Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook

Thunder learn one more painful lesson, talk about taking one more step


To a man, as they hugged the Larry O’Brien trophy, Miami Heat players said the sting of losing in the finals last year drove them to their win this year. They felt the pain, absorbed the lessons and got better.

As the clock was winding down and the party was winding up inside AmericanAirlines Arena Thursday night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden stood together, huddled at the end of the bench talking. Saying exactly what Heat players said a year ago.

“We hugged each other and told each other to embrace this feeling and remember this feeling,” Westbrook said. “We’ve got to be the guys that just got to get better, man, before we can find a way to get back here.”

And everyone — including LeBron James, who said as much after the game — expect the Thunder will be back on this stage. And they will be better.

We’ve seen it before. For the past three years the Thunder have been eliminated by the eventual champion — first the Lakers, last year the Mavericks and this year the Heat. The previous two years the Thunder used those lessons to come back a smarter, more ready NBA team.

To a man after they were eliminated from the finals in Game 5 — a 121-106 Heat win — the Thunder players talked about what it will take to get back to here and be better next year.

“There’s things that wen have to work on,” coach Scott Brooks said. “I’ve never used age as an excuse. But we got some incredible experience these last three years of being the playoffs and it kind of – it has helped us get to this point and to compete at this level.”

The next step is on the defensive end for this team — they were a solid defensive team (OKC was ninth in the league in points allowed per possession) but the Heat won this series because they could find a level of defense the Thunder could not.

“But just one thing, (the Heat) played extremely physical basketball,” Brooks said. “They are a very athletic team and they use it every possession, and that’s something we will talk about. You have it, you better use it.”

There is also the focus that is needed.

“I think now we know that every possession in the finals matters. It counts,” James Harden said. “There were several possessions that we just gave away (in Game 5). I think that third quarter, we brought the lead out to five quick (it was 7), and then they hit two threes in a row. Every possession matters in the finals. We just gave too many away.”

They gave away a few all series. And that stung the Thunder. A lot. Thunder players all talked about being a family and you could see the tears and feel the emotion as they left the floor. You could see it as Kevin Durant talked to his mom. The key — the thing the Thunder’s three leaders were already talking about — was to use that as fuel.

“You just have a lot of regrets but the only thing you can do is get back to work,” Kendrick Perkins said. “And each individual has to think about it when you’re lifting weights, as you run suicides, just think about this feeling, think about this moment and how close we came. We just fell short.”

You get the sense this team will be back. And once again they will have learned a lesson. They will be better. And that could be scary good.

Rumor: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope demanding more than $20 million annually to sign contract extension with Pistons

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 27:  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #5 of the Detroit Pistons reacts after a basket against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 27, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading andor using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Pistons owner Tom Gores said he’d pay the luxury tax if a contract extension for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope put Detroit over next season.

Yet, Caldwell-Pope hasn’t signed an extension with the deadline six days away.

What will it take?

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

There was gossip over the summer that it would take a deal worth north of $20 million per year to get Caldwell-Pope’s signature.

That’s not an unreasonable demand. It’s up to Caldwell-Pope whether he’d accept less in exchange for more security, but I think he’d get even more as a restricted free agent next summer – maybe even a max contract, which projects to start at more than $24 million.

Caldwell-Pope is a good shooting guard in a league with a dearth of quality wings and a greater need for them as teams go smaller. He’ll be just 24 next offseason, so his next deal should last through his prime.

His preseason didn’t foreshadow a breakout year. He remains a good defender and streaky 3-point shooter. But it’s possible Caldwell-Pope steadies his outside stroke and/or becomes an even more impactful defender. He could also improve his off-the-dribble skills, though his bread is buttered as a 3-and-D player.

Still, it won’t take massive improvements for Caldwell-Pope to hold value. To some degree, the Pistons could view every dollar under the max on a Caldwell-Pope extension as savings.

If his demands remain high, the Pistons could always take another year to evaluate the fourth-year guard. With matching rights, they can always re-sign him in the offseason.

NBA sets record with 113 international players, a plurality from Canada, on opening-night rosters

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 21: Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Minnesota Timberwolves and Manu Ginobili #20 of the San Antonio Spurs go after a loose ball during the first quarter of the game on November 21, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Spurs defeated the Timberwolves 121-92. 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 Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Until last season, the NBA set or tied its record for number of international players on opening-night rosters the previous three years.

But after peaking at 101 in 2014-15, the number dropped to 100 last season.

A sign the league has hit its foreign saturation point?

Probably not.

The NBA boasts a record 113 international players from a record 41 countries and territories to begin this season. Canada, with 11, leads the league for the third straight year.

A count of international players in the NBA on opening night:

  • 2016-17: 113
  • 2015-16: 100
  • 2014-15: 101
  • 2013-14: 92
  • 2012-13: 84

Here’s a full list of 2016-17 international players, but before you read it, take our quizzes on opening-night rosters.

Trivia: Name every player on a 2016-17 NBA roster

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers dunks the ball against the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NBA teams cut their rosters to a maximum of 15 players yesterday. Only one team, the Bulls, has just 14 players.

That means there are 449 players in the NBA as the season tips off tonight.

How many of them can you name?

Take these two quizzes, one for the Eastern Conference and one for the Western Conference. Players are in a random order within their teams.

Chandler Parsons out for Grizzlies’ opener

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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Chandler Parsons missed the Mavericks’ final 18 games last season, including the playoffs, due to knee problems.

Now with the Grizzlies, his games missed streak will hit 19.

Michael Wallace of

Maybe this is just a blip. Parsons will get healthy soon enough and diversify Memphis’ offense.

But Dallas didn’t make a stronger push to keep Parsons due to his knees. We could look back on this and chastise the Grizzlies for signing someone to a max contract who wasn’t even ready to play in the first place. They have big plans for Parsons, but he must play for those to work.

Brandan Wright just can’t get healthy. Maybe Memphis will believe this injury warrants missing time.