What the Thunder should do when the lockout ends

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Oklahoma City is out latest stop on our “what your team needs to do when the lockout ends” tour. To see the teams already covered (we’re working our way through the Western Conference right now) click here.

Last season in Oklahoma City: We saw growth. The young Thunder team took the steps forward we all expected (there were some fools who expected a massive leap to the title, but teams grow more slowly than that). They won 55 games, up from 50. They reached the Western Conference finals for the first time (after being knocked out in the first round the year before). They traded for Kendrick Perkins, which was a great move (Dallas was just a bad matchup). OKC made strides, the season was what it should have been.

Since we last saw the Thunder: They made a sweet move in the draft, promising early to Reggie Jackson, the point guard out of Boston College. A lot of teams loved him as a sleeper, but with the early promise he stopped working out for teams and fell all the way to the Thunder at No. 24. That may mean Eric Maynor is on his way out.

Aside that, the roster remains stable.

When the lockout ends, the Thunder need to… Lock up Russell Westbrook to a long-term deal, then pray for more growth from a young team, growth that could have them taking the next step or two. Well, there are a couple more things, but those are the big ones.

When the lockout ends GM Sam Presti should show up on the doorstep of Russell Westbrook and offer him whatever the new max extension to his rookie deal will be — they have to keep this guy. He is part of the core, of the future in OKC. He is one of the best young point guards in the game – he can play at both ends of the floor, gives you 21.9 points per game and 8.2 assists (with a better than 2-1 turnover ratio). And he will be just 23 next season — his game is still maturing.

Westbrook took a lot of heat during the playoffs for taking shots away from and not playing well with Durant. There was a little truth to that, although we saw flashes of brilliance, too (like Game 7 against Memphis). There were ludicrous calls to trade him because he didn’t defer enough to the league’s leading scorer. Royce Young of the brilliant Daily Thunder blog has words for you if you think Westbrook and Durant need to start playing well together.

They already do.  They didn’t win 55 games and come within two fourth quarters of the NBA Finals by playing bad together. Do they need to improve? Definitely. Good thing they’re both just 22 years old.

There’s not a lot else for the Thunder to do, their roster is pretty set. Mr. pro-am. er, Kevin Durant got his extension last summer. Perkins got an extension (and they will need him going forward, they need him in the middle to rebound and protect the rim with Serge Ibaka). They made a qualifying offer and still need to figure out things with Daequan Cook, but the roster is pretty much set.

Still there are things that need to be done to take the next step, and the Daily Thunder’s Young has ideas.

1) Scott Brooks needs to figure out if James Harden is going to start or not. The Thunder drafted Reggie Jackson to potentially fill Harden’s scoring punch role off the bench and it’s pretty much universally agreed upon that Harden should start over Thabo Sefolosha. But Brooks is stubborn and likes to stick with what works, so it’ll be a decision.

And 2), Get Perk healthy. Perkins himself said he was only about 60 percent during the playoffs. He was overweight, out of shape and his knees were a little heavy on him. He’s committed to a pretty tough offseason conditioning plan — one that may or may not include getting in bar fights — and he’s said he wants to get back down to a playing weight of around 250. This is the Perk that Oklahoma City is hoping for. Not the one that lumbered around in the postseason like he was Greg Oden’s overweight brother.

Bottom line is that the Thunder don’t need to do much when the lockout ends — they will come in as more experienced title contenders next season. If the lockout drags on and the 2012 season looks like the 1999 season — 50 games crammed into too few days and then the playoffs — young and talented teams where their leg will bounce back quickly have a big advantage. And that would be the Thunder.

Their time is coming soon, fans just need to be a little more patient.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.