Tag Archives: David Stern

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 June 2017

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Enes Kanter thinks Russell Westbrook will finish out his career in Oklahoma City: “Enes Kanter has been very outspoken this summer, but this time it was about Russell Westbrook. In an interview with SI.com published Thursday, the Thunder center said he thinks Westbrook, who isn’t a free agent this summer but is eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Exception contract which would keep him in Oklahoma City an additional five years, will stay with the Thunder his entire career. “One thing I saw about him is he’s a loyal guy,” Kanter said. “I understand he’s from L.A., he loves L.A., he goes to L.A. every summer, but he’s a loyal player. “I think he’s gonna finish his career in Oklahoma City.”

In the midst of a Jerry West to LA Clippers article, we start to see the bread crumb-like rumors of Blake Griffin possibly going to Oklahoma City: “Paul also has plans to talk with the Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets, one executive said. Griffin can sign a five-year deal worth $175 million with L.A., or sign a four-year deal worth $130 million with another team. The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder are two teams that will make a bid for Griffin, according to several executives.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 16 June 2017

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

hurricane katrina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

chris paul okc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

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5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run

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 months, 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.

“What about Oklahoma City?”

Those four words are probably the most important words ever uttered when it comes to professional basketball in the state of Oklahoma. Those words were mentioned in a conversation then NBA Commissioner David Stern had with then New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn. The context of the conversation occurred shortly after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in September of 2005. With much of the city destroyed and many of its citizens in exile to different parts of the country, the city of New Orleans was in no position to support either of their pro teams (the Hornets and the Saints). As Stern and Shinn were going to a list of contingency plans, Stern uttered those fateful words to Shinn.

hurricane katrina

A lawyer by trade, Stern has always shown the chops to be prepared for any situation, and to be ready with a definitive solution. When he asked Shinn about Oklahoma City, it wasn’t asked as  inquiry. It was asked as rhetoric. Stern knew what cities were hypothetically viable to support an NBA franchise in the short term. People tend to think the only thing needed to support a pro-sports franchise is population and a venue. But there’s so much more to the equation than that. Of course, you have to have the numbers (citizens). The more people in a given area, the more it is likely that 19,000 people will purchase tickets and attend games. You have to have an arena that is technologically up to date (availability of HD cables), and able to produce revenue outside of the NBA product (in-arena restaurants, kiosks, box seats, etc.). The city has to have a business community that is willing to take risks to cover the team’s operational costs if things don’t go as planned. And you have to have a fan base that is starved to support a professional team, no matter what the circumstances or parameters are.

A few months before Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, then Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett made a trek to New York to discuss the possibilities of Oklahoma City someday being considered as an expansion or relocation site. He had a brand new state of the art arena and business leaders willing to assist with money and influence. But as Cornett later quipped in an interview with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports, “…the prometrics weren’t in our favor. We had no track record of major pro sports. Stern couldn’t have been kinder, but he left us with no hope for a team.” But alas, every garden starts with but a single seed. Stern, in his due diligence, probably heeded Cornett’s request and did some research of his own.

Some of the businessmen in the Oklahoma City area had previously had dealings with Stern and the NBA, so it wasn’t like OKC was a complete anomaly to the Commissioner. One of those businessmen was Clay Bennett, who once was a principal owner of the San Antonio Spurs in the 90’s and was the team’s representative at the NBA’s Board of Governors. Bennett probably kept the words Oklahoma City within an earshot of Stern every time they spoke. Even though the “prometrics weren’t in (OKC’s) favor” as Mayor Cornett stated, the fact that Oklahoma City was trying (MAPS I and II, Ford Center, downtown renovation), and was constantly being mentioned by associates of Stern probably kept the city in the back of Stern’s mind.

stern shinn oklahoma city hornets

So when Stern proposed that question to Shinn, he knew that he would be met with some opposition. As soon as you mention Oklahoma, most people outside of the region think of 3 things:  The Dust Bowl, the musical, and the Murrah building bombing. A progressive city was probably not on the list of adjectives to describe Oklahoma City. But Stern had already done his research and knew that OKC already had most of the components in place to be a successful temporary relocation site. They had the venue, just enough citizens in the metro and surrounding areas, and the business leaders. All he needed to do was convince Shinn that this would be a viable relocation site.

As is the case with the spirit of Oklahoma, when we are given a chance, we usually shine. When Cornett and Bennett made their presentation to Shinn, he was blown aback with the viability of this option. The business leaders of the City, led by Bennett, provided Shinn with a revenue guarantee. Basically, the business leaders would foot the bill if certain revenue goals were not met. With a new arena, the backing of the City’s business leaders and Stern, and not many other viable options, the decision was made to grant Oklahoma City 35 guaranteed home games for the 2005-06 NBA season.

chris paul oklahoma city hornets

With that, OKC was welcomed into the professional sports brotherhood, even if it was only temporary. And Oklahomans voraciously ate it up. We had always wanted to eat at the big boy table, and now, from out of nowhere, this opportunity was bestowed upon us. Fans came in flocks to attend a New Orleans/Oklahoma City (NOK) Hornets game. The uncertainty of how long the team would stay kept some people from becoming too attached to the team. But even with that, the team sold out over half of its games that were played in Oklahoma City. The Hornets, who had finished last in attendance the previous season, went from averaging 14,221 fans to 18,168 fans, which was a 78% increase.

With the revenue goals, not only met, but vastly exceeded, and New Orleans still in rebuild mode, the team and the NBA decided that Oklahoma City would get another season of Hornets basketball. With that increase in revenue, the team decided to trade for defensive center Tyson Chandler and sign sharp-shooter Peja Stojakovic to a near max contract. OKC would get 35 home games, while New Orleans would get the remaining 6 home games.

Attendance started strong, with OKC selling out 6 of their first 10 home games. But when the word came that it was a certainty that the Hornets would return to New Orleans, attendance, understandably, waned a bit. But it was during that time frame, that another domino got put into place.

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After failing to buy a majority stake of the Hornets from Shinn, Clay Bennett decided to set his sights on the Seattle Supersonics. The Sonics, and Stern for that matter, had been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the city over the viability of their venue, Key Arena. After putting the money up for the baseball stadium and the football stadium, the city was not in the mood to pay over $500 million to subsidize another arena.

The team’s then owner Howard Schultz was losing money because of the team’s lease with the arena, and because of attendance issues. He sold the team to an outsider hoping that even the veiled threat of relocation would send the city into action to build a brand new arena. Instead, the city passed Initiative-91 which prohibited Seattle from supporting teams with city tax dollars. This initiative basically doomed any new stadium being built in the city of Seattle.

Clay Bennett gave the city an ultimatum of 12 months to approve a plan for a new arena. When that time ran its course, he put in motion plans to move the team to Oklahoma City. He was met with opposition and litigation, but in the end, the city felt it would be better if Bennett payed a hefty sum to get out of the lease instead of waiting the lease out and getting nothing in return.

bennett silver stern nba thunder

Adam Silver took over for Stern as NBA Commissioner on February 1st, 2014. But much like the space between presidential election day and presidential inauguration day, the real Silver era doesn’t begin until after the All-Star break. This space in between from Feb 1st – 14th is more of a hybrid era where we praise the exiting commish and wonder what the new commish has in store.

So in this hybrid period, I just wanted to say to Mr. Stern, “Thank you.” Thank you for giving Oklahoma City a chance at proving it’s worth as a pro-sports city. The process of OKC getting a team was a messy mixture of tragedy, finances, and politics. A lot like Marlon Brando’s character in The Godfather, Stern acted as an objective facilitator to Oklahoma City and helped us step into the world of professional sports.

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

kd russ

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  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.

For the first defining moment, you have to, of course, start at the beginning. But, it’s not the beginning that you think. While the Thunder were established in 2008, the road to having them in OKC began in December 1994. It was during that time that Timothy McVeigh visited and decided that the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building would be the site of his mayhem.

After meticulously planning and gathering the necessary materials, McVeigh, and his accomplice Terry Nichols, put their plan into action for April of 1995. They rented a Ryder moving truck on April 15th in Kansas and packed it with its deadly payload on the 17th and 18th. The next day, they drove down to Oklahoma City where, at 9:02 AM, they detonated the 4,800 pound monster that resided inside of the Ryder truck. The blast completely dismantled the north side of the building leaving countless people injured and 168 dead in its wake. It was the deadliest terroristic attack on US soil that the nation had seen up to that point.

okc bomb

Once the smoke cleared though, the choice was clear. We would not stand to be known by the evil of the tragedy, but by the fortitude with which we recovered. We chose to be known by the way we rose together, instead of by the way we momentarily got knocked down. That mindset, which comes naturally to Oklahomans, galvanized us to remember those lost, while also promising them that we would rise stronger than before. The possibilities were there, but the question was how would be we get there?

While the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) had already been approved for by the beginning of 1994, the bombing acted as a catalyst to make MAPS a rousing success. One of the things that MAPS brought with it was a state of the art arena called the Ford Center that could host concerts and sporting events, especially hockey and basketball. Opening in 2002, the Ford Center served its purpose hosting top notch concerts, preseason basketball games, and minor league hockey. Continue reading 5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings

2013 OKC Thunder Draft: A Postscript

2013 NBA Draft

The NBA draft to me is a time of hope. Whether your team has the first pick or the last pick in the draft, there’s always a sense of optimism that the guy your team drafted is destined for great things. And that’s why I’ve always enjoyed the draft. When the Thunder started becoming one of the better teams in the league, their position on the draft board started rising into the late first round. Their draft position from the last 5 seasons went as followed: 4th (still as the Seattle Supersonics), 3rd, 18th, 24th, and 28th. Even with those high draft numbers though, we’ve been able to get good players late in the draft, namely Reggie Jackson and Perry Jones III.

Flash back to October 28th, 2012. As soon as the details of the James Harden trade came out, and I saw that we got a first round pick from what was almost guaranteed to be a lottery team (Toronto) and a 2nd round pick, which was almost guaranteed to be in the lower to mid 30’s (Charlotte), I started paying more attention than usual to the 2013 NBA draft. I would visit sites dedicated specifically to the draft (NBADraft.net and DraftExpress.com) and would study up on the prospects. I knew how to spell Giannis Adetokunbo before he Greek-a-nized his last name to Antetokounmpo.

For a team that was on the cusp of a championship the season before, the lottery pick could have been the final piece in the championship puzzle. While it is true that the Thunder gave up a big piece in Harden, having a possible lottery pick may have made finding his replacement a bit easier. Also, the possibility of drafting a good player on a rookie salary for, at least, 4 seasons is like manna from heaven for a team teetering on the luxury tax line.

Needless to say, when the Thunder were eliminated in the 2nd round of the playoffs, my focus quickly switched to the NBA draft. With two picks in the first round, No. 12 and 29, and one early pick in the second round, No. 32, in what was deemed to be a weak draft, my expectations were that we weren’t going to be using all the picks. By most accounts, the teams in the top 5 weren’t necessarily exalting the selection of prospects at the top of the board. I thought the Thunder were going to do something big (i.e. trade up or trade for good veteran player).

It’s a funny thing about expectations, though. They can sometimes cloud your vision. When the picks started coming in, and guys that I thought were high on the Thunder’s draft board (Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, and CJ McCollum) started dropping, I thought it was prime time to make a trade and move up. But as those players started getting drafted, and every “We have a trade,” from David Stern yielded nothing for the Thunder, I started to feel disappointment.

len, noel, mclemore

As the draft went along and we only made minor moves, I literally had a feeling of utter dejection about this draft. I mean, this was the “Harden redemption” draft. We were supposed to get ourselves a blue chip prospect to join with Jeremy Lamb in order to have a feeling of success when it came to the James Harden trade. And it didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the players we drafted. It just felt like we let a golden opportunity go by without even trying to do anything.

But, alas, a little bit of sleep and a little bit of retrospect usually puts things into perspective. The more I thought about the players we got in this draft, the more I liked it. First off, this was not your draft if you are into instant gratification. This was a developmental draft, just like the last two drafts for the Thunder have been developmental drafts (Jackson, Lamb, and Jones III). As I analyzed this draft, I saw that we obtained players that will greatly help us in the future.

 

No. 12 – Steven Adams – C, University of Pittsburgh

adams draft

The Thunder don’t necessarily have a good track record with it comes to centers. Since they’ve arrived in Oklahoma City, the Thunder have drafted two flame-outs and one Eurostash: Byron Mullens, Cole Aldrich, and Tibor Pleiss. The carryovers from the Seattle days (Mouhamed Sene, Robert Swift, and Johan Petro) were 21 feet of nothingness, and the current placeholder, Kendrick Perkins, just posted a negative PER in the playoffs. To say that the center position is a position of need is an understatement.

The 7 footer from New Zealand is a late bloomer, but has the tools to be successful in the NBA. He’s an athletic big man with quick feet known for his defense. He won’t be asked to contribute immediately and may spend a good deal of his rookie season in Tulsa playing for the Tulsa 66ers. With two of the top 10 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder don’t necessarily need an offensive savant in the middle. What they do need is someone that can move around, play defense, grab rebounds, catch a pass, and finish when they are within 5 feet of the basket. I have no doubt that Adams will be able to do that.

 

No. 26 – Andre Roberson – SF-PF, University of Colorado

Roberson from the University of Colorado shakes hands with NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Timberwolves as the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft in Brooklyn

This pick was a bit of head-scratcher to me. Not necessarily the pick itself, but the fact that the Thunder moved up 3 spots (albeit just for cash) to make the selection. Roberson was creeping up on every mock drafts, but wasn’t in line to be picked in the first round. Every mock draft had him falling to the beginning of the second round. Why the Thunder felt the need to move up to grab him? We may never know. Being that he is a Kawhi Leonard-like player, maybe the Thunder caught wind that the San Antonio Spurs were looking to draft him with the 28th pick.

Roberson is a bit of an enigma. He’s 6’7, but has a 6’11 wingspan and was second in the NCAA in rebounding at 11.2 per game. Also, he’s one of the premier defenders in college. Those traits usually translate very well to the pro game. His offensive game is a different story. He struggles for consistency on the perimeter, but excels if he gets close to basket on dribble drives, cuts, and offensive put back. Because of this, he is often compared to Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman.

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In a system and on a team that values players that can guard multiple positions, Roberson should eventually find a spot in the rotation as a defender. It wouldn’t surprise me if Roberson saw the most minutes with the Thunder of all the Thunder rookies.

 

No. 32 – Alex Abrines – SG-SF, FC Barcelona (Spanish ACB League)

alex abrines

Abrines is a stash pick that will probably stay in Europe for 1-2 more seasons. He asked teams not to drat him late in the first round, as the guaranteed money would be less and he would probably have to fit some of the bill for his buyout. The Thunder took a chance and drafted him with the second pick of the second round. He is a smooth shooting wing player with a flair for the dramatic that many have compared to Rudy Fernandez and Drazen Petrovic.

At 19 years of age, Abrines will have to improve his game and strengthen his body before he’ll be able to compete in the NBA. The only negative for the Thunder is that Abrines is young enough to improve to the point where going the NBA would not make financial sense, causing him to stay in Europe for the rest of his professional career.

 

No. 40 – Grant Jerrett – PF, University of Arizona (selected by Portland, traded to Oklahoma City for cash considerations)

grant jerrett

Just when I thought there was no way we would draft three rookies to actually play on the team this upcoming season, the team goes and acquires a shooting big man in the 2nd round. At 6’10, Jerrett showed great potential as a shooter and as a stretch 4 in the NBA. At this point though, perimeter shooting is his only noticeable strength. Jerrett has a tool the team needs, but will need to put in a lot of work to make the opening day roster. He may be a Ryan Anderson-type player, but he may have benefited from another season in college. If his strengths don’t outweigh his weaknesses in Summer League and during the preseason, Jarrett, as a second rounder, is a good candidate to not make the team.

thunder team

Surprisingly, this draft said more about the players already on the team than those that were drafted. The team’s unwillingness to part with Jackson, Lamb, or Jones III to move up showed the confidence the team has in the young guys, and shows how the team values cohesiveness and development. With three rookies on the roster, look for the team to try to sign one or two veteran free agents to even out the youth on the bench.

Summer League: Hope Springs Eternal

One of my favorite things about the offseason is Summer League. Everything is so optimistic during this time of year. That late 2nd rounder you got from another team for cash considerations? Of course he’s going to become a 3-time All Star for you. The combo guard you took with the 27th pick? You’d be crazy not to think he’s isn’t going to average 20 ppg this upcoming season. The 2nd year player who sat at the end of the bench all of his rookie season, and was the team’s honorary “human victory cigar”? Yep, he’s going to make the leap. Everything about Summer League is based on potential and hope.

In reality though, 80% of the players in Summer League will never get a whiff of the NBA. If you follow your team as voraciously as I do, you’ll learn the players’ names and then forget them just as quickly when Summer League ends. The only ones that stick in my mind are the ones that actually make the team, and the ones that end up with the Thunder’s D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers. And it truly is a shame, because for 99% of us fans, these players are just advancing to a point in their basketball careers that we could only dream of advancing to. There really are some good basketball players in Summer League, but like any other situation in life, if they are not cultivated in the right system, they go to waste. 

That’s why I love cheering for the Thunder during Summer League. This is a team that takes pride in cultivating players and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication. In 2011, Robert Vaden, our 2009 2nd round pick, was signed to play the final week of the season and was added to the playoff roster for the Thunder. Did he ever play an actual game for the Thunder? No, but he got to practice with the team, sit on the bench in a suit,  and cash a couple paychecks signed by Clayton Bennett and David Stern. Last season, our 2nd round pick from 2010, a little known forward from Florida State named Ryan Reid was signed at the beginning of the season. He actually played in a couple games and averaged 1.6 points. 

This year’s squad features a guy the team is grooming to become the back-up center (Cole Aldrich), a guy they are grooming to possibly become the back-up point guard one day (Reggie Jackson), a guy who could be an asset if injuries ravage the team (Lazar Hayward), and a rookie they are grooming to possibly become a rotational big someday (Perry Jones III). These players are locks to be on the opening day roster, barring any trades. They are in town to either sharpen their skills or test new skills. 

The other guys, the ones I like to call the Fringers, are usually just on the outside looking in. Back on the Thunder squad is Ryan Reid, trying to make it back to the NBA after being cut in the middle of last season to make room for seasoned veteran Derek Fisher. Another guy battling for a roster spot is Latavious Williams. This athletic forward made a bit of history in 2009, becoming the first high schooler to be drafted straight out of high school into the NBA Developmental League. The next season, when he became eligible to be drafted into the NBA, he was selected by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round, and was immediately traded to the Thunder. After playing one more season in the D-League, Williams signed to play for FIATC Joventud in Spain last season, winning Most Spectacular Player of the ACB League. Another player trying to get back into the league is Morris Almond, who is something of an NBDL superstar, but has never quite put it all together in the NBA. Basically, 3 guys possibly battling for one roster spot. 

Then, there are the Dreamers. The guys we should all be cheering for, because they remind us of our short lived hoop dreams. Kent Bazemore, Dwight Buycks, Marquez Haynes, John Holland, James Mays, Gary McGhee, and Garrett Temple. Remember those names, because you probably won’t hear of them ever again. Is there a chance some of them will make it as end of the bench guys in the league? Sure. And they’ll probably have a great story to tell about their journey to the NBA. But for the most parts, these guys will fade into overseas and D-League rosters. 

Such is the life of most professional basketball players. Always remember, that professional doesn’t just mean NBA. The players that play in the Philippines for pay are also considered professionals. As are the ones that play in Iran. And the ones in Mexico. The road in the journey to do something you love isn’t always paved in gold and silver. And it very rarely is a straight line. So I commend and salute the Fringers and the Dreamers for doing what they love, even if the road is full of potholes and roadblocks. So keep on hooping, gentlemen, because if many of us were given that opportunity, we’d be doing the same thing.

Occupy NBA: How Twitter helped the fans have a voice in this lockout.

In watching some of the pointless Occupy ____(insert city)____ protests that have gone on for the past month and a half, I have sometimes wondered what it would look like if NBA fans staged their own Occupy NBA protest during the lockout. Would we march at the hotel that the players’ union and owners were meeting at in New York? Or at NBA HQ in New York? Or at the court house in Minnesota where the anti-trust lawsuits would be taking place at? Instead of hippies and out of work yuppies, I could see a whole bunch of middle-aged men with their basketball jerseys on, dribbling basketballs throughout the parking lot. I could see young men trucking in portable goals and holding 3 on 3 tournaments in protest of the lockout. I could see someone bringing out a boombox and jamming to John Tesh’s Roundball Rock. But alas, that takes too much time and money to protest like that, and NBA fans have to do something to pay for the season tickets and NBA League Pass that they have. Instead, NBA fans protested in a new manner. They took their protesting to Twitter. And you know what, it actually had an impact. 

Twitter and the NBA is a match made in heaven. In all of the sport leagues, NBA players are the most accessible. They don’t wear helmets so it’s easy to see and recognize the players. They don’t have heavy armor on, so it’s easy for fans to try and dissect the meaning of their tattoos and get deeper into the psyche of that player. Because of this, NBA fans develop more of a connection, whether real or fantasized, with players than do the fans of other sports leagues. I love the Oklahoma Sooners football team, but I couldn’t pick their center, Ben Habern, out of a lineup if I tried. But I could recognize Minnesota’s back up center (Nikola Pekovic) in a crowded mall if I saw him. 

Another thing that is instantly recognizable about the NBA and its players through Twitter, is that they are all friends. The basketball culture is completely different than the football culture and the baseball culture. Because these players have been playing together in AAU and cross country camps for the better part of their high school careers, there develops a strong common bond that unites these players together as they move on in their respective basketball journeys. And it becomes very apparent on Twitter, as players from different teams communicate with each other more often then they they probably do with their own mothers. 

When you add the fact that fans can now actually communicate with your favorite players, that brings NBA fandom to another level. So, it was only a matter of time before NBA fans would take to Twitter to a) express their displeasure with the lockout or b) express their support to the players. Most players dismissed anything the fans said, but some players, Thunder center Nazr Mohammed, in particular, took to the Twitter-waves to quell any misunderstandings and explain to fans exactly what the players had given up and why they were fighting so hard. For a while, this actually worked in the players’ favor, as they were getting most of the public sentiment. But as the lockout dragged on, fans, and even some players, grew more and more frustrated, and took to the Twitter-waves to express that angst. 

But not only were fans and players able to use Twitter to express their feelings, basketball sportswriters also became primetime commodities during the lockout, especially when there was a meeting between the two sides happening. What used to be interesting tidbits that would appear in books written 10 years after an event, became instant news once it happens (i.e. Dwayne Wade’s blow-up against David Stern, Stern going home with the flu, Michael Jordan going all Scarface on the players that adored him and playing “the bad guy”, the players’ “STAND” shirts, etc.). Howard Beck, David Aldridge, Marc Stein, Larry Coon, and Chris Sheridan all became my new best friends every time the two sides had one of their meetings. These sportswriters provided a riveting play by play of legal negotiations as they were happening. They gave the back drops to what was going on, like who stepped out and why they stepped out. I, for one, took it all in. I was entranced by these negotiations and found myself almost wanting the lockout to continue so that I could “hear” the play by play of the negotiations by the sportswriters. Plus it was fun to hear FalseHoop and his followers come up with #ReasonsForLongLockoutMeeting. 

This all led to instant fan reaction. There was no need for sportswriters to put up surveys or take polls. The pulse of the fans was on full display, live and direct, with their tweets of displeasure and support. After each meeting that ended in disappointment, the pulse of the fans became more and more frustrated. Even worse for the NBA, some of the fans were becoming more and more apathetic. Don’t discount for a second the impact this had on Stern and the owners. With all the talk of a nuclear winter, the NBA did not want to turn into the NHL and have to play games on ION or SiTV when they came back a year or two later. Instead, they went back to the table, made a couple concessions, made the players feel better, and came to an agreement. And guess where I heard it first…….on Twitter.

Now It Feels Real

01 November 2011

Dear NBA (Players, Owners, David Stern, Billy Hunter, Derek Fisher, Adam Silver, et al.),

What the hell is going on? It’s November 1st and I am not watching NBA Basketball. I should be watching the on-going rivalry between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers. I should be watching Dirk Nowitzki and the world champion Dallas Mavericks receive their well deserved championship rings during what was sure to be a raucous ring ceremony at home. Instead, I’ll probably go home and watch the new episodes of NCIS and NCIS:Los Angeles that I DVR’ed.

For the past 4 months we’ve been hearing about the lockout. BRI this. 50/50 split that. System issues. Hard caps. Soft caps. Flex caps. Decertification. Amnesty. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I feel that, in that time, I have actually become pretty proficient in labor law. I’ve explained the lockout to numerous people and have sounded more and more knowledgeable everytime I explain it. But its always felt like I was reading up on something that wasn’t real. Like I was reading a Hitchcock novel or something. You read it. You begin to gain some insight. But you never really process it as real. Well, I checked the future schedule for TNT, and it didn’t have any NBA basketball games on. It has officially become real.

So, there you go NBA. On a night where I, and most basketball fans (hardcore or fair-weather), should have been glued to our TV sets watching these 2 great games (plus one other game that we would’ve gotten on the free, beginning of the season preview of NBA League Pass), we are instead looking for alternatives. Tonight was the perfect night for an opener. No meaningful football games. The hype over LSU/Alabama still has not reached a frenzied state. The World Series is over. And I still can’t find a hockey game on cable or satellite TV to save my life. You had the slate all to yourselves……….and you blew it. You literally puked all over yourself in front of your hot prom date. Ben Stiller’s teenage character on ‘Something About Mary’ is literally laughing at how bad you blew it, and we know what he did to himself on prom night.

Let’s take a look at 10 storylines that would have dominated on Tuesday, November 1st 2011:

1. Dallas receiving their championship rings in their home/NBA opener with Mark Cuban hugging David Stern.

2. Will the Bulls continue their torrid run that began in the 2nd half of last season?

3. How will MVP Derrick Rose improve upon last season?

4. After years of epic playoff failure, how did Dirk Nowitzki spend this offseason. (He usually retreats back to Germany and engages in soul-searching.)

5. Will this be the year that age will finally begin to affect Kobe’s game, or will he find new ways to dominate? (On a related note, how will his new German-engineered plasma help his game?)

6. Can the Lakers get back on top for one final dynastic run?

7. Can the Thunder finally break-through and take the West?

8. Can Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play their games and succeed on the same team?

9. How has KD, through his streetball tour offseason, improved his game.

10. How will a completely healthy Kendrick Perkins help the Thunder?

11. How will the rebuilding Jazz look, with rookies Alec Burk and Enes Kanter being the new faces in town?

12. The awesomeness of seeing “World Peace” on the back of someone’s jersey…..especially when that someone is crazy Uncle Ron-Ron.

13. Bonus – How did Hasheem Thabeet perform?

That’s 13 story lines about 3 games on a Tuesday night. A TUESDAY NIGHT, for goodness sakes! What other awesome thing is there to do on a Tuesday night? I’m a basketball junkie, so I’ll come back whenever it does. But, those fringe fans (the ones that actually debate whether to watch the game or Dancing With The Stars), those are the fans that the NBA will continue to lose as we move forward in this lockout. I should have been watching my team play their rivals this evening. Instead, I’m reading an article about Kevin Durant and Lebron James planning an exhibition flag football game, while watching NCIS. This is not how I envisioned my Novemeber 1st evening when the schedule first came out in mid-July. Gentlemen, we have our first real casualty of this fight. Let’s end this and bring peace to the land.

Signed,

A fan (not that you care that much)

Possibility of NBA players hooping overseas

The NBA players and owners currently find themselves in a labor dispute, in which the owners locked the players out on July 1st. This is your basic negotiating ploy by the owners to bleed the players until they finally succumb to “poverty” and come back to the negotiating table with less of a leg to stand on. It happens in every labor dispute where players are locked out. The players, especially mid-tier players and below (aka the majority), eventually run out of revenue streams and plead with the union head to try and strike a deal, regardless of how bad it is. But what happens if the revenue stream doesn’t stop for some of those players? What happens if a small contingent of those players happen to find an alternate source of income that can supplement them through the “tough” times? This is the owners’ worst nightmare and something that no ownership group in any of the 4 major US sports has ever faced.

One of the major differences in this lockout and the ’99 lockout is the availability of leagues that offers comparable salaries and unique fringe benefits. The only drawback to those perks is the fact that the leagues are located throughout Europe and Asia. In an effort to keep up with the popularity of the NBA, basketball leagues throughout Eurasia have flourished with an organized govererning body (FIBA) and leagues and owners that are awashed with money. David Stern’s masterplan as NBA commissioner (globalization of his product), may now become one of his biggest nightmares in this labor dispute.

Globalization of Basketball

Blame it on one of the owners at the negotiating table. Michael Jordan’s meteoric rise in popularity coincided with many world events that brought American culture to the forefront on many foreign lands. The end of the Cold War, the advent of the internet and affordable satellite TV, and global capitalism all came together at the right time to foster an environment where the star of someone could shine brightest. Michael Jordan became the right guy at the right time and the NBA piggy-backed off of that. Then the Dream Team happened.

David Stern made sure to capitalize on the popularity of the Dream Team, and capitalize he has. While baseball remains a popular sport around the world, it is still mainly focused in the US, Latin American, and Japan. Hockey doesn’t really appeal to anyone who lives below the 50º N line on the map. And football, while extremely popular here, has never really taken off anywhere outside of the US. With its visible players, cheap equipment (trash can and paper, if necessary), ability to be a team sport or an individual activity, and uptempo pace, Stern has taken advantage of a product that can, and has, appealed to many. On top of that, most teams now have at least one foreign born player, with some of those players being bonafied superstars. And, add to that the fact that the NBA has taken advantage of technology and social media, in a way that no other sport has, and you have the makings of a global sport.

The globalization of the sport has a trickle down effect on other industries as well. With more and more foreigners wanting to buy their favorite player’s products, it was only a matter of time before companies
starting sending their product pushers over for promotional tours. We’ve seen Kevin Durant start making annual pilgrimages to China to promote his products. We’ve seen Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, and Dwayne Wade all make trips abroad to promote their products. We’ve seen the NBA send players over as goodwill ambassadors to impoverished areas (Basketball Without Borders). We’ve seen preseason contests between NBA teams and Euroleague teams, and we’ve seen preseason and regular season games played abroad. While this has been good for the brand, it has also taken away the isolationist advantage that owners once held on American players.

The Boogeyman isn’t that scary anymore

While there have been some great American players that have played overseas (Bill Bradley, Mike D’Antoni), most American players are overseas for one of two reasons; either they weren’t good enough to play in the NBA, but good enough to play overseas, or the money overseas was too good to pass up. In the past, American players did not go overseas because they wanted to play overseas. They went because it was the best option.

Brandon Jennings completely changed the game with his decision to forgo his freshman year in college, and instead, play in the Euroleague with Italian club Lottomatica Roma. After that one season, he was
drafted in the top 10 and has gone on to have a successful NBA career. During his time in Italy, he was not taken to a back alley and beaten by punks who were speaking a language he did not understand. He was not taken advantage of by foreign swindlers looking to make a quick buck. Instead, he was treated like any other rookie player and had to earn his playing time. He earned $1.65 million (tax-free!!) in salary AND was given $2 million by UnderArmour to promote their product overseas. And he was all of 19 years old.

With the advent of social media, 24/7 news, the Travel Channel, and easier accessibility, the world that used to seem so big 10 years ago, has now gotten exponentially smaller. The veil of secrecy that covered some places has now been lifted by this basketball globalization. This generation of players was raised in a smaller world, technologically speaking. Those encyclopedia pictures of some obscure land from the past, are now live satellite feeds on YahooMaps. They haven’t been influenced by the Cold War to fear anything across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Instead, they have been influenced by the Dream Team and their foreign teammates to explore the possibilities.

And look at what some of these teams are offering. Millions of dollars tax free. Free living quarters. Chauffeurs. Access to top chefs. Partial ownership in the team while there. It’s a plethora of abundance. Of course, players like Sonny Weems and Jannero Pargo aren’t being offered this entire deal, but players like Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, etc, would definitely be offered this deal. And those players would take it. Players with little, to no, baggage (i.e. wife, kids, etc) would love this opportunity. Players with families would treat it as a regular season, but a little further away. Its already known that some players don’t live where they play, especially if they are year to year veterans.

You don’t think Deron Williams spoke to ex-teammate Mehmet Okur or to ex-NBA great Allen Iverson about Turkey before making his decision to sign with Turkish club Beşiktaş? You don’t think that Kevin Durant and his people have developed contacts in China with his annual trips down there? Can you imagine how big KD would be in China if he played a couple games there with one of their clubs? While he plays in the one of the NBA’s smaller markets, in OKC, that wouldn’t really matter if he had a billion supporters in China. He’d be guaranteed the starting small forward in the All Star Game for the next 15 years. There’s already been chatter about Dwight Howard playing overseas if the lockout starts taking games away. He would conquer a market that Shaq never did, and you know he’d enjoying rubbing that into the Diesel’s face. The possibilities are all there. The fear that used to permeate their view of the world is no longer there. Deron Williams was the first domino to fall. Who will be next?