Monthly Archives: December 2011

Coming of Age

Many things usually happen when a man goes from his 20’s to his 30’s. It’s a time where the rambunctiousness of his 20’s starts to turn into the maturity of his 30’s. It’s a time when a man’s professional career usually starts to stabilize and take off. It’s also a time when a man either starts to think about settling down or starts to appreciate what he already has. This has a lot of bearing on me because I just recently started my 4th decade (which means I just turned 30). While I won’t bore you with where I’m at in my life at this point, I do think it’s a good comparison for a young team that is facing mounting expectations. 

There’s a point during this transition that I call the point of no return. While in your 20’s you can still mingle with those younger than you and still get away with it. It is not uncommon to see a +/- of age difference in a dance club of 8-10 years. So while the younger crowd may be in the 18-21 range, the older crowd will be in the 26-31 range. Once you start going past that, the dynamic starts to get a little weird and creepy, and sometimes, just plain sad. It’s a point where you’re too old to go back. You can try, but it probably won’t work out that well for you. 

This is the point where the Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves this year. A man in his 20’s is expected to fail as he finds his way through life. Failed relationships here. A job firing or two there. Its all part of the plan to find what really fits that person. But, if this constantly occurs to a man in his 30’s, then he is viewed as a disappointment. The run that the Thunder are currently on have seen them go from 23 to 50 to 55 wins all within a span of 3 seasons. But since we’re talking about a shortened season, let’s look at winning percentages: .280, .610, and .671. In order to achieve that final percentage, we’d have to get at least 45 wins in this 66 game season. Any regression at this point will be viewed upon as a disappointment, as we have now reached the point where at least a .600 winning percentage is expected. 

The Thunder’s young players now have to shoulder a lot more responsibility. It’s one thing to surprise everyone by going from 23 wins to 50 wins, and say that you expected to win every game. It’s a completely different ball game to be expected to win every game that you play from here on out. You literally go from attacking the target to being the target. The burden of proof lies in many of the young teams over the years that have faltered when they were expected to make that giant leap from playoff contender to championship contender. The most recent one, the New Orleans Hornets, went from taking the Spurs to 7 games in a Western Conference semi-finals matchup in 2008 to complete team dismantling in 2011. 

The leaders of the team are both 23 years of age. Responsibility is usually not something valued by most 23 year olds. But as we’ve seen throughout the last two seasons, these two are cut from a different cloth. Don’t be fooled by the number next to their ages. In terms of experience, they are about as young as a 25 year old sergeant that is serving his 3rd tour of duty in a warzone. One is a humble assassin, while the other is a fiery pit-bull. The unique thing is at certain points in a game, these two descriptions can be used for both players. It’s a thin line to walk when competition breeds results, and these two competitors set the baseline for the team to produce from. While very young, the qualities that these two exhibit will only help this team’s resolve as the expectations get heavier and heavier. 

The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins not only supplied a need on the court, but also in the locker room. The lack of accountability on the defensive end that permeated on the floor since the departure of assistant coach Ron Adams was quickly addressed when Perkins stepped into that locker room. This was a risky move by the organization that proved that they too were looking to shoulder more responsibility and take chances. 

The spotlight can be a double edged sword. Whenever HDTV’s started becoming more popular, there was an uptick in the plastic surgery performed on news anchors around the country. They loved being in front of the camera, but all of the sudden hated all the criticism concerning their wrinkles and unsightly blemishes. The Thunder became the darlings of the NBA at the beginning of last season. The team was coming off a successful season in which they made the playoffs for the first time and took the eventual champs to 6 games in the first round. Then their top two players led the B-Team to gold at the World Championships. They were given national games and the spotlight. But with that, came the constant scrutiny from the media about the relationship between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. While the team exceeded their success from the previous season, there was an undercurrent of concern surrounding the relationship between their two star players. Both claimed there was nothing to be concerned about, but that has all been said before by divorced dynamic duos throughout NBA history. 

As we tear through this first week of the young NBA season, a word of caution as we head into this crazy season. No one knows exactly what lies ahead. Players that were around during the last lockout are like relics in a museum. While they may hold much wisdom, their usability is not nearly as plentiful. The Thunder are about as intact as any team out there from last season. They were not “humpty-dumpty’ed” like many other teams this offseason. The result has been a 3-0 start and a 1st place holding in the Western Conference. Funny, that I turned 30 a week ago and the Thunder are 3-0 a week later. While I’m not entirely set in my life, I can honestly say that I’m progressing at a reasonable rate and will enjoy this next decade of life. Hopefully the Thunder will join me on this ride.

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In the Midst of Chaos

Here’s a hypothetical scenario: Let’s just assume you and every one of your 29 friends is married. You guys would always talk and hang out, but were kept apart by some controlling power (let’s say the wives) for about 5 months. Now, you and the guys are allowed to hang out again. But to spice things up, let’s say the wives felt bad and decided to all chip in and get each and everyone of you a week together in Miami and an MHP (Marital Hall Pass). Now, you know some of your friends would immediately use their MHP. But the question that needs to be asked is whether you, in the midst of all this chaos, would go against the very fiber of ethics and virtue that you’ve stood by for the past half decade because you were given permission to? 

This is the scenario and question I would pose to Sam Presti. We know that Presti was the honor role student at the San Antonio Model Academy. We’ve seen and read the book on how to do it. Develop a culture, build a great core, get good contributing players, and the rest will fall into place. It has worked in San Antonio and Utah for the better part of two decades. And it is beginning to work in Oklahoma City. The Thunder have developed a culture of community and hard work. They have a great core in Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka. And they have good contributing players in Perkins, Sefolosha, Collison, and Maynor. But there is one thing that is missing from the equation that was always promised to us once we started our march to the promised land. 

In December 2008, while in the middle of the one of the worst beginnings to any NBA season, the question was always brought up about who would want to come to play in Oklahoma City. The answers ranged from sad to comical (redemption projects to Mark Price). The one answer that always intrigued me, though, was veterans wanting to win a ring. In the middle of a 3-29 start, the last thing you are thinking about is contending for titles. But now that we’ve knocked on championship’s doorstep, shouldn’t this be the next logical step in our player development? 

Leading up to opening of the free agency period, there was word that the Thunder had interest in obtaining Shane Battier. A veteran who would have been a great compliment to Kevin Durant off the bench and a good source of wisdom for our young team. Someone who was defensive minded and would fit seamlessly into the culture of the team. Even Kevin Durant wondered what Battier would look like in a Thunder uniform via his Twitter account. Instead, as the courting came down to the final days, the Thunder were not a part of the list of teams that Battier was looking at. He ended up signing with Miami for what is rumored to be 3 years / $9 million. Now, I wouldn’t have given him 3 years, but I would have given him $3.5 million per for 2 seasons. Don’t quote me on this and I hope I’m wrong, but I could see Battier hitting a big 3 against us in the Finals sometime in the next few seasons.

 Then there was the Chauncey Billups waiver wire Ebay auction. When the New York Knicks decided to amnesty Billups, all the non-tax paying teams had the opportunity to put in a bid for Mr. Big Shot’s services. It was rumored that OKC put in a bid, but like any skilled Ebay bidder, the Clippers came in at the last minute and offered $100 K more than any other team. Again, I could see Billups hitting a big shot against us in our probable first round match with the Clippers come May.

 Vince Carter was on the market after being waived by the Phoenix Suns. Carter always kills the Thunder. In 6 games over the past three seasons, Carter has averaged 22.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on 20/45 shooting from 3 point land. Can you imagine if he were able to supply half of that to the Thunder off the bench? It would’ve made the transition to Harden starting a lot more smoother. Instead he signed with the team we faced in the Western Conference Finals last season.  

Presti is probably a better man than me. His patience reminds of the Chuck Norris quote, “He doesn’t sleep, he waits.” Presti has always tried to put himself in a position of power when dealing with any other team. He’ll take advantage of your mistakes while minimizing his. But at this point in the game, with us at the doorstep of becoming championship caliber, isn’t it time to take that risk on a veteran? 

Young players make mistakes in crunch time, especially in the playoffs. And while young players eventually (hopefully) learn from their mistakes, the time it takes to get there can be fraught with disappointment and frustration. A veteran player can be that bridge that helps guide a young team through rough seas. While we already have a few veterans on the roster (Mohammed, Collison, and Perkins), signing a free agent for the purpose of them wanting to compete for a championship makes it that much more important for the young guys. How many times have we heard, “We just want to win one for (Player X) who has never won a championship.” 

As a fan, you know that the window of success can close on your team as quickly as it opens. A tweak of the knee here, a bruised ego there, and the entire dynamic of the team changes overnight. When we experience success, we want to continue experiencing that feeling. It’s the reason why men think of sex 19 times an hour; its our epitome of success. I don’t necessarily want to see a big splash (i.e. paying Jamal Crawford $20 million for 2 seasons). But something to help the team in the immediate future, especially off the bench. 

I understand Presti has to look at the today AND the tomorrow, especially with us being a small market team. But myself, as John Q. Fan, just saw 3 of our biggest competitors get a piece that will probably make them better in the short term and am seeing a few of our other competitors making moves to obtain great players. In a time where we are financially sound, why not take a risk and use your MHP on something safe. It could make the difference in May and June.

Happy Unveilings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are only a couple of days in a year that I look forward to other than holidays and familial events. They are the opening days for both the NBA and college football, the opening 2 days of the NBA playoffs, the NBA draft, and the unveiling of the NBA schedule. Out of all of those, my favorite is definitely the unveiling of that upcoming season’s schedule.

It’s a day full of hope. No matter how bad your team is, the possibilities are endless when that schedule first comes out. On that day, every team in the league is 0-0. Your team’s best player is out for the upcoming season with a torn ACL. Well, guess what? Your team and the world champion Dallas Mavericks are still tied in the standings with 0 wins and 0 losses. Your team’s leading rebounder just got popped for his third DUI. No worries. He and Derrick Rose both have the same amount of MVP votes for the following season. No matter the situation, when that schedule comes out, a real fan will find some optimism in their team’s future.

It’s a day full of organization and planning. You can finally organize your October through April schedule with your job and with your personal CEO/CFO (aka significant other). You can finally schedule what days you’re going to use your sick voice on the phone. This day is actually known to decrease stress and anxiety because it brings a lot of clarity to peoples’ lives. This is the only day of the year where the usage of anti-depressant goes down.

Disclaimer: 0 out of 5 doctors advised me of that last statement, but they did recommend Colgate.

It’s a day full of giving and receiving. You can finally call your friends and advise them that tickets for the Christmas/New Years/MLK/ Valentine’s Day games are available because your significant CEO/CFO wants you to spend more time with them on that specific day. And no, this is not a microcosm of my life. <– (she made me write this). You can make someone else’s day (and your wallet’s day) by selling your tickets on Ebay or Stubhub. Whether you give your tickets away or sell them, it is like Christmas for your soul.

This year, it’ll be a day full of thankfulness. Regardless of how you feel about how the two sides arrived at their decision to end the lockout, the fact that we actually get to see some basketball in 2011, is a bit of a “Christmas Miracle”. Sixty-six games is a whole lot better than 0 games, especially in the doldrums of February through September (sorry, baseball fans).

What’s better than a day full of hope, organization, thankfulness, and selflessness? In my opinion, nothing. So on December 6th, gather your family around the laptop or Ipad, go to your team’s website, and go crazy finding out who your team plays on February 19th. It may be nobody, but you can pretty much guarantee that they will be playing someone the next day or the day after that. Welcome back NBA! This is your unveiling.

A Bird in the Hand…

Let me preface this by saying that I love what Kendrick Perkins brought to the team last year. The toughness, leadership, and in your face accountability are things that young teams need from a veteran to reach that next level. It is my belief (and that of many others) that the Thunder don’t get to the Western Conference Finals if Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic are still in the starting lineup. The acquisition of Perkins allowed Ibaka to get off the bench and become a power forward’s version of a free safety, attacking anything that came near the basketball. Plus, signing him to an extension that pays him an average of $8.2 million/season for the next 4 years may prove to be a bargain. Quality starting centers usually aren’t obtained for anything south of $10 million. 

With that said, one has to wonder whether waiting would have allowed the Thunder to obtain someone more “well-rounded” in the post. While Perkins is definitely good defensively and sets great picks, he leaves a lot to be desired offensively. Though, some of his struggles last season may have been attributed to recovering from knee surgery, its not like he was ever Hakeem Olajuwon in the past. With one of the better big man free agent classes to be seen, quite possibly, ever, there has to be some trepidation whether the Thunder reacted too quickly in trying to obtain (and hold on to) a big man. 

Here are 5 candidates that the Thunder could have targeted in this year’s big man free agent class: 

5. Samuel Dalembert

 When the Thunder first acquired Kendrick Perkins, he was recovering from a strain in his non-surgically repaired knee. In the meantime, they played a handful of games with Nazr Mohammed as their starting center. In Perk’s absence, Mohammed performed admirably averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in a 7 game span.

 The reason I mention Mohammed is because Dalembert’s game reminds me a lot of Mohammed’s. With the Kings last season, Dalembert averaged a respectable 8 points, 8 boards, and 1.5 blocks per game. He came on strong at the end of the season, and showed he still had some springs in his legs. It always worries you any time someone performs well in the 2nd half of their contract year. In the first 3 months of the season, Dalembert averaged 5.3 points and 5.9 boards. In the final 3 months of the season, he averaged 11.1 points and 10.8 boards. Probably not someone Presti would have targeted or signed.

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Dalembert – 10%

 4. Tyson Chandler

 The Thunder’s first great center. We had him for a couple hours and life was just a little better when he became a member of the Thunder. But, alas, all good things come to an end, and that one came to an end abruptly and quickly. The botched trade aside, this was the one guy I thought could push the Thunder over the edge. Like Perkins, his offensive game leaves a lot to be desired, but this human pogo stick is a menace on the defensive end. Being one of the cogs on a championship team probably has pushed his price tag up by a couple million dollars. With past injury concerns (see: botched OKC trade), increasing mileage on the odometer, and a probable hefty price tag, the possibility of signingChandlerwould have probably been low.

 Chances of the Thunder targetingChandler– 35%

 3. DeAndre Jordon

 Only 23 years old, but already one of the better defensive centers in the league,Jordanproves a great compliment to Blake Griffin. Together they form, possibly, the most athletically gifted front court in the league.Jordanwould have been a great fit to our core. He’s young, big, and he has improved each of his 3 seasons in the league. With the Clippers soon facing the same issues as the Thunder with young great players coming up on contract extensions, now would have probably been a good time to snag Jordan up by offering him a front loaded contract extension that would have really forced Donald Sterling’s hand. If available, I thinkJordanwould’ve been one of the center that Presti would’ve actively pursued.  

 Chances of the Thunder targetingJordan– 45%

 2. Nene

 While the previous 3 centers on this list are primarily defensive centers, these next two centers are good at both sides of the floor. Nene seems to be over the injury-filled beginning of his career which included a torn ACL and a battle with testicular cancer. He has averaged 78 games per season in the past 3 seasons, while averaging 14.3 points, 7.7 boards, and 1.1 blocks per game in that same time span. His quick feet and offensive repertoire make him a big commodity to have late in games. With an asking price somewhere north of $12 million per season, I think Presti would’ve seriously had to take a look at Nene for what he could provide the Thunder on the offensive end, especially in late game situations. 

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Nene – 55%

 1. Marc Gasol

 I would have never imagined that Pau Gasol’s little brother would’ve ever made a name for himself in the NBA. I thought he was just going to be a throw-in in the deal involving his brother being traded to the Lakers. Someone who had the Euro big man skills, but whose girth probably would’ve been a detriment in the league. But something happened between the 2008 Olympics and the 2009-2010 season. Gasol lost a lot of that girth and those skills started to translate very well in the NBA. He is now one of the top 4 two-way centers in the league (the other three being Nene, Dwight Howard and Andrew Bogut) averaging 12.4 points, 7.8 boards, and 1.4 blocks per game in his first 3 season. His combination of youth, mid-range jumper, and inside presence would have been the perfect pick up for Presti and the Thunder. With that said, this is whom I think Presti would’ve seriously pursued if the opportunity had presented itself.

 Chances of the Thunder targeting Gasol – 70%

 In sports, the most commonly used phrase when it comes to front office decision-making is always, “Hindsight is 20/20.” Do I think the acquisition and subsequent signing of Perkins was the right thing to do? At this point, I do think it was. It allowed the young Thunder the opportunity to experience a deep playoff run. That experience will prove to be invaluable in the long run. Perkins is a Presti-type player and his addition didn’t do anything to distract from the core values of the Thunder. Instead, it enchanced the core values of the Thunder and built a stronger foundation of leadership and accountability. In addition, if the rumors are true about Dwight Howard wanting to be a Laker, then we already have our D. Howard stopper when we meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.