Tag Archives: Michael Jordan

Exit Interviews 2014: Thunder roster and outlooks

Kevin Durant

With the Thunder’s 107-112 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, Oklahoma City’s season came to an end. Was this a disappointing ending to the season? Maybe, maybe not. The Thunder fell to a team they had swept in their season series, and whom they had seemingly figured out. But the playoffs are a different season, a different monster, and the Thunder could never consistently muster that playoff intensity they showed in games that featured some sort of external pressure (elimination games, games after a big defeat). Maybe those are just symptoms of a young team having to take its knocks before coming out as a hardened champion.

The elimination meant the end of the line for the 2013-14 Thunder. 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. While the Thunder have already held their official exit interviews, these are my exit interviews for each player on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Record – 59-23 (.720)

Season Review – As you well know, I have my issues with Scott Brooks. He’s a good coach, but he lacks that extra “it” to become a championship level coach, in my opinion. In all honesty, though, he did a pretty good job this season considering all the obstacles the Thunder faced. For the first time since they arrived in OKC, the Thunder got bit by the injury bug. Yet, Brooks managed to weather all those storms and lead the Thunder to the 2nd best record in the NBA. For that, he has to be commended. It was good to see him make a concerted effort to develop his young players by giving them minutes throughout the season. His between game adjustments in the playoffs helped the Thunder get past the first round, and likely, extended the Western Conference Finals. But his inability to make in-game adjustments on the fly sometimes destroyed the flow within a game and led to runs by the opponent that the Thunder could not come back from.

Salary for 2014-15 – $4,000,000

Future Outlook – The team took it’s first step back in the regular season, but not by much. Injuries and playing inexperienced players had a lot to do with that. The Thunder still came out with the 2nd best record in the league. With that said, the shine on Brooks’ image has been deteriorating for the past 2 seasons. Brooks is starting to get the dreaded “great regular season coach, but questionable playoff coach” tag. The players love him, but they love winning more. If Brooks is not able to get this group over the hump, it may be time to move on to another coach.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You’ve been good for this team. You’ve guided their growth and are on the precipice of doing something big. You just need to make quicker adjustments in-game, and need to trust more in your role players more.

Steven Adams – Center

adams duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games (20 starts) / 14.8 mins / 3.3 pts /4.1 rebs /0.5 asts /0.7 blks /0.5 stls / 11.25 PER

Season Review – One of the biggest rookie surprises of the season in the NBA. Adams was expected to be a project that would be shuttled back and forth between Oklahoma City and Tulsa to further his development this season. Instead, Adams solidified his stake as the team’s back-up big man and even started a quarter of season because of a groin injury to starting center Kendrick Perkins. Adams combined his athleticism and strength to carve out a niche as a defensive specialist off the bench. He provided a source of frustration to opponents who took umbrage to Adams’ physical style of play. That umbrage led to at least 5 ejections throughout the season, the most important being Zach Randolph’s suspension in Game 7 of the first round after he hit Adams in his face with a closed fist in Game 6. His play continued and improved in the playoffs as he cut down on his fouls and became even more of a force on the defensive end. He even showed glimpses of a offensive game throughout the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,184,960

Future Outlook – Definitely, one of the staples of the organization. His development is as important as the continued development of the Thunder’s current core (Durant, Westbrook, Jackson, and Ibaka). After missing out on a couple big men in recent drafts (Cole Aldrich and Byron Mullens), the Thunder seem to finally have gotten it right with Adams. Not only is he the right combination of strength and athleticism, but he also has the right mindset. He understands what the team is asking of him and doesn’t deviate from that plan. His mentality was veteran-like which serves him well for his style of play.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great rookie season. Develop your entire offensive repertoire. Develop a go to move (jump hook using both hands). Work on your jumper from 5-15 feet out. Work more on your quickness and not necessarily on your strength this offseason.

Caron Butler – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – (w/OKC) 22 games /27.2 mins /9.7 pts /3.2 rebs /1.2 asts /0.3 blks /1.1 stls /12.24 PER

Season Review – Butler started the season with his hometown Milwaukee Bucks. As the season progressed, it became apparent that the Bucks were in the beginnings of a complete rebuild. Butler, in his pursuit of a championship and meaningful playing time, agreed to a buyout in late February. The Thunder signed Butler on February 28th. Instantly, he became one of the first players off the bench for the Thunder, providing outside shooting and veteran leadership. That continued into the playoffs, where Butler even started 2 games for the Thunder in the first round, in place of a struggling Thabo Sefolosha. As the playoffs progressed, though, the well seemed to dry up for Butler as he struggled to provide much for the Thunder. His shot wasn’t falling and his defense was lacking. In the end, he registered a DNP-CD in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown as he is an unrestricted free agent

Future Outlook – Does Butler have a place in the Thunder’s future? Possibly, but not likely. Butler was scheduled to make $8 million dollars in the final year of his contract. It will be interesting to see what he garners in the open market this offseason. He’s no longer an $8 million dollar a year player, but does he think he is a vet minimum type player yet? If Butler is okay making the vet minimum, then the Thunder may try to re-sign him. If he fancies himself more as a $3-5 million dollars a year player, he’ll probably be wearing a different jersey next season. Also, the weirdness surrounding his lack of availability during exit interviews probably just seals his fate as an ex-Thunder player from here on out.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for your time on the team. If things can be worked out financially, we would definitely like to have you back. But if not, good luck in your future endeavors. Oh, and by the way, who were you calling every time you hit a 3?

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison splitter thunder spurs

Season Averages – 81 games / 16.7 mins /4.2 pts /3.6 rebs /1.3 asts /0.3 blks /0.4 stls /11.84 PER

Season Review – Collison continues to provide valuable playing time as a back-up big. His minutes per game were the lowest for his career. Father Time is starting to catch up to Collison, but there are still games where Collison is one of the best bigs out there (Game 6 vs. the LA Clippers).  He is the anchor of the reserves and provides a calming effect when he is at the top of his game. Collison even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game. He took a beating near the end of the season, and seemed to age throughout the playoffs (other than the aforementioned Game 6 in the 2nd round).

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,242,003

Future Outlook – Collison heads into next season on the final year of his contract. He is the gray beard of the players, having been on the team the longest. His body is starting to show the ill effects of a 10 year career with his playing style. He’s a bit slower laterally and doesn’t have the same strength to handle big men as he used to. His veteran leadership on the team is unparalleled and his educating of Steven Adams may be worth every penny of his salary.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Nick, you’re an important asset for this team as a veteran. Continue to work on your outside shot. Realize that your minutes may continue to decline, but your importance on the team is still top-notch. Rest as much as possible this offseason.

Kevin Durant – Forward


Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 38.5 mins /32.0 pts /7.4 rebs /5.5 asts /0.7 blks /1.3 stls /29.9 PER

Season Review – MVP! MVP! MVP! Durant won his first MVP award this season. He was, without question, the best player during the regular season. He carried the Thunder through all their injuries this season and had a stretch in January (when the sting of life without Westbrook for the second time in the season was still fresh) where he averaged 36 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists in 16 games with a PER of 36.6. It was during this time that he started a streak of 12 straight games of 30+ points and a streak of 42 straight games with 25+ points. He had 3 triple doubles and 27 double doubles. Numbers that evoked thoughts of Michael Jordan. Historic numbers for a historic season. But all that heavy lifting may have had an effect on Durant in the playoffs. While he didn’t look as fatigued as he did in the 2013 playoffs, his numbers did tail off in the playoffs. It could have been fatigue, or it could have been the fact that, without an effective offensive system in place, playoff defenses just keyed in on him and tried to make other players, Westbrook included, beat them.

Salary for 2014-15 – $18,995,624

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise. The team goes as far as he takes them. Durant has out-skilled the entire league to the tune of 4 scoring titles and an MVP. Now, it’s time for him to learn how to out-think the league. Years of falling short will cause you to start thinking about different ways to affect the game, whether directly or indirectly. Jordan went through. LeBron went through. Now, it’s KD’s turn to go through it. Hopefully, next season will be the year Durant puts it all together, as if Durant wasn’t scary enough for the rest of the league.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Congratulations on the MVP. But there is work to be done for next season. Rest up. Get stronger. Don’t touch a basketball for a month. Watch the Finals and let that hurt fester. Your time will come, but it’ll be up to you to set it in motion. When it comes time to touch a basketball, work on your game from 15 feet in.

Derek Fisher – Guard

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 81 games / 17.6 mins /5.2 pts /1.5 rebs /1.4 asts /0.0 blks /0.9 stls / 10.09 PER

Season Review – Instead of signing for the 2nd half of the season as he had done in the previous 2 seasons, Fisher decided to sign for the full year for his farewell tour. Amazingly, at the age of 39, Fisher was still a valuable reserve for a championship contender. His perimeter shooting and veteran leadership were extremely important to a team that was dealing with injuries and shuffling line-ups. From January through March, Fisher jumped in his Kia and asked Uvo to take him back to 2003. In those three months, Fisher shot 69/159 (.434) from 3-point land. After March, Fisher’s perimeter shooting declined as did his production.

Salary for 2014-15 – Retired ($5,000,000 from the Knicks, though)

Future Outlook – The New York Knicks hired Fisher to be their head coach on June 10th. With the success of Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, recently retired point guards seem to be the fad in the coaching department.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for you time in OKC. The professionalism with which you handled yourself these last three seasons showed a young team how someone can age gracefully in this league. The wisdom you’ve extolled onto the team’s core players will last for years as they become veterans. Good luck in your new job as head coach of the NY Knicks.

Serge Ibaka – Forward

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

Season Averages – 81 games (81 starts) / 32.9 mins /15.1 pts /8.8 rebs /1.0 asts /2.7 blks /0.5 stls /19.66 PER

Season Review – Durant may have been the MVP, but Ibaka was the glue that held the team together. He was one of the most consistent scorers in the league (always scoring between 13-17 points), provided a perimeter release valve when teams doubled Durant and Westbrook, gobbled up offensive rebounds to the tune of nearly three a game, and was one of the best interior defenders in the league. Ibaka became one of the best two way players in the league. His impact was no more evident than the first two games of the Western Conference Finals. Nursing a Grade 2 calf strain that he suffered in Game 6 of the 2nd round, Ibaka missed the first two games of the WCF. In those two games, the Spurs averaged 60 points in the paint. After miraculously returningin Game 3, the Thunder reeled off two straight wins to tie the series. Even though they went on to lose the series, the impact of Ibaka was put on full display for the league to see.

Salary for 2014-15 – $12,350,000

Future Outlook – One of the pillars of the franchise, Ibaka’s improvement was one of the most important developments of 2013-14. Without it, the Thunder would have definitely struggled throughout the season. Moving forward, anything further that Ibaka can give you will be icing on the cake. Ibaka is the perfect compliment to players like Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson. His versatility as a perimeter-oriented big man that can get a couple baskets inside is a change of pace to the dribble drive action of the other three core players. Also, expect a Defensive Player of the Year in his future.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Buen trabajo esta temporada. Tu eres uno de los jugadores mas importante para el futuro de este equipo. Sigue mejorando tu juego (los tiroteos de 3, los tiroteos de 15 pies o mas, y tambien tu juego en el puesto). Usa este tiempo para descansar.

Translation: Great job this season. You are one of the staples of the franchise. Keep improving your game this offseason (3-point shooting, perimeter shooting from 15 feet out, and post play). Take this offseason and rest.

Ibaka’s the only guy on the team that speaks Spanish, so of course, our 1 on 1 sit-down would be in Spanish. Avec Classe!

Reggie Jackson – Guard

jackson duncan adams parker thunder spurs

Season Averages – 80 games (36 starts) /28.5 mins /13.1 pts /3.9 rebs /4.1 asts /0.1 blks /1.1 stls /15.43 PER

Season Review – The importance of Jackson this season was twofold. First, he was the Thunder’s sixth man and their tertiary ball handler in closing line-ups. Secondly, and probably most important, he was the back-up point guard that stepped in when Russell Westbrook had to miss nearly half the season. Much like he did in the postseason last year, Jackson stepped in and guided the team almost effortlessly. He isn’t Westbrook and he never will be. But he’s similar enough that the team doesn’t have to completely change their style of play when Westbrook is off the floor. As the season progressed he improved his 3-point shooting. He started November shooting 20% from the 3-point line. By April, he was shooting 41.4% from long range. In the playoffs, Jackson took over in Game 4 of the Grizzlies series and, more than likely, saved the season for the Thunder. It was a strange occurrence as Durant and Westbrook both handed the reigns over to Jackson in the 4th quarter and in overtime. In the Western Conference Finals, with Thabo Sefolosha struggling in the first two games, coach Brooks inserted Jackson into the starting line-up and it paid immediate dividends.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,204,369

Future Outlook – Much like Harden from two seasons ago, Jackson is at that point where he can be extended by the Thunder this offseason or risk going into restricted free agency next offseason. The Thunder are in a much better position financially to consider resigning Jackson to an extension than they were when Harden was up for one. The salary cap will be bumped up $5 million dollar next season and the Thunder have done a great job staying under the luxury tax line these last 4 seasons. If signed, Jackson’s extension doesn’t kick in until Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison are either off the books or resigned for significantly smaller price. Jackson appears to be one of the main components of the core, but also appears to be its most available for any trade partners.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on your outside shot this offseason. If that ever becomes a consistent weapon in your arsenal, the sky will be the limit. Watch film on what you need to work on defensively and where you can pick your spots better as a floor general. Other than that, great job this past season.

Grant Jerrett – Forward

jerrett thunder

Season Averages – 0 games played for the Thunder.

Tulsa 66ers – 27 games (25 starts) / 29.2 mins /15.1 pts /6.1 rebs /0.7 asts /0.8 blks /0.6 stls

Season Review – The Thunder bought the draft rights to Jerrett from the Portland Trailblazers who drafted him in the second round. Instead of offering him a training camp deal, the Thunder allowed Jerrett’s right to expire, which allowed him to enter his name into the D-League draft. The Thunder (66ers) maneuvered their way to the top pick in the D-League draft and took Jerrett with the first pick. Why would the Thunder go through all that trouble to basically draft a player twice? Teams with second round picks have one of two options: They can either send the player overseas for development (hence the reason why so many “who is that?” foreign players are drafted in the 2nd round) or they can offer them a training camp contract. If they aren’t signed to the 15 man roster once the season starts, the player essentially becomes a restricted free agent. The Thunder, not wanting to risk losing Jerrett, but also cognizant of the fact that he needed further developing, worked out a deal to have him be a part of the Tulsa 66ers this season, while also being under the watchful guise of the Thunder. When the D-League season ended, the Thunder signed Jerrett for the final week of the season and made him a part of their playoff roster, albeit inactive for all 19 games.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, but he is believed to be under contract for the Thunder next season.

Future Outlook – Jerrett is stretch 4 in the Channing Frye mold. He shot 36% from 3-point land in the D-League. On a team where offensive spacing is necessary, a cheap 3-point specialist is a nice thing to have.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Continue working on all aspects of your game this offseason. Come into training camp in shape and prepared to work. You have a skill that is very valuable in the NBA, but you can’t settle for being a one trick pony.

Perry Jones – Guard/Forward

jones splitter westbrook thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (7 starts) /12.3 mins /3.5 pts /1.8 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.2 stls /10.14 PER

Season Review – Coming into the season, Jones was one of the mysteries for the Thunder. He barely played in his rookie season and missed out on the 2013 Summer League due to a dental ailment. His physical tools (6’11, long, crazy athleticism) were off the charts, but Jones was more a product of his part, not necessarily a sum of his parts. Jones was given the opportunity to play more this season, and even started 7 games. With apologies to Thabo Sefolosha, Jones was probably the Swiss Army knife of the Thunder this season. He was their situational defender. If they needed a long athletic defender for a series or two, he was their utility defender. If they needed a bigger defender for someone like LeBron James, Jones was that guy. Jones even began to incorporate a 3-point shot into his game and was sometimes used as a floor spacer. Jones’ playing time wavered as the season wore on, but it is very apparent that he has a bright future in the NBA.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,129,200

Future Outlook – Due to his versatility, Jones will be an important piece in the Thunder’s future. His ability to defend multiple positions will be his bread and butter. But its how he develops offensively that will determine whether Jones will be a defensive specialist or an all around player that will be an import part of the rotation.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Of all the players on the Thunder, you intrigue me the most. You have the tools to be a monster on the court. It’s on you whether you want to affect games, or whether you are just happy being in games. You have a good foundation defensively because of your physical tools. But you need to determine what you want to do offensively. Do you want to be a 3&D guy? Or do you want to be an all-around threat? Work on all facets of your game offensively and get a little bit stronger.

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb diaw joseph thunder spurs

Season Averages – 78 games / 19.7 mins /8.5 pts /2.4 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /0.7 stls /13.44 PER

Season Review – After barely playing his rookie season, Lamb was slated to be one of the top reserves off the bench for the Thunder. And for the first 3 months of the season, Lamb played like he was one of the top bench players on the Thunder. He was averaging double digits, shooting the ball well, and making the right plays. He was even a part of some of the closing line-ups in close games. After the All-Star break, though, his play became inconsistent. Whether it was fatigue or the signing of Caron Butler, Lamb’s play on the court and his playing time both decreased tremendously. After averaging over 20 minutes per game pre-ASB, his minutes dipped to about 13 mpg after the ASB (even registering 4 DNP-CD’s in the final month of the season). In the playoffs, Lamb mostly watched from the bench, but played well in the WCF when called upon.

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,202,000

Future Outlook – Lamb showed in the first half of the season that he is an incredibly important asset for the team. His perimeter shooting and play-making make him another weapon to have out there in support of Durant and Westbrook. His psyche may have taken a little bit of a hit when his playing time decreased in the 2nd half of the season, but if he is smart, he’ll see that time for what it was: a learning moment. He has the offensive skillset to be a weapon on the Thunder. Defensively, he is a work in progress, but showed signs of effort when out there. His play in the 3rd round of the playoffs was encouraging for the team moving forward.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – You need to get stronger and work on your conditioning. Your play declined when you hit the “rookie” wall. Even though it was your 2nd year in the league, it was your first year consistently playing. Continue to work on refining your 3-point shot and work on the other aspects of your game, such as finishing through contact. Come prepared to play at least 25 mpg next season.

Kendrick Perkins – Center

perkins duncan thunder spurs

Season Averages – 62 games (62 starts) / 19.5 mins /3.4 pts /4.9 rebs /1.1 asts /0.5 blks /0.4 stls /6.32 PER

Season Review – When it comes to Perkins, most people have one of three feelings towards him: they either love him, hate him, or accept him for what he is. At this point, I’ve come to accept him for what he is: a hard nosed interior defender with little mobility that gives you hardly anything on the offensive end of the floor. For what he is good at, Perkins did extremely well this season. He (and Ibaka) anchored a defense that was consistently near the top of the league in terms of defense in the paint and defensive efficiency. Whatever he gave you offensively was just icing on the cake. Coach Brooks did a good job of masking Perkins’ deficiencies by keeping his playing time down when the match-up dictated it. In the playoffs, Perkins did a better job of getting involved offensively and was one of the best post defenders in the playoffs.

Salary for 2014-15 – $9,404,342

Future Outlook – As Perkins enters the last year of his contract, the team finds itself in a peculiar position. His replacement is already on the team (Adams) and is further along in his development than anyone thought he’d be at this point in his young career. But Perkins sort of had a career renaissance last season. He was still horrid offensively, but was very effective defensively. While Adams has progressed surprisingly fast, another season of tutelage may not be bad for his development. Starting Perkins may not be the popular choice, but it may be the wise choice.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I will always admire your professionalism. In spite of what people say, you know yourself and you stick to your strengths (most of the time). Your role as “locker room alpha male”, or “silverback” as you like to call it, is great in terms of keeping everyone accountable. Keep answering those text messages from Durant in the evenings and rest up this off-season.

Andre Roberson – Guard/Forward

roberson splitter ibaka spurs thunder

Season Averages – 40 games (16 starts) / 10.0 mins /1.9 pts /2.4 rebs /0.4 asts /0.3 blks /0.5 stls /9.03 PER

Season Review – Roberson had one of the stranger rookie seasons I’ve seen. He looked like he was destined to spend most of the season in Tulsa. But injuries played a role in Roberson playing and starting in several games this season. His offensive game still needs a lot of work, but defensively, he was NBA-ready. His ability to cause havoc on the defensive end made him a favorite of Coach Brooks’ when the team got sluggish and needed a shot of effort. Even when Roberson started, he didn’t play much. But he showed signs of having an NBA-ready skill and could be a solid part of the rotation if the rest of his game comes around.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,160,880

Future Outlook – On defense alone, Roberson has a place in the NBA. His long arms and athleticism make him a nuisance on that side of the ball. But if he ever wants to be a rotational player in the NBA, he’ll need to develop a consistent offensive skill. Be it a corner 3 or a slashing game, Roberson will have to put in work on that side of the ball this offseason.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – All in all, you had a pretty successful rookie campaign. But the thing about being successful in the NBA is that you can’t just concentrate on one side of the court. Even players that are considered to be great defensively but less than stellar offensively, have some sort of offensive skill. Work on your shot this offseason and watch film on where to position yourself on offense to get either easy baskets or slashing opportunities.

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Averages – 61 games (61 starts) / 26 mins /6.3 pts /3.6 rebs /1.5 asts /0.3 blks /1.3 stls /10.42 PER

Season Review – Sefolosha is the main perimeter defender on the team. Whether it was a point guard or a wing, Sefolosha was usually assigned to the best perimeter player the opponent had. And for a little bit there, he seemed to be developing a consistent 3-point shot to his arsenal. In the two seasons before this one, he shot over 41% from long distance. But this season, maybe feeling the pressure of a contract year, his 3-point shooting regressed to 31.6%. But most surprisingly, his defense seemed to take a step back also. Sefolosha suffered from leg issues the last few seasons (plantar fasciitis, strained calf) and those seemed to be taking its toll on Sefolosha. In the playoffs, it became apparent that his lack of confidence on the offensive end and subpar display on the defensive end had become a deterrent. Sefolosha was benched in the Memphis and San Antonio series, essentially writing the obituary for his Thunder career.

Salary for 2014-15 – Unknown, as he is an unrestricted free agent.

Future Outlook – Sefolosha’s benching throughout the playoffs and his reminiscing nature during his exit interview pretty much seals his fate with the team. Sefolosha will more than likely be donning a new jersey next season. Here’s what scares me: Sefolosha can still be a disruptive force on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see if a team like Miami or San Antonio will take a chance on Sefolosha, strictly as a defensive stopper for the likes of Durant and Westbrook.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – I don’t know if you will be back next season, but I do want to thank you for your service in your time here. You brought it every night and gave full effort. That’s a great thing for young players to see. Good luck in your future endeavors, wherever that may be.

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns

Season Averages – 23 games / 8.3 mins /1.2 pts /1.7 rebs /0.0 asts /0.4 blks /0.2 stls /2.58 PER

Season Review – Thabeet seemed to take a step back this season as far as being a reserve center. He lost his back-up spot to rookie Steven Adams and never was able to find any consistent time in the rotation. He played mainly in blowouts. If anything, he’s a great locker room guy and has one of the most positive human beings you’ll ever meet.

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,250,000 (non-guaranteed)

Future Outlook – At this point, Thabeet is what he is. If you aren’t going to play much in the NBA, you might as well be the greatest, tallest cheerleader known to man. His infectious spirit seems to rub off on his teammates and his fashion sense is rivaled only by Russell Westbrook. But if the Thunder finds a cheaper player with more potential for the center position, you have to think they may let Thabeet go.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Thank you for being you. You may not play a lot, but your spirit is as important to chemistry as any offensive set Brooks runs. As far as this offseason, start working on your outside shot. It seems like every big man for the Thunder (sans Perkins) is working on his perimeter shooting.

Russell Westbrook – Guard

westbrook diaw thunder spurs

Season Averages – 46 games (46 starts) /30.7 mins /21.8 pts /5.7 rebs /6.9 asts /0.2 blks /1.9 stls /24.74 PER

Season Review – There’s one thing to be said about Russell: He doesn’t change his style of play, regardless of whether he’s coming back from injury or not. Westbrook missed almost half the season, but what the team missed when he was gone had nothing to do with his stats. When Westbrook is in the game, the team is nastier and more dangerous. Does Westbrook still have his “Russell being Russell” moments? Of course. But he’s learned to control those a bit better, and now dictates  the flow of the game more directly. His stats don’t reciprocate him impact on the game. Westbrook was probably the best point guard in league before he had to have a second arthroscopic surgery on December 26th. When he came back after the All-Star Break, he had a per game minutes restriction and didn’t play in one of the games in back to back situations. In the playoffs, the minutes restriction was lifted and it was like the shackles that were holding Westbrook back were broken.  He was, without question, the best point guard in the playoffs, and possibly, the second best player in the playoffs behind LeBron James by the time the Thunder were ousted.

Salary for 2014-15 – $15,719,063

Future Outlook – Much like Durant, Westbrook is one of the pillars of the franchise. The franchise goes as far as he (and Durant) takes them. Westbrook’s game was much more controlled after Game 5 of the Memphis series. If he can continue that type of play for an entire season, an MVP is not out of the question for Westbrook. In fact, Durant’s bid to repeat as MVP may have an extra hurdle to surpass next season: a teammate taking some of his votes.

My (imaginary) 1 on 1 sit-down – Great job overcoming adversity this past year. These types of the things will not only make you stronger as a person, but will also make you appreciate the gift that you have. Nothing is a given. Everything has to be earned. Thank you for being the heart and personality of the team. Continue being you. Work on that 3-point shot and rest this off-season. Ice that knee whenever possible. We need a full season Russell next year.

This team is soooo close to putting it all together. The roster next season will be different, but all of the core will be back, and more than likely, will be better. While disappointing that the Thunder could not advance to the Finals, the fact is the San Antonio Spurs were a better team. Not by much, but enough to get past us. This team is currently paying their dues. Advancing to the Finals in 2012 may have been a blessing and a curse. A blessing because, hey, you’re in the Finals. But also a curse because I don’t think the team was mature enough to appreciate the moment. After the loss, most people thought it would be a given that the team would make it multiple Finals. But the team skipped many of the steps that most championship teams have to take to become a hardened championship contender. Well, I think we’ve felt the pain and the hurt that comes from coming up short season after season. From here on out, it’s championship or bust.


Scott Brooks: It Might Be Time For A Change

scott brooks durant thunder

If you look at the recent history of the game, every great player who has won a championship needed a championship level coach to push him to the promise land. And by great player, I mean the transcendent players of their generation. In recent memory, those players have been Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James. Each of these players needed to go, not only through adversity, but also through a coaching change before they led a team to the championship. Tim Duncan should also be included in the list, but he has played for the same coach his entire career while racking up 4 titles in the process.

Kevin Durant, of the Oklahoma City Thunder, is paving his path towards being a transcendent player. He is on his way to winning his 1st MVP, has won 4 scoring titles before the age of 26, and leads a team that has been a championship contender for the past three season. He has a top 10 player by his side in Russell Westbrook, a versatile big man that can block shots and hit mid range jumpers in Serge Ibaka, and a great 6th man in Reggie Jackson. With all this at Durant’s disposal, why is it that the Thunder are struggling with their first round opponents, the Memphis Grizzlies?

The answers to that question are like pieces of a puzzle. When you analyze everything, you’ll see that many factors are contributing to the Thunder’s struggles in the first round. First off, Memphis is not your run of the mill 7th seed. The Grizzlies struggled out the gate due to Marc Gasol’s knee injury, but finished the season on a 33-13 tear that brought them up to the 7th seed. Without Gasol’s injury, this team probably finishes in the top 5 in the Western Conference. The next factor is that Memphis is built for the playoffs. They are a half-court oriented offense with one of the best defenses the league has to offer. And, their core is playoff-tested and has been together for at least 4 seasons. But these factors are more a microcosm of who the Grizzlies are.

It’s what the Thunder are doing (or not doing) that is affecting them in this series. Oklahoma City is a team that can play a variety of ways, but they’re at their best when they are running in transition and causing havoc in the paint through penetration. But those things tend to get muddled in the playoffs. Teams protect the ball more and defenses make it  a point to protect the paint. Less turnovers means less transition opportunities. More defenders in the paint means less avenues to get to the basket. Unfortunately for the Thunder, the Grizzlies are great at two things: protecting the ball and defending the paint.

scott brooks westbrook thunder

But with players as dynamic as Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and Jackson, the Thunder should not be struggling as bad as they are in this series. Part of that could be attributed to bad luck as both Durant and Westbrook seem to be in shooting funks. Part of that could be the Grizzlies’ defense, which packs the paint and dares you to beat them with perimeter shots, of which the Thunder aren’t making. But a lot of the Thunder’s problem has to do with scheming (or lack thereof), and that falls squarely on Scott Brooks.

Unfortunately, this has always been the knock on Brooks. The lack of an offensive system rarely rears it’s head for the Thunder, except when the transition faucet is turned off, the paint is packed, and the shots aren’t falling. It’s understandable that you would have an iso-oriented system when your two best players thrive in isolation situations. But it’s also important to have a system in place when the defense keys in on those two players. And that’s what is severely lacking for the Thunder in this series.

It’s almost asinine that Brooks, with the weapons he has at his disposal and the amount of time he’s had those weapons, would never have created a fail-safe offensive system that would play, not only to the strengths of his stars, but also to the strength of the role players around them. Brian Windhorst of ESPN tweeted during Game 3, “Grizzlies know all of OKC’s plays. When the 1st option is taken away the Thunder often just shut down their offense.” If anything, last season should have been a sign that the team needs an offensive system outside of superstar iso-plays. When Westbrook went down, it should have signaled to Brooks that a change was needed in order to prevent what happened in last season’s playoffs. Instead, with Durant and Westbrook both in tow, it seems as if Brooks has defaulted even deeper into superstar isolation mode.

It’s either that, or those two superstars aren’t trusting their teammates, which leads them to take it upon themselves to try and save the day. Whether Brooks is heeding both players to look for teammates more or not, this still goes back to Brooks. If isolation ball isn’t working, get onto your superstars and tell them to run the offense. Oh yeah, I forgot. There is no offense. Ibaka, one of the best release valves in the league and probably the best target for a pick and roll outside of Durant and Westbrook is getting completely frozen out of the offense in the fourth quarter and overtime. Jackson, who up until Game 4, was struggling mightily, was basically benched for games 2 and 3. Brooks could have and should have incorporated those two into the offense even more, especially in Games 2 and 3. Instead, the Grizzlies defenders keyed in on the superstar duo and made it extremely difficult for them to get into their sets, let alone get off a good shot.

durant collison allen gasol randolph grizzlies thunder

The other transcendent players I talked about in the opening had to endure coaching changes that brought about success. Michael Jordan went from Doug Collins to Phil Jackson. Kobe Bryant went from Kurt Rambis to Phil Jackson for his first three championships and from Rudy Tomjanovich to Phil Jackson for his next two championships. LeBron James went from Mike Brown to Erik Spoelstra for his two championships. The one constant between these two coaches is that they had an offensive system to fall back on. They had great players, but also a system that helped them out offensively if the opponent was exclusively targeting the star player. Jackson had the triangle offense and Spoelstra has a system that spaces the floor for James, Wade, and Bosh to operate.

It’s especially frustrating when you compare Brooks to Spoelstra. Both are young coaches in their first head coaching gigs who were basically gift-wrapped super-teams. Spoelstra found a way to develop a system that played to the strengths of all his players. Meanwhile, Brooks is still relying on the greatness of a couple players to get him out of jams. Westbrook and Durant are good enough to win you enough games to stay employed.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think Brooks is a bad coach. He’s done a great job in developing the talent OKC was loaded with over the years. He’s done a great job managing egos and developing the culture the Thunder are now known for. But as an X’s and O’s coach, I think Brooks has hit his ceiling. Just like players eventually reach a point where they no longer improve, I think Brooks has gotten to that point with this team. I’ve always said that Brooks is a great coach to lead us to the mountain and maybe even to get us halfway up the mountain, but it will take another coach to get us over the mountain. If Durant and Westbrook are ever to get over the hump, they may have to do it with another coach at the helm. I hope I’m wrong, but I’ve experienced too much of Brooks to think otherwise.

Enjoy the Moment: Durant and the MVP

durant thunder

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

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

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

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

durant lebron james thunder heat

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

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder at Houston Rockets preview (Game 75 of 82)

durant parsons thunder rockets

  • When: Friday, 04 April 2014 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX

If you are a guaranteed playoff team and are satisfied with your seeding, the last month of the season is more like a playoff preseason. The team wants to work out any kinks in order to be a well-oiled machine heading into the playoffs. But a team also wants to either rest it’s top players or get them healthy by the time the second season starts. The Thunder are firmly entrenched in the No. 2 slot of the Western Conference. Barring a collapse by the Spurs or an uprising (with a Thunder collapse) of the Clippers, this is where the Thunder will be when the playoffs begin.

The Thunder will be going for their 2nd 4-game regular season sweep of a Texas team when they travel to Houston to take on the Rockets. The Thunder have won the first three games of the season series by an average of 17 points.

The Opponent

harden parsons lin asik delfino rockets

The Rockets are currently 49-25 and in the 4th spot in the Western Conference. They are trying to hold off the Portland Trailblazers who are 1 game behind them and charging fast. Injuries are starting to rear their ugly heads in Houston and have had a profound effect on the Rockets in the last 3 games. Defensive stalwarts Dwight Howard (ankle) and Patrick Beverly (knee) have missed the last 3 games, and the Rockets have given up an average of 110 points in that trio of games.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Omer Asik

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defense – Who ever plays defense in this game will win it. With defensive stalwarts like Howard, Beverly, Sefolosha, and Perkins out with various injuries, offense will be the law of the land. All things being equal offensively, the Thunder have a better defensive foundation and should be able to lock the Rockets down enough to pull out a victory.

2. Desperation – While the Rockets may not be “fighting for a playoff spot” desperate, they are fighting to, at least, maintain home court in the first round. The Rockets have lost 3 in a row, while their pursuers, the Trailblazers, have won 4 in a row. Luckily for the Rockets, they own the tiebreaker between the two teams.

durant garcia thunder rockets

3. The Streak – Kevin Durant’s scoring streak could possibly reach mythical proportions tonight as he goes for 40 straight games of 25+ points. You can bet that Francisco Garcia will try his hardest to prevent Durant from continuing his streak. If achieved, he will be in the company of greats. Names like Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain will be associated with Durant. In fact, its almost a good place to start a Mt. Rushmore conversation….or not.

5 for 5: The Rivalries

harden sefolosha durant thunder rockets

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season  |  5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

For the third part in this series, I wanted to focus on the rivalries. Sports are only as good as the competition they incite. Playing driveway basketball against your kids when they are 5 years of age can quickly get boring (although palming misdirected shots in midair like you’re Serge Ibaka can be entertaining for at least an hour or so). But, try playing your kids when they are 18 years old and have had 12 years of playing experience. Then it becomes an entirely different ballgame.

When it comes to competition, I’ve always looked at the career of Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a sliver of disappointment. That he’s a great boxer with arguably the best defense in the history of boxing is without question. The issue that I’ve had with his career has been the level of competition of his opponents. Now, I’m not saying that falls squarely on Mayweather. The guys in his weight classes have not been particularly consistent in the past decade. He’s also “luckily” scheduled the right fights at the right times, choosing to fight boxers that were either on the downward slide of their career (Oscar De La Hoya and Shane Mosley) or fighters that were too inexperienced to compete with him at the time of their fight (Canelo Alvarez and Victor Ortiz). He’s never had that one opponent that defined him. Mike Tyson had Evander Holyfield. Arturo Gatti had Mickey Ward. Mayweather has…… (and therein lies the problem with his career).

mayweather alvarez boxing

If fans are the life blood of sports, then rivalries are the engines that keep them running.  You naturally root against your opponent because they are competing against you and you want to win. Pretty simple concept. But if you add something more to that competitive fire, it can act like an accelerant, creating an even bigger blaze. Rivalries, and the differing reasons for them, can be that spark. When it comes to the Thunder, I’ve categorized their rivals under 4 different categories.

1. Regional Foes

Geography and competition are probably the easiest ways to breed a rivalry. Whether it’s an intracity game between two high schools or a game between professional sports teams 200 miles apart, that desire to be superior to those closest to you is an innate characteristic of the human psyche. Even if the two teams aren’t on equal footing at the time of the game, the rivalry aspect of the game often lends it to be a close affair. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Rivalries

5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

thunder western conference champs

5 for 5: Tragedies, Courtrooms, and Beginnings | 5 for 5: The Rivalries  |  5 for 5: The Run  |  5 for 5: The Thunder’s Godfather

This past season, the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their 5th season in the state of Oklahoma. In a world dominated by round numbers, getting to the midway point is always a cause for celebration. In any relationship, you look back at key moments that made it possible to arrive at certain anniversary marks. In the next few weeks heading into training camp, I’ll be looking at 5 defining moments that made it possible for the Thunder to not only roar into the Plains, but also to do it in winning fashion.

The first part of this series focused on the beginnings of the Thunder organization in Oklahoma  City. For the second part of the series, I want to focus on what was the apex for these first five years of Thunder basketball, the 2012 NBA Finals. For a little comparative perspective, there are 9 NBA teams (in their current city/team format) that have never reached the NBA Finals. The Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Charlotte Bobcats, Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets, and New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans have never tasted the fine champagne of a conference championship. I’m excluding the Brooklyn Nets from the list because they’ve only been in Brooklyn for one season and went to the Finals as the New Jersey Nets twice. The proximity of Brooklyn, NY to Newark, NJ (about 15 miles apart) negates a huge change of fan base because of distance. I’m also excluding the Washington Wizards because they made it to the Finals as the Bullets, but decided to change the team’s name in 1997 due to the negative connotation between actual bullets and WashingtonDC being mentioned in the 90’s as the murder capital of the US.

The road to the Finals that season was like the Grateful Dead’s greatest hits album; that is to say a long, strange trip. To begin with, it was a season that almost never was. Although this lockout never reached the DEFCON 4 levels the ’98-‘99 lockout did, it was still nerve-wracking to watch every labor meeting end with the two sides having separate press conferences to disparage the other side. It was like watching your parents, after a nasty divorce, arguing over your custody.

nba lockout

When you are a fan of a team that is drastically improving and just entering the prime of its championship window, the last thing you want is a work stoppage. Anything that cuts into a year of your team’s development when you are close to becoming a perennial contender is the ultimate of detriments. The chemistry built from the previous seasons basically gets thrown out the window if players are allowed to sit for 15-18 months with no access to team coaches or trainers. Not to mention, the veteran players would be a year older and there would be a ton of questions regarding roster moves.

But alas, on November 26th, 2011, after months of hearing about BRI, luxury tax, hard caps, and mid-level exceptions, cooler heads prevailed and an agreement was reached between the NBA and the players’ union. Instead of playing an entire 82 game schedule, the regular season would be trimmed to 66 games with the first day of the season beginning on Christmas. If seeing your team in the NBA Finals is Christmas in June, then seeing the NBA come back from a lockout was, literally, Christmas on Christmas. Continue reading 5 for 5: The Longest Shortest Season

Kobe Bryant’s Impact on the Thunder

kobe durant

There’s something to be said about big brothers. I never had one growing up, and, honestly, most of the people I associated with while growing up were the oldest children in their families. But in the examples that I did see while growing up, big brothers can help shape and mold younger brothers into something better than what they themselves are. As we’ve seen with the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, big brothers don’t even have to be related to their younger brethren to have an impact.

Big brothers serve two purposes in life: to frustrate and to motivate. The frustration part comes from the big brother’s ability to dominate over the little brother due to being older, bigger, and wiser. The motivation part comes from the little brother wanting to be better than the big brother. The thing about this big brother/little brother dynamic is that the little brother is able to take notes on how to best his big brother, while the big brother just has to wing being a big brother.

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In a lot of ways, with all due respect to Kendrick Perkins, Nazr Mohammed, Royal Ivey, Kevin Ollie, and Desmond Mason, the best example of a big brother to the Oklahoma City Thunder has been Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. With his recent season-ending (and hopefully, not career ending) Achilles tendon tear, I was forced to evaluate Bryant’s legacy when it comes to the Thunder.

If there is one word to describe my feelings towards Bryant’s basketball ability, it’s respect. Off the court, though, Bryant is one of those people that I would try to avoid like the plague. His arrogance and A-type personality, combined with a penchant to place blame on others when things don’t go his way, would be a package that I would completely avoid, if possible, in real life. But on the court, those personality traits, and the fact that he plays for the most polarizing franchise in NBA history, make for must see TV. Bryant is a five tool player that has a lethal 6th tool: the overwhelming need to completely decimate his opponent night in and night out, year after year. Michael Jordan had this 6th tool. Larry Bird had this 6th tool. Bill Russell had this 6th tool. Russell Westbrook HAS this 6th tool.

To view Bryant as an opponent is to respect someone out of fear. Fear for what he could do against your team. Fear that he’ll conjure up some bulletin board material for his mental bulletin board, and go off on your team for no particular reason. Fear that he could miss 10 shots in a row, but the 11th shot, with the game on the line, will go in without hesitation. That’s the kind of respect that Kobe Bryant garners. And yet, it’s a fear that keeps you staring in awe. He’s the type of player that fans say, “I hate what he does to my team, but I love to watch him play.”


Every successful up and coming team has that one hurdle they set their sights on. If you’re a team that is coming out of the dredges of the draft lottery, you mark successes in increments. First step is to be competitive on a nightly basis. Then the next step is to get into the playoffs. Then the next step is to be successful in the playoffs. You keep going until, hopefully, eventually, you win a championship. But along the way, especially in the early stages of the success journey, you always target that one team that’s been there and done that. For the Chicago Bulls in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was the Detroit Pistons. For the Orlando Magic in the mid 90’s, it was the New York Knicks. And for the Thunder, it was the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.


As fate would have it, that 2010 playoff series that pitted the No. 1 seeded Lakers vs. the No. 8 seeded Thunder was probably the best thing for the development of the Thunder. The fact that they were able to give the eventual champion Lakers a fight in the first round did wonders for the confidence of the young Thunder. But if you broke it down to its simplest form, the Thunder didn’t give the Lakers a test. They gave Kobe a test. They planted the seed in Kobe’s head that we would be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. When the crowd would chant, “Beat LA”, they were actually chanting “Beat Kobe”. Nobody feared Pau Gasol. Or Andrew Bynum. Or Derek Fisher (hehe!). We knew that Kobe had received the message. And that was both awesome and fearful (respectful) at the same time.

As the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, progressed in the NBA world, they would eventually come in contact more often with Kobe Bryant. On Western Conference All-Star teams and, most importantly, the Olympics, Thunder fans can only hope that our superstars soaked up any of the psychological warfare that Bryant uses on a daily bases. Those blurbs that you hear from media members about Bryant talking trash to Durant, Westbrook, and at the time, James Harden during the Olympics, when they heard that the Lakers had acquired Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, is just classic mental warfare from Bryant. It’s the equivalent of how the military drops leaflets into countries they are warring with stating how their government is endangering them, the common citizen.


So with that, I say, thank you to Kobe Bean Bryant. He has as much a stake in the Thunder’s ascension and success as does any of the veterans that played for the team. He was the target that we went after when we wanted to be successful. Much like an older brother, he frustrated us. But he also motivated us. And we learned much from facing him and defeating him. Here’s hoping that Bryant does come back, while, realistically realizing, that the Bryant we knew, may have gone down in a heap in the Staples Center on Friday night. Whatever the future holds for Kobe, just realize that the future of the Oklahoma City Thunder was shaped, in part, by the man in the Lakers uniform that we feared and respected the most.

….The More They Remain The Same

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westbrook and The Boost

This past week, Russell Westbrook signed with Jordan Brand, after being with Nike for the first 4 years of his career. While Westbrook has carved out his own following of fans, he’s always been known as Kevin Durant’s sidekick. The Robin to Durant’s Batman. This generation’s ultimate second banana. There hasn’t been a sidekick this good since Scottie Pippen. But, Pippen never received the boost in popularity that Westbrook is about to receive.

What qualifies for a sidekick? A sidekick has to be a rookie or a very young player that is brought in after the primary player is established to specifically fill the needs the team is missing. Another qualification is that the pairing has to be together for 5+ seasons. For example, Scottie Pippen was obtained by the Chicago Bulls in a draft day deal, while already having an established superstar in Michael Jordan. Russell Westbrook was drafted by the Seattle Supersonics (Oklahoma City Thunder) after they already had an established young star in Kevin Durant. Anfernee Hardaway almost made it to great sidekick status, but injuries and Shaquille O’Neal’s departure to the Los Angeles Lakers negated that possibility. The Lebron James/Dwayne Wade/Chris Bosh mash-up wouldn’t qualify as sidekicks because they were all alpha males on their respective teams before they joined forces. Kobe Bryant and the aforementioned O’Neal made a great duo, but they were brought onto the Lakers the same year and often quibbled over who was the alpha male. 

To understand the road Westbrook is on, it is important to see what happened to Pippen throughout his career. When Pippen first started college at the University of Central Arkansas, he was a 6’1” walk-on that needed to moonlight as the team’s manager to pay his tuition costs. After 3 more collegiate seasons, a 7 inch growth spurt, and consensus All-NAIA player honors, Pippen was drafted with the 5th overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft to the Seattle Supersonics (who subsequently traded him to the Chicago Bulls). The scouting report on him read as follows:

  • 7’4” wingspan and a 41” vertical
  • Strong outside, but needs work inside
  • Not bad driving to the hoop, but doesn’t look to drive
  • Good foul shooter
  • Can make a three
  • Terrific passer at that position
  • Won’t give you much of anything on the offensive glass, and is a so-so defensive rebounder
  • Excellent defensively and a disruptive force in the passing lanes
  • Good ball handler, but commits a ton of turnovers
  • Could start on most teams

Not necessarily the sexiest of scouting reports for someone who would eventually become one of the top 50 players in league history. While Pippen built his legacy on defense, he was also an apt offensive player, becoming the archetype for the point forward position. During his prime (1989-1999), Pippen had per game averages of 19.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.2 steals, and 0.9 blocks. Not necessarily the offensive prowess that Larry Bird possessed, but with a stat line like that, Pippen should have been heralded as his generation’s defensive Larry Bird. Instead, he was teamed up with arguably the greatest player of any generation in Michael Jordan. There usually isn’t a lot of spotlight left when you are playing with the greatest. Ask 100 people who the lead singer of Aerosmith is, and most will answer Steven Tyler. Ask them who the drummer is, and not many will know the answer.

Pippen’s play on the court should have spurred him to more shoe deals, more advertisement contracts, and more widespread popularity. And yet, when his career was all said and done, you couldn’t help but wonder whether Pippen got everything that was owed to him. There were the stories of how Pippen felt he wasn’t getting paid what he deserved (which he wasn’t). There were the rumors that he felt slighted being outside of the limelight, when he provided so much to the team. While he did have his own shoe line (the PIPs) from Nike, they only lasted about two series. So, needless to say, not many companies bought into Scottie Pippen.

It wasn’t Jordan’s fault, though. Most of the blame lies squarely on Pippen. He didn’t have the same tact with the media that Jordan did. He was dismissive and defensive at times with reporters. Then there were the crunch time situations. Those critical times in games that live in lore and become mythologized. It’s not that Pippen didn’t perform well during those times. On the contrary, he performed great during crunch time. But he’s instead remembered for the times he quit on his team in the most critical of moments. There was the time he sat out Game 7 of the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons with a migraine headache. The Bulls eventually lost that game. Probably the most damning, though, was the one where he sat out the final 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the New York Knicks because Phil Jackson drew up a play for Toni Kukoc to take the final shot, instead of Pippen. To make matters worse, Kukoc actually hit the game winner. This one was the most damaging because it came at a time when the Bulls were his team due to Jordan’s hiatus into baseball. When you are known to quit on your team during crucial periods, your popularity takes a big hit.

Which brings us to the best sidekick of this generation, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook. Like Pippen, Westbrook was not highly decorated coming out of college. Like Pippen, Westbrook was drafted by a team that already had a young star in Kevin Durant. Like Pippen, Westbrook is seen as not being very media friendly. Coincidentally, Durant, much like Jordan, is viewed as a media favorite. And, while not by his own doing, Russell was also involved in a critical game snafu, when Thunder coach Scott Brooks sat an ineffective Westbrook for the entire 4th quarter of Game 2 of the 2011 Western Conferences Finals.

But, not everything is negative when it comes to Pippen and Westbrook. Both of these players are insanely loyal to their teams and teammates. Pippen had a couple opportunities to seek greener pastures during the championship run, but decided to sign for less to stay with the Bulls. Westbrook could have done the same last season, but decided to sign for the allowable max. Both players are highly competitive, with possible chips on their shoulders from being labeled second bananas. Both players are very team oriented, as evidenced by them sacrificing a little of their own games to coexist with two great players. The good severely outweighs the bad when it comes to Westbrook and Pippen, but the bad usually has more advertising power.

Which is why I found the signing of Westbrook to Jordan brand to be a bit ironic. Not ironic in the sense that he doesn’t deserve it. But ironic in the sense that a move like this will probably propel Westbrook into superstar territory, as far as media exposure goes. Into a territory that Scottie Pippen unfortunately never reached. With an endorsement team that includes Carmelo Anthony, Derek Jeter, Chris Paul, and Michael Jordan, himself, Russell Westbrook will have plenty of opportunity to expand his brand. He already has a slogan in place (WhyNot?), and already has a following outside of basketball because of his unique fashion sense. In a way, Jordan is helping this generation’s top sidekick become what his sidekick should have become.

Alternate Reality – Dream Team vs. 2012 Team USA

In collaboration with Akeli Jackson of DYST Media, Steve Person of Hooptalk365.com and Jon Midget of SLCDunk.com.

The debate has been raging all summer long about which team is better: the 1992 Dream Team or the 2012 US Men’s Olympic basketball team. Members from both teams have spoken publically and most have said that the Dream Teamers would be the victors. But the tally hasn’t been 100% on the side of the Dream Teamers. Kobe Bryant, in an interview, stated, “If you’re asking me, ‘Can you beat them one game?’ Hell yeah, we can beat them in one game. You didn’t ask me if we could beat them in a 7-game series. In one game, we can beat them. No question about it.” This discussion was presented for each of the subsequent “Dream Team” teams after the ’92 team, but the discussion usually died down pretty quickly. For some reason, though, the debate for the 2012 team has lingered on longer than it did for any of its predecessors. Maybe it’s Twitter, where the in your face, non-stop commentary sometimes leads to a paradigm shift in thought, even if it’s just for a moment. Maybe, people see a 2012 team that is loaded with a combination of great players and potential great players. Sadly, though, these types of debates usually remain as they are….figments of our statistical imagination. 


Fortunately, I have more money than I know what to do with. So I decided to call a buddy of mine who works at an anti-aging clinic. He told me he would be able to revert the older Dream Teamers back to their 1992 form using hormone replacement and gene therapy. Of course, the players on the ’92 squad would have to agree with this. So, that’s where their ego and my money came into play. I got all the players from the Dream Team to sign on by offering them $10 million each and telling them that the 2012 team would wipe the floor with them. Christian Laettner even asked my buddy if he had anything that would bring his “Duke-swag” back. My buddy told him he didn’t have anything to cure failed potential. Surprisingly, Larry Bird required the least amount of work. His body is basically in the same physical shape now as it was then. Unfortunately, the anti-aging clinic didn’t have anything to bring Chuck Daly back from the after-life, so Lenny Wilkens, who was an assistant on the Dream Team, agreed to be the coach. The fine folks at Coachella kindly declined when we asked them if they could have Hologram Chuck Daly walk back and forth on the Dream Team sideline. 


After 2 weeks of intense anti-aging therapy, and a month of “training camp”, the Dream Team was looking like its old self again. Magic Johnson was passive-aggresively talking trash, Larry Bird was sinking flat footed 3 pointers, and Michael Jordan was dunking on Patrick Ewing. The game was set up to happen the night before the gold medal game of this year’s Olympics. Only a few writers were privy to the game. Everyone who was witness to the game was CIA-scanned for electronic devices, meaning no photos or video of the game would ever exist. The 4 writers who were invited were each assigned a quarter to write about in detail. No one was allowed to release any information until after the gold medal game. This, is what transpired: 


The game would be played using a mixture of FIBA and NBA rules. The quarters would be 10 minutes in length to maximize the athletic potential of all the participants in the game. The FIBA 3-point line would be used, and the painted area used was the standard rectangular NBA format. Players wouldn’t be able to touch the ball on the rim like in international play. It would be counted as a goaltend, if the ball is touched while still on the rim. A team would have 8 seconds to bring the ball up past the half court line. The style of refereeing would be more international, allowing the players to be a little bit more physical on the perimeter and on the inside. The officials would be Ken Mauer, Dan Crawford, and Dick Bavetta. And, finally, a game like this wouldn’t be right without the use of an official David-Stern signed, NBA Spalding ball.  

One of the most amazing sights to see on a basketball court are the pre-game antics of the different players. Some have customary handshakes and dances that they do. Some have a specific routine of stretching and warming up. One thing that stood out while watching these two teams warm up was the gawking and wide-eyed fandom that was apparent on the 2012 team’s side of the court. It is easy to think of athletes as robotic in nature, while forgetting that they were once young fans wanting to be like they hardwood idols. Especially when their idols are on the other side of the court with their deity-like skills on hand for display. But, just as quickly as they were star-struck, they were just as quickly snapped back into reality by Kobe Bryant, and, surprisingly, by Russell Westbrook. The Dream Team squad was all business on their end. 

The referees called out the captains of each team (Johnson and Bird for the Dream Team and Bryant and James for Team USA). The Dream Team was in their classic whites and the 2012 squad in their new look blues. They all shook hands, the referees explained their expectations of the game, and each team went to their sidelines. Game time!!! 

1st Quarter

 Coach Lenny Wilkens trotted out Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing, Scottie Pippen, and Charles Barkley as his starting five. Coach Mike Krzyzewski countered with Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Tyson Chandler, Lebron James, and Carmelo Anthony. And, just like that, 10 of the greatest basketball players were on the court exchanging pleasantries and shaking hands. Chandler and Ewing would be jumping at center court. Bavetta tossed the jump ball, and it is controlled by Ewing. Both teams started off by missing their first shot attempts. On the Dream Team’s 2nd trip down the floor, Kobe snuck into the passing lane and intercepted a pass from Pippen to Jordan leading to a breakaway dunk by Lebron James. The first two points were officially on the board. On their next trip down, Magic Johnson found Ewing on a no-look bounce pass for an and-1 layup. The teams exchanged makes and misses pretty consistently for the first 5 minutes. 

After a timeout, Wilkens substituted Larry Bird and David Robinson for Pippen and Ewing. For Team USA, their first substitutions saw Kevin Durant and Deron Williams coming in for Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony. On the first trip down for Team USA after the timeout, Durant made a 3 pointer off an offensive rebound from Chandler. Barkley gave Durant a shoulder check as he turned to go to the other side of the floor. Durant pushed Barkley and both players were given a double technical. On the next possession, Pippen, playing point guard, found Michael Jordan on the baseline for a jumper. 12-11 Dream Team at the half way point of the 1st quarter. After a Deron Williams layup, the Dream Team went on a 10-2 run, with Larry Bird supplying two 3-pointers and Tyson Chandler picking up his 2nd foul during that run. 

After a run-stopping timeout, Coach K trotted out a line of Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Love, Deron Williams, and Russell Westbrook. Wilkens brought in Bird, Karl Malone, Robinson, John Stockton, and Clyde Drexler. Anthony and Malone exchanged buckets in the next two possessions. On the next Team USA possession, Westbrook lost possession of the ball, which was stolen by Stockton, who found a streaking Drexler for an easy 2. Another turnover, this time, by Kevin Love, led to a mid-range jumper by Malone. 28-17 Dream Team, with under two minutes left in the quarter. After a missed jumper by Durant, the Dream Team brought the ball up the court looking to add to their double digit lead. Stockton passed it to Bird, who is wide open for a corner 3, but missed it, leading to a transition 3 by Carmelo Anthony. On the next Dream Team possession, Williams poked the ball from Robinson as the shot clock expired, which led to a thunderous (pun intended) dunk by Westbrook on the other end. After a Stockton miss, Williams brought the ball up for the final possession of the quarter. Durant got the ball above the 3-point line, dribbled a little while jabbing towards the basket, and let loose a 28-foot dead on three that splashed through the net as time expires. 28-25 Dream Team, after one quarter. 

2nd Quarter 

The Dream Team came out to begin the 2nd quarter with Stockton, Drexler, Mullin, Bird, andEwing. Team USA squad went with Deron Williams, Kobe, Durant, Lebron, and Love. Team USA took advantage of the Dream Team’s limited defense, and scored on their first four possessions. However, the Dream Team extended their lead at the same time with three from downtown: two from Bird and one from Mullin. 

On the Dream Team’s fourth possession, Lebron nearly steals the ball by knocking it out of Ewing’s hands, but it goes out of bounds instead. In a surprising display,Ewing thumped his chest several times, telling everyone in a loud voice, “I am a WARRIOR!” over and over. Mullin looks stunned for a moment as he wonders what his team would actually be like if Ewing really were a (GoldenState) Warrior. The Dream Team inbounded it toEwing, who immediately shows off his WARRIOR-ness by throwing up a running 18-foot fadeway that clanks off the rim (he was, admittedly, intimidated by the perpetual shut-down defense of Kevin Love). 

Still, the Dream Team led 37-33 as Team USA calls a timeout. 

Out of the timeout, The Dream Team came out with the same lineup. The 2012’ers let Lebron rest a bit and replaced him with Carmelo. Williams drove past Stockton to get an and-1. Stockton, one of the better defenders in NBA history, takes it personally, scowls, and on the next inbounds, rushes up the court and dropped a pull-up 3 right in Deron’s face. Realizing that Carmelo had Bird and Mullin taking turns “guarding” him, the 2012 squad goes to him on the next three trips down the court, with Carmelo hitting a 2 and a 3 (and having a missed 3 tipped in by Love). During that same time frame, the Dream Team goes on a bit of a cold streak from the field, and Team USA takes the lead 41-40, prompting the Dream Team to call a timeout.

One of the most amazing things to witness in a game like this is the interactions in the timeout huddle. While Team USA was all high-fives and laughs, it was all business in the Dream Team huddle. Lenny suggested putting in Laettner, but nobody even blinked. The players all knew they were old enough and wise enough to be coaches themselves. They noticed the 2012 squad trotting out Paul, Williams, Carmelo, Lebron, and Love. In response, Pippen tells Wilkens he’ll guard Carmelo so “they won’t have to worry about him touching the ball again”. Jordan says he and Stockton can take Paul and Williams. One of the funnier moments was when the Dream Teamers decided to put David Robinson in on Love, knowing that the Admiral would completely take advantage of the shorter, less athletic Love. The only person left to guard was Lebron, so they decided that, even though he can’t match LeBron’s total athleticism, the Mailman is the guy who can best match his speed and strength. So in came Malone. 

On the first play, Pippen ran Carmelo through a beautiful “elbows-out-I’m-going-to-send-you-to-the-floor-weeping” screen set by Stockton. Anthony gets up a little wobbly and goes back to the bench, replaced by Durant. Pippen smiles. 

At this point in the game, the Dream Team asserted themselves offensively and defensively. They continuously went inside to the Admiral, who routinely dunked it, probably wondering whether it was Kevin Love or a fruit fly he felt along the way. On the defensive side of the court, Chris Paul could barely make it past midcourt with Jordan hounding him. Paul passed to Deron Williams, who was being bumped and maimed by Stockton. Williams probably began to wonder why his team only had four guys on the court since he could not find Durant under that Pippen defensive blanket.   

On Team USA’s next possession, Williams found Love with a nifty pass. Unfortunately David Robinson shoved the layup down Love’s throat. It seemed for a moment, while Love looked at Robinson in awe, that he was wondering if he was looking at a Greek God incarnate, or just the most ripped athletic specimen to ever walk the earth. Fortunately, Lebron wasn’t as impressed with Robinson’s physique, as he picked up the loose ball and put in the score. 

The Dream Team continued to put on an offensive clinic in the next few possessions, going inside to David Robinson and running the 2012 defenders through a series of cuts and screens that sends everybody on Team USA into at least one Stockton screen. Chris Paul and Deron Williams, taking the brunt of the physicality, start to vehemently complain about the screens. As a writer, it’s crazy when the crowd noise is taken out of the equation and you can hear almost every conversation on the court. In response to the complaining about the screens, Dick Bavetta told the two 2012 guards, “Hey, if you want to try to knock down guys 50 to 100 pounds heavier than you 10 to 12 times every game, I’ll let you do it too.” Paul and Williams suddenly realized they were nowhere as tough as the guy with the short shorts.   

On the other end of the floor, Paul and Williams were getting picked apart by Jordan’s defense and Durant was made to seem like he didn’t even exist on the floor anymore. Love kept looking to the bench, wondering why Coach K hadn’t noticed that David Robinson has 5 more inches and 8 times the athleticism on him. Lebron, realizing that he is only player that can do anything at this moment, begins to try to take over the game. He got past Malone on a couple of occasions, but the veteran power forward either stripped Lebron or knocked him off balance on his jumpers. 

In all, it was a 16-6 run by the Dream Teamers that put them up 56-47 with two minutes to go in the half. 

Time out for Team USA.   

The 2012 team put in their small ball line-up for the final two minutes of the half: Chris Paul, Deron Williams,Kobe, Durant, and Lebron. The Dream Teamers decided to show the young guys that they can also go fast AND big at the same time. They trotted out Magic, Jordan, Pippen, Barkley, and the Admiral.

 After the timeout, the 2012 squad looked to take advantage of their small ball lineup, especially at point guard with Magic being in the game. Heading into the game, one of the main headlines was the Kobe vs. Michael matchup. How would the player most compared to Jordan fare against him? In a couple words, not very well (in the first half, at least). Kobe tried to challenge Jordan in the final two minutes, but instead ended up costing his team.Kobe went 0-2 with two turnovers during that time-span.

 Those turnovers and missed jumpers allowed the Dream Team to basically turn every defensive possession into a fast break opportunity. Magic was at his “Showtime” best, setting up Jordan, Pippen, and Robinson for dunks. On the final possession of the half for Team USA, Pippen deflected a Deron Williams pass that ended up in the hands of Charles Barkley who had a full head of steam with 5 seconds left. The only person back for the 2012 squad was Lebron, but even he realized that he’d rather fight another day than try to challenge Barkley with a full head of steam. Two-handed slam, buzzer, and that was the 1st half. 66-51 Dream Team.  

 3rd Quarter

 Coming out of halftime, the 2012 squad looked to get back in the groove, down by 15. Coach K decided at halftime to throw caution to the wind and go with a more assertive lineup to combat these NBA greats. He turned the reigns of point guard over to Lebron, with Kobe alongside in the backcourt, Durant and Carmelo on the wings, and Chandler in the post. The Dream Team decided to start the 2nd half with Stockton, Jordan, Pippen, Malone, and Ewing in the paint.

 Again, one of the great things about eliminating the crowd noise is that you can hear the different conversations going on between the players and coaches. At the scorer’s table, Jordan walked up to Kobe and tells him, “You may be able to sit at many players’ tables, but you still can’t sit at my table, rook.” Kobe, in turn, responded, “We’ll see about that. I still got a couple years left”, while he powdered his hands. On the sideline, Ewing, looking as refreshed as someone with a jersey soaked in sweat could look, barked at Chandler, saying “this my paint, you ready to bang?” Chandler responded with a smirk as Dick Bavetta handed him the ball. Chandler passed it toKobe and the second half began. 

With Lebron controlling the ball at point, Team USA jumped out on a 6-0 run. On their first two possessions, on what looked like to be the same play, Lebron found a wide open Anthony who connected on back to back 3’s. Kack kaack!! “String music” yelled Carmelo. Jordan, disgusted by Pippen’s defensive effort, screams at his Bulls teammate, “get your man, Scottie!!!” Immediate timeout called by Coach Wilkens in an attempt to get the Dream Team’s focus back. The run, got the 2012 squad within single digits early in the 3rd quarter. 

After the timeout, the Dream Team makes the necessary defensive adjustments. The two teams continue to battle back and forth throughout the quarter. Jordan would score, then Lebron would respond. The two teams began to trade baskets in an offensive display like none other. The 2012 squad continued to hang close, only down by 9 points. On the next possession, Kobe swiped the ball from Stockton with a chance to cut the lead to 7, but inexplicably dribbled the ball off his knee. From that point on, the Dream Team turned up their defensive intensity, which seemed to stifle Team USA’s offensive production in the middle of the 3rd. Jordan was all on top of Kobe, giving him a real headache. When Kobe drove left, Jordan was there. When Kobe drove right, Jordan was there. It was his Airness at his defensive best. Malone and Ewing were being savages in the paint, giving Chandler and Carmelo more than they could handle. But no one was stopping Durant, who kept the 2012 team treading water with a couple jumpers. The 2012 team remained down by 9, midway through the 3rd quarter, heading to an officials’ timeout. 

The two teams made line up changes and exchanged baskets and misses for the next 3 minutes. With only a minute and a half left in the 3rd, the lead for the Dream Team was still 9, at 82-73. Lebron knew if something was going to happen, it had to happen now. One of the things that he learned in his championship season was to pick and choose when to take over, especially on a team full of superstars. It was go time. He knew it. Coach K knew it. Everyone on that 2012 bench knew it. After exchanging misses, Lebron drove to the basket using his strength to get an and-1 lay-up after a hard foul by Malone. After sinking the free-throw, Lebron blocked a last second shot attempt by Jordan to end the quarter. As the clock expired, both team walked to their respective sides knowing that the 4th would be a pure dogfight. With three quarters in the books, the Dream Team led 90-84.

 4th Quarter 

At the beginning of the 4th stanza, both teams decided to rest their main guys knowing that in order to win this dog fight, sustaining energy for the long haul was absolutely paramount.  The Dream Team entered the quarter with Stockton, Mullin, Drexler, Malone, and Robinson, while Team USA countered with Williams, Westbrook, Iguodala, Carmelo, and Love.  Team USA wasted their first two possessions on ill-advised 3-pointers by Russell Westbrook, while the Dream Team played much more efficient basketball, getting two easy buckets inside from Karl Malone. With that, the Dream Team took back control of the game, pushing their lead to 10, 94-84, a minute and a half into the fourth quarter. 

On their next possession, Iguodala lets a tipped pass get by his finger tips out of bounds, leading to a turnover. On their way back to the other side of the court, Barkley gets up off the bench and starts barking at Carmelo, “You can’t hold the Mailman!” Carmelo looked back, replying, “Don’t talk too soon Chuck, still a long way to go.” Not even a minute later, Williams was able to strip the ball from Drexler while he was driving to the basket, leading to a 3 on 1 fast break which Williams converted to a layup to cut the lead down to 8. With that, Coach K got off the Team USA bench with two clinched fists in the air, signaling for a full court press. Realizing that Stockton was the only legitimate ball handler on the court for the Dream Teamers, Coach K put Westbrook, and his ravenous ball pressure skills on Stockton, while the other four Team USA defenders went into heavy man to man denial mode. Westbrook’s defensive pressure works as Stockton picked up his dribble near midcourt. Chris Mullin comes to the half court as a pressure release as Stockton passes the ball, but Iguodala is a half second quicker in the passing lane, leading to a fast break opportunity for TeamUSA. Iguodala got the ball to Westbrook, who penetrated to the basket only to have his shot rejected by David Robinson, who came from the other side of the court. Kevin Love (as always) was in the right position to corral the loose ball, drop step, and finish a layup to bring Team USA within 6 points, 94-88. 

With 8 minutes and some change left in this heavyweight matchup, Dream Team coach Lenny Wilkens inserts Scottie Pippen in place of Mullin, while Coach K completes the chess match by substituting Durant and Paul for Iguodala and Williams. Before play begins, Krzyzewski calls Love over and whispers a brief 2-3 second order into his ear, to which Love gives a nod of agreement. After the teams exchange misses, the Dream Team was looking to utilize their advantage in the post. Stockton brings the ball up and passes it to Drexler on the wing. Drexler takes one dribble to the right, but passes it to Pippen who is coming off a Malone screen. Pippen zips a pass into the post to Robinson who has positioned himself for a quick shot. The Admiral goes up for a 3-foot hook shot, but is immediately fouled by Love. Coach K’s message to Love was to foul Robinson on his next shot attempt and make him earn those points due to the fact that Robinson was a 59% FT shooter in the ‘92 Olympics. The plan works as Robinson misses both free throws. Carmelo grabs the rebounds, dribbles up past the half court line as Coach K calls timeout with Team USA down 6. The coach knows that the next few minutes could be very important and wants to discuss strategy with the team.

 And so it begins……. 

6:43 left and both teams bring back their heavy hitters. The Dream Team 5 consists of Magic, Jordan, Barkley, Malone, and Ewing, while Team USA counters with Lebron, Kobe, Durant, Carmelo, and Chandler.

 As expected, Jordan comes out of the timeout hitting a 2 pointer off a flare screen by Barkley, which, in the NBA, would’ve been illegal, but since the refs are allowing a more physical game, it was allowed to happen. On Team USA’s next possession, Lebron, using Kobe as a decoy, was able to complete a give and go in which Lebron backdoors Magic for the 3 point play, giving Team USA a chance to cut the lead to 5.  Lebron completes the 3-point play with the free throw and cuts the lead to 96-91 with 5:44 to go in the 4th quarter.

 After a failed possession by each team, and a costly turnover by Chandler in the post, the Dream Team has the ball with 3:37 to go. Kobe gets a ticky tack foul called on him, as he slightly bumps Barkley while attempting a double team. Barkley looks at Kobe and yells, “I know you’re not double-teaming me with the guy that is guarding Michael!” Barkley gets the ball out of bounds and gets it to Jordan, who raises up for a 17 ft jumper that bounces off the back of the rim. Durant grabs the rebound and quickly gets the ball out to Kobe. Kobe gets the ball up the court and quickly passes to Lebron who finds Durant trailing on the play for a wide open 3….good!  Team USAonly down two, 96-94, much to the dismay of Coach Wilkens. 

 With 2 minutes to play, Coach Wilkens makes what is perhaps the coaching move of the game. He substitutes Pippen for Barkley, whose defensive lapses on the perimeter had cost the Dream Team most their lead. That move pays dividends as the defensive pressure from Jordan and Pippen limits Kobe to 1-4 shooting in the final 2 minutes, and keeps the ball out of Lebron’s hands by double teaming him every time he caught the ball in the perimeter. On the offensive end, the veteran leadership of the Dream Team took over. Magic Johnson showed poise in running the point, managing the shot clock, and finding Karl Malone for two back breaking 20 footers as the shot clock was expiring. The perimeter-oriented offense of Team USA proved to be their demise as they could not get anything easy going late in the game. When the final buzzer sounded, it was 100-96, Dream Team.

 Both teams hugged and congratulated each other like it was the end of a hard fought playoff series. All the Dream Teamers were grabbing their younger counterparts and dispelling small nuggets of wisdom. And, of course, the Team USA members were all ears, soaking it all in like sponges. At center court, Michael Jordan hugged Kobe Bryant and talked with him for about a minute. What was said? Only those two know. But I would bet it would have something to do with respect and love for the game, for these two teams exemplify what being a basketball player and being a basketball team is to us fans. In a game that would seem only to occur in the imagination, this was an incredible display of basketball at its finest.