Tag Archives: Summer League

Summer League: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Orlando Magic (Blue Team) Recap

thunder summer league

The Oklahoma City Thunder remained unbeaten in summer league play as they defeated the Orlando Magic Blue Team, 73-65. The Thunder moved to 2-0, behind the combined efforts of Mitch McGary and Semaj Christon. The Magic got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 6-1 lead to begin the game.  The Thunder weathered the initial storm and stayed in attack mode for the rest of the game. With the score 52-51 in favor of OKC with 8 minutes left in the game, the Thunder started to attack the basket at will and outscored the Magic 21-13 in those final 8 minutes.

The Thunder featured three players that were constantly attacking the paint (McGary, Christon, and Levi Randolph). For the Magic, only Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja seemed to be trying out there. Christon thoroughly outplayed Elfrid Payton, who finished fourth in the NBA Rookie of the Year vote last season. Christon consistently got past Payton to get into the teeth of the Magic defense where he displayed his playmaking ability and an array of tear drops and bank shots.

McGary put on a show, going from rebounding the ball on one end of the court to starting a one man fastbreak to the other side of the court. This has always been a part of McGary’s game, and now he appears to be more comfortable in incorporating this into his repertoire more often. McGary also displayed a mid-range jumper, making shots that stretched out past 18 feet. If McGary is able to incorporate that into his game with the Thunder, they may have their hands on another versatile offensive player.

mcgary thunder summer league


For the Magic, Aaron Gordon put on a summer league clinic. He had a double/double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 boards. He displayed a versatile offensive game that featured mid-range jumpers, ball-handling, and play-making. Gordon seemed comfortable handling the ball and being the focal point on offense. For Mario Hezonja, this game was likely a microcosm of what his rookie season will be like. There were flashes of brilliance, like the monstrous dunk in the first half and the ‘in your face’ 3-pointer in the 3rd quarter to bring the Magic within 1. But there were also mistakes and inefficiencies that will be a part of Hezonja’s rookie campaign. Hezonja’s finished with 14 points, but on 6-16 shooting from the field (2-9 from the 3-point line). One of his best comparisons coming in was JR Smith, and this performance was very Smith-esque.

Elfrid Payton, on the other hand, had a game to forget. He scored just 4 points on 1-3 shooting, while notching 4 assists and 4 turnovers. His shot, which was his biggest weakness coming into last season, seems to have shown no improvement at all. This may be something to watch with his young Orlando team in the next 2 to 3 seasons.

The Thunder will play the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, while the Orlando Magic Blue team will play the Memphis Grizzlies.


Ten Reasons why the Thunder are Winning this Offseason

durant ibaka jackson westbrook thunder

I have to hand it to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Not only were they blessed with the Number 1 pick in a loaded draft, but they were also lucky enough to land the Number 1 player in the NBA during free agency. Getting Andrew Wiggins and LeBron James in the same offseason is enough to give Cleveland the offseason championship, outright.

Despite what many Thunder fans may lead you to believe, the Thunder are having themselves a great summer. Many fans will focus on the fact the Thunder missed out on Pau Gasol, let a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception expire, and used a first round pick on someone named Josh Huestis. But, quietly, the Thunder are putting together a quality championship contender that may be more dangerous than last season’s team. Here are 10 reasons why the Thunder are winning this offseason.

10. The acquisition of Sebastian Telfair

There are a couple characteristics a team wants from a veteran 3rd string point guard. First of all, a team would like them to be cheap. Like, vet minimum cheap. Secondly, a team wants them to come in knowing that they are not competing for a starting job. The job application says “3rd string point guard” for a reason. And thirdly, a journeyman with a story would be a great addition for the youngsters on the roster.

Telfair: Check, Check, Check

After spending a season in the Chinese Basketball Association, Telfair turned down a far more lucrative extension to get back into the NBA. The deal is for the vet minimum and is currently non-guaranteed. That means it is basically a near risk free transaction for the Thunder. With that said, Telfair is still a serviceable player. He never quite reached the potential that was bestowed upon him for being a NY point guard legend out of high school and for being Stephon Marbury’s younger cousin, but he has put together a quality decade long NBA career.

Third string point guards usually only play in blowouts and in cases of injury. But with Reggie Jackson possibly starting, Telfair is still young enough (29) and skilled enough to be used as the primary back up point guard also. For that reason alone, Telfair is probably the perfect choice for 3rd string point guard.

9. Jeremy Lamb seemed more willing to absorb contact

Many people will focus on Lamb’s 3-point shooting (or lack thereof) during Summer League. He shot 4-23 (17.4%) from downtown. Not necessarily a number you want to see from someone you consider to be one of the few perimeter threats on the team. Take away the 3-point shot attempts, and Lamb shot a more respectable 12-27 (44.4%) from the field.

lamb thunder summer league

But the number I want to focus on is 20. That is the number of free throw attempts Lamb shot in the 3 games he played, good for a 6.7 per game average. One of the knocks on Lamb last season was the he shied away from contact too much and settled for too many jumpers. He only averaged 0.8 free throw attempts per game last season. Increase that to 3 FTAs per game, and his points per game average should increase also.

For comparison, let’s look at James Harden’s 2010 summer league stats: He shot a dismal 1-14 from 3-point territory, but averaged 12 free throw attempts per game for the 4 games that he played. When it comes to summer league, we never know what the organization says to the player going into summer league play. Maybe the coaches told Lamb to assert himself offensively, but also to work on driving into the lane and drawing contact. More than anything, we may be seeing the maturation of Lamb’s game.

8. Andre Roberson looked more comfortable offensively

Roberson was already working on his resume as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league last season. Anytime he was in the game, he caused havoc with his athleticism and length. But his offense (or lack thereof) was a liability and prevented him from staying in games for long stretches of time.

The Thunder envision Roberson as a Thabo Sefolosha replacement and even tried him out for 16 starts when Sefolosha injured his calf after the All Star break. The dream scenario would be for Roberson to develop a consistent 3-point shot, especially from the corners, while also providing All-NBA-type defense from the perimeter.

Roberson did shoot 33.3% from 3-point territory in Summer League, but only on 6 attempts. He did average 9.5 points per game in 4 SL games on a variety of drives and put-backs. The most important thing was that he seemed confident with the ball in his hands. He’ll probably never be a play maker, but if he’s able to confidently drive to the basket, that can provide some semblance of an offense until he gets his shot figured out.

The only negative was his inconsistent free throw shooting. The good news is that he attempted 25 free throws in 4 games (6.3 a game). The bad news is that he only made 8 of those free throw attempts. That is a putrid 32% from the free throw line. For someone who shot 70% from the line in the regular season, here’s hoping that was just an anomaly.

7. Perry Jones was aggressive and attacking

The biggest knock on Jones coming into the 2012 NBA draft was his motor. His athletic tools made him better than most of his counterparts in high school and college, but he also had a tendency to disappear in games and not necessarily push the issue on offense. That, and a medical report on his knees (we’ll get to that later), scared teams from picking him in the first round until the Thunder took him at 28.

Jones hasn’t really done much in his 2 year career to alleviate those fears from draft day. He’s an athletic specimen, but seems content with just being there. Instead of attacking, he chooses to float around the perimeter and occasionally puts up shots. Last season, he showed the makings of a consistent 3-point shot and also showed the makings of a good defensive player. The job he did on LeBron James in January showed the type of potential Jones had.

In Summer League, Jones finally showed what he could do when he was aggressive and looking for his shot. He drove to the basket and shot the 3-point shot well (9-19). He kept on attacking even after missing a couple of shots. If he can translate into the regular season, the Thunder may have found themselves another dynamic weapon on the team.

Unfortunately, Jones had to have arthroscopic knee surgery after Summer League. He should be fine for training camp, but it is a bummer that he couldn’t continue to work on his game and improve upon his confidence in this offseason.

6. Steven Adams was a man among boys

Steven Adams was strong and played physical. Plus, he busted out a little jump hook. Nothing really different than what we saw in the regular season. Good enough for me.

5. Mitch McGary was a revelation

I know you are supposed to take Summer League performances with a grain of salt. But, oh man, was that grain tasty. I had no idea what to expect of McGary coming into Summer League. He was coming off back surgery and hadn’t played in an organized setting in over half a year. Hell, I didn’t even know whether he was going to suit up or not.

mcgary summer league thunder

But, play he did. And very well, at that. When names like Kevin Love and Bill Laimbeer are thrown around as comparisons, no matter how hyperbolic they may be, you know you have yourself a pretty good player. A more fitting comparison would be a more offensively apt Nick Collison. McGary averaged 14.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in 4 games. He shot 50% from the field and showed range out to 15-17 feet, even attempting (and missing) two 3-point attempts.

His greatest quality might be his hustle. It appears that we’ve once again gotten a player that isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, much like we got from Steven Adams last season. He shows great role player potential and appears to be ready to contribute this season.

4. The signing of Anthony Morrow

The goal all along was to sign a shooter. That much was certain when the Thunder drafted another big man and another perimeter oriented defender. Yes, when presented with the opportunity, the Thunder flirted (actually, lusted) with the idea of signing Pau Gasol. But that would’ve been a luxurious want. A shooter was always the necessary need.

The Thunder, a team predicated on the greatness of two perimeter oriented, dribble drive players, had no one on the team that shot over 40% from 3-point territory. Without a floor spacer, teams packed the paint and dared the team to beat them from the perimeter. Durant and Westbrook still registered great regular seasons, but their stats, especially Durant’s, suffered a bit during the playoffs.

Anthony Morrow

Once the flirtation of Gasol ended with him signing with Chicago, their attention was immediately turned to finding a shooter. The only available options for the Thunder were Mike Miller and Anthony Morrow. Once James signed with Cleveland, Miller going to the Cavs became an inevitability. The Thunder immediately set their sights on Morrow and signed him to a 3 year deal worth $10 million dollars. Not only is Morrow is a top 4 three point shooter in the league, but he was also signed for below market value for a top 10 shooter. The top 10 3-point shooters from last season will make an average of $4.77 million dollars next season.

3. The Thunder still have money under the tax line

Even with 16 contracts on file, the Thunder are still around $500K under the luxury tax line. Hasheem Thabeet, Sebastian Telfair, and Grant Jerrett all have non-guaranteed contracts. With one of those three likely on the chopping block, the Thunder are actually around $1.5 million under the tax line. Where this will help the Thunder is at the trade deadline. With two expiring contracts in Kendrick Perkins and Nick Collison, the Thunder will be able to be a player at the deadline with the ability to absorb an extra $1.5 million in salary.

2. Most contending teams got worse.

Most of the teams that contended last season have gotten worse, some significantly.

  • Miami Heat – Lost LeBron James. ‘Nuff said.
  • Houston Rockets – Lost Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, and Omer Asik. Signed Trevor Ariza, but lost a ton of depth. Plus, there are some rumblings that the two superstars on the team aren’t very well liked in the locker room.
  • San Antonio Spurs – Basically have the same squad, but they are a year older and recovering from surgery-necessitating injuries (Patty Mills and Manu Ginobili)
  • Brooklyn Nets – Lost Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston and still feature the oft-injured Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, and Brook Lopez.
  • Golden State Warriors – May have improved a bit with the Livingston signing, but may be embroiled for much of the season in the Kevin Love sweepstakes.

1. The Thunder still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Serge Ibaka and Reggie Jackson)

With the Miami Heat losing LeBron James, it’s always good to remember the Thunder still have a young, and still improving quartet that features the current MVP, possibly the top point guard in the league, the best two way PF in the league, and a dynamic 6th man/combo guard.


Thunder sign Grant Jerrett for rest of the season

adams roberson jerrett thunder

Rewind back to last June when the Thunder had 3 of the first 32 picks of the 2013 NBA Draft. I thought there was no way that the Thunder would draft 3 players that would suit up for the Thunder this season. And I was right. Of the three players picked, only Steven Adams and Andre Roberson are on the Thunder roster. Alex Abrines, selected with the 2nd pick in the 2nd round, was kept in Europe for more development. But, apparently, I was also wrong. The Thunder, in addition to the 3 players mentioned above, also bought the rights to the No. 40 pick from the Portland Trailblazers. That pick turned out to be a stretch 4 from Arizona named Grant Jerrett. Jerrett’s game has been compared to Channing Frye’s of the Phoenix Suns.

Jerrett played on the Thunder’s summer league, and showed his potential. He scored in a variety of ways and was one of the Thunder’s top players on the team. But, he also showed that he had a lot of work to do in terms of defense and consistency. With a loaded roster, the Thunder pulled off a shrewd move and allowed Jerrett’s rights to expire when they didn’t sign him to a training camp roster. Instead of letting him go for nothing, the team worked out a deal where their minor league affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, would obtain the 1st pick in the D-League draft and would choose Jerrett. That way, Jerrett’s right would stay within the Thunder organization as long as they didn’t sign him to a contract during the D-League regular season.

grant jerrett thunder 66ers

With the 66ers season done, the Thunder signed Grant Jerrett for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. It took nearly the entire season, but the Thunder somehow ended up with three rookies on their roster. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed and it is unknown if the deal holds any future contractual obligations.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Lessons from Summer School

okc summer league champs

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

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

Oklahoma City Thunder: Ballin’ on a budget


Growing up, there were two things I was heavily into other than girls: hip-hop and basketball. I grew up in a time when hip-hop was having an internal war within itself. What started off as a rebellious outlet of expression for the poor and struggling turned into an over-expression of opulence and decadence. Hip-hop went from being mostly underground in the 80’s to completely mainstream in the 90’s. That entrance into mainstream pop culture led to many rappers getting rich quick. But as quickly as the money came, it left, leaving many rappers bankrupt and back to where they started.

During this same time period, many of my friends and I were just starting to work. And work means money management, right? Considering I have no idea where my teenage money went, I would say I did a poor job of managing my money. But it’s funny what sticks with you from your teenage years. One of my real good friends, Ryan Rivera, came up with a phrase that still resonates to this day, not only with myself, but also with my team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The phrase was, “Ballin’ on a budget”.

Basically, it’s finding ways to live good without destroying your bank account or credit score. It’s not easy and it takes a lot of work. A person wanting to ball on a budget has to have patience and self control. The urge to “keep up with the Joneses” can completely destroy any plan to stay within a budget. Many people in the world live outside of their means in order to put on the face of success. Nice shiny things equates to success in the minds of many. Ballin’ on a budget also takes a lot of work. You can either go to Dillards and pay $80 for a Gucci shirt, or you can bargain hunt at Ross and pay $14.99 for the same or similar looking shirt. The work comes in looking for the right bargain. You almost have to become a hustler to succeed in this venture. Bargain deals may not be sexy, but they’ll get the job done with less overhead.


It’s the position where the Thunder find themselves at this juncture. With two trips to the Western Conference Finals, one trip to the NBA Finals, and one number 1 seeding in the Western Conference within the last 3 seasons, this team is definitely ballin’. But they’ve been doing it on a budget to this point. Thunder GM Sam Presti has built a championship contending team through great drafting, salary wheelings and dealings, and difficult decision making.

The current collective bargaining agreement has made things a bit difficult for small market teams that are toeing the line between being tax payers and non-tax payers. What was intended to be a punitive rule to defend against overspending by big market teams, has turned into another instance of “the more things change, the more they remain the same”. The Brooklyn Nets have gone into this offseason acting like a cancer patient that just won the lottery screaming YOLO! at everyone he sees. The Nets are projected to pay upwards of $80 million dollars in luxury tax this season, but they have an owner who seems hellbent on winning a title, no matter the cost. The Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Miami Heat have also been consistent payers of the luxury tax for the past 3 seasons.


This brings up the difficult question: How are small market teams supposed to compete? In a recent interview with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird made no qualms about the state of his team and how it compares to the Oklahoma City Thunder,

“Our owners went out and have done everything they could this year so we could be up close to the tax. We just can’t fight the tax. It’s always going to be a disadvantage for us. I feel bad for Oklahoma. They had a great team and they had to make a trade (James Harden trade). They were right there. But we’re going to have to do the same in the future. We’re always fighting an uphill battle with revenues. But that’s part of who we are. And we do the best we can with what we have.”

The key to competing in sports as a small market is to remain patient and look for the right deals. The goal of a big market team is to win at any cost. But the goal of a small market team is to remain consistently sustainable. Teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Pacers, and Thunder thrive on being able to compete year in and year out. I believe that’s part of the reason why the Spurs, who have won 4 championships since 1999, have never been able to repeat. They’ve remained consistently great, but have never been able to consistently spend like the bigger market teams to continuously improve their team on a yearly basis with no regard for payroll. There comes a point every couple of seasons where the Spurs have to retool with younger, less expensive players. Eventually those younger players gain the necessary experience to perform in pressure filled moment, but the team suffers in those “learning seasons”.

a thunder

That’s what I call last season for the Thunder. It was a learning season. After the Harden trade, the team didn’t really hit a consistent rhythm until the end of the season. And with all that, they still ended up with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and were probably a Russell Westbrook knee injury away from making it to a 3rd consecutive Western Conference Final. Next season will probably be another learning season, as the bench lost its leading scorer when Kevin Martin signed with the Minnesota Timberwolves. With many fans clamoring for the Thunder to make a move to replace the scoring lost by Martin’s departure, the team has remained steadfast in trusting the young players they already have. Reggie Jackson showed last year in the playoffs what he is capable of after replacing Westbrook when he went down with his injury. Jeremy Lamb has performed well in Summer League and is expected to be a key contributor off the bench next season. And centers Steven Adams and Daniel Orton have performed surprisingly well in Summer League as rim protectors and, dare I say, offensive threats.

To many, this may seem like a cheap move by the owners of the team. With how good the team looked at the end of the regular season, it seemed like they were a resigned Martin and another bench scorer away from being an even stronger contender than they were when they made it to the Finals. With Martin’s bird rights in hand and the full MLE at their disposal, many thought the Thunder were finally going to jump into the deep end of the pool and join the other tax-paying teams. Instead, they allowed Martin to go to Minnesota in a sign and trade (that netted the Thunder a $6.6 million dollar traded player exception) and haven’t touched any of their available pre-tax cap space, which comes out to about $1.28 million dollars. That’s at least enough to sign someone to the veteran minimum. While the pool of free agents has gotten significantly smaller since July1st, there are still viable players available for the taking. So the question becomes: What are the Thunder waiting for?


That is where the virtue of patience comes into play. For one thing, it’s only July. Many fans are panicking because of the moves made by other organizations, especially within the Western Conference. The Los Angeles Clippers resigned Chris Paul, traded for Jared Dudley and JJ Reddick, and hired a much better coach in Doc Rivers. The new “it” team, the Houston Rockets won the Dwight Howard sweepstake and landed a couple other veteran free agents. But, championships aren’t won in July; they are won in June. A team can stack a roster full of great players in July that may amount to nothing more than a first round exit the next April. Secondly, the organization has never said that they won’t pay the tax. They know that to be competitive, you may have to eventually pay the tax. But if you don’t have to pay the tax yet, why pay it? Along with more punitive luxury tax restrictions, the new CBA also instituted a repeater tax for teams that have paid the luxury tax for 3 consecutive seasons. With the escalating salaries of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka, the longer you can hold off on being a tax-payer, the more financially competitive you’ll be. And lastly, you still have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka. As long as those three guys are healthy, I think the Thunder have a fighter’s chance in any game.

The Thunder aren’t cheap. They’re just smart about how they manage their money. They already have a large percentage of the cap space allotted to the 3 players they deem the most important to the franchise. The reason the Thunder are perceived as cheap, though, is because they never had to “buy” any of those players in free agency. They drafted and developed them, and luckily, they turned out to be superstars. But sometimes, difficult decisions need to be made in order to maintain the financial flexibility that is tantamount to small market team success. That’s what happened in the Harden trade. The Thunder had 4 great players, but couldn’t pay 4 near max to max contracts. Ibaka helped the team by taking what is perceived to be a less than market value contract. Hoping that Harden would do the same, the Thunder drew a line in the sand, and said “here’s our final offer, take it or leave it”. When Harden rejected the offer, the team made the decision to move Harden to Houston. The situation was never a choice between Ibaka or Harden. But to make the numbers work, the team needed Harden to leave some money on the table, and for a young guy heading into his first foray into free agency, he just couldn’t do that.

Serge Ibaka, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant

Being a money conscious team is not sexy at all. Following a team that is run on the principles of patience and bargain shopping is not for the faint of heart. You watch other teams stack their teams with what you perceive to be good to great players, while you’re constantly having to hope that your players continue to improve in the offseason and that the veteran minimum center you signed actually can play the game of basketball. It’s a tough life, I know. But I wonder how Miami Marlins’ fans really feel about their two championships. The Marlins organization went all in for two runs at a title, and then completely dismantled the team after each title. While the feeling of winning a championship can never be replaced, I wonder what the feeling of watching your championship team be completely dismantled the following offseason feels like. Luckily, I don’t think I’ll ever have to know what that feels like.

What offseason? Basketball Never Stops!

As a fan of the game, I’ll watch any basketball game you have on the television, especially playoff games. But there’s a slight disconnect when your team is not involved. It’s not as emotionally taxing. With that said, I’ve never enjoyed basketball as a connected fan all the way into mid-June. Though I’m disappointed that we lost in the Finals, its fun to look at the calendar and know that in 3 months, training camps should begin to open up. I’ve forgotten what it feels like for the season to be over in mid-April. But this all leads us to the offseason. Time to rest and recover from the grind of the season. Oh, I forgot we have the draft coming up. And then we have Summer League. And all the offseason moves and transactions. All the while, we have the national team gearing up to defend its gold medal in this summer’s Olympics. What the hell does the off in offseason mean?

There’s a saying that the NBA season is a marathon, not a sprint. The things that happen after the All Star break, such as trades and the signing of recently released players, can have a big impact on the rest of the season and the postseason. The Thunder have been the beneficiary of both of these player transaction moves in the past two season. Two seasons ago, at the trading deadline, the Thunder traded Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic to the Boston Celtics for starting center Kendrick Perkins and ultimate cheerleader Nate Robinson. Then, last season, they signed point guard Derek Fisher off waivers after he was released from the Houston Rockets. Due to the team’s stability, the Thunder usually remain pretty quiet during the offseason, though.

2012 NBA Draft

This offseason, though, the moves have been quiet, but plentiful. Heading into the draft, the Thunder’s only draft pick was the 28th pick in the first round. When you are picking this late in the draft, this usually means your team already has the necessary players to succeed. For a team as set as the Thunder, there wasn’t an immediate need that any player chosen this late was going to provide. One of the biggest needs the Thunder had was a big that was agile enough to defend other athletic bigs while being able to score from the outside and inside. Players with this skill set don’t usually last this long in the draft. The thinking was that the team would draft either an athletic wing or an overseas player that would be stashed in Europe for a couple of seasons.

Sometimes, though, the stars and planets align, and a player you were needing all along falls into your lap. There was always concern about Perry Jones III’s work ethic. The word ‘motor’ usually came up when his draft status was discussed. But, no one could deny the potential he had. The description of a 6’11” athletic forward that could score from outside and inside is the type of player that usually has teams salivating for his services. But a day before the draft, they were reports that many teams were concerned with the condition of his knees. After the recent knee concerns of Greg Oden and Blake Griffin proved to be true, not many teams were willing to spend a lottery pick on a player whose work ethic AND knees were called into question. Surprisingly though, 11 other teams outside of the lottery chose to pass on Jones III also. So when the Thunder’s name came up, Thunder general manager Sam Presti never hesitated, and went with the best player available, which coincidentally also filled a need. The best thing about it, though, is that it comes at an extremely cheap price.

Orlando Summer League

After the draft, the focus turned to the Orlando Summer League, where the Thunder were participating with 7 other NBA teams. As I wrote previously, the Summer League is full of good young players, Fringers, and Dreamers. Some of the players are already guaranteed a spot on an NBA roster and just want to mix in some team-oriented scrimmages and practices during the offseason. Most of the players though, are clawing and scratching for an opportunity to get onto an NBA roster. The Thunder’s roster consisted of 4 guys that, barring a trade, will be on the Thunder’s opening day roster (Perry Jones III, Reggie Jackson, Lazar Hayward, and Cole Aldrich). The rest of the players were probably not going to make it onto the Thunder’s roster, but could make an impression on another team depending on how they played.

The Thunder finished the Orlando Summer League 3-2. Reggie Jackson played like the most seasoned guy on the team controlling the tempo of the offense and attacking the basket at will. He even gave 2012 NBA Dunk champ Jeremy Evans a taste of his own medicine. Lazar Hayward showed why he’ll be at the end of an NBA bench for the next couple of years. He does a lot of things good, but nothing great. Cole Aldrich’s play was mediocre, at best. For a player that is looking to step up and be the back up center, his lack of improvement was a bit alarming. But, I would ask people to please step off the ledge when it comes to Aldrich’s development. Summer league games are made for wing players. They are glorified street games with refs and NBA assistant coaches on the sidelines. Aldrich will be asked to defend the paint, set picks, and put up a couple hook shots in the regular season. He will be fine. Perry Jones III suffered a sprained ankle in the 2nd half of the 2nd game, but not before impressing with his array of inside/outside skills. He will be in the Thunder’s regular rotation, if not in the 2nd half of this season, then definitely in the 2013-14 season. Other notables were forward Latavious Williams, who needs to be on an NBA roster somewhere, and Garrett Temple, whose play was almost veteran-like.

Off-season Moves

The Thunder has never been a big player in free-agency in their time in Oklahoma City. But in reality, they’ve never had to be a big player. Their main focus has always been on player development. When you have players like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Serge Ibaka, that’s what you put most of your focus on. That came to fruition in the last two seasons with consecutive trips to the Western Conference Finals and a trip to the NBA Finals this past season. The Thunder had 3 players that were coming up on free agency and all of them were veterans. Nazr Mohammed, Derek Fisher, and Royal Ivey could have all been signed to cheap veteran deals. But due to their years of employment in the league, even their minimum salaries would have been upwards of $1.5 million. The Thunder chose instead to let those vets walk, and focus on cheaper, younger alternatives. With Perry Jones III signing his rookie contract, that left 2 more spots on the roster.

The Thunder signed much maligned center Hasheem Thabeet to a 2-year veteran minimum contract. Now the difference between Thabeet’s veteran minimum deal and any of the other 3 Thunder players that were up for an extension, is that Thabeet has only been in the league for 3 seasons. For the final roster spot, the Thunder signed undrafted free agent Hollis Thompson from Georgetown to a 3 year contract. Thompson is a sharp-shooter in the Thunder mold (tall and long) that could be a cheap replacement for Daequan Cook in upcoming seasons.

The two signings sent Thunder nation into a tizzy, and not for good reasons. Most were questioning the “lackluster” moves by the team, while the team that beat us in the Finals picked up former All-Stars Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, and one of our biggest threats in the West, the Lakers, picked up a former 2-time MVP (Steve Nash) in their biggest position of weakness (point guard) without giving up a single player. The thinking was that the curse of the small market team was starting to take hold of the Thunder. That the ideology that small market teams can’t attract free agents and can’t spend money like the big boys was starting to rear its ugly head.

I, for one, completely disagree with that thinking. While it would be nice to sign former All-Stars ad-nauseam every offseason, the reality is that that would be bad business in this new NBA. The goal is to try and keep cost down while maintaining a competitive team. If your team does spend into the luxury tax territory, it better be winning. The Thunder have the right components in place to continue winning. The moves they made this offseason were made to keep those components in place. When you start talking about the luxury tax, every dollar counts. And if the Thunder are truly looking to keep both James Harden and Serge Ibaka on the same team as Durant and Westbrook, they are going to have to continue making these cost effective moves. Both Harden and Ibaka will demand deals that get them at least $10+ million per season. And, rightfully so. We’ll be in the luxury tax no matter what, if we keep these 4 players. The payments get more feasible, though, if you are competing for and winning championships.

Another thing that these signings do is maintain the flexibility that Presti loves. These signings not only have low cost-high reward potential, but they are also short term deals. That way, the team isn’t saddled with long-term contracts if the player, in question, either gets injured or doesn’t produce. Also, if someone better comes along, you could cut your losses with the player and attempt to obtain the better option. Cap flexibility is a commodity in the NBA, and Presti is one of the best at maintaining it.

Team USA

As if this offseason hasn’t been crazy enough, you have Team USA preparing for the Olympics in London. Not only that, but the Thunder has 4 representatives in the Olympics (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden for Team USA, and Serge Ibaka for Spain). Durant and Westbrook were near locks to make the team, but Harden was actually a surprise addition after players like Dwayne Wade and Derrick Rose bowed out because of injury. The team torched the Dominican Republic and eeked out a victory against a tough Brazil squad in the US leg of pre-tournament games. After this, it’s across the pond for a couple friendlies and then the real thing. Durant has a possibility of leading the team in scoring, while Westbrook will be the defensive pitbull/offensive sparkplug off the bench. Harden will probably play a role similar to what he does with the Thunder, but to a smaller degree.

As a fan of the game, I love this. Before NBA-TV, the offseason was usually a time to hear about a trade or two, and wait for football season to start. So, even though, this has been a whirlwind offseason, I still appreciate it. When this offseason gets too crazy, I always hark back to the 2011 offseason. Oh, you don’t remember the 2011 offseason? Oh, thats right, because there wasn’t an offseason that year.

Summer League: Hope Springs Eternal

One of my favorite things about the offseason is Summer League. Everything is so optimistic during this time of year. That late 2nd rounder you got from another team for cash considerations? Of course he’s going to become a 3-time All Star for you. The combo guard you took with the 27th pick? You’d be crazy not to think he’s isn’t going to average 20 ppg this upcoming season. The 2nd year player who sat at the end of the bench all of his rookie season, and was the team’s honorary “human victory cigar”? Yep, he’s going to make the leap. Everything about Summer League is based on potential and hope.

In reality though, 80% of the players in Summer League will never get a whiff of the NBA. If you follow your team as voraciously as I do, you’ll learn the players’ names and then forget them just as quickly when Summer League ends. The only ones that stick in my mind are the ones that actually make the team, and the ones that end up with the Thunder’s D-League team, the Tulsa 66ers. And it truly is a shame, because for 99% of us fans, these players are just advancing to a point in their basketball careers that we could only dream of advancing to. There really are some good basketball players in Summer League, but like any other situation in life, if they are not cultivated in the right system, they go to waste. 

That’s why I love cheering for the Thunder during Summer League. This is a team that takes pride in cultivating players and rewarding them for their hard work and dedication. In 2011, Robert Vaden, our 2009 2nd round pick, was signed to play the final week of the season and was added to the playoff roster for the Thunder. Did he ever play an actual game for the Thunder? No, but he got to practice with the team, sit on the bench in a suit,  and cash a couple paychecks signed by Clayton Bennett and David Stern. Last season, our 2nd round pick from 2010, a little known forward from Florida State named Ryan Reid was signed at the beginning of the season. He actually played in a couple games and averaged 1.6 points. 

This year’s squad features a guy the team is grooming to become the back-up center (Cole Aldrich), a guy they are grooming to possibly become the back-up point guard one day (Reggie Jackson), a guy who could be an asset if injuries ravage the team (Lazar Hayward), and a rookie they are grooming to possibly become a rotational big someday (Perry Jones III). These players are locks to be on the opening day roster, barring any trades. They are in town to either sharpen their skills or test new skills. 

The other guys, the ones I like to call the Fringers, are usually just on the outside looking in. Back on the Thunder squad is Ryan Reid, trying to make it back to the NBA after being cut in the middle of last season to make room for seasoned veteran Derek Fisher. Another guy battling for a roster spot is Latavious Williams. This athletic forward made a bit of history in 2009, becoming the first high schooler to be drafted straight out of high school into the NBA Developmental League. The next season, when he became eligible to be drafted into the NBA, he was selected by the Miami Heat in the 2nd round, and was immediately traded to the Thunder. After playing one more season in the D-League, Williams signed to play for FIATC Joventud in Spain last season, winning Most Spectacular Player of the ACB League. Another player trying to get back into the league is Morris Almond, who is something of an NBDL superstar, but has never quite put it all together in the NBA. Basically, 3 guys possibly battling for one roster spot. 

Then, there are the Dreamers. The guys we should all be cheering for, because they remind us of our short lived hoop dreams. Kent Bazemore, Dwight Buycks, Marquez Haynes, John Holland, James Mays, Gary McGhee, and Garrett Temple. Remember those names, because you probably won’t hear of them ever again. Is there a chance some of them will make it as end of the bench guys in the league? Sure. And they’ll probably have a great story to tell about their journey to the NBA. But for the most parts, these guys will fade into overseas and D-League rosters. 

Such is the life of most professional basketball players. Always remember, that professional doesn’t just mean NBA. The players that play in the Philippines for pay are also considered professionals. As are the ones that play in Iran. And the ones in Mexico. The road in the journey to do something you love isn’t always paved in gold and silver. And it very rarely is a straight line. So I commend and salute the Fringers and the Dreamers for doing what they love, even if the road is full of potholes and roadblocks. So keep on hooping, gentlemen, because if many of us were given that opportunity, we’d be doing the same thing.