Tag Archives: Europe

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.

rodman

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.

What offseason? Basketball Never Stops!

As a fan of the game, I’ll watch any basketball game you have on the television, especially playoff games. But there’s a slight disconnect when your team is not involved. It’s not as emotionally taxing. With that said, I’ve never enjoyed basketball as a connected fan all the way into mid-June. Though I’m disappointed that we lost in the Finals, its fun to look at the calendar and know that in 3 months, training camps should begin to open up. I’ve forgotten what it feels like for the season to be over in mid-April. But this all leads us to the offseason. Time to rest and recover from the grind of the season. Oh, I forgot we have the draft coming up. And then we have Summer League. And all the offseason moves and transactions. All the while, we have the national team gearing up to defend its gold medal in this summer’s Olympics. What the hell does the off in offseason mean?

There’s a saying that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. The things that happen after the All Star break, such as trades and the signing of recently released players, can have a big impact on the rest of the season and the postseason. The Thunder have been the beneficiary of both of these player transaction moves in the past two season. Two seasons ago, at the trading deadline, the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for starting center Kendrick Perkins and ultimate cheerleader Nate Robinson. Then, last season, they signed point guard Derek Fisher off waivers after he was released from the Houston Rockets. Due to the team’s stability, the Thunder usually remain pretty quiet during the offseason, though.

2012 NBA Draft

This offseason, though, the moves have been quiet, but plentiful. Heading into the draft, the Thunder’s only draft pick was the 28th pick in the first round. When you are picking this late in the draft, this usually means your team already has the necessary players to succeed. For a team as set as the Thunder, there wasn’t an immediate need that any player chosen this late was going to provide. One of the biggest needs the Thunder had was a big that was agile enough to defend other athletic bigs while being able to score from the outside and inside. Players with this skill set don’t usually last this long in the draft. The thinking was that the team would draft either an athletic wing or an overseas player that would be stashed in Europe for a couple of seasons.

Sometimes, though, the stars and planets align, and a player you were needing all along falls into your lap. There was always concern about Perry Jones III’s work ethic. The word ‘motor’ usually came up when his draft status was discussed. But, no one could deny the potential he had. The description of a 6’11” athletic forward that could score from outside and inside is the type of player that usually has teams salivating for his services. But a day before the draft, they were reports that many teams were concerned with the condition of his knees. After the recent knee concerns of Greg Oden and Blake Griffin proved to be true, not many teams were willing to spend a lottery pick on a player whose work ethic AND knees were called into question. Surprisingly though, 11 other teams outside of the lottery chose to pass on Jones III also. So when the Thunder’s name came up, Thunder general manager Sam Presti never hesitated, and went with the best player available, which coincidentally also filled a need. The best thing about it, though, is that it comes at an extremely cheap price.

Orlando Summer League

After the draft, the focus turned to the Orlando Summer League, where the Thunder were participating with 7 other NBA teams. As I wrote previously, the Summer League is full of good young players, Fringers, and Dreamers. Some of the players are already guaranteed a spot on an NBA roster and just want to mix in some team-oriented scrimmages and practices during the offseason. Most of the players though, are clawing and scratching for an opportunity to get onto an NBA roster. The Thunder’s roster consisted of 4 guys that, barring a trade, will be on the Thunder’s opening day roster (Perry Jones III, Reggie Jackson, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich). The rest of the players were probably not going to make it onto the Thunder’s roster, but could make an impression on another team depending on how they played.

The Thunder finished the Orlando Summer League 3-2. Reggie Jackson played like the most seasoned guy on the team controlling the tempo of the offense and attacking the basket at will. He even gave 2012 NBA Dunk champ Jeremy Evans a taste of his own medicine. Lazar Hayward showed why he’ll be at the end of an NBA bench for the next couple of years. He does a lot of things good, but nothing great. Cole Aldrich’s play was mediocre, at best. For a player that is looking to step up and be the back up center, his lack of improvement was a bit alarming. But, I would ask people to please step off the ledge when it comes to Aldrich’s development. Summer league games are made for wing players. They are glorified street games with refs and NBA assistant coaches on the sidelines. Aldrich will be asked to defend the paint, set picks, and put up a couple hook shots in the regular season. He will be fine. Perry Jones III suffered a sprained ankle in the 2nd half of the 2nd game, but not before impressing with his array of inside/outside skills. He will be in the Thunder’s regular rotation, if not in the 2nd half of this season, then definitely in the 2013-14 season. Other notables were forward Latavious Williams, who needs to be on an NBA roster somewhere, and Garrett Temple, whose play was almost veteran-like.

Off-season Moves

The Thunder has never been a big player in free-agency in their time in Oklahoma City. But in reality, they’ve never had to be a big player. Their main focus has always been on player development. When you have players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka, that’s what you put most of your focus on. That came to fruition in the last two seasons with consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals and a trip to the NBA Finals this past season. The Thunder had 3 players that were coming up on free agency and all of them were veterans. Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, and Royal Ivey could have all been signed to cheap veteran deals. But due to their years of employment in the league, even their minimum salaries would have been upwards of $1.5 million. The Thunder chose instead to let those vets walk, and focus on cheaper, younger alternatives. With Perry Jones III signing his rookie contract, that left 2 more spots on the roster.

The Thunder signed much maligned center Hasheem Thabeet to a 2-year veteran minimum contract. Now the difference between Thabeet’s veteran minimum deal and any of the other 3 Thunder players that were up for an extension, is that Thabeet has only been in the league for 3 seasons. For the final roster spot, the Thunder signed undrafted free agent Hollis Thompson from Georgetown to a 3 year contract. Thompson is a sharp-shooter in the Thunder mold (tall and long) that could be a cheap replacement for Daequan Cook in upcoming seasons.

The two signings sent Thunder nation into a tizzy, and not for good reasons. Most were questioning the “lackluster” moves by the team, while the team that beat us in the Finals picked up former All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and one of our biggest threats in the West, the Lakers, picked up a former 2-time MVP (Steve Nash) in their biggest position of weakness (point guard) without giving up a single player. The thinking was that the curse of the small market team was starting to take hold of the Thunder. That the ideology that small market teams can’t attract free agents and can’t spend money like the big boys was starting to rear its ugly head.

I, for one, completely disagree with that thinking. While it would be nice to sign former All-Stars ad-nauseam every offseason, the reality is that that would be bad business in this new NBA. The goal is to try and keep cost down while maintaining a competitive team. If your team does spend into the luxury tax territory, it better be winning. The Thunder have the right components in place to continue winning. The moves they made this offseason were made to keep those components in place. When you start talking about the luxury tax, every dollar counts. And if the Thunder are truly looking to keep both James Harden and Serge Ibaka on the same team as Durant and Westbrook, they are going to have to continue making these cost effective moves. Both Harden and Ibaka will demand deals that get them at least $10+ million per season. And, rightfully so. We’ll be in the luxury tax no matter what, if we keep these 4 players. The payments get more feasible, though, if you are competing for and winning championships.

Another thing that these signings do is maintain the flexibility that Presti loves. These signings not only have low cost-high reward potential, but they are also short term deals. That way, the team isn’t saddled with long-term contracts if the player, in question, either gets injured or doesn’t produce. Also, if someone better comes along, you could cut your losses with the player and attempt to obtain the better option. Cap flexibility is a commodity in the NBA, and Presti is one of the best at maintaining it.

Team USA

As if this offseason hasn’t been crazy enough, you have Team USA preparing for the Olympics in London. Not only that, but the Thunder has 4 representatives in the Olympics (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden for Team USA, and Serge Ibaka for Spain). Durant and Westbrook were near locks to make the team, but Harden was actually a surprise addition after players like Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose bowed out because of injury. The team torched the Dominican Republic and eeked out a victory against a tough Brazil squad in the US leg of pre-tournament games. After this, it’s across the pond for a couple friendlies and then the real thing. Durant has a possibility of leading the team in scoring, while Westbrook will be the defensive pitbull/offensive sparkplug off the bench. Harden will probably play a role similar to what he does with the Thunder, but to a smaller degree.

As a fan of the game, I love this. Before NBA-TV, the offseason was usually a time to hear about a trade or two, and wait for football season to start. So, even though, this has been a whirlwind offseason, I still appreciate it. When this offseason gets too crazy, I always hark back to the 2011 offseason. Oh, you don’t remember the 2011 offseason? Oh, thats right, because there wasn’t an offseason that year.

The Future Economics of the Lockout

When the owners first started complaining, we were in the beginning of a recession. You started to hear the whispers from the owners that big changes were needed about 3 seasons ago. And the players actually played along with that and actually stated that, “Yes, in this economy, some concessions would need to be made on their parts.” But, I’m pretty sure, their thinking was that by the time the players and the owners actually had to start negotiating (basically 3 years later) that the economy would have been fixed (or at least recovering) by then.

Fast forward to where we are now, and there are actually rumblings that we are entering an even worser recession. So instead of things improving, economically, they will probably begin to get worse for us fans in terms of disposable income. As an owner, if I see that the same system is being kept in place, and I want to stay competitive and get into or stay in the black, I may have to increase ticket prices. And that’s where this starts to affect me, as a John Q. Public fanatic.

You can talk about smart spending (in terms of a team) all you want. But, if you are completely honest with your self, you’ll know that we (the Thunder) got extremely lucky. Portland and OKC basically had the same formula. Tank for a couple seasons. Trade away horrible contracts for draft picks. Try to get lucky in the draft. We picked KD and Russ. They picked Oden and Roy. A couple knee surgeries later, and we are on the brink of becoming dynastic and Portland is on the brink of becoming one of those middle of the road teams (good enough to lose in the first round, but not bad enough to get a significant draft pick).

My question is, should Portland fans have to pay for the bad luck that has been bestowed on their team. Fans eventually tire of middle of the road teams. Once that happens, then those season ticket numbers start to decrease. Once that happens, an owner may be forced to increase ticket prices to meet his/her bottom line. Remember, this could have been OKC’s fate in some alternate universe.

Are you willing to continue paying (paying more) for a system that is broken? Do you know how much quicker Portland could bounce back, if they could’ve either cut Roy/Oden or restructured their deals? And remember, I’m not asking this because I necessarily want to see Portland become elite. I’m asking this because it could easily happen to OKC. As a small market team, you need to ride the highs for as long as possible and stay out of the middle to the lows for as long as possible. In this current system, a tweak of a knee here or a tweak of a back there, and we may be in the same boat.

Oh, and here’s one more thing about this recession talk. Its affecting the whole world, especially Europe. And that’s where it becomes bad for the players. There’s no other league in the world that can offer what the NBA offers. There are rumors that Kobe is looking to sign in Italy for $6.5 million. Do you know how much Kobe made last season? $25 million. And if you sign in China, you have to stay there for the entire season. So, while the “we can play and get paid overseas” thing sounded like a game-changer for the players, its actually enhancing the owners’ position.

So while I may love the NBA and may miss the game if some of the season is missed, I want a deal that keeps ticket prices as low as possible. I haven’t gotten a raise in 3 years at my job. If, for any reason, the owners were forced to hike up ticket prices in the near future, I’m screwed. If the owners and players were really progressive thinkers, they would sign a deal that tilts in the owners’ favor for the first half of the deal, and then tilts back in favor of the players towards the back end of the deal, with the option to revisit the results in the middle of the deal.

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?