Tag Archives: Reggie Jackson

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 28 Sept 2017

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I asked Carmelo Anthony a question on the lack of media coverage on Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and this is his response (around 11:37 on the video). I urge my readers, whatever you can donate or give, please do. There 3.5 million AMERICANS that need your assistance on the island.

Vince Ellis (Detroit Free Press) on Reggie Jackson foreseeing the Paul George trade happening: “George and Jackson are good friends and share an agent in Aaron Mintz, who told both that the Thunder was a team to watch in the George sweepstakes. “We were actually on the video game when a few destinations popped up. I remember just joking with him, ‘There’s a sleeper in there,’ ” Jackson said. “Our agent kind of called it and he ended up there.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 28 Sept 2017

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Good Riddance, Reggie Jackson

reggie Jackson pistons

Let me preface this by saying I wish Reggie Jackson nothing but the best in his future endeavors. He’s a part of the Oklahoma City Thunder family tree and will forever be linked to the organization one way or another. As is usually the case with break-ups that are other than amicable, the ugly details leading up to the split usually don’t become apparent until after the split is finalized.

Jackson’s season with the Thunder up until the trade deadline had been, in a word, underwhelming. With Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook missing games due to injuries in the beginning of the season, Jackson was tasked with leading the Thunder during that rough patch. Jackson actually did a commendable job in the absence of the superstar duo. Not only were Durant and Westbrook out, but other key contributors such as Perry Jones, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, and Andre Roberson were also shuffling in and out of the line-up due to various injuries. In the 13 games in which both Durant and Westbrook missed, Jackson averaged 20.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, 7.8 assists, and 1.1 steals on 41.6% shooting from the field and 27% shooting from the 3-point line to go along with 4.7 free throw attempts per game. The numbers were very “Westbrookian,” but the team ended up with a 3-10 record during that stretch.

Despite the record, though, Jackson’s game showed signs of improvement from the previous season during that 13-game stretch. It was exciting to think of the prospects of Durant and Westbrook getting healthy and Jackson continuing this type of play. The feeling was that it would give the Thunder a 3-headed monster that hadn’t been seen since the days of James Harden. The Thunder, for as rough as the start of the season has been, would get healthier throughout the year and would, hopefully, form a sort of juggernaut that would be hard for teams to contain.

durant jackson thunder

Instead, Jackson’s play progressively tapered off from the first month of the season. He eschewed his bread and butter (driving to the basket) in favor of step back 20-footers and unreliable 3-point attempts. He waffled on defense, consistently getting beaten off the dribble and almost never putting forth the effort to recover. He visibly pouted on the court and the frustrations from his teammates grew as the season pushed on. In the 37 games after Westbrook returned from injury, Jackson, as a reserve, averaged only 10.2 points, 3.1 assists, and 3.6 rebounds on 44.3% shooting from the field and 28.4% shooting from deep, while only attempting 1.5 free throw attempts per game. His minutes dipped every month of the season, going from 38.2 in November to 28.4 in December to 21.1 in January and finally to 19.2 in February.

The writing on the wall became clearer when the Thunder traded for Dion Waiters in early January. There was no reason for the Thunder to trade for another high volume scorer/shooter if their intentions were to keep Jackson for the rest of the season. The minute Waiters joined the team, Jackson’s minutes took a hit and he was relegated to 8th or 9th man duties off the bench. The two bench scorers seemed to get in each other’s way when they were on the court together. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it was ineffective. Another sign was that Waiters and Morrow were closing close games out, instead of Jackson.

The Thunder knew there was a possibility this would happen. Starting from the end of last season, Jackson was not shy of letting his intentions be known that he wanted to not only start, but also to lead his own team. With that statement, Jackson basically drew a line in the sand. If this was a team that had any instability at the point guard position, that might have been an option. But the Thunder are as stable at point guard as they are at small forward. There was no possibility, outside of a catastrophic injury, that Jackson would leapfrog Westbrook on the depth chart. The organization gambled on the hope that the starting comment was actually a leverage play to get more money. But, apparently, Jackson really wanted the opportunity to lead his own team.

jackson monroe tolliver pistons

On that merit alone, I do not fault Jackson. As recently as a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article outlining why Jackson may have been holding back. Some people are content with falling in line and playing their role. Others want to explore all the possibilities laid out in front of them. Jackson fell into the latter ilk. He wanted to see how far he could push himself, and that wasn’t going to happen as a reserve on the Thunder. So for that, I do understand Jackson’s stance.

Then the trade happened. At first, I was happy for Jackson. He would finally get his chance to lead his own team. And to boot, it was a pretty good team, with talented young teammates (Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope). But then, honest Reggie had to open up his mouth, or Twitter account.

Really? Tears of joy? I understand finally getting your opportunity to prove yourself, but this tweet seems more apropos for something the ancient Israelites would say after they crossed the parted Red Sea lead by Moses. I mean, was Jackson caged in a dungeon and only allowed out to practice and play in games? Of course, Jackson then sent out 3 consecutive tweets thanking the community and the Thunder for his time in Oklahoma City. To me, the first tweet was much louder than the other three tweets that followed.

The worst part is that I actually like Reggie’s honesty. He was genuinely pained, and visibly upset, for the people of Moore when the tornado struck a couple years ago. He was visibly emotional after Game 4 of the Memphis series; a game in which Jackson single handedly kept the Thunder in the game and in the series. His honesty was a welcome antithesis to the manufactured answers most sports figures give in interviews. But, as Jackson showed, that honesty can cut both ways.

Then, Jackson played his first two games for the Pistons. And that’s when it really started bothering me. What we saw in those first two games with the Pistons was the Jackson from the beginning of the season and from last season. The Jackson that can put up 19 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 free throw attempts per game. The Jackson that could change a game with his ability to drive into the lane. That Jackson could have helped the Thunder immensely throughout this crazy season. Instead, we got 70% Reggie Jackson from December on. I understand wanting a change of scenery. But now I realize, I can’t respect the way Jackson did it. So for that, I say, good riddance Reggie Jackson.

Sifting through the rubble: A Thunder trading deadline postscript

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From the time I woke up on February 19th to about 1:30 PM CST, I was almost certain that a certain Brooklyn Nets 7-footer would be a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Speculation was abound that the Thunder and Nets had rekindled talks revolving around Brook Lopez, Kendrick Perkins, and Reggie Jackson. All the information leading up to about 12:30 PM CST was that it was basically a done deal and that the Nets were awaiting Oklahoma City’s approval. Then the chatter stopped.

Trades usually come at you one of two ways. The first way is like the trade in which the Thunder acquired Dion Waiters. It comes at you in an instant and you barely have time to react. The second way is like the Brook Lopez (non)trade. You hear the rumors and speculation leading up to the trade, and usually it gets done after that. But sometimes, the chatter stops prompting one of two thoughts: either the teams are working on the specifics of the deal or the deal has completely fallen through. In the case of Brook Lopez, it was the latter.

The rumors started that the Thunder were doing their due diligence and were looking at all their options. Around 1:45 PM CST, Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted that Reggie Jackson had been traded to the Detroit Pistons. Apparently the Jackson move was the linchpin that was holding everything back in the league. Once Jackson was dealt, all hell broke loose. About 30 players were traded in a 10 minute span leading to the trading deadline. The trade deadline literally napalmed the entire league. And these weren’t end of the bench players. These were former All-Stars, talented players on rookie deals, a former Rookie of the Year, and game-changers. This trade deadline was definitely worth it.

When all the dust settled, four new players were slated to be in Thunder uniforms, while four others became former Thunder players. Here’s an overview of the two deals the Thunder made at the deadline.

Deal 1:

  • Oklahoma City received Enes Kanter and Steve Novak from Utah and DJ Augustin, Kyle Singer, and a 2019 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Utah received Kendrick Perkins, Grant Jerrett, the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, and a 2017 lottery protected 1st round pick from Oklahoma City and a 2017 2nd round pick from Detroit.
  • Detroit received Reggie Jackson

The Jackson deal was actually a 3 team deal that also involved Kendrick Perkins and little used rookie forward Grant Jerrett. Jackson let his intentions be known at the end of last season and at training camp this season, that his main goal was to be a starter in the league. With Russell Westbrook in tow and Oklahoma City’s penchant for starting defensive minded, normal sized SG’s, the Thunder were never in a position to acquiesce to Jackson’s demands. As the trading deadline drew closer, Jackson’s agent, Aaron Mintz, asked the team to trade his client. From all the accounts, the locker room chemistry between Jackson and his teammates (specifically Kevin Durant and Westbrook) was reaching a boiling point of which there would be no returning from. The Thunder had to get a deal done and Detroit (and Utah) offered them the best deal in terms of known commodities.

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I will say this. It was kind of hard to see Perkins go. On a team full of hares, Perkins was the tortoise. I know he was the bane of a lot of Thunder fans’ existences, but his effects on the team will be felt for years to come. He was the big brother on the team and he relished that role. When the younger players (to include Durant and Westbrook) had a bad day, they would usually turn to Perkins for advice. He was the protector of the inner sanctum. Only team members and a select few were allowed in their locker room (I’m looking at you, Joakim Noah). He made the team better defensively (don’t argue, just look up the stats), and toughened them up. Did he have his flaws? Of course. But he also personified the qualities that you and I take into our 9 to 5’s, and I for one, appreciated it.

Deal 2:

  • Oklahoma City received a protected 2016 2nd round pick from New Orleans.
  • New Orleans received Ish Smith, the draft rights to Latavious Williams, a 2015 protected 2nd round pick from Oklahoma City, and cash considerations.

The Thunder made this move to clear a roster spot for the incoming new players. The Thunder could have waived Smith, but his salary would have counted towards their final salary number of the team. With the team already being over the luxury tax, they didn’t want to add to the total amount they would have to pay to the league. Instead, New Orleans stepped in and took on Smith, who was subsequently waived.

When I look at the players the Thunder acquired, one word resonates in my mind: balance. This is the most balanced team the Thunder has ever yielded. You could argue that the 2011-12 team that made it to the NBA Finals was more balanced, but this team is more experienced. In the end, the Thunder lost a good player in Jackson and a team leader in Perkins, but got back so much more in depth and balance. The Thunder got back a true back-up point guard that can shoot, two sharp-shooters, and an offensively adept center that is only 22 years of age. In short, the Thunder got better.

Trade Winds – Oklahoma City and trade rumors

perkins jackson thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder have never been known to be big players at the trade deadline. In their 6 previous seasons in OKC, the Thunder rescinded one blockbuster deal (Tyson Chandler in 2009), used the pieces from the rescinded trade to salvage another one (Thabo Sefolosha in 2009), made another blockbuster deal in 2011 (Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson in 2011) and acquired Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2nd round pick in 2012. Talk about living dangerously with that last one!

But this season seems different. The Thunder were already a part of a January mini-blockbuster trade that involved 3 teams, 4 players, and a first round pick that netted the Thunder Dion Waiters. And the Thunder still have enough assets to make another deal or two before Thursday’s trade deadline.

First off, what assets do the Thunder have?

  • The Untouchables – Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson, Mitch McGary, Nick Collison, Anthony Morrow, and Dion Waiters.
  • Can be had for the right price – Reggie Jackson ($2.2 M) and Kendrick Perkins ($9.4 M)
  • Have at it, Philly – Jeremy Lamb ($2.2 M), Perry Jones ($1.13 M), Ish Smith ($861 K), and Grant Jerrett ($816 K)
  • Filler – 2015 2nd round pick and the draft rights to Tibor Pleiss, Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis, and Semaj Christon.

What do the Thunder need?

Outside shooting – The Thunder’s 3-point shooting percentage is a paltry 32.5%, good for 25th in the league. That percentage also ranks the lowest (by about 4 spots) of any teams that is currently slated in a playoff spot (to include New Orleans). The Thunder make about 7.4 3-pointers per game, which is tied for 15th in the league and ranks them ahead of only New Orleans and Memphis for Western Conference teams that in the playoff race. If that shooter can also be a plus on the defensive end, then that’s even better.

Interior scoring – The Thunder have never had a bona fide interior scorer. Someone they can dump the ball off to in the paint and know there’s a high percentage an easy shot will come out of it. The Thunder are tied with 2 other teams for 17th in the league in Point Per Shot (pps). What this means is that the Thunder are in the lower half of the league in getting easy baskets.

Luxury tax relief – The Waiters trade pushed the Thunder about $2.2 million dollars over the luxury tax line. Luckily, the Thunder have never been over the tax line and are in no risk of having to pay any repeater tax. The Thunder may be willing to remain above the tax line this season, or they could just as easily went to get back under the tax line before the deadline is over with.

5 Possible Deals the Thunder may make (All trades have been fact-checked with ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine)

1. Thunder gets Brook Lopez / Brooklyn gets Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and Grant Jerrett 

lopez perkins nets thunder

This deal was already hinted at about three weeks ago. The Thunder appeared ready to make the deal, but the Nets hesitated, probably wanting to see if they could get a better deal. The Thunder get their interior presence (albeit an injury prone one with a player option for $16.7 million next season). Brooklyn gets what they are desperately coveting: luxury tax relief and an acceleration to rebuilding. The Nets are looking for a combination of expiring contracts, young players, and picks. But no one in the league is really looking to give up financial flexibility for a big man that is injury prone and due to make that much money next season.

2. Thunder gets Enes Kanter and Jeremy Evans / Utah gets Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, 2015 2nd round pick

If the Thunder are looking for an offensive big man, Kanter may be a cheaper option than Brook Lopez. In addition, the Thunder get some luxury tax relief in the process. Utah gets a veteran big man with an expiring contract to mentor Gobert and Favors and a young wing that needs playing time to blossom.

3. Thunder gets one of either Arron Afflalo/Wilson Chandler, Darrell Arthur, and Memphis’ 2015 first round pick / Denver gets Kendrick Perkins, Reggie Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb

With Denver looking to build for the future, everyone on the team, save for Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris is likely on the table. OKC would love to get a 2-way wing that can either come off the bench, or immediately start if necessary. The Thunder have already experienced what happens in the playoffs when teams lay off their offensively challenged players and pack the paint. A long wing with the ability to knock down a jumper would be a great commodity to have moving forward. Denver would probably love to add Jackson to their young core. Jackson has been through playoff battles and appears eager to lead his own team.

4. Thunder gets Ian Mahimi and George Hill / Indiana gets Kendrick Perkins and Reggie Jackson

The Thunder get a more defensive minded back-up point guard with playoff experience that has knocked down big shots in the past. In addition they get a big that can give you something on the offensive end of the floor. Indiana gets a point guard that can, not only create for himself, but also create for others. In addition, they get a big with a $9 million dollar expiring contract.

5. Thunder gets under the luxury tax line, a Traded Player Exception, and a heavily protected 2nd rounder / Philadelphia gets any of Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones or Kendrick Perkins

The luxury tax. Why pay if you don’t have to? Philadelphia is about $13 million dollars under the the salary cap floor. If they want to avoid pay it, they may be willing to take on a player or two.

Final option (and highly likely):

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Oklahoma City Thunder

Stay put. Yeah, its an extremely boring option. But the Thunder, as currently constructed, are a championship contending team. Take away the injuries to the key players, and you have a team that would likely be in the thick of the Western Conference elite. They have a good mix of offense and defense, and only now appear to be putting it all together. Plus, Mitch McGary may be offensive big man the Thunder have been looking for. He’ll have his missteps in this his rookie season. But the kid oozes potential and brings a completely different dynamic to the team. It’ll be a crazy 24-48 hours from here on out. It could be a roller coaster or it could be a drive to the local Wal-Mart. Just make sure you buckle up.

Reggie Jackson and the ghost of Eric Maynor

jackson thunder maynor trailblazers

Have you ever started watching a movie thinking it was your first time watching it. But then halfway through, you realize you’ve either already seen the movie before or have caught parts of it playing somewhere else? It’s happened to me plenty of times. Someone suggests a movie to me and I find on Netflix or RedBox and start watching it. Then I realize that I’ve seen parts of the movie playing on USA or TNT on a slow weekend afternoon in the past.

The Reggie Jackson situation with the Oklahoma City Thunder has caused me to seek a comparable situation. Everybody always wants to rush to the Jackson:James Harden comparison. A great 6th man combo guard with the talent and skill set to start in the NBA, but in a situation that doesn’t allow him to be a consistent starter on his current team. Also, in both situations, the players were coming up on their first contract extensions. With Harden, Thunder coach Scott Brooks felt more comfortable with Harden coming off the bench and liked the defensive presence Thabo Sefolosha provided in the starting line-up. With Jackson, the situation is more positional. When you have one of the top 10 players in the world ahead of you on the depth chart, there’s not much you can do other than waiting (wishing, hoping) for an injury to occur. Not saying that Jackson would do that. With the same coach and coaching philosophies in tow, the off-guard position was given to another perimeter defender in Andre Roberson. Jackson, like Harden before him, wants to be a starter in the league. And like Harden, Jackson wants to get paid his market value. But that is where the similarities ends.

Say what you will about the Harden trade, but recent leaked stories have confirmed the trade had as much to do with the finances and future flexibility of the team as it did with Harden wanting a bigger role (either on the Thunder or on another team). With the Thunder unable to promise Harden a bigger role (likely as a starter), and with the possibility of Harden getting, not only a max deal, but a super max deal from another team, the wheels were put into motion to get the trade done. If the Thunder would have been willing to promise Harden the bigger role and possibly a max or near max contract, there’s no telling whether Harden would still be wearing a Thunder jersey.

San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three

That is not the situation with Jackson. Russell Westbrook is one of the top point guards in the league. There is no way, barring injuries, of course, that Jackson is going to supplant Westbrook for that position on the team. And the team’s philosophy of having a defender/normal sized SG next to Westbrook kind of negates the possibility of Jackson consistently starting for the team. So where does that leave Jackson? He sees himself as a starter in this league, but doesn’t have a starting spot on this team to aim towards. He knows that his body of work up to this point almost guarantees him a sizable contract. He knows that he has a place as a starter and a nice contract coming up somewhere other than Oklahoma City. So then why does it seem like he is dogging it this season?

The answer may lie in the only player whose situation compares to Jackson’s more than Harden. In the 2011 NBA playoffs, the Thunder made a surprising run all the way to the Western Conference Finals. The No. 1 seeded Spurs were upset by the upstart Grizzlies in the first round, and the No. 4 seeded Thunder won their first playoff series, defeating the Denver Nuggets 4-1. This set-up an epic 7-game series with the Grizzlies in the 2nd round. After a back and forth series, Russell Westbrook’s triple-double in Game 7 proved to be too much for Memphis as the Thunder rolled into the Western Conference Finals. Awaiting them in the 3rd round was the veteran Dallas Mavericks.

The experienced Mavericks went on to defeat the Thunder 4-1 in the Western Conference Finals. That much was expected. Experience usually trumps naivete. What wasn’t expected was how the Thunder won their only game in the series. In Game 2, the Thunder were nursing a 1 point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Thunder coach Scott Brooks substituted Eric Maynor in for Westbrook for the last 32 seconds of the third quarter, in what was Westbrook’s normal rest time in the 2nd half. Up to that point, Westbrook had played a typical Westbrook game: 18 points on 7-15 shooting, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, and 4 turnovers. He was a bit erratic defensively, but really, it was a game that was par for the course for Westbrook.

In the 4th quarter though, Eric Maynor, along with the rest of the bench mob (James Harden, Nick Collison, and Daequan Cook) teamed up with Kevin Durant to hold on to that one point lead and win the game by 6. The talk after the game was not of how Durant led the team to victory, but of how Maynor controlled the flow of the game in that 4th quarter and made the right plays almost every time down the floor.

When the season ended for the Thunder, there was an excitement for the future of the team. They had a developing nucleus, not just in the starting line-up, but also on the bench. Maynor was getting lauded with talk of being “the best back-up point guard in the league,” and “a young, up and coming floor general”. With all that talk, the Thunder knew they had an asset on their hand. They drafted a developmental point guard by the name of Reggie Jackson in that year’s draft in hopes that Jackson would eventually replace Maynor on the bench. The Thunder knew their core was Durant, Westbrook, Harden, and Serge Ibaka. Anything past those four players was considered an asset to be flipped.

As the Thunder entered the next season, the word title contender was being tossed around. One of the reasons for that thought was the strong bench the Thunder brought into every game. Nine games into the season though, in a game in Houston, Maynor drove to the basket in the 4th quarter when his knee buckled. He went down in a heap and had to be carried off the court. A day later he learned his fate: a torn ACL that would keep him out the rest of the season.

maynor injury thunder

After the injury, Maynor was never the same. His game suffered as the little bit of athleticism that he had was sapped by the injury. He struggled to recover  and eventually lost his back-up job to Jackson. As the season wore on, the inevitable became more and more clear: Eric Maynor was no longer a part of the Thunder’s future. They evetually traded him to the Portland Trailblazers at the trade deadline for a Traded Player Exception and the rights to Greek player Georgios Printezis. In all likelihood, the injury probably cost Maynor tens of millions of dollars. Within two years of the injury, Maynor was out of the league.

Fast forward to the end of last season. Jackson had a great regular season as a starter for Westbrook when he was out for almost half the season and as a 6th man when Westbrook returned. Then in the playoffs, Jackson single-handedly won what was basically an elimation game for the Thunder in Game 4 of their first round series against the Grizzlies. In the West Conference Finals, Jackson started in place of an ineffective Sefolosha for the final four games of the series. After the season, Jackson was anointed with the tags “best back-up point guard in the league” and “could probably start for 10-12 teams right now.” It seemed like deja vu for the Thunder all over again. Except this time, the team actually wanted to keep their back-up point guard. To this day, though, Jackson has not reciprocated that same feeling towards the Thunder.

Now, the player that took over for Maynor two years ago, is likely hoping to avoid the same fate that befell his predecessor. Players learn from experiences and think about their futures just like you and I think about ours. That their futures include a couple more zeroes on their paychecks than ours do is inconsequential. Athletes know that their worth is only as good as their product (play/health). If the health aspect of that goes away, then the player is viewed as a risky asset, which usually means much less money. So while it doesn’t necessarily excuse Jackson’s play of late, I do understand where he may be coming from. We talk about athletes all the time like they’re robots, but in reality, these guys are humans that pessimistically think about their futures just like you or I.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Depending on Puppies

waiters thunder bench

Roger: Look, Anita! Puppies everywhere!

Anita: There must be a hundred of them!

Nanny: One, two, three and four. Seven, eight, nine.

Roger: Two more. Nine plus two is eleven.

Nanny: Thirty Six over here!

Roger: Thirty Six and eleven? That’s forty seven.

Anita: Fourteen. Eighteen, Rog.

Roger: Uh, eh sixty five!

Nanny: Ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen!

Anita: Wait a minute, wait a minute. Six more.

Roger: Well, let’s see, now. That’s eighty four and fifteen plus two. A hundred and one!

Anita: A hundred and one? My, where did they all come from?

Roger: Oh ho, Pongo, you old rascal!

This is a quote directly from the Disney movie 101 Dalmatians. But it could also serve as a microcosm of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s depth chart. A glance at the Thunder’s roster reveals one rookie (Mitch McGary), one “red-shirt freshman” (Grant Jerrett – 2nd year in the system, but technically a rookie with the Thunder), two second year players (Steven Adams and Andre Roberson), both of whom are starters, and three third year players (Dion Waiters, Jeremy Lamb, and Perry Jones). That’s nearly half the team with less than 3 full seasons of NBA experience under their belts. In addition, they have a fourth year player (Reggie Jackson) that is in the “late teen/early adult” stage of his NBA career, and is ready to leave the nest for what he portends to be greener pastures. And, the Thunder’s big free agent get (Anthony Morrow) is in his 7th season and has yet to sniff the playoffs. If this was the roster of a team the resided in Philadelphia or Minnesota, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But this is the Thunder, a team that envisions itself as a championship contender.

Even with all the issues the Thunder have suffered through in the first half of the season, the general consensus is that the Thunder have enough time to turn it around, get into the playoffs, and be a force to be reckoned with in the postseason. While injuries have played a huge role in the Thunder’s early season struggles, inexperience within the roster may be another factor aiding in the Thunder’s struggles.

fisher butler durant jackson thunder

Last season, Derek Fisher, Caron Butler, and Thabo Sefolosha played huge roles in getting the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals. That’s three playoff-tested, grizzled veterans that knew their roles, played to their strengths, and avoided their weaknesses whenever possible. Between them, those three players brought 41 seasons worth of experience to the table. In addition, Kendrick Perkins (along with Sefolosha) was the defensive anchor of the starting line-up. While each of those players had their warts and flaws, their “years of service” allowed them to either be useful in most situations or not make critical mistakes in other situations.

With the departure of those aforementioned three players and the demotion of Perkins to the bench, an experience vacuum developed in the offseason. There were times in the past two seasons where the rallying cry for Thunder fans was more playing time for the young players. But now that that time has arrived, it’s easy to miss the days of having veterans with defined roles who didn’t crack under pressure. What I see out there on the floor now, is a team that is dependent on young players to fill in the spaces around Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. While it may work some nights, most nights will include developmental lapses and common “lack of experience”-type mistakes.

When you factor in the injuries and the hole the Thunder dug themselves early in the season, you get a picture as to why the Thunder are struggling to build any type of momentum. The Thunder are trotting out players that have never had to deal with this kind of pressure. Think about how Durant and Westbrook must feel when the game is on the line. When they look around, they see inexperienced players who have never had to fight for a playoff spot and have never had to win games in the playoffs. They see Waiters, who toiled two and a half seasons on the post-LeBron Cavs, and is a volume shooter on the perimeter. They see Morrow, who is more experienced, but has already played on 6 teams in his 7 seasons in the league, with the average win total for those teams being 31. They see Roberson, who is already an adept perimeter defender, but also an extremely raw offensive player (and that’s putting it nicely). They see Jones or Lamb, who have the talent to be consistent scorers in the league, but lack the mental fortitude to put it all together. They see Jackson who has been wildly inconsistent this season as he deals with his future and his contract situation. Is it any wonder why the Thunder’s crunch-time offense devolves into Durant and Westbrook isos? The only people they trust is themselves.

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While the coach and the players are easy targets to fault, the lion’s share of the blame needs to go on general manager Sam Presti and how he has constructed this team. The architect of the Thunder has built a top heavy organization that is largely dependent on a few players, while filling in the gaps with cheap young talent in hopes that the young talent will develop in a 2-3 year time span. It’s a great idea in principle, but a risky idea in practice. Come up empty on a couple draft picks, and the team is left scrambling looking for other options that may be more expensive and detrimental in the long run. If you look at the elite teams around the league, the Thunder and the Warriors are the only ones constructed in this manner. Most other elite teams have a rotation that is full of veterans.

And all signs point to the Thunder continuing this manner of operation when it comes to roster building. In addition to their 15-man roster, the Thunder are also keeping close tabs on about 5 players who are all within the scope of their organization. Josh Huestis, the first round pick from the last draft whom the Thunder convinced to delay the signing of his contract in order to further his development with the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, will likely join the team next season. Huestis’ Blue teammates Semaj Christon and Talib Zanna are also candidates to join the team next season or be late season call-ups this year, depending on how the team looks after the trade deadline. Over in Europe, the Thunder have been keeping close tabs on their Eurostashes, Tibor Pleiss (who will likely join the team next season) and Alex Abrines (who is likely a season or two away, but is one of the top 3-point shooters in his league).

The hope is that the experience gained over this past season will begin to bear fruit later on in the year for these young players. If this was any other normal season (you know, no injuries or contract disputes), then experience likely doesn’t become a factor until the playoffs. But this season, with the injuries and the hole the Thunder dug for themselves, the lack of experience on this team is definitely rearing it’s ugly head. The Thunder have PhD dreams, but have elementary aged children doing some of the heavy lifting. That is usually not a recipe for success.

Scott Brooks and the Glass Ceiling

scott brooks thunder

Earlier this college football season, I experienced something I have never experienced since I started following and rooting for the OU Sooners about 20 years ago. That feeling of seeing something bad and knowing things were going to change from that point on. For me, it was the OU/Baylor game in Norman this season. The Sooners were out and out embarrassed by the Bears as Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty shredded the defense on short wide receiver screens all day long. The OU defense kept their corners at least 8 years off the line for fear of the deep ball throughout the game, and Baylor continually exploited that strategy. In the end, Baylor thoroughly dominated the Sooners 48-14.

OU had lost before, but this loss felt different. For the first time, it felt like the currency Bob Stoops had built up with his 2000 National Championship win was beginning to run low. Even the most ardent of Sooners supporters were calling into sportstalk radio shows asking, not necessarily for Stoops’ head, but for significant changes. The Sooners had disappointed and Sooners fans were fed up. Needless to say, after the season, changes were made. Both offensive coordinators were let go of and the defensive coordinator (who happens to be the head coach’s brother) was almost let go and will likely have a very short leash next season. Will these moves help? That remains to be seen, but in the presence of stagnation, sometimes change is all that is needed to catalyze improvement.

Which brings me to the Oklahoma City Thunder. I try not to be a prisoner of the moment, but honestly, life is about how you react to moments right after they happen. Some people are good at withholding their reaction until they’ve fully processed what transpired, while others have a difficult time getting their emotions in check. I was very reactionary after the road trip the Thunder just had, but I also chose to wait a little and see what transpired with the Utah game. Here is a summary of the Thunder’s last 3 games:

  • @Golden State – lost 117-91 – Balanced attack by the Warriors (seven Warriors scored at least 8 points or more) decimated the hapless Thunder who shot just 30.6% from the field. The Warriors used small ball throughout the game due to the absences of Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. The Thunder never countered, staying with a normal line-up most of the night, and were constantly caught in bad defensive match-ups.
  • @Sacramento – lost 104-83 – Three Kings (haha, punny) scored 23 points or more as the Thunder once again struggled to find any type of flow offensively, and failed to get stops when they started building momentum. The Kings played to the Thunder’s comfort, with a regular three wings/two posts lineup, but the Thunder’s perimeter defense was almost non-existent the entire evening.
  • vs. Utah – won 99-94 – A win is a win, right? Not necessarily. While a W is always nice, this was a game where the Thunder needed to play like a championship contender. Instead, the Thunder struggled the entire evening in keeping the Jazz wing players in front of them. Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke kept finding their ways into the paint and Derrick Favors feasted off of their drives to the basket. With 8:12 left in the game, the Thunder found themselves down by 7. It was at that point that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook checked back into the game. From there, Durant, Westbrook, and newcomer Dion Waiter, went on to score every point for the Thunder the rest of the way. A win, yes. But not anything you can necessarily hang your hat on.

The Thunder, for as great as they are, still suffer from the same ills that have plagued them for the past 5 seasons: late game execution, lack of an offensive system that involves all the players (especially in crunchtime), defensive lapses, poor in-game adjustments, turnovers, being undisciplined, low collective basketball IQ, etc, etc. In my work experience, when a collective of employees continues to do the same things wrong over an extended period of time, it always comes back to the supervisor. In the Thunder’s case, the supervisor on the floor is Scott Brooks.

brooks durant thunder

Brooks has been the coach for nearly 6 full seasons. If consistency is a good thing to have as a coach, color Brooks good. But at what point does consistency become redundancy? Lately, I’ve come to compare Brooks to the cool supervisor at work. Those types of supervisors usually share similar traits. They confuse niceness and smiles with respect for authority and they tend to look the other way when their employees commit small transgressions. Eventually, the transgressions become more and more common and the supervisor is left with one of two choices: continue to look the other way or completely change course and do a behavioral 180. The problem with the second choice is that after enough time of being the “cool supervisor”, a threat no longer holds weight. Then you are left with a situation where the employees like the supervisor, but don’t respect his/her authority. When the employee/supervisor relationship reaches this point, it’s usually hard to salvage anything. Either the supervisor goes down with the ship, or the supervisor’s 180 causes his employees to despise him/her.

I feel like the Thunder have reached this point with Scott Brooks. One of my fellow bloggers commented, “The players love him (Brooks)” when I brought up my “cool supervisor” analogy. While that may be true, that’s also a symptom of the employee/”cool” supervisor relationship. If my superior is constantly allowing me to get away with indiscretions, I’d like him/her also. Its getting to a point where I almost have to wonder if the Thunder players are even listening to Brooks anymore. In practice, Brooks has to be running a system where everyone gets involved in the offense, even during crunch time simulations. But in real games, the Thunder always revert back to their default, which is Westbrook or Durant on the perimeter trying to make something out of nothing. It usually works, because Westbrook and Durant are that good. But against great teams with good coaching, that offensive plan is becoming easier and easier to guard. Teams with high defensive IQ’s (basically everyone in the playoff picture in the Western Conference) know what’s coming before it happens.

Another question that needs to be asked: Do the players still respect Brooks? Again, going back to the supervisor analogy, liking someone can easily be mistaken for respecting someone. A coach that used to play point guard likely has an unwritten kinship with his own point guard. But Brooks has usually delegated that job out to others. Be it Mo Cheeks, Kevin Ollie, or Derek Fisher, Westbrook has always had someone around to help cool him off. While I’m not entirely familiar with Westbrook’s relationship with assistant coach Robert Pack, it seems as if Westbrook is on his own this season. The results these last few weeks have been questionable. Westbrook has seemingly got hit for at least a technical per game in that time frame and was even ejected from an important game that had possible postseason implications. If this was a rookie or 2nd year player, you could understand. But this is a veteran floor general for a supposed title contender. If the head coach can’t sit him down and control him, who can? Even as an emotional player, Westbrook has to know that racking up technicals and getting a hot-head reputation can’t be a good thing.

Scott Brooks, Russell Westbrook

The other point guard on the team is an emotional mess, but on the other end of the spectrum. Reggie Jackson’s recent de-evolution from “future starting point guard for another team” to “what the hell was that?” is troubling and confusing. Jackson made his intentions known at the end of last season and the beginning of this season, that his current career goal is to lead his own team as a starter. Since the Thunder cannot supply his demand with Westbrook already in tow, it is almost a given that Jackson would likely be traded either this season or leading up to the draft. When the season started with both Durant and Westbrook shelved with injuries, Jackson did his best to lead the team and put up good numbers. He averaged 20 points, 5 boards, and 7 assists during the stretch where he was the Thunder’s best player. But lately, his play has been more reminiscent of his rookie season. He’s eschewing his bread and butter (attacking the paint) for step back rainbow threes. And his defense, always questionable, has been atrocious of late. Usually one of the players on the floor with the crunchtime line-up, Brooks instead chose to go with Waiters in the last game, which was extremely telling of how Brooks felt about Jackson in that moment.

The final thing that needs to be addressed is the lack of an offensive system. Around the league, teams are choosing to go with a Spursian model of sharing the wealth on offense instead of depending, almost entirely, on one or two scorers. Even teams that are known for their half-court offense (Memphis, Portland) have systems that play to the strengths of all of their players. The Thunder offense, unfortunately, still relies heavily on the abilities of Durant and Westbrook. As I’ve mentioned before, those two are good enough to succeed in many situations. But defenses are starting to key in on this fact, and it is getting harder and harder for the Thunder to come up with efficient shots when they need them the most. And it isn’t like the Thunder don’t have options. They have a PF/C that can shoot 3’s and is one of the best mid-range shooters in the game (Serge Ibaka). They have a 3-point specialist in Anthony Morrow that is one of the most feared shooters in the game. And now they have two combo guards, in Jackson and Waiters, that can drop 20 on any given night. But when the game gets close, the ball will likely find its way into the hands of Westbrook or Durant, and it will be a secret to no one.

I’ve never been a proponent of the mid-season coach firing. It can lead to chemistry issues and feelings of a season being lost. But once this season ends, the Thunder need to seriously think about changing the voice in the huddle, whether its changing the head coach or getting some specialist-oriented assistant coaches. There comes a point when the expectations of a coach switches from the win/loss record to finishes. Brett Brown of the Philadelphia 76ers is currently about the wins and the losses. But Gregg Popovich is all about the finishes. And finishes have been something Brooks has struggled with. Have injuries had a hand in the Thunder’s last few shortcomings? Of course. But no fail safe system has ever been put in place to protect against such commonalities as injuries. Its a wonder if Brooks has just reached his glass ceiling with this team. A lot like Bob Stoops, Brooks appears to be burning a lot of the currency he got when he took the Thunder to the NBA Finals in 2012. And it seems to be playing out in real time as the Thunder struggle to get out of the hole that was built for them in the beginning of the season.

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Utah Jazz preview (Game 16 of 82)

Jackson Adams thomas Thunder hayward jazz

  • When: Wednesday, 26 November 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

This latest stretch for the Oklahoma City Thunder has been a lot like the life of a career convict. Go to jail, get out, and do the same things to get put back in. For the Thunder, its been fall behind early, fight like hell to get back in the game, and eventually lose a close one at the end due to lack of offensive execution/weaponry. Well, this may be the final game for this Reggie Jackson-led group to win a game. With Russell Westbrook, and possibly Kevin Durant, available for Friday’s game against the New York Knicks, the heavy cavalry may be on its way with reinforcements.

This will be the second meeting of the year between these Northwest Division rivals. The Jazz beat the Thunder 98-81 in Salt Lake City over a week ago. The Thunder jumped out early in that game, leading 23-14 after the first quarter. But eventually, the Jazz wore out the Thunder in the next 3 quarters, using their depth and their size inside.

The Opponent

Oklahoma City Thunder v Utah Jazz

The Jazz come into the game with a 5-10 record, riding a 3 game losing streak in tonight’s game. Their last win came against the Thunder. The Jazz remind me of the young Thunder teams from years past, in that its a bunch of young guys coming up together and learning as a collective. Some of the more veteran Jazz players (and by veteran, I mean 3 years in the league or more) are just now starting to enter their primes and their games are starting to blossom. Gordon Hayward is slowly becoming that go-to scorer, Derrick Favors is a double-double waiting to happen, and Alec Burks seems to finally have found his niche in the league. Leading the charge is 2nd year point guard Trey Burke who is still taking his lumps, but continues to impress as a playmaker and defender. In the middle, Enes Kanter does a good job of controlling the paint and making the most of his opportunities. Off the bench, the Jazz are extremely young, but extremely flexible. They can trot out Rudy Gobert, Dante Exum (who can play all the wing positions, to include point guard), and Trevor Booker and Joe Ingles (combo forwards who aren’t afraid to let it fly from deep).

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Utah Jazz

  • PG – Trey Burke
  • SG – Alec Burks
  • SF – Gordon Hayward
  • PF – Derrick Favors
  • C – Enes Kanter

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Rebounding – The last time the Thunder met Utah, the Jazz outrebounded the Thunder 55-44. The Thunder actually won the first quarter rebounding battle 12-11, which was also the only quarter they won scoring-wise. The Thunder bigs, especially Steven Adams, have to do a better job of not only boxing out Kanter and Favors, but also trying to get offensive rebounds of their own. The Thunder grabbed 3 offensive rebounds in that first quarter which led to 3 extra points.

2. Staying in front of Trey Burke – The Thunder did a poor job of staying in front of Jazz guards in the last game. They drove into the lane at will and often found open targets that made the Thunder pay. The Thunder bigs have to do a better job of hedging into to help out guards on the PnR’s.

jackson thunder burks jazz

3. Reggie Jackson – This may be the final game that Jackson plays that the main ball-handler/offensive threat on the team. It’s been a mixed bag, but I also think that Reggie has proven himself in this time. He may not be an elite player, but he is very good and can put up some Westbrook-like numbers.

As always, thank you for the visit to my site, and I wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving.