Tag Archives: Brooklyn Nets

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

thunder western conference champs

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings | 5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

The first part of this series focused on the beginnings of the Thunder organization in Oklahoma  City. For the second part of the series, I want to focus on what was the apex for these first five years of Thunder basketball, the 2012 NBA Finals. For a little comparative perspective, there are 9 NBA teams (in their current city/team format) that have never reached the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have never tasted the fine champagne of a conference championship. I’m excluding the Brooklyn Nets from the list because they’ve only been in Brooklyn for one season and went to the Finals as the New Jersey Nets twice. The proximity of Brooklyn, NY to Newark, NJ (about 15 miles apart) negates a huge change of fan base because of distance. I’m also excluding the Washington Wizards because they made it to the Finals as the Bullets, but decided to change the team’s name in 1997 due to the negative connotation between actual bullets and WashingtonDC being mentioned in the 90’s as the murder capital of the US.

The road to the Finals that season was like the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album; that is to say a long, strange trip. To begin with, it was a season that almost never was. Although this lockout never reached the DEFCON 4 levels the ’98-‘99 lockout did, it was still nerve-wracking to watch every labor meeting end with the two sides having separate press conferences to disparage the other side. It was like watching your parents, after a nasty divorce, arguing over your custody.

nba lockout

When you are a fan of a team that is drastically improving and just entering the prime of its championship window, the last thing you want is a work stoppage. Anything that cuts into a year of your team’s development when you are close to becoming a perennial contender is the ultimate of detriments. The chemistry built from the previous seasons basically gets thrown out the window if players are allowed to sit for 15-18 months with no access to team coaches or trainers. Not to mention, the veteran players would be a year older and there would be a ton of questions regarding roster moves.

But alas, on November 26th, 2011, after months of hearing about BRI, luxury tax, hard caps, and mid-level exceptions, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached between the NBA and the players’ union. Instead of playing an entire 82 game schedule, the regular season would be trimmed to 66 games with the first day of the season beginning on Christmas. If seeing your team in the NBA Finals is Christmas in June, then seeing the NBA come back from a lockout was, literally, Christmas on Christmas. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

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Mike Miller and the Thunder: Monkey Business

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As newly minted free agent Mike Miller continues to ponder which team he’ll play for in the future, the decision, itself, may not have anything to do with basketball. The rumors are that Miller is looking for guaranteed years, a little bit more money, and playing time for a contender. But the answer to the decision of which team Miller plays for may actually lie in something more universal to all people: the ability to own a pet. More specifically, a pet of one’s choosing.

One of the quirks of Miller is that he used to own a Java Macque, which is a type of monkey. Sonny, as the monkey was called, was basically Miller’s first child. He had his own room, wore diapers, and was involved in child-like shenanigans. In a hilarious story, Miller describes how Sonny escaped the house and created a bit of a ruckus in the neighborhood,

“You would always put him in his room, and then we’d lock the door, and then we’d put the dogs out, and then we’d lock the front door. Well, he found out how to unlock doors, unlocked his door, went downstairs, let the dogs in the house and opened the front door. About an hour later we got a call from our neighbors, saying, ‘Your monkey is riding your dogs around the neighborhood.’…I said, ‘C’mon y’all, y’all got to get in the house.”

Unfortunately, Miller had to give Sonny up to a primate sanctuary when he started having his own children. Animals can be very protective/jealous and can pose a risk to small children. But with Miller’s children getting older, he may be thinking about getting a monkey (or any other exotic pet, for that matter) in the future. That may possibly factor into his decision for his future team.

Charlotte Bobcats v Miami Heat

Every state has different laws when it comes to owning primates. Some states out right ban keeping primates as pets. With that in mind, here’s a look at the primate possession laws of the four states whose teams are bidding for Miller’s services. Continue reading Mike Miller and the Thunder: Monkey Business

Oklahoma City Thunder: Ballin’ on a budget

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Growing up, there were two things I was heavily into other than girls: hip-hop and basketball. I grew up in a time when hip-hop was having an internal war within itself. What started off as a rebellious outlet of expression for the poor and struggling turned into an over-expression of opulence and decadence. Hip-hop went from being mostly underground in the 80’s to completely mainstream in the 90’s. That entrance into mainstream pop culture led to many rappers getting rich quick. But as quickly as the money came, it left, leaving many rappers bankrupt and back to where they started.

During this same time period, many of my friends and I were just starting to work. And work means money management, right? Considering I have no idea where my teenage money went, I would say I did a poor job of managing my money. But it’s funny what sticks with you from your teenage years. One of my real good friends, Ryan Rivera, came up with a phrase that still resonates to this day, not only with myself, but also with my team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The phrase was, “Ballin’ on a budget”.

Basically, it’s finding ways to live good without destroying your bank account or credit score. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work. A person wanting to ball on a budget has to have patience and self control. The urge to “keep up with the Joneses” can completely destroy any plan to stay within a budget. Many people in the world live outside of their means in order to put on the face of success. Nice shiny things equates to success in the minds of many. Ballin’ on a budget also takes a lot of work. You can either go to Dillards and pay $80 for a Gucci shirt, or you can bargain hunt at Ross and pay $14.99 for the same or similar looking shirt. The work comes in looking for the right bargain. You almost have to become a hustler to succeed in this venture. Bargain deals may not be sexy, but they’ll get the job done with less overhead.

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It’s the position where the Thunder find themselves at this juncture. With two trips to the Western Conference Finals, one trip to the NBA Finals, and one number 1 seeding in the Western Conference within the last 3 seasons, this team is definitely ballin’. But they’ve been doing it on a budget to this point. Thunder GM Sam Presti has built a championship contending team through great drafting, salary wheelings and dealings, and difficult decision making.

The current collective bargaining agreement has made things a bit difficult for small market teams that are toeing the line between being tax payers and non-tax payers. What was intended to be a punitive rule to defend against overspending by big market teams, has turned into another instance of “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. The Brooklyn Nets have gone into this offseason acting like a cancer patient that just won the lottery screaming YOLO! at everyone he sees. The Nets are projected to pay upwards of $80 million dollars in luxury tax this season, but they have an owner who seems hellbent on winning a title, no matter the cost. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat have also been consistent payers of the luxury tax for the past 3 seasons.

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This brings up the difficult question: How are small market teams supposed to compete? In a recent interview with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird made no qualms about the state of his team and how it compares to the Oklahoma City Thunder,

“Our owners went out and have done everything they could this year so we could be up close to the tax. We just can’t fight the tax. It’s always going to be a disadvantage for us. I feel bad for Oklahoma. They had a great team and they had to make a trade (James Harden trade). They were right there. But we’re going to have to do the same in the future. We’re always fighting an uphill battle with revenues. But that’s part of who we are. And we do the best we can with what we have.”

The key to competing in sports as a small market is to remain patient and look for the right deals. The goal of a big market team is to win at any cost. But the goal of a small market team is to remain consistently sustainable. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Pacers, and Thunder thrive on being able to compete year in and year out. I believe that’s part of the reason why the Spurs, who have won 4 championships since 1999, have never been able to repeat. They’ve remained consistently great, but have never been able to consistently spend like the bigger market teams to continuously improve their team on a yearly basis with no regard for payroll. There comes a point every couple of seasons where the Spurs have to retool with younger, less expensive players. Eventually those younger players gain the necessary experience to perform in pressure filled moment, but the team suffers in those “learning seasons”.

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That’s what I call last season for the Thunder. It was a learning season. After the Harden trade, the team didn’t really hit a consistent rhythm until the end of the season. And with all that, they still ended up with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and were probably a Russell Westbrook knee injury away from making it to a 3rd consecutive Western Conference Final. Next season will probably be another learning season, as the bench lost its leading scorer when Kevin Martin signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With many fans clamoring for the Thunder to make a move to replace the scoring lost by Martin’s departure, the team has remained steadfast in trusting the young players they already have. Reggie Jackson showed last year in the playoffs what he is capable of after replacing Westbrook when he went down with his injury. Jeremy Lamb has performed well in Summer League and is expected to be a key contributor off the bench next season. And centers Steven Adams and Daniel Orton have performed surprisingly well in Summer League as rim protectors and, dare I say, offensive threats.

To many, this may seem like a cheap move by the owners of the team. With how good the team looked at the end of the regular season, it seemed like they were a resigned Martin and another bench scorer away from being an even stronger contender than they were when they made it to the Finals. With Martin’s bird rights in hand and the full MLE at their disposal, many thought the Thunder were finally going to jump into the deep end of the pool and join the other tax-paying teams. Instead, they allowed Martin to go to Minnesota in a sign and trade (that netted the Thunder a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception) and haven’t touched any of their available pre-tax cap space, which comes out to about $1.28 million dollars. That’s at least enough to sign someone to the veteran minimum. While the pool of free agents has gotten significantly smaller since July1st, there are still viable players available for the taking. So the question becomes: What are the Thunder waiting for?

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That is where the virtue of patience comes into play. For one thing, it’s only July. Many fans are panicking because of the moves made by other organizations, especially within the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers resigned Chris Paul, traded for Jared Dudley and JJ Reddick, and hired a much better coach in Doc Rivers. The new “it” team, the Houston Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstake and landed a couple other veteran free agents. But, championships aren’t won in July; they are won in June. A team can stack a roster full of great players in July that may amount to nothing more than a first round exit the next April. Secondly, the organization has never said that they won’t pay the tax. They know that to be competitive, you may have to eventually pay the tax. But if you don’t have to pay the tax yet, why pay it? Along with more punitive luxury tax restrictions, the new CBA also instituted a repeater tax for teams that have paid the luxury tax for 3 consecutive seasons. With the escalating salaries of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, the longer you can hold off on being a tax-payer, the more financially competitive you’ll be. And lastly, you still have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. As long as those three guys are healthy, I think the Thunder have a fighter’s chance in any game.

The Thunder aren’t cheap. They’re just smart about how they manage their money. They already have a large percentage of the cap space allotted to the 3 players they deem the most important to the franchise. The reason the Thunder are perceived as cheap, though, is because they never had to “buy” any of those players in free agency. They drafted and developed them, and luckily, they turned out to be superstars. But sometimes, difficult decisions need to be made in order to maintain the financial flexibility that is tantamount to small market team success. That’s what happened in the Harden trade. The Thunder had 4 great players, but couldn’t pay 4 near max to max contracts. Ibaka helped the team by taking what is perceived to be a less than market value contract. Hoping that Harden would do the same, the Thunder drew a line in the sand, and said “here’s our final offer, take it or leave it”. When Harden rejected the offer, the team made the decision to move Harden to Houston. The situation was never a choice between Ibaka or Harden. But to make the numbers work, the team needed Harden to leave some money on the table, and for a young guy heading into his first foray into free agency, he just couldn’t do that.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

Being a money conscious team is not sexy at all. Following a team that is run on the principles of patience and bargain shopping is not for the faint of heart. You watch other teams stack their teams with what you perceive to be good to great players, while you’re constantly having to hope that your players continue to improve in the offseason and that the veteran minimum center you signed actually can play the game of basketball. It’s a tough life, I know. But I wonder how Miami Marlins’ fans really feel about their two championships. The Marlins organization went all in for two runs at a title, and then completely dismantled the team after each title. While the feeling of winning a championship can never be replaced, I wonder what the feeling of watching your championship team be completely dismantled the following offseason feels like. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll ever have to know what that feels like.

Scoreboard Watching

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Last month of the season. A time where every game has meaning. Teams are either jockeying of playoff positioning or draft positioning. The worst teams are balancing between increasing their chances in the NBA draft lottery and creating a late season winning attitude to carry over into the next season. And the best teams are either trying to solidify their spot in the playoff rankings in an effort to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs, or trying to get into the playoffs.

For most teams in the playoff hunt, the only thing they are worried about is playoff seeding. For these teams, their draft picks for the next draft will be in the 15-30 range, and unfortunately, there aren’t too many franchise saviors drafted in that range. What these teams will end up drafting in this range are solid rotation players, Euro-stashes, and players that most fans won’t hear about again once their rookie contracts have run their course. But sometimes, due to prior trades or deals, some of these teams luck into a lottery pick.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder find themselves in the position of battling for the number 1 seed in the Western Conference and picking in the lottery in the following NBA draft. When the Thunder traded James Harden to the Houston Rockets, some of the assets that OKC obtained were draft picks. These are the 3 draft picks the Thunder obtained in that trade and their restrictions:

  • Dallas Mavericks 1st round pick (Top 20 protected until 2018)
  • Charlotte Bobcats 2nd round pick (no restrictions)
  • Toronto Raptors 1st round pick (Top 3 and 15-30 protected in 2013 and 2014, Top 2 and 15-30 protected in 2015 and 2016, Top 1 and 15-30 protected in 2017 and  2018, unprotected after that.)

The Dallas pick probably won’t come to fruition in this draft as Dallas is currently in the lottery and has a very small chance of even reaching the 21st pick if they make the playoffs. They would need to win out and have the 7 other playoff teams currently under 45 wins completely fall apart. A scenario that is very unlikely. The Toronto and Charlotte picks, on the other hand, are in play for the 2013 Draft. As a fan of the Thunder, this has made scoreboard watching in April must-see-TV.

Toronto Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Philadelphia, Washington, Minnesota, Sacramento, New Orleans, and Toronto)

Again, this pick is Top 3 and 15-30 protected for this upcoming draft. Since the Raptors aren’t making the playoffs this season, you can eliminate the 15-30 protection from their draft pick. As of April 1st, the Raptors are slated to pick No.8. With 8 games left, the Raptors have the possibility of picking as high as third (if they lose out) or as low as 13th (if they win out). The position of the Raptors’ pick is not only dependent on their play, but also on the play of the teams around Toronto in the league standings. This is how the teams listed above are currently slotted and how far apart they are in games as of April 1st:

11. Philadelphia          –

10. Washington           3

9. Minnesota               3

8. Toronto                   3.5

7. Sacramento             3.5

6. New Orleans           4.5

So there are currently 3.5 games separating Toronto from the Number 11 slot in the draft and 1 game separating Toronto from the Number 6 slot in the draft. A lot of movement is possible in the standings within the final 2 weeks of the season.

Charlotte Pick (Teams that warrant watching – Orlando and Charlotte)

The Charlotte pick is not protected meaning wherever Charlotte’s pick falls in the 2nd round, that’s where Oklahoma City will pick. Granted, 2nd round picks are more miss than hit. The players selected in the 2nd round of the NBA draft fall into one of four categories. You have the 1st round talents that slipped into the 2nd round for a myriad of reasons, the Euro-stashes, the upper classmen that may surprise and make it onto an NBA roster, and the players that are a reach. Usually, the higher you pick in the 2nd round, the higher the probability of success in the NBA.

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With the worst record in the NBA, the Charlotte Bobcats would get the 1st pick of the 2nd round (pick No. 31). Here’s a list of the last 5 players selected with the 31st pick:

  • 2008: Nikola Pekovic (currently with the Minnesota Timberwolves)
  • 2009: Jeff Pendergraph (currently with the Indiana Pacers)
  • 2010: Tibor Pleiss (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • 2011: Bojan Bogdanovic (still playing in Europe, rights owned by the Brooklyn Nets)
  • 2012: Jeffrey Taylor (currently with the Charlotte Bobcats)

These are 3 quality players that were obtained with the first pick in the 2nd round, along with two Euro-stashes whose NBA careers have yet to begin. The allure of a 2nd round pick is that the contract is not initially guaranteed. Every player selected in the first round gets a contract that is guaranteed in the first two seasons with team options for the next 2 seasons at a set salary depending on where they were drafted. Most second round players have to prove their worth in summer league and training camps before the team offers them a guaranteed contract.

For a while it appeared that Charlotte had a stranglehold on the bottom spot in the NBA. In the last few weeks, though, Orlando has lost their veteran interior presence (Glen Davis) to injury, traded their veteran wing/bench scorer (JJ Redick), and lost their starting shooting guard (Arron Afflalo) to injury. Combine that with the general rebuilding nature the franchise currently finds itself, and that has led to Orlando losing 9 of its last 10 games. Orlando trails Charlotte by only 1.5 games for the final spot in the NBA.

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Is there a difference between the 31st and 32nd pick? I don’t know, but of the last 5 players selected with the 32nd pick, only one is still the NBA (Dexter Pittman) and one is still in Europe. The other three have fizzled out and are currently out of the league. Based on this recent history, it is definitely better to get the 31st pick instead of the 32nd pick.

Number 1 seed in the Western Conference (Teams that warrant watching – San Antonio and Oklahoma City)

With the Oklahoma City Thunder trailing the San Antonio Spurs by one game for the top spot in the Western Conference, every game from here on out is of tantamount importance to both teams. The two teams play each other one more time on April 4th. As I mentioned in a previous article, home court advantage may be more important to the Thunder this season than it was last season, when the Thunder beat the No.1 seeded Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder had an overhaul to their bench before the season began, and have a couple unproven players (as far as playoff experience goes) that perform better at home than on the road.

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Every day that goes by offers a game that is of importance to the Thunder. It is a fun time to be a fan of the team, and a fan of the NBA in general. Whether it affects their future or present, you can be certain that Thunder fans will be watching that scoreboard every day until the season ends.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 32 of 82)

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  • When: Friday, 04 January 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Regardless of what you think of Nike’s “KD is not nice” campaign, imagine the fear in the Philadelphia 76ers’ locker room when A) they have to face the Thunder after a loss and B) they have to face Kevin Durant after the first ejection of his career. The Thunder come into the game having lost to the Brooklyn Nets in one of the more frustrating games of the season. After being down by 20+ in the first half, the Thunder battled back to tie the game in the 4th, only to completely squander the game through bad defense and questionable officiating.

The Thunder come into the game 24-7, tied for 1st in the Western Conference. They lead the season series 1-0, after beating the Sixers in Philadelphia in overtime 116-109.  Durant scored 37 and Russell Westbrook had 30 points in a game that the Thunder could never put the Sixers away. Every time the Thunder got a sizeable lead, Philly went on a run. The difference came in overtime in the form of four consecutive 3-pointers from 4 different Thunder players.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers come into the game with a 15-18 record, clinging on to the 8th spot in the East over Boston by percentage points. The Sixers are 3-9 in their last 12 games and have been plagued by lack of consistency on the offensive end, as evidenced by their 93.3 points per game average (good for 26th in the league). They are led by 4th year point guard Jrue Holiday who is blossoming this season, averaging 18.8 points, 9 assists, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He is joined in the backcourt by veteran Jason Richardson and 3rd year wingman Evan Turner, who is also starting to come into his own after struggling his first two seasons in the league. The front court is undersized, manned by versatile PF Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen. Their bench can be explosive led by Nick Young and Dorell Wright and center Spencer Hawes. Each of the bench players is capable of catching fire from 3-point land and putting up big numbers.

Probable Starters

Philadelphia 76ers

PG – Jrue Holiday

SG – Jason Richardson

SF – Evan Turner

PF – Thaddeus Young

C – Lavoy Allen

Oklahoma City Thunder

PG – Russell Westbrook

SG – Thabo Sefolosha

SF – Kevin Durant

PF – Serge Ibaka

C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to Victory

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1) Russell Westbrook vs. another UCLA point guard – Russell Westbrook has had a go of it lately versus his fellow Bruins point guards. He got torched by Darren Collison of the Dallas Mavericks for 32 points and 4 assists a week ago. Utah Jazz reserve guard Earl Watson had one of his higher assist games against the Thunder with 8 assists. The good news is that Westbrook held Holiday to 6 points on 3-11 shooting the last time they played.

Another note – Russell Westbrook shot over 50% in his last game. He has not shot over 50% in consecutive games this season. I think he’s due.

2) Serge Ibaka vs. Thaddeus Young – Young is one of those versatile, undersized power forwards that give Ibaka fits. He does most of his work in the midrange area, thus negating Ibaka’s biggest strength as a defender. This was on full display the last time the Sixers played the Thunder, as Young had 29 points and 15 rebounds. All the while, Ibaka had 0 blocks and 9 boards.

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3) Rebound advantage – The Thunder should take full advantage of the Sixers being undersized in the post. Young and Allen don’t go over 6’9, and while Hawes is a legit 7 footer, he spends a lot of his time on the perimeter, thus negating his offensive rebounding potential. Durant should take full advantage of this opportunity and drop down to the post to help out on the boards.