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


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.

Report: Some Hawks executives doubt Danny Ferry’s contrition

Danny Ferry, Mike Budenholzer
Leave a comment

Since his racist comments about Luol Deng, Danny Ferry has mostly avoided the public eye.

He apologized through a couple statements released around the beginning of his leave of absence. He met with black community leaders. He claimed “full responsibility.”

A cadre of NBA people vouched for him. A law firm the Hawks hired to investigate themselves essentially cleared of him of being motivated by racial bias.

But there’s another side.

Kevin Arnovitz and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Ferry’s efforts at contrition sometimes fell short to some inside the organization. Several Hawks executives were at times put off by Ferry’s behavior during a compulsory two-day sensitive training session, especially since they considered his actions triggered the assembly in the first place. He came across as inattentive and dismissive of the exercise, some said, and fiddled with his phone quite a bit. Ferry contends he was taking notes on the meeting.

“It was awkward for everyone because I had not seen or been around Hawks employees for three months,” Ferry told ESPN this summer about the sensitivity training. “I took the seminar seriously, participated in the role-play exercises and certainly learned from the two-day session.”

the Hawks satisfied Ferry on June 22 by releasing both the written Taylor report and a flowery press release in which Hawks CEO Koonin was quoted saying, among other things, that “Danny Ferry is not a racist.” Some Hawks executives grumbled that the team overreached in exonerating Ferry, but doing so — not to mention paying Ferry significantly more than the $9 million he was owed on his “golden ticket” deal — was the cost of moving on.

I don’t know whether Ferry has shown the proper level of contrition, whether he was playing on his phone or taking notes.

But I know what he said:

“He’s a good guy overall, but he’s got some African in him, and I don’t say that in a bad way other than he’s a guy that may be making side deals behind you, if that makes sense. He has a storefront out front that’s beautiful and great, but he may be selling some counterfeit stuff behind you.”

He was not reading directly from a scouting report. He did not stop when his paraphrasing repeated a racist trope.

That’s a problem.

I don’t think Ferry intended to say something racist – but he did.

It’s a fixable issue, though. Through introspection and a desire to change, he can learn from this mistake. Maybe he already has.

That some around him don’t think he took that process seriously is worth noting. They might be off base, and Ferry obviously disagrees with their perception. But this is a two-sided story despite the common narrative focusing on Ferry’s redemption.

It’ll be up to any potential future employers to sort through the discrepancies.

Gilbert Arenas: Caron Butler’s version of gun incident ‘false’

arenas wizards
Leave a comment

Caron Butler recently detailed the Gilbert Arenas-Javaris Crittenton gun incident.

In a since-deleted – but screenshot-captured – Instagram post, Arenas gives his description:

The biggest differences between Butler’s and Arenas’ versions:

1. Arenas claims he wasn’t the one who owed Crittenton money, that the feud escalated over Arenas prematurely showing his hand during a card game.

2. Arenas says he told Crittenton to pick a gun to shoot Arenas with – not to pick a gun he’d get shot by Arenas with.