Thunder Interested In Mike Miller Again?

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder are one of three teams already expressing interest in likely free agent to be Mike Miller.

ESPN's Marc Stein reporting the Thunder, Grizzlies and Mavericks all want to talk with Miller who was traded Sunday night along with Brendan Haywood from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Portland Trail Blazers. The Blazers are expected to buyout Miller's $2.85 million contract.

The Thunder have tried to get Miller before and failed, this time around it's not clear just how much value Miller has left.

He turned down the Thunder a couple seasons ago to sign with Memphis where he still has a home. Then it was off to the Cavs to try to win a ring with LeBron James

Miller thought he would get more playing time in Memphis than OKC and he also thought he'd see the court a lot with the Cavs.

But his playing time dwindled along with his skills last season.

In Miller's three previous seasons before joining the Cavaliers he averaged hitting 44.3 percent of his 3-pointers and in 2013-14 with the Grizzlies he took and made more 3-pointers (107-for-233) than in any season since 2007-08.

But last season with Cleveland, Miller  hit just 32.7 percent of his threes, the worst long range shooting percentage of his career while playing a career low 13.5 minutes per game and scoring a career low 2.1 points per game.

Miller still thinks he can play and perhaps a reunion with Billy Donovan, his former college coach, would help.

The Thunder could probably sign him for the veterans' minimum but OKC just has one open roster spot at the moment and most expect that to go to last year's second 1st round draft pick Josh Huestis who has been waiting in the wings and  the D-League for an opportunity.

The Thunder also have a stacked lineup of wings and if Miller is wanting more playing time it's hard to imagine he would get it with the Thunder.

OKC management loves to have some key veterans on the team who tend to play greater roles in the lockerroom at times than on the court, whether that type of role would satisfy Miller is a big question another big question is just how much that would be worth to the Thunder.

Is it worth the gamble to bring him in to see if he can climb up the depth chart? Or is it worth opening up another roster spot by moving Steve Novak? The Thunder would like to do that anyway but at this point they might also have to throw in a draft pick to interest other teams, if they wait till closer to the February trade deadline Novak can provide some of the same things Miller can early in the season and then in February teams might be more inclined to take Novak and his expiring $3.75 million contract without any sweeteners.

My guess is the Thunder will let Miller go somewhere else, but not knowing exactly what Donovan's feelings and influence might be will make the next couple of weeks interesting.

McGary As Anxious As Anyone To See Healthy Thunder Roster

By Randy Renner

While some of his Thunder teammates worked out on the floor at the UCLA practice gym in Los Angeles, Mitch McGary was busy with his own spirited workout session.

He was leading a group of about 75 children in a Thunder Youth Basketball Camp, giving them tips on how to run certain drills, watching them shoot free throws and layups and giving them some advice.

"Just have fun. When I was going to camps at their age the most important thing was just trying to learn as much as I could and just have have fun," McGary said.

Fun is something McGary specializes in and watching him it's easy to see he has a great time at these camps.

"I try to bring a different approach to it with lots of smiles and energy and encouragement and I think it pays off."

After his session with the campers he spent some time answering a few questions from a handful of local reporters who hadn't had a chance to talk with him since Summer League.

"I think I did an okay job (at summer league), I really wasn't looking to score a lot offensively I was really trying to focus on the defensive aspect of the game."

So much of how well you play defense in the NBA is setup by how well you communicate with your teammates, shouting out pick and roll coverages and who has help assignments. Learning how to do that properly isn't nearly as easy as it may sound.

"No it's not, you've gotta talk a lot and talk early, be in your spots early, communicating early and often. I think I did a decent job but I know I have a lot of room for improvement."

Like Thunder fans everywhere McGary is anxious to see how things develop this coming season. A new coaching staff is in place and in many respects a new team,  since so many Thunder players spent so much time on the injured list and didn't have a chance to play with the guys who were acquired at the trade deadline.

"I think it's gonna be good, just building that chemistry from the start so we'll see going into training camp. I can't wait to get started."

He's already started building on new relationships with head coach Billy Donovan and assistants Monty Williams and Anthony Grant.

"I like Billy, I like Monty and coach Grant and all these new guys really have an optimistic look on the season."

And why not be optimistic? No new injuries have occurred, the old ones seem to be healing up quite nicely and if the Thunder can just manage to stay healthy they should be one of the best three or four teams in the NBA.

Training camp get here soon enough.

Thunder Players Getting Together At UCLA

By Randy Renner

The NFL has it's mini-camps and OTA's where players and coaches can get together for workouts and practices at team facilities.

The NBA doesn't mandate off-season practices but players can organize workouts and quasi-practices on their own.

Some do, some don't.

Fortunately, the Thunder have had players over the years who are dedicated to extra work for the greater good and it's no different this season.

Thunder superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook generally spend several weeks in Los Angeles during the off-season and this week both players got together for workouts and sent out invitations to their teammates to join them on the UCLA campus.

Judging by some short videos that have been posted on Instagram and Snapchat many of their teammates and their coaches and some Thunder staffers answered the call.

Seen in the videos in addition to KD and Russ are Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow, Serge Ibaka, D.J. Augustin, Kyle Singler, Nick Collison, Dion Waiters and rookie Cameron Payne.

Coaches aren't allowed to organize these sessions into actual practices but they are allowed to work with players individually. You can also see head coach Billy Donovan and assistants Mark Bryant and Monty Williams in the videos along with team physician Dr. Donnie Strack.

Others are believed to be participating as well, we just haven't seen them on the videos that have been posted.

Durant appears to be moving around pretty good as he continues to recover from the third surgery on his right foot. Because of that procedure Durant is yet to play in a game with Augustin, Singler or Enes Kanter who were acquired at the trade deadline after KD had already gone under the knife again.

So these workouts should give the Thunder a head start on what should be a very interesting training camp.

It will be Donovan's first as an NBA head coach and the Thunder will be learning, if not totally new systems on offense and defense, at least some major tweaks.

Over the years not only have Thunder players tried to get together en masse for about a week's worth of workouts over the summer, most of them have also tried to return to Oklahoma City about a month or so earlier than the team and the league require so they can conduct some more workouts on their own.

This season these early sessions are even more important as so many players who still haven't played together, try to at least get to know each other a little better.




Thunder Deal Perry Jones To Boston

By Randy Renner

Thunder GM Sam Presti tried and tried to get more value out of forward Perry Jones (former head coach Scott Brooks had been trying for three years to do that too) but finally after failing to get a desired 1st round draft pick for the former Baylor star Presti dealt him to Boston for a protected 2nd round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

The Thunder also picked up a $2.1 million trade exception but also had to send the 2019 2nd round pick they acquired from Detroit in the Reggie Jackson trade and some cash to sweeten the pot enough for Celtics GM Danny Ainge.

The main benefit for the Thunder is ridding themselves of Jones $2 million salary for this coming season which translates into a savings of at least $5 million on their potential luxury tax bill.

Jones was the 28th overall pick in the 2012 draft and had been projected to go much higher. Concerns about Jones' knees and whether his motor ran at a high enough RPM all the time were the main reasons for the slip.

Jones showed flashes of his potential as Kevin Durant's backup, Durant once even called Jones the "best athlete in the league."

But despite the flashes Jones mostly fizzled with the Thunder and he had some problems with injuries too. Jones is still just 23 years old so perhaps a new environment in Boston will help him. 

The Thunder have now given up on two young players they'd hoped would blossom, Jones and Jeremy Lamb, who was traded to Charlotte earlier.

The move opens up a roster spot that could be used to bring in OKC Blue forward Josh Huestis. He was the Thunder's second 1st round pick last year and instead of signing a guaranteed contract as 1st round picks usually do, Huestis agreed to go to the D-League instead.

The Thunder have also been shopping forward Steve Novak and his $3.75 million contract. If they can work a deal for him it would bring them back under the punitive third tier of the luxury tax penalty.

That move wouldn't necessarily have to made though until the trade deadline in February since luxury tax penalties are figured on a team's payroll at the end of a season not the beginning.



Thunder Zoom Into NBA's High Rent District

By Randy Renner

Never let it be said again that the Thunder have "cheap" owners.

Sunday evening the Thunder matched Portland's 4-year/$70 million offer for restricted free agent center Enes Kanter, placing the team's projected payroll for 2015-16 at just south of $98 million.

Last season Brooklyn had the NBA's highest payroll at just more than $91 million.

Without some roster moves the Thunder would face a tax bill at the end of the season of about $24 million for a total financial outlay of $122 million.

But roster moves will almost surely be on the way to knock that number down into a more manageable range. Perry Jones and Steve Novak are the most likely candidates and if rookie point guard Cameron Payne proves capable of taking over backup duties by the trade deadline in February, D. J. Augustin could be gone too.

All those moves would shave about $9 million off the payroll and reduce the tax payment by more than half.

The Thunder would need to add at least one more player, perhaps the OKC Blue's Josh Huestis or Semaj Christon at rookie salaries and the Thunder would still be well under the punitive third tier tax penalties.

When the salary cap and luxury tax levels zoom up in 2016 to $90 million and $105 million, it's highly likely the Thunder would be under the tax line even after giving Kevin Durant a new max contract.

More interesting than the financial gymnastics will be Kanter's role next season.

He's being given a max contract but may end up coming off the bench for the Thunder next season and also may not be able to play in crunch time because he's such a defensive liability.

Even more of an unknown is how Billy Donovan plans to handle things. Kanter gives him another offensive weapon on a team that's already stacked with offense. But the Thunder have never had a center like Kanter, who basically averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds during his time in OKC.

The Thunder had never had a center record a 20/10 game until Kanter and he did it 11 times in his 26 Thunder games. He shot 56.6 percent and about half of the 11 rebounds a game he averaged for the Thunder came off the offensive glass.

It will be interesting to see how Kanter and Kyle Singler for that matter, mesh with the Thunder's main group. Put Augustin in there too because none of those guys were on board before Durant was lost for the season with his third foot surgery.

There's no questioning Kanter's offense or his rebounding. As we've all come to know by now it's his defense that's the problem.

By some statistical metrics he's the worst defensive center the NBA has seen since at least the early 70s.

Since Kanter is so athletic you have the think the defensive issues are more mental than physical and can perhaps be fixed or at least improved.

If they can then $70 million might look like a bargain as the salary cap and luxury tax go up. If not, if Kanter remains a disaster on defense, things could go south. The Thunder could be left hoping that if the Collective Bargaining Agreement is re-opened for discussion in 2017 an amnesty provision will be added again and they can dump Kanter then.

But that's way down the road. Right now the priority is getting the 23-year-old Kanter to begin figuring things out on defense while keeping up his already outstanding offensive game.

Get that done and no one needs to worry about the road ahead.