Oklahoma City Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook celebrates with small forward Kevin Durant during their NBA basketball game against Chicago Bulls in Oklahoma City

NBA Season Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

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Last season: So freaking close.

The Thunder beat the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the 2012 NBA Finals in Oklahoma City by 11 points. A double-digit victory over he mighty triumverate. It was their fifth win in a row and they looked, as teams do when the win by double-digits, like the superior team in every way. Russell Westbrook couldn’t be stopped. Kevin Durant couldn’t be stopped. The Heat couldn’t keep up with their athleticism and offensive firepower.

They never won again that season.

The next three game were decided by 16 points total. The Heat won four straight, sending the Thunder home after another step forward but once again without the prize.

It was a season that showed considerable growth for the three stars, Durant, Westbrook, and Harden. Durant became an even more efficient scorer and a better defender, Westbrook increased his production and cut down on his mistakes, Harden grew into a playmaker. The team overall, though, was much te same as it was the year before. Great offensively, pretty good defensively, dominant most of the time and exciting to watch. Defense was the only question, and in the end, it was the only one that mattered, as the grind-it-out style of the Heat wore them down and eventually bested them.

The Thunder had to have walked away from 2012 neither convinced that they could or could not win the title.

Key Departures: Nazr Mohammed played 11 minutes per game last season. He’s gone, so there’s that. That’s pretty much it. And, you know, there’s no real concerns on the horizon. Oh, wait, James Harden.

Key Additions: Perry Jones III plummeted down the draft board, all the way to the Thunder. With no concerns about how he would affect team chemistry or the expecations that would be heaped on him, the Thunder leapt at him and snatched him up. Jones gives them a versatile stretch four who can likely play 3 in some big lineups and has the potential to be an absolute steal if thigs work out right.

They brought in Hasheem Thabeet to replace Mohammed, which is fine. He has to come in, not be horrible, contest or block shots, and rebound. He will do just enough of this to not stand out while clearly still being the weakest link on the team.

How about Daniel Orton? Can I interest you in Andy Rautins? Care for some DeAndre Liggins? No? No? Anybody?

Three One keys to the Thunder season:

1) KEEP CALM AND THUNDER UP: The Thunder don’t need to adapt or change or alter. They don’t need to play differently or mix it up or make things more complex. They just need to do what they did last year.

They just need to show up, run, score, and rock. They are very fittingly the AC/DC of the NBA.

They just need to play better and hope the Heat aren’t as good as they were last year. Bear in mind that in all these other previews I can give you in-depth reasons and tactical adjustments, lineup or chemistry tweaks, philosophical or pragmatic deviations necessary for improvement. I have none for the Thunder. They just need to play a little better. That’s all I’ve got.

What Thunder fans should fear: Chemistry is the thing. This team has accomplished remarkable things at a young age, all built on the strength of their bond with one another. Young players who came up together in a small market with few distrctions who liked each and liked playing with and for one another.

But business has come. Westbrook got his extension, but there are people, even those in Oklahoma City who think that eventually, he’s going to want the opportunity to show what he can be as the main act. James Harden’s contract is on the clock. If it gets done, the Thunder have to plan for their future. If it doesn’t, they have to figure out what to do with him.

This team has exemplified fun and youth for three years, and it’s been an incredible ride. But it’s extremely rare for a team like this to stay together as they get older and the money gets bigger. It’s like the circle of life, only with publicists.

How it likely works out: It’s going to come down to the Lakers or them for the West. There is zero doubt in anyone’s rational, objective mind about this. It’s just a matter of whether Perkins can contain Dwight enough, if Durant can lift his game to another level, if Westbrook can out-produce Nash since neither can defend the other.

There is no way to tell who’s going to come out of it. It’s going to be extremely fun, and there will be many who will want to just skip right to it.

Prediction: 63-19. They have no injury concerns. They have the league’s second best player and best offensive weapons. They have twolegitimate MVP candidates. Their shot-blocking defensive star has reliable mid-range jumper. They have depth, youth, experience, energy, athleticism, skill, and are very, very hungry. The Lakers may have arrived once more. The Thunder are already here.

Jazz extend Quin Snyder’s contract

Utah Jazz head coach Quin Snyder speaks with reporters during the Jazz's end-of-season media availability Thursday, April 14, 2016, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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The Jazz hired Quin Snyder in 2014, reportedly giving him a contract that ran through next season with guaranteed salaries and contained a team option for 2017-18.

Utah wants to keep him around even longer.

Jazz release:

The Utah Jazz announced today a long-term contract extension for third-year head coach Quin Snyder. Per team policy, financial terms were not released.

“With this contract extension, we are declaring our confidence in Coach Snyder’s ability to continue to develop the Utah Jazz into a championship team,” said Gail Miller, owner of the Larry H. Miller Group of Companies. “The Miller family recognizes the significant progress made under his leadership and we are excited about the direction we are headed.”

“Our relationship with Quin, and this extension, reflect our shared passion for building a championship team,” said Steve Starks, president of the Utah Jazz. “With long-term contracts now in place for Quin, Dennis and other key front office personnel, we are well-positioned for the future.”

“We have continued to take significant steps as a team under Quin’s direction,” said Jazz General Manager Dennis Lindsey. “His work ethic, basketball intelligence and ability to connect with and develop our players make him the ideal head coach of the Jazz.”

“I am very grateful for this gesture by the Miller family and the Utah Jazz and appreciative of their belief in me to continue to lead this team,” Snyder said. “Amy and I are fortunate to be a part of a franchise and family that cares deeply for our community, stays true to its values and is committed to winning. More than anything, it is confirmation of our collective commitment to building a championship team.”

Snyder has done a nice job in Utah.

Despite a young roster and some ill-fitting pieces (namely Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors offensively), the Jazz have gone 38-44 and 40-42 under Snyder. Player development looks good, and the defense has been top notch.

At some point, the goal must become snapping a four-year playoff drought – the franchise’s longest since its first four seasons in Utah. But Snyder has the team on the right track, and the Jazz are already winning at a fine clip given their circumstances. He deserves a chance to see this through.

Gobert, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Favors, Dante Exum, Trey Lyles and Alec Burks – who are all already signed for next season (and, in some cases, beyond) – give the Jazz a bright future.

So does Snyder.

Report: Spurs plan to pursue Kevin Durant as hard as Warriors do

San Antonio Spurs' David West, left, and Kyle Anderson, right, defend as Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, center, positions for a shot during the first half in Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series, Monday, May 2, 2016, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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The Warriors are reportedly planning a big push to sign Kevin Durant in free agency.

They’re not the only capped-out contender on that track.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Spurs, though, are said to have harbored similar fantasies for months in their famously stealthy manner.

The stately Spurs, league sources say, are just as intrigued as Golden State by the thought of making a run at Durant come July 1.

Every team wants to sign Durant. Not every team will try to sign Durant. Some teams without the cap space or perceived interest from Durant won’t put in the effort – unless Durant throws a nod in their direction first. They just don’t want to waste time and miss out on other free agents in the process.

The Spurs had been the type of team to ignore high-stakes free agency, but that changed with LaMarcus Aldridge last year. Word for a while had been they’d also chase chase Durant.

San Antonio can sell a winning culture, a roster that’s already contending for a title and proximity to Durant’s college (Texas). But creating the necessary cap room will be challenging.

Durant’s max salary projects to be about $26 million next season against a $92 million cap, so the Spurs would need to trim their payroll to about $66 million.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker will make a combined $52,658,381 million. San Antonio would have to decide what to do with Danny Green ($10 million) and Boris Diaw ($7 million, $3 million guaranteed). So much is up in the air with Tim Duncan ($5,643,750) and Manu Ginobili ( $2,940,630), who both have player options and could retire. Patty Mills ($3,578,948) and Kyle Anderson ($1,192,080) also have guaranteed salaries to account for.

But there is a path, and the Spurs seem intent on trying to travel it.

The upside is just too darn high. Durant would put the Spurs on at least on equal footing with elite Golden State – maybe even higher.

Likewise, the downside is huge. If Durant signs with the Warriors, how will San Antonio ever beat them?

Better for the Spurs just to get Durant for themselves – if they can.

Report: Multiple executives expect Knicks to keep Kurt Rambis

New York Knicks head coach Kurt Rambis calls out a play from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, April 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Knicks won 109-102. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
AP Photo/Michael Perez
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Phil Jackson reportedly pushed for the Knicks to give Kurt Rambis a multi-year contract. Jackson isn’t searching for another coach right now.

You do the math.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Multiple executives around the league expect Rambis to get the job.

The usual question applies: Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just reading the same writing on the wall? They’re positioned to glean inside information, but that isn’t necessarily required here. All the public circumstantial evidence points to Rambis.

This is another signal the Knicks will make Rambis their permanent head coach, but it was already looking that way.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

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Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.