Tag Archives: Kevin Martin

Oklahoma City Thunder acquire Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets

foye

The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Randy Foye from the Denver Nuggets on the trade deadline. The Thunder gave up DJ Augustin, Steve Novak, and both of their 2016 2nd round picks (theirs and Charlotte’s, which was acquired in the Jeremy Lamb trade this past offseason). In Foye, the Thunder get a combo guard who is a good (not great) defender and someone who can knock down open shots. This season, Foye is averaging 6 points and 2.1 assists in nearly 20 minutes of action per game. He is shooting only 29.6% from deep, but has shot 37% from that distance over his career. He shoots much better when he is wide open. He rarely got that opportunity in Denver, but will get a lot more looks in Oklahoma City with attention grabbers like Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook on the floor.

The Thunder’s M.O. is usually to have three point guards on the roster. Foye is a good enough ball-handler to be a 3rd string point guard, while also being a good enough shooter to be a spacer off the bench. He will help the bench unit defensively and will add another ball-handler to that line-up. But his biggest value may be as a go-between for Cameron Payne as he gains experience in this, his rookie season. Payne has performed well this season, but when the lights were brightest (the Warriors game) he looked wide-eyed and shaky. Which is exactly what you’d expect from a rookie. The Thunder trust Payne, but if the stage gets too big for him come April, Foye is the perfect back-up plan to bridge the gap between this season and next season.

Many people will pan this trade, but I thought it was a good play by the Thunder. Augustin and Novak were out of the rotation and on expiring deals. Instead of just sitting on that, the Thunder decided to get a player that could possibly have an impact in the near future who was also on an expiring deal. In addition, the move generated a $3.75 million dollar traded player exception (TPE) and opened up a valuable roster spot for the Thunder.

That roster spot could be used on a buyout candidate later in the season. Names that have been thrown out as buy-0ut candidates are Kevin Martin, Joe Johnson, Lance Stephenson, and Andrea Bargnani. Players that won’t necessarily take over a starting spot, but could play a role for a playoff team.

In addition to the roster spot, the move also shaves off over $8 million dollars from the Thunder luxury tax bill. There was never going to be a move that brought the Thunder above the tax line. But any move that could lessen the blow a bit was always welcomed.

In the end, the Thunder felt they were good enough to stand where they currently were. The addition of Foye could prove to be the type of move that helps them against a Golden State in the postseason or it could just be a lateral move where the Thunder traded away two end of the bench players for another end of the bench player. Either way, what the Thunder received outside of Foye (the roster spot, the TPE, the smaller tax bill) could have bigger ramifications for the Thunder moving forward.

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Thunder Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

The Oklahoma City hold two first round picks in this year’s draft. Their own (No. 29) and Dallas’ first rounder (No. 21) obtained from Houston in the James Harden trade. In a daft and offseason that will be filled with intrigue heading into July 1st, assets are a powerful thing to be in possession of heading into the draft. The Thunder are on the cusp of becoming a championship team, having been in 3 of the last 4 Western Conference Finals and being on the losing end of the 2012 NBA Finals. With most of the core pieces in place, the Thunder may use these assets to get that final piece or two to finally get over the edge.

Assets

Other than the two first round picks in a pretty loaded draft, the Thunder also have the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) they obtained from the Kevin Martin sign and trade last season. The TPE can be used to trade for a player without having to add any players in order to make the salaries match. For example, Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Hornets makes $6 million dollars in salary. If the Thunder wanted to trade for him, they could offer the Hornets their TPE for $6.1 million dollars and a draft pick or the draft rights to one of their Euro-stashes.

kevin martin

In addition to the TPE, the Thunder have 2 players in the final year of their contracts. Kendrick Perkins will be making $9.4 million dollars and Nick Collison will be making $2.2 million dollars next season. In addition, if the Thunder pick up Hasheem Thabeet’s final year, he’ll be making $1.25 million. In the NBA, expiring contracts become valuable because the receiving team can trade away a player (or players) of equal cost, but usually with more time left on their contracts. For example, let’s hypothetically say the Spurs were needing to trade Tiago Splitter to make space for Kawhi Leonard’s upcoming extension. Next season Splitter will be making $9.25 million, but has 2 more years left on his contract after that. The Spurs could hypothetically trade Splitter to the Thunder for Perkins and his expiring contract.

Also, the Thunder have a slew of young players all making under $3 million dollars a season (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Grant Jerrett) and two valuable Euro-stashes in Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines. The inclusion of these players in a deal are usually the things that either make or break a deal.

Targets

With Thabo Sefolosha going into free agency and some of the depth of the team either not coming back (Derek Fisher and Caron Butler) or getting older (Collison), the Thunder will probably be in the market for a starting 2-guard and some veteran depth for the bench. So what are some possible targets for the Thunder?

Mike Dunleavy

With Chicago wanting to try their hand in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Bulls will have to rid themselves of some salary before even attempting to offer Anthony anything close to a max contract. The Thunder obtained some assets from Miami when they were making their run at LeBron James (and Chris Bosh) in 2010. In that draft, they obtained SG Daequan Cook from Miami and the No. 18 pick for the No. 32 pick. The Bulls will shed some salary by releasing Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause. But the Bulls will probably need a little more salary shed before they can offer Anthony a max (or very near max) deal. While Dunleavy is a weapon as a 3-point specialist, they probably won’t want to get rid of any of their young (cheap) wings such as Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. In addition, rumors that Bulls’ Eurostash Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Bulls may necessitate that the dump even more salary.

dunleavy bulls

The Thunder could target Dunleavy with the TPE, and then try to obtain one of the Bulls’ two first round picks (16 and 19) for the Thunder’s 29th pick. That way, the Bulls shed salary, but still have an asset that allows them to obtain a player in the future, in the form of the TPE. Also, the Bulls trade one of their 1st rounders, but stay in the first round with pick No. 29, albeit at a cheaper price.

Iman Shumpert

At the trade deadline this past season, there were rumors that the Knicks and Thunder were discussing a trade centered around Iman Shumpert and the Thunder’s first round pick. At the time, it was not known whether the Thunder would have a 2nd first round pick. With the season over and the Knicks under new management, it could be a good time to revisit those talks. Depending on how Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher view Shumpert could determine whether he is available during the draft.

Arron Afflalo

Probably the most difficult of the trades to do. Difficult, because Afflalo makes $7.6 million, which is too much to fit under the TPE. Unfortunately, the TPE is an all or nothing deal. Either you are able to obtain the player using the TPE or you’re not. TPE’s cannot be used in conjunction with something else in the same transaction. At $7.6 million, the Thunder would have to trade a player or two along with assets such as draft picks or Euro-stashes. So then the question becomes: Do the Thunder view Afflalo as the final piece of the puzzle?

arron afflalo

If you follow the history of the Thunder, you know that they trust in their system and their developmental program. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be entering into their 3rd year (or as its called in Thunder lore “The Year”) and Steven Adams will have an another offseason’s worth of training under his belt. So, no, I don’t think they will trade for Afflalo. Players like Shumpert and Dunleavy will take less assets to obtain, so I can definitely see the team going after someone like that.

In an offseason that may feature LeBron, Carmelo, and Bosh as free agents, Kevin Love as a moving target, and a vaunted draft class, you can expect to see plenty of moving parts around the league. With assets in hand, the Thunder may throw their hat into the fray to see what they can come out of it with.

Minnesota Timberwolves vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 51 of 82)

durant love thunder timberwolves

  • When: Wednesday, 05 February 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Two games in and I already miss January. It’s kind of a drag having to watch Kevin Durant score only 28.5 points per game. I mean, he looks downright superhuman out there, which is a notch below the deity like figure he became in the first month of the year. After suffering their annual loss in Washington D.C., the Thunder got back on track with a home victory over the surging Memphis Grizzlies. That was their first victory over the Grizzlies in 5 tries without the services of Russell Westbrook.

It doesn’t matter whether the game is in Minneapolis or in Oklahoma City, the Timberwolves always seem to give the Thunder fits. The Thunder have held the advantage in the past 5 season, winning 15 of their last 18 meetings, but every game is usually a very spirited affair. It has been no different this season. In the first meeting of the season, the Timberwolves blew out the Thunder. The Thunder returned the favor in the 2nd meeting, winning 113-103. It was the 3rd meeting of the season between these two that was more akin to how their games usually play out. This was the game, I think, that started the Reaping. With the Thunder down by 13 half a minute into the 4th quarter, Durant went on to outscore the Timberwolves 23-21 during the rest of the quarter. His play, along with that of Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, and Serge Ibaka helped the Thunder come from behind to secure a 115-111 victory.

The Opponent

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves come into the game with a 24-24 record, 3.5 games out of the 8th spot in the Western Conference. To say that this season has been a bit of a disappointment would be an understatement. With health finally on their side, the T-Wolves were supposed to in the thick of the playoff race, not on the outside looking in. They boast a top 3 offense and are 7th in the league in Margin Of Victory (MOV). But their defense in terms of opponent’s ppg is in the bottom third of the league (20th) and they seem to find a way to lose close games. The offense is guided by PG Ricky Rubio, who’s continues to dazzle as a playmaker, but offers little else in the perimeter game. Ex-Thunder 6th man Kevin Martin signed with Minnesota in the offseason and is their second leading scorer. Kevin Love is having an excellent season, averaging 25.6 points and 13.2 rebounds. The Timberwolves’ bench has the ability to be explosive, but is a bit muted because of the absence of Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Ricky Rubio
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • PF – Kevin Love
  • C – Ronny Turiaf

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  •  C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Depth – The Timberwolves are currently down 2 starters, and possibly 3 depending how Kevin Love woke up this morning after that nasty fall he took last night. The Thunder’s depth may allow them to blow this game open when the starters are resting.

2. Timberwolves’ Front Line – With Pekovic out, does it really make sense to play Perkins that much? Ibaka and Nick Collison (or Kevin Durant) may be better suited to guard the Turiaf/Love front line, than Ibaka/Perk.

ibaka love jackson pekovic thunder timberwolves

3. Rebounding – The T-Wolves are in the top 3 in rebounds per game. It’s a major part of their game and acts as an equalizer to their lack of defense. Turiaf is a much more active rebounder than Pekovic, and can present a different set of problems than Pekovic’s size presents. It’ll be very important to keep them off the offensive glass.

Growing Pains: The Thunder’s young bench

jeremy lamb reggie jackson thunder

Injuries are an inevitability in sports. When you have bodies constantly in motion, there are going to come times when those bodies either collide or move in ways that cause injury. It’s the reason team sports have reserve players. In the wake of injuries, a team should have a healthy balance of veteran players and young, developing players. It’s the line that allows teams to sustain success while also building for the future. Have too much of either on the bench, and a team risks cutting into their current success or into their future success.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have always had a decent balance of veterans and young players on the bench. But with the James Harden trade, they decided to rely on youth instead of looking for veteran help in free agency. At the time of that trade, they received rookie SG Jeremy Lamb, a lottery pick from the Toronto Raptors (that eventually turned into Steven Adams), and an early 2nd rounder from the Charlotte Bobcats (that eventually turned into Spanish guard Alex Abrines, a Euro-stash). Along with that, the Thunder already had 2nd year guard Reggie Jackson and rookie Perry Jones III in tow. In essence, the Thunder have been grooming this new bench mob for the past season and a half.

kevin martin hasheem thabeet eric maynor thunder

Another addition to the Harden trade was veteran guard Kevin Martin, who slid into the 6th man role that Harden occupied. Last season’s bench was veteran-laden with Martin, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, and Hasheem Thabeet getting the lion’s share of the reserve minutes. About a third into the season, Maynor was replaced by Jackson and Derek Fisher joined the team after the All-Star break. The problem with our veteran bench last season was two-fold: there wasn’t any offensive versatility to it and it was inconsistent defensively. The scoring was either coming from Martin or it wasn’t coming at all. As his efficiency declined in the second half of the season, so did the bench’s offensive effectiveness. It got to the point where either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook had to be on the floor with the bench unit for it to be effective. Defensively, the bench struggled to match the athleticism of other younger benches.

On paper, the bench last season was a good mix of veterans and young players. But most of the young players spent their time in Tulsa and never got to test their mettle against NBA competition. Last season, Lamb spent 801 minutes (regular season and postseason combined) in the D-League and only 147 regular season minutes with the Thunder. Perry Jones spent 588 total minutes in the D-League and only 280 regular season minutes (plus 5 playoff minutes) with the Thunder.

perry jones thunder

 

Now, those two players, along with Jackson and Adams, are being asked to carry the second unit for a title contender. Veterans Derek Fisher and Nick Collison still play a prominent role off the bench, but the team is dependent on the young players to provide the team what the bench couldn’t provide last season, which was offensive versatility and defensive consistency. For the most part, the bench was starting to become one of the top benches in the league, before the Westbrook injury. After, though, it has been more inconsistent. And therein lies the problem with depending on such a young bench.

When the San Antonio Spurs suffer injuries to their starters, they can depend on veterans Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Matt Bonner, and Patty Mills to come in and step up until those injured players get back. The same goes for the Miami Heat. When their line-up needs to be shuffled, they know they can fall back on the likes of Ray Allen, Shane Battier, and Rashard Lewis. Veterans that not only know their roles, but also have championship experience to boot. These players know how to work through slumps and how to affect games in ways other than scoring. These young Thunder players are just now learning how to do these things.

steven adams griffin thunder clippers

There are positive signs though. The last time the Thunder played the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Thunder were down for most of the game and Lamb was having a miserable game, shooting 2-7 FG with 2 turnovers. But he found ways to affect the game via his rebounding and defense, and made the plays necessary in the 4th quarter to help the Thunder win the game. Perry Jones has affected numerous games with his defense and ability to hit 3-point shots. And Jackson is showing signs of being a good combo guard, similar to Eric Bledsoe.

Reggie Jackson got his baptism by fire in the playoffs last season after Westbrook went down with his knee injury. But other than him, and 5 minutes of Perry Jones in Game 1 of the Houston series, none of the young bench players have any playoff experience. Could that come back to bite the Thunder in the rear during Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals? It could, but nothing teaches quite like experience. Here’s hoping that the growing pains of the regular season turn into the epiphanies of the post season.

The Thunder and the 66ers: Paying Dividends

lamb tulsa 66ers thunder

Last season I wrote about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s extensive use of their D-League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers. After the Harden trade, the Thunder found themselves in the peculiar position of being a contending team, while also having a handful of players that they needed to develop. In the Harden trade, they received a good stopgap in Kevin Martin and an apt apprentice in Jeremy Lamb. The Thunder used Martin as their 6th man off the bench, and he performed serviceably for them, notching averages of 14.0 ppg and 2.3 rpg on 43% 3pt shooting. The wild card in the trade was Lamb, the rookie out of Connecticut who was the 12th pick in the 2012 NBA draft.

Lamb was used in spot duty throughout the season, but spent most of his time in Tulsa where he averaged 21 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in 21 games. There is no doubt that that experience helped Lamb in his transition to be a major cog off the bench for the Thunder this season.

Reggie Jackson spent only 3 games in the D-League last season, but he made his mark known. His per game averages for those 3 games were an astounding 28 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.3 assists on 60% FG shooting and 36% 3-pt FG shooting. After that 3 game stint, Jackson went on to get the majority of the back-up point guard minutes on the team and eventually led to Eric Maynor being traded to the Portland Trailblazers. That move paid dividends when Russell Westbrook went down in the second game of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Jackson performed well in his first foray as an NBA starter. Even though the Thunder lost in the 2nd round of the playoffs, Jackson provided enough of a steady hand that the Thunder knew, regardless of how the Kevin Martin negotiations went in the offseason, that they had a true 6th man already under contract.

jackson rose bulls thunder

While Jeremy Lamb was an unknown heading into the season, it was known that he would be part of the rotation. What wasn’t known was how Perry Jones III would fit into the equation. Would he be in the rotation? Would he be shuffled back and forth between Tulsa and Oklahoma City? What is known is the Jones was a combination of size, speed, and athleticism that is unparalleled in the league, outside of Kevin Durant and Paul George. A 6’11 hybrid that can possibly play every position not named point guard.

The key to Jones’ success is if he ever learns how to harness all the raw talent and ability into something feasible on the basketball court. Early returns this season have proven inconclusive. He has shown flashes of being a good rotation player, but also gets caught doing a lot of floating on the floor. Also, due to the rotation, he may be the odd man out at the moment. A little bit of extra seasoning in the D-League may be beneficial to Jones. Not necessarily an entire season’s worth, but maybe 10 games in 3-4 game stints would do wonders for this development. Continue reading The Thunder and the 66ers: Paying Dividends

Oklahoma City Thunder: Lessons from Summer School

okc summer league champs

The Oklahoma City Thunder finished summer league with a 5-0 record, and were crowned champions of the first ever Orlando Summer League Championship. While it is cause for celebration, it’s important to remember that this is Summer League. A league where at least 50% of the participants will log as many minutes in the NBA as you and I. Regardless of talent level though, there were a lot of things to take from summer league. Here are a couple:

1. Reggie Jackson is ready to make The Jump. The Jump is the term for when a player starts to understand the nuances of the professional game and it slows down for them. Kevin Durant led the league in scoring his 3rd season, Russell Westbrook made it to his first All-Star Game and made 2nd Team All NBA in his 3rd season, and James Harden won 6th Man of the Year in his 3rd season. In his one full game in summer league, Jackson broke the Orlando Summer League record with 35 points, bringing the Thunder back from a 12 point 4th quarter deficit with 23 of those points coming in that final quarter. He completely dominated getting to any spot on the floor that he wanted. While I don’t expect a repeat performance during the NBA season, I do think that Reggie is ready to take that next step in his development. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder: Lessons from Summer School

Oklahoma City Thunder: Ballin’ on a budget

westbrookdurantibaka

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

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

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

presti

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

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

bird

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

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

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

a thunder

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

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

martin_wolves_lm1_130109

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

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

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

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

Trains of Thought: Thunder and the 2013 Draft

NBA: NBA Draft

Approaching a draft, there are always differing trains of thought as to whom a team should choose. A team has to analyze what their needs are and if they can realistically draft a player that will fill said need(s). This is especially true if you are holding one of the lottery picks. Teams picking in these first 14 slots usually have a plethora of needs to address. But for a championship contending team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have many of the necessary cogs already in place, a pick in the lottery can be the final piece of the puzzle to get the team over the hump. 

darko

Drafting a final piece is not always guaranteed to get a team over the hump, though. In the summer of 2003, the Detroit Pistons had just come off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and also held the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, which was loaded at the top. Easy pickings, right? Get the 2nd best player available and you should be set for the next 5 years. But success and good fortune can sometimes make you think you are smarter than you really are. In a draft where the Pistons could have chosen any of Carmelo Anthony, Dwayne Wade, or Chris Bosh, they instead decided to go with the experimental Euro-project named Darko Milicic. Even though the Pistons won the championship the next season, it had nothing to do with Milicic, who was famously tagged as the “human victory cigar” due to the bulk of his playing time coming at the end of blowout victories. The Pistons went on to lose in the NBA Finals in the next season and played in 3 consecutive Eastern Conference Finals after that. Add that up, and in a 6 year span, the Pistons played in 6 consecutive ECFs, went to the Finals twice, and won one championship. Nothing is guaranteed, but I think the number of championships would have increased if the Pistons had drafted one of the other players mentioned above. 

Granted, this draft is not as loaded as the 2003 draft was. But the Thunder find themselves in a position to draft a position of need, instead of having to pay for it through free agency or trade for it. There are probably two trains of thought for what type of the player the Thunder should draft with the 12th pick: either a defensive minded big man capable of developing some semblance of an offensive game or a scoring wing adept at making perimeter shots. In other words, either a replacement for Kendrick Perkins or a replacement for James Harden. The big man pick is more targeted towards future success, while the perimeter wing would be for more immediate results.

pacers

The conference finals and NBA Finals have given the Thunder a blueprint as to what they need for sustained success. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Indiana Pacers showed what two competent big men can do against the Miami Heat. David West and Roy Hibbert gobbled up offensive rebounds and scored in the paint, almost at will. In the Finals, the San Antonio Spurs have shown that playing the same brand of basketball as the Heat (dribble penetration and 3-point shooting) can befuddle and frustrate them, especially if the opponent is hitting 3-pointers at a 45% clip.

Train of Thought No. 1 – Big Man

perk ii

Everybody knows I love crazy uncle Perk (Kendrick Perkins). For a person who grew up on 90’s basketball, Perkins’ style of play harks back to that physical era. But, truth be told, he laid a complete goose egg in the playoffs this season. He surprisingly had a better run last post season when he played with a torn groin and a torn ligament in his wrist. That Perkins has no semblance of an offensive game is a known fact. But that is usually masked by constant attacking nature of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. When Westbrook went out with his knee injury in the first round of the playoffs, that lack of an offensive game led to the further stagnation of an offense that was already compromised. It wasn’t just that Perkins couldn’t get the ball in the basket, it’s that he was a walking turnover. He had a negative PER in the playoffs and was a liability not just on the offensive end, but also on the defensive end. I didn’t even know negative PERs existed.

Needless to say, with 2 seasons left on Perkins’ contract, it may be time to start looking for his replacement sooner rather than later. Picking up a big man at this slot would be a pick for the future, as big men generally take longer to develop and no post player in this draft has that “ready to play now” look to them.

Before deciding what type of big man could be drafted, it’s important to see what is already in the cupboard. Besides Perkins, the other starter is Serge Ibaka, one of the most versatile power forwards in the NBA. In addition to leading the league in blocks for the 2nd consecutive season, Ibaka also has a deadly midrange game that occasionally stretches out to the 3-point line. His next stage of development should be to learn a post move or two. Off the bench, Nick Collison is a heady post player who plays good defense, can score inside, and can occasionally hit a midrange jumper. The only negative with Collison is that he is getting long in the tooth and starting to show signs of that. Hasheem Thabeet is an average center who is just now learning how to contribute 10-12 solid minutes per game. Perry Jones III is still in the initial stages of his development, but has the physical tools to become a solid contributor. And Daniel Orton is probably the odd man out in the game of big man roulette.

adams noel

Any post player selected will be drafted with the intent to eventually be the starting center. The Thunder tried that 3 seasons ago with Cole Aldrich, but he never panned out. If the Thunder’s system remains similar for the next 3-5 seasons, a player with Perkins’ toughness and defensive chops, but better offensive potential would probably be the selection. Players that fall in that category would be Alex Len, Steven Adams, Mason Plumlee, and Gorgui Dieng. If the Thunder decides to go for an offensive-minded big man, look for them to select Kelly Olynyk or Cody Zeller.

Train of Thought No. 2 – Perimeter Wing

harden

The Thunder have a little more flexibility here than with the center position. When the Thunder made the trade with Houston, they not only traded Harden, but also Daequan Cook. These floor spacers are very important when the bulk of your offense is dependent on two perimeter oriented players. The drive and dish becomes a lot more driving into defensive walls if the dishees aren’t reliable 3-point shooters, especially in the playoffs.

Seeing as the NBA is becoming more of a drive and dish league, having penetrators and 3-point shooters is tantamount to a team’s success. It used to be that if you had a great big man, you were almost guaranteed a deep playoff run. That began to change with the elimination of hand checking. Once that happened, it unshackled quick wing players to have a more prominent role in the offense. No longer were defenders able to keep quicker players at an arm’s length, thus eliminating their speed advantage. Now, defenses had to converge on the quicker players, which opened up shooters on the perimeter, especially on the 3-point line. And, as any kindergartener will tell you, 3 is more than 2 any day of the week.

Looking at the Thunder’s inventory when it comes to wing players, the Thunder already have two of the best dribble penetrators in the league, in Durant and Westbrook. Add to that Reggie Jackson, and the team has their fair share of attackers on the offensive end. What’s lacking on the team is the amount of shooters. Thabo Sefolosha has improved his 3-point shooting to the point where he’s effective, but his slow release make him a liability against teams with long defenders. Kevin Martin was, for the most part, an effective perimeter shooter, but his inconsistency and disappearing act in key games, proved to be a big problem for the Thunder. DeAndre Liggins is on the team for defensive purposes, and Jeremy Lamb was never given a chance to show his shooting chops on the NBA level, though he was very effective in the D-League.

ben-mclemore-dunk

There are two choices for where the team wants to go with this train of thought. One choice is an instant offense type player off the bench. If this is the way the Thunder may be leaning, then look for them to choose CJ McCollum or Shabazz Muhammad. If the Thunder are looking for more of a complete player to eventually take over the shooting guard spot, then the options become Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Thunder will go into draft day with a couple players in mind and counter moves for each situation. In my opinion, the Thunder are extremely high on about 5 players: McLemore, Len, McCollum, Adams, and Oladipo. I think it’ll all be dependent on where the players fall. If McLemore or Len slip down to the 4-6 range, I think the Thunder will throw every possible trade, not involving Durant, Westbrook, or Ibaka, at those teams in that range.

The good thing is that the Thunder have options. Their high 2nd round pick affords them the possibility of obtaining an extra first round pick from a team looking to involve themselves in this year’s free agency. The ability to put a package together with multiple 1st round picks and young players can be very enticing to a team that is rebuilding. Soon enough, it’ll be draft day and Thunder GM Sam Presti will be able to put his plan into play.

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.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Series Preview

james-harden-rockets-thunder

It’s a funny thing about fate. You usually see the final product taking shape from a mile away, but when it happens, you’re completely surprised by the end result. All season long the Oklahoma City Thunder have hovered around the top two spots in the Western Conference and the Houston Rockets have hovered around the 6-8 spot. It shouldn’t have come to surprise anyone that these two teams might actually meet in the first round of the playoffs. But when it happened, after the final game of the final day of the season, there was a collective, “Wow, we’re playing James Harden in the first round” train of thought.

Everyone will want to turn this into James Harden vs. the Oklahoma City Thunder. I see that, but we all know, that in reality, this is going to be the Kevin Martin vs. the Houston Rockets series, right? (Crickets, crickets) Well, as fate would have it, these two teams will meet in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The top seeded Thunder versus the 8th seeded Rockets. The young, rambunctious upstarts against the grizzled veteran team (how funny is it that the Thunder are a grizzled, veteran, playoff tested team?). It wasn’t long ago that the Thunder were the young upstarts wanting to gain some respect against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Now, the Thunder are the defending Western Conference champs and everyone will be gunning for their crown.

martin harden

These two teams played 3 games during the regular season. The Thunder took the first two by an average margin of 26 points. In those two games, Harden struggled mightly, while the Thunder basically got anything they wanted on the offensive side of the ball. The third game was a different story. In that game, the Thunder were up by 14 points with less than 7 minutes left to play in the 4th quarter. And then, Harden (and Lin) happened. The Rockets proceeded to outscore the Thunder 29-12 from that point to garner a 3 point win. James Harden scored 14 of his career high 46 points in the final 6:30, and Jeremy Lin chipped in with 9 points in those final 6 minutes. But that game highlighted the reason why this will probably be a short series. 

Schedule

  • Game1 – Sunday, 21 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, 24 April 2013 at 6:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 3 – Saturday, 27 April 2013 at 8:30 PM CST (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 4 – Monday, 29 April 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)
  • Game 5 – Wednesday, 01 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 6 – Friday, 03 May 2013 TBD (Toyota Center, Houston, TX)*
  • Game 7 – Sunday, 05 May 2013 TBD (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*

* – If necessary

Probable Starters

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Greg Smith
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Series

1. Pick and Roll Defense – This is the Rockets’ bread and butter. Lin and Harden are great at breaking the PnR defense down and either finding the open man or driving and drawing fouls. Thabo Sefolosha is great at going under the pick, but can sometimes get caught in the mess of a pick and roll, allowing the ball handler to get to the basket. On the other hand, Westbrook is known to go over screens, which allow the ball handler a sliver of daylight to get a shot off. But the key to the PnR defense will be Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Chandler Parsons led the Rockets in 3-point % and will make Durant pay if he tries to help on defense. Ibaka is going to have to stay out of foul trouble if the ball handlers get past the initial line of defense. 

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets

2. Pace – These are the number 2 and 3 scoring teams in the league. But Houston likes a much faster pace than the Thunder. In their two wins against the Rockets, the Thunder kept the Rockets under 100 points. In their lone loss, the Rockets scored 122 points. Houston’s offense is predicated on transition baskets and pick and roll offense. If the Thunder are to win, they are going to have to slow the pace down and make the Rockets a half court team.

3. Russell Westbrook – The Rockets have no one on their roster that can come close to guarding Westbrook. Lin is too weak, Aaron Brooks and Patrick Beverly are too short, and Carlos Delfino is too slow. Westbrook should be able to get whatever he wants on the offensive end.

russ rockets

  • X-Factor: Thabo Sefolosha – His defense on James Harden will go a long way to determining how these games will go. If he gets into foul trouble early, look for Harden to be in attack mode for the entire game. Also, his shooting will be key to keeping the turnovers down. If Harden has to stay on Sefolosha, that will negate him from helping out and  jumping into passing lanes to get steals. 

How this will play out: Thunder in 5