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Tramel's ScissorTales: Why Luguentz Dort's contract is great news for OKC Thunder

When Luguentz Dort signed a four-year, $5.4 million contract extension during the COVID break in summer 2020, he seemed like the happiest guy in town.

Dort broke down, he was so thrilled to have such security, which wasn’t much by NBA standards but was quite a bonanza by streets-of-Montreal standards.

Then Dort went out and played two-plus more seasons way above his paygrade.

So pardon me for not being upset with the Thunder for potentially overpaying Dort now.

Dort and the Thunder have agreed on a five-year, $87-million contract, which will average $17.5 million per season.

True, that’s a lot of money for a defensive specialist. What’s also true is that Dort is not just a defensive specialist.

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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) celebrates beside Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) after making a 3-pointer during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The Pacers won 113-110 in overtime.
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Luguentz Dort (5) celebrates beside Indiana Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis (11) after making a 3-pointer during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Indiana Pacers at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022. The Pacers won 113-110 in overtime.

Dort averaged 17.2 points a game, developing a decent outside shot and a nasty streak on drives to the bucket. He had a true-shooting percentage better than Bradley Beal’s, Paul George’s, Jaren Jackson Jr.’s and Nikola Vucevic.

And Dort is a total bulldog on defense. One of the NBA’s best.

The Portland Trail Blazers just signed Anfernee Simons to a four-year, $100-million contract. Simons is an excellent young player.

But Simons and Dort were born 50 days a part (both are 23). Simons averaged 17.3 points a game last season with a 24.8 usage rate. Dort averaged 17.2 points a game with a 23.3 usage rate. And Dort is a world-class defender.

So maybe Dort isn’t so overpaid.

The retention of Dort was a great sign for the Thunder future. Proof that the Thunder rebuilding is not perpetual, that paying quality ballplayers is still part of the equation. And a clue that the ascent up the mountain starts soon.

Players who do something on an elite level are valuable. When that something is important – like perimeter defense, both stopping the ball and guarding the pick-and-roll – even better.

Dort is an elite defender. Paying top dollar for unique ability is smart business.

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The Thunder the last two seasons is 35-67 with Dort, a winning percentage of .343. The Thunder without Dort is 11-41, a .211 winning percentage.

The Thunder has a crowded backcourt. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey are uber talents. Tre Mann’s rookie season was quite encouraging. Just-drafted Jalen Williams and Ousmane Dieng will have every shot to make it big.

But Dort is a foundational player. I’ve compared him to Marcus Smart. I don’t know if Dort will get to Smart’s level, but I also don’t know that Dort won’t surpass Smart.

Dort already has a ton of experience – he's scored 30 in a Game 7 – and has shown fearlessness on both offense and defense.

Dort is the kind of winning ballplayer that makes any team better. And now he can be tied to the Thunder for five years.

I hope Dort is as thrilled with this contract as he was with that first contract extension. I know I am.

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The List: Potential Big Ten additions

The Big Ten is adding USC and UCLA in summer 2024, a shockwave that Thursday shook collegiate sports. But in adding the Bruins and Trojans, the Big Ten didn’t suspend its long-held commitment to academic reputation.

The Big Ten is big on membership in the Association of American Universities, a quite prestigious consortium. When the Big Ten added Penn State and Nebraska, both were AAU members (the AAU subsequently has ejected Nebraska – told you it was snooty).

Anyway, USC and UCLA both are AAU members, too.

More conference realignment no doubt is coming. Outside of the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference, here are the 10 best options for more Big Ten expansion, among schools who are AAU members:

1. Oregon: The Ducks are a major football brand.

2. Washington: Coupled with Oregon, UW would provide the Big Ten a nice four-school group out West.

3. North Carolina: The Big Ten hasn’t cast its eyes south but easily could.

4. Utah: The Utes would enhance the Big Ten’s television contract, and that’s really what this is all about.

5. Stanford: The Cardinal doesn’t have a huge fan base, but Stanford’s overall athletic excellence, its elite academic reputation and its West Coast location would be quite intriguing.

6. Virginia: The Cavaliers have a solid athletic program and academic arrogance. Seems like a perfect fit.

7. Kansas: I know, the football stinks. But the Big Ten took Rutgers, so stand down.

8. Duke: The Big Ten might be interested in maintaining the UNC/Duke partnership, just to promote basketball.

9. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets have descended into perpetual mediocrity in all sports, but a claim in the SEC stronghold of Atlanta might be tempting.

10. Colorado: There was a time when any league would have wanted the Buffaloes. Not so much anymore.

Others under consideration: Arizona, California, Pittsburgh.

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Mailbag: Notre Dame & the Big Ten

Among the many storylines involved in the Big Ten expansion is the future of Notre Dame.

Randy: “With USC in the Big Ten, it’s time to watch Notre Dame football. Notre Dame has to play five or six games (five) with ACC teams in football, with other (Fighting Irish) sports part of the ACC. Notre Dame can schedule who they want in football. With their big rival USC now in the Big Ten, it would make sense for the Big Ten to approach Notre Dame with the proposal that Notre Dame schedule all its non-ACC games with the Big Ten. Notre Dame should be able to keep its agreement with the ACC with no penalties or money for leaving the ACC agreement that runs for about another 10 years.”

Tramel: Intriguing idea. Notre Dame’s agreement with the ACC goes through 2036 and not only calls for the Irish to schedule five ACC opponents a year, it mandates that if Notre Dame joins a conference, that conference MUST be the ACC.

If there are legal loopholes, I don’t know what they are. The entire ACC is bound together by the grant of rights that held the Big 12 together through 2024-25 and still holds OU and Texas in the conference, despite their impending departure.

But if Notre Dame entered a parallel alliance with the Big Ten, it would create quite the shockwave through an already-embattled ACC.

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Colorado travelblog: Pagosa Springs

A friend of mine grew up in a small town just outside Durango, Colorado. In the 1960s, his athletic teams would make the hour-plus trip over to Pagosa Springs for games.

He and his teammates thought it was a smelly, worthless town.

Now he goes to Pagosa Springs on vacation. And he’s not the only one.

An estimated 375,000 tourists visit Pagosa Springs every year, most in the summer, but some in the winter, considering Pagosa is the biggest town near Wolf Creek’s ski slopes.

Pagosa’s population more than doubles in the summer with second-home owners, and the condominiums, hotels and vacation home rentals fill up.

On our Colorado vacation, we spent Sunday in Pagosa. We met our friends Michael and Deanna Roach for brunch; they were in town vacationing with family. The Roaches live less than a mile from us, and they are part of the thousands of Oklahomans who visit Pagosa annually.

Pagosa’s population is listed at about 2,000, but the population of Archuleta County is about 13,000, and Pagosa is the only municipality in the county. Pagosa Springs High School has about 430 students.

Plus, Pagosa’s population doubles in the summer, as the tourists arrive for the cooler weather and the hot springs that define the town. The hot springs represent the largest and hottest natural mineral outflow in the world.

The town sits in the valley a few miles west of the continental divide, Wolf Creek Pass, and the San Juan River runs through town. The views coming down from the pass are spectacular, including a pull-off overlook that is breathtaking.

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An industry has been built around the springs, including a resort that sits right on the river with a variety of hot springs. If you don’t understand the concept of hot springs, think of it this way. Natural hot tubs.

The Springs, a resort in downtown Pagosa on the banks of the San Juan River, was built around a variety of natural hot springs that descend all the way to the river. The temperatures of the springs range from 45(!) degrees to 114(!!).

We didn’t get in the springs this trip. We’ve done it before. It’s quite an experience and quite expensive. A day pass costs $55, children $25. If you stay at the resort, access to the springs is included with your room.

The girls shopped for awhile and my son-in-law, J.J., and 12-year-old Sadie hung around the river. It started raining, creating quite a cool atmosphere. We had been chilly at brunch, at first sitting outside but requesting to move indoors at Two Chicks & A Hippie, where I had a good grilled ham-and-cheese sandwich with green chiles.

Pagosa is an artsy town, with lots of galleries and shops. We stopped at farmer’s market/fair which included a bunch of Native American vendors of jewelry.

Interesting, interesting place. We drove back over Wolf Creek Pass, stopping to take in another (smallish) waterfall, Treasure Falls, before navigating the pass that first opened to transportation in 1912 and took those early Model-T's two days to cover.

It only took us about 30 minutes before we were back on our side of the continent, in the familiar confines of Wolf Creek Ranch.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at btramel@oklahoman.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today. 

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: NBA free agency: Luguentz Dort contract is great news for OKC Thunder