Tag Archives: Boston Celtics

Celtics vs. Thunder preview (Game 8 of 82)

celtics vs. okc logo

  • When: Friday, 03 November 2017 at 8:30 pm CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK
  • TV: ESPN/FSOK
  • Radio: WWLS The Sports Animal (98.1 FM, 640 AM, 930 AM (Spanish))
  • Line: OKC -6.5 | O/U – 205.5

Seven games in and the Oklahoma City Thunder are still looking for that statement victory. They beat the Knicks, Pacers, and Bulls pretty handily, like they were supposed to. And for as good as Giannis Antetokounmpo has been, the Bucks are still an inconsistent, middle of the conference team in the East. The three games against sturdier competition have resulted in losses.

So the Thunder still find themselves in search of that one signature win. As they continue figuring out the puzzle pieces that is their revamped team, the pendulum seems to be swinging towards the direction of them getting this thing figured out. Each player now has a role of what role they play on this team. Will that change as the season progresses? Probably. But the most important part of knowing what to do, how to do it, and when to do it seems to no longer be puzzling the Thunder players. And that is a scary thought for the rest of the league.  Continue reading Celtics vs. Thunder preview (Game 8 of 82)

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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.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division Preview

1. Toronto Raptors 

raptors ross valanciunas lowry derozan

Last season: 48-34 (1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7, 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets

Key additions:

  • Bruno Caboclo – Draft (No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jordan Hamilton – Free agent signing
  • James Johnson – Free agent signing
  • Lucas Nogueira – Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Lou Williams –  Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks

Key departures:

  • John Salmons – Traded to the Atlanta Hawks
  • Steve Novak – Traded to the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The Toronto Raptors are in prime position to build off the most successful season in franchise history. The young nucleus of Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross is intact and a year older, with Derozan and Valanciunas having just participated in the FIBA World Cup. The Raptors acquired Lou Williams from the Hawks to serve as their offensive firepower off the bench. And they are also developing two Brazilian big men (Caboclo and Nogueria) who may pay dividends in 2015-16.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Raptors make it to the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and have at least 2 All-Stars.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

2. New York Knicks

knicks shumpert anthony bargnani hardaway

Last season: 37-45 (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key additions:

  • Quincy Acy – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Jose Calderon – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Samuel Dalembert – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Cleanthony Early – Draft (No. 34 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Shane Larkin – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jason Smith – Free agent signing

Key departures:

  • Tyson Chandler – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks
  • Raymond Felton – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks

Season Preview – Two of the biggest additions for the team have been Phil Jackson (president of basketball operations) and Derek Fisher (head coach). With Carmelo Anthony in the fold for the next 4 seasons guaranteed and plenty of cap space coming up in 2015-16, the Knicks are starting to look like they have a plan. Fisher will likely implement the triangle offense, which will play off the scoring abilities of Anthony and JR Smith to maximize the effect of role players like Calderon, Amare Stoudemire, and Tim Hardaway Jr. It will be a bit of a transition year, but in the weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks will have the ability to make the playoffs.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Knicks make the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 43-39

3. Brooklyn Nets

nets williams lopez

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic – Signed Eurostash
  • Markel Brown – Draft (No. 44 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jarrett Jack – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Sergey Karasev – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key departures:

  • Paul Pierce – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Andray Blatche – Unsigned
  • Shaun Livingston – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Marcus Thornton –  Traded to the Boston Celtics

Season Preview – The Brooklyn Nets seem to be on the cusp of a rebuild (reload?). Their “all in” move from last offseason (acquiring Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics) did not pan out and the Nets now find themselves with only one of the those 3 still on the roster. Brook Lopez (foot) and Deron Williams (both ankles) are once again coming into the season recovering from surgeries, and Garnett seems to know the end of his career is near. The Nets have some good young role players in Mason Plumlee, Bogdanovic, Karasev, and Teague, but their star players are either at the end of their run or are injury-prone.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nets make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Boston Celtics

celtics smart young

Last season: 25-57 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Marcus Smart – Draft (No. 6 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marcus Thornton – Obtained in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets
  • Evan Turner – Free agent signing
  • James Young – Draft (No. 17 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Tyler Zeller – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Departures:

  • Kris Humphries – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Jerryd Bayless – Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks

Season Preview – The Celtics are in the beginnings of a rebuild and would like nothing more than to use this season to get their young core (Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley) plenty of development and playing time together. Along with that, the team has two valuable expiring contracts in Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass to help out in their rebuilding process.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young players show progression and the Celtics end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 23-59

5. Philadelphia 76ers

76ers carter williams noel

Last season: 19-63 (5th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Joel Embiid – Draft (No. 3 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Dario Saric – Draft (No. 12 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerami Grant – Draft (No. 39 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • KJ McDaniels – Draft (No. 32 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Alexy Shved – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Departures:

  • Thaddeus Young – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Season Preview – I’ve never seen a more obvious tank job in my life. The entire being of the 76ers at this point is to collect draft picks and young players at whatever cost. That’s not necessarily a bad plan, but everyone else who has done has at least attempted to look like they were trying. They drafted 2 players in the first round in the last draft that likely will not play for the organization this season (Embiid and Saric). This will be Nerlens Noel’s rookie season and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. The team traded its best veteran in Thad Young and heads into the season as one of the youngest teams in the league.

2014-15 will be successful if: The 76ers end up with a Top 3 pick and their young players continue to develop.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 12-70

Oklahoma City Thunder at Boston Celtics preview (Game 44 of 82)

jackson pressey thunder celtics

  • When: Friday, 24 January 2014 at 6:30 PM CST
  • Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA

The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in a precarious situation. They’ve just scorched the earth with 4 of the top 6 teams in the Western Conference, but now head out East to play two of the lower tier teams in the league. Add to that the fact that the Thunder may be looking forward to Thursday night’s romp against the Miami Heat, and this sets up perfectly as a trap game candidate.

This is the second meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder defeated the Boston Celtics in the first game, 119-96. In that game, Reggie Jackson destroyed the Celtics, setting a then career high with 27 points on 9-12 shooting from the field.

The Opponent

rondo green celtics

For most teams wear losing records like a scarlett letter. But the Celtics have much to be proud of, regardless of how their 15-29 record looks. This is  a team that completely gutted it’s roster in the offseason, trading mainstays Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets. In addition, star PG Rajon Rondon was out until recently, recovering from a torn ACL. To say that this team has overachieved would be an understatement. They struggle scoring, but have a top 10 defense in terms of opponent’s points per game. The Celtics are led by Rondo, who  is playing in his 4th game back since returning from injury. Veteran Gerald Wallace has had to play out of position due to injuries to many of the SG on the roster. Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, and Brandon Bass provide the Celtics with their biggest position of strength at forward. Green is able to provide a perimeter game, Sullinger does most of his business in the paint, and Bass excels at the mid-range game. The bench is nearly non-existent due to bevy of injuries.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Boston Celtics

  • PG – Rajon Rondo
  • SG – Gerald Wallace
  • SF – Jeff Green
  • PF – Jared Sullinger
  • C – Kris Humphries

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant*
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

* – Durant is listed as questionable due to a shoulder injury

3 Keys to the Game

1. Post defense – The Celtics rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point FG’s made and 3-point FG%. If they are going to do damage, it will be on the inside with Bass, Sullinger, and Humphries. It’ll be up to the Thunder big men to stay disciplined on the boards and defend the paint.

2. Jeff Green – Green is the only player on the Celtics capable of catching fire and taking over. He did it in their last game against the Wizards, going off for 39 points on 8-16 shooting from 3-point land. Contain Green and the Celtics struggle to score.

lamb durant adams ibaka thunder

3. Bench – With the Celtics’ struggles with injury, their bench has been decimated. It’ll be a good game for Jeremy Lamb, Nick Collison, and Perry Jones to enforce their will.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Utah Jazz preview (Game 35 of 82)

durant hayward favors ibaka thunder jazz

  • When: Tuesday, 07 January 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

Two up. Two down. Two up. There are just some teams you look forward to facing, especially when you need an easy victory. The Boston Celtics were a welcome sight on Sunday. And the same could be said about the Utah Jazz tonight. With the Thunder looking to solidify their footing in the Western Conference while awaiting the return of Russell Westbrook, facing teams like Boston and Utah makes life that much easier for the team as they trudge along without their star point guard.

This is the 3rd meeting of the season between these division rivals. The Thunder won the first game, 101-98, behind 42 points from Kevin Durant. The 2nd game was much more one-sided with the Thunder winning 95-73. The common denominator in both games was that Russell Westbrook was inactive for both, with him recovering from surgery in the first game and resting in the second meeting.

The Opponent

favors williams hayward jazz

The Utah Jazz are a bad team, either by design or by happenstance. They currently sit at 11-25 and are in the bottom third of most statistical categories. It’s no secret that Utah is currently in a rebuilding phase. Their core consists of young players who are still learning the nuances of the game. Rookie point guard Trey Burke is starting to show flashes of what made him the National Player of the Year in college basketball last season. Gordon Hayward is their leading scorer at 16.5 points per game and has started to get his game back after starting the season abysmally. Up front, Derrick Favors is close to averaging a double double, while Enes Kanter has fallen out of the starting line-up and is one of the key reserves off the bench.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Trey Burke
  • SG – Gordon Hayward
  • SF – Richard Jefferson
  • PF – Marvin Williams
  • C – Derrick Favors

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF -Perry Jones III
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

Serge Ibaka is out with flu-like symptoms. 

3 Keys to the Game

1. Small ball – Utah trots out a starting line-up that basically features a point guard, 3 small forwards, and a power forward. This may be one of those games where the strengths of Kendrick Perkins and Steven Adams are marginalized. If Scott Brooks decides to keep a traditional line-up in the game for too much time, it may come back to bite the Thunder in the rear.

lamb burks thunder jazz

2. Bench – Utah’s bench, like it’s team, is loaded with young developing players. While the Thunder’s is also filled with young player, I think there’s enough veteran leadership off the Thunder’s bench to take advantage of the Jazz’s youth off the pine.

3. That man Kevin – Kevin Durant has been on a tear lately and Utah doesn’t really have any one that can cover him. Feast Kevin, and hopefully, enjoy the 4th quarter on the bench.

The Thunder and the 32nd pick

draft pj 3

The Oklahoma City Thunder hold 3 draft picks in this upcoming draft. They have two in the first round, No.12 and 29, and one in the second round, No. 32.  While people are usually enamored by the first round picks, it’s the early second round picks (No. 31-35) that hold more value to teams. It’s an opportunity to grab first round talent without the constriction of a guaranteed contract. Here’s a list of notable players that have been drafted in the 31-35 range in the last 5 season: Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Singler, Jeffery Taylor, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green. The difference in talent from the last 5 picks of the first round and the first 5 picks of the second round is infinitesimal.

For teams holding a slot in those first 5 picks of the 2nd round, it is an opportunity not only to draft a talented player, but also to procure a trade for an asset. The fact that a team can take a flyer on a player without having to offer a guaranteed contract, makes these picks more valuable than those in the lower end of the first round. These picks becomes doubly valuable before the beginning of a maddening free agency season. When teams vying for free agents want to clear cap space and/or not take on anymore guaranteed salary, they dump players and first round picks in exchange for high second round picks.

presti

Thunder general manager Sam Presti took advantage of this during the last frenzied free agency class, where he also owned the 32nd pick. We arm-chair GM’s love to talk about the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. But we have that beautiful thing called hind-sight in our back pockets. Real NBA GM’s don’t have that advantage, but those few great  GM’s have a little thing called foresight. While we focus on our team in the present tense, great GM’s look at the health of other franchises and plot how they can take advantage of their needs. Presti is great at this and seems to be on the prowl again in this draft.

On July 27th, 2009, the Thunder traded Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Etan Thomas and 2 second round picks. Most people thought this was just one of those offseason trades where a team trades 2 bench players for another bench player. But the haul in that trade was actually the 2nd round pick that turned into No. 32 in the 2010 NBA draft.

Etan Thomas, Andrew Bynum

The 2010 offseason was known for one thing and one thing only….the summer of Lebron. That was the offseason where most of the bumper crop from the 2003 draft class was coming up on their 2nd extensions, while other players like Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson were also coming up on unrestricted free agency. If you were a team that believed in quick fixes, this was the summer for you. While a handful of teams were trying their hardest to unload as much salary as possible, the other teams were more than willing to take on decent players (salary) and first round picks.

The Thunder had assets galore in the 2010 draft with 3 picks in the first round (18, 21, and 26) and 2 picks in the second round (32 and 51). The consensus with most teams is that you don’t head into training camp with five rookies. So, the Thunder knew they had to wheel and deal to get what they wanted in this draft, which was a defensive minded big man and more assets. Their first move was to trade the 32nd pick to Miami for the 18th pick and Daequan Cook. Miami was looking to cut salary to position themselves for the summer of Lebron. The Thunder knew they couldn’t get what they wanted at 18, so they traded it to the Clippers for a future first rounder. They eventually traded up to the 11th pick where they picked Cole Aldrich. The future first rounder from the Clippers helped to facilitate the trade with the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins at the trading deadline that following season.

benchmob

There are a lot of similarities between this offseason and the 2010 offseason. First off, the top tier in this free agency class includes some franchise players, such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Josh Smith. Secondly, these free agents are available and willing to hear out every offer on the table. Thirdly, there are team already vying to dump salary and 1st round draft picks to clear cap space. And, fourthly, the Thunder have the 32nd pick.

The story behind the 32nd pick is akin to the story of Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years in the book of Exodus. A little bit of controversy, a little bit of disobedience, and finally back to where it ultimately needed to be. On December 19, 2011, the Thunder traded Byron Mullens to the Charlotte Bobcats for their unprotected 2013 2nd round pick. Simple, right? Wrong! When the Thunder traded for Perkins, they sent Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston along with that Clippers draft pick. Everything was going good until doctors discovered the following season that Green was suffering from an aortic aneurysm, would need immediate surgery, and would miss the entire 2011-12 season. Boston contended that Oklahoma City knew of this condition previous to the trade. On June 16, 2012, the NBA decided to give Boston the Charlotte pick as compensation for the Green debacle. On July 20, 2012, the Celtics traded the pick to the Houston Rockets as part of a three team trade for guard Courtney Lee. Finally, on October 27, 2012, the pick was sent back to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden trade. I’ve joked that, to everyone outside of Oklahoma City, the trade between OKC and Houston will be known as the James Harden trade. But to the people in Oklahoma City, the trade will be known as the “reacquisition of the Charlotte 2nd round pick” trade.

Oklahoma City is in prime position to make a significant move to improve their team in this draft. The rumor mill is already rampant with teams wanting to dump salary and picks for a chance at one of the top tier free agents. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports reported that Houston is looking to unload the No. 5 pick from last season’s draft, Thomas Robinson, in order to clear further cap space. Chad Ford of ESPN.com reported that the Dallas Mavericks were looking to trade away the No. 13 pick in order to avoid the $1.6 million cap hold that the pick carries. Also, Atlanta has picks 17 and 18, but are also looking to throw their hat in the free agency fray. There will be plenty of opportunities to nab a necessary piece on this draft day.

Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony

Also, there is one more thing to look out for in this draft. There might be an epic free agency class coming up next offseason. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade all have early termination options to become free agents in 2014. Add to that, the 2014 NBA draft is predicted to be a lot stronger than this draft class, and you have the perfect storm for further wheelings and dealings. Look for the Thunder to not only get what they need in this draft, but also to pick up assets for the 2014 draft. Let the madness begin!

Innocence Kept: The Thunder and the Moore tornado

kd tornado

Sports are a strange thing. One second it’s euphoria, ecstasy, and adrenaline all in one bundle. And then the next it’s heart break and sorrow. It’s almost like a drug. And while it’s entrenched in reality, it really isn’t reality. It’s entertainment. Its young men, paid millions of dollars, to do things with spherical objects that you and I wish we could do. For most of us, the entertainment ends when the final buzzer sounds. We either pump our chest up in victory, or slump our heads in defeat. And after a couple minutes, the feeling is over. We go back to our lives and move on.

But sometimes, sports and real life become intertwined due to circumstances beyond our control. We saw that, not too long ago, in the Boston Marathon bombing. Runners and spectators, alike, sprung into action to make the best out of an extremely chaotic situation. We saw the support on the hardwood from the Boston Celtics players and the support on the diamond from the Boston Red Sox players (especially David Ortiz). From 1700 miles away, it was inspiring and heart-warming to see that kind of support from the local pro athletes.

Then, May 20th happened. We, Oklahomans, have been through this before. The Murrah building bombing in 1995. The Moore tornado in 1999. And now, this tornado. We’ve mourned the losses of those killed, mended the hurt and wounded, and have rebuilt even stronger. But, we’ve never done it as a city that houses a professional team. In the grand scheme of things, that last statement doesn’t mean a hill of beans. We would still be doing the things that make us, us. We would still be getting involved in the recovery efforts, the humanitarian aid, and the volunteering, all while maintaining that great Oklahoma spirit.

russ west instagram

We would have completely understood if the Oklahoma City Thunder players would have just tweeted their well wishes and disbelief about the disaster, donated a couple bucks here and there, and given us their support from afar. They were just starting their offseason after a disappointing post season run that included a season ending injury to one of their superstars. And the reality is that most athletes don’t live in the city where they play year round. After exit interviews, the players usually disperse to their various hometowns for their offseason. We wouldn’t have held it against them if they would’ve stayed away from the disaster zone.

There’s an understanding when it comes to the athlete/fan relationship. We, the fans, cheer the athletes on to no end, and, in return, the athletes acknowledge our fandom in their interviews and in social media. It becomes almost scripted when athletes mention their fans as being the best fans in their league or when they say that the crowd played a major role in their comeback. It’s something that the Oklahoma media, and the media, in general, loves to play up.

durant jersey torndao

But in our darkest hour, though, there was a bit of a role reversal. The players came out and cheered us on. As soon as the enormity of everything became apparent, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Derek Fisher, Serge Ibaka, Perry Jones III, Nick Collison, and our old friend James Harden, were tweeting and instragramming their well wishes and prayers out to us. If it would have ended there, that would have been awesome. Then, Kendrick Perkins (you know, the player whose head a lot of OKC fans want on their amnesty plate) set up a donation spot at a local OKC store. And if it would’ve ended there, it would have been great.

d fish insta

Then Durant stepped it up and donated $1 million dollars to the relief efforts. And Perkins donated $25K to help build future storm shelters. And Russell Westbrook, Hasheem Thabeet, DeAndre Liggins, Jeremy Lamb, and coach Scott Brooks visited OU Childrens’ Hospital to bring some rays of sunshine to children who had probably just witnessed their darkest hour. This spurred the Thunder organization and many of their corporate sponsors to donate millions of dollars in aid. If it would’ve ended there, that would have been the best.

thunder hospital

Then the guys actually started showing up in Moore and walking through the debris and rubble, lending support to those crestfallen by the tornado. You saw Kevin Durant walking around giving encouraging words to those that supported him. You saw Russell Westbrook hobbling around on crutches giving support to those that needed it, even if it was in verbal form. General manager Sam Presti walked around doing his part to help out. CoachBrooks, Thabeet, Thabo Sefolosha, and native son Daniel Orton could also be seen lending their support throughout Moore. Nike, through their association with Durant, agreed to donate a million dollars worth of merchandise to help in the healing process.

thunder tornado ii

And this is just what we’ve heard. Only the person giving actually knows what they have given. During many of the pregame videos in the past few years, the focus has always been about how the values of Oklahomans mesh with the values of the Thunder organization. Resiliency, Team, Together, Team is One, Community. I used to think those were just prompt words to make the team feel more “Okie-centric”. Words aimed at our civil subconscious to make us love the team more. But in the end, the players on the team have shown those values to be true amongst themselves and amongst the team.

thunder tornado

As a realist, I know that one day, someone on the Thunder will rip our innocence from us. Be it one of our players being charged in a criminal case or a long drawn out contract negotiation in which a superstar will want out of OKC and into a bigger market. That day will come. But for right now, these player have kept our innocence intact. These players have shown their Okie values to be true. We’ve been with them through thick and thin, and now, they have reciprocated that support in our darkest hour. In the athlete/fan relationship, that very rarely happens.

Text “REDCROSS” to 90999 for $10 donation to help tornado victims in Moore, Shawnee, and OKC

Full Circle: Harden trade revisited

james harden

There’s a reason why teams don’t like to trade core players within their own conference. The fact that you not only have to face them more times during the season, but also possibly in a playoff series, causes many teams to take lesser deals in order to trade a core player to another conference. That scenario now becomes a reality for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their first round match-up with the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, the team will meet up with former 6th man extraordinaire James Harden. While the teams have already met three times before during the regular season, the stakes will undoubtedly be higher for these next 4-7 games.

The trade essentially comes full circle within the same season. When Harden was traded to the Rockets 4 days before the season started, many media pundits saw this as the first step back in a franchise that had progressed forward since it first stepped foot in the Great Plains in 2008.  Many wondered whether the team that many people had tabbed as the next great dynasty was finally beginning to succumb to the many ills that small market teams face. The new collective bargaining agreement, which was supposed to help small market teams with the concept of increased “player-sharing,” had actually robbed the model small market team of one of its superstars. Even the fans, those crazy, loyal, Oklahoma City fans, questioned whether the billionaire owners were crying cheap in the wake of a possible dynastic-like run.

durant jackson

In reality, the trade turned into a win-win situation for both parties involved. The Thunder front office and scouting team puts a premium on player development. It helps that they have drafted extremely well in the last 5 seasons. For every dud that’s ever gotten drafted by the Thunder, there are two studs in their place. For every Cole Aldrich the team drafts, there’s a Serge Ibaka or a Reggie Jackson. For every Byron Mullens, a Russell Westbrook or James Harden. The team not only looks at skill, but also character. They don’t just want players with specific skill sets; they want players that want to use those skill sets to reach their maximum potential, and then want get better from there. That’s what we’ve seen from the Thunder players when adversity hits. Many people wondered where the scoring would come from when the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in February 2010. They were trading two double figure scoring starters for a center that struggled to average 8 points a game and was coming off of major knee surgery. After the trade, the Thunder adapted and Kevin Durant and James Harden increased their scoring to offset any loss of scoring on the offensive end. At the same token, with Ibaka getting a lot more minutes, the defense improved. The team ended that season with a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Many wondered whether that same type of internal improvement could happen after the Harden trade. Seriously, what more could Durant and Westbrook do to improve their games? They were already 2 of the top 10 players in the league. The fact that Durant and Westbrook improved their games this season came as no surprise. They knew that they would not only have to replace the scoring of Harden, but also the playmaking. While the superstar duo’s scoring remained consistent from the previous season, it’s their assist numbers that made the team better. Durant averaged a career high 4.6 assists (up from 3.5 the previous season), while Westbrook upped his assist mark by nearly 2 assists per game. Not only did the assist go up, but the turnovers between the two went down (even if slightly). In addition, the duo became very efficient with their scoring. Durant became the newest member of the 180 shooting club (50% FG, 40% 3pt FG, and 90% FT), and Westbrook chose his spots a bit more technically this season.

But what of the other Thunder players? Incremental improvements from Durant and Westbrook alone wouldn’t be enough to replace Harden’s production. Enter Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Ibaka’s scoring average jumped up over 4 points, but it’s in the matter in which he scored that assisted the team the most. Ibaka became one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the league. Where that helps the Thunder is in floor spacing for Westbrook and Durant. With opposing big men not being able to cheat off of Ibaka, the lanes opened up for the scoring duo. In addition to Ibaka, Sefolosha became a consistent 3-point threat and increased his scoring by nearly 3 points a game. For a team that performs optimally when the floor is spaced, the improvement of these two players has lessened the departure of Harden.

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In addition, the Thunder got a comparable player in Kevin Martin. While the season has, at times, been a bit rough for Martin and his transition as a 6th man, he has filled the role seamlessly enough to lessen the blow of the trade. The bench role transition was made more difficult by the fact that the Thunder not only traded Harden, but also 3 other members of the Thunder’s bench. The Thunder were, in essence, bringing in an entirely new bench unit. On a team that finds comfort in continuity, this was a shock to the system. It took about 65 games, but the coaching staff finally found a rotation off the bench that works for the team. What once seemed like a weakness after the trade, has, once again, turned into a strength for the team.

As mentioned above, the trade was a win-win for both organizations. The Rockets finally got the superstar player that they had been trying to acquire for the past few seasons. In an attempt to acquire a superstar player, that Rockets had been loading up on assets and freeing up cap space. When they failed to acquire Dwight Howard in the offseason, the team shifted its sights onto Harden, who was in a contract squabble with the Thunder. With their combination of Martin (expiring contract/comparable player), Jeremy Lamb (lottery talent), and draft picks, the Rockets finally acquired what they hope is the first piece of their successful puzzle. Not only do the Rockets now have a good young core in Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Thomas Robinson, but they also have the cap space to go after another premium free agent this offseason.

rockets

And what about our old friend, James Harden? I’ve always thought that sometimes, in life, you have to get pushed out of your comfort zone to achieve your utmost potential. The reality is that Harden was too talented to be a third option on any team, regardless of who the first two options were. He was a highly efficient scorer that got to the line in droves and was a top notch playmaker, to boot. He had shown that he could perform in high pressure situations and was beginning to be one of the most noticeable faces in the NBA (and its most noticeable beard). He was ready to be a superstar, and was ready to get paid like a superstar. The Thunder offered what they thought was a respectable offer, but also knew that Harden (and his agent) may be looking for something more. The market dictates what a player is worth. If a player begins to hear that he is worth the max, he’ll be looking for that type of money. The Thunder knew this and made a decision: either Harden sacrifices by taking a lesser than market value offer to stay on the team or the Thunder had to pounce on the best deal available. The rest is history. Harden was traded, got a super max extension, and became a superstar. End of story, right?

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Wrong. Much like the Thunder versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Rockets are now the hungry, young upstarts trying to take the crown from the defending Western Conference champion Thunder. In a way, the CBA’s concept of player-sharing actually worked out this time. The reality is that when you draft enough talent, you’ll eventually run out of money to pay them all. It’s not a bad dilemma to deal with if you have the right brain trust guiding the team. In the end, after coming full circle, one team got better in this trade and the other team improved. I’ll let you decide which is which.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz preview (Game 78 of 82)

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  • When: Tuesday, 09 April 2013 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Energy Solutions Arena, Salt Lake City, UT

One of the most dangerous things to face in the final week of a season is a team fighting to get into the playoffs. Their “win or go home” mentality surfaces with every game leading to the playoffs. Most playoff bound teams are on cruise control in the final week of the season. Some may be battling for playoff positioning, but if you are a team that has an end of alphabet letter (X,Y,Z) by your name in the standings, you’re usually pretty content. But for teams like the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers, or even, Dallas Mavericks, these final few games are their play-in games to get into the NBA post-season tournament.

I don’t know if the Oklahoma City Thunder are indifferent as to whether they get the No.1 seed in the Western Conference or not. Both the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs seem pretty content with their position in the conference, and are probably both confident they can win the conference whether they have home court advantage or not. With that said, the Thunder will be facing a desperate team trying to put space between themselves and the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot.

Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz

The Jazz come into the game surging, having won 7 of their last 8 games. With Mo Williams finally healthy and Derrick Favors beginning to live up to his potential, the Jazz seem to finally have found their groove. They’ve settled into a consistent rotation of 8-9 players that attacks with balanced offense (inside with Paul Millsap, Al Jefferson, and Favors and on the wings with Williams, Gordon Hayward, and Alec Burks) and consistent work on the boards.

For the season, it has been a home court advantage type of series between these teams with the Thunder dominating their two games in Oklahoma City and the Jazz dominating in their one game in Salt Lake City.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Randy Foye
  • SG – Mo Williams
  • SF – Gordon Hayward
  • PF – Paul Millsap
  • C – Al Jefferson

Oklahoma City

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Control the paint – This is a team that the Thunder can actually sag off the shooters a bit and help out in the paint. The Jazz only make about 6.2 threes per game, which puts them in the bottom quarter of the league in 3-point makes per game. Kendrick Perkins has had a fair amount of success defending his former Boston battery mate, Al Jefferson.  And Ibaka and Collison have had success against Millsap and Favors. But those three can collectively change the game with the rebounding ability and offensive production in the paint.

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2. Shooters – As in, Oklahoma City shooters. Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher, and Ibaka should all be on high alert as they should receive their fair amount of opportunities to attempt open jumpers. The Jazz always have trouble defending Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Look for the Jazz to shade a defender over, leaving someone open on the perimeter.

Serge Ibaka, Derrick Favors

3. Durant and Westbrook – Hey, no one on the Jazz can guard you guys. Begin CDI (Complete Dominance Initiative).

Kevin Martin’s Future with the Thunder

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One of the biggest decisions facing the Oklahoma City Thunder this offseason is whether or not to keep Kevin Martin past this season. Martin was the other big name in the blockbuster deal that sent James Harden to the Houston Rockets a couple days before the 2012-13 season began. Martin was brought in to maintain the scoring provided by Harden off the bench and has nearly matched Harden’s bench output from last season when Harden was the NBA’s 6th Man of the Year. Though he has struggled at times this season in his new role, especially in home/road splits, Martin has performed well enough to be an integral part of the Thunder, who are once again, championship contenders.

People tend to think of contract negotiations, exclusively, as an offseason event. But the chess pieces that are the “Kevin Martin negotiations” have been shuffling around the chess board all season long. There are always two sides to any negotiation, but there are so many variables that influence the final decision. Those variables are the chess pieces the Thunder and Martin have been playing around with for the entire season. In this article, I’ll look at some of those variables and see how they will influence the upcoming negotiations between these two parties.

Kevin Martin’s chess pieces

Background – Martin comes from Zanesville, OH, which has a population of about 25,000 people. He has maintained very close ties to that community and is constantly involved in community events (basketball camps, 3-on-3 tournaments, etc.) during the offseason. With that said, it doesn’t seem that big city lights have the same effect on Martin as it does with many other players in the NBA. He started his career in one of the smaller markets in the NBA (Sacramento), and then played in one of the bigger markets in Houston. A community like Oklahoma City probably reminds Martin a lot more of Zanesville than a city like Houston would.

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Personality – If Russell Westbrook’s personality can be described as hyperactive and intense, then Martin’s can be described as cool, calm, and collective. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player who touches the ball so much, have so little emotion. It’s not hard to imagine Martin committing a turnover and reacting by saying, “Darn,” in little more than a whisper while jogging to the other end of the floor. And I’m not necessarily saying that’s a bad thing either. On a team full of emotionally charged players (Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka), it’s good to have players on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum to balance things out.

Also, Martin’s personality traits are more conducive to accepting a bench role, instead of wanting to be the man. Martin tried that for 9 seasons in Sacramento and Houston with mixed results. He had good stats (21.5 ppg from 2006-2012), but his teams were never good enough to make the playoffs. In an interview with Hoopsworld in late December, Martin stated, “…I’m so happy right now and being with these guys has given me an extra pep in my step. It’s just fun being here. It’s a great organization and great guys. I’m happy right now.” The burden of carrying a team can be pretty daunting, and statements like this lends to me think that Martin is happier being a contributing player on a successful team, than being the man on a mediocre team.

Community-oriented – Martin is known as one of the most affable and approachable players in the league. He is heavily involved in the community in his hometown and even won the 2008 Oscar Robertson Triple Double Award, which is a community involvement award given out annually by the Sacramento Kings. If there’s one thing the Thunder organization places utmost importance on, it’s community involvement. Most players do community activities because the League relegates that they have to. But, Martin is one of those players that truly enjoys being involved in the community.

martin community

On record – When Oklahoma City first got a team, one of the things that detractors hung their hats on was that players weren’t going to want to play or stay in OKC. That the players would skip town at the first opportunity, or never even consider OKC in free agency. In an interview with Marc Stein of Yahoo! Sports in late January, Martin put it on record, saying, “This summer, hopefully everything works out here. I haven’t said that too often. But I will put it out there; hopefully I have found a home in the NBA. I love playing with this group of guys. The organization is great to me. The community has been great to me. It’s the happiest I have been during my NBA career.” While many Thunder fans may take that statement with a grain of salt, after James Harden basically said the same thing in the offseason, there’s an air of wisdom and experience in Martin’s statement that makes it sound more believable.

Production – The trade in late October sent one of the best bench units in the league into complete disarray. Gone from the team were Harden, who was the reigning 6th Man of the Year, Cole Aldrich, who was thought to be the team’s back-up center, and Daequan Cook, who was their situational 3-point shooter/floor spacer. In addition to that, the back-up point guard position was shaky at best, with Eric Maynor coming off of an ACL injury and Reggie Jackson still learning how to play point guard in the NBA. In essence, the Thunder got rid of 4 bench players for one bench player (Martin) and one project player (Jeremy Lamb).

kevin-martin-thunder

It’s taken a little bit more than half of the season, but the bench seems to have solidified itself into a stable outfit. Martin is one of the league leaders in bench scoring, averaging 14.5 points per game. He’s assumed the role of 3-point specialist (43%) and floor spacer when he’s on the floor with Durant and Westbrook, especially late in games. And he’s begun to develop a chemistry with Nick Collison that is akin to the chemistry Collison and Harden had together.

Thunder’s chess pieces

Leverage – The player Martin was shipped with to Oklahoma City in the James Harden deal may ultimately be the reason Martin becomes expendable. Since the moment he donned a Tulsa 66ers jersey, rookie Jeremy Lamb has been lighting up the D-League to the tune of 21.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.1 steals per game in 16 games. While success in the D-League doesn’t always equate to success in the NBA, Lamb has flashed the tools to be a consistent scorer/shooter at the NBA level.

Jeremy Lamb, DeSagana Diop

Comparable players – These are four players (and their salaries) that are comparable to the role that Martin plays on the Thunder.

  • Jamal Crawford – Los Angeles Clippers (4 years / $21.35 miillion)
  • JJ Redick – Milwaukee Bucks (1 year / $6 million)
  • Jason Terry – Boston Celtics (3 years / $15.675 million)
  • Ray Allen – Miami Heat (2 years / $6.32 million)

All of these players are perimeter oriented bench scorers who are average to below average defenders playing for playoff teams.

Home vs. road splits – It’s no secret that players usually play better at home than on the road. There’s the familiarity factor of the arena, the fact that you get to sleep in your own bed, and the boost from the home crowd. As a bench player, Martin is needed to supplement the offense when the starters (namely, Durant and Westbrook) are out of the game. This is very important on the road, especially in the playoffs. Here’s a look at Martin’s home/road splits through the first 61 games of the season:

  • Home – 16.1 ppg on 47.9% FG, 50% 3ptFG, and 92.2% FT
  • Road – 12.7 ppg on 41.3% FG, 35.6% 3ptFG, and 86.7%FT

That’s a 21% drop off in scoring (and noticeable drops in every shooting percentage) outside of the friendly confines of Chesapeake Energy Arena. This may become a factor in the playoffs as the Thunder move forward.

CBA and luxury tax – This may be the biggest hindrance in keeping the Thunder from resigning Martin. Starting next season, the Thunder will have $54.19 million allocated to 4 players (Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins). That leaves about $16 million in pre-luxury tax cap space for 11 roster spots. While the Thunder may have to eventually get into the luxury tax to stay competitive, they will try to stave it off for as long as possible.

Prediction

A lot still remains to be seen concerning Martin and the Thunder. While Martin has performed well in the regular season for his career, he’s never been overtly tested in the playoffs. The last time Martin was on a team that made the playoffs, his teammates included Ron Artest, Bonzi Wells, Shareef Abdul Rahim, Mike Bibby, and Corliss Williamson. While he performed well in that one playoff series, it still remains to be seen how Martin will perform as the team advances in the playoffs.

artest martin

Martin seems to be getting more acclimated with his role off the bench. He’s developed a 2-man game with Nick Collison that defenses have to respect. And his ability to space the floor has opened up driving lanes for back-up pg Reggie Jackson. Martin also seems to be getting more used to his role as a shooter/floor spacer late in games with Durant and Westbrook on the floor.

When the Thunder acquired Martin before the season, I think they had every intention on keeping him and seeing how things played out throughout the season. Even though his $12.5 million expiring contract may have been a valuable commodity at the trading deadline, Martin’s name was never mentioned in any trade rumors leading up to the deadline. One of the reasons why the transition from Harden to Martin has been mostly seamless is because Martin provides a lot of the same production that Harden did. He’s an efficient shooter and a good scorer, who’s always looking to attack the defense. That’s a rare commodity to have when a team can rest its starters and still keep the defense on their heels with its second unit. While the trade brought big changes to the roster, the Thunder never had to change any of their game planning because of the similarities in the styles of play of Harden and Martin.

team

Martin, for his part, seems to be genuinely happy in Oklahoma City. I think there are several reasons for his happiness that may work in the Thunder’s favor in resigning Martin. First off, the pressure of being “the man” on the team is no longer on Martin. While Martin is a good scorer, I don’t think he ever embraced being the No.1 guy on a team. Some players are meant to be alpha males, while others are meant to be great role players. Martin seems to fall in the second category. Secondly, he’s playing on a championship contending team. I don’t know how Martin feels about his legacy, but playing for championships tends to enhance your legacy as a player. Thirdly, Martin may actually increase his longevity in the role that he is currently playing. Martin has always been known to be injury prone, playing in over 60 games only 5 times in his 10 year career (to include this season). Coming off the bench on a championship contender, Martin is playing the least amount of minutes since his 2nd season. And he’s going to the FT line a lot less, meaning that he is not driving or putting his body in harm’s way.

The most important factor in all of this is money. How much is Martin willing to sacrifice, and how much are the Thunder willing to offer? Every championship team has an elite bench scorer or a combination of capable bench scorers. I’m sure that even Martin knows he’s not worth the $12.5 million he’s currently getting paid. If the Thunder offer Martin anything comparable to what Jamal Crawford or Jason Terry are making, will he take that offer? Or will he jump at an offer from another team desperate for a shooting guard (Utah, Minnesota, Dallas) that will likely be substantially more than what the Thunder can offer? Another option for the Thunder is Jeremy Lamb. Is Oklahoma City willing to go into next season with Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson as the main components of their bench unit?

fingerroll martin

I think the Thunder see Martin as their firepower off the bench for the next few seasons. If they were willing to go into the luxury tax for Harden, you can be sure that they’ll keep Martin at a much lower price. My prediction is that Martin will sign a contract comparable to what Jason Terry got (possibly 3 years/ $16.5 million) in the offseason. Martin seems like a mature person that realistically knows his strengths and his weaknesses. He knows that this as a great opportunity to play on a team, and in situations, that matter. In the end, I think he’ll choose legacy and longevity over money.