Category Archives: Oklahoma City Thunder

Kevin Durant: Oklahoma Hero or Villain?

Kevin Durant was the face of the franchise. He was the face of Oklahoma City and, by extension, the state of Oklahoma. This was his team. These were his guys. This was his time to bring a title to OKC. The cards were dealt and he was sitting in the drivers seat primed for a legit title run in 2017. Even Al Horford was ready to come join the Thunder train. All KD had to do was say "yes."

But he didn't. He took the coward's way out. Let's not drag this out until the end, ok? Kevin Durant is an Oklahoma villain for now and for all time. ALL. TIME.

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"How is this any different than LeBron taking his talents to South Beach?" you say. Well, I didn't like that move either, but I at least understood it. I understood that the next best player on that Cavs team was Mo Williams. I understood that LeBron had taken that Cavs team as far as he could take them. I understood that LeBron wanted to go build something new in Miami with Wade and Bosh. Win a few rings then come back. Again, I didn't like it, but I could understand it.

This move by Kevin Durant I cannot understand. He had it all in Oklahoma City. He had what most would agree as another top five player already on the roster. He had a brand new coach brought in just for him who took them to within a game of the NBA finals. He had a general manager who was not content to sit on that very same lineup, but went out and finally got that reliable shooting guard they had so desperately been needing. Presti was yet still not content and went out recruiting Al Horford trying to put together a team that could have competed for NBA titles for years to come. All built around Kevin Durant and all he had to do was say yes.

Which is what makes this decision even more confusing to me. Saying yes, even if just for a one year deal, was the easy answer. No one would've killed him over it and he was already established and beloved in OKC. They had a stellar roster and a legit shot at an immediate NBA title. After all, these were his running mates. This was the franchise he'd helped build from the ground up. Golden State was the new hated rivals who just came between you and an NBA title. Why on earth would you want to run and jump into their arms? That's not what a superstar does. That's not what a true competitor does. A real competitor would have been furious at how the season ended and vowed to come back even stronger next season.

Make no mistake, this is not Kevin Durant running to California to form a brand new powerhouse. This is Kevin Durant running to California to join the very team who just set the all time regular season wins record. This is not Kevin Durant's team. He did not build this and they do not need him to win. This is the move of an end of the bench role player looking to jump on the bandwagon to try and get an easy ring. This is not the fierce competitor we were lead to believe. This is giving up on your team and city. This is throwing in the towel right on the threshold of something great. This is not a man deserving of our praise.

Kevin Durant took the easy way out. There were realistically only four teams with a legitimate shot an immediate NBA title. Durant leaving the Thunder shrunk that number down to three. And so what if he does go win a title or two out west? He didn't do it with his guys. He didn't even do it as the top dog on his own "team." What happened to that "I'm tired of being second" mantra? Last time I checked, Steph Curry was the two time reigning league MVP. Seems like you're good with being the second best player on your own team now.

Is this what the NBA has come to? Sacrifice everything you've built and sworn as your home just for a tiny bump in odds of winning a ring? If so, then it is shameful and Kevin Durant deserves every bit of backlash that has come his way. He knew this would not be a popular decision, yet he was still not deterred. The chance at an easy NBA title was too appealing. I mean, who would want to go into the offseason and work extra hard to come back and conquer your western conference foe when you could simply just go join them? That is the path of least resistance and that is why I no longer respect Kevin Durant.

Enjoy your time out in California, KD. You were on the verge of all time greatness then you went and blew it. Have fun being second.

Injury Train Rolls Through OKC

Whatever is in the water in Oklahoma City needs to be purified. Over the summer and into training camp, the injury train has slammed the Thunder. Most notably, Kevin Durant. KD injured, and ultimately, broke a bone in his right foot. Since then, Durant has undergone surgery and is slated to miss approximately 6 weeks. That puts him out until at least the second week of December.

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Durant is not the only missing link. Promising rookie Mitch McGary is also sidelined for 6 weeks after suffering a fracture to his left foot. McGary stole the show at the Orlando Summer League where he showed off a silky mid-range game as well as the ability to create his own shot. Most notably, NBA analysts were impressed with his ball handling skills creating his own fast break after a defensive rebound. Most of the Thunder front office expected McGary to step in and immediately contribute.

The injury train continued to maul through the Thunder roster. Just this week, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb suffered a twisted ankle and back injury, respectively. Jackson, to many, was considered to be a leading scorer for the Thunder and possibly even be inked into the starting lineup. Jeremy Lamb is in his “make or break” year with the Thunder. He was the centerpiece to the James Harden trade and he hasn’t lived up to the hype yet. After this set back, Thunder fans have to wonder if he will ever pan out.

OKC opens up their season tonight (10/29/14) in Portland on national television. Here’s a breakdown of their active roster tonight, which will also be their roster against the Clippers tomorrow night. Yes, a back to back to start the season. Lovely.

PG – Russell Westbrook
SG – Andre Roberson
SF – Perry Jones III
PF – Serge Ibaka
C – Steven Adams

Sebastian Telfair
Nick Collison
Kendrick Perkins
Lance Thomas

There weren’t any omissions. That is it. These are the 9 guys who will be in uniform tonight when the Thunder open their 2015 campaign against a very good Portland team, and tomorrow night against the Clippers, who some say are the favorites in the Western Conference.

Is it time to push the panic button already in Oklahoma City? Or will this group hang around and be right in it when full strength? I think the fate lies in the return of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. These guys will provide valuable minutes at the guard position. No one expects these two to miss significant time. If the Thunder can go .500 while Kevin Durant rehabs his toe, this could be a special season.

I can’t remember a time where a team took this big of a blow to start the season, but whom else would you rather have than Russell Westbrook to lead the charge while the league MVP waits in the wings.


Is the Title Window Closing for the Thunder?

In every sport, there is a championship window. This window may stay open 10 years, 15 years, or as soon as 3 years, depending on the players, salary cap and drafts. We saw the Lakers window stay open recently for over 12 years, then emphatically SLAM shut. We saw the Atlanta Braves in Major League Baseball stay open much of the 90’s and 2000’s, then SLAM shut – partially open again, now. We can go on and on. Yankees, Heat, Alabama Crimson Tide, Oklahoma Sooners, USC Trojans, really the list can go on and on. We can add the Oklahoma City Thunder to this list at the current time.

Since 2010, the Thunder has had a “real” chance to win the NBA title. The Thunder have boasted a 4 time scoring champion in Kevin Durant, the 2012 Finals runner-up, and the emergence of Serge Ibaka as a real member of “The Big 3”. All this sounds great, so why the panic?

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In 2011, LeBron James stunned the world and “headed to South Beach” to join forces with Dwyane Wade, and later Chris Bosh, to form a “big 3.” We saw how that panned out. Over 4 years, the Heat’s “window” stayed open for 4 years where the Heat brought Miami 2 titles and 2 other finals appearances. Since then, multiple NBA players have joined forces with other stars to form these “mega teams.” Before LeBron, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in Boston forming a “big 3.” That theory also brought a title to Boston. This offseason, Pau Gasol joined Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in Chicago forming another “big 3.”

Now, why do I spend so much time prefacing? Because the fear in OKC is that Durant is gone after this contract to go join Wall and Beal in DC, his hometown, forming a big 3 with the Wizards. Let’s say this happens. This means, theoretically, the Thunder have 2 more years of “the window” to win the NBA title. Once Durant is gone, and maybe he won’t be, the title window closes.

This brings me to my next point. The NBA Draft. The last 2 drafts, OKC has owned 2 first round picks. Let’s go back and revisit these two.

2013 NBA Draft:
Round 1, Pick 12: Steven Adams
Round 1, Pick 26: Andre Roberson

Assessment: I really believe Steven Adams will evolve into a 12pt, 10reb type center, which is a luxury in this day in age. Will he be an all-star? Not likely, but possible. Will he be able to be a part of a “big 3”? Again, not likely. Is he a perfect role player? Absolutely. He compliments the scoring of KD, Russell and Serge great, but will never have his number called to put on a scoring display.

Andre Roberson was supposed to replace Thabo Sefolosha, and he’s gotten a LOT better over the past year. Again, could he ever be part of a “big 3”? Probably not. Will he be a great compliment to an already established “big 3”? Possibly. I truly think the jury is still out, but as for now; these guys are role players who would go around KD, Westbrook and Serge.

Overall, the jury is still out. These guys could turn into legit NBA players who are household names.

2014 NBA Draft:
Round 1, Pick 21: Mitch McGary
Round 1, Pick 29: Josh Huestis

Assessment: I’ll keep this short. No one knows how this will turn out, but on paper, you have to think these guys won’t really have a thumbprint on the next 2 years. McGary has a chance to be pretty good. He played really well in Orlando in Summer League. I think Huestis is a complete project at this point, and for a first rounder, you hate to see that, unless it’s an International player with crazy upside.

Since Sam Presti has joined the Thunder as General Manger, he has made 1 mistake. Kendrick Perkins. Other than that, you have to appreciate his work. Getting Durant to drop in his lap behind Greg Oden, picking Russell Westbrook 4th overall, drafing Serge out of the blue, James Harden, Reggie Jackson, etc. So I’ll stick with “In Presti We Trust”.

It’s hard to imagine the Thunder could persuade big name NBA free agents to join OKC, being a small market, and not willing to enter luxury taxes. This being said, the draft and trades are the only feasible way the Thunder can get stars to align in the Chesapeake Energy Arena. So, Thunder fans, hope Adams, Roberson, McGary and Huestis pan out. If not, the window will be sealed shut if KD truly decides to head back home to DC.

In closing, I think the Thunder need to make serious noise in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, before the window will likely close.

If KD and Russell stick around, I reserve the right to delete this article. Until next time, THUNDER UP!

Is Scott Brooks the Right Fit?

After game five against the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs, I began preparing for a scathing article demanding Scott Brooks be fired. The Thunder had fallen down 3-2 to the seventh seeded Grizzlies and I was convinced that Brooks was to blame. I was ready to rip him to shreds and pray that Presti would agree that it was time for a change.

Then the Thunder bounced back and destroyed the Grizzlies in games six and seven to advance to the second round. Was Brooks now off the hook? Well, it's a little more complicated than that.

Continue reading Is Scott Brooks the Right Fit?

How could you justify firing a coach that improved his teams winning percentage every single year over the course of his first five seasons in the league? Coming off a finals appearance in 2012, Presti traded away budding star James Harden after failed contract negotiations and all the critics condemned the Thunder organization on the move claiming they would be unable to replicate their success without the sixth man of the year. How did Brooks and the Thunder respond? By improving their win percentage yet again in the 2013 season, even without Harden.

The team was primed for another title run when Westbrook went down in the opening round of the playoffs and the rest is history. With all the back-story out of the way, what does this have to do with Scott Brooks' job?

Well, by looking at the numbers alone, it would appear he's done a fantastic job. That is, until you really begin to look deep and see beyond the numbers on the surface.

Here's the deal, Brooks has the reigning MVP as well as a consensus top 10 player running the point. Has Brooks really done a great job of coaching or have Durant and Westbrook simply been good enough to overcome his coaching deficiencies and win games despite his errors? It's hard to say for certain, but I've tended to lean towards the latter in recent weeks.

One of my biggest complaints is Brooks lack of any sort of semblance of a structured offense. He has simply given to the keys to KD and Westbrook and allowed their brilliant basketball IQ and creativity to flourish into whatever they come up with on the fly. And you know what? The majority of the time it works. The all-star duo play as if they are running the courts during a summer Goodman League game and that's not all as bad as it sounds, but the deficiencies of this game plan really come to the surface during crunch time. With the game on the line and coming out of a time out, you'd expect Brooks to have drawn up his best play. What happens more times than not? You know the drill by now. A forced pass in to Durant, no matter how many defenders draped on him, and a 30-foot prayer heaved up. That's excusable once or twice, but when it happens time and time again, you begin to question if Scott Brooks is really anything more than a cheerleader in a suit walking the sideline.

Durant's freakish athletic talents allow him to take those absurd shots and make them at a higher frequency than most, but that only covers up the real underlying problems. There is no ball movement in the offense. There is no motion. There are very few set plays. Role players jog down the court then sit and watch from the three-point line. They've gotten away with it for so long with increasing levels of success that it's too far gone now for Brooks to change even if he wanted to. Brooks lost the keys to the team and he can't just take them back. He gambled on Durant and Westbrook being able to create their own offense and trust it would be enough. Again, looking at the levels of increased success each season, it's hard to argue with Brooks' train of thought. The problem is, that's not really coaching. That is simply stumbling into the good fortune of having one of the most talented rosters in the league and hoping they can figure it out on their own.

I don't think Brooks is the worst coach in the league by any means. Heck, Erik Spoelstra has won back to back NBA titles and I don't think anyone really believes he does much more than sit back and let LeBron be LeBron. The problem is, the Thunder have the potential to be so much better. With the talent OKC has, you'd have to imagine that coaches would be lining up to interview for the job if it were to come open. Brooks stumbled into a gold-mine as a rookie coach and done the best he's known how, but I just can't ignore the feeling that they are still under-performing with him at the helm. Call me a spoiled fan or whatever you'd like, but with the talent and youth at Brooks' disposal, the Thunder should be piling up the rings.

Would it be fair to can Brooks at this point with his body of work? No, I don't think it would be fair. But life's not fair and the National Basketball Association is a cruel business. I wonder how long Presti will allow Brooks to remain the head coach when I think it's clear he's taken them as far as he can. Brooks reminds me of a young Doug Collins in the late '80s coaching the Chicago Bulls during his first run as an NBA head coach. Collins had a young Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen that dominated the regular season during his three-year run, but never could seem to overcome the Pistons once the playoffs rolled around. A roster loaded with talent, but in need of an elite coach to truly get them over the hump. If only Presti could deliver one final magic trick and find the next Phil Jackson. Who knows how those Bulls teams of the '90s would've done under the leadership of Doug Collins. Would Jordan and Pippen's prime years have been spent dominating the regular season, but continuing to come up just short in the playoffs?

I hope I'm wrong about Scott Brooks, but I can't shake that Doug Collins feeling. Michael Jordan deserved better. Kevin Durant deserves better.

Weekly Wrap

Welcome to the Weekly Wrap where we dissect recent happenings across the local sports scene and generally whatever is on our minds. Look for the Weekly Wrap published every Friday.

• On Wednesday, the Thunder continued their streak of taking care of business against another elite Western conference foe after dropping a game earlier in the week yet again to the desperate Suns. I'm going to take the positive spin on this one and say the Thunder are in good shape heading into the playoffs having defeated the 1-seed Spurs and 3-seed Clippers in consecutive weeks. Dropping close games to teams fighting for the final playoff spot should not be overly examined. One thing that does not make me all warm and fuzzy inside is the likelihood over the Thunder's first round match-ups. Currently OKC is slated to face Phoenix in the first round. Yesterday it was Dallas until they dropped a game to the Spurs last night. Neither Dallas or Phoenix are great match-ups for OKC. Not that I'm concerned with losing a seven game series to either team, but I'm not terribly keen on the idea of being pushed to the brink in the first round.

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• So KD's streak came to an end this week as well. Durant had 23 points though three quarters of play on Tuesday, but elected to sit the entire fourth quarter and let yet another streak die out. Earlier in the week he was quoted as saying "I wish it was over" (via Darnell Mayberry​). It looks pretty obvious that Durant wanted to break Jordan's streak and then end it. It was becoming a beatdown answering the same questions about the streak night in and night out and KD was ready to focus on the playoffs and not the streak. Would it have been cool for Durant to finish out the regular season with the streak alive and pass Oscar Robinson for second all-time only behind Wilt? Sure, but it was the smart move casually letting the streak end on Tuesday. Everyone knows it could still be going, but now the Thunder can focus squarely on the playoffs and not be bothered with anymore questions about "the streak."

• UCONN's men and women's teams each took home a college basketball championship this week. An impressive feat, no doubt, but this was the second time it's happened in the last 10 years. I'd do a little more research if I wasn't so lazy, but I can't remember any one school ever accomplishing the feat even once before (including my vast knowledge of women's basketball history) and UCONN has now done it twice? Holy cow. I knew the women's team has been dominant for some time, but it surprised me a bit to learn that the men's team has won the championship four times in the last 15 years, more than any other school. Serious props to UCONN. Caleb Hixon had a solid write-up this week wondering which team's run was more impressive this year.

Mark Schlabach details how Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight grew up a Longhorn fan and dreamed of one day playing in Austin. As it turned out, Knight never even made an official visit to Texas and eventually ended up in Norman. Chalk up another recruiting homerun for Mack!

• Oh yeah, Oklahoma's spring game is tomorrow. If things like spring game's interest you, Brandon Chatmon has a nice little preview of the game and what to watch for. You'll have to forgive me in advance for my lack of interest.

• The Net's completed a season sweep of the Heat on Tuesday night. The game ended with the Heat down one and LeBron going up for the game winner at the rim only to be denied by…Mason Plumlee? Feel free to watch the replay over and over and see LeBron flail about like a child demanding a foul. Sorry, King James, it was a clean block and oh so satisfying to watch.

• According to a panel of ESPN voters, the MVP race is over. This has been more or less a foregone conclusion since somewhere around January. While most would still consider LeBron the "best player" in the league, if KD collects a scoring title, MVP, and NBA championship this year? Watch out. A big "if" on that last point though, I know.

• The Master's is being played this weekend and will likely be watched and obsesses over by many a golf fans. With Tiger not in the field, I'm sure there will be a bit of drop off in casual fan interest, but it should still be an interesting tournament. Schedule me for an hour or two on Sunday afternoon to catch the end.