Disasters and Opportunities: How Oklahoma City got on the NBA map

hurricane katrina

Its a process that can be both beautiful and scary all at the same time. A low pressure disturbance, which is basically winds that pick up water vapor, intensifying into something so massive and deadly is why mother nature reigns supreme on the respect scale. Usually these storms run their course, while keeping their impact to a minimum on the area they impact. But every once and a while, these behemoths can impact an area so severely, that the ramifications are felt, not only years later, but also in cities outside of the affected areas.

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Buras-Triumph, Louisiana, a city about 60 miles southeast of New Orleans.  It struck land as a Category 3 hurricane after intensifying all the way to a Category 5 only 24 hours earlier. As with most hurricanes, the danger didn’t lie in the storm itself, but instead, on the amount of water that was dumped into the area. It is estimated that New Orleans received 8-10 inches of rain over a 4-5 hour period, while also receiving 12-14 foot storm surges from the Gulf of Mexico. That deadly combination of rain and storm surge overwhelmed the aging levee system, which caused it to completely fail. To make matters worse, the natural geography and topography of New Orleans is not very conducive to flooding. The city is already located below sea-level and is surrounded by huge bodies of water (Lake Borgne and the Mississippi River to the east, Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain to the north, and the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast).

Once the storm passed through, the devastation become apparent. Over 80% of the city was completely flooded and infrastructure was almost non-existent. Bridges and highways were damaged. Hundreds were dead. Tens of thousands were displaced. The once great city was a shell of itself. As the shock and awe of the situation began to wear off, the reality of the monumental recovery/rebuild quickly shifted to the foreground.

When infrastructure and lives are in jeopardy, sports gets understandably pushed down on the priority list. But the NFL and NBA needed to find contingency plans for the two teams in New Orleans. The NFL season was about 10 days away from beginning when the hurricane struck. Nearby metropolises with NFL-ready stadiums  already had NFL teams, like the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Kansas City Chiefs. Many other nearby cities didn’t have stadium capacity necessary for an NFL game. The Saints and the NFL chose San Antonio, Texas as the base for the Saints for the 2005 season, but the Saints only played 3 “home” games in the AlamoDome. Four other “home” games were played in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and one other home game had to be shifted to Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Because of all the limbo and travel, the Saints finished the season 3-13.

Unlike the NFL, which only had days to work on their contingency plan, the NBA had at least a month to work on theirs. The biggest question was where the Hornets would be headquartered while the city was being repaired/rebuilt. If this article were a TV show, this would be where the show would feature a flashback. In the mid-90’s, now Oklahoma City Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett was one of the principal owners of the San Antonio Spurs. One of his main duties was to attend the Board of Governors meetings the NBA and its owner has at various points in the season. When that many powerful people are in one room, networking is one of the orders of the day. During those times, Bennett and then NBA commissioner David Stern developed a relationship that would come to affect Oklahoma City in years to come.

stern-bennett-oklahoma-city-thunder

When the NBA started in on their process to find a suitable temporary location for the Hornets, one of the first people to contact Stern was Bennett. The businessman who had roots in Oklahoma through marriage had already convinced the mayor Mick Cornett and other business leaders that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for by the time he made that call. It’s at this point where the show would flashback again. Ten years prior to the events in New Orleans, Oklahoma City suffered its own tragedy. The carnage created by the bombing at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building may not have been as widespread as the flooding in New Orleans, but it still affected the lives of many Oklahomans, even still to this day. The bombing became the catalyst to the improvement of downtown Oklahoma City. The City no longer wanted to be known as the “fly over city where the bombing occurred.” Instead, it wanted to compete with the likes of Dallas, Kansas City, and San Antonio in matters of tourism and culture. One of the things approved in the first MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects Plan) was the construction of an 18,000+ seat multipurpose indoor sports arena which originally was known as the Ford Center.

The Ford Center became the biggest selling point for Bennett in his quest to secure Oklahoma City as the temporary location for the Hornets. The 18,203 seat arena did not have a permanent tenant and was readily available for most any day the schedule called for. In addition, the business community stepped up to support the Hornets and cover a lot of the costs from the relocation. With all that in place, Stern and Hornets owner George Shinn made the decision to grant Oklahoma City the opportunity to temporarily house the Hornets for the 2005-06 season. While other cities may have been larger with more resources, such as Las Vegas or Kansas City, Oklahoma City offered no competition as far as pro sports goes and was ravenous in their pursuit to prove themselves on the big stage.

And prove themselves they did. The city took to the team like a fish to water. It was the combination of a young fan base cheering for a young team. Oklahoma City was okay with just having a team, while the team was thrilled to have a crowd cheer for them. For five years prior to the move to Oklahoma City, the attendance for the Hornets had dwindled to about 14,110 people per game. They finished last or second to last in 3 of those 5 seasons, and were worst in attendance the season before Hurricane Katrina hit.

The attendance in Oklahoma City averaged 18,168 as the Hornets went on to finish No. 11 in attendance in the league. The fans got to see Chris Paul’s rookie of the year campaign. They got to see the return of a hometown hero in Desmond Mason. They got to see one of the most vicious dunks ever when Kirk Snyder jumped over (yes, jumped over) Von Wafer for a dunk. They got to see the emergence of David West, who gave the fans three game-winning shots in that one season alone. They got to see a team that extolled many of the virtues they lived by; a team that many thought wouldn’t do well, but instead, stayed competitive throughout the season as they finished 38-44. Most importantly, the NBA decided to give OKC a second season, as the numbers in terms of population size weren’t yet where they wanted them to be in order to support two professional sports teams. The NBA knew that while the fan base for the Saints was strong, the fan base for the Hornets was not quite at that level. Instead of seeing an arena full of empty seats like they had before Katrina hit, the NBA decided to give New Orleans another year to recover, while also providing them some games in the Big Easy to whet their appetites.

chris paul okc

The 2006 offseason was the first offseason Oklahoma City ever got to experience, and it was a busy one at that. The team drafted 3 rookies (Hilton Armstrong, Cedric Simmons, and Marcus Vinicius), traded for Tyson Chandler, and signed Bobby Jackson and marquee free-agent Peja Stojakovic. While it was an exciting time to be an Oklahoma City Hornets fan, it was also starting to become bittersweet. When Stern and Shinn commented on the success of Oklahoma City as an NBA city, they always followed that up by stating they were fully committed to returning to New Orleans for the 2007-08 season. Being a Hornets fan in Oklahoma City began to feel like we were the committed mistress in a relationship that would be nothing more than a short-lived affair. The fan base loved their new team, but knew it belonged to someone else.

In the background, though, Bennett was trying to buy majority ownership of the Hornets from Shinn. He would allow Shinn to remain with the organization as a minority owner, but wanted majority rule in decision making. Shinn rejected the offer, citing the NBA’s desire to successfully return back to New Orleans. With that, Bennett set his sights on some other franchise to purchase.

As the season started, the Hornets came out like gangbusters. They started the season 4-0 and got all the way to 8-3 before the wheels started falling off the bike. Injuries derailed the seasons of Stojakovic, Paul, West, Jackson, and Chandler. The Hornets continued to battle hard through the injuries, but were never able to put enough victories together to make any sort of impact, as they finished with the same record as the previous season.

With that, the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets once again became the New Orleans Hornets. While the hearts of many Oklahoma City fans were broken, there was another development happening in the Pacific Northwest.

During the season, Bennett purchased the Seattle Supersonics from Starbucks magnate Howard Schultz. The move was likely backed by the league to get a ground swell of support for the construction of a newer, more profitable arena in the Seattle area. When the local owner couldn’t get it done, the NBA tried to bring in the new kid in the NBA circles to put pressure on the Washington legislature to get an arena deal done. Bennett went to Seattle and laid down his plan: he would try to get an arena deal done for that next season (07-08). If nothing was done by then, Bennett would pursue other options. A blind man could have seen from a mile away what Bennett meant by “other options”.

With no arena deal in place, the wheels were already put in motion to try to get the Sonics to Oklahoma City. After a legal battle and about $100 million dollars in relocation fees and lease payments, the Seattle Supersonics officially became the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Disaster begets opportunity. That’s just the way the cycle works. In a Utopian scenario, Katrina never happens, Seattle keeps their team, and Oklahoma City eventually (somehow?) gets an expansion franchise. But that’s not how it happened. Tragedy and disaster happened. Because of that, an opportunity arose. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Posted in Offseason Beat, Random Thoughts

A look at the Thunder’s 2015-16 schedule

durant westbrook ibaka thunder

Click here for the Thunder’s full 2015-16 schedule.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Do you know what the above picture says? It says, just like the looks on their faces, “Can we please get this sh!t started?”

On Wednesday, August 12th, the NBA (finally!) released their schedule for the upcoming season. The Oklahoma City Thunder found themselves with 24 primetime games, second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, who each have 25 primetime games. The primetime games include any games on TNT, ABC, or ESPN. In addition, they also have 9 games scheduled to be aired on NBATV. Being a nationally popular team can be a gift and a curse. All that attention usually means the team is predicted to do well in that particular season. But it can also be taxing on the players who have to play a schedule with slight variations that makes it a bit more difficult. Every team plays 82 games, with the same basic format depending on what conference they play in. But not every team has to face a top notch opponent once or twice a week for the entirety of the season. The schedule makers normally don’t have to worry about where to slot the Charlotte Hornets or the Portland Trailblazers because those teams don’t move the needle like the the aforementioned Thunder, Cavaliers, and Warriors do. But for certain teams, the schedule makers have to plug in their primetime games first and then go on from there.

Road Schedule Imbalance

The first thing I noticed when I saw the schedule was the imbalance in road games from the first half of the season to the second half of the season. In the first 41 games, the Thunder play 16 road games. In the final 41 games, they play 25 road games. While some may look at this as a detriment, I see it as a benefit. A home-heavy schedule in the beginning of the season allows for more practice time, which, for a team that was never fully complete due to injuries last season, will be extremely beneficial. Many don’t realize that Kevin Durant never got to play with Enes Kanter, DJ Augustin, and Kyle Singler. By the time the Thunder traded for these players, Kevin Durant was in the beginning stages of being shut down for the season. By the time the second half of the season rolls around this year, the Thunder should be firing on all cylinders.

Injured Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, left, pumps his fist at teammates Enes Kanter, center, and Steven Adams, right, cheer in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Sunday, March 8, 2015, in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City won 108-104. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

There’s an even greater imbalance after the All-Star break. In the 28 games post All-Star break, the Thunder will play 17 of those away from the Chesapeake Energy Arena. It’ll be imperative that the Thunder build up enough currency in terms of wins and losses before the All-Star break to help supplant the road-heavy schedule at the end of the season.

More rest in-season

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made it a priority to provide players with more rest during the season by extending the All-Star break, limiting the amounts of back to backs and 4 games in 5 days. Due to their geography, teams that are in the middle part of the country don’t have to embark on long road trips, which limits the amount of back to backs. The Thunder only have 15 back to backs this season, compared to the league average of 17.8. In addition, the Thunder, like most teams in the league, only have one 4 games in 5 nights stretch, and it happens in the first week of the season (Nov. 1 – Nov. 5).

But that in-season resting may be a mirage. Due to the fact the Thunder are centrally located, it allows them to travel more often without racking up as many miles. The Thunder alternate between home and road in the first 8 games of the season, and don’t have their first multiple game road trip until December 21st. With so much travel, that feeling of rest may seem like a farce.

Opponents

Every team has their built in schedule (2 games each versus the teams in the opposite conference (30), 4 games each against division opponents (16), 4 games each against 6 other conference opponent (24), and 3 games each against another 4 conference opponents (12)). Luckily for the Thunder, the teams they only have to face three times out of the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, New Orleans Pelicans, Memphis Grizzlies, and Phoenix Suns. When you are building up a record, the less you have to play great teams, the better. Unfortunately, two of the three games against the Warriors and Grizzlies will be on the road.

Toughest Stretch

January 5, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) look on during the third quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 117-91. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The toughest stretch for the Thunder will be a 15 game gamut from February 6th to March 12th that will see them face the world champion Warriors three times, the Los Angeles Clippers and New Orleans Pelicans twice, and once against the San Antonio Spurs. Nine of those games will be on the road, including a stretch of 6 out of 7, with the Warriors being the home game in between. Its a stretch where finishing 8-7 will put a smile on your face.

Top Home Games

Oct. 28 – vs. San Antonio – First game of the season. Against the Thunder’s biggest rival/big brother. With (hopefully) a complete and healthy roster. Not enough has been written about how Durant looked in Las Vegas last week. While he didn’t participate in any 5 on 5 contact drills, he did participate in every other drill. And he looked like Kevin Durant. Which is great news.

Nov. 18 – vs. New Orleans – Welcome back, Kendrick Perkins. Say what you want about Perkins, but his voice is still resonates in the locker room. Although they understood the move, many on the team were not entirely thrilled that Perkins was traded. He was like the wise sage on the team, if a wise sage cursed and spoke with a southern drawl. In reality though, this game is more about seeing how Anthony Davis continues to develop. He knocked on the doorstep of greatness last season, and will likely kick down that door this season. If the Pelicans can continue to pick up pieces here and there, they may be a team to contend with in the future.

Nov. 27 – vs. Detroit – Good riddance, Reggie Jackson. If the previous game on this list was to welcome back an old friend, this game is to jeer what became a malcontent at the end of his run with the Thunder. Reggie Jackson could have stayed a Thunder. He could have taken the 4 year/$48 million dollar contract they offered him before his 4th season and been one of the top 6th men in the league. Instead, knowing he was good enough to be a starting point guard in the league, he decided to pout his way through the first 50 games of the season, when the Thunder were needing every able body they had on deck due to their plethora of injuries. It wasn’t that he wanted out, because I agreed that he had the talent to be a starter in the league, and it showed in the extension Detroit gave him (5 yrs/$80 million, ironically, the same exact extension James Harden received when he was traded). But it was in the manner that he conducted himself to meet that end. Because of that, he will likely face at lot of this in his first return to the ‘Peake:

It may reach Patrick Beverly-like levels before its all said and done.

Dec. 25 – vs. Chicago – Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook have not gone against each other in a regular season game since December 6th, 2010. Let that sink in for a minute. The two most athletically gifted specimens the point guard position has arguably ever seen have not faced each other in five full years!? The Christmas wish of a lot of NBA fans is that these two make it to this game in one piece and finally give us the show that has been five years in the making.

Feb. 21 – vs. Cleveland – Durant vs. LeBron. Westbrook vs. Irving. A possible Finals preview? Last season we were robbed of seeing these two teams at full strength in their two match-ups. LeBron James sat out the meeting in Oklahoma City, while Durant sat out the game in Cleveland with his injuries. Hopefully, the injury bugs turns away from these two games.

Feb. 27 – vs. Golden State – In the one game Oklahoma City was fully healthy against the Warriors, they beat them pretty convincingly. It always goes back to “what if?” when it comes to last season. In another meeting last season, Durant put on a show for the Oracle faithful, scoring 30 points in the first half before succumbing to a sprained ankle at the half.

Apr. 11 – vs. Los Angeles Lakers – Possibly the last time to see Kobe Bryant in a Lakers uniform. I’ve always said that the Spurs are who we modeled ourselves after, but the Lakers are who we wanted to beat. A lot of that has to do with the respect Durant and Westbrook have for Bryant, which he has verbally reciprocated time and time again.

Another great season is ahead for NBA fans. The league has once again tabbed the Thunder in their upper echelon of teams. With that said, I only have one question: Is it October, yet?

Posted in Uncategorized

The Thunder (finally!) sign Josh Huestis

josh huestis thunder

A long-standing national nightmare is finally over. The hostage situation in Oklahoma City that engulfed most of the basketball world for the past year has thankfully reached its conclusion. The Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday (finally) signed last season’s first round pick, Josh Huestis, to a four-year rookie scale contract. What’s that? You don’t know who Josh Huestis is? You never realized there was a hostage situation brewing for the past year in Oklahoma City? Ooooh, you thought the only recent hostage situation involving an NBA player was in Houston in early July, when the Los Angeles Clippers (yes, the entire team) sequestered DeAndre Jordan in his home and forced him to sign a near-max contract to return back to LA. Well, I guess you aren’t a true NBA fanatic, then.

Rewind back to last year’s draft. The Thunder owned the 21st and 29th picks in the draft. At 21, they selected Mitch McGary. While that pick was viewed as a bit of a stretch due to McGary’s injury history and previous suspension in college due to marijuana usage, the talent was definitely there to help explain the pick. With the 29th pick, the Thunder selected Josh Huestis from the University of Stanford. Collectively, much of the NBA wondered, “Who?”. Draft Express didn’t even have a “strength/weaknesses” pre-draft video on Huestis. Here was a guy that was slotted to go in the middle to bottom half of the 2nd round or to go undrafted, and instead, he was selected by the Thunder in the next to last pick of the first round.

When the news came out about a month after the draft that the Thunder had made a handshake agreement with Huestis and his agents to have the rookie “red-shirt” his first season without signing his guaranteed rookie-scale contract that every first rounder gets, many members of the media chalked it up to the Thunder being cheap again. But in addition to being cheap, some members of the media were worried that Huestis was going to be taken of advantage of. Tom Ziller of SB Nation wrote a scathing article on the deal, in which he stated, “this (the deal) almost assuredly breaks the spirit of the NBA’s draft rules, if not the letter.” Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote a more balanced article in which he stated, “It (the deal) seems ridiculous, almost exploitative. The gains for the Thunder are obvious at first glance.” But then he goes on to write, “Huestis in this telling appears the dupe of a dictatorial regime. But that holds only if you assume that $1.5 million would have been available to Huestis in any other scenario…”

Huestis went on to play with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate for the entire season and ended up earning about $25,000 for his one season with the Blue. He averaged 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.5 blocks per game on 31.6% shooting from 3-point territory. That last stat is an important because the Thunder need role players that are able to play on both ends of the floor. The one skill Huestis was known for was his defense. It’s his development on the other end of the floor as a 3-point shooter that the Thunder want to enhance. While Huestis’ time on the Blue wasn’t memorable, he did develop into a role similar to what he will play on the Thunder.

john huestis thunder press conference

The fear from many writers was that the Thunder made this deal from a position of power and would exploit, not only Huestis, but also NBA salary cap and draft rules from that position. In the worst case scenario, the Thunder never offer Huestis the contract that he deserves as a first rounder, which in turn, would help the Thunder stay under the luxury tax or pay less money if they were over the tax. In essence, the Thunder would circumvent having to pay a first rounder, while paying less (or no) money towards the punitive luxury tax. From a cutthroat business perspective, it would’ve been a win/win for the Thunder. The team stays away from paying money to a player while also preventing or lessening the amount they have to pay to the NBA.

But the NBA, while being cutthroat as a business, is also very good at remembering a front office’s transgression, especially players and their agents. As a small market team, it would behoove the Thunder to not burn too many bridges throughout the NBA. Which is why the supposed “nuclear option” was never at play for the Thunder. Renege on this hand-shake agreement, and agents would be very leery to even suggest Oklahoma City as a destination to their player clients. Huestis and the Thunder were always in lockstep in this deal, and the writing was clearly on the wall when the Thunder traded Perry Jones to the Boston Celtics in early July.

The Huestis deal is a basic 4-year rookie contract where the first two seasons are guaranteed and the last two are team options. Since Huestis signed the contract this season, he gets locked into this season’s rookie salary scale, which will pay him $950,200, instead of the $918,000 he would’ve earned last season. Huestis will likely see a lot of his playing time this season at the Cox Convention Center, playing for the Blue. With a deep and talented, there will likely be no minutes for Huestis on the Thunder this upcoming season. Huestis comes into this season rehabbing a torn pectoral muscle he suffered earlier in the summer, and will likely start the season on the injured list. With this signing, the Thunder sit at 15 guaranteed contracts.

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Posted in News, Offseason Beat

D-Day: Decision Day for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Enes Kanter

kanter thunder

Why do people save money? There are usually two reasons why people save money. The first is to be prepared for an emergency. If the car breaks down or the air conditioner goes out, you have the funds necessary to replenish this item without digging into the budget. The second reason people usually save money is to purchase an item of great worth. Be it shoes, a house, or a boat, these are the items where patience becomes a virtue. Too many times, people head into a situation where they want to save, but end up either getting a cheaper knockoff or end up purchasing the item too quickly on credit, which leads to future budgeting issues.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been saving for the past 6 seasons. Emergencies happen all the time in sports. These emergencies usually involves a catastrophic injury to a key player or two. Having that salary cap flexibility of not being in the luxury tax is key to recovering quickly if your main player(s) go down. But the true essence of why the Thunder have been saving money can be traced back to October 27, 2012. That was the day the Thunder avoided going into the luxury tax by trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

On the surface, the trade has been a disaster for the Thunder. Harden finished 2nd in the MVP voting this past season and led his team to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder, on the other hand, have seen the last 3 seasons end in disappointment due to various injuries to key players. The players obtained in the Harden trade are known as the pennies in the saying “pennies on the dollar”. Kevin Martin was a great 6th man for one season, but signed with Minnesota the next season. Jeremy Lamb was a marginal bench player his entire Thunder career and was recently traded to the Charlotte Hornets for a 2nd round pick. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary were first round picks obtained in the trade and have been the most valuable commodities from the trade. And Alex Abrines was drafted with the 2nd round pick obtained in the trade and has yet to step foot in the United States. But the most important asset to come out of the trade was the salary cap flexibility.

To the casual NBA fan, talks of salary cap flexibility, luxury tax and repeater tax concerns, max contracts, market size, so on and so forth are the minutiae that makes the NBA offseason so boring. The casual fan only pays attention from November to June (scratch that, April to June). All they see is players, their stats, and how much they make. They don’t take into account that NBA teams have to budget and balance their checkbooks like normal people do. While its true that their budgets likely feature many more commas than ours do, the fact still remains that NBA teams have to run their organization within certain boundaries. Spend too frivolously, and your organization will likely lose money.  Don’t spend enough, and your organization is likely destined for failure. Finding the balance is the key to success in the NBA. And sometimes, in that balance, difficult decisions have to be made.

westbrook kanter thunder

The Thunder made that difficult decision when they traded Harden. They eschewed paying the luxury tax in preparation for this moment. The harsh reality is that James Harden was never going to be James Harden if he stayed in Oklahoma City. He was a redundancy on a team that already featured two great ball handlers. He knew this and, if reports are true, made the ultimatum that he either get paid max money or get traded to a team where he could receive max money. The split between OKC and Harden was a mutual split. Both parties got what they wanted in the end. What Oklahoma City got, in addition to the players and draft picks that came over in the trade, was the comfort in knowing that they could safely go into the luxury tax when the perfect opportunity arose.

On February 19th, 2015, the Thunder traded Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pliess, and a future first round pick to the Utah Jazz for Enes Kanter and Steve Novak. Kanter was in his 4th season, which meant that, with the trade, the Thunder owned his Bird Rights as he headed into restricted free agency in the offseason. In the 26 games Kanter played for OKC, he was a double/double machine, averaging 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He provided something the Thunder had never seen before since they moved to the Great Plains, an inside scoring presence. Kanter and Russell Westbrook quickly became familiar with each other in the pick and roll game. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out for much of the 2nd half of the season, Kanter stepped in as that 2nd scorer behind Westbrook. While his defense was deplorable, some of that may have been an effect of Durant and Ibaka not being there to help him out defensively.

After not reaching an agreement with the Thunder when free agency began on July 1st, Kanter decided signed a 4 year/$70 million dollar offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers, who were one of three teams who still had the cap space to sign Kanter. Reports were the Thunder offered Kanter $15.5 million per season for 4 seasons. Kanter’s representatives instead chose to wait on the market to see if a max contract was offered, which Portland did on July 9th. The max contract features a player option for the 4th year and a trade kicker. Portland tried to add all the poison pills they could to make the contract as unattractive as possible for the Thunder.

So here’s where the Thunder stand. They have until midnight tonight to match Portland’s offer sheet. This is what all the saving was for. The Thunder sacrificed a lot in the past to be in the position they are today. The beautiful thing about it is that they still have options. If they feel Kanter is not worth this contract, they can walk away from the table, and the Thunder would still be one of the top teams in the league, health permitting. But, if they feel Kanter is the final piece to their championship puzzle, they will gladly match the offer sheet with a smile on their face, knowing full well this was the moment they were waiting for.

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Posted in Free Agency, Offseason Beat

Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 3 of 5)

christon thunder payton magic

  • When: Tuesday, 07 July 2015 at 4:00 PM CST
  • Where: Amway Center – Orlando Magic practice facility, Orlando, FL

The Oklahoma City Thunder showed what a team with a little bit of chemistry can get accomplished in their last game against the Orlando Magic Blue team. This Thunder team, which is mostly comprised of players from the Thunder’s Developmental League affiliate, the Blue,  have something a lot of teams in summer league do not have: familiarity. Whether its Semaj Christon knowing exactly what sets to run, Frank Gaines setting up in optimal spots to get wide open shots, or Talib Zanna and Richard Solomon knowing when to roll or where to rebound, its a team that knows itself. And that becomes very evident in the first couple games of summer league.

The Thunder find themselves sitting at 2-0, behind the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic White team, who are also undefeated, but have either won more quarters than the Thunder or have won by a larger margin. There comes a point in summer league, where the players who are bonafide NBA players, rise to the top of the heap. That’s what happened in the last game as Mitch McGary and Aaron Gordon put on a show. Gordon finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds on 8-11 shooting, while showing a vast array of ball-handling skills and play-making ability. McGary on the other hand, finished with 19 points on 9-12 shooting, and showed a Magic Johnson-like ability to grab a rebound on one end of the court and start a one-man fast break towards the other end of the court, usually ending with a transition basket.

The Opponent

los angeles clippers summer league

The Los Angeles Clippers summer league team is currently 0-2, one of four teams in the Orlando Summer League to yet win a game. The team is comprised of several players who have NBA experience, but the chemistry appears to be lacking. The strength of the team lies in its backcourt duo of Nate Wolters and CJ Wilcox. Wolters has been in the league two years and is looking to latch onto to a team for this upcoming season. Wilcox, the Clippers’ first round selection from last season, played in only 21 games and is looking to expand his role on the team with the departure of Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes. Another player looking to get picked up by a team for this upcoming season is Jordan Hamilton, who has four years of experience in the NBA. Hamilton is a versatile power forward who has played with Denver, Houston, and Los Angeles (Clippers) in his short career. Diante Garrett comes off the bench for this team and can be a spark plug 6th man. Royce White, who was last with the Sacramento Kings, is looking to get back in the league after issues with various front offices over his mental health caused him to get waived. Second round pick Branden Dawson is looking to see some action this season in the NBA and has shown a knack for rebounding and defense.

Three keys in the Game

1. Power forward match-up – Mitch McGary will have another tough match-up on his hands today going up against Jordan Hamilton. While not as versatile as Aaron Gordon, Hamilton is more of a post player, but can step out for the occasional 3-pointer. With the word out on McGary’s transition ability, look for the Clippers to get back on defense as soon as a shot goes up. McGary will likely further showcase his perimeter game today.

mcgary thunder

2. Attack the defense – Los Angeles has proven they can score in their two games, but they’ve also shown to be a bad defensive team, giving up 75 and 77 points, respectively. None of their players are known as defensive stalwarts and with Semaj Christon’s ability to get past the first line of defense and into the teeth of the defense, it could spell trouble for the Clippers.

3. Rebounding – Rebounding has been an issue for the Clippers this summer. Their only good rebounder is Branden Dawson, who has grabbed 19 boards total in the Clippers’ first two games. Look for Dakari Johnson and Talib Zanna to have double digit rebounding games today.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report

Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic (Blue Team) Recap

thunder summer league

The Oklahoma City Thunder remained unbeaten in summer league play as they defeated the Orlando Magic Blue Team, 73-65. The Thunder moved to 2-0, behind the combined efforts of Mitch McGary and Semaj Christon. The Magic got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 6-1 lead to begin the game.  The Thunder weathered the initial storm and stayed in attack mode for the rest of the game. With the score 52-51 in favor of OKC with 8 minutes left in the game, the Thunder started to attack the basket at will and outscored the Magic 21-13 in those final 8 minutes.

The Thunder featured three players that were constantly attacking the paint (McGary, Christon, and Levi Randolph). For the Magic, only Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja seemed to be trying out there. Christon thoroughly outplayed Elfrid Payton, who finished fourth in the NBA Rookie of the Year vote last season. Christon consistently got past Payton to get into the teeth of the Magic defense where he displayed his playmaking ability and an array of tear drops and bank shots.

McGary put on a show, going from rebounding the ball on one end of the court to starting a one man fastbreak to the other side of the court. This has always been a part of McGary’s game, and now he appears to be more comfortable in incorporating this into his repertoire more often. McGary also displayed a mid-range jumper, making shots that stretched out past 18 feet. If McGary is able to incorporate that into his game with the Thunder, they may have their hands on another versatile offensive player.

mcgary thunder summer league

 

For the Magic, Aaron Gordon put on a summer league clinic. He had a double/double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 boards. He displayed a versatile offensive game that featured mid-range jumpers, ball-handling, and play-making. Gordon seemed comfortable handling the ball and being the focal point on offense. For Mario Hezonja, this game was likely a microcosm of what his rookie season will be like. There were flashes of brilliance, like the monstrous dunk in the first half and the ‘in your face’ 3-pointer in the 3rd quarter to bring the Magic within 1. But there were also mistakes and inefficiencies that will be a part of Hezonja’s rookie campaign. Hezonja’s finished with 14 points, but on 6-16 shooting from the field (2-9 from the 3-point line). One of his best comparisons coming in was JR Smith, and this performance was very Smith-esque.

Elfrid Payton, on the other hand, had a game to forget. He scored just 4 points on 1-3 shooting, while notching 4 assists and 4 turnovers. His shot, which was his biggest weakness coming into last season, seems to have shown no improvement at all. This may be something to watch with his young Orlando team in the next 2 to 3 seasons.

The Thunder will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, while the Orlando Magic Blue team will play the Memphis Grizzlies.

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Orlando Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic Blue Team preview (Game 2 of 5)

thunder summer league

  • When: Monday, 06 July 2015 at 2:00 PM CST
  • Where: Orlando Magic practice facility, Orlando, FL

Summer league games are, in essence, exercises in hope. If you’ve watched summer league long enough, you know 80-90% of the guys on the court won’t ever make it to the NBA. If your name was not called in the first round, your chances of making it to the bigs drop significantly. With all that said, though, we still watch. If you are a true fan, you become familiar with all the players on the roster and even start to pick up little tidbits about them. A week later, unfortunately, all that knowledge gets cycled into the memory dump of our brains, and most of those players become but a distant memory. But as you watch the games, you start to notice things about players that may actually help your NBA roster.

After one game, the Oklahoma City Thunder sit at 1-0, having defeated the Charlotte Hornets 76-74. Lacking a dearth of NBA experience, the Thunder summer league roster depended on defense for key stretches in the game and on their back-court duo of Semaj Christon and Frank Gaines, who combined for 31 points. Christon notched a double-double with 14 points and 10 assists, while also hitting the deciding basket on a drive on the Thunder’s final possession. Mitch McGary and Dakari Johnson cleaned up well around the basket, each grabbing double digit rebound totals (24 rebounds total between the two). The spark off the bench came from Travis Bader who came into the game in the 2nd quarter, and quickly racked up 10 points on 2 3-point shots, a mid-range jumper, and 2 free throws. Defensively, McGary struggled a bit with Hornets’ rookie Frank Kaminsky, losing him several times on the pick and roll. Kaminsky finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hornets, but did not score in the 4th quarter.

The Opponent

mario hezonja magic

Orlando brings two teams into their summer league. Their White team is made up mostly of guys that will likely spend most of their time next season in the Developmental League and overseas. The Blue team on the other hand, is made up of all the first and second year players that will likely see significant minutes in the NBA this season. This is an extremely smart move by the Magic who would like to see their young guys play together to develop a rhythm, instead of having them mixed with players who, honestly, likely will never sniff an NBA court. The Blue team won its first game against the Los Angeles Clippers, 75-74, in overtime. The Blue team is led by point guard Elfrid Payton, who was first team All-Rookie last season. Joining him on the wing are Magic first round pick Mario Hezonja and second year player Devyn Marble. Hezonja hit the deciding 3-point shot in overtime in the Blue team’s first summer league game. Up front, Aaron Gordon and Brandon Davies all have NBA experience. Off the bench, the Magic (Blue team) will likely use their 2nd round pick Tyler Harvey as an offensive spark plug.

Three Keys in the Game

1. Experience – The bulk of the minutes doled out to players on the Magic team will be to those players with NBA experience. While the Thunder don’t have the same amount of NBA experience, they do have a team that is quite familiar with itself as most of the Thunder’s roster is composed of players who were on the Thunder development team, the Blue.

semaj christon thunder II

2. Summer league superstar match-ups – While there aren’t necessarily any superstars in summer league, there are some interesting match-ups in this game. Aaron Gordon and Mitch McGary will likely match up a lot in this game. Both are athletic forwards that have a year’s worth of NBA experience under their belt. The other interesting match-up will be Elfrid Payton against Semaj Christon. The Thunder love Christon’s game and this will be a good barometer as to how ready he is to play in the NBA.

3. Mario Hezonja – Aside from the Thunder players, I’m most excited to see Super Mario. He was okay in his first game, but when the spotlight shined the brightest in the closing seconds of overtime, he hit the dagger three. This guy is far from a finished product, but his confidence and swagger make him a must-watch in summer league action.

 

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report
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