Thunder pick up 2011-2012 option on Scott Brooks

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Coach of the Year winner Scott Brooks was already slated to be the coach of the Thunder for the foreseeable future, but Sam Presti made it official by picking up Brook’s contract through the 2011-2012 season.

Not exactly shocking news. The Thunder were incredibly successful this season, particularly relative to their dismal 23-59 in ’08-’09. Brooks may not be as pivotal to that success as, say, Kevin Durant, but it’s his system that turned a team of mostly young players into a defensive force. Oklahoma City was had a top-10 defense this season and the 2nd best defense in the Western Conference. That’s worth noting for any team, much less one boasting so many players in their first few years in the league.

However, I do find it a bit odd that the Sacramento Kings were criticized by many when they picked up coach Paul Westphal’s third-year option (guaranteeing his salary for 2011-2012 as well) almost a month ago, and yet there seems to be no such criticism when it comes to the Thunder’s treatment of Brooks. Brooks is more deserving of the guaranteed money and did a better job this year in OKC than Westphal did in Sacramento, but considering that the crux of that argument — as I understood it — concerned the timing of the “extension” more than anything else, isn’t Brooks more or less in the same boat?

The Kings lack the stability of the Thunder, but given how fast a good situation can go south in this league and especially how quickly a Coach of the Year winner can bite the dust (most of the winners of the award in this decade have only lasted some two seasons with their respective teams after winning, with the notable exceptions being San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Cleveland’s Mike Brown), I don’t see Brooks as decidedly different. Maybe a slightly better coach but not without his own faults.

Brooks was terrific this season, but premature timing is premature timing, right?. If it was wrong with Westphal, then it’s still wrong with Brooks. When the Kings exercised Westphal’s option, the timing did seem a bit curious, yet when the circumstances are just a bit different, a move like this one seems to be a natural part of establishing a winning culture.

In reality, Westphal and Brooks are likely much closer in terms of coaching aptitude than the Kings and Thunder were in terms of performance. It’s hard to determine the precise impact of each given their respective rosters, but there’s no question that the Thunder’s season to remember will color opinions of this move favorably by the public and the media. That’s fine given OKC’s success this year, but at on a theoretical basis, this move is no different than the Kings picking up Westphal’s third-year option. They had time and could’ve waited but didn’t, and have guaranteed Brooks’ third year salary when they didn’t need to just yet.

A month ago, I said that the Kings acted strangely with regard to guaranteeing Westphal’s 2011-2012 salary. I was wrong. Stability really is important, and if the Kings want to even sniff the success of the Thunder while their core is still young, they could learn a lot from Presti’s model. It’s more than a “Well, if the Thunder did it, it must be alright” argument, though. This is a case where the possible negatives (a pretty modest 2010-2011 coaching salary) don’t even come close to matching the potential positives (removing doubt, giving a coach the freedom to operate, team stability), and both teams made the right call.

Paul Westphal’s Kings may not have taken the Lakers to six games, but if Sacramento wants to establish something real, this is the way to do it. The NBA will always be more about the players than the coaches, which makes sense. That said, coaches still hold great symbolic value in this league, and in the case of the Thunder and the Kings, it’s more about each franchise committing to a system and an idea than it is about committing to a head coach.

Salah Mejri threatened to come to Blazers locker room after Jusuf Nurkic tussle

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The Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks had a game of many emotions on Saturday night at Moda Center. Of course, the game wasn’t that close — Portland led by 17 at the half and finished the game by beating Dallas, 117-108.

But as we’ve seen in the NBA recently, the propensity for NBA players to get into physical spats is high. So it was no surprise that we saw yet another scrum between NBA players on the east side of the Willamette on Saturday as Dallas’ Salah Mejri got tangled up with Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner.

The play began with Nurkic getting a clean block on Mejri. Because of the position of the two players, Nurkic’s arm was angled as such that after the block it came clean through to rest on Mejri’s shoulder. Mejri turned, and the whole thing became a tangle of arms and elbows.

Neither Mejri or Nurkic took kindly to that, so the two squared off. Nurkic gave Mejri an ineffectual little push, while Portland’s Evan Turner jumped in to hold Mejri back. The Mavericks center promptly flopped all the way to the ground, inexplicably grabbing his face. It was Premier League-level flopping from Mejri, just top notch stuff.

Via NBC Sports Northwest:

After the game, Turner told media that Mejri threatened to come get the Blazers.

“He’s like ‘I’ll come to the locker room!'” said Turner. “Out of a 225 lb. dude [Turner] a 275 lb. dude [Nurkic] and a 7-footer [Mejri] who hit the ground?”

Portland’s CJ McCollum didn’t seem too impressed with the threat.

“If they really want to fight, they know where to find people,” said McCollum.

Much like any arena, the visiting locker room is just down the hall from the home squad at Moda Center, so it would have been easy for Mejri to get to. Nothing happened, so it turned out as an empty threat.

Meanwhile, Turner was assessed a technical foul for the tussle — presumably for “pushing” Mejri. There was notable tension the rest of the game between Mejri, Nurkic, and the crowd at Moda Center, but nothing else of consequence happened.

LeBron James: “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs”

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Cleveland’s defense was pathetic Saturday and the Thunder routed them because of it. The Cavaliers gave up 148 points, allowed the Thunder to shoot 58 percent, and basically were little more than traffic cones for Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the rest of the Thunder to dribble and pass around. The Cavaliers have lost 8-of-11 and coach Tyronn Lue’s seat is getting warm.

Can the Cavaliers even get out of the East? LeBron James wasn’t even asking that question after the Saturday loss, he wants his team to get to the conference finals first. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Playoffs? We can’t even start thinking about that, not the way we’re playing right now,” James said. “We could easily get bounced early in the playoffs if they started next weekend. Haven’t even began thinking about the postseason.”

It’s January, it’s far too early to write LeBron and the Cavaliers off — his teams have won the East for seven straight seasons in a row for a reason. Cleveland’s mid-season malaise is a thing and they snap out of it, Isaiah Thomas will find his legs and play better, but this season has shown some troubling structural flaws in the Cavaliers. Ones that could bite them in the playoffs. Ones they are active in the trade market trying to address, or at least shore up a little.

Nobody around the league is comfortable picking against a LeBron team in the East — he has been to seven straight Finals for a reason (and how impressive an achievement that is gets overlooked). But this seems to be the weakest LeBron team since he bolted Cleveland (the first time?), and a second-round matchup vs. Toronto is no gimme anymore. LeBron is right to be concerned.

Former LSU star, Trail Blazer Tim Quarterman arrested after leading police on high-speed chase

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If you missed Tim Quarterman’s cup of coffee in the NBA nobody can blame you. The 6’6″ point guard was a star at LSU who went undrafted but got a chance to earn a roster spot in Portland. He bounced between the NBA and D-League last season playing in 16 games for the Trail Blazers, but then this summer was traded to Houston for cash, and the Rockets quickly waived him. He had signed to play in China but never got there due to visa issues, he did not play a game there.

Now he has some big trouble stateside. From Tupelo, Miss., television station WTVA (hat tip to the Times-Picayune):

Master Sgt. Ray Hall with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the incident began sometime near 10:50 p.m. when troopers attempted to stop a 2018 Dodge Ram pickup truck for traveling eastbound on Highway 278 at a high rate of speed.

Quarterman failed to stop and led officers on the pursuit… The Mississippi Highway Patrol says the pursuit ended near (a family’s) home when Quarterman intentionally rammed a Pontotoc police officer causing both vehicles to crash.

Both Quarterman and the police officer were taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

This led to charges of aggravated assault and felony fleeing, according to the report.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: “We are better than them”

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Houston’s home win Saturday night against Golden State was much more important for the Rockets than the Warriors. Not in terms of the standings (Golden State is still 3.5 games up there), but about confidence — the Rockets needed to know they can beat the defending NBA champions. This game fueled their belief that they have a shot against the Warriors.

Houston big man Clint Capela was trying to say that… then took it a step too far.

Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“We’re confident because we know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to beat them,” Rockets center Clint Capela told ESPN. “We’ve got to keep playing. We know that they’re going to come back if we have the lead, and we’ve just got to keep that mindset. Sometimes I feel like, in the past, we were all dragging down after mistakes. But today, we were ready. I think that if we’re doing what we’re supposed to do on defense — all the switches, the weak side — and keep playing our offense by keeping that mentality all game long, we have the weapons to beat them.

“We are better than them.”

It goes without saying that January games are poor predictors of May playoff series. That said, I have two quick thoughts here:

• The Rockets are the team best built to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors. (They can score with Golden State, and they have good switchable defenders on the wing, the two things needed to have a chance.)

• I want guys to say this. I want teams going up against the Warriors to believe — that is the first step to actually doing it. You think the Cavaliers feel confident like this right now? The Rockets have the swagger and are over the intimidation factor, that’s step one.