Tag Archives: Tiago Splitter

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 Offseason: Trade Partners and Draft Night

sam presti thunder

The Oklahoma City hold two first round picks in this year’s draft. Their own (No. 29) and Dallas’ first rounder (No. 21) obtained from Houston in the James Harden trade. In a daft and offseason that will be filled with intrigue heading into July 1st, assets are a powerful thing to be in possession of heading into the draft. The Thunder are on the cusp of becoming a championship team, having been in 3 of the last 4 Western Conference Finals and being on the losing end of the 2012 NBA Finals. With most of the core pieces in place, the Thunder may use these assets to get that final piece or two to finally get over the edge.

Assets

Other than the two first round picks in a pretty loaded draft, the Thunder also have the $6.6 million dollar Traded Player Exception (TPE) they obtained from the Kevin Martin sign and trade last season. The TPE can be used to trade for a player without having to add any players in order to make the salaries match. For example, Gerald Henderson of the Charlotte Hornets makes $6 million dollars in salary. If the Thunder wanted to trade for him, they could offer the Hornets their TPE for $6.1 million dollars and a draft pick or the draft rights to one of their Euro-stashes.

kevin martin

In addition to the TPE, the Thunder have 2 players in the final year of their contracts. Kendrick Perkins will be making $9.4 million dollars and Nick Collison will be making $2.2 million dollars next season. In addition, if the Thunder pick up Hasheem Thabeet’s final year, he’ll be making $1.25 million. In the NBA, expiring contracts become valuable because the receiving team can trade away a player (or players) of equal cost, but usually with more time left on their contracts. For example, let’s hypothetically say the Spurs were needing to trade Tiago Splitter to make space for Kawhi Leonard’s upcoming extension. Next season Splitter will be making $9.25 million, but has 2 more years left on his contract after that. The Spurs could hypothetically trade Splitter to the Thunder for Perkins and his expiring contract.

Also, the Thunder have a slew of young players all making under $3 million dollars a season (Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones, Andre Roberson, and Grant Jerrett) and two valuable Euro-stashes in Tibor Pleiss and Alex Abrines. The inclusion of these players in a deal are usually the things that either make or break a deal.

Targets

With Thabo Sefolosha going into free agency and some of the depth of the team either not coming back (Derek Fisher and Caron Butler) or getting older (Collison), the Thunder will probably be in the market for a starting 2-guard and some veteran depth for the bench. So what are some possible targets for the Thunder?

Mike Dunleavy

With Chicago wanting to try their hand in the Carmelo Anthony sweepstakes, the Bulls will have to rid themselves of some salary before even attempting to offer Anthony anything close to a max contract. The Thunder obtained some assets from Miami when they were making their run at LeBron James (and Chris Bosh) in 2010. In that draft, they obtained SG Daequan Cook from Miami and the No. 18 pick for the No. 32 pick. The Bulls will shed some salary by releasing Carlos Boozer via the amnesty clause. But the Bulls will probably need a little more salary shed before they can offer Anthony a max (or very near max) deal. While Dunleavy is a weapon as a 3-point specialist, they probably won’t want to get rid of any of their young (cheap) wings such as Jimmy Butler and Tony Snell. In addition, rumors that Bulls’ Eurostash Nikola Mirotic is ready to join the Bulls may necessitate that the dump even more salary.

dunleavy bulls

The Thunder could target Dunleavy with the TPE, and then try to obtain one of the Bulls’ two first round picks (16 and 19) for the Thunder’s 29th pick. That way, the Bulls shed salary, but still have an asset that allows them to obtain a player in the future, in the form of the TPE. Also, the Bulls trade one of their 1st rounders, but stay in the first round with pick No. 29, albeit at a cheaper price.

Iman Shumpert

At the trade deadline this past season, there were rumors that the Knicks and Thunder were discussing a trade centered around Iman Shumpert and the Thunder’s first round pick. At the time, it was not known whether the Thunder would have a 2nd first round pick. With the season over and the Knicks under new management, it could be a good time to revisit those talks. Depending on how Phil Jackson and coach Derek Fisher view Shumpert could determine whether he is available during the draft.

Arron Afflalo

Probably the most difficult of the trades to do. Difficult, because Afflalo makes $7.6 million, which is too much to fit under the TPE. Unfortunately, the TPE is an all or nothing deal. Either you are able to obtain the player using the TPE or you’re not. TPE’s cannot be used in conjunction with something else in the same transaction. At $7.6 million, the Thunder would have to trade a player or two along with assets such as draft picks or Euro-stashes. So then the question becomes: Do the Thunder view Afflalo as the final piece of the puzzle?

arron afflalo

If you follow the history of the Thunder, you know that they trust in their system and their developmental program. Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones will be entering into their 3rd year (or as its called in Thunder lore “The Year”) and Steven Adams will have an another offseason’s worth of training under his belt. So, no, I don’t think they will trade for Afflalo. Players like Shumpert and Dunleavy will take less assets to obtain, so I can definitely see the team going after someone like that.

In an offseason that may feature LeBron, Carmelo, and Bosh as free agents, Kevin Love as a moving target, and a vaunted draft class, you can expect to see plenty of moving parts around the league. With assets in hand, the Thunder may throw their hat into the fray to see what they can come out of it with.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs Western Conference Finals preview

durant jackson ginobili parker thunder spurs

A running theme for me these playoffs has been fate. It was fate for us to face the Grizzlies in the first round to exorcise the demons from last season. It was fate for us to face the Clippers in the second round, as they have players that are interwoven into Oklahoma’s history. And again, I believe it is fate for the Thunder to meet the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The Spurs are the model by which the Thunder are built. A sort of big brother, if you will. Many of the main components on the Thunder come from the Spurs organization, from the owner to the GM. Over the past three seasons, the Thunder and Spurs have been the best two teams in the conference and this is something of a rubber match.

Unfortunately, Serge Ibaka won’t be participating in this series. A Grade 2 calf strain will cause the power forward to miss the rest of this postseason. While both teams won’t be at full strength, this has never stopped this series from being competitive and fun.

Regular Season Series

Even since the Thunder did a gentlemen’s sweep of the Spurs in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, the Thunder have dominated the Spurs in the regular season. They’ve won 6 of their last 8 meetings, including all four this season.

duncan perkins spurs thunder

 

In the first meeting of the season, the Thunder ended an 11 game winning streak by the Spurs, upending them 94-88, behind a big third quarter (25-15). In that game, Ibaka (sad face) dominated inside with 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 5 blocks. In the second game, the Thunder used a big game from Russell Westbrook (31 points and 8 assists) and a big 2nd quarter (40-29) to defeat the Spurs 113-100. In the 3rd meeting of the season, the Thunder won 111-105 behind monster games from Kevin Durant (33 pts, 7 rebs, 5 asts) and Reggie Jackson (27 pts and 8 asts). The 4th meeting of the year, also known as the annual “if we win this game we might catch the Spurs in the standings” game, saw good performances by the Thunder’s top 4 players, leading to a 106-94 victory.

Series Schedule

  • Game 1 – Monday, 19 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)
  • Game 2 – Wednesday, 21 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)
  • Game 3 – Sunday, 25 May 2014 at 7:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 4 – Tuesday, 27 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)
  • Game 5 – Thursday, 29 May 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)*
  • Game 6 – Saturday, 31 May 2014 at 7:30 PM CST (Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK)*
  • Game 7 – Monday, 02 June 2014 at 8:00 PM CST (AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX)*

* If Necessary

Probable Starting Line-Up

San Antonio Spurs

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

 

  • Bench Depth – Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Marco Belinelli

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Perry Jones
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

 

  • Bench Depth – Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams, Nick Collison, Caron Butler, Derek Fisher

3 Keys to the Series

1. 75/30 – With Ibaka out, the scoring onus continues to fall on Durant, Westbrook, and Jackson. Ibaka is probably the most consistent scorer in the leauge, always scoring between 13-17 points. To make up for that, the big 3 for the Thunder will probably have to average about 75 points per game, while the other players will have to somehow come up with 30 points. Can it be done? Of course. But the margin of error will go down with the loss of Ibaka.

2. Perimeter Defense – The Spurs have 6 players that are shooting at least 38% from 3-point land in the playoffs, with noted Thunder-killer Ginobili pitching in 31% from deep. The Thunder have had measured success in the defending the 3-point line because they have been able to keep Parker in front of them and out of the lane. Unfortunately, when Parker does get into the lane now, Ibaka will not be there to erase any of the Thunder’s perimeter mistakes.

reggie jackson duncan spurs thunder

 

3. Bench – If ever there was a series for Butler, Fisher, and Jackson to consistently hit shots, this would be it. The Spurs bench is leading the remaining playoff teams in scoring at 41.3 points per game. The Thunder bench averages just under 29 points per game in the playoffs. While the Thunder is top heavy, with 2 of the top 5 scorers in the playoffs, they will still need their bench to spell them during games.

X-factors

For the Spurs – Rebounding – With Ibaka out, the Spurs, not known for their rebounding, will have more opportunity to grab offensive rebounds and get more scoring opportunities. On the other end, the Spurs have the opportunity to limit the Thunder to just one shot.

Another X-factor for the Spurs is the health of Parker’s hamstring. He was taken out of Game 5 of the Portland series and has not practiced with the team. Maybe something to watch as he tries to defend Westbrook throughout the series.

Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs -Game Two

For the Thunder – Transition opportunities – The Thunder do a good job of forcing the Spurs into turnovers. That may be a bit muted now with Ibaka out in the series. Without the shot blocker in the paint, the Thunder have less leeway to gamble on steal opportunities.

Prediction

Spurs in 6

I love my team, but the loss of Ibaka may be too difficult to get over in this series. Ibaka puts a lot of pressure on opposing offenses that live on dribble penetration. The Spurs’ guards would have second thoughts of taking the ball inside with Ibaka patrolling the paint. Now, the defense will have to help out more and that may open up the 3-point shooting for the Spurs. Can the Thunder win it? Of course. But they have to play close to perfect basketball on the defensive end for the full 48 minutes. Unfortunately, that has never been their greatest strength.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 74 of 82)

westbrook ginobili thunder spurs

  • When: Thursday, 03 April 2014 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

Here’s a list of things that have happened since the Thunder last took the court:

  • The baseball season started and most teams have played at least 3 games.
  • Chile has been hit by two earthquakes that have measured over 7.5 on the Richter scale.
  • There was another shooting on Fort Hood.
  • HIMYM ended.
  • The Malaysian flight still hasn’t been found.
  • And the Spurs still haven’t lost a game in over a month.

As the Thunder head into the stretch run of the season, I think they sit pretty comfortably where they currently are. Would they like the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference? Of course. But the Thunder/Spurs dynamic is weird because the Spurs give everyone else fits (yes, even Miami), but we’re just about the team that gives the Spurs fits. It’s almost like we unlocked a cheat code when we beat them four straight games in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. Since that series, the Thunder have won 5 of 7 in the last two seasons, to include going 3 of 3 this season.

The Opponent

perkins diaw leonard green duncan thunder spurs

The Spurs currently find themselves at 59-16, atop the entire league in terms of record. They haven’t lost a game since February 21st (19 straight) and have been beating opponents by an average of 16.8 ppg during the streak. The streak has coincided with the Spurs getting healthier as the season has progressed. After losing Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, and Tiago Splitter for parts of the season, the Spurs have regrouped and this streak has been the result. The constants this season, as has been the case every season for the past decade have been Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and head coach Gregg Popovich. The Spurs system is predicated on the defense collapsing on penetrators (Parker or Ginobili) or post players (Duncan) and kicking the ball out to a bevy of shooters who all shoot over 37.5% from 3-point territory. The bench is one of the stronger ones in the league with vets like Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, Ginobili, and Patty Mills all contributing starter minutes.

Probable Starting Line-Ups

San Antonio Spurs

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

Oklahoma City Thunder

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

3 Keys to the Game

1. Preparedness – There’s a reason the Starting Line-ups section of this preview comes with the word Probable in front of it. When it comes to the regular season, you never know what Gregg Popovich is going to do. Mentally, you have to be prepared for anything. Many teams make the mistake of easing off the gas pedal when they see that Pop is resting a couple starters. The Spurs’ bench players are great in spurts and can make a team pay if they don’t bring their A game.

2. Perimeter defense – The Spurs have 7 players that average at least 18.5 minutes per game and shoot at least 34.3% from the 3-point line. As a team, they shoot nearly 40% (39.9) from the arc. To say the 3-point shot is a big part of San Antonio’s offense, would be a gross understatement. It will be interesting to see who starts out on Parker defensively. It’s usually Thabo Sefolosha, but with him out, will Westbrook remain disciplined and stay in front of Parker the entire game?

jackson ginobili thunder spurs

 

3. Reggie Jackson – Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will give you what they usually give you. But the Spurs killer of late has been Jackson. If he can take charge of the game when the bench is in the game, he could be the difference in the game.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs preview (Game 26 of 82)

durant duncan leonard neal spurs thunder

  • When: Saturday, 21 December 2013 at 7:30 PM CST
  • Where: AT&T Center, San Antonio, TX

On any given night in the NBA, the most important focus is on the game itself. There’s rarely any future implications on games, especially in December. Then there are those teams that know, barring injury, that they are good enough to be at or near the top of their conference when the season ends. Those handful of teams know that not only do they have to build a resume of winning basketball, but they also have to beat the teams they are battling for seeding. This is where the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs find themselves.

To most, this is just a game in December. But to these two team, they know this game may have further reaching implications for late May and into June. The Thunder won the first meeting between these two team 94-88. This will be the 2nd of 4 meetings between the two teams. In the first meeting, the Thunder outscored the Spurs by 10 in the 3rd quarter to turn a halftime deficit into a lead heading into the 4th quarter, and never looked back. Kevin Durant and Reggie Jackson led the way, with 24 and 23 points, respectively, while the Spurs had more of a balanced attack with 8 players scoring at least 6 points.

The Opponent

duncan bonner ginobili green spurs

The Spurs come into the game 1/2 a game behind the Thunder with a 21-5 record. As is usually the case with this team, they are at or near the top of the league in points per game, assists per game, and opponent’s points per game. They run one of the better systems in the league and have the right players for that system. The offense is led by PG Tony Parker, who is day to day with a shin injury. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard are dangerous at the wings, as Green is a 3-point specialist and Leonard is great at slashing to the basket. Up front, Tim Duncan may be showing signs of aging, but still requires attention from opponents. The bench is one of the more veteran-laden in the league led by Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Bellineli, and Patty Mills.

Probable Starting Line-ups

San Antonio Spurs

  • PG – Tony Parker
  • SG – Danny Green
  • SF – Marco Belinelli
  • PF – Tim Duncan
  • C – Tiago Splitter

Oklahoma City Thunder

  • PG – Russell Westbrook
  • SG – Thabo Sefolosha
  • SF – Kevin Durant
  • PF – Serge Ibaka
  • C – Kendrick Perkins

3 Keys to the Game

1. Pace – In the last 2 seasons, the Thunder have shown the ability to “out-athleticize” the Spurs. With Westbrook and Jackson pushing the tempo throughout the game, the Spurs have no answers for the speed that the Thunder play with.

jackson adams ginobili thunder spurs

2. Kevin Durant – With Kawhi Leonard out due to a dental procedure, the task of guarding Durant will fall on Belinelli and Ginobili. Durant’s eyes and smile just got bigger.

3. Remember May and June – With one already in the bag, securing another victory over a top Western Conference contender will do wonders for the team moving forward. If the Thunder are able to win the season series versus the top teams in the West, that will only help them in hopefully securing home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 13 of 82)

Perkins duncan diaw leonard spurs thunder

  • When: Wednesday, 27 November 2013 at 7:00 PM CST
  • Where: Chesapeake Energy Arena, Oklahoma City, OK

The San Antonio Spurs have been the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chief rivals for the Western Conference crown for the past 2 seasons and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. After battling it out in a great 6-game series in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, and going toe to toe for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference last season, these two teams seem to be on the same collision course this season. Yes, there are a couple other teams, like the Los Angeles Clippers, Houston Rockets, and Golden State Warrior, that are trying to throw their hats into the fray. But the teams they are trying to catch are still the Spurs and the Thunder.

This is the first of four meeting this season between these two rivals. The team split the season series 2-2 last season, as the Thunder won the last game between them to eventually get the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference heading into the playoffs. The Spurs come into the game having won 11 in a row, while the Thunder have reeled off 4 straight. Each of these games are usually highly competitive affairs that almost always come down to a couple of possessions at the end of the game.

The Opponent

Los Angeles Clippers v San Antonio Spurs - Game One

Every year we keep wondering when the Spurs will finally act their age (old) and every year we are met with defiance from Gregg Popovich’s team. While the Indiana Pacers are running away with the media-driven “best record in the NBA” talk, the Spurs, as usual, find themselves tied with the Pacers (13-1), but with much less fanfare. The Spurs are 10th in the league in scoring at 102.1 points per game, but only give up 90.1 points per game on defense (good for 2nd in the league). They are a lot like the Thunder in that they have a consistent core of players and then have specialists around that core. The Spurs’ attack, which consists of a lot of penetration and 3-point shooting, is spear-headed by point guard Tony Parker. The Spurs have 7 players that average at least 10 minutes per game and shoot over 35.7% from 3-point land. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard man the wings and are 2 of the 7 players who are very adept at shooting the 3. Even though his numbers are down across the board, Tim Duncan still commands a modicum of respect, while Tiago Splitter is grabbing rebounds at a career high clip of 7.2 a game. The Spurs aren’t afraid to use anyone and everyone off of their bench, but the mainstays are Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills. Continue reading San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder preview (Game 13 of 82)

The OKC Thunder and their trade deadline moves

presti-sam

After so much speculation and rumor, this was just about the most anti-climactic trading deadline ever. Other than the Sacramento Kings unloading Thomas Robinson in a “scratch your head” trade to Houston, most teams played it safe and kept their assets. This is probably the first visible sign of how the new CBA will affect how teams view their assets moving forward.  The name of the game is cap space and most teams stuck with what they had instead of taking on salary and risk.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were a microcosm of the trading deadline, itself. The Thunder had one player who was a virtual lock to get traded, in Eric Maynor. The rumors were that teams were interested in Maynor as a solid back-up point guard, but were unwilling to unload a first round pick in exchange for him, which was the asking price from the Thunder. Then on Wednesday, a big rumor sprang up involving the Thunder and the Phoenix Suns. In the proposed trade, Phoenix would send Marcin Gortat and PJ Tucker to the Thunder for Kendrick Perkins, Jeremy Lamb, and a 1st rounder. Though the rumor died down as the day went along, it gained a little bit of momentum late Wednesday when Perkins was a late scratch in the Thunder’s game because of a knee sprain. By Thursday, though, the deal was all but dead. In the end, the Thunder traded Maynor, kept the asset train rolling, and obtained a veteran lock-down defender for virtually nothing.

Deal 1 : Oklahoma City sends Eric Maynor to the Portland Trailblazers for a $2.35 million trade exception and the rights to Georgios Printezis

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One of the greatest things in the world is receiving an extension to a deadline. The Thunder were facing the possibility of losing Maynor for nothing this offseason. While the Thunder didn’t receive the 1st round pick they were initially looking for, they did receive an asset that could help them immensely in the future. The trade exception is actually a little more than Maynor’s actual salary. In essence, the Thunder got a 1 year reprieve on Maynor’s expiring contract, without having a live body taking up a roster spot.

For a player that many fans thought wouldn’t garner anything of value, the Thunder made the best of the situation and got themselves a valuable asset. With possibly 3 draft picks (2 first rounders and a 2nd rounder) in the upcoming draft, look for Oklahoma City to put a package together to get something of high value on draft night.

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As for Georgios Printezis, he’s a 6’9” PF that currently plays for Olympiacos in the Euroleague. His game is similar to that of Luis Scola of the Phoenix Suns, but with a little more range on his jumper. He is best known for hitting the game winning shot in the Euroleague finals against CSKA Moscow. The 28 year old recently signed a 3 year extension with Olympiacos that will probably keep him in Europe for the rest of his career.

Deal 2: Oklahoma City receives Ronnie Brewer from the New York Knicks for a 2014 2nd round pick.

One of Sam Presti’s tenants is that he never deals for a player with just one team in mind. When he dealt for Kendrick Perkins, many people thought he did that with only the Los Angeles Lakers (who had Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) in mind. But the entire Western Conference is full of skilled big men, especially the playoff teams. Teams like Memphis (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph), Utah (Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap), San Antonio (Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter), and the Los Angeles Clippers (DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin) all pose a threat on the inside to the Thunder.

With our recent struggles against the Miami Heat, many Thunder fans were clamoring for a big wing defender like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute of the Milwaukee Bucks or Jared Dudley of the Suns to be that mythical being called a “Lebron stopper”. The truth is, when you play a team that plays inside/out like the Heat or the Spurs, a big wing defender is tantamount when it comes to recovering on 3-point shooters. Players like Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Dwayne Wade, and James are great at dribble penetrating, breaking down a defense, and finding the open guy on the perimeter. While the Thunder already have a great perimeter defender in Thabo Sefolosha, an extra set of long arms and active hands would not hurt.

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The New York Knicks, in an effort to slash some payroll and open up a roster spot, were looking to unload one of their perimeter defenders. The early rumor was that they were trying to trade Iman Shumpert for an offensively minded guard like Orlando’s  J.J. Reddick. Instead, the Knicks made Brewer available and the Thunder swung the deal for him. Brewer is regarded as one of the toughest big wing defenders in the league. He’ll be especially helpful to Kevin Martin and the bench unit as their best wing defender. Also, if necessary, in small ball line-ups, Brewer can be put in at SF or SG to help on the defensive end.

An added bonus is that Brewer’s salary is nearly half of what Maynor’s was ($2.3 million for Maynor compared to $1.2 million for Brewer). That saved money could be used to get a veteran free agent for the final roster spot, similar to what the Thunder did in obtaining Derek Fisher last season.

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Overall, I think these moves made the Thunder slightly better in the present and made them even more dangerous on the draft/trade front in the future. Whether Brewer proves to be of any use is still to be seen. But it’s better to have a player like that on your team than on your opponent’s team. With the more punitive luxury tax looming next season, many teams will be looking to dump some salary in the offseason. With all their assets they’ve accrued, the Thunder should feel pretty good about themselves as we move forward under the guise of this new CBA.

Top NBA Teams and Senior-itis

Ahh, yes. April. That time of year where the memories of Spring Break start to fade, and the doldrums of the final quarter of school starts to set in. This is when high school seniors start to really feel the effects of senior-itis. It’s this same disease that is beginning to affect some of the better teams in the NBA. For those teams that have already sewn up spots to the NBA’s Big Dance, this affliction is making them act like 8 years olds on a road trip. “Are we there yet?”

When it comes to this time of years, teams are in one of 4 modes. They are either completely out of the playoff hunt, fighting (realistically) for a playoff spot, fighting to move up in the playoff standings, or fighting off boredom from having clinched a playoff spot so early in the 2nd half of the season.  Of the 30 teams in the NBA:

  • 11 are completely out of the playoffs: Charlotte, Washington, New Orleans, TTFKATSK (the team formerly known as the Sacramento  Kings), Cleveland, Toronto, Golden State, New Jersey, Detroit, Minnesota, and Portland.
  • 7 are realistically fighting for playoff spots: Utah, Phoenix, Milwaukee(all currently out), Philadelphia, New York, Denver,  and Houston (all currently in).
  • 8 are securely in the playoffs and jockeying for positioning: Dallas, Memphis, LA Clippers, LA Lakers, Orlando, Atlanta, Boston, and Indiana.
  • 4 teams are entrenched in the playoffs and fighting for the top two spots in their respective conferences: Chicago and Miami (East) and Oklahoma City and San Antonio (West).

Of the 4 teams at the top,Chicago is trying to battle through injuries and maintain the best record in the league.San Antonio is blitzing anyone in their way and trying to take the top spot in the West. And apparently, OKC and Miami (to the enjoyment of all the fans not in Chicago or San Antonio) are ready to meet in the Finals, and are acting like it’s a forgone conclusion. But, honestly, for these four teams, is there anything to worry about besides injuries at this point in the season?

These four teams are treading water at this point in the season. Chicago is 4-3 since April started. Miami and OKC are both 5-4. And San Antonio, riding the hot hand, is 6-2. Are these records indicative of any shortcomings that decided to pop up in the final month of the season?

In Chicago’s losses this month, it is quite apparent that they need Derrick Rose to be completely healthy for their playoff run. But, perhaps, more importantly, the health of Rip Hamilton is of great importance to the offense. While Rose is the end all, be all of the offense, Hamilton provides a great release valve if the defense collapses too much on Rose. Getting those two healthy at this point of the season is the best thing that could have happened to the team. It’s almost like they got a trade deadline acquisition in Hamilton, who is just now starting to pay dividends on the team. The greatest positive to come out of the injury plagued seasons of Rose and Hamilton, is that the bench players have had to contribute and have done so in above average fashion.

In Miami’s losses this month, a lot of the problems that surfaced last season are starting to resurface this season. It’s the Big 3 and no one else on that team. The Big 3 moniker has taken a bit of a hit this season with injuries to Dwayne Wade, but the production from the role players that was so evident in the beginning of the season, has begun to decline to the detriment of the team. The size issue that was a problem last season is still a problem for the Heat. They got Ronny Turiaf after the trading deadline, and while it is a slight improvement over Joel Anthony, the move didn’t really register too much on the Richter scale. The big man rotation of Chris Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Anthony, and Turiaf does give the Heat a bit more flexibility as compared to the big man rotation last season (Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Juwan Howard, Bosh, Anthony, and an injury-recovering Haslem). The point guard position has been slumping for the last month and a half. Mario Chalmers has only been shooting 30% from 3-point territory since March 1st, after shooting about 48% from there in the first 2 1/2 months of the season. Norris Cole has hit the rookie wall and is not producing like he was in the beginning of the season, even being relegated to the bench in favor of James Jones, who is just now starting to find his shooting stroke. But, in the end, this team still has Lebron James and Dwayne Wade, and when those two are clicking, this team is still very difficult to defeat.

The Spurs have begun to streak after finally getting all their pieces back from injury. Its no coincidence that their 11 game win streak coincided with Manu Ginobili finally getting his rhythm back after being in and out of the lineup with a myriad of injuries for most of the season. The young players (Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, Danny Green, and James Anderson) all know their roles and play them to a tee. This team is a well-oiled machine that is just now starting to hit its stride. The team still relies heavily on its trio of veterans, but Coach Popovich has made sure to limit their minutes in the regular season. The addition of veterans Stephen Jackson and Boris Diaw will help during their post-season run. This, in my opinion, is probably the most dangerous team heading in the playoffs.

The Thunder’s last 10 games have exhibited the same errors that have been plaguing them the entire season. They are 6-4 in those games, but those errors become very evident in the losses. Stagnant offense always hinders this team in the beginning of games. The team even has a punt play to start nearly every game: giving the ball to Kendrick Perkins in the low post. It very rarely ends in points for the Thunder. In their 4 losses in this 10 game run, the Thunder score an average of 22.3 points in the first quarter. In the 6 wins, that number jumps up to 27. That’s nearly a 5 point difference, which, in an NBA quarter, is a huge difference. Another stat that hinders the team in their losses is the number of turnovers. In that same 10 game span, they are averaging 16.5 turnovers per game in their losses, and 14 per game in their wins. That difference of 2.5 turnovers can, hypothetically, be equated to an extra 7 points for the other team. Which, again, in the NBA, is a game-changing amount.  Defensively, the team still has trouble with the pick and roll and guard penetration.

The good news for all these teams is that there is nothing new that can be labeled a negative. The deficiencies and errors that they have been exhibiting all season, are the same things that are afflicting them now. Even with all these issues, these teams are still the top 4 teams in the league and the leading contenders to win the championship. Are there darkhorses on the fringes that could slip in? Of course. The Los Angeles Lakers are starting to show some diversity in their offense with Andrew Bynum finally taking charge in the absence of Kobe Bryant. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the deepest teams in the league, with 2 All-star caliber post players (Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph) and an All-star caliber wing (Rudy Gay). And the Boston Celtics will give it all they got for what appears to be their swan song together.

The thing about senior-itis is that, eventually, everyone graduates and moves on to the next level. In that next level is where your skills and abilities come out in full force. Some end up in college, some in a job, and some at home on the couch. In this crazy season, anything can happen. But if the playoffs play out anything like the regular season, then these 4 teams should be the cream that rises to the top.