Morning Shootaround

Shootaround (Sept. 30) -- Russell Westbrook's record deal will shape the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise staff reports

This morning’s headlines:

* * *

Westbrook deal will shape Thunder franchiseBased on the joy that flooded across Oklahoma City over the news of Russell Westbrook’s mega-contract extension, you might have thought Westbrook had agreed to pay $205 million over five years to the city or to the Thunder franchise. This is a big deal, literally and figuratively, and was treated as such in coverage by the Daily Oklahoman. The paper got a reaction from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, Westbrook’s coach on Team USA. Columnist Berry Tramel offered context in his blog. And beat writer Eric Horne looked at how Westbrook’s decision might impact the direction of the team:

The implications of Westbrook’s new deal go beyond the numbers. It’s a decision that will have a major influence on the future of the franchise.

The effect on Carmelo Anthony and Paul George

Westbrook returning could be a big selling point to Anthony staying in Oklahoma City more than one season.

Anthony is in the final guaranteed season on his contract. He has an early termination option in his contract for 2018-19 which he could trigger, allowing him to become a free agent in the summer of 2018. If he opts in, Anthony will play a second season in Oklahoma City at $27.9 million.

But Anthony will be 34 in May and likely won’t command more than that per season in free agency. In addition to the guaranteed money Anthony gets in returning to Oklahoma City, he now knows Westbrook will be here long term. Westbrook signing is confirmation at least one star is sticking around, and it gives Anthony more incentive to remain with a winner after four consecutive losing seasons in New York. Oklahoma City wasn’t Anthony’s first or second choice in trade discussions, but he agreed to come play with Westbrook and George. Westbrook re-signing could make it easier for Anthony to stay.

What remains on their radar is George’s future. George has said his No. 1 priority is winning, but his affinity for Los Angeles isn’t a secret. He’s expected to enter free agency in the summer. If Westbrook and Anthony are committed to staying, coupled with a successful season, George’s decision becomes tougher.

The salary cap effect

Trading for George and Anthony made it clear the Thunder isn’t worrying about the luxury tax ramifications.

Westbrook’s salary is projected to jump to $35.3 million next season. Factoring in George and Anthony’s current guaranteed salaries for 2018-19 (which both can opt out of), the Thunder’s payroll would be more than $138 million. That’s a best-case scenario — if George and Anthony play out next season at their respective 2018-19 salaries of $20.7 million and $27.9 million.

The Thunder’s projected luxury tax bill this year after acquiring Anthony: nearly $27.8 million. It’ll be bigger if Anthony and George return, with a final number dependent on the NBA’s revenue from the upcoming season.

The perception

The Thunder is the 28th-largest media market out of 30 NBA cities. The Thunder was reportedly the one dissenting vote among those 30 teams in the league’s recent vote for NBA draft lottery reform.

The Thunder was built on the success of the draft and rebuilt on Sam Presti engineering trades to surround Westbrook with talent. The odds of OKC, or other teams outside of mega media markets, being able to acquire All-Star talent via free agency aren’t good.

* * *

Durant has settled in, and it showsWestbrook’s former cohort in OKC, Kevin Durant, would have shared the keys to that city with the 2017 MVP had he stayed. Instead, Durant is beginning his second season with Golden State. And after a full year there, including winning a championship and being named Finals MVP, it’s safe to say Durant has moved considerably to the right on his Warriors learning curve. On his personal comfort curve as well, as Chris Biderman of writes:

This year, with his first championship and a Finals MVP award under his belt, Durant’s a different player, according to his head coach Steve Kerr.

“Last year he was trying to figure out what the hell we were doing and this year he’s totally dialed in,” Kerr told reporters. “He understands the concepts. He’s comfortable within his surroundings, not only on the floor but off. He’s a different guy this year.”

Making this camp even smoother is the fact the Warriors are bringing back most of their championship roster. General manager Bob Myers had to make drastic changes to the roster last offseason in order to make room for Durant, letting go of core players like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Leandro Barbosa and Festus Ezeli.

In came Zaza Pachulia, David West, JaVale McGee and others to take on key roles, creating a major adjustment for all involved – including Durant.

“I’m more comfortable in this training camp,” Durant admitted. “Zaza’s more comfortable, D-West, all the guys that weren’t here a couple years ago, they’re just more comfortable now and I think that’s only going to help us.”

* * *

Towns aims for league’s top spotThe Minnesota Timberwolves were on the schedule to be among the first teams participating in preseason games, opening against the Lakers in Anaheim Saturday night. From there, the Wolves head to China for a pair of tune-up games against Golden State. And by the time they return to their digs in the Twin Cities, Karl-Anthony Towns might have wooed many of those 1.3 billion people over there who proverbially don’t care about a lot of our cultural topics. Towns is happily gregarious and especially driven now in his third NBA season to push himself to becoming the league’s best player, based on his chat with The Undefeated’s Marc Spears:

“My confidence has always been so high. I felt coming into the league I could be that easily,” Towns said this week after practice at the University of California, San Diego. “I always knew it was just a matter of time.

“But before I was even drafted, I felt that I had that ability, faith and confidence in myself to do that regardless to what team I’m with. I’m very blessed to be with the Timberwolves, because with them I’ve expedited that process a lot.

Much of Towns’ potential to be the king of the NBA comes from having all-around skills at 7 feet tall. Towns credits his father, Karl Towns, who pushed him at a young age to learn all the skills needed for basketball and not just how to be a tall guy in the post.

The No. 1 pick of the 2015 NBA draft displayed a versatile game his father would be proud of last season, averaging 25.1 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the field, 12.3 rebounds and a 36.7 shooting percentage from 3-point range. Towns’ 101 3-pointers made him the first player in NBA history to achieve 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 100 three-pointers in a season. The former Kentucky star also scored a career-high 47 points against the New York Knicks.

The 2016 NBA Rookie of the Year will be just 22 years old on Nov. 15.

“That is definitely something that I see in my sight [being the best]. I’m getting better every year,” Towns said. “I’m getting smarter. I’m getting faster, quicker. So, I feel like I can easily be that. It’s just a matter of time for me. With that time that it takes to get there, I want to have a lot of experience in the playoffs. Hopefully, we make it deep and win some championships along the way so when I’m in my prime I have all the experience to take whatever team I’m fortunate to be with, hopefully the Timberwolves, to get more championship runs.”

* * *

Mavs’ Smith sees ‘big-time’ Dallas backcourtDennis Smith Jr. had folks talking with his play for Dallas’ entry at the Las Vegas Summer League. But now the Mavericks’ rookie point guard is immersed in the team’s and coach Rick Carlisle’s system, with a clock ticking toward the start of games that count. That means some trial and error learning, which is inevitable if he and his teammates are to click properly and develop chemistry. Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News pulled back the curtain a bit on the process:

Dennis Smith Jr. is adamant that his head isn’t spinning yet.

But he does acknowledge that his first few days of training camp have come fast and furious.

“It’s a lot to process mentally and physically,” he said Thursday. “Not too much is coming easy right now, which is good. There’s beauty in the struggle. You can’t learn anything if you don’t make mistakes.”

And so the 19-year-old rookie is leaning on a helpful staff and teammates that have been through the battles before

Smith has been working with the starters, as coach Rick Carlisle promised. He’s been paired with Seth Curry in the backcourt for the most part and believes the sky is the limit for that tandem.

“I think we can be a big-time backcourt in the NBA,” Smith said. “He [Curry] is a really good player, and I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is. A lot of people sleep on him. But we see it every day here.”

Carlisle said the first few practices have been challenging for Smith as he tries to soak up everything. But it’s clear that his talent is catching the attention of everybody.

* * *

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The New York Knicks believe that they have and know the right people to get the best out of shooter Doug McDermott — who had assistance in Chicago and OKC too, yet didn’t reach his potential … It’s a training camp question that surely has been on your mind: How much better has Meyers Leonard gotten and how will that impact the Portland Trail Blazers? … Ready or not, it’s time for Lonzo Ball to ball (in the Lakers’ preseason opener against Minnesota Saturday night) … Indiana’s Victor Oladipo doesn’t feel like he has to live up to expectations based on Paul George’s work with the Pacers. But then, he’s only speaking for himself … Chicago’s Denzel Valentine didn’t show all that much for the Bulls as a rookie. But it didn’t dent his confidence … Glenn Robinson III is probably facing a layoff of two months after severely spraining his left ankle in practice Friday … Defense doesn’t come naturally to Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky. Which is why they call this work in the Association … Jordan Bell has a big scrimmage moment to wrap Warriors’ first week of preseason … And the Timberwolves welcome Stefan Bjelica, whose arrival back in Minnesota allowed his dad Nemanja to get back to work in California … The NBA sent a memo to all 30 teams, recommending they address the current hot-button topic in the NFL by having a player and/or coach address fans or by showing a video touting unity before their first home games of 2017-18. But league HQ also reminded them about its rule requiring players to stand for the national anthem – and that teams do not have discretion to waive that rule.