Tag Archives: NBA Finals

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

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

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40

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Thunder Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

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

Assets

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

kevin martin

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

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

Targets

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

Mike Dunleavy

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

dunleavy bulls

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

Iman Shumpert

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

Arron Afflalo

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

arron afflalo

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

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

3 Thoughts about Serge Ibaka’s Return

serge ibaka thunder

On Friday, the Thunder released a statement stating power forward Serge Ibaka had progressed enough in his recovery from a strained calf to be upgraded from OUT to DTD (day to day). With the Thunder being down 0-2 in the Western Conference, is this the boost they severely need to get back in the series? Here are three thoughts on what could happen with Ibaka’s return:

1. The Willis Reed Effect

I know. This isn’t Game 7 of the NBA Finals in Madison Square Garden. During those days, most fans didn’t know who the starting line-up of a team would be until they started warming up. With the 24/7 sports news cycle that we have nowadays, there was no way that Ibaka was going to surprise the masses by walking into the arena right after the national anthem while ripping off his warm-ups to reveal his uniform and a heavily tape calf muscle. (Side bar: That would have been EPIC, though.)

It isn’t the same….but it almost feels like it. We’ve already been on the brink of elimination this season. Games 6 and 7 of the Memphis series and Game 5 of the Clippers series. All games that we needed to win, and did. This feels like that type of game. Throwing all the “nobody has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit in the history of the NBA” talk out the window, this is the make it or break game. Either we win tonight and make a series out of it or we go down like a sinking ship.

willis reed knicks

The emotional boost Ibaka’s return could provide may prove to be the spark the team has needed since the series began. Without their defensive anchor in the middle, the Thunder have looked lost on both ends of the floor. Their spacing on the offensive end has been Charles Barkley turrible, and their paint defense (and subsequent perimeter defense) has seen better days. Even if Ibaka doesn’t provide you with much, the fact that he is there may be enough to see the Thunder through this game.

Remember, for all the hoopla surrounding Reed’s return in Game 7, he only went on to score 4 points in the game. But the defense he played on Wilt Chamberlain in his 27 minutes in the game, proved to be the deciding factor in the Knicks winning their first championship.

The Great Unknown for the Spurs

For a team as organized as the Spurs, uncertainty can throw them for a loop. You can be sure that Gregg Popovich has devised at least 3 different game plans: one for the Thunder without Ibaka, one for the Thunder with a hobbled Ibaka, and one for the Thunder with a healthy Ibaka. The first few minutes of Game 3 will be telling for the Spurs. Do they put Ibaka through a spin cycle of pick and rolls? Do they drive right on him to test that calf?

This can work in the Thunder’s favor though. If the curiosity over Ibaka’s health gets the Spurs to deviate from their game plan even one bit, then the Thunder could have a marked advantage. This is the Thunder’s one trump card. Once the Spurs have film on how the Thunder plan to use Ibaka, the surprise factor of Ibaka’s return goes out the window. That’s a big reason why Game 3 is so important to the Thunder.

What will Ibaka give the Thunder?

The great variable. What will Ibaka actually give the Thunder? He could give the Thunder 20 extremely valuable minutes or he could give them 6 “why the hell is he out there” minutes. The possibilities could literally run the gamut.

ibaka durant westbrook thunder

 

One thing for certain is that Ibaka would not be out there if he had not received the go ahead from the team doctors. The Thunder organization is very meticulous about not putting their players at risk of further injury, regardless of what is at stake. If there was any concern about compounded injury to Ibaka, he would have been held out. Is there a risk of reinjury? Of course. Kendrick Perkins played with an oft-injured groin in the 2012 playoffs, and had to sit out the 2nd half of at least 2 games in that playoff run that went all the way into the Finals. Calf muscles, much like the groin, are heavily used in basketball and the risk of reinjury is there.

But I think Ibaka’s return will have more of a psychological impact on the team. No team in the NBA is more dependent on their core players than the Thunder. So even if Ibaka is not at 75%, just having him out there may ease some of the stress that the Thunder seem to be playing with. And if that is the case, then his return will have been a rousing success.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview

durant reggie jackson thunder

  • When: Saturday, 05 October 2013 at 8:00 AM CST
  • Where: Fenerbahce Ulker Sport Arena, Istanbul, Turkey

The time has finally arrived. After getting spoiled with 2 trips to the Western Conference Finals and 1 trip to the NBA Finals, last season’s second round exit made the offseason seems exponentially longer. But thankfully, the basketball gods listened to one of our prayers and gave us the first preseason game of the season (at 8:00 am CST, to boot).

The Oklahoma City Thunder will be playing Fenerbahce Ulker, one of the premier teams in Turkey. Its kind of cool when you think that Oklahoma City didn’t have a team 6 years ago and now, they are opening up the league’s preseason schedule in Turkey as one of their premier teams. The Thunder have a lot of work to do with Russell Westbrook being out for at least the first month of the season. They have to incorporate a couple new players and have to implement a couple young players into the rotation. Work aside though, I hope they take this experience (on the road, together) and build a ton of chemistry that will last them throughout the season.

bo ulker

Regarding FB Ulker, there’s nothing much I can tell you about the team. Their point guard, Bo McCalebb (pictured above) is not Turkish. He’s from New Orleans. Their starting small forward is Linas Kleiza, who was a pretty good player when he was in the league with the Denver Nuggets and the Toronto Raptors. He was usually used as a spark off the bench and could quickly catch fire from the outside. Ulker has a couple players that have been drafted by NBA teams, but they have yet to play a game in the league. Izzet Turkyilmaz was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in the 2nd round of the 2012 draft and Bojan Bogdanovic was drafted by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Fenerbahce Ulker Preview

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

Trains of Thought: Thunder and the 2013 Draft

NBA: NBA Draft

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

darko

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

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

pacers

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

Train of Thought No. 1 – Big Man

perk ii

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

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

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

adams noel

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

Train of Thought No. 2 – Perimeter Wing

harden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 82 of 82)

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  • When: Wednesday, 17 April 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The final regular season mission has been completed. While we didn’t obtain home court advantage throughout the playoffs, we did earn home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. This accomplishment has earned us the right to treat the final regular season game like a preseason game. Limited minutes for the regulars and heavy minutes for the young guys at the end of the bench.

Other than a feather in the cap, the Milwaukee Buck have nothing to gain by winning this game, either. I wouldn’t be surprised if their regulars got plenty of rest also. The game may turn into something similar to a D-League All-Star game with all the young guys out there. Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Daniel Orton, and DeAndre Liggins may give a glimpse to what the Thunder bench may look like next season. The Thunder won the last meeting against the Bucks using a 19-2 run in the 4th quarter to erase a 5 point deficit.

Kevin Durant, Larry Sanders

Fun note: If Carmelo Anthony sits out the New York Knicks’ final game as expected, Kevin Durant would need to score 70 points to win the scoring title. While this type of selfishness is not indicative of Durant’s character and team first approach, this wouldn’t be the first time that a guy of Durant’s moral ilk goes all Finding Nemo seagulls (Mine!Mine!Mine!) on an opponent to win a scoring title. Hall of Famer David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs scored 71 points on the final day of the 1993-94 season to capture the scoring title from Shaquille O’Neal.

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Probable Starting Lineups

Milwaukee Bucks

  • PG – Brandon Jennings
  • SG – Monta Ellis
  • SF – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
  • PF – Ersan Ilyasova
  • C – John Henson

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Hasheem Thabeet

3 Keys to the Game

1. Come out of the game healthy – Some of the guys on the team are already suffering from, what I like to call, grind of the season injuries. Kendrick Perkins is suffering from a strained hamstring, Kevin Martin is suffering from a sore back, and Derek Fisher is suffering from a sore foot. Whatever the outcome of this game is, I don’t want to add anymore names to that list.

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2. Preview of next season’s bench mob – There should be plenty of time to go around for the Thunder’s D-League All-Stars. Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Liggins, and Daniel Orton should all get substantial minutes in this game. I fully expect a poster dunk from Jones III in this game.

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3. Appreciate this regular season – This has been one of the most trying, but also, one of the most rewarding seasons in the Thunder’s history. To lose one of your main components in a core-shattering trade 4 days before the first game of the season had to weigh heavily on the returning group of players who were itching to get back to the NBA Finals for redemption. But they adapted, learned, and improved to the point where they had their best regular season since they became the Thunder, and got the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, to boot. Thunder Up, indeed!

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Preview (Game 53 of 82)

okc miami

  • When: Thursday, 14 February 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This game brings to it a sense of deja vu. The last time the Oklahoma City Thunder played the Miami Heat, the Thunder were coming off a loss. The Thunder ended up losing that game to the Heat on Christmas day for their only consecutive game losing streak of the season. This time the Thunder are coming off a loss to the Utah Jazz, and would love nothing more than to get a victory against last season’s Finals opponent before heading into the All-Star break. Remember, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has to swallow the bitter pill of playing with Lebron James in the Olympics after their NBA Finals loss. The last thing they want is to lose to Lebron and the Heat again, when they’ll probably have to link up for NBA-related activities during the All-Star break.

In their last meeting, the Thunder and Heat played in a game that met expectation. While the Heat held the lead for most of the 4th quarter, the game was tight with Durant and Westbrook both having chances to tie the game in the closing seconds. The main characters performed well, with Durant and Westbrook leading the Thunder with 33 and 21 points, respectively, and James and Dwayne Wade leading the Heat with 29 and 21 points, respectively. The main difference were the role players, where Kevin Martin and Serge Ibaka each had 15 points for the Thunder, while Chris Bosh and Mario Chalmers had 21 and 20, respectively, for the Heat.

The Opponent

miami heat starting 5

The Miami Heat come into the game with a 35-14 record, good for 1st in the Eastern Conference. They are currently riding a 6-game winning streak. Their offense is top-5 in the league (103.1 ppg, 5th in the league) and their scoring defense is in the top half of the league (96.7 ppg allowed, 12th in the league). The Heat are led by all-world forward Lebron James, who is having one of the best seasons the league has ever seen. He is leading the Heat in 4 statistical categories (scoring, rebounds, assists, and steals), while leading the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating (PER). The backcourt consists of Mario Chalmers and All-Star Dwayne Wade, who is also having a great season, averaging 21 points, nearly 5 rebound, and nearly 5 assists per game.  The front court consists of rugged PF Udonis Haslem and All-Star Chris Bosh. The bench is full of 3-point shooters (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Norris Cole, Mike Miller) and the recently signed Chris Andersen.

Probable Starters

Miami Heat

  • PG – Mario Chalmers
  • SG – Dwayne Wade
  • SF – Lebron James
  • PF – Udonis Haslem
  • C – Chris Bosh

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

  • Perimeter Defense – Its the rock and the hard place that defenses face when they play the Miami Heat. Do you allow James and Wade to penetrate into the lane, but stay home on the shooters? Or do you collapse the defense to protect the paint, while exposing yourself on the perimeter? The Thunder always seem to get burned a one of the Heat’s role players (Battier in the Finals, Miller in Game 5, Chalmers in the Christmas game) on the perimeter. rebound
  • Rebounding – The Heat are last in the league in rebounding at 38.7 rebounds per game, which is completely unheard of for a championship contender. The Thunder bigs need to control the paint and not allow the Heat to get extra opportunities on offense. Kevin Durant needs to slide down and help out on the glass, especially when he is playing the 4, which I feel will be often in this game. brooks2
  • Scott Brooks and match-ups – This is probably one of the biggest subplots in the game. The Heat don’t play a tradition center (big, always in the paint, post presence). This negates the effectiveness of Kendrick Perkins, but Brooks always seems to have Perkins out on the floor when the Heat are playing small (usually in the 4th quarter). Will Brooks switch it up this time, or will he stay with the same defensive line-up when the Heat go small? Also, who guards Lebron James? Do you put KD on Lebron and risk Durant being in foul trouble? Or do you go with Sefolosha or Liggins? Whatever the decision is, it will probably a case of picking your poison.

What offseason? Basketball Never Stops!

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

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

2012 NBA Draft

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

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

Orlando Summer League

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

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

Off-season Moves

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

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

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

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

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

Team USA

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

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