Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Nov. 1) -- OKC's future after Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams extensions

OKC locks up Oladipo, Adams | Dunn to start Wolves’ home-opener | Gasol finding way in San Antonio | Jazz, Gobert reach extension

No. 1: How OKC’s extensions affect its future — The Oklahoma City Thunder landed Victor Oladipo in the offseason well before the bombshell of Kevin Durant leaving in free agency hit. They also had the benefit of watching Steven Adams shine in 2016 playoffs and display future team cog-type skills. Those facts, coupled with Russell Westbrook’s offseason extension, gave OKC hope in a post-Durant world. The team added to that by locking up Adams and Oladipo to contract extension yesterday, which Eric Horne of The Oklahoman parses with a long-term view:


Projected first-year salaries for Adams ($22.4 million) and Oladipo ($18.8 million) put the Thunder between $105-106 million in guaranteed salaries. The Thunder is allowed to exceed the salary cap to sign Adams and Oladipo since it owns their Bird Rights (neither player has changed teams as a free agent or been claimed off waivers). So, the Thunder will be $2 million to $3 million over the cap entering this summer.


To create cap space, the Thunder needs to know the rules and what is going to be on its books.

The first part (the rules) is dependent on the CBA. The second (the payroll) is more solidified with Adams and Oladipo signed.

As of Nov. 1, 20 out of 30 teams (as currently constructed) will have cap space to sign a maximum salary, unrestricted free agent this summer. The Thunder is not one of the 20.

In order to get there, OKC would need to clear close to $29 million in cap space, which means renouncing all expiring contracts (Ersan Ilyasova, Anthony Morrow, Nick Collison, Joffrey Lauvergne, Semaj Christon), as well as trading multiple players, particularly Enes Kanter’s $17.8 million salary, for expiring deals.

Russell Westbrook, Adams, Oladipo and Kanter alone will occupy $87.7 million, or 85 percent of the Thunder’s salary cap in 2017-18.


No. Adams’ deal is $6 million less and Oladipo’s close to $21 million less than the maximum amount the two could have received over four years under the projected salary cap. It’s better business for OKC, but also a sign of the duo’s willingness to take lesser deals than they could have received as free agents.


Westbrook is now flanked with a two-way wing and blosomming center, both of whom are 24 years old or younger. When Westbrook is eligible to opt out of his contract after the 2017-18 season, Oladipo and Adams will be completing the first year of their extensions.

The signings also send a message that the Thunder is willing to spend to contend. While it’s not the team envisioned when Kevin Durant was in OKC, rather than bottom out for a lottery pick, the Thunder wants to put a competitive team around Westbrook.


No. 2: Rubio’s injury creates starting opportunity for Dunn — The questions came practically from the moment the Minnesota Timberwolves took point guard Kris Dunn No. 3 overall in the 2016 Draft. How will Dunn find playing time behind veteran Ricky Rubio? Where will he fit into the Wolves’ stacked guard rotation? Will a trade be needed to give Dunn a chance? The rookie will get a big chance to prove himself after the team announced yesterday Rubio will be out indefinitely with a sprained elbow. Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune has more on Dunn’s new role, Rubio’s future and more:

UPDATE, 9:18 a.m. — Dunn will get the start tonight vs. Memphis, per Timberwolves PR

The Timberwolves, 0-2 in their season-opening road swing, return home to play the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in six days. The losses at Memphis and Sacramento have shown both the potential of the young team and the work that remains to be done.

And there will be a hole in the starting lineup to fill. Point guard Ricky Rubio, who sprained his right elbow in the fourth quarter Saturday in Sacramento, is sidelined indefinitely.

Rookie Kris Dunn likely will hear his name called when the starting lineup is announced against Memphis.

“Butterflies? No,” said Dunn, who scored eight points in 15-plus minutes of playing time in the season opener and had four points, four assists and was a plus-7 in nearly 20 minutes against Sacramento. “I lost my nerves, probably the first game of the preseason. Now I understand what the game is about, I understand my teammates, I understand what the coach wants from me.’’

But on the court there is work to be done as well. And the Wolves will have to play at least one game without Rubio.

Thibodeau echoed his postgame comments Saturday about the need for his team to be tougher, both mentally and physically.

Immediately after the loss to the Kings, Thibodeau said Dunn had played OK but was capable of better, playing tougher and having more awareness on the floor.

Monday, Thibodeau was in next-man-up mode.

“Defensively he’s done a lot of good things,” he said of Dunn. “And I think the more experience he gets the better he’s going to play. He’s learning. So there will be ups and downs.

“But his intensity will cover up for some things. He’s an unselfish player who will hit the open man, and I think he’s starting to understand the NBA a little better.’’

Dunn sounded confident Monday.

“I feel I’ve been getting good minutes, and I’ve been playing in some tough situations,’’ he said. “Those are the types of games I like to play in. So Ricky, if he doesn’t have the chance to play [Tuesday] night, or any other games, I’ll have to step up and be ready.’’

Thibodeau didn’t say who would be Dunn’s primary backup. Tyus Jones was active for the first two games but didn’t play. John Lucas III, in his eighth season, was inactive for both games but did play for Thibodeau in Chicago.


No. 3: Gasol finding his way with Spurs; Aldridge insists he’s happy — As our David Aldridge detailed in his Morning Tip yesterday, the San Antonio Spurs have started off 2016-17 great — especially when you factor in Tim Duncan’s retirement. However, no team is without its flaws and the Spurs have a couple of things to work on as the season progresses — namely getting Pau Gasol comfortable in the defense and quieting talk that All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge is for some reason unhappy in San Antonio. Sam Amick of USA Today has more:

Even at 36 years old, Gasol — who led the Olympics in scoring while playing for Spain just a few months ago — still qualifies as one of the most talented offensive players on the planet. But the shots will be in short supply with the Spurs, meaning Gasol plans on channeling his inner Duncan on the defensive end while remaining patient on the offensive side. The Spurs are currently ranked fifth in defensive rating (95.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).

“I have to be better defensively to give the first unit a little more strength defensively, since I’m not going to be carrying as much load offensively as I’m used to,” Gasol said. “So far, every game is a little different. And the good thing about this team is that we move the ball really well and we find the open guy and you’re going to get your opportunities. They’re going to come in different ways every game, and you’ve just got to be ready and take advantage of them.”

He did just that in Game No. 4 (a 106-99 win over Miami), taking more shots (18) and scoring more points (20) than he had in the first three games combined when Popovich decided to give Aldridge the night off. The backdrop here is worth remembering: Gasol has always been a very proud talent, someone who grew frustrated during his late Lakers days with the way his offensive skills weren’t properly handled before heading to Chicago. He was featured more prominently with the Bulls, but knew full well that signing in San Antonio meant it wouldn’t be the same.

“Just trying to adjust as quickly as possible, trying to understand what’s asked of me at all times kind of thing, and at the same time play my game and be myself, but being patient too and doing as much as I can at this point,” Gasol said. “But I understand that I’m one of the new guys, and just try to fit in as best as possible.”

As for his level of contentment, Aldridge — who reminds skeptics how the Spurs won a franchise-record 67 games in his first season there before falling to Oklahoma City in the second round — swears there’s nothing to see here.

“That’s just media,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “And that’s why I don’t get into it. The organization is happy with me, and I’m happy with them, and as long as we keep a good relationship then everything is fine.

“It’s been great. My family is closer (to him in Texas than when he was in Portland). I’m closer to home (Dallas), and I’m in California during the summer (Newport Beach) so it’s just nice being in Texas year-round now.”


No. 4: Gobert glad he, Jazz reached extension — When the Utah Jazz landed Rudy Gobert in a Draft-night trade in 2013, few thought the raw center from France would be anything more than a project. Three years later, he has become one of the gems of that class and perhaps the NBA’s best rim-protector. As the deadline to lock him up to a contract extension neared Monday, the Jazz cut it close but made sure Gobert will be around a few more years. Aaron Falk of The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

Getting a deal done just hours before the league’s Oct. 31 deadline to negotiate with players from the 2013 draft class, the Jazz won’t have to wait until next summer to lock up their defensive anchor long-term.

And Gobert knows he’s staying right where he wants to be.

“I just love the way we’ve built this team,” the man they call the Stifle Tower said a day before the deal was finalized. “I love the coach. I love the organization. I think we’re going to be great in the near future. That’s the main reason why I’d like to stay.”

There may have been little doubt Gobert would stick around, but there were questions about just when a deal would get done. If a deal had not been reached, Gobert would have become a restricted free agent in July. As such, he would have been eligible to sign with any team he chose — and the Jazz would have had the option to match.

Waiting until next summer would have kept Gobert’s salary cap hold down significantly, but whatever flexibility that would have given the Jazz at the start of free agency was apparently not worth the wait.

“Rudy, not only in this deal but in previous actions, has committed to Salt Lake as his home,” Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey said. “… Because of that, I think the Miller family felt really good about an early commitment.”

The Jazz will have more difficult financial decisions to make soon enough. Forward Gordon Hayward will be able to opt out of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Forward Derrick Favors and guard George Hill could also be candidates for new deals should they be willing to negotiate during the season. Guards Rodney Hood and Danté Exum will be eligible for extensions in a year’s time.

But Gobert is central to the Jazz’s plans. He is one of the league’s premier defenders and his development will be key to Utah’s hopes of becoming a serious contender in the Western Conference.

“A few of us around the league are fortunate enough to have rim protection,” Lindsey said. “There’s just a scarcity of tall players with great length and mobility that have that defensive mindset.”

Gobert, picked 27th overall in 2013, may have been the steal of that draft. Now, the Jazz will have to pay the price to keep him.

Gobert’s deal falls in line similarly with other extensions for the standouts in his draft class. Portland guard C.J. McCollum and the Blazers agreed to a four-year, $106 million extension in July. In Milwaukee, the Bucks and forward Giannis Antetokounmpo came to terms on a four-year, $100 million deal last month.

Gobert’s big payday was coming one way or another. Perhaps that’s why he seemed unbothered as negotiations moved ahead through the weekend.

“I’m just focused on playing basketball right now and we’ll see what happens,” Gobert said. “It’s exciting, of course. … But I’m more excited about the season than I am about my contract.”


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