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Oklahoma City Thunder's rebuild will take some time

Tue Jul 16 2:46am ET
By CLIFF BRUNT
AP Sports Writer

Players: Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Paul George, Jerami Grant

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Yosef Maaroof wanted one more Russell Westbrook memory in Oklahoma City.

When he learned Thursday night the Thunder were planning to send Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for Chris Paul and draft picks, the 20-year-old Tulsa resident planned to make the two-hour drive to Oklahoma City with friends. They wanted to take videos and photos in front of the large images of Thunder players that adorn Chesapeake Energy Arena during the season, hoping Westbrook's photo would still be up on Friday morning.

It wasn't, so Maaroof came up with a different tribute. In a video he posted on Twitter, he put on the Westbrook jerseys he's collected since 2012 , took them off one by one and laid them side by side in front of the arena. He wore 18 in the video, which has been viewed more than 85,000 times.

Maaroof said Westbrook has always been his favorite player. And the next addition to his collection will be a Rockets jersey.

''He was never perfect, but just the emotion he showed - he was very relatable, I feel like,'' Maaroof said. ''He was the underdog. People have always just not appreciated him the way they should have.''

With their emotional sparkplug gone, the Thunder, as we knew them, are no more. Westbrook was the last remaining player from the team that moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008.

Kevin Durant, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Paul George and others, all gone. Now Westbrook.

He spent his entire 11-year career with the Thunder, despite earlier chances to leave. With Westbrook, the Thunder won at least 45 games for 10 straight years and reached the Western Conference Finals four times, including a run to the NBA Finals in 2012.

''It's a lot of heartbreak,'' Maaroof said as he recalled recent conversations with his friends. ''Not to be dramatic, but it really feels like someone died. We're all 20 years old, so we all grew up with Russ, grew up with this team, pretty much through middle school, high school, college now.''

Sure, Westbrook was a league MVP, two-time scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP. Yes, he was a freakish athlete and triple-double threat every night. And against the odds, he evolved from perceived ball hog to two-time assist leader.

But it goes beyond that for Thunder fans. Westbrook is from the Los Angeles area, and with it came the flash and style one might expect. But he adopted Oklahoma and supported the community with his reading rooms, basketball camps, comedy shows and his yearly Thanksgiving meal at the Boys and Girls Club in Oklahoma City. The night everyone learned Westbrook was being dealt, he was at a comedy club in Tulsa for a benefit show.

''He's like the staple of the franchise,'' Tulsa comic Hynni B said. ''He makes you want to stand up, he makes you want to have heart. You know where he came from, you know what he's doing for the community. It's hurtful to see him to leave.''

Most of all, he'll be remembered as the one who had stayed. He signed an extension in 2016, then signed a long-term deal in 2017, forever endearing himself to Oklahoma City fans who felt burned by Durant's departure for rival Golden State.

''When he stuck it out, it was like bro, this is our leader,'' said Jerry Manna, a Tulsa resident at the comedy show. ''This is our guy. After he did that, I didn't care what nobody said. I wasn't accepting no Westbrook slander. No sir.''

Westbrook teamed up with Durant and Harden to introduce the Thunder as a league power early this decade. At their height, the young trio led the franchise to the finals seven years ago, a loss to the Miami Heat. Now, Westbrook will be re-united with Harden.

The run in Oklahoma City wasn't supposed to end yet, but George left first for the Los Angeles Clippers, opening the door for an earlier-than-expected reboot. Thunder forward Jerami Grant was traded before Westbrook, and now Oklahoma City has added multiple first-round picks for its rebuilding project. It will take time and coach Billy Donovan will get plenty of chances to tinker with his lineup and give young players experience.

The Thunder haven't been in this mode since the 2008-09 season, but Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said it is time to embrace it. He notes that the same general manager who brought the success - Sam Presti - is still running the show. And that offers a sliver of hope for aching Thunder fans.

''We're getting a king's ransom for that,'' Holt said of the Westbrook trade. ''He's taking what would have been a nuclear winter at the end of their contracts and quite possibly jumping us into a new chapter a lot faster than we might have expected.''

Westbrook is one of the most accomplished current players without an NBA title. In the three seasons after Durant left, Westbrook's Thunder never made it past the first round of the playoffs, even with George. And Westbrook often found his way into conflict. His spark ignited the Thunder, but he often was among the league leaders in technical fouls in recent years. He has stubbornly defended his tendency to shoot more 3-pointers than his percentage indicates he should.

All was forgiven once the news broke. Thunder fans have spent the past several days reminiscing about Westbrook's biggest moments - from the crazy scoop shot against the Lakers in the 2012 playoffs, to the 50-point triple-double and game-winning 3-pointer against Denver that clinched the NBA single-season triple-double record, to the 20-20-20 game this past season against the Los Angeles Lakers.

Now, they're left with memories and hopes that the rebuild works out sooner than later. And of course, they will have the memories he creates when he comes back with the Rockets. Leslie Mahan, a moderator/administrator for Thunder fan pages on Facebook, believes the fans will welcome Westbrook when he returns.

''I honestly think that each time he comes back here, people are going to love and respect him and not boo him because he did a lot for the team, for the organization and for Oklahoma as a whole,'' Mahan said.

Westbrook will still have his fans in Oklahoma City.

''I'm still going to be a Thunder fan, but I don't plan on missing a Rockets game this season, either,'' Maaroof said.

Player Notes
Terrence Ross Aug 8 2:30am ET

Orlando Magic shooting guard/small forward Terrence Ross was in position to see an increased role in the teams offense during Fridays loss to the Philadelphia 76ers with Aaron Gordon (hamstring) out of the mix -- and he did, he just went 0-for-10 from the field, leading to Ross first scoreless outing since Oct. 24, 2017. To say that the performance was massively underwhelming would be an understatement, as he accrued just three rebounds, two assists, and two steals, leaving owners with very little return on investment. James Ennis (14 points, nine rebounds) and Evan Fournier (team-high 22 points) are much safer plays to see increased roles Sunday against Boston with Jonathan Isaac out of the equation for the remainder of the year.

Joe Harris Aug 8 1:10am ET

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris bounced back after a 1-for-5 shooting night from deep against the Wizards. Harris helped the Nets clinch a playoff berth with their win over the Kings, scoring 21 points with five triples, four rebounds and four assists. This is the second time he's drained at least five threes in a game since the NBA's return- and it likely won't be the last time. Like with the rest of the Nets, DFS players should monitor how many minutes the starters are playing. Harris will look to stay hot against the Clippers.

Caris LeVert Aug 8 1:00am ET

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris Levert scored 21 points with seven assists in a victory over the Kings on Friday night. LeVert has struggled a bit from both the three-point and free-throw lines, but has gotten a large number of shots in Brooklyn's offense, averaging 20 shot attempts per game. That type of elite volume should continue to make him a strong DFS option, though it will be interesting to see how the Nets monitor minutes now that they've clinched a playoff berth. LeVert should be in the DFS mix if he continues to see a lot of floor time.

Jarrett Allen Aug 8 12:50am ET

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen enjoyed perhaps his best all-around game since the NBA returned in Orlando. Allen put up 17 points, 11 boards, eight assists, seven made free-throws and a block for the now playoff-bound Nets. This is the second time in three games that the 22-year-old has gotten to the line at least 10 times, a good sign for his aggressiveness on offense. The assists were also a career-high. Brooklyn will give him days off here and there, considering he's their only center. When he's in the lineup though, he should be considered in DFS because he can put up good numbers on a low amount of shots. He'll also come a lot cheaper than other centers.

De'Aaron Fox Aug 8 12:40am ET

Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox put up 21 points with seven assists in a 119-106 loss to the Nets on Friday. Fox hasn't gotten going from deep in the bubble yet- but has been excellent over his last three contests- averaging 26.3 points, 8.7 assists and 2.0 steals per game on 49.4 percent shooting from the field. Sacramento still has a sliver of hope for the eighth seed in the West, but for those hopes to come to fruition, they'll have to keep getting big performances from Fox. Up next is a matchup against the Rockets, who Fox dropped 31 on before the shutdown. Fire him up in DFS.

Jamal Crawford Aug 7 2:50pm ET

Brooklyn Nets guard Jamal Crawford (hamstring) is going to be sidelined for a few games, according to head coach Jacque Vaughn. He looked solid during his bubble debut, but sadly it was short lived because of a hamstring strain. It's unclear if Crawford's injury will heal in time for him to help the team on the court this season. Caris Levert and Joe Harris (groin) will see a few extra minutes without Crawford available right now.

Dorian Finney-Smith Aug 7 2:40pm ET

Dallas Mavericks forward Dorian Finney-Smith (hip) is listed as questionable for Saturday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He is currently dealing with a left hip strain, but there isn't much more information out right now. Finney-Smith has been playing heavy minutes during the bubble, so his absence leaves a fairly significant void in the rotation. Maximilian Kleber could be asked to step up if Finney-Smith is unable to play. Fantasy owners should check back for an update on Saturday.

Seth Curry Aug 7 2:40pm ET

Dallas Mavericks guard Seth Curry (leg) has been upgraded to questionable for Saturday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. This is great news as it sounds like Curry is making progress and getting closer to a return. Delon Wright and Trey Burke have seen increased roles with Curry sidelined. However, neither of them have been able to capitalize on the opportunity. Curry should be a reliable DFS option once he's able to get back on the court. Until then, it's tough to trust Wright or Burke in DFS contests.

Glenn Robinson III Aug 7 2:30pm ET

Philadelphia 76ers forward Glenn Robinson III (hip) has been ruled out for Friday's game against the Orlando Magic. He was able to get through practice on Thursday, so the team is hopeful that he can make his bubble debut soon. There should be some playing time available while Ben Simmons (knee) is sidelined. Until then, James Ennis and Alec Burks will be asked to play a few extra minutes without Robinson available. Neither of them are reliable DFS options right now.

Mike Scott Aug 7 2:30pm ET

Philadelphia 76ers forward Mike Scott (knee) is available for Friday's game against the Orlando Magic. The team will be without Ben Simmons (knee) for the foreseeable future, which means someone is going to need to step up. Al Horford figures to gain the most fantasy value and playing time from the loss of Simmons. He might be a risky DFS option since Horford has struggled with the Sixers. Scott will back him up off the bench, but doesn't offer much fantasy value.

Steven Adams Aug 7 2:20pm ET

Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams (leg) is listed as questionable for Friday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies. He suffered a left lower leg contusion during Wednesday's game. The team might decide to take the cautious approach and have Adams sit out here. Nerlens Noel would be asked to step up and start if Adams is unable to go. He's averaging 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.7 assists through six starts this season. Noel is looking like an intriguing DFS option for Friday's slate, assuming Adams is unable to play.

Zion Williamson Aug 7 2:10pm ET

New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (rest) has been ruled out for Friday's game against the Washington Wizards. It's the second game of a back-to-back set, so the Pelicans will take the cautious approach and rest Williamson. He played 22 minutes on Thursday, but the team continues to be careful with their prized rookie. Derrick Favors and Nicolo Melli will be asked to do more without Williamson available. Favors is the better fantasy option out of the two. Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday will see a higher usage and hopefully more fantasy value because of it.

Joe Harris Aug 7 2:10pm ET

Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris (groin) is listed as questionable for Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings. He is dealing with a left groin contusion after battling a hamstring injury earlier this week. The team may decide to rest Harris and let him heal up for next game. Caris Levert, Timothe Luwawu and Garrett Temple would stand to gain the most fantasy value if Harris sits out. LeVert is the best fantasy option out of the trio and is likely going to be a popular DFS choice for Friday's slate.

Jarrett Allen Aug 7 1:50pm ET

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (ankle) is listed as questionable for Friday's game against the Sacramento Kings. He suffered a left ankle sprain during Wednesday's contest. The team is unsure if this will force him to the sideline, but hopefully it's only a one game absence at maximum. Rodions Kurucs would likely be asked to start at center again if Allen sits out. He wasn't too impressive during his last start, so he can probably be avoided in DFS contests if Allen is out.

Kent Bazemore Aug 7 1:50pm ET

Sacramento Kings guard Kent Bazemore (calf) is currently listed as questionable for Friday's game against the Brooklyn Nets. Bazemore has been dealing with left calf soreness, so the team might limit him here. He has been decent during the bubble, averaging 10.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steals. Buddy Hield should gain the most fantasy value if Bazemore is unable to play. He'd be a reliable DFS option, especially with extended playing time. Fantasy owners should check back closer to tip-off for more information.

Richaun Holmes Aug 7 1:40pm ET

Sacramento Kings center Richaun Holmes (hip) is listed as questionable for Friday's game against the Brooklyn Nets. He has been underwhelming during the bubble, but maybe the 10-day quarantine through off his conditioning. Alex Len and Harry Giles would be asked to split up a majority of the minutes at center if Holmes is unable to play. The Nets have struggled to stop centers, but neither of these two are exciting options.

Goran Dragic Aug 7 1:40pm ET

Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic (ankle) is listed as questionable for Saturday's game against the Phoenix Suns. He's in jeopardy of missing his second straight game, but we'll have to wait and see how his injury progresses. Jimmy Butler (foot) has been ruled out, which would normally mean Dragic stands to gain value. However, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro should gain plenty of fantasy value if Dragic sits out on Saturday. Fantasy owners should check back for another update closer to tip-off.

Jimmy Butler Aug 7 1:30pm ET

Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (foot) will sit out his third game in a row on Saturday versus the Phoenix Suns. He is dealing with right foot soreness, but it's unclear how significant the injury is at the moment. The Heat might have Butler sit out a few games as a precaution. Goran Dragic (ankle) is questionable for this one, which could make the Heat shorthanded. Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro should be popular DFS options for Saturday's slate without Butler available.

Aaron Gordon Aug 7 1:10pm ET

Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (hamstring) has been ruled out for Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. He was listed as doubtful heading into this game, but the team mentioned he won't be re-evaluated for a few days. Wesley Iwundu and Gary Clark should both see extended playing time. Terrence Ross is the biggest winner in terms of fantasy production. Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic will likely be asked to do more on the court without Gordon available.

Michael Carter-Williams Aug 7 1:10pm ET

Orlando Magic guard Michael Carter-Williams (foot) has been ruled out for Friday's game against the Philadelphia 76ers. He was listed as questionable, but the team decided to have him sit out at least one more game here. The Magic are fairly shorthanded, so it'll be interesting to see what they do with their rotations. Terrence Ross should get all the playing time he can handle, which should make him a popular DFS option.