Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggets - Game Three

The Inbounds: The commonly sensible signing of Serge Ibaka

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I’m not known as the biggest Serge Ibaka guy. I have an analytic relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder that too closely mirrors that of an indie rock fan in its obnoxiousness. In short, I saw the jump coming in the early months of 2010 when they started the leap to contention and was huge on them, so now I think their early work was better before they got popular. This is, of course, nonsense, they’re a much better team now but something was lost in that first year of exploration as it is with jazz music, gin, a new city’s restaurant scene and teenage sexuality.

So I tend to get a little exhausted at the superlatives thrown at Ibaka. When he took second in Defensive Player of the Year, an award I spent a great deal of time thinking about as part of my gig, I nearly blew a gasket. The nice thing about Ibaka is you don’t actually have to pump fake, because as soon as you’ve thought about it, he’s in the air. Nobody else in the league takes so many points off the board with blocks and puts them back on with goaltends. (OK< that joke’s weak because we all know JaVale McGee is the answer there.) I’ve got a million of them.

So surely I’m ready to roast OKC for, at the very least, putting the possibility of losing James Harden on the table, and paying Ibaka upwards of $48 million over four years, right?

Nope.

The Thunder made the right call, and it’s one that reflects their approach as an organization. Now, there’s every reason to think that keeping Harden is nowhere near off the table. It is still very much possible that Harden remains a Thunder, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Presti quietly announced it on Monday on his way to his honeymoon. But even if this move lead them to terminate their relationship with Harden in the short and long-term, it would be the right one. Consider the following:

  • The areas in which Ibaka struggles, namely face-up defense, tactical decision-making, and over-pursuit of the weakside block, those are all elements which project to improve as he gets older. Even with a loss of athleticism as he adds more muscle and transitions to bulk defender, his aggressiveness with a smarter set of principles translates to more success. He’s a smart player now. When he adds experience and wisdom, his value raises considerably. He’ll be 26 when this contract expires, just scraping that surface and still as athletic as ever.
  • Harden, comparatively, relies on sharp shooting, crafty play, and a playmaking ability. He’ll improve. He’ll be terrific. But there’s only so much better he can get. His game isn’t predicated on athleticism (though he’s athletic). What makes Harden remarkable is his almost instinctive understanding of how to make plays which take players sometimes nearly two decades to learn. But that also means he’s not going to add that element to a natural set of skills. Harden’s already a star. He’s arrived. And he’ll improve. This isn’t to diminish Harden’s ability, but to simply acknowledge that Ibaka can grow to have more of an impact and in this league, you pay for potential.
  • Stretch fours are the leading cause of death for teams. The Celtics would be a shambled pile of bones if Kevin Garnett (and to an extent Brandon Bass) didn’t keep them afloat. Chris Bosh was lethal to Oklahoma City (I know, I know, again, see the first point on him improving). Having a player who’s not so big that he can drift beyond the paint to defend causes all sorts of issues for the opponent. Ibaka’s athleticism and frame lets him guard the beasts and cover the ones that victimize through spacing. It’s a big plus, compared to a standard-sized shooting guard with limited lateral quickness. Oh, and have I mentioned that Ibaka pays Pau Gasol well?
  • Here’s a list of the best power forwards who played at least 20 minutes per game last season at shooting from 16-23 feet: Nick Collison, Dirk Nowitzki, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, David West, Serge Ibaka. Now, Collison and Ibaka had the least attempts of those players and fit a vastly different role. But the point is that no matter how irritating it may be to Spurs fans or anyone else, the shooting from mid-range isn’t a fluke. Ibaka can hit that. He’s a player who defends as he does, and can finish with the big dunk, and can hit the mid-range shot.
  • And maybe the biggest reason? The rule change the NBA is aiming for to adopt FIBA-style rules for goaltending. Under the new rules, as soon as that sucker hits rim, it’s fair game. So a lot of those goaltends are going to shift to legal blocks. Ibaka’s timing and athleticism means he can challenge with more abandon under those rules and that’s not insignificant. If those kinds of players become premium based on how the rule affects play, something we really don’t know yet, it would have a huge impact on his value.

At $12 million he’s still making less than Nene. He’s making just more than JaVale McGee. It was a reasonable market value for the player’s value without getting a steal that would leave him happy or handing him a massive contract to handcuff the Thunder.

Ibaka’s signing is less about who he’s been, but about who he could be. And even as the Thunder move very firmly into the “now’ period of their ascension, they’re still looking down the line. What could be more “Thunder” than that?

Tyronn Lue: Cavaliers want to push pace against Warriors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes up for a dunk in the first quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Warriors have played 202 games in the last two years. Three of the 11 slowest-paced came against the Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals.

Cleveland successfully dictated the style for much of the series – grinding play to a halt, crashing the glass and relying on LeBron James to score against a set defense.

But the Cavs also lost, including all three of the slowest-games. So they’ll they try something different this year.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“We just have to play our game,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. “We’re not going to slow the ball down and be at ease. We’re going to push the pace, try to get easy baskets early in transition but make sure we’re taking good shots.”

“We want to push the pace!” Lue yelled in jest for everyone to hear. “You know what I’m saying. Put that on record. Push the pace. You think I’m going to walk it down every time?”

“We’re not going to be scared of their small lineup,” Lue said. “We’re going to play our bigs and if the flow of the game calls for something different, then we’ll do something different.”

Cleveland will try to out-Warrior the Warriors? Good luck.

Only the Thunder in the Western Conference finals did that for a decent stretch, and they couldn’t sustain it. Plus, Oklahoma City is much more athletic than the Cavs.

That said, I’m not sure the Cavaliers have a better alternative. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy, the Cavs are a different team from last year. Irving and Love aren’t built to play slow.

And that’s the dilemma. Cleveland can have its top talent or its ideal style for combatting Golden State – but probably not both. The Cavaliers are choosing talent.

Isaiah Thomas recruits Kevin Durant to Celtics, deletes tweet

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Isaiah Thomas #4 of the Boston Celtics reacts as he walks to the bench in the final minutes of their 89-72 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Isaiah Thomas pledged to put on his recruiting hat for the Celtics this summer.

He didn’t wait long until Boston target Kevin Durant reached his offseason to send a public message.

Thomas deleted the tweet, but not before Adam Kauffman of WBZ News Radio captured it:

This is how free agency works now. It’d be tampering for Celtics general manager Danny Ainge to talk or tweet about Durant until the star’s Thunder contract expires July 1. But the NBA doesn’t enforce tampering rules on inter-player communication. So, general managers deploy players to pitch pending free agents before July.

Thomas just needs to work on his execution.

The Celtics retired No. 35 for Reggie Lewis, who died at age 27 due to a sudden heart issue. So, Durant would have to change his number if he signed in Boston. No. 35 already has a different, and special, meaning there.

Plus, Durant might not take kindly to potential suitors swarming so soon after the Thunder were eliminated. Whatever he does in the summer, Durant wanted to win with Oklahoma City this season.

But don’t expect this to be the last  you hear of the Celtics in the Durant sweepstakes.

Kings’ point guard Darren Collison arrested on domestic violence charge

Darren Collison, Ronnie Price
Associated Press
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Darren Collison, the Kings’ only point guard under contract for next season, has been arrested on charges of domestic violence and driving with a revoked license.

CBS Sacramento broke the story, noting Collison was arrested in Placer County, which is north of Sacramento.

Collison, 28, was booked into Placer County Jail on one count of inflicting corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant and a bench warrant of driving while his license was revoked.

The Kings released this statement:

“We’ve been made aware of the situation. The Sacramento Kings condemn violence of any kind. We are gathering additional information and once all facts are known we will take appropriate steps.”

The NBA, along with other professional sports leagues, has come down harder with fines and suspensions on players found to have committed domestic violence in recent seasons. For example, the Hornets’ Jeff Taylor was suspended 24 games. Both the Kings and the league will let this criminal investigation and process play out longer before jumping in, but Collison likely will get more than just a slap on the wrist if the charges are true.

Collison is under contract for $5.2 million for the Kings next season, and is in line to see more minutes next season (depending upon free agent moves). Sacramento is an organization looking for a fresh start — they have a new coach in Dave Joerger and are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city next season. They want to turn the page on a turbulent, playoff-free past decade. Incidents like this certainly do not help with that perception (even though the team wasn’t involved).

Reggie Jackson tweets smirk emoji after Thunder loss

Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Three minutes after the Thunder lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals to the Warriors, former Oklahoma City guard Reggie Jackson tweeted:

I’m generally reluctant to interpret vague tweets by a stranger, but it’s hard to believe Jackson was referring to anything but the Thunder losing.

There’s plenty of history here, from Jackson’s ugly Oklahoma City exit to disputes in both Pistons-Thunder games this season. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have shown they aren’t fond of Jackson, and the feeling is clearly mutual.

If Jackson is referring to Oklahoma City’s loss – and I think he is – he’s being petty. But that’s fine. There’s room for pettiness in sports – especially when both sides will face each other on the court.

Durant and Westbrook surely aren’t thinking about regular-season games against the Pistons, but I bet Jackson is ready for the matchup. Considering how much better the Thunder are than Detroit, Jackson probably needs that extra edge to compete – though now Durant and Westbrook can also use this tweet as motivation (at least if Durant returns to Oklahoma City).