The waiting game has paid off for OKC

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Many, many moons ago, Oklahoma City stole away a basketball team. But a couple of moons before that, they borrowed one for awhile. The New Orleans Hornets, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, needed a temporary home and a temporary fan base. So they went local, traveled to the nearby (relatively) OKC, and set up shop.

No one would have blamed the citizens of Oklahoma for showing lukewarm support for a team just looking to crash for the night. There was never an illusion of anything permanent, and OKC had every reason to enjoy the NBA distraction while it lasted, but without making much of a clamor. But not only did Oklahomans show up in droves, but they were loud. They were an absolutely tremendous fan base, so much so that they couldn’t be pegged as a rental based on the energy in the arena and the decibel level emanating outward.

That city and that market wanted and needed an NBA team. At first they wanted the Hornets, the only NBA franchise Oklahoma has ever known, to use OKC as a permanent home. But it wasn’t meant to be, and the city that had just lost everything to a hurricane wasn’t about to lose a primary source of escapism and hope as well.

When the Hornets returned to New Orleans, it wasn’t necessarily a bright day for the NBA fans in Oklahoma City. They lost their team, even if it was only lended to them temporarily. It didn’t mean that the support was anything less than authentic, or that the bond between the city and the Hornets was anything less than genuine. OKC had the taste for professional basketball, and so Clay Bennett, team owner and businessman, did for Oklahoma what any person would do for a city that had their team “stolen” away.

He “stole” another team for them.

And that stolen team, the then-Sonics, now-Thunder, is that much better. It’s that much more fitting for the city and that much more promising for the future. From Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoman:

Two years ago, the Hornets’ first season removed from the Ford Center, they won 56 games, earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and weren’t eliminated until Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Sonics finished a franchise-worst 20-62 in what proved to be a lame duck year in Seattle before moving that summer to Oklahoma City.

Two years later, the Thunder is viewed as the NBA’s on-the-rise team, a lock to make the playoffs and on pace to win 50 games. In contrast, the Hornets are one game below .500 with almost no chance of making the playoffs, their future in question because owner George Shinn continues to slash payroll.

The people of Oklahoma may have begged for the Hornets to stay, but it’s indisputable that they’ve found themslves a better deal and a better fit in the Thunder. Chris Paul is Chris Paul (and I suppose he always will be), but the Hornets have gone into a tailspin. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton have renewed their hope, but what looked like a team on the cusp of contending then looks like little more than a fringe playoff contender now.

The Thunder are different. They’re better. They’re shooting up the Western Conference standings at an absurdly early juncture, when common sense says that such a young team should endure a slower and steadier progression. The Thunder’s rise has been anything but slow and steady, and their meteoric ascent has helped to wipe the memory, however fond, of the Hornets from OKC’s basketball consciousness.

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.