Tag Archives: Scott Brooks

Daily Thunder Rumblings – 28 August 2017

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Well wishes for the people of Houston and Southeast Texas. Harvey hit harder than expected, but we will overcome as we always do. If you would like to help out, text 90999 to make a $10 donation to the Red Cross to help relief efforts. Here are the Rumblings.

Doug McDermott tell Nick Gallo of OKCThunder.com he is not content on just being a spot-up shooter: “The NBA is a league of “more”. More skills, more star players, more athleticism, more defense, more leadership, more shooting. Really, what every player and every team wants, for the most part, is more of everything. The more a player can do, the more worth they have to their team. The more a team can do, the higher they can climb in the standings. So that’s what Doug McDermott, and the Thunder, are determined to do. With the addition of Paul George, Patrick Patterson and Raymond Felton, the Thunder checked a lot of those aforementioned boxes with its swing-for-the-fences off-season. Filling in the seams of those big puzzle pieces that are inserted into the mix will be players like McDermott.”

Scott Brooks spoke to CSN MidAtlantic about the difficulties in keeping a good core together: “Before taking over as coach of the Wizards, Brooks spent seven years leading the Oklahoma City Thunder. They rose very quickly to reach the NBA Finals in 2012, his fourth season on the job. But not long after that their core was dismantled, first by the trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets, a casualty of the salary cap. Last summer, one year after Brooks had been dismissed, OKC traded Serge Ibaka and saw Kevin Durant sign with the Golden State Warriors in free agency. That’s three very good players the Thunder had drafted and developed who left all in just a few years time.” Continue reading Daily Thunder Rumblings – 28 August 2017

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

ibaka perkins durant fisher thunder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thunder U to Thunder Men: How the maturation of its star players helped the Oklahoma City Thunder make their coaching change

Oklahoma City Thunder vs San Antonio Spurs

Let’s hark back to a time when we were all young. Let’s examine our lives from 18-24 years of age. You have high school graduation, then either college or work (or both, or neither). You have significant others, one night stands, friends with benefits, friend zones, etc. It’s a time of exploration; a time to make mistakes. You only hope is that the mistakes made during this time period don’t affect you for the rest of your life. Usually, it’s good to have someone that is older and much wiser around you to support you during these times. Not necessarily someone that tells you that you are doing it wrong, but someone that allows you to figure it out on your own, while also giving their own nuggets of advice along the way.

Eventually, though, we all reach that fork in the road of life. Take one path, and you’ll eventually become the old guy that never fully matured and always harks back to his younger years (hello, ‘peaked in high school’ Rob Lowe). Take the other path, and you become the mature adult that you were destined to be. Along the way, the benefactor that helped you in your younger years, may not necessarily be the same person that helps you in your maturing years. Usually, the new benefactor is a more professional role model; someone that you try to emulate as you mature. This new benefactor is usually not as coddling as the old one, and almost always demands that results be brought to the table in order to keep the relationship going.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder fired Scott Brooks, they didn’t just get rid of their coach for the past 7 seasons. They got rid of their coddling, doting benefactor. Don’t get me wrong, though. Scott Brooks did many great things in his time in Oklahoma City. His style of coaching was necessary for a team that was just coming into its own. His ability to develop and culture young talent was/is tantamount to the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Take the ‘players coach’ persona away from the Thunder and replace it with a hardened disciplinarian, and you may have had a scenario where the players got tired of the demanding coach and either wanted out or loathed the thought of coming to practice everyday. It’s basically the reason Brooks replaced PJ Carlesimo as head coach seven seasons ago in the first place.

In the last two seasons we’ve seen the complete maturation of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both these players have gone from great players to bonafide MVP candidates (or winner as in the case of Durant). Durant has gone from just a great scorer to a great all-around player, while Westbrook has gone from questionable point guard to something entirely different that has never been seen from the floor general position. While these two players will continue to add facets to their games as they mature, they’ve essentially reached their point of maturation.

durant westbrook thunder

While many will look at the last two injury plagued seasons as cursed, it has in fact been a great learning tool for both Durant and Westbrook. Their dependency on each other was shucked out the window in the last two years. In its stead, both players were forced to figure things out on their own. Durant went from all-world scorer to all-world all-around player after Westbrook sat out much of the 2013-14 season with various knee ailments. Durant’s scoring and rebounding numbers remained consistent, but his assist numbers went up to 5.5 per game. Based on these numbers and the fact that the Thunder remained atop the Western Conference (2nd, behind the San Antonio Spurs), Durant went on to win the MVP award last season.

Fast forward to this season, when the onus of carrying the Thunder fell on Westbrook as Durant recovered from a broken foot most of the season. Always vilified as being a shoot-first point guard, Westbrook was finally able to balance both scoring and assisting to finish with one of the greatest statistical seasons on record. His numbers in February and March have become things of legend. The media finally began to accept Westbrook for what he was: something they had never seen before. Westbrook’s season will likely not end an MVP award, as the Thunder failed to make the playoffs, but the full maturation of Westbrook has been a beautiful thing to watch. His ability to run the Thunder offense and pick and choose where to go has been tantamount to his success this season. The chemistry Westbrook developed with Anthony Morrow and Enes Kanter in such a short period of time probably shows the full maturity of his game more than anything else.

It’s in this maturity that Thunder GM Sam Presti felt it was finally time to cut the umbilical cord to the doting, coddling coach. Too many times the Thunder hid from the fact that Brooks, while great as a communicator, lacked as an X’s and O’s coach. While the team was successful, it was in those critical in-game moments late in the playoffs where Brooks’ warts showed the most. Will new head coach Billy Donovan be able to overcome those deficiencies to take this team to the next level? That remains to be seen. But the players he will be inheriting in Durant, Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, will be finished products that will be ready to win. The worst thing that could have happened to Brooks was the complete maturation of Durant and Westbrook without the finality of a championship. Regardless of whether injuries were involved or not, this was a move Presti had to make to get this team to the next level.

The Thunder hire Billy Donovan to be their new head coach

Billy Donovan I

Per league sources, the Oklahoma City Thunder have hired Billy Donovan from the University of Florida to be their new head coach. The team and Donovan agreed to a 5 year contract, with the terms yet to be disclosed. The hiring comes after the Thunder parted ways with long-time head coach Scott Brooks after the season.

Donovan coached at the University of Florida for 19 seasons, garnering two national championships (2006, 2007), four SEC titles, and three SEC Coach of the Year awards. With an impressive NBA player tree that includes names like Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Chandler Parsons, Mike Miller, and Bradley Beal, Donovan’s ability to coach NBA-ready players is second only to Mike Krzyzewski and John Calipari. His coaching tree is starting to pick up steam, as young coaches like Shaka Smart, Donnie Jones, and Anthony Grant, who were previous assistants at Florida under Donovan, start to leave their marks in college basketball.

Donovan’s system is tailor made for the NBA. His pick and roll-heavy offense plays for the Thunder’s personnel. And the addition of Enes Kanter as an interior scorer should make this offense that much more dynamic. His defensive approach will also play well into the Thunder scheme of pressuring the ball and defending the paint. The Thunder will have more chances to transform defense into offense under Donovan’s coaching. Donovan is known for his great rapport with his players, but also for holding them accountable for their actions on the court. That’s one area where he and Scott Brooks will likely differ. Donovan’s system has slowly been making its way to Oklahoma City, as the Thunder’s D-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, have a head coach (Mark Daigneault) that used to be an assistant under Donovan. In addition, the Thunder’s basketball information analyst, Oliver Winterbone, is a former video coordinator under Donovan, and likely helps out in the advanced metrics department.

Donovan comes into a situation many will deem as a dream and a possible nightmare. While the first job of many head coaches usually involves a struggling, rebuilding team, Donovan has been gifted with two of the best players in the world. The Thunder will enter next season with championship aspirations, as they have the last four seasons. But with Kevin Durant’s impending free agency in 2016, every misstep will reverberate even louder than it normally does. For a coach that has never coached in an NBA game, it will be tantamount that he know how to handle that pressure. Golden State’s Steve Kerr and Cleveland’s David Blatt faced similar pressures as first year head coaches heading into this season, and both have been successful. On the other hand, Derek Fisher has had a disastrous first season with the New York Knicks.

While its been reported that Thunder GM Sam Presti has not directly involved Durant or Russell Westbrook in the coaching search, that doesn’t mean the players have not done their homework. Durant stated that he spoke with several former Gator players and is, “generally positive” about the Thunder’s hiring of Donovan. While many will view this response as questionable (why wasn’t he fully positive about it?), one has to also take into account the loyalty Durant has for Brooks. A full endorsement would almost be like a disparaging comment against Brooks. Like any new relationship, this will take time. But I think this will work out fine. Presti has been scouting Donovan for years, and conversely, Donovan has likely been watching the progress of the Thunder from afar these last few seasons. This was not a decision made in haste. In fact, this was likely a decision that has been years in the making.

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.

Oklahoma City Thunder part ways with head coach Scott Brooks

scott brooks durant thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder have parted ways with head coach Scott Brooks after an injury riddled 45-37 season that saw them miss the playoffs for the first time in the last five seasons. It was nearly a week ago, during exit interviews, that the organization advised they would evaluate the head coaching position as they headed into the offseason. To that, Scott Brooks remarked, “I expect to be the coach next season,” when asked about it during his exit interview.

Scott Brooks took over as head coach for the Thunder one month into their inaugural season in Oklahoma City. At that point, the Thunder were 1-12 and looking like a team that may threaten the Philadelphia 76ers mark for futility in a season. With Brooks at the helm, the Thunder rebounded enough to salvage a 23-win season. The year after that, the upstart Thunder won 50 games and made the playoffs as an 8th seed and took the eventual NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers to 6 games. Brooks was awarded the NBA Coach of the Year after that season. The next season, he took the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks. The next season, Brooks led the Thunder to the NBA Finals, where they lost in 5 games to the Miami Heat. The next years ended in disappointment as key players were lost to injury in the playoffs (Russell  Westbrook in 2013 and Serge Ibaka in 2014). This season, which started with championship aspirations, soon devolved into a struggle as the Thunder suffered injury after injury to key players, which saw Westbrook miss the first month with a broken hand, reigning MVP Kevin Durant play in only 27 games due to a broken foot, and Ibaka miss the last month of the season after knee surgery. The Thunder never gained any traction during the season, and eventually missed out on the playoffs to the New Orleans Pelicans in the final day of the season. Brooks finishes his tenure in Oklahoma City with a 338-207 (.620) record.

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, Thunder GM Sam Presti’s decision wasn’t a reflection of the job Brooks did this season, but more a long-term view for the franchise. While this may go down as a firing, a couple other teams have hinted at their interest for Brooks. The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets are both rebuilding teams that are looking for a coach that has already been through and succeeded in that process.

The question now becomes, who’s the next Thunder head coach. Rumors are abound that University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan and UCONN head coach Kevin Ollie may be candidates for the opening. Both coaches have history with the Thunder. Two former Donovan assistants have been hired by the Thunder in the past few seasons, one of which is their current D-League coach, Mark Daigneault. Ollie, on the other hand, played for the Thunder in the 2009-10 season, and is credited by Durant, as being the person that established the current culture in Oklahoma City. Both have a championship pedigree, as Donovan has won 2 NCAA championships and Ollie has won one. Another candidate may be Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg, who has been successful in college, but also has front office experience with the Timberwolves in the past. Other candidates may be embattled Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau or Golden State Warriors assistant coach Alvin Gentry.

This next season may be a make or break season for the Thunder, as Durant approaches unrestricted free agency in 2016. Hire the wrong guy, and the organization can seal the deal on Durant not coming back. While Brooks may have had his faults, he always had the support of his superstars, and NBA, that carries a lot of weight.

Scott Brooks and the Glass Ceiling

scott brooks thunder

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

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

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

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

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

brooks durant thunder

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

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

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

Scott Brooks, Russell Westbrook

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

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

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

Uncharted Waters: The Thunder and the Kevin Durant injury

durant thunder injury

In life, things have a way of working out oppositely to what we expected. The job promotion you thought would make you happy, actually makes you miserable working under the megalomaniac you call your new boss. The breakup with that significant other you thought would sink you into a depression, actually allowed you to find THE ONE. Life has a strange way of finding its own equilibrium. And that’s exactly how I’m approaching this injury to Kevin Durant. There are negatives and positives to any situation, even this one.

Bad News First: The Negatives:

1. Risk of Reinjury – We saw last season how nagging surgical interventions can be. The battle is not won when the surgeon proclaims, “This surgery was a success.” On a side note, I’ve always wondered what that meant. How do you know it was successful if you haven’t even tested the fix yet? I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘the surgery was a success’ is doctor speak for ‘we operated on the correct leg and the patient is still alive’. Russell Westbrook’s initial meniscus surgery was labeled a success. But complications do occur and that’s what the Thunder faced when Westbrook’s knee began to swell during training camp. Scans were run, and it was determined that a loose internal stitch had caused the swelling. Westbrook had a second, probably minor, arthroscopic surgery to fix that issue. The second surgery kept Westbrook out all preseason and two games into the regular season. Westbrook returned on the third game of the season and played like nothing had ever happened to him. That is, until his knee began to swell again around the Christmas game. The team performed another scope of the knee, which kept Westbrook out until after the All-Star break. In all, Westbrook missed 36 games last season.

The area where Durant suffered the break is notorious for being a difficult heal spot. The blood flow to that area of the bone is much less then at the ends of the bone. There have been plenty of players who have suffered this break and have had this surgery and have come back to the game just fine. But there have been others, like Brook Lopez of the Brooklyn Nets and CJ McCollum of the Portland Trailblazers, who have suffered reinjury of the same bone, usually within a year or two of the initial surgery.  I bring up those two names because they span the spectrum of player body types. Lopez is a 7-footer who weighs over 250 pounds and plays in the post. McCollum is a 6’3 combo guard that can take it to the rim and shoot the outside shot. Durant is like the best of both worlds: a 6’11 forward who moves like a guard. Luckily, he doesn’t pack the same mass as Lopez. Will Durant lack of size actually benefit him in his recovery from this injury or will his style of play (guard-like) be a deterrent in his recovery?

brook lopez injury

2. Falling behind in the Western Conference – A lot changed this offseason in the NBA. One thing that remained the same: the Western Conference is still brutal. Most every team in the conference either improved or stayed the course, with the exception, possibly, of Houston and Minnesota. Over the past 5 seasons, the wins average to get into the playoffs in the West has been 47 games. Prior to Durant’s injury, this team was slated to win between 58 and 62 games and be in contention for the number one seed, not only in the Western Conference, but also, throughout the playoffs. That wins estimate will probably need to be curtailed back a bit depending on when Durant gets back, and how he looks when he does get back.

A Westbrook-Ibaka-Jackson core could easily lead the Thunder to 45 wins, which may be good for an 8th seed in the West. And although the Thunder have won road playoff games before, they would much rather play in the friendly confines of the ‘Peake come playoff time. With that said, one of the biggest lessons this team has learned in the past 3 seasons is that home court advantage probably counts more in the early rounds of the playoffs than in the later rounds. Veteran teams like San Antonio and Dallas, who have routinely been to the later rounds of the playoffs, don’t really care where they play. They usually perform the same whether they are at home or on the road. Maybe the Thunder are becoming veteran enough to realize that sacrificing a couple victories in the regular season for rest, may come back to help them in the playoffs, whether its at home or on the road.

3. Derailment of Durant’s repeat MVP campaign – Is it possible that Durant could repeat as MVP this season, even while missing up to a quarter of the season? It’s plausible, but highly unlikely. First of all, the season’s narratives are all working against Durant this season. LeBron James is back in Cleveland in the homecoming of all homecomings. Derrick Rose is back after being sidelined for nearly two years due to various knee ailments. Kobe Bryant is back from injury and looking like the Bryant of old. And Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are ready to take the next step in their development after a tumultuous final year of ownership under Donald Sterling. Narrative and time on the court are both working against Durant. Hopefully, Durant is more worried about the Finals MVP, since he already has a regular season one under his belt.

Good News: The Positives

1. We’ve been here before – We’ve been through this already with Westbrook. When he was scheduled to miss the first month of the season recovering from his second knee surgery in 4 months, many Thunder fans thought the team would struggle mightily out the gates. Instead, Westbrook returned in the third game of the season, and the Thunder played like a fully healthy Thunder team would play. Then, in late December when Westbrook was slated to be out for another two months, everybody fretted about the upcoming schedule. Instead, Durant went supernova on the league (Slim Reaper) and the Thunder made it out of that run relatively unscathed. Will this be the same situation? Probably not.

The Thunder had a good replacement player for Westbrook in Reggie Jackson. While Jackson is no Westbrook, he does a lot of the same things that Westbrook does, which allows the Thunder to play their style of basketball. Unfortunately, there is no one on the roster that can mirror what Durant does for the Thunder. Perry Jones is a candidate, but doesn’t have that extra gear to be a factor on the floor. Anthony Morrow is a possibility, but, while he’s a great shooter, he struggles in creating his own shot.

So how will the Thunder survive? The same way they survived when Westbrook went down. Rely on Westbrook to provide a lot of the offense, and have other players step up their games offensively and defensively. Ibaka, Jackson, and Jeremy Lamb can each do their parts offensively. The team will probably have to start Steven Adams as he is much more offensively adept as compared to Kendrick Perkins. And coach Scott Brooks will probably have to trust his young guys a lot more. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it be frustrating at times? Yes. Will it be exhilarating at times? Hell yeah.

jackson ibaka jones thunder

2. Young guys get to step up – A lot like last season, the Thunder young core (Adams, Lamb, Jones, and Andre Roberson) has to step up if the team is to stay afloat and succeed. If anything, this season is a big one for Lamb and Jones, as they are eligible for their first extensions after this season. If that isn’t motivation to step up your game, I don’t know what is. It’s put up or shut up time for these two players. The organization seemingly likes these two guys, but with them coming up on extensions in the next two seasons, it’s time to see if they can really be core members of the team or if they are trade bait for future assets.

Last season, when Westbrook went down, Lamb provided some of the fire power off the bench that was missing when Jackson was tasked to start. In the first half of the season, Lamb almost averaged double figures. His scoring average and playing time went down when he started slumping after the All-Star break and after the Thunder acquired veteran forward Caron Butler. Jones was used as a utility man, playing any position not named point guard or center. He showed flashes, but continues to be a mystery because his physical attributes would suggest he would dominate on the court.

The real key will be Adams and Roberson. If they are both tasked with starting, their rapid development will be tantamount to how the Thunder react to their time without Durant. If Adams is able to stay on the floor, that make Perkins and his $9 million dollar expiring contract extremely movable. If Roberson is able to get some semblance of offense, his perimeter defense will take some of the pressure off Westbrook, so he can focus on offense. The young’ins have stepped up before. They’ll be expected to do it again.

3. Kickstart to Westbrook’s MVP campaign – This is probably the most exciting part of Durant sitting out the first month of the season. I mean, the Durant sitting part isn’t exciting. But if you’re going to find a silver lining, it’s the fact that we finally get to see what a Westbrook-led Thunder team can do. And no, I do not subscribe to the train of thought that Westbrook will go all Iverson on us and jack up 25-30 shots per game. Instead, I think Westbrook will beautifully manage games, attacking when needed and distributing whenever available.

westbrook mvp

In last season’s playoffs, Westbrook was probably the 2nd best individual player in the playoffs. In 19 games, Westbrook averaged 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 2.2 steals, while outplaying the likes of Mike Conley, Chris Paul, and Tony Parker. The MVP talk for Westbrook for the upcoming season hit an uptick during those playoffs. But the reality was that Westbrook would probably never win an MVP with Durant in tow. But now, with Durant out of the picture for a stretch, Westbrook could toss his name into the MVP discussion. Other than LeBron’s homecoming, there’s no better narrative than Westbrook doing for the Thunder this season, what Durant did for them last season. Which is, carry them for long stretches and come up with game winning plays. I’m prepared to see games where Westbrook forces the issues and shoots 3-21 with 5 turnovers and the Thunder get blown out by 25. But I’m also prepared to see games like Game 4 of last season’s Western Conference Finals (40 points/ 10 assists/ 5 rebounds/ 5 steals) or Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals (43 points/5 assists/ 7 rebounds). The Westbrook Experience is just beginning.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets preview (Preseason Game 1 of 7)

faried ibaka thunder nuggets

  • When: Wednesday, 08 October 2014 at 8:00 PM CST
  • Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO

Finally. After eons of waiting, the time has arrived. Well, not really the real time. That would be reserved for 20 days from today. But real enough to follow a GameCast of the game on ESPN. Real enough to catch highlights on NBATV. And real enough to begin complaining about Scott Brooks and his lack of offensive imagination. The rest of the season for the Thunder begins today.

The Denver Nuggets come into the game having already played one preseason game. They lost to the Los Angeles Lakers 98-95 in Kobe Bryant’s first game in action since an injury riddled 203-14 campaign. The Thunder are set to face their Northwest Division rivals four times this season.

The Opponent

nuggets training camp

The Nuggets are looking to build off a season that saw four rotational players miss significant portions of the season due to significant knee injuries (Danilo Gallinari, Nate Robinson, JJ Hickson, and JaVale McGee). The Nuggets are two years removed from being the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. That team featured a lot of the same players that are still on the roster. The offense is spearheaded by Ty Lawson. The prodigal son, Arron Afflalo, returns after getting traded back to the Nuggets in the offseason to bring them defensive stability on the perimeter. Up front, Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov form an energetic duo that gets most of their points off rebounds and garbage baskets. Off the bench, the Nuggets will probably try to play their rookies Gary Harris and Jusuf Nurkic to get them some in-game experience.

Probable Starting Line-ups

Denver Nuggets

  • PG – Ty Lawson
  • SG – Randy Foye
  • SF – Arron Afflalo
  • PF – Kenneth Faried
  • C – Timofey Mozgov

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Andre Roberson
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Steven Adams

3 Keys to the Game

1. SG battle – This preseason will be about deciding who will start at SG for the Thunder. Roberson seems to have the edge on Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson, though. He started 16 games for the Thunder last season and outplayed Lamb in the Blue and White scrimmage.

roberson thunder

2. Young guys – Mitch McGary, Grant Jerrett, and Perry Jones should see some action this preseason.

3. Ball-movement – The talk about the offense coming into every season is always about the increase in ball-movement. Yet, anytime the going gets tough or when the game is on the line, the offense always reverts back to iso-ball.

BONUS – 4. Don’t get hurt – It’s the preseason. We are playing for June.

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!