, but adds “I’m really going to work on it this summer.” He figures he’ll probably play Summer League ball and in addition to some time working out with Thunder coaches in Oklahoma City, he’ll work out in Atlanta, where he said “a lot of pros” play in open-gym games.”

Berry Tramel grades Billy Donovan’s 2017-18 season: “The Thunder was mediocre in clutch situations, a year after being excellent in close games. That’s how a mediocre roster in 2016-17 won only one fewer game than a beefed-up roster in 2017-18. The Thunder was 24-22 in games that were within five points in the final five minutes; last season, OKC was 26-16 in such situations. Make it the last three minutes, and the Thunder was 22-22, after going 23-15 the year before. One minute, within five points ahead or behind, the Thunder was 20-21, after going 18-14. In the final 30 seconds, with the game within three points, the Thunder was 15-17, after going 16-12.”

Marc Tracy (NY Times) on grassroots basketball being alive and well despite investigations and NCAA scrutiny: “Russell Westbrook sat at the end of Team WhyNot’s bench next to the final reserve, his legs extended courtward and his eyes tracking the ball. “Good D! Let’s go, let’s go!” the N.B.A. star shouted, fulfilling his role as patron saint of the youth basketball team named after his personal mantra. He seemed to live and die with every call, standing and cheering as his players did and scowling when things went against them. His eyes always followed the ball; he hardly seemed to blink. It was still well over 90 degrees outside at 6 p.m. as the sun beat down here on Friday, May 11, but inside the windowless Lakepoint Champions Center the air conditioning was cranked and the 12 basketball courts were lined with hundreds of spectators, a few of whom took pictures of Westbrook as he cheered on the teenagers.”

Ross Dwyer (Sneaker News) looks at the new Air Jordan 10 that honors Russell Westbrook’s high school graduation: “Jordan Brand’s propensity for drawing on Russell Westbrook‘s past as inspiration for the triple-double machine’s shoes continues, as images of a new Jordan 10 inspired by Russ’s high school graduation in 2006 have surfaced. The new colorway features a white leather upper with a black leather tongue and black laces, while colorful accents arrive via red detailing on the lateral side and blue detailing on the medial side of the tongue, details that nod to the school colors of Russ’s alma matter, Leuzinger High School. For futher detail the outsole features the same split red/blue color scheme as the upper, with MJ’s extensive list of accomplishments split down the middle by the two-tone colorblocking. Finally, a “Class Of 2006” hit on the insole rounds off the graduation-ready kicks. No official release date for these commemorative Jordan 10s has been announced yet, but expect them to arrive sometime this summer.”

Tom Ziller (SB Nation) on Kevin Durant sacrificing individual glory for team harmony: “He chose this. He wanted this. He sought this out. He’s seen the other side. That choice had trade-offs. He’ll might never win an MVP in Golden State, and that will limit how high up the mountain of all-timer NBA superstars he climbs. He took immense amounts of criticism for his decision to join the already overpowered Wariors, and there is ample evidence he takes criticism to heart. No matter: he did it, and he will likely re-up for more of it this summer as a free agent, possibly at a discount to the ultra-wealthy managing partners of the franchise. That speaks to a few things: Durant’s personality, the value Durant puts in interpersonal harmony, and the interpersonal relationships Durant experienced in Oklahoma City. He’s committed to a real trade-off in his physical prime, swapping individual recognition for happiness and team success. Yet he’ll never get credit for it.”

Around the League: The Cavs knotted the ECF at 2-2…. Boston promises to get up off the mat…. LeBron passed Kareem to set the playoff field goals record…. Andre Iguodala is doubtful for Game 4 vs Houston…. How KD is building a Silicon Valley empire…. Mike D’Antoni and doubling-down on iso-ball…. Seattle’s KeyArena renovation plan isn’t up to NBA standards.