Tag Archives: Nenad Krstic

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

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Orlando Magic preview (Game 52 of 82)

oladipo adams thunder magic

  • When: Friday, 07 February 2014 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

Young, scrappy teams. I remember the days when we used to be one. Those days when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were just beginning to learn how to work their two man game. When Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic were considered our post presence. But mostly, I remember how we never backed down, no matter how big the deficit or drought was. And then eventually, I remember us starting to win some of those close games.

The Thunder’s Friday night opponent find themselves in the beginning stages of a rebuild. But, for the past two seasons, they’ve brought it every time they play the Thunder. Even though the Thunder have won the last 3 meetings between these two teams, they’ve needed to make a push late into the 4th quarter in order to come out with the victory.

The Opponent

afflalo oladipo orlando magic

The Orlando Magic come into the game with the second worst record in the leage, at 14-37. They are in year 2 of a rebuild and have amassed some good young talent and some assets for the future. Unfortunately, the word rebuild is usually associated with the word bad, and that has been the case with the Magic this season. They are in the bottom third of the league in most statistical categories. They are led by SG Arron Afflalo, who leads the team in scoring at just under 20 points per game. Veteran point guard Jameer Nelson run the offense and keeps a steady hand on the young team. Up front, Nikola Vucevic is a double double machine, averaging 13.2 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. The bench is young and features Rookie of the Year contender Victor Oladipo and second year SF Maurice Harkless.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Orlando Magic

  • PG – Jameer Nelson
  • SG – Arron Afflalo
  • SF – Tobias Harris
  • PF – Glen Davis
  • C – Nikola Vucevic

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Limit the Turnovers – Young, athletic teams live off of the transition game. With a lack of 3-point shooters, Orlando generates a lot of its offense in transition. Cutting back on live ball turnovers will greatly reduce Orlando’s ability to create offense in transition.

2. Durant/Ibaka pick and roll – Orlando will be very hard pressed to defend this with Davis and Harris/Oladipo in the game. I expect the Thunder to exploit this and for Ibaka to end up with 20+ points and for Durant to have 6+ assists.

ibaka durant thompson salmons thunder kings

3. Take away their Confidence – The last couple of times we’ve played the Magic, we’ve allowed them to stick around until late in the 4th quarter, when we finally put a string of makes together and put the game out of reach. But it should never get to that point with a rebuilding team like the Magic. Snuff the confidence from the outset, and the game should be over by the beginning of the 4th quarter.

The Thunder and the 32nd pick

draft pj 3

The Oklahoma City Thunder hold 3 draft picks in this upcoming draft. They have two in the first round, No.12 and 29, and one in the second round, No. 32.  While people are usually enamored by the first round picks, it’s the early second round picks (No. 31-35) that hold more value to teams. It’s an opportunity to grab first round talent without the constriction of a guaranteed contract. Here’s a list of notable players that have been drafted in the 31-35 range in the last 5 season: Nikola Pekovic, Mario Chalmers, DeAndre Jordan, Kyle Singler, Jeffery Taylor, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green. The difference in talent from the last 5 picks of the first round and the first 5 picks of the second round is infinitesimal.

For teams holding a slot in those first 5 picks of the 2nd round, it is an opportunity not only to draft a talented player, but also to procure a trade for an asset. The fact that a team can take a flyer on a player without having to offer a guaranteed contract, makes these picks more valuable than those in the lower end of the first round. These picks becomes doubly valuable before the beginning of a maddening free agency season. When teams vying for free agents want to clear cap space and/or not take on anymore guaranteed salary, they dump players and first round picks in exchange for high second round picks.

presti

Thunder general manager Sam Presti took advantage of this during the last frenzied free agency class, where he also owned the 32nd pick. We arm-chair GM’s love to talk about the would’ves, could’ves, and should’ves. But we have that beautiful thing called hind-sight in our back pockets. Real NBA GM’s don’t have that advantage, but those few great  GM’s have a little thing called foresight. While we focus on our team in the present tense, great GM’s look at the health of other franchises and plot how they can take advantage of their needs. Presti is great at this and seems to be on the prowl again in this draft.

On July 27th, 2009, the Thunder traded Damien Wilkins and Chucky Atkins to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Etan Thomas and 2 second round picks. Most people thought this was just one of those offseason trades where a team trades 2 bench players for another bench player. But the haul in that trade was actually the 2nd round pick that turned into No. 32 in the 2010 NBA draft.

Etan Thomas, Andrew Bynum

The 2010 offseason was known for one thing and one thing only….the summer of Lebron. That was the offseason where most of the bumper crop from the 2003 draft class was coming up on their 2nd extensions, while other players like Amare Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson were also coming up on unrestricted free agency. If you were a team that believed in quick fixes, this was the summer for you. While a handful of teams were trying their hardest to unload as much salary as possible, the other teams were more than willing to take on decent players (salary) and first round picks.

The Thunder had assets galore in the 2010 draft with 3 picks in the first round (18, 21, and 26) and 2 picks in the second round (32 and 51). The consensus with most teams is that you don’t head into training camp with five rookies. So, the Thunder knew they had to wheel and deal to get what they wanted in this draft, which was a defensive minded big man and more assets. Their first move was to trade the 32nd pick to Miami for the 18th pick and Daequan Cook. Miami was looking to cut salary to position themselves for the summer of Lebron. The Thunder knew they couldn’t get what they wanted at 18, so they traded it to the Clippers for a future first rounder. They eventually traded up to the 11th pick where they picked Cole Aldrich. The future first rounder from the Clippers helped to facilitate the trade with the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins at the trading deadline that following season.

benchmob

There are a lot of similarities between this offseason and the 2010 offseason. First off, the top tier in this free agency class includes some franchise players, such as Chris Paul, Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Josh Smith. Secondly, these free agents are available and willing to hear out every offer on the table. Thirdly, there are team already vying to dump salary and 1st round draft picks to clear cap space. And, fourthly, the Thunder have the 32nd pick.

The story behind the 32nd pick is akin to the story of Hebrews wandering in the desert for 40 years in the book of Exodus. A little bit of controversy, a little bit of disobedience, and finally back to where it ultimately needed to be. On December 19, 2011, the Thunder traded Byron Mullens to the Charlotte Bobcats for their unprotected 2013 2nd round pick. Simple, right? Wrong! When the Thunder traded for Perkins, they sent Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston along with that Clippers draft pick. Everything was going good until doctors discovered the following season that Green was suffering from an aortic aneurysm, would need immediate surgery, and would miss the entire 2011-12 season. Boston contended that Oklahoma City knew of this condition previous to the trade. On June 16, 2012, the NBA decided to give Boston the Charlotte pick as compensation for the Green debacle. On July 20, 2012, the Celtics traded the pick to the Houston Rockets as part of a three team trade for guard Courtney Lee. Finally, on October 27, 2012, the pick was sent back to Oklahoma City as part of the James Harden trade. I’ve joked that, to everyone outside of Oklahoma City, the trade between OKC and Houston will be known as the James Harden trade. But to the people in Oklahoma City, the trade will be known as the “reacquisition of the Charlotte 2nd round pick” trade.

Oklahoma City is in prime position to make a significant move to improve their team in this draft. The rumor mill is already rampant with teams wanting to dump salary and picks for a chance at one of the top tier free agents. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports reported that Houston is looking to unload the No. 5 pick from last season’s draft, Thomas Robinson, in order to clear further cap space. Chad Ford of ESPN.com reported that the Dallas Mavericks were looking to trade away the No. 13 pick in order to avoid the $1.6 million cap hold that the pick carries. Also, Atlanta has picks 17 and 18, but are also looking to throw their hat in the free agency fray. There will be plenty of opportunities to nab a necessary piece on this draft day.

Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony

Also, there is one more thing to look out for in this draft. There might be an epic free agency class coming up next offseason. Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwayne Wade all have early termination options to become free agents in 2014. Add to that, the 2014 NBA draft is predicted to be a lot stronger than this draft class, and you have the perfect storm for further wheelings and dealings. Look for the Thunder to not only get what they need in this draft, but also to pick up assets for the 2014 draft. Let the madness begin!

Full Circle: Harden trade revisited

james harden

There’s a reason why teams don’t like to trade core players within their own conference. The fact that you not only have to face them more times during the season, but also possibly in a playoff series, causes many teams to take lesser deals in order to trade a core player to another conference. That scenario now becomes a reality for the Oklahoma City Thunder. In their first round match-up with the 8th seeded Houston Rockets, the team will meet up with former 6th man extraordinaire James Harden. While the teams have already met three times before during the regular season, the stakes will undoubtedly be higher for these next 4-7 games.

The trade essentially comes full circle within the same season. When Harden was traded to the Rockets 4 days before the season started, many media pundits saw this as the first step back in a franchise that had progressed forward since it first stepped foot in the Great Plains in 2008.  Many wondered whether the team that many people had tabbed as the next great dynasty was finally beginning to succumb to the many ills that small market teams face. The new collective bargaining agreement, which was supposed to help small market teams with the concept of increased “player-sharing,” had actually robbed the model small market team of one of its superstars. Even the fans, those crazy, loyal, Oklahoma City fans, questioned whether the billionaire owners were crying cheap in the wake of a possible dynastic-like run.

durant jackson

In reality, the trade turned into a win-win situation for both parties involved. The Thunder front office and scouting team puts a premium on player development. It helps that they have drafted extremely well in the last 5 seasons. For every dud that’s ever gotten drafted by the Thunder, there are two studs in their place. For every Cole Aldrich the team drafts, there’s a Serge Ibaka or a Reggie Jackson. For every Byron Mullens, a Russell Westbrook or James Harden. The team not only looks at skill, but also character. They don’t just want players with specific skill sets; they want players that want to use those skill sets to reach their maximum potential, and then want get better from there. That’s what we’ve seen from the Thunder players when adversity hits. Many people wondered where the scoring would come from when the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in February 2010. They were trading two double figure scoring starters for a center that struggled to average 8 points a game and was coming off of major knee surgery. After the trade, the Thunder adapted and Kevin Durant and James Harden increased their scoring to offset any loss of scoring on the offensive end. At the same token, with Ibaka getting a lot more minutes, the defense improved. The team ended that season with a trip to the Western Conference Finals.

Many wondered whether that same type of internal improvement could happen after the Harden trade. Seriously, what more could Durant and Westbrook do to improve their games? They were already 2 of the top 10 players in the league. The fact that Durant and Westbrook improved their games this season came as no surprise. They knew that they would not only have to replace the scoring of Harden, but also the playmaking. While the superstar duo’s scoring remained consistent from the previous season, it’s their assist numbers that made the team better. Durant averaged a career high 4.6 assists (up from 3.5 the previous season), while Westbrook upped his assist mark by nearly 2 assists per game. Not only did the assist go up, but the turnovers between the two went down (even if slightly). In addition, the duo became very efficient with their scoring. Durant became the newest member of the 180 shooting club (50% FG, 40% 3pt FG, and 90% FT), and Westbrook chose his spots a bit more technically this season.

But what of the other Thunder players? Incremental improvements from Durant and Westbrook alone wouldn’t be enough to replace Harden’s production. Enter Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha. Ibaka’s scoring average jumped up over 4 points, but it’s in the matter in which he scored that assisted the team the most. Ibaka became one of the best mid-range shooting big men in the league. Where that helps the Thunder is in floor spacing for Westbrook and Durant. With opposing big men not being able to cheat off of Ibaka, the lanes opened up for the scoring duo. In addition to Ibaka, Sefolosha became a consistent 3-point threat and increased his scoring by nearly 3 points a game. For a team that performs optimally when the floor is spaced, the improvement of these two players has lessened the departure of Harden.

kmart

In addition, the Thunder got a comparable player in Kevin Martin. While the season has, at times, been a bit rough for Martin and his transition as a 6th man, he has filled the role seamlessly enough to lessen the blow of the trade. The bench role transition was made more difficult by the fact that the Thunder not only traded Harden, but also 3 other members of the Thunder’s bench. The Thunder were, in essence, bringing in an entirely new bench unit. On a team that finds comfort in continuity, this was a shock to the system. It took about 65 games, but the coaching staff finally found a rotation off the bench that works for the team. What once seemed like a weakness after the trade, has, once again, turned into a strength for the team.

As mentioned above, the trade was a win-win for both organizations. The Rockets finally got the superstar player that they had been trying to acquire for the past few seasons. In an attempt to acquire a superstar player, that Rockets had been loading up on assets and freeing up cap space. When they failed to acquire Dwight Howard in the offseason, the team shifted its sights onto Harden, who was in a contract squabble with the Thunder. With their combination of Martin (expiring contract/comparable player), Jeremy Lamb (lottery talent), and draft picks, the Rockets finally acquired what they hope is the first piece of their successful puzzle. Not only do the Rockets now have a good young core in Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and Thomas Robinson, but they also have the cap space to go after another premium free agent this offseason.

rockets

And what about our old friend, James Harden? I’ve always thought that sometimes, in life, you have to get pushed out of your comfort zone to achieve your utmost potential. The reality is that Harden was too talented to be a third option on any team, regardless of who the first two options were. He was a highly efficient scorer that got to the line in droves and was a top notch playmaker, to boot. He had shown that he could perform in high pressure situations and was beginning to be one of the most noticeable faces in the NBA (and its most noticeable beard). He was ready to be a superstar, and was ready to get paid like a superstar. The Thunder offered what they thought was a respectable offer, but also knew that Harden (and his agent) may be looking for something more. The market dictates what a player is worth. If a player begins to hear that he is worth the max, he’ll be looking for that type of money. The Thunder knew this and made a decision: either Harden sacrifices by taking a lesser than market value offer to stay on the team or the Thunder had to pounce on the best deal available. The rest is history. Harden was traded, got a super max extension, and became a superstar. End of story, right?

Ibaka-Harden_original

Wrong. Much like the Thunder versus the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 playoffs, the Rockets are now the hungry, young upstarts trying to take the crown from the defending Western Conference champion Thunder. In a way, the CBA’s concept of player-sharing actually worked out this time. The reality is that when you draft enough talent, you’ll eventually run out of money to pay them all. It’s not a bad dilemma to deal with if you have the right brain trust guiding the team. In the end, after coming full circle, one team got better in this trade and the other team improved. I’ll let you decide which is which.

The Thunder and their tradeable assets

After the pomp and circumstances that was the NBA All-Star Weekend, it is now time to get to the meat of the NBA season. But before we even reach that point, there’s a little something called the trade deadline that can change the fates of aspiring championship teams. For the next 4 days, you will hear every sort of rumor, from the asinine to the very believable. And that is what makes this time of year one of my favorites.

nba_trade_machine_288

In the last two seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder have made some sort of move at the trade deadline. In Feb. 2010, they traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. Last season, they eschewed a trade, instead choosing to sign veteran guard Derek Fisher for their playoff run that went all the way to the Finals. This season, the Thunder made their big splash before the season started, trading reigning 6th man of the year James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, and 3 draft picks. The Thunder went from a team with hardly any assets to one brimming with them. Any one of those assets or combinations of assets could be used to make a bigger move to help the Thunder either in the short term or in the long term.

Here are the top 5 tradable assets for the Thunder in terms of their desirability from other teams.

5. Eric Maynor

Two seasons ago, when the Thunder made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals, Maynor was viewed as one of the top back-up point guards in the league. The fervor that is currently surrounding Los Angeles Clipper’s back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe was akin to what was being said about Maynor two seasons ago. A young floor general that was good enough to start for many other teams, and maybe even good enough to start ahead of Russell Westbrook. 

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The Thunder, sensing that Maynor’s rising stock may make him difficult to keep, drafted guard Reggie Jackson in the 2011 NBA draft. At the beginning of last season, it became increasingly evident that Maynor’s game had stagnated and hadn’t really improved that much during the offseason. Then, before the season was even 10 games old, Maynor tore his ACL and was lost for the season. While Maynor was rehabbing, Jackson was receiving his baptism by fire and earning precious playing time on a championship contending team. When this season started, Maynor was given the opportunity to earn his spot back as back-up point guard. He played as the primary back-up point guard for the first 23 games of the season. What became evident was that the injury had sapped Maynor of what little athleticism he had, and the Harden trade had robbed Maynor of his greatest asset off the bench. Thunder coach Scott Brooks chose to go with the more athletic Reggie Jackson off the bench to anchor the 2nd team from there on out.

reggie jax

Maynor is in the final year of his rookie contract that owes him $2.34 million. He has value as a cheap rental for a team looking to scout point guards for next season. Maynor has recently shed his bulky knee brace and is moving around a lot better than he did at the beginning of the season. He is just 14 months removed from major knee surgery and may be getting back to being healthy again.

Percentage the Thunder move Maynor: 65% (The Thunder aren’t going to move Maynor just to move him. If they are able to acquire any value, such as a high 2nd rounder or a young player, they’ll make the move. If not, they’ll roll with Maynor for the rest of the season as the insurance point guard.)

4. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick

Second round picks are usually tossed back and forth between teams in almost comedic fashion. Most players selected in the 2nd round usually never make it onto an NBA roster, instead spending most of their careers in the D-League or overseas. The beauty of 2nd round picks, though, is that their contracts aren’t guaranteed and don’t fall into the pay scale system of the 1st round picks.

The valuable 2nd round picks are those that fall in the 31-35 range. In those picks, you can get a good player that has slipped into the 2nd round for a variety of reasons. A good example would be Dejuan Blair of the San Antonio Spurs, who slipped into the 2nd round because of injury concerns with his knees. Being that this pick belongs to Charlotte, who currently owns the worst record in the league, it could be a good asset as the first pick of the 2nd round.

dejuan_blair_2012_01_17

Percentage the Thunder moves this pick: 0.000001% (The Thunder fought long and hard to get this pick back. They initially obtained this pick in the trade that sent Byron Mullens to the Bobcats. The pick was later given to the Boston Celtics by the NBA as punishment for the deal involving Jeff Green, who had a heart condition that the Thunder may or may not have known about. Boston then sent the pick to the Houston Rockets in an off-season deal that sent Courtney Lee to the Celtics. And then the Thunder re-obtained the pick in the James Harden deal. I honestly think Thunder GM Sam Presti would have dealt Kevin Durant to get this pick back.)

3. Kevin Martin

This was the player the Thunder got back in the James Harden trade that could be labeled as “of equal or comparable value”. Martin is one of those fringe All-Star players that can average 20 points per game in the NBA, but bring little else to the table. Martin has done a good job this season of reproducing the offensive production that Harden gave the Thunder last season. Martin’s trade value, though, comes in the fact that he has a $12 million expiring contract.

kevin-martin-thunder

Martin is still a really good player that could still average 20 points per game if he were on a bad team. He’s one of the top players in free throw percentage and 3-point FG percentage and averages 15 points per game off the bench. He had done a good job of assimilating himself to his role on the Thunder and assimilating himself to the culture of the city. He has made it known that he would like to stay in Oklahoma City and sounds like he would be willing to take a pay cut to stay. (Annnd, cue Thunder fans saying “We’ve heard that before”).  

Percentage the Thunder move Martin: 12.5% (Having already made a major trade to start the season, I doubt the Thunder make another major trade in the middle of the season. They have the 2nd best record in the league and Martin has been a willing participant in his bench role. Unless the Thunder are able to acquire 2 players for the price of one, I think the Thunder head into the playoffs with Martin as their 6th man.

2. Jeremy Lamb/Perry Jones III

When you are a rookie on a championship contending team, playing time can be at a premium. This is where the Thunder and their rookies currently find themselves. Besides end of blowout situations, Lamb and Jones III have gotten most of their playing time with the Thunder’s D-League affiliates, the Tulsa 66ers. Their lack of playing time is not indicative of their potential, though. On a bad to mediocre team, these two would be logging major minutes. But on this team, their major function this season is in developing their game.  

lamb-jones

The league still views them as rookies dripping with potential. And that is where their value lies. I’m pretty sure many trade proposals have started with Eric Maynor and ended with one or both of these rookies. Young players on rookie deals are like gold in the NBA, and the Thunder have 2 bars in their safe.

Percentage the Thunder move either of these players: 10% (With their future salary cap situation (2 max players in Westbrook and Durant, Ibaka’s upcoming extension, Perkins’ contract, and Martin possibly resigning), the Thunder place optimum value on young players on rookie scale contracts. Both of these players emulate the Thunder model (athletic, long, and able to play multiple positions) and have performed well in their time in Tulsa.  

1. Toronto’s protected 1st round pick (2013 – Top 3 and 15-30 protected, 2014,2015 – Top 2 and 15-30 protected, 2016,2017 – Top 1 and 15-30 protected, 2018 – unprotected)

Before Toronto acquired Rudy Gay, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 6-8 range. Since the Gay trade, Toronto seems to be a much tougher out for opponents and reeled off 4 straight wins before the All-Star break. The Raptors currently sit 6 games out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference, so while it is not an impossibility for them to make a run at the playoffs, the hole they dug themselves before the trade may be too much to overcome this season.

Rudy-Gay-Raptors

For a team looking to rebuild, a pick in the lottery is a steal. Any draft pick is a gamble, but those in the lottery have a higher percentage of panning out than those outside of the lottery. The Raptors picks is now looking to be in the 10-14 range.

Percentage the Thunder deal this pick: 10% (The same logic that applies to the Thunder and why they probably won’t deal Lamb or Jones III, applies to this draft pick. Earlier this season, this pick looked like it was going to be in the 4-6 range. But even where it stands today, this pick probably has more value for the Thunder than for another rebuilding team, especially in a draft that is perceived to be weak.).

One thing to look out for is the empty roster spot the Thunder have. If they don’t fill this spot with someone in a trade, look for the Thunder to sign veteran forward Rasual Butler. Oklahoma City fans may remember Butler from his days with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets. He is currently playing for the Tulsa 66ers and may be what the Thunder need in a 3-point shooter and perimeter defender.

butler 66ers

The fact is that the Thunder have the 2nd best record in the league and are coming off of a Finals appearance. Sam Presti is not known to deal in haste or for a quick fix. He believes in sustainability and cap-flexibility, so any deal will have to work for the Thunder’s present and for their future. Needless to say, I don’t really see the Thunder making a move this trading deadline….but I’ll be watching.

 

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.