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?

West bench goes wild over Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook alley-oop (video)

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NEW ORLEANS — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook connected on a fantastic alley-oop in tonight’s All-Star game, but the reaction of the Western Conference bench was even better.

Both Durant and Westbrook downplayed the play after the game, but not everyone agreed.

 

“Defining moment in history right there,” All-Star MVP Anthony Davis said.

 

Report: Kings agree to trade DeMarcus Cousins to Pelicans for Buddy Hield, several picks

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 17: Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans talks to DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings during the NBA All-Star Celebrity Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 17, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — There has been a faction within the Kings organization that wanted to move DeMarcus Cousins for a while, even though they wouldn’t get equal value back, even though it would mean extending their decade-long playoff drought and rebuilding all over again. Despite Cousins’ unquestioned talent on the court, some in the franchise questioned if they could build a consistent, quality team with him as the cornerstone and pointed to the win total in recent years as their example.

For years, Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive stood in the way of that — he was Cousins’ biggest supporter in the organization.

However, that changed recently according to a source near the Kings, and once it did things moved quickly for Cousins to be traded to the Pelicans in a blockbuster move that few in the league saw coming this quickly. Adrain Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports broke the trade, while Marc Stein of ESPN followed up with details.

This is a big win for Pelicans’ GM Dell Demps, who has been on the hot seat for his inability to put a good team around his All-NBA star in Davis. It’s a move that comes with risks, but risks the Pelicans needed to take this roll of the dice. How well Davis and Cousins can play together remains to be seen, and the team still desperately could use more shooting. The biggest challenge will be re-signing Cousins, who has one year left on his deal after this one (and now cannot be signed to a designated player supermax deal the Kings allegedly were going to offer). Look at what Cousins’ agent said.

Kings GM Vlade Divac was known to be a big Buddy Hield fan heading into the last draft (the Pelicans took him a few spots ahead of the Kings’ pick). If these picks are 2017 ones, as reported, that helps a little as this is considered a deep draft. However, it’s still not anywhere close to equal value and the Kings will take a massive a step back — and they weren’t far forward already. The Kings’ front office reportedly presented Ranadive with the two best choices, and he went with this one. The trade is the first step in a long rebuild for a Sacramento fan base that is understandably hurt. The next question for Ranadive is if Divac is the guy to lead that rebuild?

Cousins himself played only two minutes in the All-Star Game Sunday, a sign something was up. Davis, who was the All-Star Game MVP scoring a record 52 points, was asked about Cousins before the trade was announced.

“He’s a great player, dominant in this league, of course, with all the numbers he put up. But I haven’t heard anything,” Davis said.

Cousins also said knew nothing about the deal when he spoke to the media, and added he was just frustrated that once again he was at the All-Star Game and the focus was on trade talk surrounding him.

“Give me a break. I just need one All-Star where it’s just All-Star questions man,” an exasperated Cousins said. “This is my third one and it’s always been something… It’s disappointing I’m spending another All-Star talking about the Kings rather than my All-Star experience.”

As for if he wanted to play in New Orleans (that rumor had been flying around the Smoothie King Center all night), Cousins simply said, “if it happens it happens” and that he was happy in Sacramento.

Cousins said he hadn’t heard from Divac or anyone, and West coach Steve Kerr said that he only played Cousins two minutes in the All-Star Game at Cousins’ request because he is banged up and wanted to rest. Nobody is buying any of this, but that’s what they said.

 

Anthony Davis sets All-Star game record with 52 points, wins MVP, gets DeMarcus Cousins as teammate

Western Conference forward Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans (23 ) slam dunks during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, Pool)
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NEW ORLEANS — After an exhausting game to cap an exhausting weekend, Anthony Davis finally sat down and let his guard down.

“Aw, f—,” Davis said.

The the biggest problem appeared to be that Davis was in front of a room jammed with media, but his harmless lapse to begin his post game press conference was collectively forgiven with a laugh.

The bigger, not-yet-know issue issue: It was too early for the Pelicans star to relax.

After handling All-Star hosting duties in New Orleans, setting an All-Star game record with 52 points and winning MVP, Davis saw the Pelicans trade for DeMarcus Cousins.

“He’s a great player, dominant in this league,” Davis said when the deal was still in the rumored stage.

Cousins will finally give Davis a star teammate and push the Pelicans closer to playoff contention. Davis said he didn’t recruit much this weekend, but he clearly delivered for New Orleans by winning All-Star MVP.

“It was amazing,” Davis said. “That’s what I wanted to do. I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room before the game. I wanted to get MVP for this crowd, for this city. The guys did a great job of finding me.”

Davis played 31 minutes and 50 seconds — the most in the last three All-Star games. His 52 points broke Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star record of 42 points in 1962 — the season Chamberlain set NBA records with 50.4 points per game and scored 100 in a single game.

“The next one I’m going to try to do is 100 points,” Davis said.

Record night from hometown star Anthony Davis leads West to 192-182 All-Star Game win

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Anthony Davis #23 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots the ball in the first half of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — For all the drama around the All-Star Game this week — from the overblown Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook “feud” to the suddenly not overblown DeMarcus Cousins trade — when the game tipped off the guys wanted to make it about the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis.

From the opening minutes of the game Western Conference All-Stars were trying to feed the hometown hero and get the man buckets — players known to never pass up an open look did just that to feed Davis.

It worked, Davis broke Wilt Chamberlain’s 1962 record for all-time All-Star points record by scoring 52 points — and every make was inside the arc. Wilt had 42 points, but his teammates’ passes meant Davis was the MVP and leading the West to the 192-182 win.

“That’s what I wanted to do,” Davis said of winning MVP. “I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room before the game that I wanted to get the MVP for this crowd, for this city, and I ended up doing it. Them guys did a great job of just finding me, giving me the basketball.”

“It shows the guys understand what this weekend is about,” West coach Steve Kerr said, later adding he planned to give the Pelican’s star more run in his hometown. “Davis was the unofficial host of the weekend.”

Westbrook came close to reaching the record too, finishing with 41, and in the second half he got so hot he had to cool himself down.

The defense was what you expect in an All-Star Game, which is to say none. To the point that after the game Westbrook was saying the players need to take it upon themselves to make this a more competitive game in the future. Kerr said the league needs to find ways to incentivize the players to compete a little harder and not let it become a dunkfest.

With the best players in the world and nominal defense, guys were getting buckets from the start. The West was trying to feed Davis early, and he had a quick eight points and finished the first quarter with 10, while Westbrook came in and got a quick nine off the bench. Westbrook’s buckets included a give-and-go with Durant that drew a lot of attention.

However, it was the East up 53-48 after one thanks to early buckets by Giannis Antentokounmpo, who had a quick 10 for the East in the first quarter (on his way to 30 for the game), while Boston’s Isaiah Thomas had a quick eight off the bench (he would finish with 20).

Davis continued getting the touches in the second quarter, picking up another dozen to give him 22 first-half points and helping the West push out to a 97-92 halftime lead. Yes, halftime. Did we mention there was no defense? Also, LeBron James had 20 in the first half to lead the East (he had just three in the second half).

The third quarter continued the sad defense overall and the high energy from the Greek Freak, all of which came together when Curry literally laid down on the court to avoid ending up in a poster dunk.

The other show in the third was Westbrook, who got hot and scored a dozen points all in third — all on threes — and kept the West out in front 144-139.

But in the end, the night belonged to Davis.