Russell Westbrook’s Face Mask Options

westbrook fish hooks

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sentence more exciting than, “Russell Westbrook will have to wear a mask.” The possibilities are boundless. I mean, we’re talking about a man that made colorful lens-less glasses popular. A man that once made a fashion statement out of a shirt with pictures of fish hooks. FISH HOOKS! Westbrook is the premier fashionista of the NBA. The Ruby Rhod of the league, if I dare say. He’s who Paris runs to when they want to introduce a new style to the urban market. So when the word gets out that Westbrook needs to add a new accessory to his on-court attire, it piques the interest of everyone on the basketball and fashion world.

Luckily, I have the inside track on the 5 different masks Westbrook is looking to choose from. Here are the options he is looking into:

1. Ol’ Faithful (The Basketball Mask)

NBA: Miami Heat at Los Angeles Lakers

This is the easiest option to think of. Many a player, from LeBron to Kobe, have worn this mask to help protect against further facial injuries. This is the default mask. It allows plenty of room to breathe, won’t fog up, and protects what it needs to protect. It’s the missionary position of face masks. Westbrook may choose to wear this mask, but it’ll be out of spite to the populace (especially the media).

2. The Christian Grey

grey

With the success that is “50 Shades of Grey”, is it any wonder that Westbrook would even consider this type of mask? I mean, this man tries to stay ahead of the curve in fashion. Why not in pleasurable deviancy, also? It doesn’t do much for protection, but maybe it helps Westbrook in other areas of his life. I think there’s about a 0.00005% chance of him wearing something like this, but if he does, it’ll be featured in the next episode of Inside Stuff.

3. The Phantom

blank mask

What’s scarier than Russell Westbrook coming at you full speed with the ball in his hand? Russell Westbrook coming at you full speed with the ball in his hand and an expressionless mask. You weren’t going to take a charge before, you definitely won’t now. No, my friend, that’s not a Jabbawockeez, that’s a freight train. I’m all for this mask.

4. The Skeletor

skeletor mask

If you’re going to beat an opponent while wearing a mask, you might as well point out on the mask where you got injured. It’s like saying, “Yeah, I stole your girl, but let me also show you why your mom likes me too.” Plus, I grew up a fan of He-Man in my much younger years. By the power of Grey Skull.

5. No mask

westbrook thunder

The ultimate IDGAF move would be for Westbrook to come out with no mask and completely decimate whoever is in front of him. I don’t know about you, but I like this mask the best.

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns preview (Game 58 of 82)

bledsoe suns westbrook thunder

  • When: Thursday, 26 February 2015 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, AZ

When you are in the hunt for a playoff spot, you always look in two direction: the teams ahead of you in the standings and the teams you are warding off. Now that the Oklahoma City Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff race, the most important task is staying ahead of New Orleans and Phoenix. Catching up to San Antonio and the Clippers would be nice, but with the main objective already met (getting to the 8th seed), it’s all about maintaining their current positioning from here on out.

This is the third meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder have won the previous two games. The first game was a blowout with Oklahoma City winning 112-88. The second game had a playoff feel to it and even had some extracurricular theatrics that ended with Russell Westbrook being ejected from the game right before halftime. Kevin Durant carried the team in the 2nd half and they eventually outlasted the Suns in overtime, 137-134.

The Opponent

Phoenix Suns v Philadelphia 76ers

The Phoenix Suns come into this game with a 30-28 record, good for 10th in the conference (2.5 games back of the Thunder). The trade deadline completely changed the look of the team, with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, and Miles Plumlee being shipped out in separate deals that basically netted the Suns Brandon Knight and trade fodder. It should come as no surprise that the Suns have struggled, losing 8 of their last 10 games. While still a high scoring outfit (106.1 points per game – 3rd in NBA), they allow the 3rd most points per game (105 points per game) and are 18th in the league in rebounding. With the departure of Dragic, Bledsoe becomes the undisputed leader of the team. Joining Bledsoe in the backcourt is the aforementioned Knight. PJ Tucker takes on the position of 3 and D wing, and is one of the more underrated ones in the league. Up front, Markieff Morris and Alex Len give opponents a contrasting front court, with Morris being more perimeter oriented, and Len being more post-oriented. Off the bench, Marcus Morris, Gerald Green, and Brandan Wright give the Suns an explosive reserve unit that can be a problem if they get hot.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Phoenix Suns

  • PG – Eric Bledsoe
  • SG – Brandon Knight
  • SF – PJ Tucker
  • PF – Markieff Morris
  • C – Alex Len

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense - Outside of Alex Len and Brandan Wright, everyone else on the Suns is perimeter-oriented. Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe do a good job of serving as facilitators, while everybody else waits on the perimeter for an open shot. It starts with keeping the two guards in front of the defense. If Westbrook, Roberson, DJ Augustin, and Dion Waiters are up to task, this should mute the effectiveness of the Suns’ attack.

morris suns ibaka thunder

2. Rebounding - Being such a perimeter-oriented team keeps a lot of the Suns players outside the paint. Hence their No. 18 ranking in rebounds per game. The Thunder on the other hand, usually have at least 3-4 players crashing the boards on the defensive end, while the Thunder bigs are known for crashing the offensive glass. Keeping the Suns to one and done on the defensive end of the court, while grabbing a couple offensive boards on the other end of the floor will go a long to securing the victory in this game.

3. Russell Westbrook - He’s reaching the point where Durant was last season when he was bestowed the name Slim Reaper. The point where it is must see TV to see what crazy stat-line Westbrook will put up. Everyone keeps saying his play of late is not sustainable, but he’s not doing anything different than he’s done throughout his career.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report

Good Riddance, Reggie Jackson

reggie Jackson pistons

Let me preface this by saying I wish Reggie Jackson nothing but the best in his future endeavors. He’s a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder family tree and will forever be linked to the organization one way or another. As is usually the case with break-ups that are other than amicable, the ugly details leading up to the split usually don’t become apparent until after the split is finalized.

Jackson’s season with the Thunder up until the trade deadline had been, in a word, underwhelming. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook missing games due to injuries in the beginning of the season, Jackson was tasked with leading the Thunder during that rough patch. Jackson actually did a commendable job in the absence of the superstar duo. Not only were Durant and Westbrook out, but other key contributors such as Perry Jones, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, and Andre Roberson were also shuffling in and out of the line-up due to various injuries. In the 13 games in which both Durant and Westbrook missed, Jackson averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 1.1 steals on 41.6% shooting from the field and 27% shooting from the 3-point line to go along with 4.7 free throw attempts per game. The numbers were very “Westbrookian,” but the team ended up with a 3-10 record during that stretch.

Despite the record, though, Jackson’s game showed signs of improvement from the previous season during that 13-game stretch. It was exciting to think of the prospects of Durant and Westbrook getting healthy and Jackson continuing this type of play. The feeling was that it would give the Thunder a 3-headed monster that hadn’t been seen since the days of James Harden. The Thunder, for as rough as the start of the season has been, would get healthier throughout the year and would, hopefully, form a sort of juggernaut that would be hard for teams to contain.

durant jackson thunder

Instead, Jackson’s play progressively tapered off from the first month of the season. He eschewed his bread and butter (driving to the basket) in favor of step back 20-footers and unreliable 3-point attempts. He waffled on defense, consistently getting beaten off the dribble and almost never putting forth the effort to recover. He visibly pouted on the court and the frustrations from his teammates grew as the season pushed on. In the 37 games after Westbrook returned from injury, Jackson, as a reserve, averaged only 10.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds on 44.3% shooting from the field and 28.4% shooting from deep, while only attempting 1.5 free throw attempts per game. His minutes dipped every month of the season, going from 38.2 in November to 28.4 in December to 21.1 in January and finally to 19.2 in February.

The writing on the wall became clearer when the Thunder traded for Dion Waiters in early January. There was no reason for the Thunder to trade for another high volume scorer/shooter if their intentions were to keep Jackson for the rest of the season. The minute Waiters joined the team, Jackson’s minutes took a hit and he was relegated to 8th or 9th man duties off the bench. The two bench scorers seemed to get in each other’s way when they were on the court together. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it was ineffective. Another sign was that Waiters and Morrow were closing close games out, instead of Jackson.

The Thunder knew there was a possibility this would happen. Starting from the end of last season, Jackson was not shy of letting his intentions be known that he wanted to not only start, but also to lead his own team. With that statement, Jackson basically drew a line in the sand. If this was a team that had any instability at the point guard position, that might have been an option. But the Thunder are as stable at point guard as they are at small forward. There was no possibility, outside of a catastrophic injury, that Jackson would leapfrog Westbrook on the depth chart. The organization gambled on the hope that the starting comment was actually a leverage play to get more money. But, apparently, Jackson really wanted the opportunity to lead his own team.

jackson monroe tolliver pistons

On that merit alone, I do not fault Jackson. As recently as a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article outlining why Jackson may have been holding back. Some people are content with falling in line and playing their role. Others want to explore all the possibilities laid out in front of them. Jackson fell into the latter ilk. He wanted to see how far he could push himself, and that wasn’t going to happen as a reserve on the Thunder. So for that, I do understand Jackson’s stance.

Then the trade happened. At first, I was happy for Jackson. He would finally get his chance to lead his own team. And to boot, it was a pretty good team, with talented young teammates (Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). But then, honest Reggie had to open up his mouth, or Twitter account.

Really? Tears of joy? I understand finally getting your opportunity to prove yourself, but this tweet seems more apropos for something the ancient Israelites would say after they crossed the parted Red Sea lead by Moses. I mean, was Jackson caged in a dungeon and only allowed out to practice and play in games? Of course, Jackson then sent out 3 consecutive tweets thanking the community and the Thunder for his time in Oklahoma City. To me, the first tweet was much louder than the other three tweets that followed.

The worst part is that I actually like Reggie’s honesty. He was genuinely pained, and visibly upset, for the people of Moore when the tornado struck a couple years ago. He was visibly emotional after Game 4 of the Memphis series; a game in which Jackson single handedly kept the Thunder in the game and in the series. His honesty was a welcome antithesis to the manufactured answers most sports figures give in interviews. But, as Jackson showed, that honesty can cut both ways.

Then, Jackson played his first two games for the Pistons. And that’s when it really started bothering me. What we saw in those first two games with the Pistons was the Jackson from the beginning of the season and from last season. The Jackson that can put up 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 free throw attempts per game. The Jackson that could change a game with his ability to drive into the lane. That Jackson could have helped the Thunder immensely throughout this crazy season. Instead, we got 70% Reggie Jackson from December on. I understand wanting a change of scenery. But now I realize, I can’t respect the way Jackson did it. So for that, I say, good riddance Reggie Jackson.

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Indiana Pacers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 57 of 82)

westbrook collison thunder west hibbert pacers

  • When: Tuesday, 24 February 2015 at 7:00 PM EST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Six in a row and 8 out of 9. The Thunder finally have a rhythm about them. Russell Westbrook is playing at an MVP level, Serge Ibaka is working more from the paint than from the perimeter, and the new guys are integrating seamlessly. All this with two starters being out (Steven Adams (hand) and Kevin Durant (foot)). The Thunder have marched from a 3-12 start to being up 2 games on the 9th seeded New Orleans Pelicans. With the way this season has gone, you’re almost fearful of getting too giddy to appreciate how the team has played of late. It seems like there’s always some basketball boogeyman lurking around the corner, and I’m not talking about DeMarcus Cousins.

This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams. The two teams split their season series last year, with each team getting a victory on their home floor. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for these Pacers. They were the antithesis to the “Big 3″ Miami Heat and were built like the New York Knicks of the 90’s. Unfortunately, when they play the Thunder, all that good feeling goes away.

The Opponent

west hibbert hill vogel pacers

The Indiana Pacers come into the game with a 23-33 record, one game back of 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Their struggles this season can be directly tied to what happened in early July in Las Vegas. Paul George suffered a horrific leg injury in the public scrimmage for Team USA. Luckily for all parties involved, the sight of the injury was probably more gruesome than the actual after-effects. Bone fractures are easier to recover from in athletics compared to ligament tears. The Pacers, themselves, are very similar to the team that played last season. They struggle on offense (96.2 points per game, 23rd in the league), but are top 10 in defensive efficiency and opponent points per game. A lot like the Thunder, the Pacers are starting to get healthy and are on a bit of a hot streak, having won 6 of the last 7 games (which includes streak-busting victories against Cleveland and Golden State). In the backcourt, the Pacers trot out veterans George Hill and CJ Miles. Hill has played much better of late, after starting the season injured with a sprained knee. Solomon Hill has been much more effective as a starter, than coming off the bench. Up front, the veteran duo of David West and Roy Hibbert continues to pose difficulties defensively for opposing teams. The bench, one of the better ones in the league, is a veteran-laden group that features Luis Scola, Rodney Stuckey, CJ Watson, and Ian Mahinmi.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Indiana Pacers

  • PG – George Hill
  • SG – CJ Miles
  • SF – Solomon Hill
  • PF – David West
  • C – Roy Hibbert

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Enes Kanter

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace - The Pacers, a lot like the Memphis Grizzlies, like to grind out possessions and beat you in the half-court. They play inside-out with Hibbert and West with Miles waiting for open shots on the wing. Unlike the Grizzlies, the Pacers are prone to turnovers (14.4 per game, 17th in the league). If the Thunder can create those turnovers and turn them into transition opportunities, that will help them immensely in this game. Also, with Westbrook pushing the pace, the Thunder should be able to play their brand of basketball and not the Pacers’ brand.

kanter westbrook thunder

2. Interior Defense - This will be a great test to see how the Ibaka/Kanter duo works defensively. While Hibbert will never be seen as an offensive talent, he and West compliment each other well and will be a handful for the Thunder.

3. Bench - Indiana’s bench is very good and has talent all over the board. Scola is a tough interior cover, Mahinmi averages about 2 offensive rebounds per game, Watson is a good floor general, and Stuckey is prone to scoring outbursts (two consecutive 30 point games off the bench). If the Thunder want to stay in the game, their bench has to put the pressure on the Pacers’ reserves and defend them well.

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Posted in Thunder Pre-game Report

Sifting through the rubble: A Thunder trading deadline postscript

jackson perkins thunder

From the time I woke up on February 19th to about 1:30 PM CST, I was almost certain that a certain Brooklyn Nets 7-footer would be a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Speculation was abound that the Thunder and Nets had rekindled talks revolving around Brook Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, and Reggie Jackson. All the information leading up to about 12:30 PM CST was that it was basically a done deal and that the Nets were awaiting Oklahoma City’s approval. Then the chatter stopped.

Trades usually come at you one of two ways. The first way is like the trade in which the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters. It comes at you in an instant and you barely have time to react. The second way is like the Brook Lopez (non)trade. You hear the rumors and speculation leading up to the trade, and usually it gets done after that. But sometimes, the chatter stops prompting one of two thoughts: either the teams are working on the specifics of the deal or the deal has completely fallen through. In the case of Brook Lopez, it was the latter.

The rumors started that the Thunder were doing their due diligence and were looking at all their options. Around 1:45 PM CST, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Reggie Jackson had been traded to the Detroit Pistons. Apparently the Jackson move was the linchpin that was holding everything back in the league. Once Jackson was dealt, all hell broke loose. About 30 players were traded in a 10 minute span leading to the trading deadline. The trade deadline literally napalmed the entire league. And these weren’t end of the bench players. These were former All-Stars, talented players on rookie deals, a former Rookie of the Year, and game-changers. This trade deadline was definitely worth it.

When all the dust settled, four new players were slated to be in Thunder uniforms, while four others became former Thunder players. Here’s an overview of the two deals the Thunder made at the deadline.

Deal 1:

  • Oklahoma City received Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from Utah and DJ Augustin, Kyle Singer, and a 2019 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Utah received Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, and a 2017 lottery protected 1st round pick from Oklahoma City and a 2017 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Detroit received Reggie Jackson

The Jackson deal was actually a 3 team deal that also involved Kendrick Perkins and little used rookie forward Grant Jerrett. Jackson let his intentions be known at the end of last season and at training camp this season, that his main goal was to be a starter in the league. With Russell Westbrook in tow and Oklahoma City’s penchant for starting defensive minded, normal sized SG’s, the Thunder were never in a position to acquiesce to Jackson’s demands. As the trading deadline drew closer, Jackson’s agent, Aaron Mintz, asked the team to trade his client. From all the accounts, the locker room chemistry between Jackson and his teammates (specifically Kevin Durant and Westbrook) was reaching a boiling point of which there would be no returning from. The Thunder had to get a deal done and Detroit (and Utah) offered them the best deal in terms of known commodities.

dj augustin kyle singler pistons

I will say this. It was kind of hard to see Perkins go. On a team full of hares, Perkins was the tortoise. I know he was the bane of a lot of Thunder fans’ existences, but his effects on the team will be felt for years to come. He was the big brother on the team and he relished that role. When the younger players (to include Durant and Westbrook) had a bad day, they would usually turn to Perkins for advice. He was the protector of the inner sanctum. Only team members and a select few were allowed in their locker room (I’m looking at you, Joakim Noah). He made the team better defensively (don’t argue, just look up the stats), and toughened them up. Did he have his flaws? Of course. But he also personified the qualities that you and I take into our 9 to 5’s, and I for one, appreciated it.

Deal 2:

  • Oklahoma City received a protected 2016 2nd round pick from New Orleans.
  • New Orleans received Ish Smith, the draft rights to Latavious Williams, a 2015 protected 2nd round pick from Oklahoma City, and cash considerations.

The Thunder made this move to clear a roster spot for the incoming new players. The Thunder could have waived Smith, but his salary would have counted towards their final salary number of the team. With the team already being over the luxury tax, they didn’t want to add to the total amount they would have to pay to the league. Instead, New Orleans stepped in and took on Smith, who was subsequently waived.

When I look at the players the Thunder acquired, one word resonates in my mind: balance. This is the most balanced team the Thunder has ever yielded. You could argue that the 2011-12 team that made it to the NBA Finals was more balanced, but this team is more experienced. In the end, the Thunder lost a good player in Jackson and a team leader in Perkins, but got back so much more in depth and balance. The Thunder got back a true back-up point guard that can shoot, two sharp-shooters, and an offensively adept center that is only 22 years of age. In short, the Thunder got better.

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Posted in Trade Talk

Trade Winds – Oklahoma City and trade rumors

perkins jackson thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder have never been known to be big players at the trade deadline. In their 6 previous seasons in OKC, the Thunder rescinded one blockbuster deal (Tyson Chandler in 2009), used the pieces from the rescinded trade to salvage another one (Thabo Sefolosha in 2009), made another blockbuster deal in 2011 (Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson in 2011) and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2nd round pick in 2012. Talk about living dangerously with that last one!

But this season seems different. The Thunder were already a part of a January mini-blockbuster trade that involved 3 teams, 4 players, and a first round pick that netted the Thunder Dion Waiters. And the Thunder still have enough assets to make another deal or two before Thursday’s trade deadline.

First off, what assets do the Thunder have?

  • The Untouchables – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Mitch McGary, Nick Collison, Anthony Morrow, and Dion Waiters.
  • Can be had for the right price – Reggie Jackson ($2.2 M) and Kendrick Perkins ($9.4 M)
  • Have at it, Philly – Jeremy Lamb ($2.2 M), Perry Jones ($1.13 M), Ish Smith ($861 K), and Grant Jerrett ($816 K)
  • Filler – 2015 2nd round pick and the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis, and Semaj Christon.

What do the Thunder need?

Outside shooting - The Thunder’s 3-point shooting percentage is a paltry 32.5%, good for 25th in the league. That percentage also ranks the lowest (by about 4 spots) of any teams that is currently slated in a playoff spot (to include New Orleans). The Thunder make about 7.4 3-pointers per game, which is tied for 15th in the league and ranks them ahead of only New Orleans and Memphis for Western Conference teams that in the playoff race. If that shooter can also be a plus on the defensive end, then that’s even better.

Interior scoring - The Thunder have never had a bona fide interior scorer. Someone they can dump the ball off to in the paint and know there’s a high percentage an easy shot will come out of it. The Thunder are tied with 2 other teams for 17th in the league in Point Per Shot (pps). What this means is that the Thunder are in the lower half of the league in getting easy baskets.

Luxury tax relief - The Waiters trade pushed the Thunder about $2.2 million dollars over the luxury tax line. Luckily, the Thunder have never been over the tax line and are in no risk of having to pay any repeater tax. The Thunder may be willing to remain above the tax line this season, or they could just as easily went to get back under the tax line before the deadline is over with.

5 Possible Deals the Thunder may make (All trades have been fact-checked with ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine)

1. Thunder gets Brook Lopez / Brooklyn gets Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and Grant Jerrett 

lopez perkins nets thunder

This deal was already hinted at about three weeks ago. The Thunder appeared ready to make the deal, but the Nets hesitated, probably wanting to see if they could get a better deal. The Thunder get their interior presence (albeit an injury prone one with a player option for $16.7 million next season). Brooklyn gets what they are desperately coveting: luxury tax relief and an acceleration to rebuilding. The Nets are looking for a combination of expiring contracts, young players, and picks. But no one in the league is really looking to give up financial flexibility for a big man that is injury prone and due to make that much money next season.

2. Thunder gets Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans / Utah gets Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, 2015 2nd round pick

If the Thunder are looking for an offensive big man, Kanter may be a cheaper option than Brook Lopez. In addition, the Thunder get some luxury tax relief in the process. Utah gets a veteran big man with an expiring contract to mentor Gobert and Favors and a young wing that needs playing time to blossom.

3. Thunder gets one of either Arron Afflalo/Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, and Memphis’ 2015 first round pick / Denver gets Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb

With Denver looking to build for the future, everyone on the team, save for Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris is likely on the table. OKC would love to get a 2-way wing that can either come off the bench, or immediately start if necessary. The Thunder have already experienced what happens in the playoffs when teams lay off their offensively challenged players and pack the paint. A long wing with the ability to knock down a jumper would be a great commodity to have moving forward. Denver would probably love to add Jackson to their young core. Jackson has been through playoff battles and appears eager to lead his own team.

4. Thunder gets Ian Mahimi and George Hill / Indiana gets Kendrick Perkins and Reggie Jackson

The Thunder get a more defensive minded back-up point guard with playoff experience that has knocked down big shots in the past. In addition they get a big that can give you something on the offensive end of the floor. Indiana gets a point guard that can, not only create for himself, but also create for others. In addition, they get a big with a $9 million dollar expiring contract.

5. Thunder gets under the luxury tax line, a Traded Player Exception, and a heavily protected 2nd rounder / Philadelphia gets any of Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones or Kendrick Perkins

The luxury tax. Why pay if you don’t have to? Philadelphia is about $13 million dollars under the the salary cap floor. If they want to avoid pay it, they may be willing to take on a player or two.

Final option (and highly likely):

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Stay put. Yeah, its an extremely boring option. But the Thunder, as currently constructed, are a championship contending team. Take away the injuries to the key players, and you have a team that would likely be in the thick of the Western Conference elite. They have a good mix of offense and defense, and only now appear to be putting it all together. Plus, Mitch McGary may be offensive big man the Thunder have been looking for. He’ll have his missteps in this his rookie season. But the kid oozes potential and brings a completely different dynamic to the team. It’ll be a crazy 24-48 hours from here on out. It could be a roller coaster or it could be a drive to the local Wal-Mart. Just make sure you buckle up.

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Posted in Trade Talk

MidSeason Review: The Oregon Trail

oregon trail 2

Let me let you in on a big secret: I’m not a big gamer. Growing up in the 90’s, in a time where the gamer subculture was created, I, instead, chose to go outside to play drive-way basketball and neighborhood street football (the curbs were the sidelines, the lawns were out of bounds, and it would behoove you not to try anything athletic around a brick mailbox). Even today, as 30-somethings, I still have friends that completely geek out over the latest Madden, NBA2K, or Call of Duty. While I enjoy playing a game or two, usually getting murdered in the process, I don’t share the sustained love for video games as some of my cohorts.

But there is one game that I will always look back on with high regard. In elementary school, whenever computers were first being introduced to our generation, the one game that I always loved playing was Oregon Trail. I would grab that 5.25″ floppy disk and immerse myself in pioneer life. I don’t know if it was the “reality” of the game or the fact that I’m a history buff, but for some reason, the game resonated with me.

If you’re too young to have ever played the game, the basic premise revolves around you (the player) being the wagon leader to a group of settlers traversing through the wilderness from Independence, Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Before you start, you  to buy the supplies you need with an allotted amount of money. Choose the wrong supplies, and your journey can get off on the wrong foot. Along the way, obstacles present themselves in the forms of disease, lack of supplies, exhaustion, and accidental deaths. It was an 1840’s version of reality TV, but in the form of an educational video game.

cp3 okc

Which brings me to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the season they are having. I’ve tried to remember a comparable situation to what the Thunder have been facing this season. The only thing that comes close in my estimation is the 2006-07 Oklahoma City/New Orleans Hornets season. The Hornets went into that season with visions of getting a playoff spot after acquiring Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic in the offseason. Those two, combined with David West and reigning rookie of the year Chris Paul, were thought to be the nucleus of an up-n-coming playoff-bound team. Instead, injuries completely derailed the season. Stojakovic missed the final 69 games of the season due to back surgery, West missed 30 games with an elbow ailment, Paul missed 18 games with a sprained ankle, Chandler missed 9 games with a toe injury (damn toe injuries!), and 6th man Bobby Jackson missed 26 games due to cracked ribs. The Hornets battled valiantly the entire season and were in playoff contention till the final week, but fell 3 games short of the 8th spot.

The major difference between the Thunder and the Hornets was that one went into the season as a fringe playoff team and the other went into the season as a championship contender. For some reason though, I keep coming back to the game. If every season is a journey, then what better comparative tool than a game that focuses exclusively on the journey and the obstacles encountered along the way. If we’re going to compare the two, then we have to do it right. One of the first things the game asks you to do is name the settlers that are traveling with you. Of the 19 people on this journey (GM Sam Presti, Coach Scott Brooks, and 17 players), here’s what they’ve been named.

Sam Presti – Wagon Leader (You) Scott Brooks – Pa Kevin Durant – Kevin
Russell Westbrook – Russ Serge Ibaka – Blocka Andre Roberson – The Closet
Steven Adams – The Wall Reggie Jackson – Lil’ Regg Dion Waiters – Dee
Nick Collison – Mr. Thunder Anthony Morrow – 2Turnt Kendrick Perkins – Perk
Mitch McGary – Young’in Perry Jones – PJ Ish Smith – The Blur
Jeremy Lamb – Sleepy Grant Jerrett – G Sebastian Telfair – Bassy
Lance Thomas – Lancelot

The journey, of course, starts off in training camp a.k.a Independence, Missouri. It can be quite ominous when the beginning of the journey is marred with small tragedies. G hurt his leg before the journey even started, and knew he would start the trip off in the wagon. Before the team even reached the first river crossing on the journey, Kevin and Young’in went down with the measles. Apparently they were sleeping in close quarters when they both took ill. As the team approached the Kansas River Crossing (beginning of the season) more members of the party went down with differing maladies. 2Turnt had a bout with cholera, Lil’ Regg took to dysentery, and Sleepy hurt his back putting the supplies in the wagon.

Kansas River Crossing (Beginning of the season – Oct. 29 – Nov. 23)

thunder injuries

The team forded the Kansas River Crossing, which was a bit deeper than usual due to the incessant rainfall (all the tears shed by Thunder fans because of Kevin’s “measles”). In the process of fording the river, Russ got his hand caught in the wagon wheel and injured it. With that injury, the troupe had 7 people laid up in the wagon. With so many bodies down, Pa needed the other settlers to step up. Surprisingly, PJ, who had nary shown any initiative before, began to show why the wagon leader had brought him on the trip. Guys like Lancelot and Bassy started to prove their worth also. On the fourth day, Lil’ Regg had recovered enough from dysentery to finally join the working class of the group. After barely eating due to his illness, Lil’ Regg took to hoarding a lot of the food at dinner. Perk and Blocka looked on in disappointment at Lil’ Regg’s behavior. Eventually, Lil’ Regg righted himself, but has continued to battle with selfishness throughout the journey. PJ, on the other hand, stepped into a prairie dog hole on the 5th day of travel, and made his way to the wagon to recover. Even The Closet made a trip to the wagon after getting his foot tangled up in some nets. It got so bad for the laborers, that the group eventually had to hire an extra settler to help them on their journey. Luckily, The Blur was well liked by the Wagon Leader and Pa. As the days went by, more of the settlers got healthier, but the journey was becoming more and more arduous. By the 15th day, only Kevin, Russ, G, Young’in, and PJ remained in the wagon.

The Plains (Nov. 26 – Dec. 18)

With Kevin and Russ finally healthy, the group started working to gain the ground that was lost with all their setbacks from the beginning of their journey. The upcoming terrain was flat with nary an obstacle. Unfortunately, Bassy was bitten by a venom0us snake and had to be left on the side of the road. Last the settlers heard, Bassy was picked up by a band of Chinese settlers and is currently working with them. There was a stretch where the settlers made up 7 days on their trip and had everyone out of the wagon and working. Everything was looking up, until one day, while Kevin laying down the fire for all the settlers, he was stricken with a bout of scurvy, which sent him to the wagon. Young’in was also back in the wagon with him after an incident at a peyote bar left him with some bumps and bruises from some of the native folk.

The Hills (Dec. 19 – Jan. 7)

durant westbrook thunder

Russ took the reins over for the next 5 days and kept the wagon moving on schedule. They hit some bumps in the road, but were rolling at a consistent pace. But as is the case with Russ, his stubbornness can sometimes get the best of him. You see, Russ is so skilled at what he does that he sometimes lacks in trusting others with his workload, even when it’s obvious they could be of some assistance. On the 32nd and 33rd day of the journey, some of that mistrust manifested itself in the form of selfishness and bullheadedness. In fact, even after Kevin recovered from scurvy, Russ got into a heap with some “warrior” settlers and Pa sent him to the wagon to get over his temper-tantrum. This led to another lost day. The settlers in the group, at this point, were suffering from exhaustion and mental weakness. The Wagon Leader noticed that some other settlers were eyeing Lancelot. The Wagon Leader also had his eye on a wild gunslinger known as Dee. So he bartered Lancelot (and future food rations) for Dee in hopes that Dee would provide something that was missing in the group.

Courthouse Rock (Jan. 9 – Jan. 21)

After spending an entire day traveling next to another group of settlers who apparently were a traveling music band, the troupe made their way to an inn for some much needed rest. The extra rest proved useful as the settlers made up four days on their journey. At this point in the journey, the group was actually a couple days ahead of schedule.

Scotts Bluff (Jan. 23 – Jan. 31)

The North Platte River. One of the more treacherous passages on the journey. Many a trip goes awry trying to traverse this water way. And it was not different for this group of settlers. The water was roaring and a bit higher than usual. In the process of fording the river, many supplies were lost. In the process, Kevin stepped on a beaver, which in turn bit his toe and sent him back to the wagon for a couple days. The days that the settlers gained in Courthouse Rock, were quickly lost trying to get through the river and Scotts Bluff. It was at this point in the journey where the settlers were at a crossroad. Go one way and you risk getting off track and losing your way heading into the spring. Go the other way, and you allow the past couple days to toughen you.

The South Pass a.k.a the halfway point of the Oregon Trail (Feb. 2 – Feb. 11)

The settlers chose the path that would toughen them up, but lead them in the right direction. They made gains in this leg of their journey, but also suffered a loss. The Wall, one of the stronger members of the troupe (the resident heavy lifter), got into a fight with a male bison and injured his hand. He may have been sent to the wagon for a couple days, but the settlers regained some of the food they had lost in the river. The settlers found their way to another inn and got some much needed rest.

perkins lamb thunder

What adventures await the settlers from here on out? There is still treacherous terrains and rapid rivers that the settlers have to get over in order to reach their destinations. In fact, some of the members of the troupe may not be with them when they begin their journey anew. The rumors are that some Spanish settlers have an ox of a man that could help out this current troupe. In exchange though, they would like two or three of our current settlers. Another issue complicating things is that the ox of a man also has issues with his feet, which makes him a problem for a band of travelers. Another group, the Gold Diggers, have a man whose skin is full of markings, but is also a skilled marksman. Whatever happens, you can figure the Wagon Leader will try to get the best collection of settlers together into to get this group to their ultimate destination.

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