Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant

What does Oklahoma City look like without James Harden?


Getting hit with the cold truth hurts. Getting hit with it 37 times? Ask a Thunder fan how that feels. Here’s the truth, and it has been evident long before last night’s coming out party: James Harden is a star in this league.

And no matter how you try to rationalize trading Harden while competing for a championship, Oklahoma City is worse off for it – at least for this season. That has less to do with skill than it does with fit, because Kevin Martin has long been one of the most underrated and efficient scorers in the league. Things will just look very different. Here’s how.

16-23 Feet: Getting Crowded

Don’t cry for the “lost art of the mid-range game.” It’s the worst shot in basketball, and teams that rely heavily on it typically don’t have much offensive success. To that point, the Charlotte Bobcats, offensive juggernaut they were, led the league in shot attempts from 16-23 feet last season.

Oklahoma City took the 7th least attempts from 16-23 feet last year, but all that’s about to change. Kevin Martin may be ultra-efficient, but he still likes to create space and fire off his jumper from this distance on the floor. Martin typically averages nearly 5 attempts per game from 16-23 feet. Compare that to James Harden, a guy who rarely pulled up for long-twos, as he shot exactly one per game last year.

With Westbrook and Ibaka firing from this distance more and more as the years get on, the Thunder offense could be a little streakier than it has been in the past. The Thunder did shoot the league’s best percentage from here last year (42.6%), but buyer beware. There was better stuff on the menu when Harden was creating options that no other player on the current roster is capable of replicating.

Nick Collison loses his dance partner

Part of the reason Harden was able to have so much success in the pick-and-roll was because of the chemistry he enjoyed with Nick Collison. Apart from being a great screener, Collison knew exactly when to slip, or re-set, or simply leave Harden to his own devices. It would be a shock if Martin enjoyed the same success with Collison, as he looks almost solely to free himself, rarely feeding the roll man with a clever bounce pass.

And that hurts. Like an offensive lineman in football that gets sick of pass protection and just wants to run the ball a few times, big men in basketball setting screens want to roll hard to the rim and get rewarded with the ball every now and then. Collison has routinely been one of the league leaders in plus/minus, but without being so closely attached to Harden, his effectiveness should dwindle a bit.

Pin-down screens for all

Ultimately, it’s Scott Brooks who faces the biggest task of replacing Harden with Martin, simply because Harden was such a good “freelance” player. Even though Martin is actually a very good isolation scorer, he’s by no means a primary ballhandler. While Harden could get you in your stuff and out of it when it got bad, Martin can only finish the equation.

What’s that mean? More Eric Maynor handling the ball with the second unit, and a whole handful of the “Kevin Durant package” plays, which are basically pin-down screens, designed for Martin. Although he’s still far from a creative offensive mind, Brooks has gotten better at getting Durant the ball closer to the basket. Doing the same with Martin is a good idea, as he’s led the NBA three of the last four years in free throw attempts per 36 minutes.

Stagnant offense

This should be the big fear for the Thunder – the offense becoming too stagnant. Oklahoma City sometimes has a tendency to take turns, which can really leave them without any flow. Usually, Westbrook or Durant are so good and so unstoppable that it doesn’t matter, and that will be the case again this year. But once playoff time rolls around, the Thunder will miss the ability of Harden to break down the defense as a primary ballhandler.

Softer defense

Harden doesn’t measure out as a great defender, but the raw goods were there. Martin, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much resistance at all, as he’s not laterally quick or nearly strong enough to deny anyone spots on the floor. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, but at least Harden had the physical ability to hang with a Dwyane Wade type – Martin just doesn’t.

A little more frail

Okay, this is the actual biggest fear – Kevin Martin missing significant time. Martin missed 26 games last year, 36 three years ago, 31 the year before that, and 21 the year before that. Harden, meanwhile, has only missed 10 games over his first three seasons.

Although stylistically they’ll go through changes, it’s important to remember that Oklahoma City was bold enough to draft Harden where they did in the first place. If they are so willing to hit the reset button over a few million dollars every year, it seems almost likely that there’s something underneath the surface that we can’t quite see. Until that reason surfaces, however, take the Thunder for what they are — a less varied, less durable, less likely championship contender.

If you didn’t watch the final seconds of the WNBA Finals, you should

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This was flat out incredible.

After a back-and-forth, even series between the Minnesota Lynx and the Los Angeles Sparks, it came down to the final seconds (although maybe it shouldn’t have, the WNBA admitted Friday the referees missed a call with 1:14 left, giving the Sparks’ Nneka Ogwumike a bucket on a shot after the shot clock expired).

The biggest stars took over at the end, as you can see in the video above: L.A.’s Candace Parker drives and scores with 19 seconds left putting the Sparks up 75-74; Minnesota responded with a Maya Moore jumper to take the lead back, then it came down to Ogwumike (the WNBA’s 2016 MVP) getting the ball after a block by Sylvia Fowles and following it up with a fadeaway bucket that gave Los Angeles the title.

Congrats to Candace Parker on the win, after how she’s been overlooked on the awards circuit in the WNBA this season, this is some sweet revenge.

Report: Jrue Holiday’s wife, Lauren Holiday, undergoes successful brain surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 31:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans handles the ball during a game against the Golden State Warriors at the Smoothie King Center on October 31, 2015 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Pelicans point guard Jrue Holiday is away from the team as his wife, Lauren Holiday, battles a brain tumor.

First, Lauren gave birth to a healthy daughter.

Now, more good news.

John Reid of The Times-Picayune:

Hopefully, the Holidays continue to find good health.

Sixers coach Brett Brown says he expects Ben Simmons back in January

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A Jones fracture — the broken bone in the foot that Philadelphia rookie Ben Simmons recently has surgery to repair — is difficult to put on a recovery timeline. That part of the foot (the outside of the foot closer to the ankle) does not get good blood flow and that can slow recovery. Plus with a prized rookie, the Sixers have a history of being cautious — and Simmons’ agent may want to be even more cautious.

But Brett Brown, the Sixers coach, said he expects Simmons back on the court in January.

Here is what he told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

On Friday, coach Brett Brown confirmed that the first overall pick is scheduled to return in January. League sources previously said that Simmons would be out for three months.

“It’s not doom and gloom,” Brown said when asked when asked how his team is adjusting to its various injuries at the moment. “Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd [Bayless]. Jahlil [Okafor] is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game.”

It’s certainly possible Simmons is back in January, but even if it takes a little longer than that — say closer to the All-Star break — Brown would certainly work with it. As Brown told us when he joined PBT for a podcast, he wants to spend a lot of this season seeing how his young, athletic front line can play together? Can Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, and Dario Saric all play together in a big front line? How do Simmons and Embiid mesh? Simmons and Saric? Where does Nerlens Noel fit in all this once he returns?

Until Brown gets guys healthy and on the court it’s impossible to know.

For all our sakes, I hope Simmons is back in January. And if he is, the possibility of him still winning Rookie of the Year exists.

Report: Cavaliers trying to trade Mo Williams rather than waive and pay him

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 05:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Ian Clark #21 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 2 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 5, 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Mo Williams slyly backed the Cavaliers into a corner by opting into the final year of his contract, not retiring and undergoing surgery.

Look past the noise, and it’s pretty simple. Williams is under contract for a guaranteed $2,194,500 this season, and because he’s recovering from surgery, it’d be difficult for Cleveland to suspend him for not reporting. Just what does reporting look like for someone recovering from surgery?

This is obviously a fiasco for the Cavs, who face a steep luxury-tax bill and roster crunch. They don’t want Williams worsening either dilemma.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are in impasse with guard Mo Williams and it has left them scouring the league for a trade partner so they don’t have to swallow millions, sources told

The Cavs, who were caught off guard by the decision, have not had meaningful discussions with Williams on a buyout agreement, sources said.

Needing both a roster spot and a backup point guard, the Cavs are in a squeeze as the regular season opener looms. They are looking to attach guard Jordan McRae to Williams in trades, sources said.

Williams has negative trade value. I doubt McRae carries much trade value, let alone enough to offset the anchor of Williams.

It’s too late for Cleveland to stretch Williams’ salary. He has little incentive to negotiate a buyout. At this point, he’ll probably get all his remaining salary (though a buyout would be guaranteed and avoid the possibility of fines and suspensions reducing his payout).

The Cavaliers would do well to trade Williams to another team to waive him. The Cavs project to save $6,328,892 ($2,194,500 and $4,134,392 in luxury tax) by dumping Williams rather than waiving him themselves. They could even send another team Williams’ full $2,194,500 salary to take him and still come far ahead financially. Essentially, the other team would break even in such a deal. So, why would the other team do it? Cleveland would also have to send more – additional cash, draft picks or a player like McRae.

With multiple teams below the salary floor, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a taker.

But whatever positive assets the Cavaliers trade to dump Williams would be assets they can’t use in a trade for a healthy, productive point guard.

Williams is going to make life more difficult for the Cavs. The only question now is just how much more.