• One Big Thing: Thank you Russell

    The news of the week is obviously Russell Westbrook re-upping with Oklahoma City on a three year deal worth $85 million.

    Westbrook received a hero’s welcome when he touched ground in the Oklahoma capital to put pen to paper and talk to the press. It was a sight to behold; seeing a fanbase and organization come back together and rejoice after coming oh so close before the foundation of the team was ripped away by the lure of Golden State.

    They had just had their hearts yanked out and stepped on; left to pick up the pieces and consider what the future would hold if Westbrook decided to jump ship too. If they couldn’t win with one of the game’s best scorers in the fold why would Westbrook want to stick around without him?

    The rumors swirled about the next move. Sam Presti and the Thunder would have to move quickly. If there was no actual extension being worked on they had to at least take all calls.

    Boston certainly could put together a compelling package if Danny Ainge felt like being reasonable. The Lakers had some interesting pieces to put together and inject the Thunder with some youth in the first steps of an accelerated rebuild.

    If Westbrook’s availability became an open secret you could’ve bet on a line that’s 29 teams long.

    If he hit free agency how would the landscape shift?

    Would the Lakers’ pitch of being the Lakers finally work? Could the Thunder lure him back by going after someone like Blake Griffin? What sort of crazy pitch meeting details would leak?

    But no, that’s all for naught. The sense of foreboding that surrounded Oklahoma City is gone. For now they celebrate.

    There’s questions left to answer, namely how the Thunder can realistically expect to top last season.

    Westbrook in the fold obviously gives them a good start. The most electrifying man in the game is the human embodiment of unabashed fun and will make things exciting even if there’s less winning than there was last season.

    With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out and Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis in it’ll be a fun discovery process for the Thunder. They’re definitely not as good as they were in 2015-16 but the fit is interesting.

    Oladipo’s athleticism and cutting ability should give Westbrook another path to boatloads of assists and might even allow him to play off the ball if coach Billy Donovan sees fit. Oladipo, like a young Westbrook, fits into the mold of a combo guard who can really do whatever you ask of him.

    There’s a huge chunk of touches that just opened up for anyone who cares to take them. Oladipo, Enes Kanter and Steven Adams will soak up a lot of those but it’s now unmistakably Westbrook’s team.

    For all the x’s and o’s basketball talk that will happen, it’s a pretty simple situation. There’s a top level player who just got spurned by a longtime friend who now has a California-sized chip on his shoulder. They won’t hit the same heights as last year but make no mistake: Westbrook will go bananas.

    For all the consideration that his free agency was starting to receive, it never really felt like Westbrook was going to leave. Any sort of talk about him heading off to join forces with other stars was speculation that never fit given what we know about Westbrook.

    He’s not buddy-buddy when the game is on. He’s the guy that squeezed Charlie Villanueva out to get through his intricate handshake. If you’re not on the Thunder, he’s going to do his best to dissect you or go right through you.

    In a different jersey? You’re just in his way.

    Even his snapchat this summer has been nothing but him, his family and his basketball camp. There’s no hanging out with other players. Russell has been doing Russell just like he always has.

    Westbrook looks like a straight shooter. He doesn’t like doing the media thing, so he doesn’t talk to them that much. There’s no A to D by way of B and C. With Westbrook it seems like he’s going to find the path of least resistance whether that’s barreling through the lane or telling ownership what he’s thinking. It’s simple with him.

    Fittingly enough, the Thunder have gone from major turmoil to a simple reality. It’s not KD and Russ anymore. It’s just Russ. He could’ve orchestrated his way out like we all expected but that’s just not his style.

    He’s the lead dog and the face of the franchise now.

    The Thunder, and the entire NBA, are better for it.

Fantasy News

  • Nikola Vucevic - C - Orlando Magic

    Per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News, the Mavs like how Nikola Vucevic fits alongside Kristaps Porzingis, but his expected salary would cost too much for the Mavs to sign.

    The Mavs will enter free agency with a ton of cap space, but after the expected max contract that they'll extend to Porzingis, they may be more inclined to spread the wealth around or target Kemba Walker than committing a max contract to Vucevic. Vucevic had a career year as an All-Star for the Magic this past season, but his next destination remains a crapshoot.

    Source: Dallas News

  • Jimmy Butler - SG - Philadelphia Sixers

    Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, the Rockets' ideal plan in free agency is to get Jimmy Butler by a sign-and-trade deal with the Sixers.

    Butler is going to be a sought after commodity once free agency opens as the Sixers, Lakers, and others are also going to be looking to ink him to a long-term deal. Butler regained his level back to max contract level after his play during the playoffs this season. The Rockets don't have any cap space to sign Butler outright, so they'll have to get a commitment from him to take a pay cut, while also getting the Sixers to agree to help facilitate a deal. This is going to be interesting.

    Source: ESPN

  • Khem Birch - C - Orlando Magic

    The Magic have extended qualifying offers to C Khem Birch and F Amile Jefferson, rendering both restricted free agents ahead of free agency which is set to begin on June 30th.

    Birch, who averaged 4.8 points and 3.8 rebounds in just 12.9 minutes per game this past season, is seemingly a priority for the Magic to bring back, and now they'll get the opportunity to match any contracts he may fetch from other teams. Jefferson was in the G-League for the majority of the season, where he was very productive. Both may take on larger roles, should they stay with the Magic, as star C Nikola Vucevic is an unrestricted free agent.

    Source: Magic PR on Twitter

  • JR Smith - SG - Cleveland Cavaliers

    According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo! Sports, the Lakers could eventually take a look at signing J.R. Smith should he be released by the Cavs, or traded and bought out by another team.

    Smith is likely to become a free agent one way or the other by the end of the month, and the Lakers will be looking at cheap floor-spacers to fill out their roster. Smith and LeBron James are familiar with one another after winning a championship together with the Cavs, and it looks like Smith to the Lakers is a real possibility.

    Source: Chris Haynes on Twitter

  • Kristaps Porzingis - PF - Dallas Mavericks

    Shams Charania of The Athletic is reporting that the Mavs will meet with restricted free agent Kristaps Porzingis (torn ACL) once free agency opens on June 30th, and the team will offer him the full five-year, $158 million max contract.

    This was expected ever since the Mavs traded for Porzingis mid-season while he recovered from his knee injury. Porzingis is fully expected to sign with the Mavs and become reigning ROY Luka Doncic's running mate for the foreseeable future.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Jordan Clarkson - PG - Cleveland Cavaliers

    Cavs combo guard Jordan Clarkson changed agents and signed with Klutch Sports and Rich Paul.

    Clarkson is likely to be a trade target for competitive teams ahead of next year's trade deadline, as a quality player on an expiring contract. Clarkson will enter free agency next offseason looking for the best deal possible.

    Source: Joe Vardon on Twitter

  • Julius Randle - PF - New Orleans Pelicans

    Per Marc Spears of The Undefeated, Pelicans forward Julius Randle and the Knicks have mutual interest as free agency approaches.

    The Pelicans drafted their PF of the future in Zion Williamson last week, and will seemingly let Randle walk in free agency as they are unlikely to pay him what he deserves. After a productive finish with the Lakers in 2017-18, Randle had to settle for a one-year deal from the Pelicans last summer. After another productive season on an expiring contract, it looks like at least one franchise is ready to invest in Randle as their PF of the future. Randle averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 0.9 threes to boot this past season and makes for a good mid-round selection in drafts next season if he finds himself in a similar role.

    Source: The Undefeated

  • Andre Iguodala - SF - Golden State Warriors

    Speaking about Kevin Durant's injury situation during this year's playoffs, Andre Iguodala said that he fractured his left leg against the Rockets in the 2018-19 playoffs and the Warriors listed him out with a "left lateral leg contusion.”

    There has been a lot of smoke in regards to how the Warriors dealt with Durant's injury, as it did not appear to be as minor as the team led the public to believe when he injured himself backpedaling after a made basket. A non-contact injury is always a major red flag, but the Warriors called Durant's initial injury a "first-grade calf strain," which is the lowest graded injury designation. Weeks later, when Durant rushed back to help his team out of a 3-1 Finals deficit, he fully ruptured his Achilles in only 12 minutes of action. This is all just speculation, but this revelation from the 2015 NBA Finals MVP is an alarming development for a franchise who could seemingly do no wrong the past half-decade. The league may take a deep-dive into these claims soon enough.

    Source: NBC Sports

  • D'Angelo Russell - PG - Brooklyn Nets

    The Lakers, who are also working towards setting up meetings with a defensive specialist and a floor-spacer, have a set meeting with D'Angelo Russell when free agency opens.

    The Lakers drafted Russell at #2 overall in the 2015 NBA draft and subsequently traded him to the Nets a few years ago as a way to get Timofey Mozgov's horrendous contract off their books. He has since blossomed into an All-Star selection this past season as the leader of the Nets' push back into relevancy. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Russell and the Lakers would mend their previous relationship, but it remains to be seen if anything will come of it. If it is any consolation to Russell, Magic Johnson, the man who traded Russell to the Nets, is no longer with the team.

    Source: Fred Robbins on Twitter

  • Mitch Kupchak - Team - Charlotte Hornets

    In what will play a major role in all personnel decisions, the Hornets are determined to avoid the luxury tax next season, per Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer.

    If true, then this will have a major effect on free agency as the Hornets are unlikely to extend the supermax to Kemba Walker this summer. While Walker has said publicly that he is willing to take less than the supermax, it would be hard to see him stay with the Hornets for anything less as he is sure to garner interest from many teams with much better odds at competing for a title. The Lakers, Mavs, and Celtics are just a few of the many teams that will be looking into Walker once free agency opens up, and they all have brighter presents or futures ahead than the Hornets current outlook. There have been rumbles that Walker would head elsewhere next season for a few weeks now, and this report adds even more smoke to the fire. Free agency opens in less than a week.