Tag Archives: San Antonio Spurs

Ten Possible Candidates for the Oklahoma City Thunder coaching vacancy

thunder brooks kalamian pack

For the first time in seven seasons, the Oklahoma City Thunder are in search of a new head coach. Since their arrival in 2008, the Thunder have always had a head coach in place. PJ Carlesimo started as the head coach for the Thunder in 2008, but after beginning OKC’s inaugural season 1-13, Carlesimo was let go in favor of assistant coach Scott Brooks. Though he initially started with an interim tag, Brooks quickly shed that tag after finishing the last 50 games of that season with a 20-30 mark. In the next 6 seasons, Brooks led the Thunder to 1 Finals appearance and 3 Western Conference Finals appearances. He was awarded the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year award, and was the coach behind James Harden’s 2012 6th Man of the Year award and Kevin Durant’s 2014 MVP award. But as successful as he was in developing top-notch talent, he was just as lacking in a lot of the coaching aspect of coaching. His offense was very simplistic, but the coup de gras may have been is inability/stubbornness to change on the fly, in-game. With that in mind, the organization decided that Brooks had likely hit his glass ceiling with this team and parted ways with him.

No separation is ever without tension. But this one seems to be amicable on both sides. The Thunder, and Brooks, himself, did not want to go into this next season with the lame-duck status over their heads. With Durant’s impending free agency quickly approaching, any misstep or change in-season could be seen as a desperation move. The organization decided that if a change was going to be made, it had to be now, so that there is some consistency heading into the season. With that said, this becomes the first ever head coaching search in the history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. As soon as Brooks’ departure was announced, several names were dropped as potential candidates for the now vacant head coaching job. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka currently in tow, this is likely one of the more desirable jobs for a head coach. Here are 10 possible candidates for the Thunder’s head coach gig.

Internal Candidates

Rex Kalamian – Kalamian has been one of Brooks’ top assistants for the past 5 seasons. He has overseen the development of the Thunder’s players and has also been the coach of the Thunder’s summer league team the last 3 seasons, winning the Orlando Summer League in 2013. Kalamian has been an NBA coaching lifer, starting as scouting assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers in 1992, and moving onto to stints with the Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Sacramento Kings, before settling into his current position with the Thunder. He appears to have a great rapport with the players and a hiring like this would lessen the blow of the coaching change.

Troy Weaver – The Thunder’s current vice president/assistant general manager also has an extensive coaching portfolio. He started by coaching AAU ball in the Washington D.C. area from about 1992-1996. He went on to be an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, University of New Mexico, and then onto Syracuse University, where he is credited with recruiting Carmelo Anthony to the school. In 2004, he became the head scout for the Utah Jazz. Later he promoted to director of player personnel in 2007, and held that post through the end of the 2008 season. He was then hired by the Thunder in his current position, where he assists with roster building (NBA Draft preparation and free agency) and day to day basketball operations. Remember, the Spurs, whom the Thunder tend to emulate, once hired their general manager as their coach and went on to win 5 championships in a 16 year period.

College Coaches

Billy Donovan – The current University of Florida coach has a good relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti, who hired two of Donovan’s assistants in the past year (Mark Daigneault as the coach of Oklahoma City’s Development League team and Oliver Winterbone as a basketball information analyst). Donovan currently boasts a 467-186 record at Florida, leading the Gators to consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007. He has been named SEC Coach of the Year in three of the last 5 seasons. He has a reputation as a great player developer and values depth on the offensive end and toughness on the defensive end.

billy donovan kevin ollie

 

Kevin Ollie – The current UCONN coach has a history with the Thunder that can still be felt today. Ollie played his final season in the NBA with the Thunder and was sited as the veteran that taught Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook how to be men in the NBA. Durant even notes him as being the purveyor of the current culture that is the Thunder. After retiring from the NBA in 2010, he went on to be an assistant coach under Jim Calhoun at Connecticut. After two seasons, he took over for Calhoun and went on to win the 2014 NCAA Championship. According to various media outlets, Ollie has removed his name from consideration for the Oklahoma City job.

Fred Hoiberg – The Iowa State coach is one of the hottest commodities in current coaching circles. His innovative, almost Spursian-like offense, made the Cyclones one of the top scoring teams in the NCAA’s throughout his coaching tenure. Players to come out of Hoiberg’s system are usually jack of all trades that are good at all aspects of the game, but not great at any one thing. In his 5 seasons in Ames, he has amassed a 115-56 record. He also has professional experience, as he worked in the Minnesota Timberwolves’ front office from 2007-2010.

NBA Coaches and Assistant Coaches

Tom Thibodeau – The current Chicago Bulls coach is known as one of the best defensive minds in the game. Before working in Chicago, he was one of the top assistants in the league from 1989-2010. The work he has done with the Bulls the past few injury-racked seasons has proven his worth as a coach that is able to excel, even in difficult situations. The Bulls’ coach has amassed a 255-139 record in his 5 seasons in Chicago. The knock on Thibodeau has always been the amount of time he plays his main players and his lack of player development/depth. That may come into play with the Thunder’s top players suffering from injuries in the past few seasons. Various media outlets have reported that Thibodeau may be on his way out in Chicago, regardless of where they finish this season.

Alvin Gentry – Gentry is currently the associate head coach for the Golden State Warriors, serving under head coach Steve Kerr. His “Spursian/Phoenix Suns 7 second or less hybrid” offense has worked wonders for the Warriors. Gentry is currently one of the highest paid assistants in the league. In his career, Gentry has gone 335-370 in previous stints with Miami, Detroit, the Clippers, and Phoenix.

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six

Rick Carlise – While there is nothing that points to Dallas letting go of Carlisle, his frustration over the Rajon Rondo situation may boil over in the offseason, especially if the Mavericks don’t get out of the first round. Carlisle will be heading into the final year of his contract next season. If the team or Carlisle don’t see eye to eye on the future direction of the team in the offseason, I could definitely see a Scott Brooks situation where Carlisle walks away from the final year of his contract to go to another team with a guaranteed long-term deal. Carlisle has amassed a 619-431 record in his 13 years of coaching with Detroit, Indiana, and Dallas. He won a championship with Dallas in 2011.

Spurs’ Assistant Coaches

Chip Engelland – The Spurs assistant is credited with honing the shots of many Spurs’ players. He is known as the top shooting specialist in the league, and has built his portfolio up as an assistant in the past decade around the league.  He has a reputation for developing a great rapport with his players and is routinely tasked with monitoring the Spurs’ players training/shooting regiments in the offseason.

Ettore Messina – Before being hired on by the Spurs as an assistant coach, Messina was the top European coach in basketball. He led two Euroleague teams (Virtus Bologna and CSKA Moscow) to two championship apiece and was twice named Euroleague Coach of Year in 2006 and 2008. Messina is revered in basketball circles as a great basketball mind, almost like a European Larry Brown. Messina’s coaching philosophy fits in line with the Spurs’ model of floor balance and ball movement. He loves to balance the floor to keep the defense moving, especially with post-ups. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition (and hopeful re-signing) of Enes Kanter, they now have an interior scorer that could completely balance the floor in a Messian-run offense.

Wild Cards

Jeff Van Gundy – Anytime a good coaching vacancy opens up, Jeff Van Gundy’s name is always brought up. The former Knicks’ and Rockets’ coach has been out of coaching for the past 8 years, and while he has never said that he is interested in coaching again, he’s never said he isn’t interested in coaching again. Van Gundy amassed a  430-318 record in his 11 seasons of coaching. With a nice broadcasting gig with ESPN and ABC, Van Gundy can wait for the right opportunity to get back into coaching. If both parties (the Thunder and Van Gundy) are interested, he could be possible candidate.

Coach-K

Mike Krzyzewski – Coach K is well on his way to being on the Mt. Rushmore of college basketball coaches. He just got done capturing his 5th NCAA championship this past season. For the past 10 seasons, he has been the head coach for USA Basketball, where he has coached Durant and Westbrook in international competitions. What if for a second, Coach K decides that there is nothing else he can accomplish in college basketball and would like to see what he could do in the NBA before it comes time for retirement. The Thunder vacancy would be the perfect opportunity of Coach K to pursue this.

The Thunder coaching vacancy is one that should generate plenty of interest. The opportunity to coach Durant, Westbrook, Ibaka, and possibly Kanter in their primes has to a dream for many coaches. As it stands right now, Donovan seems to be the front runner for the job. But if the Thunder still have not decided on a coach within the next two weeks, look for the Thunder to be leaning towards one of the coaches in the NBA circle.

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Oklahoma City Thunder at Minnesota Timberwolves preview (Game 82 of 82)

westbrook thunder hamilton wiggins twolves

  • When: Wednesday, 15 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Target Center, Minneapolis, MN

And it comes down to this. Eighty one games could not decide the future for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the New Orleans Pelicans. It all comes down to the 82nd and final game of the regular season. Considering everything that has happened to the Thunder this season, it is quite fitting that fans of Oklahoma City will be on pins and needles until about 9:30 PM CST tonight. It’s a position that is unfamiliar for Thunder fans. Even in their inaugural playoff season, the 8th-seeded Thunder finished 7 games ahead of the 9th-seeded Houston Rockets. There was never any late season drama other than their annual battle with the Spurs for the top two positions in the West. This season, though, the Thunder not only need to win their final game, but also have to depend on another team to extend their season. It almost feels like the Thunder are playing two road games tonight: their game against the Timberwolves in Minnesota and the Pelicans, at home, against the Spurs. Just like in real life, its kind of scary having to depend on other people.

This is the fourth and final meeting of the season between these two Northwest division rivals. The Thunder won the first three meetings by an average of 13.7 points.

The Opponent

NBA: Houston Rockets at Minnesota Timberwolves

The Minnesota Timberwolves currently finding themselves with a 16-65 record, good for the worst record in the NBA. They are riding an 11-game losing streak heading into this game and claim the best chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the next draft if they lose tonight. The Tiimberwolves have stuck to the tanking script for the past month, sitting veterans with nagging injuries and playing their young players the majority of the minutes. The Wolves are definitely playing for the future, and feature two rookies that could have a significant impact in years to come. Reigning slam dunk champ Zach LaVine has been manning the point in the last 5 games, averaging an impressive 23.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 6.4 assists in that quintet of games. His back court mate, Kevin Martin, is shooting 38.7% from 3-point territory and averaging nearly 20 points a game. Kevin Martin is questionable for tonight’s game. If he misses, look for Chase Budinger to start in his place. On the wing, Rookie of the Year candidate Andrew Wiggins is a developing franchise player in the Paul George/Tracy McGrady mold. Up front, rookie power forward Adreian Payne is just now starting to get significant minutes and Justin Hamilton is one of those “guys you sign to be a 3rd center off the bench” type guys. With so many guys out for this finale, the bench will feature Robbie Hummel, Lorenzo Brown, and Arinze Onuaku. Yeah, I don’t know too much about them either.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

Minnesota Timberwolves

  • PG – Zach LaVine
  • SG – Kevin Martin
  • SF – Andrew Wiggins
  • PF – Adreian Payne
  • C – Justin Hamilton

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Andre Roberson
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Front offices tank, not players – The Timberwolves’ front office has done a good job of positioning itself to continue in its rebuilding process. They’ll like get a top-3 draft pick in this next draft, and have given their young players ample time to develop this season. You know who doesn’t care about Minnesota’s position in the next draft? Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. I, mean, they care, because they are invested in the continued success of their organization. But tonight, they aren’t thinking about Jahlil Okafor or Karl Anthony Towns. Tonight, Wiggins is only thinking about dropping 35 on Andre Roberson. Tonight, LaVine is only worried about getting a triple double against Westbrook.

If the Thunder treat this game like the Timberwolves are the worst team in the league, they may find this to be a competitive game heading in to the 4th quarter. The last thing you want if you are the Thunder is to give the Wolves hope heading into the closing quarter of the game. Minnesota has played their last two opponents (New Orleans and Golden State) close, and will likely treat this game like it is their Game 7. This would be their ultimate “feather in the cap” if they are able to beat the Thunder and ruin their playoff chances.

2. Play through the jitters – Westbrook and Nick Collison have been here before. They’ve been in pressure-packed games that mean something. Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Kyle Singler, and Andre Roberson, on the other hand, haven’t. The team with all the pressure on them will be Oklahoma City. How will those players react if their first couple shots don’t fall? How will they react if Westbrook’s first couple shots don’t fall? Let’s just hope that doesn’t come into play.

westbrook waiters kanter thunder

3. Win – The only thing Oklahoma City can control is what it does in Minnesota. They can’t control what the Spurs do. They can’t control how the Pelicans will play. All you can do is win and hope for the best.

Thunder Up!

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 78 of 82)

westbrook adams thunder parker spurs

  • When: Tuesday, 07 April 2015 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

It’s never a do or die game until you are certainly facing elimination with a loss. But this game certainly has the feeling of being a ‘win or go home’ type scenario. After holding a 2.5 game lead over the New Orleans Pelicans just over two weeks ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder have gone on to lose 5 of their last 6 games. Luckily for the Thunder, the Pelicans had their own bad stretch heading into these last two weeks and still find themselves a half game out with a murderer’s row of opponents coming up (Golden State – chasing history, Houston and Memphis – chasing the 2 seed, Phoenix – likely hellbent on being a playoff spoiler). After tonight’s game, three of the Thunder’s last four opponents are all under .500.  A win tonight, and the Thunder will likely find themselves 1.5 games up on the Pelicans with four to play.

This is the third and final meeting of the season between these two rivals. The previous two games were played in San Antonio, with the Thunder taking the Christmas match-up, and the Spurs throttling the Thunder nearly two weeks ago. These teams are used to battling it out for Western Conference supremacy, but now find themselves near the bottom of the playoff rankings this season. Nevertheless, this game is fraught with narratives and will have an impact on the playoff picture moving forward.

The Opponent

NBA: Finals-San Antonio Spurs at Miami Heat

The San Antonio Spurs are currently 51-26, sitting in the 6th spot in the Western Conference. They sit just 2 games back of the Houston Rockets who currently have the No. 2 seed in the West. I’ve learned that there are three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and game of ‘possum the Spurs play every regular season where it seems like they may finally be running out of steam, only to have them Lazarus their season after the All Star break. On February 25th, after a loss to the Portland Trailblazers, the Spurs found themselves at 34-23. Since then, the Spurs have gone 17-3 and the machine appears to be well-oiled once again. The Spurs attack is fueled by the rejuvenated Tony Parker, who appears to be back to his normal self after struggling with injuries and inconsistencies in the first half of the season. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are back to being one of the most dangerous sets of wings in the league. Up front, Tim Duncan is still a double/double threat and does of great job of positioning himself in the correct spot most times down the floor. Tiago Splitter will sit this game out with an injured calf, so look for Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner to get the nod at “center”. Off the bench, Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Aron Baynes, and Cory Joseph are all seasoned vets who have played in big moments in the past few seasons.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Danny Green
  • SF – Kawhi Leonard
  • PF – Matt Bonner
  • C – Tim Duncan

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Andre Roberson went through parts of practice on Monday, and may be available for this game. 

Three Things

1. Small Ball – With Splitter out, the Spurs will definitely be featuring either Bonner or Diaw as a stretch 4, to negate the Thunder’s size inside. The good thing is the Thunder can counter with a very efficient small ball line-up of their own, with Morrow and Singler playing the forward spots.

morrow westbrook thunder

2. Steven Adams – Adams has got to stay away from getting into the foul trouble. With the Thunder lack of big man depth, Adams has to find a way to stop picking up ticky-tack fouls. I understand when he’s trying to stop someone from getting a basket on their way to the rim. But Adams has to get at least 2-3 loose ball fouls a game on rebound attempts. Cut those in half, and the foul trouble goes away.

3. Late game execution – The Thunder’s last four losses have been by a grand total of 15 points, combined. That’s an average margin of defeat of 3.75 points per game. You make an extra 3-pointer and an extra free throw, and that’s a victory in some of those games. These games are coming down to the decisions in the final few minutes of the game. Without Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison in the closing line-up, the Thunder are having to depend on players that may not be used to the pressures associated with playoff-intensity type basketball. With the onus squarely on the chiseled shoulders of Westbrook, the inexperience of the other players in these situations is started to manifest itself in the form of close losses. Moral victories are still losses in the standings.

Scoreboard Watching: The Last 10 Games

adams kanter westbrook thunder

In a season that started off with championship aspirations, the Oklahoma City Thunder still find themselves in a position to achieve that goal, albeit a lot lower in the standings than previously envisioned. If healthy, the Thunder would clearly be atop the Western Conference standings. But as is the case when the words, “if healthy,” are used, the Thunder this season have been anything but healthy. Of the players currently on the roster, the Thunder have lost about 164 games due to injury. That figure would likely rival the last 5 seasons combined. Regardless of all of this, though, the Thunder are still firmly entrenched in the 8th spot of the Western Conference with 10 games to play. Their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 8.

Anytime you are in the middle of a playoff race, you always have to look at the teams you are trying to gain ground on and the teams that are looking to gain ground on you. You watch out for, not only your team’s scores, but also the scores of those teams you are looking out for. Here’s a look at some of the teams who fortunes directly affect the future of the Thunder’s playoff hopes and beyond.

The Predators

Phoenix Suns

  • Current Record – 38-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 9th in the conference, 3 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Portland, vs. OKC, @Portland, @Golden State, vs. Utah, @Atlanta, @Dallas, @New Orleans, @San Antonio, vs. Los Angeles Clippers
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .630

After the trade deadline, Phoenix had to adjust after trading two of their top three guards (Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas). While they gained Brandon Knight, the adjustment period did cause the Suns to lose 7 of their first 11 games after the All-Star break. That spurt allowed the Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans to push ahead of the Suns in the battle for the 8th spot. The Sun have probably the toughest remaining schedule of the three teams looking for the 8th spot. Not only is the winning percentage of the teams remaining on their schedule .630, six of those ten games are on the road. The only solace the Suns can take is that some of those teams may be resting players in preparation for the playoffs.

green morris suns evans withey pelicans

New Orleans Pelicans

  • Current Record – 37-34
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 10th in the conference, 3.5 games behind OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Sacramento, vs. Minnesota, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Sacramento, @Portland, vs. Golden State, @Memphis, vs. Phoenix, @Houston, @Minnesota, vs. San Antonio
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .495

While the Pelicans have a much easier upcoming schedule, they are still dealing with injuries to two key players. Point guard Jrue Holiday remains without a timetable and Ryan Anderson is still about a week or so away from returning. The lack of depth in their guard rotation has started to rear its ugly head in the last few close games. Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon have had to log major minutes in the last two months, and seem to be tiring at the end of games. Anthony Davis is doing everything he can to help the Pelicans, but teams are starting to double him in the post. If the Pelicans are going to make any moves, it’ll be in the next four game, as their next four opponents have a winning percentage of .307.

The Prey

San Antonio Spurs

  • Current Record – 45-26
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 6th in the conference, 4.5 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Dallas, vs. Memphis, @Miami, @Orlando, vs. Denver, vs. Golden State, @OKC, vs. Houston, @Houston, vs. Phoenix, @New Orleans
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .568

The Thunder had a golden opportunity to make up ground on the Spurs last night, but watched that wilt away before halftime, as they fell behind by as much as 30 points in the 3rd quarter. The Spurs’ remaining schedule is not easy, but, luckily, they play the more difficult opponents at home. In year’s past, the Spurs would usually rest their players during this stretch of the year, but with the Mavs and the Thunder on their tails, the Spurs will likely not be doing that so much this season.

nowitzki mavericks duncan spurs

Dallas Mavericks

  • Current Record – 45-27
  • Position in the Conference/Position in relation to the Thunder – 7th in the conference, 4 games ahead of OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – @San Antonio, @Indiana, @OKC, vs. Houston, vs. Golden State, vs. Phoenix, @Denver, @Los Angeles Lakers, @Utah, vs. Portland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .538

The Mavs have been prone to inconsistencies of late (6-7 in their last 13 games) and may still be suffering from chemistry issues. Monta Ellis’ effectiveness hasn’t been the same since the Rajon Rondo trade and the Mavericks’ big man depth is questionable. They struggle a bit on the road and have two 3-game road trips coming up. The Thunder have one more game against the Mavericks and it comes at the back end of a tough 3 game road trip. If there is a team that may relinquish their positioning, it may be Dallas.

The Future Commodities Stakeholder

Washington Wizards

  • Current Record – 40-32
  • Position in relation to the Thunder – 1 game worse than OKC
  • Remaining Schedule – vs. Charlotte, vs. Houston, vs. Philadelphia, vs. New York, @Memphis, @Philadelphia, @Brooklyn, vs. Atlanta, @Indiana, @Cleveland
  • Winning Percentage of Remaining Opponents – .476

While the Wizards’ fortunes hold no bearing for the Thunder’s playoff implications, they do hold significance for the Thunder’s first round draft pick. The Thunder currently have a better record than the Wizards which would give them the 19th pick in the upcoming draft. The trade that garnered Dion Waiters for the Thunder came at a cost of the Thunder’s first round pick. That pick had a restriction of Top 18, meaning that if the pick was in positions 1-18, the Thunder would keep the pick. If the Thunder were to pick in the 19-30 spot, that pick would be conveyed to the Philadelphia 76ers (via Denver from Cleveland). If the Thunder and Wizards finish with the same record, the position of the pick will be decided by a coin flip, with the winner of the flip getting the 18th pick.

The Thunder are firmly in the 8th spot in the West. Their playoff destiny could be decided in the next 6 games. They have a tough 2 game road trip remaining (@Phoenix and @Utah) and then play the Texas triangle and Memphis after that. Come out of that gauntlet with a winning record, and you control your playoff destiny. Finish less then .500 in these next 6 games, and things could get very harry. This is my favorite time of year to not only watch the games involving the Thunder, but also watch the games of the teams that can affect the Thunder’s future. Here’s to the last 3 weeks of the season.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs preview (Game 72 of 82)

westbrook adams ibaka roberson thunder parker splitter spurs

  • When: Wednesday, 25 March 2015 at 8:30 PM CST
  • Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

This has usually been the case in the past four seasons. As the Oklahoma City Thunder approach the end of the season, they usually look up in the standings and see the San Antonio Spurs. And, usually, the NBA is gracious enough to schedule about two OKC vs San Antonio games in the last three weeks of the season. The big difference this season as compared to previous seasons is that the Thunder are the 8th seed and are looking up at the Spurs, who are currently the 6th seed, but only by virtue of percentage points over the Dallas Mavericks. The Spurs have one of the tougher finishing schedules in the league and stand 3.5 games ahead of the Thunder. The 7th and 8th seed in the West may be in contention by these two familiar rivals that are used to battling atop the Western Conference standings.

This is the 2nd of 3 meetings this season between these two teams. The Thunder beat the Spurs in their only previous meeting on Christmas day, 114-106. In that game, the Thunder outscored the Spurs by 9 points in the 4th quarter, as Russell Westbrook led the team with 34 points and 11 assists.

The Opponent

leonard duncan green spurs

The San Antonio Spurs come into the game with a 44-26 record, good for 6th in the Western Conference. As is usually the case every season, the Spurs seem to be getting healthy at the right time. Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and Boris Diaw have all had their injury issues throughout this season. But they are all relatively healthy and rearing up for their yearly playoff run. The Spurs are pretty consistent in their stats, ranking 11th in team scoring (102.4 ppg), 5th in assists (24.2 per game), and 9th in opponent scoring per game (97.9 ppg). The offense is, of course, led by Tony Parker, who has looked a lot more like himself in the past month after struggling with injuries previous to that. On the wing, Danny Green is tied for 7th in the league with 2.4 makes per game on almost 41% shooting from deep. And Kawhi Leonard, a lot like Parker, has started to round into form after struggling with injuries for much of the first half of the season. Up front, Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter continue to be one of the more consistent big men tandems in the league. Off the bench, Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Manu Ginobili continue to give the Spurs one of the better benches in the league.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Danny Green
  • SF – Kawhi Leonard
  • PF – Tim Duncan
  • C – Tiago Splitter

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Dion Waiters
  • SF – Kyle Singler
  • PF – Enes Kanter
  • C – Steven Adams

Three Things

1. Line-up shuffling – With the Thunder’s new Bruise Bros big man tandem, Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich may look to exploit the lack of mobility of the big men on the perimeter by inserting Diaw or Matt Bonner into the starting line-up. If Popovich sticks with his regular line-up, this may likely be an advantage for the Thunder.

westbrook thunder parker duncan spurs

2. Contain penetration – The biggest facilitator of the Spurs’ offense is the penetrating ability of Tony Parker (insert joke here), Manu Ginobili, and Kawhi Leonard. The havoc those three create from getting into the paint leads to the Spurs’ 3-point shooters getting clean looks and to their big men getting open looks as the defending big men have to slide over to stop the dribble penetration. It will be incredibly important for the Thunder defenders to stay in front of these three players throughout the game.

3. 6th or 7th seed up for grabs – The Thunder’s goals this entire season have been to get healthy and make it to the playoffs. While they are still working on the getting healthy part, they hold the playoff positioning part in their hands. Yes, they will need some help, but the 6th seed is a possibility, which is saying something considering how this season started.

Early Training Camp Stories

durant media day thunder

With Monday’s media day out of the way, the Oklahoma City Thunder started their journey into the 2014-15 NBA season. Like every other training camp before this one, there are questions and issues that need to be settled before the season begins. Luckily, the Thunder don’t have to contend with any roster-shattering trades or major injury issues like they have in the last two training camps. The Thunder come into camp basically intact and healthy. Here are some of the issues the Thunder are hoping to settle before October 29th.

1. Reggie Jackson

Probably the biggest question mark heading into the season is the contract situation of Reggie Jackson. The Thunder have until October 31st to work out an extension with Jackson. If no deal is done by then, Jackson will enter restricted free agency next offseason. Thunder GM Sam Presti, in his address to the media, said Jackson was a “core member” of the team and that the team was working hard in trying to secure an extension.

Many people will hark back to how the Thunder handled (or didn’t handle) the James Harden extension. As has been rehashed many times over, Harden and the Thunder couldn’t get an extension worked out and Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets four days before the beginning of the season. But there are two major differences between the two situations. The first difference is that Jackson is not a max player. While NBA teams have been giving out very generous contracts to “upper middle class” type players in the past few offseasons, Jackson unfortunately plays a position of excess in the NBA. Many teams already either have their point guard or aren’t necessarily in the market to pay max money for a “middle class” player. The second major difference is the Thunder’s financial situation. Due to the Harden trade, the Thunder were able to maintain their salary cap flexibility and, even with 3 max or near max deals, are in great financial shape. With the salary cap set to greatly increase in the next 2-3 seasons, the Thunder can offer Jackson a reasonable contract without endangering their ability to extend Durant, Westbrook, and Ibaka.

The Thunder have everything in their favor to re-sign Jackson. But like many other situations in life, the events we think will be solved in a straight line, usually become roller coasters before we reach the finish line. The monkey wrench in this situation is Jackson’s adamant desire to be a starter. He planted the seed during exit interviews at the end of last season. And his tone didn’t change throughout the offseason. As Jackson stated during media day, “I can’t remember any great that wasn’t a starter. All the greats have started. I just want to be great. I want a chance to be great. I can’t recall a superstar Sixth Man.” The problem is that Jackson is point guard sized, and the Thunder have an opening at shooting guard, a position usually reserved on the Thunder for a long-winged defender that can (hopefully) make spot-up 3-pointers.

The Thunder got a sneak peak at what a Westbrook/Jackson back court would look like in the last four games of the Western Conference Finals. While the results were positive, the Thunder will probably choose to go the traditional route for the regular season. Whether its a ploy by Jackson to leverage the Thunder into more money or whether Jackson truly wants to be a starter in the league, this monkey wrench is probably a long ways away from getting resolved. Look for Jackson to head into the season without an extension.

2. Starting Shooting Guard

For the first time in five seasons, someone other than Thabo Sefolosha will start at SG for the Thunder on opening night. Sefolosha signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason, thus opening the 2-guard spot. Sefolosha struggled in his final season with the Thunder and was relegated to bench duty at times in two of the Thunder’s three playoff series. The Thunder have a bevy of candidates that could possibly start at shooting guard.

Andre Roberson started 16 games for the Thunder as a rookie when Sefolosha was out with a calf strain in the 2nd half of the season. He has shown flashes of being the prototypical wing defender that the Thunder love to use at the 2-guard position, but is a developing work in progress on the offensive end. In 40 games total last season, Roberson only attempted 13 3-pointers, making only 2 in the process. He knows his limitations offensively and usually defers to his more offensively minded teammates.

Jeremy Lamb was viewed as being the heir-apparent to James Harden after the trade two seasons ago. He could shoot like Harden and was long and rangy enough to be made into an adequate defender. He showed flashes last season, averaging nearly 10 points per game until he hit the “rookie” wall in the second half of the season. Last season was Lamb’s second, but it was his first playing significant minutes. By the end of the season, Lamb’s minutes were going to veterans Caron Butler and Derek Fisher. The Thunder seem to really like what Lamb brings to the team and may look to him to be their version of Danny Green of the San Antonio Spurs.

lamb jones thunder

Reggie Jackson is another option. He started the final four games of the Western Conference Finals with Westbrook to positive results. But the Thunder probably view Jackson as their firepower off the bench and one of their closers. While Jackson has been adamant that he would like to start, his best role on this team may be that of his current role as a sixth man.

The dark horse in this competition is Perry Jones. He started six games for the Thunder at SG and did a memorable job defensively on LeBron James in the Thunder’s victory in Miami against the Heat last season. He’s the median between Roberson and Lamb. He can hit the corner 3 pretty consistently and has the tools and ability to be a good defender. The question is whether he has the motor and “want to” to beat out the other candidates?

In the end, I think Lamb comes out of the fray with the starting position. His ability to space the floor will give the Thunder a dimension in their starting line-up they have been severely lacking. The onus will be on Lamb to improve defensively. The Thunder preach defense, and if Lamb is not up to task, there are at least 3 guys in the wings that can replace him.

3. Starting Center

With Kendrick Perkins nursing a quad strain, Steven Adams has an opportunity to supplant the veteran as the team’s starting center. The signs have been pointing towards Adams being the center of the future for this team. But Adams’ play last season may have fast-forwarded that development to this season. Adams started 20 games last season when Perkins was out and developed consistently as the season progressed. In the playoffs, Adams averaged nearly 4 more minutes per game than Perkins after Game 5 of the first round.

Perkins’ contract is up after this season and the team is probably ready to move on from it. While Perkins has been a great locker room presence, his play on the court has not merited his hefty salary. But if the Thunder start Adams, they run into a bit of a conundrum. Perkins’ value is as a starter. He is great defensively against traditional post players, most of whom start. As a bench player though, the little value Perkins does have gets muted. The team could always trade Perkins, as a $9 million dollar expiring contract is a commodity during the trade deadline, but the depth at center suffered a bit when the team traded Hasheem Thabeet. Nick Collison, Serge Ibaka, and Mitch McGary can all play center, but are better suited for power forward.

What I see happening is a repeat of last season’s playoffs. Perkins will get the starts, but Adams will get the lion’s share of minutes.

4. 15th Spot

The Thunder do have a roster spot open, but have always preferred to keep that spot open until the trade deadline in February. An open roster spots becomes more attractive to a team looking to trade more players than they are receiving. Also, after the deadline, expiring veterans on lottery bound teams are usually bought out so they have the ability to latch onto a playoff-bound team for the stretch run. The Thunder have used this roster spot in recent years to sign Derek Fisher and Caron Butler for late season playoff pushes. In conclusion, I see the Thunder going into the season with an open roster spot.

5. The Semaj Christon Situation

Christon, the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from the 2014 NBA Draft, will apparently be getting the Grant Jerrett treatment. Jerrett was the Thunder’s 2nd round pick from last season’s draft. Instead of inviting him to training camp and being forced to offer him a training camp contract, the Thunder, instead, renounced their rights to him and made him the first pick in that year’s D-League draft. He played the entire season with the Tulsa 66ers, and then signed with the Thunder in the final week of the NBA season. The Thunder then included him on their playoff roster. That inclusion allowed Jerrett to get paid the playoff bonus that all the other players received. The Thunder rewarded Jerrett’s loyalty by offering him a multiyear contract this offseason.

semaj christon thunder blue

According to Christon’s agent Doug Neustadt, he will begin his career with the Thunder’s renamed D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. Christon has the physical attributes to be a Thunder-type point guard (long, athletic, able to drive and finish). On the Blue, he’ll probably be tasked with running the team and becoming a better shooter. If the Thunder have an open roster spot near the end of the season, look for them to reward Christon for his loyalty and patience.

6. Hot seat for Scott Brooks?

Is this the season that the coaching seat starts to warm up for Brooks. He has probably his most talented roster yet, and will be measured by whether he wins a championship or not. Injuries have had a big hand in deciding the Thunder’s fate the last two postseasons, but Brooks has also been to blame due to his lack of an offensive system and his stubbornness to make rotational changes whenever necessary. Brooks is a great ego-managing coach. He’s nursed the Thunder’s core players from “all-potential” to “all-production”. That is not an easy thing to do in the NBA. But now, its “put up or shut up” time. The team is primed for a championship run and their core players are just now entering their prime. Will Brooks rise above the fray, or will he, once again, be a game too late in making the right adjustments?

7. Is Russell Westbrook the best point guard in the league?

Yes! He outplayed Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker on head to head match-ups in last year’s playoffs. He was probably the 2nd or 3rd best player in the playoffs. And for a 10 game stretch before he necessitated another surgery on his knee in December, he averaged 21.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 9.2 assists per game on 46.5% shooting. Is he the best pure point guard in the league? Probably not. That title still belongs to Chris Paul. But pound for pound, bringing everything to the table, I’m taking Westbrook every time.

8. Steven Adams’ mustache

The Lord giveth…..

adams thunder 2

…And the Lord taketh away (just a day later – no ‘stache)

 adams practice

#SadFace

9. Will Serge Ibaka ever learn who Mitch McGary is?

OH, the outrage when it was discovered that Serge Ibaka didn’t know who Mitch McGary. How dare Ibaka not know who one of his teammates are? Until you consider that Ibaka was probably just enjoying his time in Spain representing the host country in the FIBA World Cup. Fans tend to think the players are as passionate about the roster makeup of their team as they are. American-born players are used to waking up watching SportsCenter and knowing the ins and outs of the league. Foreign-born players don’t have the same routines as American-born players, so they probably don’t necessarily keep track with all the happenings around the league. Plus, Serge was extremely busy this summer, so its understandable. And besides, he’ll have plenty of time to get to know McGary this season.

In the end, Ibaka could have just been trolling everyone, though.

10. Was this the longest offseason in Thunder history?

Yes!

2014-15 NBA Season Preview: Southwest Division

Southwest Divison

1. San Antonio Spurs

spurs championship 2014

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

  • Aron Baynes – Unsigned

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 59-23

2. Memphis Grizzlies

prince gasol allen conley randolph grizzlies

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 54-28

3. Dallas Mavericks

nowitzki ellis mavericks

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 53-29

4. Houston Rockets

harden howard rockets

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

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

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 47-35

5. New Orleans Pelicans

Jrue Holiday, Tony Wroten, Anthony Davis

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

Season ended: Last day of the regular season

Key Additions:

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

Key Departures:

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

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

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

Projected 2014-15 Record: 42-40

Breaking Down the 2014-15 Thunder Schedule

nba schedule

It’s a rite of passage every August to look at the newly released NBA schedule and predict the record of your team. It’s usually a losing battle as many of the variables that come into play during the season (injuries, trades, chemistry issues) have yet to come to fruition. But we are fans and this is what we do. I always like to look at an 82 game schedule in chunks; no less than 10 games and no more than 25 games. In that amount of time, patterns tend to develop, momentum can be built, and the foundation for a successful season can be established. Unfortunately, as we saw with the Indiana Pacers’ second half last season, it can also work the other way around. Here’s a look at the Thunder’s upcoming season in chunks.

October 29, 2014 – November 14, 2014

I guess I would much rather start the season road-heavy, than end it road-heavy. The Thunder’s first four road games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, while the one home game is against a wild card team. Denver is a mystery to everyone. With so many players coming back from injury, Denver could either surprise everyone in a Phoenix Suns-like revival or they could be the same inconsistent bunch we saw last season. After those first five games, the Thunder host the team they dispatched in the first round last season, the Memphis Grizzlies. From there, it’s easy street as the Thunder face four lottery teams.

Possible Trap: Three back to backs.

  • Record through 10 games – 8-2

November 16, 2014 – December 7, 2014

westbrook thunder barnes warriors

Houston’s depth (or as James Harden would call them “role players”) got depleted this offseason, but they still have Harden and Dwight Howard. After that, it’s a back to back roadie in the oxygen-deficient Rocky Mountains. A four game homestand follows as the Thunder face the Golden State Warriors for the first time in the season. If you remember the first two meetings between these two teams last season, then you’ll definitely have your DVR tuned in if you aren’t at the game. After the homestand, there’s a three game road trip that features 3 lottery teams.

Possible Trap: The Utah game between the Golden State and New York game.

  • Record through 20 games – 16-4

December 9, 2014 – December 23, 2014

The prodigal son (LeBron James) makes his only regular season trip to OKC. How ironic is it the Thunder play James and the Cavs one game and then play Andrew Wiggins and the Minnesota Timberwolves the next? After that, it’s a 3-game West Coast swing that includes the Warriors and the Lakers. Finally, a sneaky difficult two game homestand follows against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans and the Trailblazers.

Possible Trap: At Sacramento. The Kings are one of those teams yearning for respect. They always seem to play lights out against the Thunder at home.

  • Record through 29 games – 23-6

December 25, 2014 – February 11, 2015

The toughest stretch of the season for the Thunder will probably be the 24 games from Christmas to the All-Star break. It was during this time last season, with Russell Westbrook recovering from his third knee surgery in 8 months, that Kevin Durant solidified his status as an MVP candidate. He led the Thunder on a 19-7 tear, against some of the top teams in the league, that had Oklahoma City heading into the All-Star break with the league’s best record.

durant thunder wall wizards

The 24-game stretch can be broken down into two stretches: a 10-gamer and a 14-gamer. The 10-game stretch, from December 25, 2014 to January 16, 2015 features a tough, even-keeled run (five home, five away) against 7 playoff teams (and Phoenix). It starts with the Western Conference Finals rematch on Christmas against the Spurs in San Antonio. The next night its back to OKC to face the Charlotte Hornets. Two night later, it’s down to Dallas for a tussle with the Mavs. And then back home to face the Phoenix Suns to close out the year. The year begins with a home game against the Washington Wizards…you know, the team Thunder fans will be hearing about in their nightmares for the next two seasons. After that its back on the road to face the Warriors. The 10-game stretch finishes with the Rockets and the Warriors (again).

Side note: It feels like we play the Warriors 10 times this season.

The 14-game stretch that follows is probably more difficult because 9 of the 14 games are on the road, including a 5 game Eastern Conference romp. Of the 9 road games, four are against playoff teams from last season, one is against Cleveland, and another is against the mercurial Knicks. Of note on the road games, is one against Washington (yeah, that team again), where the Thunder have not won since the 2010-11 season. Washington DC has become a house of horrors for the Thunder of late.

Possible Trap: All the road games in a short time span.

  • Record through 53 games – 40-13

February 19, 2015 – March 5, 2015

After a week long All-Star break, the Thunder start the second half of the season at home against the Mavericks. They then travel to Charlotte to play the Hornets, and then return home the next night to play Denver. Oklahoma City is lucky in that they don’t have to make transcontinental treks on road trips, but they also suffer with these weird road/home back to backs that take them to one coast and then back home. After another home game (Indiana), it’s back to the West Coast to face Phoenix, Portland, and the Lakers. After a home reprieve (Philadelphia), it’s back on a plane for a prime time match-up against the Bulls in Chicago.

  • Record through 62 games – 46-16

March 8, 2015 – March 24, 2015

In this stretch, the Thunder play 8 of their next 9 games at home, while the road game is in Dallas (a one hour plane ride). Six of the nine opponents are playoffs teams, so it is by no means an easy stretch. It is also a non-tiring schedule, that features only one back to back. If there was ever a time in the schedule for the Thunder to either gain a little ground, or put some space between themselves and those teams under them, this would be it.

  • Record through 71 games – 53-18

March 25, 2015 – April 15, 2015

durant thunder duncan leonard spurs

The final 11 games of the season features 6 road games and 5 home games. In the last couple seasons, the end of the regular season has been road heavy for the Thunder. This season’s home heavy finish is a good reprieve from previous seasons. The Thunder play San Antonio twice during this stretch, so first place in the Western Conference may be up for grabs in these last few weeks of the season. The Thunder play the Texas trio at home during this stretch, while playing Phoenix and Memphis on the road. They finish the season in Minnesota, which may be important if the Thunder are still battling for a seeding.

  • Record through 82 games – 61-21

April 18, 2015 – mid June 2015

NBA champions!!!!! You heard it here first.

All in all, the schedule is pretty balanced. While the Thunder do play a lot of good teams (partly because they are in the Western Conference), there is a lot of time for rest, which should aid the Thunder in the playoffs.

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.

Five Thoughts from the Western Conference Finals

durant perkins duncan thunder spurs

With their loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals, the Thunder’s season was brought to an end. A little disappointing, but with everything the team faced this season, it could be viewed as a positive step moving forward. Before we head into the off-season, here are 5 thoughts about the series that was.

1. Serge Ibaka’s importance was on full display in this series

The first two games of the series tell the importance of Serge Ibaka. The Spurs dominated inside (averaged 60 points in the paint per game in those first two games) and punished the Thunder from outside when they collapsed (9 threes in both games). Granted, the Thunder’s perimeter defense was so bad, even a healthy Ibaka wouldn’t have helped in those two games. The Thunder were constantly switching on pick and rolls and were exploited when the switch presented a bad match-up. Add to that the fact that Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins don’t have the lateral quickness to keep up with PnR switches on quick guards, and you have a recipe for disaster. Even when the Thunder guards went under the screen, the defense, wary of its lack of a shot blocker, collapsed into the paint and left the Spurs’ shooters open from the outside.

But surprisingly, the offense suffered even more from Ibaka’s absence. Without the release valve that is Ibaka, the Thunder play-makers (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Reggie Jackson) were forced into either pick and rolling with Perkins, Collison, or the inexperienced Steven Adams, or playing isolation ball. Both of these options played into the Spurs’ strength as an experienced, coordinated defensive unit. The Spurs love to take away your first option and make your 2nd and 3rd options beat you. That’s why Ibaka is so important to the Thunder’s attack. A wing/big PnR involving Ibaka usually succeeds because the big defender will usually hedge towards the perimeter player. When that happens, Ibaka usually pops opens up for his deadly mid-range jumper. With Ibaka out of the picture, the Spurs big was able to hedge over onto the wing player as the big presented no threat of either rolling or popping out for a jumper. The Thunder trio shot only 43% (42-98) from the field in those first two games.

ibaka duncan spurs thunder

The Thunder’s success with Ibaka also lends credence to the decision to keep Ibaka and trade Harden. Now, the decision was a lot more complex than just Ibaka vs. Harden. The team tried to keep both. But with two max players already on the roster, the team couldn’t afford to pay a third max contract, Ibaka’s near max contract, and Perkins’ bloated contract. It would have been cap suicide and, eventually, one (or two) of those 5, would have been forced to leave via trade. Also, the team couldn’t afford to pay that much money for someone who only plays one side of the floor. So the decision, while difficult, seems to have been the correct one. Ibaka’s value to this team as a two way player would have probably outweighed Harden’s value as a secondary/tertiary scorer.

2. Experienced team ball trumps isolation ball most of the time.

It worked one time, in 2012. But for the most part, an experienced group that runs an offensive system usually beats the team whose offensive system depends on the greatness of a small amount of its parts. I’ve gone over it, ad nauseam, about how the lack of an offensive system dooms the Thunder when A) the defense is good enough to key in on the main components of the Thunder’s offense and B) when the Thunder’s supporting cast doesn’t provide enough.

Royce Young, of ESPN and DailyThunder.com, discussed how, in the 6-game series, the Spurs averaged 334.8 passes per game, while the Thunder only averaged 252.3. Does this tell the whole story? Of course not. But the more passes you throw, the more the defense moves around. That is the staple of the Spurs offense. It’s designed to have the defenders follow the ball, until someone without the ball gets open or until the defense is spaced out enough to allow penetration. The Thunder, on the other hand, relied on the ability of Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson to create things in isolation situations. When they received little to no help from the supporting cast, which happened a lot in this series, those three players were left to work things out on their own.

3. Russell Westbrook is not scared of the moment.

Not only in this series, but throughout the playoffs, Westbrook proved that he was not scared of the moment. He showed up, time and time again, for the Thunder when they needed him the most. Be it a late game steal or some “ice-water in the veins” free throws, Westbrook showed that the closing act for the Thunder was not just a one man show.

I always worried about Westbrook’s clutchness prior to this season. Be it the lack of opportunities or just the wild, unpredictable nature of his play, I never thought that Westbrook had the discipline to be clutch. And while a lot of his clutchness was within the realm of chaos, when Westbrook did it, there was a sense of calmness about it.

4. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still pretty damn good.

I don’t know what wizard or voodoo witch doctor these two have visited throughout the years, but their play is still as good now as it was 10 years ago. They may not be able to sustain their style of play in the world of “4 games in 5 nights,” but if they are given days of rest, they can perform like it is 2004. Some of the credit definitely goes to the players and their disciplined off-season training regiments. Duncan has picked up boxing in the off-season and has slimmed down as he has aged to take the wear off his knees and ankles. And Manu, I have no idea what Manu does, but the weight he continues to lose on his head, apparently has a positive effect on his play.

duncan ginobili spurs

A lot of the credit, though, goes to their coach, Gregg Popovich, and how he manages their minutes. Pop does a great job of resting his players (young and old, mind you) throughout the season. He could care less about how the NBA views his player rest habits and more about the bottom line, which is to be rested when it comes time for the postseason. Also, Popovich is not into miraculous comebacks. If his team is losing by a sizeable amount, Popovich will not hesitate to pull his starters for an entire quarter to rest them for the next game.

All of these factors made it appear like Duncan and Ginobili were a lot more rested throughout the course of the game than the young Thunder. It was no more apparent than in Game 6, when Duncan and Ginobili carried the Spurs throughout the 2nd half and into overtime, while Tony Parker was held out with a bum ankle.

5. Its hard getting back to the promised land.

It almost feels like the Thunder are the Israelites wondering around in the wilderness for 40 years in the book of Numbers. We’ve reached the promised land before, but didn’t do what we needed to do to stay there. Instead, we’ve spent that last 2 seasons trying our hardest to get back. Obstacles have gotten in our way, namely injuries and lack of depth/experience.  I have no doubt that we will one day get back to the promised land, but the journey, can feel extremely long and tortuous. In the end, hopefully, it’ll all be worth it.