Thursday, July 25, 2024

Thunder keep building by adding Isaiah Hartenstein; USMNT fail to advance in Copa America, lose to Uruguay 1-0

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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially to …

THE OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

Coming off a strong 2023-24 season, the Thunder weren’t content to rest on their laurels. The top seed in the Western Conference has already made some big moves to assert themselves as the team to beat once again.

The latest of those moves came yesterday when the Thunder signed former Knicks big man Isaiah Hartenstein to a massive three-year deal worth $87 million. Oklahoma City is overhauling its roster this offseason, and Hartenstein could be a key piece that puts the Thunder over the top next season.

As our own Sam Quinn explains, Hartenstein does more than bring improved defense to OKC. The new Thunder big man should help on the offensive end of the court too, acting as a solid distributor and a very strong offensive rebounder.

Combine Hartenstein with the Thunder’s other offseason moves, and GM Sam Presti looks like the most effective executive in the NBA.

  • Quinn: “If Presti does nothing else, the Thunder might have already had the best offseason of any team in the league, let alone any contender. This signing, along with the Alex Caruso trade and the team-friendly contracts they negotiated with Isaiah Joe and Aaron Wiggins, position them as a more adaptable, playoff-ready team than they were last season, with internal development to come and plenty of flexibility in the future.”

Presti has already been rather busy this summer. Just last month, he flipped former No. 6 overall pick Josh Giddey for Caruso in a deal with the Bulls. That move gave Oklahoma City a second-team All-Defense player and a sneaky good shooter in Caruso.

While Oklahoma City might be the most successful team so far this offseason, other teams have been busy trying to revamp their rosters as well. Klay Thompson is set to join the Mavericks on a three-year, $50 million deal. The Pistons are bringing back Tobias Harris on a two-year, $52 million contract.

As NBA free agency rolls along in the coming days, follow along with every signing by using our free agency tracker.

👍 Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for …

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THE UNITED STATES MEN’S NATIONAL TEAM

The USMNT ended their very brief appearance at Copa America with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay. Now, the program must assess where it’s headed before the 2026 World Cup.

The United States managed to hang around with Uruguay through the first half, but Mathias Olivera notched the only goal of the match for his side in the 66th minute. Olivera punched in a rebound off a free kick and scored the game-deciding goal for Uruguay.

The USMNT’s loss, coupled with Panama‘s 3-1 win over Bolivia, meant they were eliminated from Copa America in the group stage. That’s a brutal result for the team after getting a decent draw, and now there are questions about the future of head coach Gregg Berhalter.

Our own Pardeep Cattry broke down the USMNT’s Copa America faceplant.

  • Cattry: “The team failed to live up to the expectations, being placed in a favorable group and entering the tournament with eyes on a quarterfinal spot. Gregg Berhalter’s team, though, did not ever put out a solid enough performance at this competition and so they crash out of the tournament. It’s a lasting stain on the team’s record since Berhalter took over in 2019, and will linger as their next big game does not arrive until they begin the 2026 World Cup.”

The USMNT began the tournament on a decent note, notching a 2-0 win over Bolivia to kick off the group stage. However, they followed that up with a 2-1 loss to Panama and failing to score against Uruguay. The team finishes third in Group C with just three points and an even goal differential.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏒 NHL free agency spending spree

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NHL players may not command the amount of money that NBA players do when it comes to free agency, but yesterday was still a record day for spending across the league.

For the first time in NHL history, teams spent more than $1 billion combined in a 24-hour period. That makes sense, given that the salary cap jumped up to $88 million after remaining relatively flat for the first few years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Predators were the biggest spenders, shelling out a total of $108.5 million to bring in forwards Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Marchessault, as well as defenseman Brady Skjei. That doesn’t even include the $14.25 million they used to re-sign defenseman Alex Carrier and add goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

After just one year on the job, Nashville general manager Barry Trotz has completely remade the team’s roster.

The other major move was the Lightning agreeing to a seven-year, $63 million deal with winger Jake Guentzel. A Stanley Cup champion, Guentzel will try to fill the void left by Stamkos, a former captain who led the Bolts to back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2020 and 2021.

Speaking of the Cup, the most recent champs made sure to keep one of their most important players around. Sam Reinhart, who notched 57 goals last season, is staying with the Panthers on an eight-year contract worth $69 million.

Here are a few more notable deals from Day 1 of NHL free agency:

  • The Kraken added Stanley Cup winner Chandler Stephenson on a $43.75 million deal.
  • Jake DeBrusk signed a $38.5 million contract to join the Canucks.
  • The Devils bolstered their defense by adding Brett Pesce on a $33 million agreement.

Keep it locked on our NHL free agency tracker to see every deal that goes down in the coming days and weeks. For that matter, make sure to follow our trade tracker as teams continue to tweak their lineups this summer.

🏈 Texas, Oklahoma officially join the SEC

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SEC history was made yesterday when Texas and Oklahoma became the 15th and 16th members of the conference. The question now is whether they’re ready for life in the SEC.

The SEC is one of the premier conferences in college athletics, but that’s especially the case when it comes to football. The grind of playing in the conference means a tough matchup or a trip to a hostile environment almost every week. That wasn’t always the case for the Longhorns and Sooners in the Big 12.

Our own Dennis Dodd spoke to key players at both Texas and Oklahoma, and they’re ready for the challenge ahead of them. Sooners head coach Brent Venables knows that even those middle-of-the-pack SEC teams are a threat to pull an upset every Saturday.

  • Venables: “That’s what I’ve seen studying the last six months. Whoever those teams are that maybe didn’t have a shiny record at the end of the year, it’s [still] a dogfight week in, week out. Oklahoma doesn’t sneak up on anybody, so we’re not going to surprise anybody.”

If you want any evidence of how difficult the jump from the Big 12 to the SEC can be, just look at the last two teams to make it: Texas A&M and Missouri. Neither team has won the conference, and the Aggies haven’t even appeared in the title game.

That said, the SEC also has to prepare itself for Texas and Oklahoma, two of the biggest brands in college football. Longhorns head coach Steve Sarkisian is already in the top three of our SEC coach rankings, and he can present plenty of problems for opposing defenses.

🏀  Favorites still lead WNBA Power Rankings, but Fever rise

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The 2024 WNBA season is about halfway over, and some teams are starting to find their groove. The Fever are living up to their name as they continue to warm up behind star rookie Caitlin Clark.

Clark and the Fever are up to No. 6 in Jack Maloney’s latest WNBA Power Rankings following a nice little run. While Clark is making history on a regular basis, the biggest reason for Indiana’s turnaround has been the emergence of a legit supporting cast.

  • Maloney: “But the reason the Fever are winning games is that the rest of their young core has shined as well. Aliyah Boston had a career-high 27 points and 13 rebounds in their win over the Dream on June 13, while Kelsey Mitchell is shooting 50% on 3-pointers and NaLyssa Smith is nearly averaging a double-double during this run.”

Here is how the top five shook out ahead of the Fever:

1. Liberty
2. Lynx
3. Aces
4. Sun
5. Storm

📺 What we’re watching Tuesday

Euro 2024 — Round of 16: Romania vs. Netherlands, 12 p.m. on FS1
Euro 2024 — Round of 16: Austria vs. Turkey, 3 p.m. on Fox
🏀 Sky at Dream, 7 p.m. on CBS Sports Network
Phillies at Cubs, 8:05 p.m. on TBS
Copa America — Brazil vs. Colombia, 9 p.m. on FS1
Copa America — Costa Rica vs. Paraguay, 9 p.m. on FS2

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