Tag Archives: James Harden

What does a regular Westbrook MVP season look like?

USP NBA: OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER AT MEMPHIS GRIZZLIE S BKN MEM OKC USA TNRecently, Bovada, the online gambling site based out of Las Vegas, released their NBA MVP odds for next season. Leading that list was current league MVP Russell Westbrook, at 7/2 odds. Former league MVP and Westbrook’s former teammate, Kevin Durant, was second with 9/2 odds.

The fact that Bovada would have Westbrook listed as their leader for MVP odds seems  a litte strange to me. Not in the fact that Westbrook doesn’t have the credentials to be an MVP-worthy candidate. That, he definitely does. But in the fact that, with the Oklahoma City Thunder’s moves this offseason, an MVP season for Westbrook this year will look completely different than the MVP season from last year. Continue reading What does a regular Westbrook MVP season look like?

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NTTB Podcast (Episode 6) – LeBron, Westbrook, and Kaepernick

IMG_4109On Episode 6 of the NTTB podcast, we discuss the following topics:

  • LeBron James to OKC?
  • Daniel Hamilton signing
  • Preseason Schedule
  • No Westbrook extension…you worried?
  • ESPN record projections
  • Daryl Morey and James Harden
  • Twitter Questions
  • The Art of Fighting not by the Clippers
  • Positionless and Conference-less NBA
  • Hot/Cold – Colin Kaepernick

Thank you for listening. We will be doing a podcast once a week. If you have any Thunder or NBA related questions, make sure you hit us up on Twitter (@alexroig_NTTB or @Montero_A13).

We are on Itunes under the NTTB Podcast. Make sure you leave us a 5-star review if you can. As always, Thunder Up!

 

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 31 July 2017

img_4133-5Hello new week. Let’s get this thing going. Here is Monday’s edition of DTR…

The Thunder signed UCLA guard Bryce Alford. The deal is likely a training camp invite.

Russell Westbrook was rumored to be playing in the Drew League against former teammate James Harden. Instead, he was at Disney Land with his new teammate, Noah Westbrook: “Westbrook even brought baby Noah, who despite being a few months old has been a major part of the Westbrook family’s travels this offseason. Westbrook took his newborn son to Paris back in June. Westbrook was reportedly supposed to play in the Drew League on Sunday night against a team which featured Chris Paul and James Harden. If Westbrook has enough energy to play pickup basketball after a day at a hot amusement park, he truly has a non-stop motor.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 31 July 2017

The Three That Will Never Be: The Legacies of Scott Brooks, Kendrick Perkins, and Derek Fisher

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

As the Oklahoma City Thunder embark on a new season, some of the same things from the past still remains. First off, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Russell Westbrook should all be back and healthy. Secondly, the expectations of winning a championship will also be there. But for some reason this season feels different. Not a bad different, just a “lack of familiarity” type different. Something was missing, and that something was three component that had been a part of the Thunder for all or parts for their 7 seasons in Oklahoma City. Those three components were Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins, and Scott Brooks.

For 7 seasons prior, one or more of those pieces were always there to provide an anchor of calmness even in the most choppiest of seas. For the first time since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City, neither of those three will be a part of the Thunder organization. From the time Scott Brooks took over for PJ Carlesimo on November 22, 2008, the organization has relied on his calming demeanor and almost fatherly-like approach to the development of the stars of the team. That approach to coaching is one of the reasons Brooks will be highly sought after once he decides to return to coaching. Teams are always in one of three phases in their developments: rebuilding, learning how to win consistently, and contending for a championship. Brooks mastered the first two phases of that process with relative ease, taking the Thunder from one of the worst teams in the league to championship contending in a four year span. That type of ascension is almost unheard of without the help of a superstar free agent being signed by the team.

What Brooks lacked in coaching acumen, he made up for with his interpersonal relationships with his players. Say what you want about his late-game play calling, but the players on the team would run through a wall for Brooks. Many in the media heap praise upon Phil Jackson for his career, but Jackson was never known as a great X’s and O’s coach. He had great assistants (Tex Winters, Jim Cleamons), and more importantly, great players. But he was also one of the best at managing superstar egos, which falls under the realm of interpersonal relationships. Brooks could have had a Jackson-like career, but lacked great assistants, and his great players were just coming into their prime during his tenure. Instead, Brooks will likely have a Doug Collins-like career as a coach that could have been one of the greats, but just happened to be the coach at the wrong time.

When the Thunder were starting their ascension, most of the upper echelon teams in the Western Conference had All-Star or near All-Star level centers and power forwards. The Los Angeles Lakers had Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. San Antonio had Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Memphis had Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Dallas had Tyson Chandler, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brendan Haywood. Utah had Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. To contend in the Western Conference at that time, a team needed a big body in the middle that could defend and rebound. In their early run, the Thunder had a front line of Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, and an “even skinnier than he is now” Kevin Durant. They had Serge Ibaka on the bench, but he was still pretty raw during that time and had trouble keeping his fouls under control. It wasn’t until the Thunder met the Lakers in the inaugural playoff run in 2010 that they realized what they needed to continue the upward trend of the team’s development.

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 09: Head coach Scott Brooks of the Oklahoma City Thunder talks with Russell Westbrook #0 and Kevin Durant #35 against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game Three of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. The Thunder won 118-112. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

At the trade deadline the next season, the Thunder traded Green and Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Even though Perkins was coming off a serious knee injury he suffered in the previous season’s Finals, he was the defensive anchor the team so badly needed. A couple weeks after arriving in Oklahoma City, the Thunder extended Perkins for four more seasons. Perkins immediately became the veteran presence the Thunder’s young players needed. He graciously helped in the development of Ibaka, taking his own experience from when Kevin Garnett took him under his wing in Boston and applying that to Ibaka. He gave the team a mean streak they didn’t have before his arrival. He quickly became the locker room buffering agent between all the Thunder’s young players as they learned how to succeed in the NBA individually and as a team (a major downfall of many young, up and coming teams in the past).

He was a great locker room presence. And if he was getting paid $5 million or less, that would have been fine. But in actuality, he was one of the highest paid players on the team and his performance on the court, especially on the offensive end, was often one of the most polarizing themes in sports. The knee injury he suffered while with the Celtics in the Finals the year before sapped the little bit of athleticism Perkins had going for him. While he was one of the best post defenders in the league, he was often a net negative on offense. As the NBA’s moved towards smaller, more skilled line-ups that could space the floor, the effectiveness of Perkins on the floor became more and more muted with each passing season.  When athletic power forwards started masquerading as centers, the need for a hulking presence down low became almost non-existant.

Compounding the polarization of Perkins was the trade of James Harden to Houston. Many thought the reason the Thunder traded Harden was purely financial, as they couldn’t afford to have 4 players on max or near max salaries (Harden, Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka), along with Perkins’ $9 million annual salary. In addition to the trade itself, the fact the Thunder had the opportunity to waive Perkins under the amnesty provision, provided the framework for the “Thunder choosing Perkins over Harden” frame of thought that many in the media portrayed. In reality, the Harden trade had little to nothing to do with Perkins. Harden wanted to have his cake and eat it too, wanting max money and the opportunity to run his own team.

In the end, Perkins was relegated to being a back-up big in his final season with the Thunder before being traded to Utah for Enes Kanter. His tenure with the Thunder will forever be remembered for his defensive chops, menacing scowl, and “Shaq-tin a fool” moments. But his presence on the team forever shaped the maturation of Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka. He helped navigate them through their first few seasons of success and kept them even-keeled.

The signing of a veteran is a rite of passage for a team that is moving into championship contending status. A veteran that has been where the players on the team want to be and has played a big part in previous championship games. That veteran for the Thunder was Derek Fisher. At the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Thunder lost back-up point guard Eric Maynor to a torn ACL. The only other point guard on the roster, besides Westbrook, was rookie Reggie Jackson. The Thunder managed for half a season with the rookie taking on back-up point guard duties, but when the opportunity arose to sign a waived Fisher, they pounced on the opportunity. Fisher paid almost immediate dividends as a calming, veteran presence and as a floor spacer.

Fisher went on to be part of the Thunder for the next two seasons after that one. He basically played the same role in each of the seasons as he attempted to capture that elusive 6th championship ring. Fisher never got that ring, but became, a lot like Perkins, a revered and respected figure in the locker room. A championship point guard his entire career, Fisher went on to retire and immediately became the head coach of the New York Knicks who were being run by Fisher’s former coach, Phil Jackson.

There’s a point in every player’s maturation where they eventually become the veteran. They become the guy that “has been there before” or “has seen it all before”. The Thunder brass probably felt like Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka were ready to take the next leg of their journey on their own. They had grown under the watchful guise of Brooks, under the sturdy hand of Perkins, and under the guiding presence of Fisher to become what they are today. Sure they’ve faced some injury difficulties along the way, but those also have a way of toughening up a players’ resolve.

As fans, we always cheer for the superstars. But true fans cheer for the guys who make it despite their obvious flaws. The guys who are the bedrock over which championship sod is laid upon. There’s a sense of commonality between those players and someone who works a 9-5 and goes home everyday to a family and a mortgage. There’s a very real possibility the Thunder win a championship without any of those three guys within the organization. If that does occur, three of those championship rings better be sealed in a box and delivered to New York, NY (Fisher), Beaumont, TX (Perkins), and northern California (Brooks), because the DNA of any Thunder championship will definitely have the imprint of those three on it.

D-Day: Decision Day for the Oklahoma City Thunder and Enes Kanter

kanter thunder

Why do people save money? There are usually two reasons why people save money. The first is to be prepared for an emergency. If the car breaks down or the air conditioner goes out, you have the funds necessary to replenish this item without digging into the budget. The second reason people usually save money is to purchase an item of great worth. Be it shoes, a house, or a boat, these are the items where patience becomes a virtue. Too many times, people head into a situation where they want to save, but end up either getting a cheaper knockoff or end up purchasing the item too quickly on credit, which leads to future budgeting issues.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been saving for the past 6 seasons. Emergencies happen all the time in sports. These emergencies usually involves a catastrophic injury to a key player or two. Having that salary cap flexibility of not being in the luxury tax is key to recovering quickly if your main player(s) go down. But the true essence of why the Thunder have been saving money can be traced back to October 27, 2012. That was the day the Thunder avoided going into the luxury tax by trading James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

On the surface, the trade has been a disaster for the Thunder. Harden finished 2nd in the MVP voting this past season and led his team to the Western Conference Finals. The Thunder, on the other hand, have seen the last 3 seasons end in disappointment due to various injuries to key players. The players obtained in the Harden trade are known as the pennies in the saying “pennies on the dollar”. Kevin Martin was a great 6th man for one season, but signed with Minnesota the next season. Jeremy Lamb was a marginal bench player his entire Thunder career and was recently traded to the Charlotte Hornets for a 2nd round pick. Steven Adams and Mitch McGary were first round picks obtained in the trade and have been the most valuable commodities from the trade. And Alex Abrines was drafted with the 2nd round pick obtained in the trade and has yet to step foot in the United States. But the most important asset to come out of the trade was the salary cap flexibility.

To the casual NBA fan, talks of salary cap flexibility, luxury tax and repeater tax concerns, max contracts, market size, so on and so forth are the minutiae that makes the NBA offseason so boring. The casual fan only pays attention from November to June (scratch that, April to June). All they see is players, their stats, and how much they make. They don’t take into account that NBA teams have to budget and balance their checkbooks like normal people do. While its true that their budgets likely feature many more commas than ours do, the fact still remains that NBA teams have to run their organization within certain boundaries. Spend too frivolously, and your organization will likely lose money.  Don’t spend enough, and your organization is likely destined for failure. Finding the balance is the key to success in the NBA. And sometimes, in that balance, difficult decisions have to be made.

westbrook kanter thunder

The Thunder made that difficult decision when they traded Harden. They eschewed paying the luxury tax in preparation for this moment. The harsh reality is that James Harden was never going to be James Harden if he stayed in Oklahoma City. He was a redundancy on a team that already featured two great ball handlers. He knew this and, if reports are true, made the ultimatum that he either get paid max money or get traded to a team where he could receive max money. The split between OKC and Harden was a mutual split. Both parties got what they wanted in the end. What Oklahoma City got, in addition to the players and draft picks that came over in the trade, was the comfort in knowing that they could safely go into the luxury tax when the perfect opportunity arose.

On February 19th, 2015, the Thunder traded Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the rights to Tibor Pliess, and a future first round pick to the Utah Jazz for Enes Kanter and Steve Novak. Kanter was in his 4th season, which meant that, with the trade, the Thunder owned his Bird Rights as he headed into restricted free agency in the offseason. In the 26 games Kanter played for OKC, he was a double/double machine, averaging 18.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He provided something the Thunder had never seen before since they moved to the Great Plains, an inside scoring presence. Kanter and Russell Westbrook quickly became familiar with each other in the pick and roll game. With Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka out for much of the 2nd half of the season, Kanter stepped in as that 2nd scorer behind Westbrook. While his defense was deplorable, some of that may have been an effect of Durant and Ibaka not being there to help him out defensively.

After not reaching an agreement with the Thunder when free agency began on July 1st, Kanter decided signed a 4 year/$70 million dollar offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers, who were one of three teams who still had the cap space to sign Kanter. Reports were the Thunder offered Kanter $15.5 million per season for 4 seasons. Kanter’s representatives instead chose to wait on the market to see if a max contract was offered, which Portland did on July 9th. The max contract features a player option for the 4th year and a trade kicker. Portland tried to add all the poison pills they could to make the contract as unattractive as possible for the Thunder.

So here’s where the Thunder stand. They have until midnight tonight to match Portland’s offer sheet. This is what all the saving was for. The Thunder sacrificed a lot in the past to be in the position they are today. The beautiful thing about it is that they still have options. If they feel Kanter is not worth this contract, they can walk away from the table, and the Thunder would still be one of the top teams in the league, health permitting. But, if they feel Kanter is the final piece to their championship puzzle, they will gladly match the offer sheet with a smile on their face, knowing full well this was the moment they were waiting for.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 77 of 82)

lamb adams thunder howard rockets

  • When: Sunday, 05 April 2015 at 12:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Its becoming quite apparent that the race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference (and Eastern Conference, I guess) is likely coming down to the last few days of the season. Both New Orleans and Oklahoma City have 6 games remaining as of the start of Sunday, with the Thunder holding a slim one game lead. Injuries and tough schedules have made it difficult for either team to gain any separation in the standings from the other. Just when the Thunder looked like they were beginning to put it together, down go Serge Ibaka, Nick Collision, and Andre Roberson in succession to various knee and ankle ailments. Just when the Pelicans thought they could gain ground on the Thunder, down goes Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson with ankle and knee injuries. While injuries are a shame, its good to know that both teams are battling through them and remaining relatively competitive. Here’s to both remaining healthy the remainder of this season and into next season.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two teams. Houston has won the previous two meetings. The first game was one of the more weirder games you’ll ever see. The Thunder were down both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but completely muddied up the game and held the Rockets to 69 points in the game. Unfortunately, for the Thunder, they only scored 65 in that game. The second game featured all the star players, but lacked any real drama, as Houston opened the game with a 40-18 first quarter, and put that baby to bed early.

The Opponent

howard harden terry rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 52-24 record, half a game up on the Memphis Grizzlies for not only the Southwest Division title, but also for the 2nd seed in the playoffs. Houston general manager Daryl Morey has transformed the Houston Rockets from a purely offensive team to one that is one of the more balanced outfits in the league. They rank in the top half of most major categories and are carried by their MVP candidate shooting guard James Harden. With starting point guard Patrick Beverly sidelined for the rest of the season with a torn wrist ligament, Harden will be asked to take on more of the ball handling duties for the team. Veteran Jason Terry takes over for Beverly in the starting line-up. On the wing, Trevor Ariza has been a great addition as one of the better 3 and D guys in the league. The returns of both Terrance Jones and Dwight Howard have bolstered the Rockets’ attack, even as they work their ways back from their injuries. Off the bench, the Rockets have one of the most diverse reserve corps in the league. Josh Smith and Joey Dorsey provide help up front, while Pablo Prigioni and Corey Brewer provide wing help.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jason Terry
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Terrance Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Dion Waiters – When you talk to Thunder fans about Dion Waiters, you usually hear about 2 things: his streakiness shooting the ball and his on the ball defense. Well, both will be tested against the Rockets. This group of Thunder players is at its best when Waiters is being effectively aggressive. That is, he gets to the basket, but when he gets there, he actually makes the shot or gets fouled. On the flip-side, Waiters will have to stay in front of James Harden for the Thunder to have any chance of containing the Rockets. The Rockets’ attack is almost always initiated by Harden, so staying in front of him is the key to defending the Rockets.

2. Foul Trouble – Steven Adams has struggled in the last few games with staying out of foul trouble. With Dwight Howard and James Harden both on the floor, it will be extremely important for Adams, the only defensive big currently able to play, to stay on the floor. Also, the Thunder wings have to play defense without fouling. Waiters, Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, and DJ Augustin are going to have to do more shuffling and less reaching.

westbrook thunder harden rockets mvp

3. MVP dual – This game matches two of the top three candidates for MVP this season in Westbrook and Harden. While Westbrook has won the last two Western Conference Player of the Month award and is on the Thunder, my vote this season goes to Harden. He has taken a team that many thought would struggle to make it to the playoffs at the beginning of the season and turned them into a powerhouse that is battling for the 2nd seed in the toughest conference in basketball. Westbrook has been great and is extremely valuable to the Thunder, but Harden is just a little bit more valuable to the Rockets.

Happy Easter to all my readers. Thank you for tuning in. 

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 38 of 82)

rockets thunder

  • When: Thursday, 15 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

The Oklahoma City Thunder just experienced the NBA’s equivalent of an NFL bye week. They were off for 5 full days, last playing on Friday at home. Rest during an NBA season is always welcome. Probably more important, though, is the ability to hold full practices. In the 5 day break, the Thunder likely held 2 or 3 full length practices to help incorporate newcomer Dion Waiters. Hell, even Mitch McGary, who has had an injury plagued rookie season, likely benefited from the increased practice time now that he is healthy. After being shaky the last 3 games, practice time is probably something the Thunder cherished during this “bye week”.

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings between these two teams. The Rockets beat the Thunder 69-65 on November 16th. Yeah, that was the score of an NBA game that ended after four quarters played. The defense in that game was stifling, as was the offense. Of course, the Thunder were without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook during that stretch. .

The Opponent

harden howard beverly rockets

The Houston Rockets come into this game with a 27-12 record, good for 4th in the Western Conference. The Rockets have been one of the more consistent teams in the league, sporting a top 5 defense with a top 10-15 offense. The Rockets used to be a strictly offensive-minded team, but that began to change when the Rockets started putting the point guard responsibilities in the hands of Patrick Beverly. The bulldog defender changed the demeanor of the Rockets and wrestled the starting spot from Jeremy Lin last season. While not necessarily an offensive weapon, Beverly is the heart of the team. On the wing, James Harden continues his excellent play as a scorer (26.9 points per game) and has shown improvements as a defender after being much maligned last season. His improvements on the defensive end have bolstered Harden into the MVP conversation this season. On the other wing, Trevor Ariza gives the Rockets the big wing defender they’ve coveted for a while. The power forward position is currently a back and forth between Donatas Montiejunas and Josh Smith. Both offer the ability to be a stretch 4, but Montiejunas has been a little bit more consistent since Smith’s arrival to the team. Up front, Dwight Howard continues to be one of the best defensive centers in the league (11.2 rebounds, 1.56 blocks), while also giving the Rockets 17 points per game. Outside of Smith, who can be inconsistent at times, and Corey Brewer, the bench is one of the weaker ones of the Western Conference elite.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Patrick Beverly
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Trevor Ariza
  • PF – Donatas Montiejunas
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The Thunder have been having issues lately with defensive minded teams that can consistently shoot 3’s. They struggled with the Warriors a couple games ago, generally struggle with the Trailblazers, and always have a difficult time with the Spurs. With the Rockets’ new found love for defense, they now fall into this category. Where this comes into play is when the Thunder struggle from the field (especially from 3) and can’t stop the other team from consistently making 3’s. The Rockets have 4 rotation players (Harden, Ariza, Beverly, and Brewer) that shoot at least 33% from 3-point territory, with Montiejunas clocking in at 28% from deep.

2. Bench play – Jason Terry and Terrance Jones will be out for tonight’s game, and Isaiah Canaan and Kostas Papanikolaou have fallen out of the rotation. The Rockets’ bench is weaker now than it was at the beginning of the season. And the Rockets will be playing in the 2nd game of a back to back after having to travel back from the East Coast. If the Thunder bench can win the battle of the reserves handily, the Thunder should be able to win this game going away.

westbrook beverly thunder rockets

3. Beverly vs. Westbrook – This match-up always sparks fireworks. Should be fun.

The Thunder and the NBA’s Television Deal

NBA Announces New Media Partnerships

With the historical TV deal the NBA signed on Monday, the salary cap is poised to jump up by at least $30 million dollars in the next 2-3 seasons. The increase in salary cap also means an increase in players’ salaries, of which is of keen interest to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The team that has meticulously constructed itself around a developing nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka will be extremely tested in the next 2-3 years. The first series of extensions the players signed eventually led to the trade of James Harden. While the team wanted to keep the burgeoning quartet together, the economics of the day forced the Thunder to trade Harden, who was looking for a max deal, of which the Thunder could not afford without destroying their salary cap flexibility.

The first extension after the rookie deal is usually easy for a team to handle. At its apex, the 5 year max is only worth about $80 million dollars (or 25% of the salary cap). Its the second extension that can difficult for teams to handle. By the time a player has reached his second extension, he’s been in the league at least  7 seasons, which qualifies his max salary to take up at least 30% of the salary cap. Salaries for max players in their 2nd extension can easily climb above $20 million per season. If you are a championship contending team in the league, you more than likely have at least 2 players worthy of a max deal. And if you are paying them accordingly, then upwards of 55% of your cap space could possibly be used up on two players.

NBA: Playoffs-Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Luckily for the Thunder, those two players happen to be Durant and Westbrook (aka the reigning MVP and arguably the best point guard, respectively). Both players will be up for extensions in consecutive years, beginning in the 2016 offseason. And both players, health permitting, will be deserving of max extensions. Here’s the beauty of the CBA though: max deals are determined by percentages of the salary cap. So it does not matter whether the cap is $63 million (2014-15) or $90-100 million (projected for 2016-17), a max player will only take up a percentage of the salary cap. Even though there is more money in the pot, the percentages for max players should remain the same. And if your GM knows how to manage the money within the parameters of the luxury tax line, then it should be business as usual.

The trickier part of the equation will be Ibaka. The Thunder signed Ibaka to 4 year/$49 million dollar contract two seasons ago. It has turned into one of the better bargains in the NBA. If Ibaka continues on his developmental trajectory, will he be satisfied with a slightly below level max deal again? The Thunder saw how valuable Ibaka is when he missed the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. With no rim protector in the middle, the Spurs had their way with the Thunder, blowing them out in both games. In addition, Ibaka’s value to the offense as an offensive rebounder and perimeter release valve became even more apparent through the year last season. If Ibaka were a free agent right now, he’d likely fetch a slightly below market max deal. While Ibaka does appear to be extremely loyal, loyalty has to run both ways to be effective.

reggie jackson thunder

Then there’s the Reggie Jackson situation. As discussed in a previous post, Jackson wants to start and wants to get paid. The Thunder may be able to accommodate the monetary issue, but probably won’t be able to appease Jackson on the starting issue. The Thunder like to start a big defensive-minded SG. Unfortunately, Jackson is similar in stature to Westbrook. Jackson is in the unenviable position of being up for an extension about a year or two before the big money starts to flow in. Which means, even if he signs a big contract now, it may pale in comparison to similar contracts 2 years down the line. In the end, much like Harden, Jackson may be the odd man out,, when it comes to getting paid by the Thunder. Or Jackson may choose to sign a shorter deal with an eye towards the big money in 2-3 seasons.

A team is not just composed of 2-4 players, though. This is where the arduous planning of Thunder GM Sam Presti starts to take effect. If you’re going to have 3-4 players making max or close to max money, then you have to fill your roster with a mixture of specialists, veterans, and young players that are all relatively inexpensive. This is where Presti’s “kiddy-gloves” handling of the Thunder’s finances (keeping them under the luxury tax line) and asset usage begins to pay dividends.

adams jones roberson thunder

 

Presti has mostly done a great job of turning assets into usable parts and more assets. The Harden trade netted the Thunder Jeremy Lamb and 3 draft picks, which turned into Steven Adams, Mitch McGary, and Eurostash Alex Abrines. But it’s the Thunder’s penchant for stockpiling young talent that will make re-signing their core as a possibility. In addition to the 4 young players obtained in the Harden trade, the Thunder have stockpiled another Eurostash in Tibor Pleiss and a domestic draft and stash in Josh Huestis. Also, 2014 2nd round pick Semaj Christon appears to be in the Thunder’s future plans as he begins his career with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Blue.

Why is this important? Because the Thunder’s current young players are all up for their first extension in the next 2-3 seasons. Of the current group of Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Steven Adams, it is possible the majority of them will not be with the Thunder within the next 2-3 seasons. All these players have value, and the Thunder like to maximize the value of a player if they don’t necessarily see a future with them. With a cupboard full of young (unused) talent, the Thunder will be able to replace their current group of young players with cheaper alternatives within the next 2-3 seasons.

As the Thunder (and the NBA as a whole) ventures into this great unknown of luxury, it is good to know the Thunder are in prime position to continue doing what they are currently doing. They own the Bird Rights to their core players and can offer them more money than any other team. They are one of the few teams in the league that has a present and a foreseeable future when it comes to championship contention. If the CBA remains the same, the Thunder should be operating in the same manner 2-3 seasons from now.

Early Training Camp Stories

durant media day thunder

With Monday’s media day out of the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder started their journey into the 2014-15 NBA season. Like every other training camp before this one, there are questions and issues that need to be settled before the season begins. Luckily, the Thunder don’t have to contend with any roster-shattering trades or major injury issues like they have in the last two training camps. The Thunder come into camp basically intact and healthy. Here are some of the issues the Thunder are hoping to settle before October 29th.

1. Reggie Jackson

Probably the biggest question mark heading into the season is the contract situation of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder have until October 31st to work out an extension with Jackson. If no deal is done by then, Jackson will enter restricted free agency next offseason. Thunder GM Sam Presti, in his address to the media, said Jackson was a “core member” of the team and that the team was working hard in trying to secure an extension.

Many people will hark back to how the Thunder handled (or didn’t handle) the James Harden extension. As has been rehashed many times over, Harden and the Thunder couldn’t get an extension worked out and Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets four days before the beginning of the season. But there are two major differences between the two situations. The first difference is that Jackson is not a max player. While NBA teams have been giving out very generous contracts to “upper middle class” type players in the past few offseasons, Jackson unfortunately plays a position of excess in the NBA. Many teams already either have their point guard or aren’t necessarily in the market to pay max money for a “middle class” player. The second major difference is the Thunder’s financial situation. Due to the Harden trade, the Thunder were able to maintain their salary cap flexibility and, even with 3 max or near max deals, are in great financial shape. With the salary cap set to greatly increase in the next 2-3 seasons, the Thunder can offer Jackson a reasonable contract without endangering their ability to extend Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka.

The Thunder have everything in their favor to re-sign Jackson. But like many other situations in life, the events we think will be solved in a straight line, usually become roller coasters before we reach the finish line. The monkey wrench in this situation is Jackson’s adamant desire to be a starter. He planted the seed during exit interviews at the end of last season. And his tone didn’t change throughout the offseason. As Jackson stated during media day, “I can’t remember any great that wasn’t a starter. All the greats have started. I just want to be great. I want a chance to be great. I can’t recall a superstar Sixth Man.” The problem is that Jackson is point guard sized, and the Thunder have an opening at shooting guard, a position usually reserved on the Thunder for a long-winged defender that can (hopefully) make spot-up 3-pointers.

The Thunder got a sneak peak at what a Westbrook/Jackson back court would look like in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals. While the results were positive, the Thunder will probably choose to go the traditional route for the regular season. Whether its a ploy by Jackson to leverage the Thunder into more money or whether Jackson truly wants to be a starter in the league, this monkey wrench is probably a long ways away from getting resolved. Look for Jackson to head into the season without an extension.

2. Starting Shooting Guard

For the first time in five seasons, someone other than Thabo Sefolosha will start at SG for the Thunder on opening night. Sefolosha signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason, thus opening the 2-guard spot. Sefolosha struggled in his final season with the Thunder and was relegated to bench duty at times in two of the Thunder’s three playoff series. The Thunder have a bevy of candidates that could possibly start at shooting guard.

Andre Roberson started 16 games for the Thunder as a rookie when Sefolosha was out with a calf strain in the 2nd half of the season. He has shown flashes of being the prototypical wing defender that the Thunder love to use at the 2-guard position, but is a developing work in progress on the offensive end. In 40 games total last season, Roberson only attempted 13 3-pointers, making only 2 in the process. He knows his limitations offensively and usually defers to his more offensively minded teammates.

Jeremy Lamb was viewed as being the heir-apparent to James Harden after the trade two seasons ago. He could shoot like Harden and was long and rangy enough to be made into an adequate defender. He showed flashes last season, averaging nearly 10 points per game until he hit the “rookie” wall in the second half of the season. Last season was Lamb’s second, but it was his first playing significant minutes. By the end of the season, Lamb’s minutes were going to veterans Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. The Thunder seem to really like what Lamb brings to the team and may look to him to be their version of Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.

lamb jones thunder

Reggie Jackson is another option. He started the final four games of the Western Conference Finals with Westbrook to positive results. But the Thunder probably view Jackson as their firepower off the bench and one of their closers. While Jackson has been adamant that he would like to start, his best role on this team may be that of his current role as a sixth man.

The dark horse in this competition is Perry Jones. He started six games for the Thunder at SG and did a memorable job defensively on LeBron James in the Thunder’s victory in Miami against the Heat last season. He’s the median between Roberson and Lamb. He can hit the corner 3 pretty consistently and has the tools and ability to be a good defender. The question is whether he has the motor and “want to” to beat out the other candidates?

In the end, I think Lamb comes out of the fray with the starting position. His ability to space the floor will give the Thunder a dimension in their starting line-up they have been severely lacking. The onus will be on Lamb to improve defensively. The Thunder preach defense, and if Lamb is not up to task, there are at least 3 guys in the wings that can replace him.

3. Starting Center

With Kendrick Perkins nursing a quad strain, Steven Adams has an opportunity to supplant the veteran as the team’s starting center. The signs have been pointing towards Adams being the center of the future for this team. But Adams’ play last season may have fast-forwarded that development to this season. Adams started 20 games last season when Perkins was out and developed consistently as the season progressed. In the playoffs, Adams averaged nearly 4 more minutes per game than Perkins after Game 5 of the first round.

Perkins’ contract is up after this season and the team is probably ready to move on from it. While Perkins has been a great locker room presence, his play on the court has not merited his hefty salary. But if the Thunder start Adams, they run into a bit of a conundrum. Perkins’ value is as a starter. He is great defensively against traditional post players, most of whom start. As a bench player though, the little value Perkins does have gets muted. The team could always trade Perkins, as a $9 million dollar expiring contract is a commodity during the trade deadline, but the depth at center suffered a bit when the team traded Hasheem Thabeet. Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Mitch McGary can all play center, but are better suited for power forward.

What I see happening is a repeat of last season’s playoffs. Perkins will get the starts, but Adams will get the lion’s share of minutes.

4. 15th Spot

The Thunder do have a roster spot open, but have always preferred to keep that spot open until the trade deadline in February. An open roster spots becomes more attractive to a team looking to trade more players than they are receiving. Also, after the deadline, expiring veterans on lottery bound teams are usually bought out so they have the ability to latch onto a playoff-bound team for the stretch run. The Thunder have used this roster spot in recent years to sign Derek Fisher and Caron Butler for late season playoff pushes. In conclusion, I see the Thunder going into the season with an open roster spot.

5. The Semaj Christon Situation

Christon, the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, will apparently be getting the Grant Jerrett treatment. Jerrett was the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from last season’s draft. Instead of inviting him to training camp and being forced to offer him a training camp contract, the Thunder, instead, renounced their rights to him and made him the first pick in that year’s D-League draft. He played the entire season with the Tulsa 66ers, and then signed with the Thunder in the final week of the NBA season. The Thunder then included him on their playoff roster. That inclusion allowed Jerrett to get paid the playoff bonus that all the other players received. The Thunder rewarded Jerrett’s loyalty by offering him a multiyear contract this offseason.

semaj christon thunder blue

According to Christon’s agent Doug Neustadt, he will begin his career with the Thunder’s renamed D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. Christon has the physical attributes to be a Thunder-type point guard (long, athletic, able to drive and finish). On the Blue, he’ll probably be tasked with running the team and becoming a better shooter. If the Thunder have an open roster spot near the end of the season, look for them to reward Christon for his loyalty and patience.

6. Hot seat for Scott Brooks?

Is this the season that the coaching seat starts to warm up for Brooks. He has probably his most talented roster yet, and will be measured by whether he wins a championship or not. Injuries have had a big hand in deciding the Thunder’s fate the last two postseasons, but Brooks has also been to blame due to his lack of an offensive system and his stubbornness to make rotational changes whenever necessary. Brooks is a great ego-managing coach. He’s nursed the Thunder’s core players from “all-potential” to “all-production”. That is not an easy thing to do in the NBA. But now, its “put up or shut up” time. The team is primed for a championship run and their core players are just now entering their prime. Will Brooks rise above the fray, or will he, once again, be a game too late in making the right adjustments?

7. Is Russell Westbrook the best point guard in the league?

Yes! He outplayed Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker on head to head match-ups in last year’s playoffs. He was probably the 2nd or 3rd best player in the playoffs. And for a 10 game stretch before he necessitated another surgery on his knee in December, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game on 46.5% shooting. Is he the best pure point guard in the league? Probably not. That title still belongs to Chris Paul. But pound for pound, bringing everything to the table, I’m taking Westbrook every time.

8. Steven Adams’ mustache

The Lord giveth…..

adams thunder 2

…And the Lord taketh away (just a day later – no ‘stache)

 adams practice

#SadFace

9. Will Serge Ibaka ever learn who Mitch McGary is?

OH, the outrage when it was discovered that Serge Ibaka didn’t know who Mitch McGary. How dare Ibaka not know who one of his teammates are? Until you consider that Ibaka was probably just enjoying his time in Spain representing the host country in the FIBA World Cup. Fans tend to think the players are as passionate about the roster makeup of their team as they are. American-born players are used to waking up watching SportsCenter and knowing the ins and outs of the league. Foreign-born players don’t have the same routines as American-born players, so they probably don’t necessarily keep track with all the happenings around the league. Plus, Serge was extremely busy this summer, so its understandable. And besides, he’ll have plenty of time to get to know McGary this season.

In the end, Ibaka could have just been trolling everyone, though.

10. Was this the longest offseason in Thunder history?

Yes!

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

Last season: 62-20 (1st in the Southwest Division, 1st in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy after Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Kyle Anderson – Draft (No. 30 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

Season Preview – Everyone keeps waiting for the Spurs to age, but every year, they come back wiser and better. The reigning NBA champs come back with the entire team basically intact. While chemistry won’t be an issue, a couple of the main players are coming back from injury. Manu Ginobili spent most of the offseason nursing a stress fracture in his leg and Patty Mills had rotator cuff surgery that will keep him out half the season. But as is the Spurs, they will turn that into a positive as Mills will be very well rested when the playoffs start next April.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Spurs repeat as champions

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

Last season: 50-32 (3rd in the Southwest Division, 7th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions:

  • Jordan Adams – Draft (No. 22 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Vince Carter – Free agent signing
  • Jarnell Stokes – Draft (No. 35 in the 2014 NBA Draft)

Key Departures:

  • Jamaal Franklin – Waived
  • Ed Davis – Signed with the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Mike Miller – Signed with the Chicago Bulls
  • James Johnson – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – The Grizzlies have slowly put together a balanced team that doesn’t entirely depend on the post play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. The additions of Jordan Adams and Vince Carter, and the return of Quincy Pondexter from injury should help spread the floor for the big man duo to operate a little easier in the interior. Mike Conley remains one of the more underrated floor generals in the league and Tony Allen is still a premier defensive menace, as we saw in last season’s playoff series against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Grizzlies make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

Last season: 49-33 (4th in the Southwest Division, 8th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs

Key Additions:

  • Al Farouq Aminu – Signed free agent
  • Tyson Chandler – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Raymond Felton – Obtained in a trade with the New York Knicks
  • Richard Jefferson – Signed free agent
  • Ivan Johnson – Signed free agent
  • Jameer Nelson – Signed free agent
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed free agent
  • Greg Smith – Obtained in a trade with the Chicago Bulls

Key Departures:

  • Jose Calderon – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shane Larkin – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Shawn Marion – Signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Samuel Dalembert – Traded to the New York Knicks
  • Vince Carter – Signed with the Memphis Grizzlies
  • DeJuan Blair – Sign and traded to the Washington Wizards

Season Preview – Other than the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Mavericks probably had the most player movement of any team in the leauge. The team that took the eventual champs to 7 games in the first round, got their defensive stopper in the lane (Chandler), and got an up-and-coming star in Chandler Parsons. The Mavs should be a little better balanced defensively, but that all depends on the health of Chandler. If he misses a big chunk of the season (15-20+ games), the Mavericks could be in trouble defensively. The point guard position is also a question mark, as each of the three possibilities (Felton, Nelson, and Devin Harris) have been starters in the past, but also have glaring weaknesses.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Mavs make it to the Western Conference Finals

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

Last season: 54-28 (2nd in the Southwest Division, 4th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Game 6 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs against the Portland Trailblazers

Key Additions:

  • Jeff Adrien – Free agent signing
  • Trevor Ariza – Free agent signing
  • Clint Capela – Draft (No. 25 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jason Terry – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Joey Dorsey – Free agent signing
  • Ish Smith – Free agent signing

Key Departures:

  • Jeremy Lin – Traded to the Los Angeles Lakers
  • Omer Asik – Traded to the New Orleans Pelicans
  • Chandler Parsons – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jordan Hamilton – Signed with the Toronto Raptors

Season Preview – After striking gold in the last two offseasons, Rockets GM Daryl Morey hit a rough patch this offseason. He traded away 2 of this team’s top 5 players (Asik and Lin) for basically nothing, and failed to resign Parsons, even though the Rockets held his Bird Rights. The reasons they made these moves was an “all in” attempt at either Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. By the time those two players had re-signed with their respective teams, the damage had already been done to the Rockets’ roster. The Rockets salvaged a little life this offseason by signing Trevor Ariza. The Rockets will still win games due to the talent of James Harden and Dwight Howard. But depth will be an issue, and any injury to any of the major players on the Rockets will be a huge blow to the team’s playoff chances.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Rockets make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

Last season: 34-48 (5th in the Southwest Division, 12th in the Western Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Omer Asik – Obtained in a trade with the Houston Rockets
  • Jimmer Fredette – Free agent signing
  • John Salmons – Free agent signing
  • Russ Smith – Draft (No. 47 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Patric Young – Rookie free agent signing (Undrafted)

Key Departures:

  • Al-Farouq Aminu – Signed with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Greg Stiemsma – Signed with the Toronto Raptors
  • Jason Smith – Signed with the New York Knicks
  • Anthony Morrow – Signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder
  • Brian Roberts – Signed with the Charlotte Hornets

Season Preview – After a great showing in the FIBA World Cup, Anthony Davis is ready to finally take his team to another level. The acquisition of Asik will allow Davis to play his natural position of power forward. On the outside, Ryan Anderson returns from neck surgery and should help space the floor for Davis and Jrue Holiday to operate. The depth of this team is worrisome, and if the injury bug hits again, they could once again struggle to stay above water.

2014-15 will be succesful if: The Pelican make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40