Tag Archives: Orlando

Enjoy the Moment: Durant and the MVP

durant thunder

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

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

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

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

durant lebron james thunder heat

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

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

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

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Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 30 of 82)

durant harden thunder rockets

  • When: Sunday, 29 December 2013 at 6:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

We’ve seen this script before. The Oklahoma City Thunder facing the Houston Rockets in a game without Russell Westbrook. This is the second game for the Thunder without Russell Westbrook after his 2nd arthroscopic knee surgery in less than 3 months. They eeked out a win on the road against the Charlotte Bobcats, 89-85, in their last game. In the game, Kevin Durant had 34 points, 12 rebounds, and 6 assists, while Thabo Sefolosha had possibly his best offensive game of the season with 12 points on 3/5 shooting from the 3-point line.

The Thunder won the season series against the Rockets 2-1 last season and then met them in the first round of the playoffs. The Thunder ended up winning the series 4-2, but lost Russell Westbrook after Game 2 to a torn meniscus that required surgery.

The Opponent

lin howard harden rockets

The Houston Rockets come into the game with a 21-11 record and a 3 game win streak. They are the 3rd highest scoring team in the NBA at 106.3 points per game, but are only 20th in opponent ppg, giving up an average of 101.8 points per game. Offensively, the Rockets are a full throttle attacking team, led by former Thunder player James Harden. The 3-wing lineup of Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons, and Harden all have the ability to either penetrate into the lane, draw fouls, and make 3’s. Inside, free agent acquisition Dwight Howard is starting to look like the Howard of the Orlando days and not the oft-injured Howard of last season. He’s a walking double double machine, and provides them with semblance of defense. The bench is veteran-laden and scrappy, with players like Francisco Garcia, Aaron Brooks, and Omri Casspi getting minutes for them.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Houston Rockets

  • PG – Jeremy Lin
  • SG – James Harden
  • SF – Chandler Parsons
  • PF – Terrence Jones
  • C – Dwight Howard

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Defenders earning their money – This is the reason why Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha have a place in our starting line-up. For games like this. Dwight Howard is the type of center that Perkins is made to handle. He isn’t overly adept at offensive and stays in the post. Steven Adams will also be important in defending Howard, especially if foul trouble comes into play. Sefolosha had a lot of success in the first two meetings between these teams last season holding Harden to 9-33 FG shooting. Then Harden erupted for a career high 46 points in the 3rd game. Harden is the type of player that can get hot quickly, but can also be a chucker that’ll keep shooting to get back his rhythm.

harden sefolosha ibaka thunder rockets

2. Perimeter defense – If Perkins and Adams can handle Howard on the inside, there should be no reason why the perimeter defenders need to stray from the shooters. Houston has almost cloned what Orlando had 3 seasons ago, with Howard in the middle and a bunch of shooters around him. Also, keeping Lin and Harden out of the lane will be extremely important to handling Howard and the shooters.

3. Dribble penetration – While Howard may be known for his defense, the wing players for Houston are definitely not known for their defense. Reggie Jackson, Kevin Durant, and Jeremy Lamb should be able to get through the first line of defense and cause havoc in the paint for the Thunder.

Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 7 of 82)

paul griffin jackson collison clippers thunder

  • When – Wednesday, 13 November 2013 at 9:30 PM CST
  • Where – Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA

Finally! The first prime-time match-up of the year for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, they’ve faced the Dallas Mavericks and the Minnesota Timberwolves, but this is the type of game that the national media salivates for. A game in November that, in actuality, has little to no meaning, but who’s hype rivals that of a match-up in May. Two teams many media pundits have picked as possibly coming out of the loaded Western Conference.

The Thunder come into the game having won 4 in a row after starting the season 1-1. They are starting to fall in line offensively, with Russell Westbrook working his way back into game shape and Kevin Durant leading the league in scoring (30.2 ppg). The bench, one of the many question marks coming into the season, appears to be one of the strengths of the team. But, 3-point shooting is still a huge concern for the team, as they are only shooting 27% from deep, good for 28th in the league.

This is the first of four meetings between the Thunder and the Los Angeles Clippers. The Thunder swept the season series last season, with one game going into overtime and the Thunder winning another one by 4 points. Stylistically, these teams are very transition oriented, which usually leads to high scoring affairs.

The Opponent

paul crawford jordan griffin clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers come into tonight’s game with a 5-3 record. After losing to their Staples Center brethren on opening night, the Clippers have won 5 of 7, with their two losses coming on a road trip through Florida (Miami and Orlando). The Clippers’ offense is the best in the league, in terms of points scored per game, at 109.9. But that figured is negated by the fact that they allowed the 28th most points in the league at 106.4 points per game. That offense is orchestrated by, arguably, the best pure point guard in the league in Chris Paul, who is averaging a league best 12.4 assists per game, while also notching 21.3 points. The starting lineup is a hyper active mix of athletic big men (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan), a scoring wing (JJ Redick), and a 3 and D wing (Jared Dudley). The Clippers also boast one of the stronger benches in the league led by Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, and Darren Collison, but lack any big man depth. Continue reading Oklahoma City Thunder at Los Angeles Clippers preview (Game 7 of 82)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Lessons from Summer School

okc summer league champs

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

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

Trading Deadline and the Thunder

Business transactions are always about needs versus assets. And that’s what trades in professional sports are.  A GM will assess their team and see what is needed and what can be given up. Sam Presti, the GM for the Oklahoma City Thunder, has made his bread and butter in the previous 5 seasons by taking advantage of other teams’ needs for financial relief. It’s how he obtained Thabo Sefolosha, Eric Maynor, Kendrick Perkins, Daequan Cook, and the draft pick that became Serge Ibaka. He did this by meticulously managing his cap space and not making hasty free agent/trade decisions.

Now that the Thunder are done with the rebuilding process, and are currently in the championship building phase of their development, some of the things that Presti used to swing advantageous deals are no longer available. The Thunder are currently $900K over the salary cap, meaning that they can’t absorb contracts, and must instead match salaries up to 125%. As ironic as it sounds, a negative of being frugal and careful with your spending, is that the Thunder are not saddled with any bad contract, which can become very advantageous in their expiring years.

Needs

  • With the loss of Eric Maynor earlier in the season, the Thunder lost one of the best game managers (backup or starting) in the game. He was the ultimate yin to Russell Westbrook’s yang, and provided the Thunder with a stabilizing force at the point guard position whenever necessary. Now, in his place, is a rookie, Reggie Jackson, who has looked every bit the part of a rookie. His play, while improving, has been inconsistent, as he is still trying to find his comfort zone on this championship caliber team. Kind of a tall order for someone who wasn’t expected to be thrust into such an important position at this moment in his young career. Because of Jackson’s inconsistent play, a quality backup point guard has suddenly become a need for the Thunder.
  • The thing about a wing oriented team is that if the shots aren’t falling and the “box and 1” defense is working, it makes it nearly impossible to consistently score points. The Thunder are lucky to have such dynamic scorers like Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Westbrook. These players have made their careers by consistently hitting shots with hands in their faces. But in basketball, the closer you are to the basket, the more efficient and easier your scoring becomes. And the Thunder have never had a low post scoring threat. It’s one of those things that makes scoring in the playoffs a whole lot easier.

Realistic Assets

  1. Nazr Mohammed – $3.75 Million – Veteran big man that could fit in on a contender that needs size.
  2. Cole Aldrich – $2.29 Million – 2nd year big man that has shown improvement and could be a good rotational big, if not for the Thunder, than for another team.
  3. Thabo Sefolosha – $3.3 Million – Veteran wing who is still one of the better wing defenders in the league.
  4. Royal Ivey – $1.2 Million – Veteran guard who provides good energy off the bench.
  5. Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick (obtained in the Byron Mullens trade) – Charlotte probably isn’t going to get much better next season and that pick will probably be in the 30-35 range, where a good player can still be picked up.
  6. OKC’s 2012 1st round pick – Will probably be in the 25 – 30 range of the first round. Late in the first, but still useful for stashing an overseas pick or rebuilding.

Possible trade partners (based on need and cost of transaction):

Boston  – Keyon Dooling ($2.25 M) and Marquis Daniels ($854 K) for Nazr Mohammed. Boston is in desperate need for big men after the losses of Jeff Green, Jermaine O’Neal, and Chris Wilcox. Keyon would provide a veteran point guard that has played in the playoffs before. Daniels would more than likely be cut.

New Jersey – Sundiata Gaines ($854 K) for Charlottes 2013 2nd round pick – Gaines has quietly put up a good season as a backup point guard for the New Jersey Nets.

New York – Mike Bibby ($854 K) for OKC’s 2013 2nd round pick – With the emergence of Jeremy Lin and the return of Baron Davis from injury, Mike Bibby is no longer necessary in New York.

Cleveland – Ramon Sessions ($4.3 M) for Nazr Mohammed and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick – Compared to other teams’ offers, this is probably a “No” for Cleveland, but it’s still worth a try.

Milwaukee – Andrew Bogut ($12 M) for Kendrick Perkins, Daequan Cook, and OKC’s 2012 1st round pick – Bogut is just as good defensively as Perkins, while providing a lot more offense, if necessary. The Bucks will probably want either Harden or Serge Ibaka, which would make this a deal breaker for the Thunder.

New Orleans – Greivis Vasquez ($1.11 M) for Lazar Hayward and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick – New Orleans is in full rebuild mode and looking to acquire quality draft picks. A very high 2nd round pick would do just that. The question becomes how does New Orleans view Vasquez?

Charlotte – DJ Augustine ($3.2 M) for Nazr Mohammed and Lazar Hayward – I don’t understand Charlotte’s desire to trade Augustine, as Kemba Walker is still a rookie and is more undersized SG than starting PG at this point in his career. But, if they want to, we’ll participate if the cost is not too much.

Free Agent – Anthony Carter (formerly of the Toronto Raptors) was recently waived to give him the opportunity to sign with a contender. Using our Disabled Player Exception from the Maynor injury, which comes out to $758,340, we could sign Carter for the rest of the season.

And just for fun:

Orlando – Dwight Howard ($18.1 M) and Ish Smith ($762 K) for Kendrick Perkins, James Harden, Eric Maynor, Cole Aldrich, OKC’s 2012 1st round pick, and Charlotte’s 2013 2nd round pick. I don’t know if Orlando gets a better infusion of young talent and draft picks from any other team.

What does the team look like on Thursday at 3:01 PM?

I think we stay pat. Making reactionary moves is not Presti’s style. He knows we still have Maynor next season and Jackson will have gained an invaluble amount of experience in his rookie season. A smaller scale signing, like Anthony Carter will be possible, though.