Tag Archives: Derrick Rose

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 25 July 2017

img_4133-5If this off-season goes on for any longer, the Thunder will be rumored to be acquiring Michael Jordan from the Charlotte Hornets. Here are today’s Rumblings…

Soooo, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder reportedly have have mutual interests: “For all that Melo has said about wanting to live in big cities and command large markets, this is a plausible possibility. The Knicks, now under Steve Mills and Scott Perry, could be asking for a lot in Melo deals with Houston or Cleveland. Just a week ago, Melo was all but wearing Rockets red, but after a change of leadership in New York the momentum on such a deal seems to have slowed. It’s probably a good sign for the Knicks as they try to either keep Melo or maximize his value in a trade.”

How Carmelo could fit with the Thunder: “Getting Anthony to OKC would have some of the same issues of the Blake Griffin trade that never happened. Even with questions about fit, Anthony would be a potentially lethal addition to the Thunder offense. Before Griffin, an Oklahoma City native, decided to re-sign a max contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, any deal he was involved in would have had to have been a sign-and-trade in which he’d said “send me to OKC.” Like Griffin, an Anthony trade hinges on the desire to play in Oklahoma City.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 25 July 2017

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls preview (Game 62 of 82)

Chicago Bulls v Oklahoma City Thunder

  • When: Thursday, 05 March 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

The Thunder had a whale of a fight last night from an unexpectedly game opponent. The Philadelphia 76ers don’t necessarily strike fear in the hearts of many teams in the league. But last night, the Sixers chose the Thunder to be their “NBA Finals Game 7” opponent. They shot 43% from deep with 15 makes. They took 44 free throws. They grabbed 16 offensive boards and out-rebounded the leading rebounding team by 4. They did all this, and yet, the Thunder still found a way to pull it out. The Thunder lose this game earlier in the season. It helps when a team has a peak performance Russell Westbrook on their roster. But it also helps when the depth of the team allows the back up point guard and shooting guard to be the 2nd and 3rd leading scorers on the team on a night when no starter, sans Westbrook, had double figures. The win last night will go a long way to solidifying the mindset of the Thunder moving forward. Everyone can contribute; everyone is needed.

This is the first meeting of the season between these two clubs. The Thunder swept the season series last year, winning both games by a margin of 12 points.

The Opponent

Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol

The Chicago Bulls come into the game with a 38-23 record, good for 2nd in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls are singing the same song they’ve sung that last 2 seasons: injuries to key players, good defensive unit, great effort, likely to fall short in the playoffs. The Bulls have improved offensively this season, scoring 101.2 points per game, good for 11th in the league. But the story of the season is still the injuries. Derrick Rose is out 4-6 weeks with a torn meniscus. Jimmy Butler is out 3-6 weeks with a sprained elbow. Taj Gibson is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained ankle. The team is currently starting a backcourt of Aaron Brooks and Tony Snell. That should tell you a lot about the current state of the Bulls. On the other wing, veteran Mike Dunleavy has returned from his own injury and continues to provide steady play from the 3 spot. Up front, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah form one of the better front court duos in the league. The injuries have sapped a lot of the Bulls’ depth, leaving rookie Nikola Mirotic and Kirk Heinrich as the only dependable players off the bench.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Chicago Bulls

  • PG – Aaron Brooks
  • SG – Tony Snell
  • SF – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • PF – Pau Gasol
  • C – Joakim Noah

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Guard Play – This game will be won in the backcourt. The Thunder have a decided advantage with Westbrook, Roberson, Dion Waiters, and DJ Augustin. Brooks and Heinrich are veterans, but have their short-comings and Snell is prone to mistakes.

2. Rebounding – This is a match-up of the top two rebounding teams in the league. The 76ers staying the game with the Thunder with their offensive rebounding and 3-point shooting. Give a wounded or bad team more offensive opportunities and they will eventually make you pay. The Thunder’s big men will have their hands full with Gasol and Noah. Then, when Mirotic comes in, one of the big men will have to float out to the perimeter to keep a hand in Mirotic’s face.

USP NBA: PLAYOFFS-OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT LOS ANGELES LAKERS S BKN USA CA

3. Welcome back, Craig Sager – After battling cancer, Craig Sager returns back to work tonight. Can’t wait to see what suit the man will be wearing.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 2 of 82)

1869200_SP_0511_clippers_WJS

  • When: Thursday, 30 October 2014 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where: Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

The Oklahoma City Thunder played great for the first 40 minutes of the night against Portland. Russell Westbrook was going all SuperNova on the Trailblazers, Lance Thomas (LANCE THOMAS!) was doing his best Kenneth Faried impression, and the defense was clamping down on the Portland shooters. Then the 4th quarter started. The defense lost its discipline, the role players started playing like role players, and Russell Westbrook, who was on the bench to begin the quarter, couldn’t bring the Thunder back with the Portland defense keying in on him. With all the odds that were stacked against the Thunder, this did feel like a bit of a moral victory. A loss was expected, but to have a 2 point lead heading into the 4th quarter, and then completely fall apart, was a bit disappointing. But as the venerable Swizz Beatz would say, “On to the next one.”

The Los Angeles Clippers open up their season in the same place and against the same team where it ended last season. The Thunder defeated the Clippers in 6 games in the 2nd round of last season’s playoffs. In what is quickly becoming a budding rivalry in the league, the Clippers are trying to get to where the Thunder have been. The teams split their regular season meetings last year, with each team winning one game on the other’s court.

The Opponent

griffin barnes jordan paul redick clippers

The Clippers finished last season 57-25, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. They defeated the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the playoffs as the series went the distance. They then lost to the Thunder in 6 games in the second round. The Clippers had the highest offensive rating in the league last season (112.1), and bring back most of the core from the previous year. Leading the charge is one of the best players in the league, Chris Paul. He led the league in assists per game (10.7) and steals per game (2.5). Joining Paul in the backcourt is sharp shooter JJ Redick who shot nearly 40% from 3-point territory last season. Up front, MVP candidate Blake Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan continue to cause havoc with their athleticism and size. The Clippers sport one of the better benches in the league, which features 2-time 6th Man of the Year award winner Jamal Crawford, Jordan Farmar, and stretch center Spencer Hawes.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Los Angeles Clippers

  • PG – Chris Paul
  • SG – JJ Redick
  • SF – Matt Barnes
  • PF – Blake Griffin
  • C – DeAndre Jordan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – Much like the Portland game, one of the keys to holding a high scoring offense in check is guarding the 3-point line. The Thunder did a good job of that for 3 quarters, but got undisciplined in the 4th quarter and paid a costly price. The Clippers have 6 players who shot at least 34% from deep last season. The perimeter defenders (especially Andre Roberson and Perry Jones) need to do a better job of staying with the shooters and not following the ball so much.

2. A little help – I don’t know if he is out of shape, hurt, or trying to do too much, but Ibaka did not look like himself last night. He was pump-faking and trying to create, which led to his team high 5 turnovers. He was hesitating on his outside shot, which is unlike him, and shot only 4/11. He may just be out of sync due to missing most of training camp. Hopefully, its something he can work through and correct as soon as possible. Perry Jones, after two great preseason games, looked very lost out there in the starting line-up. He shot 1-9 from the field and was spun around a couple times on the defensive end. Roberson was okay, but the Thunder may still need more from him, even if its as a slasher. You know the team is struggling a bit when Lance Thomas is the 2nd leading scorer on the team with 14 points. Westbrook will need more help this game. Speaking of Westbrook…

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers

3. Paul vs. Westbrook – Are there any more contenders for best point guard in the game? Maybe a healthy Derrick Rose, but for the most part, I think not. Last season’s dual was won by Westbrook in dominating fashion. Round 2 will likely be as entertaining.

Uncharted Waters: The Thunder and the Kevin Durant injury

durant thunder injury

In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.

Bad News First: The Negatives:

1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.

The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery.  I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?

brook lopez injury

2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.

A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.

3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.

Good News: The Positives

1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.

The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.

So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.

jackson ibaka jones thunder

2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.

Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.

The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.

3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.

westbrook mvp

In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Central Division

Central Divison Preview

1. Cleveland Cavaliers

lebron james varejao cavs

Last season: 33-49 (3rd in the Central Division, 10th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Brendan Haywood – Obtained in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets
  • LeBron James – Free agent signing
  • James Jones – Free agent signing
  • Kevin Love – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Shawn Marion – Free agent signing
  • Mike Miller – Free agent signing
  • John Lucas III – Obtained in a trade with the Utah Jazz

Key Departures:

  • Anthony Bennett – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Andrew Wiggins – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Spencer Hawes – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • C.J. Miles – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Tyler Zeller – Traded to the Boston Celtics
  • Alonzo Gee – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Sergey Karasev – Traded to the Brooklyn Nets
  • Luol Deng – Signed with the Miami Heat

Season Preview – No other team in the league made as big of an offseason improvement as the Cavaliers. The signing of James combined with the acquisition of Love immediately elevated the Cavs from lottery bound team to championship contender. The additions of Miller and Jones will provide the Cavs with the floor spacing they need to maximize the talents of LeBron, Love, and Kyrie Irving, who just finished an MVP campaign with Team USA in the FIBA World Cup. The one thing that can derail the Cavs, besides injuries, is the lack of experience from key players. The Cavs will be putting a lot of the responsibility on four players who have never sniffed the playoffs in their careers (Irving, Love, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson).

2014-15 will be successful if: The Cavs make it to the Finals. Winning the Finals would definitely be icing on the cake, but this team is looking to build experience for sustained future success in the next 5 seasons.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 58-24

2. Chicago Bulls

rose noah bulls

Last season: 48-34 (2nd in the Central Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Washington Wizards.

Key Additions:

  • Aaron Brooks – Free agent signing
  • Pau Gasol – Free agent signing
  • Doug McDermott – Draft (No. 11 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Nikola Mirotic – Signed Eurostash

Key Departures:

  • Carlos Boozer – Amnestied; then signed by the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Nazr Mohammed – Currently unsigned
  • D.J. Augustin – Signed with the Detroit Pistons

Season Preview – The success of the Bulls rests on the health of Derrick Rose. After basically missing the last two seasons, Rose showed some of the form that made him a league MVP 3 seasons ago during the FIBA World Cup. If Rose comes anywhere close to being that type of player, the Bulls will once again be listed as a championship contending team. The addition of Gasol and Mirotic bolsters a front line that was already one of the better ones in the league. And adding a shooter like McDermott, to bookend with Dunleavy, will make this team even more formidable if Rose returns to form. This team, with a healthy Rose, has a great balance of defense and offense that will lead them far if everything clicks.

2014-15 will be successful if: Derrick Rose remains healthy and the Bulls make it to the Finals.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 57-25

3. Detroit Pistons

pistons drummond monroe jennings caldwell pope

Last season: 29-53 (4th in the Central Divison, 11th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • D.J. Augustin – Free agent signing
  • Caron Butler – Free agent signing
  • Aaron Gray – Free agent signing
  • Jodie Meeks – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Charlie Villanueva – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Rodney Stuckey – Signed with the Indiana Pacers
  • Chauncey Billups – Retired

Season Preview – Last season, the Pistons were an inefficient bunch that relied too much on perimeter shooting from players who weren’t weren’t great at shooting. This season, new coach (and GM) Stan Van Gundy, decided to bring in some shooters to supply that need. Meeks and Butler will provide the spacing that Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe will need to operate inside. In addition, Brandon Jennings will be able to be more of a drive and dish point guard, instead of a “let it fly” point guard.

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 38-44

4. Indiana Pacers

paul george injury pacers

Last season: 56-26 (1st in the Central Divison, 1st in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • C.J. Miles – Free agent signing
  • Rodney Stuckey – Free agent signing
  • Damjan Rudez – European free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Evan Turner – Signed with the Boston Celtics
  • Lance Stephenson – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – The story of this upcoming season for the Pacers was written on August 1st, when Paul George broke both bones in his lower right leg in a freak accident during the Blue and White scrimmage for USA Basketball. With that, and the departure of Stephenson, any chance of the Pacers contending in the Eastern Conference went out of the window. Stephenson and George were the only players on the team capable of creating their own shots. This season, the Pacers will have to rely on Roy Hibbert, David West, and CJ Miles to provide any semblance of offense. Hence why I think they’ll struggle this year.

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 31-51

5. Milwaukee Bucks

parker bucks

Last season: 15-67 (5th in the Central Division, 15th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Jabari Parker – Draft (No. 2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerryd Bayless – Free agent signing
  • Jared Dudley – Obtained in a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Damien Inglis – Draft (No. 31 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Kendall Marshall – Claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Lakers

Key Departures:

  • Ramon Sessions – Unsigned
  • Ekpe Udoh – Signed with the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Carlos Delfino – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers
  • Miroslav Raduljica – Traded to the Los Angeles Clippers

Season Preview – Much like the Philadelphia 76ers, this season will be all about development for the young core of the Bucks. The Bucks seem to have their wings of the future in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Parker. This season will be about evaluating the point guard and post positions. The Bucks will win more games this season than last because Parker and Antetokounmpo will make winning plays, but the rest of the team will need to follow their lead.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Bucks’ core shows improvement in their development and they net another Top 5 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 21-61

Enjoy the Moment: Durant and the MVP

durant thunder

Since the NBA’s first season in 1955-56, there have been 58 MVP’s. Those MVP’s have been won by 29 different players in 19 different cities (four of which currently don’t have NBA franchises). Of the 30 teams in the current NBA, 15 of those cities have never experienced an MVP season by one of their players. So when the inevitable happens and Kevin Durant is named the 2013-14 NBA MVP, Oklahoma City will join an exclusive fraternity of cities that have experienced a magical individual season by one of their players.

Oklahoma City has been lucky enough, in its short time as an NBA franchise, to experience a Coach of  the Year (Brooks, 2010), a Sixth Man of the Year (Harden, 2012), and a Rookie of the Year (Paul, 2006 with the New Orleans/OKC Hornets). The ultimate goal as a sports franchise is to win a championship. But what are teams but a collection of individuals. And if your team, if your city, houses the best individual player in that sport, that is like winning a championship in and of itself.

When an MVP season plays out, you see it coming. Of the 450-500 players that cycle through the league in a given season, only about 2-3 players are deserving of even being considered for the top individual prize in the NBA. And if you, as a fan of that team, are lucky enough to enjoy that experience, then you need to savor it. Because for as much as we like to think that MVP’s and championships will beget more MVP’s and championship, the future is never a definite when it comes to sports. The Russell Westbrook injury last season taught us that. A twist of the knee here, a tweak of the back there, an argument with the front office, and that player could be gone in an instant. Prime example is the last man to win an MVP not named LeBron James. Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose won the MVP in his third season in the league. He looked well on his way to contending for (and possibly winning) multiple MVP’s. But you know the rest of the story. Injuries and re-injuries have completely derailed his career to the point where we wonder whether he’ll ever get back to the MVP form he had pre-injury.

It’s not everyday you get to witness greatness. There are plenty of good players in the league. In any given game, you may see a 20-point scorer, a double digit rounder, or a defensive maven. Most nights the names change. But for MVP candidates, that dominance is seen on a night in/night out basis, over the course of an entire season. That degree of excellence goes from late October usually into late May/early June. That consistency is probably the biggest factor in determining who is MVP-worthy and who isn’t. It’s easy to get up for a game against Miami on a prime time Thursday TNT telecast. It’s that much harder to get up for a Tuesday night game in January against the Milwaukee Bucks. But those select few do it every night.

durant lebron james thunder heat

Eat it up Oklahoma City. Our story is a weird one in which we were basically gift wrapped a once in a generation player. Most cities, when they first get a team, have to toil around in the dredges of the league before they finally find those couple of players that actually make them competitive. But OKC was like “insta-rice”. We got the team, popped in the microwave for one minute (season) and, Voila!, playoff contender. It happened so quickly, that media decided to call it the OKC model of team rebuilding. This model, though, only works if you get a player like Durant in your clutches. It will be very interesting to see where teams like Orlando, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and New Orleans stand in about 3 years when their rebuilds should start bearing fruit.

I always wonder how the OKC fan base will be react when this current run ends. Whether its in two years (a.k.a Durant’s free agency) or in 15 years, Thunder fans have been spoiled beyond belief. But this is the NBA, and success is very cyclical, especially for small market teams. Most Oklahoma fans suffer from what is locally called, the “Sooner mentality”. In three words, the Sooner mentality means “Championship, or bust!”. And we are starting to see that with Thunder fans. Lose a game in a series, and there is a section of fans that is clamoring for Scott Brooks’ head on a platter, and another section clamoring for Thunder GM Sam Presti to sign every available free agent, luxury tax and careful budgeting be damned. Those are the fans I wish I could grab by the shoulders, shake them a bit, look into their eyes, and say, “Stop worrying and enjoy this moment! It may repeat itself next season, but it also may be a once in a lifetime event”.

As we enjoy this moment, look back on the season that made Durant an MVP. Don’t focus on the numbers though. Even though the numbers improved, they don’t tell the entire story. Focus on the maturation of the man. Many players hit their head on ceilings they create because they get satisfied with what they’ve accomplished. Like the theme in the poem Ozymandias, they stand there relishing their accomplishments without realizing their satisfaction will eventually be their downfall. Durant could have been one of those players, and he still would have been considered great. But, instead, he took the hard lessons from the previous season and focused on how he could get better. It is a rare trait in a player to never find satisfaction in their successes. Instead of basking in the glow of their brilliance, they instead survey the field and know that others will be coming after what they have. LeBron James made that transition three seasons ago. Kobe Bryant before him. And Michael Jordan before him. This is the road the Durant is on, and luckily, for us, like Route 66 and I-44, that road runs straight through Oklahoma City. Congratulations Kevin. We are all proud of you.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Chicago Bulls preview (Game 67 of 82)

durant noah bulls thunder

  • When: Monday, 17 March 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: United Center, Chicago, IL

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Oklahoma City Thunder are now 0-1 when they are missing 3 starters this season. That’s some heavy fact finding right there. The loss last night doesn’t really bother me as much as the effort does. Many teams in the NBA will have a tough night when their starting PG, SG, and C are out. But most teams don’t have the supposed depth the Thunder have. That depth, though, is laced with a bunch of young players. That can be a gift and a curse. Teams like Miami, San Antonio, and the Clippers have veteran-laden benches with players that have started and starred before. But the Thunder bench consists of Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, Nick Collison, and a bunch of rookies and 2nd year players. When injuries push that pecking order up a bit, you can have nights of inconsistencies.

This will be the 2nd and final meeting of the regular season between these two teams. The Thunder won the first game in Oklahoma City 107-95. In that game, Kevin Durant had a near triple double with 32 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Russell Westbrook had a double double with 20 points and 10 assists. For the Bulls, Joakim Noah led the way with 23 points and 12 boards.

The Opponent

noah gibson butler dunleavy bulls

The Bulls this season have been a microcosm of the Bulls for the past 2 seasons. No Derrick Rose, lots of defense, great coaching, and a resilient bunch. That’s the Bulls in a nutshell. After losing Derrick Rose AGAIN! in late November for the rest of the season,  the Bulls went on a bit of a rough patch, losing 11 of their next 14. But Coach Thibodeau righted the ship, and the Bulls find themselves with a 37-29 record, good for 4th in the Eastern Conference. After trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Caveliers, the Bulls found themselves without a consistent scorer. Enter Joakim Noah. Noah has been a revelation this season as an offensive weapon; not necessarily a scorer, but more as a point center, registering 3 triple doubles. Kirk Heinrich, DJ Augustin, and Mike Dunleavy Jr. have done a good job on the perimeter, while Noah, Carols Boozer, and Taj Gibson have done their thing in the post. Their bench is a bit thin, but can produce points with Gibson and Augustin.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Chicago Bulls

  • PG – Kirk Heinrich
  • SG – Jimmy Butler
  • SF – Mike Dunleavy Jr.
  • PF – Carlos Boozer
  • C – Joakim Noah

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Turnovers – The Bulls aren’t going to score many points (93.4 points per game – 30th in the league), but they may not need to. Backed by the best defense in the league, in terms of opponents’ ppg, the Bulls ususally win close games because of their defense. One of their tenants is to defend the paint and force turnovers. The Thunder have a tendency to get a bit careless with the ball, while will create more opportunities for the Bulls on the offensive end.

butler thunder

2. The Bench – The showing in the Dallas game was atrocious, to put it nicely. But the bench has done a good job of bouncing back this season after bad performances. Here’s to a bounce back game.

3. The Duo – The Bulls don’t really have anyone that can stick with Westbrook and Durant on the offensive end. If these two do their thing, while getting others involved, it could be a difficult night for the Bulls.

Chicago Bulls vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 25 of 82)

rose westbrook

  • When: Thursday, 19 December 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The tale of Russell Westbrook is often intertwined with the tale of Derrick Rose. Both are hyperactive point guards who break down defenses by getting into the paint and causing chaos. It is in that chaos where they find most of their success. But those intertwined tales have now become cautionary tales within the past year. Both guards suffered and recovered from serious knee injuries. Both started the season. Only one is still playing.

The loss of Derrick Rose to a meniscus tear decimates any chance the Bulls had of coming out of the Eastern Conference. With that, another season (3 in a row) goes down the drain for a team that many had tabbed as a darkhorse contender. Now begins the internal struggle within the organization in choosing between rebuilding or regrouping.

This cautionary tale should remind Thunder fans of why the organization had to trade James Harden. With max contracts for Rose and Carlos Boozer, and near max contracts for Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, the devastating blow that was the ACL injury to Rose set the organization back at least a season. The meniscus tear to Rose is probably the coup de grace for this core group of Bulls players. Losing a main player is never easy for a franchise, but it is especially difficult when the team is financially handcuffed from making any moves that can help in the short term. With a similar salary cap structure to the Bulls, the Thunder decided that they couldn’t support 4 max or near max contracts plus the contract of Kendrick Perkins. The Harden trade provided the Thunder with not only salary cap relief, but also with assets to build a support system around the nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Chicago Bulls

  • PG – DJ Augustin
  • SG – Jimmy Butler
  • SF – Luol Deng
  • PF – Carlos Boozer
  • C – Joakim Noah

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Bench Play – One of the things that suffers when you have financial restraints on a team is the bench. With their inability to re-sign Nate Robinson and Marco Bellineli, the bench play for the Bulls is average at best. The Thunder may be able to pull away during those 2nd quarter / late 3rd quarter stretches when the bench is primarily playing.

lamb fisher ibaka thunder

2. Russ – With injuries to Rose and Kirk Heinrich, the Bulls have DJ Augustin and Marquis Teaque to man their point guard position. Feast, Russell.

3. Rebounding – The Bulls’ only saving grace may be rebounding. The front court combo of Boozer, Noah, and Taj Gibson can gobble up rebounds on any given night. Prevent this and you prevent any second chance opportunities for the Bulls.

Exit Interviews: Thunder roster and outlooks

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant walks with his head down after a teammate fouled a Memphis Grizzlies player in Game 5 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoffs in Oklahoma City.

With Oklahoma City’s 84-88 loss to the Memphis Grizzles in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semi-finals, the Thunder find themselves in an unfamiliar place: out of the playoffs before the conference finals even begin. As everyone knows, the major cause of that early exit was the season ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook in Game 2 of the Thunder’s first round match up against the Houston Rockets. After dispatching those pesky Rockets in 6 games, The Thunder found themselves matched up against one of the best defensive teams in the league. Though every game was close, the Thunder eventually succumbed due to late game execution issues and an inability to find a consistent secondary scorer to pair with Kevin Durant.

Whenever a season ends, be it in mid-April at the conclusion of the regular season or mid-June at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, every team holds exit interviews with each player and coach on their team. Exit interviews serve two purposes: either to tell the person what to work on for the next season or to advise the person of their intentions in regards to extensions or standing on the team. With the Thunder’s ouster, it’s time to hold exit interviews with certain people on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

brooks

  • Season Record – 60 – 22 (.732)
  • Season Review – Amid an earth shattering trade at the beginning of the season, Brooks kept the Thunder ship afloat with his calm demeanor and positive approach to player management. He fostered the chemistry that eventually formed from a team in flux and guided the Thunder to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the 2nd best record in the league. In the playoffs, though, after the loss of Westbrook, the simplistic formations on the offensive side of the ball played right into the Grizzlies hands. With them only having to control one superstar, the Grizzlies continuously harassed Durant while the offense looked completely out of sync at times.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $4.0 million
  • View from the Front Office – This coach is a rock of stability. He’s never too high and never too low, which is a positive trait for such a young team (yes, they are still young). He always protects his players in the public and in the media and never resorts to “media-driven” motivation tactics. He’s improved every year in the regular season and, if not for a freak injury to one of his star players, probably would’ve kept on that upward plane. His stubbornness is both a gift and a curse though. It gives the players a sense of comfort and organization, but it also neuters the development of some of the younger players on the NBA stage.
  • Future Outlook – A team doesn’t show 4 consecutive years of improvement on talent alone. Brooks has had as much a hand in the Thunder’s ascension as has Durant and Westbrook. But, this postseason has knocked a little of the luster off Brooks’ shine. His lack of a contingency plan when Westbrook went down may foreshadow the beginnings of an ugly truth. The realization that Brooks has entrusted the lion’s share of the offense on 2 players, while never developing a fall-safe system in case one of the two got hurt may eventually be his downfall.

Ronnie Brewer – Guard/Forward

brewer

  • Season Averages (w/OKC) – 10.1 mins /0.9 pts /2.9 rebs /0.7 asts /0.6 stls /0.0 blks (14 games)
  • Season Review – The Thunder obtained Brewer from the New York Knicks in a trade deadline deal for a 2014 2nd round pick. When he was first acquired, I had visions of Brewer being a big wing defender to help against the likes of Lebron James. But Brewer never saw much playing time and played in only one postseason game.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent
  • View from the Front Office – Brewer is a great end of the bench option as a big wing defender. But, offensively, he was atrocious. The hitch on his jumper seems to have gotten worse and his offensive confidence seems to have been shot on the few opportunities he had out there on the floor for the Thunder. Through the tough times though, Brewer remained a consummate professional and said all the right things in public.
  • Future Outlook – Ronnie Brewer, we hardly knew ya. Unfortunately, we never got to see if the acquisition of Brewer would be helpful against the Lebrons of the world. I hope he got to see the Murrah Building Memorial and the Museum of Osteology, because I don’t think he’ll be back in Oklahoma City next season.  

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison randolph

  • Season Averages – 19.5 mins /5.1 pts /4.1 rebs /1.5 asts /0.6 stls /0.4 blks
  • Season Review – Collison was one of the stabilizing forces for the Thunder when the trade at the beginning of the season went down. He anchored the bench unit until Kevin Martin started feeling comfortable with his role, and even developed a great 2-man game with Martin along the way. Collison did what does best throughout the season: rebound, play smart defense, and provide a little bit of offense whenever necessary.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $2.59 million
  • View from the Front Office – Though there are signs of slowing down, Collison is still performing at a high level for a back-up big man. Also, his decreasing salary is not a hindrance to the team’s cap structure. Has a future in coaching when his playing days are over with.  
  • Future Outlook – Collison is a main stay on the team. His small salary and production make him a must for a championship contending team that is hovering around the luxury tax line.

Kevin Durant – Forward

durant

  • Season Averages – 38.5 mins /28.1 pts /7.9 rebs /4.6 asts /1.4 stls /1.3 blks
  • Season Review – 50/40/90. That’s all you need to know about this season. Durant averaged career highs in assists, steals, and blocks, while decreasing his turnovers. He became amazingly efficient at scoring the basketball and could have averaged more points if he wanted to. Durant became more of a playmaker in the absence of James Harden and had the best season of his career.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $18.77 million
  • View from the Front Office – The team couldn’t ask more from their superstar player. A scoring savant that wants to be great at all facets of the game. Has a work ethic that matches his scoring ability. Consummate professional and image conscious. A dream to have on your team.
  • Future Outlook – Durant (along with Westbrook) will continue to be the pillars upon which the team’s championship aspirations will rest upon. Durant has improved some facet of his game every year since he got into the league, and there’s no reason to think he won’t do that during this offseason. I will say this though: Kevin, you’ve had a crazy 18 months of basketball with hardly any break. Rest this offseason. Work on getting stronger, but give your body the break it deserves.

Derek Fisher – Guard

d fisher

  • Season Averages (w/OKC) –14.4 mins /4.1 pts /0.9 rebs /0.7 asts /0.6 stls /0.0 blks
  • Season Review – For the second consecutive year, Fisher joined the Thunder after the trading deadline to help provide a spark off the bench. While he had some rough stretches shooting the ball while working himself back into shape, he eventually found his stroke in the playoffs, which proved to be very helpful when Westbrook went down with his injury.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent
  • View from the Front Office – Veteran leadership and outside shooting. Those are the things that Fisher brings to the table. Undersized combo guard that can burn red hot or ice cold. Like most of the vets on the team, provides the team with a calming presence. Defensively capable, but age and lack of height can get the best of him at times.
  • Future Outlook – It would not surprise me one bit if history repeated itself for a 3rd time next season. The players seem to enjoy Fisher’s presence and he fills a niche for the team. I think a lot will be dependent on roster spot availability and how the young guys develop (Lamb, Liggins, Jackson, and any future draft pick).

Serge Ibaka – Forward/Center

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Season Averages – 31.1 mins /13.2 pts /7.7 rebs /0.5 asts /0.4 stls /3.0 blks
  • Season Review – Ibaka was asked to step up offensively after the Harden trade, and he did, averaging career highs in points, FG attempts, 3pt FG attempts, and rebounds. He became one of the best mid-range shooters in the game and also added a corner 3 to his burgeoning repertoire. He became the mid-range release valve in the Thunder’s offense that had been missing since the team traded away Nenad Krstic two seasons ago. Ibaka also continued his dominance as a paint protector and continued his development as a one on one post defender. Ibaka’s effort on the defensive end earned him All-Defense 1st Team honors.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $12.5 million
  • View from the Front Office – One of the foundational players of the organization. He’s the superstar of defense and balances out the two offensive superstars on the team. A team-first guy as evidenced by taking less money on his extension than he probably would have gotten in free agency. As scary as it sounds, he is still developing and still learning the game.
  • Future Outlook – Again, one of the pillars of the franchise. He is the defensive yin to Durant and Westbrook’s offensive yang. Having signed his full extension, Ibaka should be a part of the Thunder’s future for the next 3-4 seasons. Hopefully he continues to develop his game, especially his post game and ability to create his own shot.

Reggie Jackson – Guard

allen jackson

  • Season Averages – 14.2 mins /5.3 points /2.4 rebs /1.7 asts /0.4 stls /0.2 blks
  • Season Review – After starting the season as the 3rd point guard on the roster, Jackson was sent to the Tulsa 66ers in December for a couple games of development. His per game averages for those 3 games: 28.0 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 60/36/100 shooting. Shortly after that stint, the Thunder brass decided that Jackson was ready to be the full time back-up point guard in place of the struggling Eric Maynor. Jackson played steadily throughout the year, showing glimpses of possibly becoming a great combo guard in the league. After Russell Westbrook went down in the 2nd game of the playoffs, Jackson took over and played well enough to keep the Thunder afloat.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $1.33 million
  • View from the Front Office – When you have superstars making superstar money, you need good young players that are still on their rookie deals to contribute. That’s where Jackson comes into play. He, along with a couple of the other young Thunder players, will be the foundation of the bench and the gap fillers on the roster. How they continue to develop may determine how far the Thunder go in the future. Jackson proved during his run in the playoffs, that he is an effective pressure player, making clutch free-throws to ice games, but also young enough to make mistakes at critical times.
  • Future Outlook – If Jackson develops his jumper this summer, he could very well become a 6th man of the year candidate. Defensively, he has the ability to guard most guards in the NBA and will be an effective crunch-time player moving forward. Best case scenario is that Jackson becomes a Harden-type player off the bench.

Perry Jones III – Forward

jones da iii

  • Season Averages – 7.4 mins /2.3 pts /1.6 rebs /0.3 asts /0.1 stls /0.2 blks (38 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 32.5 mins /14.3 pts /7.3 rebs /1.7 asts /1.2 stls /0.6 blks (15 games)
  • Season Review – A lottery talent that surprisingly dropped to the Thunder with the 28th pick, Jones was used sparingly on the Thunder’s roster this season, but was a major player with the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $1.08 million
  • View from the Front Office – Tremendous athlete that dropped in the draft because of injury and motor concerns. A front court tweener that hasn’t yet found his niche in the league. Is he a stretch 4, a huge 3, or an undersized 5? A player that has amazing potential and upside, but needs to pick what he wants to be and start working on that. Part of the young core of the team that will make up the bulk of the bench.
  • Future Outlook – Jones will need to continue working on his mid-range jumper. He has the ability to make it, but needs to be more consistent. Also, needs to bulk up, as he is too skilled to just be a stretch 4. His motor issues may come into play in how much he wants to work on developing his game. According to Jones’ exit interview, he will be staying in Oklahoma City during the offseason to work with the Thunder’s staff on bulking up. I’m sure the organization and player in tune in how they want Jones to develop.

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb_second_rr1_130415

  • Season Averages – 6.4 mins /3.1 pts /0.8 rebs /0.2 asts /0.1 stls /0.1 blks (23 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 32.8 mins /21.0 pts /5.3 rebs /3.0 asts /1.2 stls /0.8 blks (21 games)
  • Season Review – Lamb was one of the players sent over from Houston in the Harden trade. Although he did not get many minutes with the Thunder, he was, arguably, the MVP of the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $2.11 million
  • View from the Front Office – Probably the key component for the Thunder in the Harden trade. His development as an outside shooter and wing defender could determine whether this trade was a success. Good outside shot already. Very athletic. Has the tools to be a good to great defender. Needs to add bulk. Part of young core of bench players.
  • Future Outlook – Lamb’s development is extremely important to the franchise’s continuation of success. Has the skill set to be a starting 2-guard in the NBA. Needs to work this summer on consistently making his outside shot, as that will be his role on this team moving forward.

DeAndre Liggins – Guard/Forward

d liggs

  • Season Averages – 7.4 mins /1.5 pts /1.4 rebs /0.4 asts /0.5 stls /0.1 blks (39 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 34.2 mins /11.6 pts /6.9 rebs /4.3 asts /1.7 stls /0.4 blks (19 games)
  • Season Review – Liggins was a long shot to make the roster at the beginning of training camp, but showed enough defensively to be given the final roster spot. He was used primarily as a wing defender with the Thunder and also spent significant time with the Tulsa 66ers. In the playoffs, Liggins was used as a perimeter defender in the Houston series.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown – Conflicting reports whether Liggins’ contract was only for one season or whether the Thunder can opt into any team option years. Liggins most likely is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – With the paradigm shift on offensive philosophy changing quickly in the NBA (lane penetration and 3-point shooting), having a young wing defender that can develop some semblance of an offensive game is a plus. Liggins showed a developing offensive game with his corner 3 and ability to drive.
  • Future Outlook – If Liggins is a free agent, he would be one of my top priorities in the offseason. He can be signed for cheap and will provide some defensive stability for the 2nd unit. Has the skill set, with the Thunder organization, to be a starting SG in the Thabo Sefolosha mold. Must develop a consistent 3-point shot and get a little bit stronger.

Kevin Martin – Guard/Forward

k martin zbo

  • Season Averages – 27.7 mins /14.0 pts /2.3 rebs /1.4 asts /0.9 stls /0.1 blks
  • Season Review – Martin was one of the players acquired in the Harden trade. After being a starter with free reign for most of his career, Martin had to adjust to coming off the bench with the Thunder. He was basically put in the Harden role and was expected to produce quick offense once he entered the game. He struggled with consistency in his new role. As the season went on, though, he seemed to assimilate a little better, and was being more consistent by the end of the season. In the playoffs, his inconsistency proved to be a detriment in the absence of Westbrook.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown as player is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – Martin was brought in to be a stop gap for Harden’s role on the team. Great shooter that struggles with consistency at times. Used to be able to draw fouls in bunches earlier in his career, but now resorts to strictly being a spot-up shooter. Tends to disappear when his shot is not falling. His game can be predicted with what happens with his first couple of shots. Struggles defensively. Can be a great piece off the bench, but asking price may be too high.
  • Future Outlook – I was on the Kevin Martin contract extension bandwagon earlier this season, but his offensive inconsistencies and defensive struggles, coupled with his probable mid to high asking price (probably starting at $6 million and up), have me thinking that other options may be a better way to go. For what Martin gives the team, the Thunder may be able to find a cheaper replacement that may be as consistent of a shooter, while being better defensively.

Daniel Orton – Center

d orton

  • Season Averages – 8.0 mins /2.5 pts /2.0 rebs /0.3 asts /0.3 stls /0.2 blks (13 games)
  • NBADL Averages – 28.2 mins /12.5 pts /7.8 rebs /1.9 asts /1.1 stls /2.2 blks (29 games)
  • Season Review – Brought in after the Harden trade to fill in a roster spot, Orton has played sparingly with the Thunder, spending most of the season with the Tulsa 66ers.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – Unknown. A lot like Liggins’ contract situation, there are conflicting reports as to whether Orton’s contract was only for one season or whether the Thunder can opt into any team option years. Orton most likely is an unrestricted free agent.
  • View from the Front Office – Developmental project that will take time. Has shown flashes of being able to play some minutes in the NBA. Big, strong frame that can clear space. Has to learn how to use that frame to get rebounds and play positional defense without fouling. Needs to be more offensively aggressive, as his size . Injury prone.
  • Future Outlook – Depending on who and how many the Thunder draft, Orton may be candidate to come back as that last big off the bench. A little bit more time in the D-League will do nothing but help his development. He seems to be close to putting it all together and being a small time contributor on this team.

Kendrick Perkins – Center

gasol perk

  • Season Averages – 25.1 mins /4.2 pts /6.0 rebs /1.4 asts /0.6 stls /1.1 blks
  • Season Review – Perkins does what he does. Rebound. Defend the paint. Intimidate opponents. He had his ebbs and flows throughout the season, but was still an integral part of a 60 win team. In the playoffs, though, came into question as he was a liability in the Houston series and was partially ineffective in the Memphis series.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $8.48 million
  • View from the Front Office – Stingy post defender. Struggles offensively due to general immobility caused by prior injuries and natural slowness. Surprisingly, guards wing players well in short periods of time on pick and roll switch outs. High basketball IQ, especially defensively and in the post. Great teammate and veteran.
  • Future Outlook – Probably gets saved from the amnesty clause due to the fact that it makes no sense, financially, to cut a player that you’ll still have to pay, and that still has some value. Perkins’ skills have steadily declined every season he has been in OKC. I believe Perkins will still be the starting center come the first game of 2013-14, but his minutes will be severely reduced throughout the season depending on match-ups.

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

Thabo Sefolosha, Tony Allen

  • Season Averages – 27.5 mins /7.6 pts /3.9 rebs /1.5 asts /1.3 stls /0.5 blks
  • Season Review – Sefolosha was a lot more aggressive offensively this season, averaging 3.2 three point shot attempts per game, making them at a 42% clip. He also shot a career high 48% overall, while scoring his highest full season scoring average since arriving in Oklahoma City. Sefolosha’s bread and butter, though, is as a premier wing defender, and he excelled at that again this season.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $3.9 million
  • View from the Front Office – One of the better wing defenders in the league. Long, but strong enough to bang with some of the bigger wings in the NBA. Improved 3-point shooter. Good ball handler that can make mistakes in the open floor. Consummate professional.
  • Future Outlook – Sefolosha is in the final year of his contract. He has value as a wing defender, and may be a tradable asset in the near future. While I would love to sign Sefolosha to an extension, it may make more sense, financially, to go with one of the younger options that are waiting in the wings (Liggins or Lamb).

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

hash zbo

  • Season Averages – 11.7 mins /2.4 pts /3.0 rebs /0.2 asts /0.5 stls /0.9 blks
  • Season Review – Coming into the season, Thabeet was thought to be battling it out with Cole Aldrich for the back-up center position. After the Harden trade, Thabeet was given the reigns to the back-up center position, and performed surprisingly well. A draft bust as the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft, Thabeet has shined in his chance at redemption, focusing on defense and rebounding.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $915,852
  • View from the Front Office – Defensive minded big that has finally figured out how to play in the NBA. Strong-willed, as others would have probably folded when the word “bust” was used to describe their career. Uses his height and length well. Offensively challenged, but has good hands and can produce offensively, if put in the right position. Lack of lateral movement can lead to foul trouble. Has the ability to start if he can stay out of foul trouble.
  • Future Outlook – Thabeet has been a surprising success. While he will never live up to his No. 2 selection, he has the ability to carve out a long career as a back-up, and possibly, starting, center in the NBA. Now that he has gotten used to the speed of the game on the defensive side of the ball, it is time for him to work on his offensive skill set. He already has good hands, and for a center, that’s half the battle.

Russell Westbrook – Guard

rw hurt

  • Season Averages – 34.9 mins /23.2 pts /5.2 rebs /7.4 asts /1.8 stls /0.3 blks
  • Season Review – Westbrook’s value to this team was never more prevalent than when he missed most of the postseason due to a knee injury. The offense sputtered, the points in transition went drastically down, and the defenses keyed in entirely on Kevin Durant. Westbrook had a great regular season, and for stretches of time, was the best player in the league. This one man fast break constantly kept defenses on their heels and keyed one of the most prolific offenses in the NBA. His assist numbers went up, while his turnovers went down. And he averaged a career high in rebounds.
  • Salary for 2013-14 – $14.69 million
  • View from the Front Office – Electric athlete. One of the fastest players with the ball from end to end in the world. Explosive leaper that would like nothing more than to dunk on someone’s head. One of the quickest first steps, but also has the ability to stop on a dime and make mid-range jumpers. Gets a lot of elevation on his jump shots. Drafted as a defensive stopper, but gambles a lot at times, to the detriment of the defense. Improving 3-point shooter. Not very media friendly, but not mean-spirited, either.
  • Future Outlook – As Sam Presti stated in his exit meeting with the press, Westbrook and Durant are the “caretakers of the organization” and the “drivers of our culture”. I think both relish that role, especially Westbrook. He is the heart of the team, and how he goes, so does the team.

Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Five

Even though the playoff exit was a lot sooner than most of us expected, the future is indeed bright for this team. Take away the reckless dive at Westbrook’s knee by Patrick Beverly, and this team is likely playing against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. But, as they say, injuries are a part of the game. It’s a sentiment that could probably be echoed in Oakland (David Lee), Los Angeles (Kobe Bryant), and Chicago (Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Kirk Heinrich, etc). Thankfully, Westbrook’s injury isn’t one that should affect him in the future. With the assets obtained in the Harden trade, it will be up to Thunder GM Sam Presti to make use of the toys he has to work with.

….The More They Remain The Same

Any time something catastrophic happens, people always measure time from that point forward. In the show “Revolution”, everything is measured from the blackout, which is the catastrophic event in the show. Similarly, anytime something shocking happens to a sports team (i.e. trade, injury, retirement, suspension, etc), everything is measured from that time for the immediate future. No matter what they tell you, Clevelanders are still thinking about Lebron and The Decision. It’ll take a nice playoff run or two from Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, and the young Cavs to start to erase the time clock from their collective memory. Chicagoans have become quite adept at handling these differentiating time clocks for the past 20 years. They’ve had Michael Jordan’s first retirement, his comeback, his second retirement, and, finally, Derrick Rose’s knee injury. They are just chomping at the bit to start the Derrick Rose comeback timeclock.

The Oklahoma City Thunder experienced something very similar a month ago. On October 27, 2012, the Thunder traded James Harden, Daequan Cook, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, 2 future first round picks, and a 2013 2nd round pick. The Thunder were just coming off a trip to the Finals with their young core just coming into its own. They had their world-class scorer in Kevin Durant, their hyper-competitive floor general in Russell Westbrook, their pogo-stick blocking machine in Serge Ibaka, and their “jack of all trades” in James Harden. All under 24 years of age at the time. THIS team was supposed to grow together and contend for the next decade. Instead, after not being able to come to terms on a long term extension, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to pull the trigger on the trade,  and send Harden to Houston. 

The first thought amongst Thunder fans was how Martin would compare to Harden. The players, while similar in some facets, were completely different in other facets. Both were great shooters who were very adept at drawing fouls when driving to the basket. The major difference between the two players was that Harden was more of a playmaker, while Martin was more of a scorer. That major difference was of chief concern to Thunder fans because Harden was usually the go-between when Durant and Westbrook were on the floor together in the 4th quarter. When Durant and Westbrook were out there on the floor together, teams had an idea on how to guard the duo. But add Harden to that mix, and the floor spaced out like the Red Sea of Moses.  

Basketball skills aside, the primary concern was how this trade would affect the Thunder’s chemistry. This Thunder team was one that had been hardened by its experiences. The struggles of learning how to win followed by the lessons of winning when favored. It was a 180 degree turn that many teams never experience. Many teams have trotted out young talented rosters that have either failed to pan out or were destroyed from within when it was time for contract extensions. The best comparison I have for the Durant-Westbrook-Harden-Ibaka Thunder was the late 90’s Dallas Cowboys of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin. Eliminate one of the Triplets from that mix, and the Cowboys aren’t winning 3 Super Bowls in four seasons. This is the current dilemma facing the Thunder.

One month in, and the transition has been about as smooth as it can be when changing out key parts. There have been some transitional growing pains, but that is to be expected when a core shattering trade is made 4 days before the start of the regular season. What is important is the Martin seems to be integrating quite nicely into his role as the team’s 6th man. Luckily, the team’s schedule has been home-heavy in this early going with the opponent’s collective win percentage being under .500. On the other hand, against teams with strong playoff pedigrees, such as the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers, and Celtics, the team has struggled and is 1-3 against those teams. The surprising revelation is that compared to James Harden’s stat line from last season’s first 15 games, you would almost not even notice a difference.

  • Stat                                       Harden (11-12)      I       Martin (12-13)
  • Minutes per game                     30.0                              30.7
  • Points per game                       16.3                              15.9
  • Turnovers per game                  1.8                                 1.8
  • Steals per game                         0.8                                1.3
  • Blocks per game                        0.2                                 0.1
  • Assists per game                       3.1                                 1.8
  • Rebounds per game                  3.9                                 2.7
  • FT Attempts per game               6.5                                 4.6
  • FT Made per game                     5.7                                 4.4
  • FT %                                             86.7%                           94%
  • 3pt FG attempts per game          4.6                                4.9
  • 3pt FG made per game               1.7                                 2.4
  • 3pt FG %                                       36.2%                           50%
  • FG attempts per game                 9.9                                9.9
  • FG made per game                      4.5                                4.6
  • FG %                                              43%                              46%
  • TS %                                               66%                             66.5%
  • eFG %                                            58.2%                          58.3%
  • Thunder Record                            12 – 3                            11 – 4

Other than the difference in assists per game, Harden and Martin have virtually the same offensive stats. Eventually, even the assists may be a wash, as Martin has shown a willingness to become more of a playmaker. People tend to forget that Martin has been the main offensive option on most of the teams that he’s played on and has been given the green light to shoot at will. But, with teammates like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka on the floor, Martin has shown that he can find the open man for an easy bucket or two. 

Defensively, Martin has been a liability, but Harden wasn’t necessarily on his way to being named to any of the All-Defensive Teams. This first half of the season will be one lesson after another for the Thunder. Durant and Westbrook have been learning on the fly how to incorporate Martin into their crunch time offense. And Martin has been learning how to be more aggressive as a bench player. Overall, the transition has gone a lot smoother than many Thunder fans had feared. With Harden coming to town on Wednesday with his new team, the cycle seems to have come full circle. The more things change…….