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2009 Orlando Pro Summer League: Pacers 91, Thunder 88...PLUS Salary Cap News

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The Indiana Pacers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in a Summer League contest, dropping the Thunder's record in Orlando to 1-1. The Thunder lost because of a pretty crazy rule, and I'll leave it to Darnell Mayberry to explain:

OKC lost behind some obscure summer league rule that allows a team two foul shots for each foul an opposing player commits after his sixth foul. D.J. White was whistled for an offensive foul while trying to set a pick for Russell Westbrook at the top of the key in the closing seconds with the game tied...

In any event, it was a close game and the guys fought hard, which is about all you can ask for right now. Let's take a look inside the box score and talk a bit about the game:

  • Russell Westbrook again led the Thunder in scoring (22 points), and despite some of the complaints about his shooting, he converted on 9 of 15 shot attempts. He still hasn't hit a three pointer (0-for-2), but he dished out 8 assists and nabbed 3 steals. Unfortunately his turnover margin worsened from Game 1 and he coughed the ball up 5 times today.
  • James Harden had another pretty good game - 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists. He converted 2 of his 6 three pointers, and 6 of 13 shot attempts overall. He also got a steal and only coughed the ball up once. He also got his first start in the summer league and logged the most minutes of anyone on the roster.
  • Serge Ibaka had another solid performance - 13 points, 3 rebounds and 1 block. He was very efficient on his shot attempts (6 of 7).
  • D.J. White did not impress as much in this game. He only had 8 points, and had 8 fouls. You know you've had a rough game if you have as many fouls as points. He only managed 3 rebounds and shot a paltry 3 of 11 from the field.

Nobody else on the roster really seemed to stand out in the stat line. I'll offer some more material after the jump, including some thoughts from other sources, and information on the new NBA salary cap.

Darnell Mayberry typed up a pretty thorough summation of his thoughts on the game, which you can read here. He seemed to notice that Westbrook was the facilitator/creator in the first half, and Harden took over that role more in the second half. Mayberry, among other observers, seems to think that Westbrook is sort of a "man among boys" in the summer league, doing a lot of things well. Of course, as we all know, Russell just needs to limit the turnovers. I'll let you read the rest by clicking on the link, but I thought you should read what Darnell had to say about Harden (pretty high praise):

Harden played terrific. He looks great in the open floor. Not the fastest, as we’ve all heard by now. But he’s under control and makes the right play more often than not. He was a consistent perimeter shooting option for Westbrook out of ball screens and showed his versatility by leading the break a few times and hitting the open man in transition. He could very walk out of Orlando as the best rookie in this league.

A reminder, the next game is tomorrow at 4 PM against the Boston Celtics.

In other news, the NBA salary cap has been set for the 2009-2010 season. The salary cap has been set for $57.7 million, while the luxury tax level is set for $69.92 million. Teams can exceed the salary cap, but must match every dollar they exceed the luxury tax by. Basically, the closer you get to the tax line, the less flexibility you'll have in the future, and this is why many teams have salary dump type trades (i.e. the one that just went down with Richard Jefferson).

I've heard the number $15 to $16 million thrown around for the amount of money the Thunder are under the cap. However, I'm not sure this includes Harden's new contract, which would be somewhere around $3 to $4 million if memory serves me correct. Basically, the Thunder should have somewhere around $11 million to play around with in the free agent market if they really wanted to.

Of course, the Thunder could just sit on their hands this offseason, and accumulate cap flexibility for next season when another $13.38 million will come off the books in the form of Earl Watson, Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins' contracts. Simply put, the Thunder could have nearly $30 million to play with in the 2010 free agent market. Of course, they won't spend all of that, as Durant and Green become restricted free agents in 2011, and Westbrook in 2012, so they'll need to have some extra cash - especially for Durant. The important thing to remember is that the 2010 free agent crop will be loaded.

Here's how I think this impacts the Thunder. I think Presti is going to sit on this offseason, and let the next season be for guys to prove themselves. It would basically be a lengthy scouting project so Presti will know for sure which pieces he wants to hang on to. The Thunder can then pick up all of the team options for Durant, Green and Westbrook in the 2010 offseason, and could still afford to spend $10-$15 million. The big free agent market will cause some teams to overspend for the biggest names, but talented "B List" players will fall down for more affordable rates. Essentially, this season Presti will pick which pieces he wants to keep, and then the 2010 offseason will be for him to add a couple of veteran pieces at more affordable rates - someone like a Brad Miller or Mehmet Okur.

That's all for now! We'll see how the Thunder do tomorrow against the Celtics' summer league team.