Tag Archives: New York Knicks

Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder have a mutual interest. Is it realistic?

anthony westbrook

At around 11 am on Monday, Bill Simmons of The Ringer decided to drop this little tidbit on the masses:

First off, what the hell does circling each other mean? I remember when I was in 5th grade, I got into a little tiff with another guy on the playground during recess and we connected at the shoulders and kept circling around talking trash to each other until our friends intervened. You know the whole, “Do something!”, “No, you do something!” type elementary brawl. So is that what the Thunder and Anthony are doing? I doubt it.

Instead, I think this is just a case of someone within the Syracuse inner circle putting out that Weaver and Anthony have spoken and the Thunder are interested if Anthony is interested. Nothing more, nothing less. If anything, I think this is more of a play by people in Anthony’s camp to leverage Houston into actually getting the deal done. Continue reading Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder have a mutual interest. Is it realistic?

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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.

Oklahoma City Thunder at New York Knicks preview (Game 46 of 82)

stoudemire collison thunder knicks

  • When: Wednesday, 28 January 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

The roughest part of the schedule is behind us. The Thunder went 3-2 against some of the more elite teams in the Eastern Conference. They pushed their record above .500. Now, it’s go time in regards of getting at least to the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The Phoenix Suns (the current 8th seed) have one of the toughest second half schedules in the league and the New Orleans Pelicans (the current 9th seed) have injury issues. Luckily, the Thunder still have two games against both these teams. In a way, the Thunder still control their fate in regards to getting to the playoffs.

This is the second and final meeting of the season between these two teams. The Thunder defeated the Knicks in late November, 105-78, in what was Russell Westbrook’s first game back from a broken hand. In that game, Westbrook tallied 32 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists in resounding “I’m baaaack” fashion. That game was missing the past two scoring champions, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, due to injury.

The Opponent

anthony galloway calderon smith knicks

Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014-15 New York Knickerbockers. I have no idea where the wheels fell off with this team. I predicted they would sneak into the East playoffs at the beginning of the season. With a record of 8-37, the Knicks are currently tied with the 76ers for the second worst record in the league. The rank 29th in points scored per game and rebounding, and have an MOV of -8.0. Injuries have played a part, but chemistry and personnel have been the bigger issue. In turbulent times, though, when a team starts to trim the fat and rebuild itself anew, you sometimes find diamonds where there was only coal. Langston Galloway, an undrafted rookie free agent, has emerged as a consistent starter for the Knicks since his signing a week into the new year. He is averaging 14.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game in the last 4 games, with the Knicks recording a 3-1 record in those games. New York lost a lot of its guard depth in the trade that sent JR Smith and Iman Shumpert to the Cleveland Cavaliers. So finding a player like Galloway has been a bit of a life saver for New York. The Knicks have been using Jose Calderon as the other guard, but he may be still recovering from a bruised knee suffered in their last game played. If he can’t go, expect Tim Hardaway Jr. to start in his place. Carmelo Anthony has had a most disappointing season and appears to be on the “Play one game, miss one game” veteran plan. He can still fill up the scoreboard (24.1 points per game), but appears to be looking towards April instead of any game in January – April. If he can’t go, look for former Thunder player Lance Thomas to take his place. Probably the most consistent players for the Knicks this season have been Amar’e Stoudemire and Cole Aldrich. Now, consistent doesn’t necessarily mean great, or even good for that matter, but it’s a start. Unfortunately, those two players come off the bench in favor of Lou Amundson and Jason Smith. Another veteran that provides good minutes off the bench is Pablo Prigioni.

New York Knicks

  • PG – Langston Galloway
  • SG – Tim Hardaway Jr.
  • SF – Carmelo Anthony
  • PF – Lou Amundson
  • C – Jason Smith

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Perry Jones
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Trap Game Potential – This just feels like one of those games where a Langston Galloway or a Tim Hardaway Jr. could erupt for 30-40 points on us. Many are looking at this game like a guaranteed win, but I see this game as a huge trap game. The Thunder are missing Kevin Durant and have been in an offensive slump in the past 4 games. With the Knicks on a bit of a hot streak, playing at home, and playing against their coach’s old team, I could see them coming out full bore against the Thunder.

2. Bench Production – With Durant out and the team struggling offensively, the bench stepped up to help the Thunder beat the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves. They scored 45  points between four players (Reggie Jackson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Morrow, and Nick Collison). Were they efficient? Not necessarily, but they put pressure on the Wolves and got a lot of open looks (some of which, they actually made). The Thunder reserves will likely have to be just as aggressive in this game.

westbrook roberson thunder

3. Russell Westbrook – Westbrook is such a nice guy. Every time he sees a player, especially a rookie, that is playing well, he wants to absolutely destroy that player to let them know he exists. Langston Galloway, you’re next on the list. Initiate “New Point Guard Destruction” protocols.

Thunder acquire Dion Waiters in a trade

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Cleveland Cavaliers

The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired guard Dion Waiters from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 3-team deal that also involved the New York Knicks. The Thunder used the Thabo Sefolosha Trade Player Exception ($4.125 million) to acquire Waiters while sending over a protected first round pick to the Cavaliers. The pick is Top 18 protected in 2015 and Top 15 protected in 2016 and 2017. If the pick is not conveyed by 2017, then the Cavs receive the Thunder’s 2nd round picks in 2018 and 2019. In a separate transaction, the Thunder sent Lance Thomas to the Knicks in a three way deal that saw JR Smith and Iman Shumpert end up in Cleveland.

Waiters is averaging 10.5 points, 1.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.3 steals on 40% shooting from the field and 26% shooting from the 3-point line this season. After having his best season as a professional last season (15.9 points, 36.8% shooting from deep), Waiters’ numbers dipped as he failed to fit in with LeBron James and the new look Cavs. He wasn’t quite the fit the Cavs were looking for at 2-guard when they made their big moves this offseason. Waiters started the first 3 games of the season, but was then relegated to being the 6th man after that.

Waiters gives the Thunder another scorer and ball-handler off the bench. He’s a bit of a streaky shooter, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the 4th or 5th option on a team. While not great defensively, he isn’t that bad either. He’s got a little bulldog in him and his strength and thick frame will allow him to guard bigger opponents.  The hope is that Waiters will pick up the slack on those games where Reggie Jackson is struggling from the field. Jackson appears to be either playing hurt and/or in a slump, and his inconsistencies have affected the team when the reserves are needed to either maintain a lead or chip away at a deficit.

This move may be the first of a couple for the Thunder. The Waiters acquisition probably knocks Jeremy Lamb completely out of the rotation and probably out of Oklahoma City by the trade deadline. Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison are expiring after this season, and there were rumors the Thunder looked into obtaining Brook Lopez from the Brooklyn Nets for Perkins, Lamb, and Perry Jones. In addition, Reggie Jackson’s impending restricted free agency looms large on the horizon for the Thunder. If Waiters, who is a comparable player to Jackson, works out for the Thunder, look for them to move Jackson either before the trade deadline or at the draft.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. New York Knicks preview (Game 17 of 82)

westbrook stoudemire thunder knicks

  • When: Friday, 28 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

When the season first started, and it was known that the Thunder would start it without Kevin Durant and Mitch McGary, I tabbed the Thunder with a 7-10 record through November. Of course, other injuries occurred and kind of derailed that prediction. But in life, you are doing one of three things: either entering into a storm, going through a storm, or exiting out of a storm. The Thunder seem to be exiting out of their current storm. Tonight, they get back a player that has been severely missed in this early season swoon. When Grant Jerrett finally checks into the game, the will be a raucous celebration in the Chesapeake Arena.

Hold on….it’s not Jerrett. Oh, he’s coming back also. But, Russell. Really?

Apparently, the cheering will be for none other than Russell Westbrook. Slowly, but surely, the pieces are starting to come back for the Thunder. This game is Westbrook and Jerrett. Next week, it could be Durant and McGary. Eventually, Lance Thomas will take his rightful place on the bench, cheering on his brethren in a nice tailored suit.

This is the first meeting of the season between these two teams, with identical 4-12 records. The Thunder beat the Knicks last season in both meetings by an average of 20.5 points. In what was tabbed in the beginning of the season as a match-up between great scorers, has now devolved into a match-up of teams trying to claw their ways back into their conference’s respective playoff races.

The Opponent

jr smith amare stoudemire knicks

The Knicks come into the game with a 4-12 record in what has been a disappointing start to the Derek Fisher/Phil Jackson regime in New York. The implementation of the Triangle offense has flummoxed the players on the team, as they have struggled offensively out of the gate. The team, which features Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith, is scoring only 95.3 points per game, good for 25th in the league. The departure of Tyson Chandler also has the Knicks struggling on the boards, as they are only grabbing 39.3 rebounds per game, good for 26th in the league. The Knicks’ attack is led by Jose Calderon, who just recently came back from an ankle injury. On the wings, JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are as streaky as they come from the perimeter. Carmelo Anthony, who would normally start at the forward position, is out due to back spasms. Up front, Samuel Dalembert and Quincy Acy are veterans, but provide little else. Off the bench, Amar’e Stoudemire, Tim Hardaway Jr., Pablo Prigioni, and Shane Larkin are a mixture that is just as perplexing as the starting line-up.

Probable Starting Line-ups

New York Knicks

  • PG – Jose Calderon
  • SG – JR Smith
  • SF – Iman Shumpert
  • PF – Quincy Acy
  • C – Samuel Dalembert

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Perimeter Defense – The Knicks lead the league in 3-point FG percentage. The don’t attempt that many 3’s, but they make enough to be the only team in the league with a 3-point shooting percentage above 40% (40.5% to be exact). The Knicks have little else in their arsenal but the 3-point shot. If it’s falling, the Knicks can hang with anyone. The key is to defend that 3-point line and make the Knicks beat you from inside and from mid-range.

2. Bench play – With Reggie Jackson returning to the bench, the Thunder’s bench get a huge boost. The Knicks bench is a mixture of Stoudemire and young wing players such as Hardaway Jr and Larkin. The Thunder, with Jackson, Morrow, and Lamb should be able to take advantage of this.

jackson thunder smith stoudemire knicks

3. Russell Westbrook – Welcome back. Now let’s napalm the league, sir.

Thunder release Sebastian Telfair

telfair thunder

In a surprise move (at least, surprising to us), the Oklahoma City Thunder released point guard Sebastian Telfair after their game against the Jazz. Not only is the timing surprising, but also the fact that it was thought that Telfair had a fully guaranteed contract. That may still be the case, but if Telfair was released, and it is likely because he had a guarantee that was date-specific (i.e. the contract becomes fully guaranteed if the player is on the roster after Nov. 30th).

Telfair’s release coincides with the fact that Ish Smith’s 10-day contract was coming up to a close on Thursday. With Russell Westbrook set to return soon (possibly for their next game against the New York Knicks), the team probably decided that they’d rather go into the season with Smith as the 3rd string point guard. Smith is younger, but, more importantly to the Thunder, he’s probably a lot cheaper. Not only is he a lot cheaper in salary, but he’s also easier to get rid of, as he’ll probably just sign another 10-day contract on Thursday. If Westbrook proves to be healthy, then the need for Smith probably goes out the window in 2 weeks. Then, the Thunder could let Smith go, and gain their coveted empty roster spot that they like to go into the season with.

Telfair played well in spots for the Thunder during their tumultuous beginning of the season. He averaged 8.6 points and 2.9 assists on 36.4% shooting from the field. He provided a veteran’s touch when the going got tough for the Thunder. His professionalism and experience helped the team, and hopefully, some of the young guys learned a thing or two about being an NBA player from Telfair.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Brooklyn Nets preview (Game 14 of 82)

adams lopez nets thunder

  • When: Friday, 21 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the worst team in the Western Conference and tied with the New York Knicks for the 2nd worst record in the league. Let that sink in for a second. A season that started with so much promise has devolved to this current state. The thing is, the Thunder don’t feel like one of the worst teams in the league. They have been competitive in most games this season, but, unfortunately, lack the horses to put teams away. The Thunder lead the league in moral victories, but those mean squat when it comes to the final W-L record at the end of the season. This team needs to start winning some of these close games in order to stay within striking distance of the 8th seed in the Western Conference.

This is the 2nd meeting of the season between the Thunder and the Nets. The Nets did a number on the Thunder in the 4th game of the season, beating them in convincing fashion, 116-85. That game was Reggie Jackson’s first of the season, and there was a bit of an adjustment period that clouded the team’s performance in that game. The Nets decimated the Thunder’s zone, which had been pretty successful in the previous 3 games, to the tune of 52.4% shooting from the field to go along with 11 3-pointers.

The Opponent

anderson garnett johnson nets

The Nets currently stand at 4-7. The Nets started 4-2 out the gates, but have since lost 5 in a row. The main issue has been defense. In their first 6 games, the Nets gave up 98.2 points per game. During their 5 game losing streak, they are allowing 106.6 points per game. They are middle of the road in most statistical categories. The Nets are led by the veteran backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. While both are a couple years removed from their prime, they are still consistent enough from the outside to be a threat. Rookie Bojan Bogdanovic has been a surprise at the SF position, pumping in 11.3 points and 3 rebounds a game on 37.3% shooting from 3-point territory. Up front, Kevin Garnett is still providing defense and rebounding in what will likely be his final season and Brook Lopez is rounding out nicely after coming back from a foot sprain earlier this season. Off the bench, the Nets have a mixture of shooters (Mirza Teletovic and Alan Anderson), an energetic big men (Mason Plumlee), and a savvy back up point guard (Jarrett Jack).

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Brooklyn Nets

  • PG – Deron Williams
  • SG – Joe Johnson
  • SF – Bojan Bogdanovic
  • PF – Kevin Garnett
  • C – Brook Lopez

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Reggie Jackson
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Lance Thomas
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. Brook Lopez – After missing most of last season and missing the first 2 games of this season, Lopez is just now starting to round into shape. He’s always been an All-Star talent, but has always been derailed by injuries. His last game was his best one yet, totaling 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks on 11-19 shooting from the field. If the Nets get an inside/out game working with Lopez and their wings, the Thunder could be in a bit of trouble.

Joe Johnson, Serge Ibaka

 

2.  Perimeter Defense – The Thunder do a good job with this zone for the most part. But the Nets, in all their veteran savvy, exploited it the first time they played. If the Thunder are able to corral the shooters for the Nets, they will probably have a chance in this game. The addition of Andre Roberson will hopefully help this.

3. Transition Opportunities – There should be no reason why Reggie Jackson, Roberson/Jeremy Lamb, and Serge Ibaka don’t beat their man down the floor numerous times tonight for easy baskets.

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division Preview

1. Toronto Raptors 

raptors ross valanciunas lowry derozan

Last season: 48-34 (1st in the Atlantic Division, 3rd in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 7, 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs against the Brooklyn Nets

Key additions:

  • Bruno Caboclo – Draft (No. 20 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jordan Hamilton – Free agent signing
  • James Johnson – Free agent signing
  • Lucas Nogueira – Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks
  • Lou Williams –  Obtained in a trade with the Atlanta Hawks

Key departures:

  • John Salmons – Traded to the Atlanta Hawks
  • Steve Novak – Traded to the Utah Jazz

Season Preview – The Toronto Raptors are in prime position to build off the most successful season in franchise history. The young nucleus of Kyle Lowry, DeMar Derozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson, and Terrence Ross is intact and a year older, with Derozan and Valanciunas having just participated in the FIBA World Cup. The Raptors acquired Lou Williams from the Hawks to serve as their offensive firepower off the bench. And they are also developing two Brazilian big men (Caboclo and Nogueria) who may pay dividends in 2015-16.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Raptors make it to the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs and have at least 2 All-Stars.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 52-30

2. New York Knicks

knicks shumpert anthony bargnani hardaway

Last season: 37-45 (3rd in the Atlantic Division, 9th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key additions:

  • Quincy Acy – Obtained in a trade with the Sacramento Kings
  • Jose Calderon – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Samuel Dalembert – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Cleanthony Early – Draft (No. 34 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Shane Larkin – Obtained in a trade with the Dallas Mavericks
  • Jason Smith – Free agent signing

Key departures:

  • Tyson Chandler – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks
  • Raymond Felton – Traded to the Dallas Mavericks

Season Preview – Two of the biggest additions for the team have been Phil Jackson (president of basketball operations) and Derek Fisher (head coach). With Carmelo Anthony in the fold for the next 4 seasons guaranteed and plenty of cap space coming up in 2015-16, the Knicks are starting to look like they have a plan. Fisher will likely implement the triangle offense, which will play off the scoring abilities of Anthony and JR Smith to maximize the effect of role players like Calderon, Amare Stoudemire, and Tim Hardaway Jr. It will be a bit of a transition year, but in the weak Eastern Conference, the Knicks will have the ability to make the playoffs.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Knicks make the playoffs.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 43-39

3. Brooklyn Nets

nets williams lopez

Last season: 44-38 (2nd in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against the Miami Heat

Key Additions:

  • Bojan Bogdanovic – Signed Eurostash
  • Markel Brown – Draft (No. 44 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jarrett Jack – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers
  • Sergey Karasev – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key departures:

  • Paul Pierce – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Andray Blatche – Unsigned
  • Shaun Livingston – Signed with the Golden State Warriors
  • Marcus Thornton –  Traded to the Boston Celtics

Season Preview – The Brooklyn Nets seem to be on the cusp of a rebuild (reload?). Their “all in” move from last offseason (acquiring Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Celtics) did not pan out and the Nets now find themselves with only one of the those 3 still on the roster. Brook Lopez (foot) and Deron Williams (both ankles) are once again coming into the season recovering from surgeries, and Garnett seems to know the end of his career is near. The Nets have some good young role players in Mason Plumlee, Bogdanovic, Karasev, and Teague, but their star players are either at the end of their run or are injury-prone.

2014-15 will be successful if: The Nets make the playoffs

Projected 2014-15 Record: 40-42

4. Boston Celtics

celtics smart young

Last season: 25-57 (4th in the Atlantic Division, 12th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Marcus Smart – Draft (No. 6 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Marcus Thornton – Obtained in a trade with the Brooklyn Nets
  • Evan Turner – Free agent signing
  • James Young – Draft (No. 17 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Tyler Zeller – Obtained in a trade with the Cleveland Cavaliers

Key Departures:

  • Kris Humphries – Signed with the Washington Wizards
  • Jerryd Bayless – Signed with the Milwaukee Bucks

Season Preview – The Celtics are in the beginnings of a rebuild and would like nothing more than to use this season to get their young core (Smart, Young, Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, and Avery Bradley) plenty of development and playing time together. Along with that, the team has two valuable expiring contracts in Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass to help out in their rebuilding process.

2014-15 will be successful if: The young players show progression and the Celtics end up with a Top 7 pick.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 23-59

5. Philadelphia 76ers

76ers carter williams noel

Last season: 19-63 (5th in the Atlantic Division, 14th in the Eastern Conference)

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

  • Joel Embiid – Draft (No. 3 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Dario Saric – Draft (No. 12 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Jerami Grant – Draft (No. 39 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves
  • KJ McDaniels – Draft (No. 32 in the 2014 NBA Draft)
  • Alexy Shved – Obtained in a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Departures:

  • Thaddeus Young – Traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves

Season Preview – I’ve never seen a more obvious tank job in my life. The entire being of the 76ers at this point is to collect draft picks and young players at whatever cost. That’s not necessarily a bad plan, but everyone else who has done has at least attempted to look like they were trying. They drafted 2 players in the first round in the last draft that likely will not play for the organization this season (Embiid and Saric). This will be Nerlens Noel’s rookie season and last season’s Rookie of the Year, Michael Carter-Williams, is coming off off-season shoulder surgery. The team traded its best veteran in Thad Young and heads into the season as one of the youngest teams in the league.

2014-15 will be successful if: The 76ers end up with a Top 3 pick and their young players continue to develop.

Projected 2014-15 Record: 12-70

Exit Interviews 2014: Thunder roster and outlooks

Kevin Durant

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

The elimination meant the end of the line for the 2013-14 Thunder. Whenever a season ends, be it in mid-April at the conclusion of the regular season or mid-June at the conclusion of the NBA Finals, every team holds exit interviews with each player and coach on their team. Exit interviews serve two purposes: either to tell the person what to work on for the next season or to advise the person of their intentions in regards to extensions or standing on the team. While the Thunder have already held their official exit interviews, these are my exit interviews for each player on the team.

Scott Brooks – Head Coach

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

Season Record – 59-23 (.720)

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $4,000,000

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

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

Steven Adams – Center

adams duncan thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,184,960

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

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

Caron Butler – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

Nick Collison – Forward/Center

collison splitter thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,242,003

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

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

Kevin Durant – Forward

durant

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $18,995,624

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

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

Derek Fisher – Guard

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

Serge Ibaka – Forward

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $12,350,000

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

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

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

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

Reggie Jackson – Guard

jackson duncan adams parker thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,204,369

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

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

Grant Jerrett – Forward

jerrett thunder

Season Averages – 0 games played for the Thunder.

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

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

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

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

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

Perry Jones – Guard/Forward

jones splitter westbrook thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,129,200

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

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

Jeremy Lamb – Guard

lamb diaw joseph thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $2,202,000

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

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

Kendrick Perkins – Center

perkins duncan thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $9,404,342

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

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

Andre Roberson – Guard/Forward

roberson splitter ibaka spurs thunder

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $1,160,880

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

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

Thabo Sefolosha – Guard/Forward

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Oklahoma City Thunder

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

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

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

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

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

Hasheem Thabeet – Center

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Phoenix Suns

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

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

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

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

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

Russell Westbrook – Guard

westbrook diaw thunder spurs

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

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

Salary for 2014-15 – $15,719,063

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

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

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

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.