Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

New season, same old Thunder. That’s not enough in L.A.

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Meet the new Thunder, same as the old Thunder.

Which is a pretty good thing, those old Thunder captured the imagination of the NBA fans nationwide last season. They were athletic, they got and ran, they were just fresh and fun.

Thunder players talk openly of wanting to get rings with this group, there is a real chemistry there. That’s one reason before the season started a lot of people thought the Oklahoma City would take another step forward and could be the one team that would take a ring off the fingers of the Lakers out West. There was patience in the front office — Oklahoma City stuck with the players they had rather than trying to make a big splash in free agency. They were going to grow.

When they finally got a chance to match up on the Lakers again Monday night and measure themselves…

It looked almost exactly like the NBA playoffs last season. Right down to the Lakers winning, 101-94.

It’s still about the Lakers length up front and how that can clog the paint and turn the Thunder into jump shooters. Despite what some predicted it is not about Derek Fisher being older than the Terra Cotta Warriors. It’s not about Kobe’s knee, which looked just fine as Bryant threw it down like he was 25 again at one point.

It’s about the Lakers length, big men who can move and defend on the pick-and-roll. Big men who can protect the rim like Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. That trio finished with 47 points and 24 boards.

The Lakers didn’t defend much of anything in the first half as Russell Westbrook carved them up. Westbrook was stunning all night (he finished with 32 points and 12 assists). He would explode off the pick and roll, or get out in transition where the Lakers still do not have the athletes to deal with him. It was that fun, athletic Thunder team everybody fell in love with.

For a while.

In the first half, the Thunder had an offensive efficiency of 117 (points per 100 possessions). In the second half that fell to 88.6. Because the Lakers took away the easy baskets.

Kobe was energetic and was barking out defensive calls — getting on his big men — and it worked. The Thunder couldn’t find room to get inside consistently so they started to settle for jumpers. Gone were the transition buckets. The Thunder started falling in love with the three even through they couldn’t make them (2-of-22 on the night). Kevin Durant again couldn’t get going with Ron Artest being physical and dogging him (Luke Walton also played some pretty good defense on him for a stretch, a sentence we never thought we’d type). Durant finished with 24 points but needed 24 shots to get there.

One other key was the Lakers were not fouling (well, except for Bynum). The Thunder get to the line on a higher percentage of field goal attempts than any team in the league. Put it this way — they take an average of 30.7 free throws a game and hit 83 percent of them. But they got to the line just 22 times against the Lakers, just another way Los Angeles took away easy points away from the Thunder.

While the Lakers looked good it’s hard to read much into them — frankly we know what they can do. They can look like this, they can look every bit the champion and team to be feared. Then next game, who knows? They could be a disaster. What we know is that come the playoffs — so long as everyone is healthy — we will see a lot more of these Lakers.

With the Thunder… what can they do? They could use a steadier offensive and rebounding post presence (a Kevin Love like guy). They need a three-point shooter or for someone to develop that shot. They need to find a way to execute when the game slows down, as it inevitably does in the playoffs.

They didn’t do any of that Monday, they looked like the same old Thunder. Which is very good and very entertaining. But it’s not getting anyone fitted for a ring.

Timberwolves new CEO knows exactly what he’s getting into

This 2016 image provided by the San Francisco 49ers shows Ethan Casson posed at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. In 1998, Casson called sports teams all over the country asking to get a foot in the door. The Minnesota Timberwolves answered, giving him an entry-level position. Almost 20 years later, Casson returns to the franchise as the team's new CEO hoping to help a team that has struggled on the business side almost as much as it has on the court. (Terrell Lloyd/The San Francisco 49ers via AP)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) In the winter of 1998, Ethan Casson started calling professional franchise after professional franchise, begging them to get his foot in the door in any capacity.

One night, a human resources employee for the Minnesota Timberwolves picked up the phone and Casson talked his way into a meeting. He flew from the East Coast, met with several Timberwolves executives and, during the third quarter of a game against the Golden State Warriors, was offered an entry-level position on the business side of the operation at $24,000 per year.

“To think that what started as a cold call of me begging an HR person to let me come in and prove my worth 18 years later turned into me coming back as a CEO is amazing and certainly very special to me,” Casson told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

Casson had to sell his car and some other possessions to raise the money to pay for his move from Boston to the Twin Cities, but the leap of faith has paid off. Six years after he left the Timberwolves to climb the ladder with the San Francisco 49ers, he is returning as CEO to breathe new life into one of the NBA’s struggling operations.

Timberwolves President Chris Wright remembered the impression Casson left in those first face-to-face meetings.

“I told him we’re going to find a place for you in this franchise because you are exactly the type of person that we want build this franchise around,” Wright said.

Casson’s first stint with the Timberwolves lasted 11 years. He worked his way up to senior vice president of corporate partnerships and met his future wife here before leaving for the 49ers in 2010.

When he arrived in the Bay Area, the once-proud 49ers were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought. Their revenue had dropped to near the bottom of the league and they were playing in an outdated stadium that couldn’t compete with the shiny new ones popping up around the league. He leaves after helping to secure a 20-year, $220 million naming rights deal with Levi’s for the new stadium and rebuilding the franchise’s business operations.

The Timberwolves have not made the playoffs since 2004, the longest active drought in the league. That futility has contributed significantly to plummeting revenue and a dwindling season ticket base.

“I’m not saying it’s apples to apples, but I certainly feel I’ve been on a six-year journey that involved a lot of similar themes,” Casson said. “And I’ll apply all of those lessons to this next phase of my career.”

Casson replaces Rob Moor, the longtime CEO who stepped aside to work more closely with Wolves owner Glen Taylor’s other business interests. At 42 years old, Casson is part of a youth movement coming into the organization. Taylor also brought in 41-year-old New York real estate mogul Meyer Orbach and 35-year-old Chinese entrepreneur John Jiang as minority owners, and he hopes the three of them help bring a new perspective and energy to the business side that mirrors the vibe youngsters Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine are bringing to the team.

“I was very aware and respectful that taking on this role wasn’t about coming in and fixing things that were broken,” Casson said. “I don’t look at opportunities like this as somethings not working. I look at it as an opportunity to reset and plot out a different course or a different version of a course that moves the business forward.”

The challenges are real. The Timberwolves’ competitive dormancy buried them in a crowded sports marketplace. Tickets have been hard to sell and the NFL’s Vikings, the NHL’s Wild and MLB’s Twins are competing for the corporate dollars.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” said Wright, who is entering his 25th season with the Wolves. “I’ve tried to do it what I consider the best way for the franchise given all of the different sort of environments we’ve found ourselves in over the last 12 years as we’ve not been making the playoffs. And I think Ethan is going to just bring a completely fresh, new look to all of that and lead us in the direction we need to be as a club in the 21st century.”

The Wolves have one of the most promising young cores in the league, a brand new practice facility in downtown Minneapolis and have begun renovations on the dusty Target Center.

“There’s a lot of momentum in and around the organization that made it very exciting for me as a fan and now as someone who is coming back as CEO,” he said. “That will come and go. The renovation will eventually be complete. The team will stabilize and be competitive. You still have to make sure the business model is sustainable and drivable. That’s what we’re going to be.”

Joel Embiid arm wrestled Justin Bieber in a club? Yup. There is video.

THERMAL, CA - APRIL 16:  Professional basketball player Joel Embiid attends the Levi's Brand and RE/DONE Levi's presents NEON CARNIVAL with Tequila Don Julio on April 16, 2016 in Thermal, California.  (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Tequila Don Julio)
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Joel Embiid is officially 7’0″ tall and 250 pounds, although when you see him in person now that number seems low, he looks thicker and stronger.

Justin Bieber is a 5’9″ waiflike person.

So of course, they arm wrestled at the club Hyde in Los Angeles. It went about as you’d expect. Here is some video, hat tip to Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie (arguably the best arm wrestler in the NBA media).

If you’re about to make an “at least Embiid didn’t get hurt” joke, be more creative.

Hopefully, we get to see what Embiid can do on the court this fall, where the competition will be a lot tougher than any Canadian pop star.

Larry Sanders asks in Twitter poll what team he should play for next season

Larry Sanders
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Larry Sanders is talking about getting back into the NBA. He walked away in 2015 to say he needed to deal with anxiety and depression, to find a balance in his life. Recently he told Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders this:

“But I feel like I’m in a much better place right now and I’m equipped to be able to put myself in that situation again.”

But where? A lot of teams could use an athletic big who averaged 1.4 blocks per game over the five years he was in the NBA, although with the conservative nature of NBA front offices they will not want to take much risk (Golden State reportedly thought about it and decided not to offer him a contract).

Sanders decided to ask Twitter where he should go, putting Twitter’s poll feature to good use.

The question becomes, where is there mutual interest from any of these teams?

If Sanders and his agent can win a team over in an interview, the contract will be small and the number of guaranteed years is not exceeding one (if even that). From the perspective of an NBA team, Sanders has to prove himself again.

But never underestimate how many chances big men get in this league.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Warriors’ just re-signed Anderson Varejao leaves Brazil to have back examined in USA

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16: Anderson Varejao #18 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Anderson Varejao was spending the past couple days helping his nation prepare to host the 2016 Olympics in less than two weeks, including carrying the Olympic flame.

#tochaolimpica #varejao #olimpiadas #rio2016 #brazil #sampacool 😍⚾⛳🎾⚽🏀🏁🏂🏆🏊🏇

A video posted by Marcus Bado (@marcusbado) on

But now he is on his way back to the United States to have his chronically bad back examined. Again. From Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group.

The Warriors re-signed Varejao on a one-year, veteran minimum contract where he will make $980,431. He is expected to back up Zaza Pachulia at the five spot, although his run would have been limited (which is good, he’s not terribly effective anymore).

A variety of injuries — back, Achilles, wrist — have meant the most games Varejao has played in a season since the 2010-11 season is 65. Last season that number was 53, the final 22 of it with the Warriors.

If Varejao can’t go or is limited, the Warriors may look around at other options. But the pickings are slim at this point.