Strain of change leading to concerns about Thunder chemistry

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It has been a strange thing to see — barking and bickering among the tight chemistry of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s come up every game so far this season, Darnell Maryberry of the Oklahoman described Sunday’s incident in a loss to the Hawks.

At the end of the first quarter, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook had to be separated from exchanging words as they walked to the bench. It was a show of anger that surprisingly was also seen from the same two as they walked off the court at halftime Friday night.

In other moments Kevin Durant has barked at Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka have pointed fingers.

It’s odd because it wasn’t something we saw the past few years as this team made its runs, eventually all the way to the NBA finals. Not that everything was puppy dogs and rainbows around the Thunder, but there was not a lot of public tension.

This isn’t just about James Harden being traded, although that certainly is part of it because it was a big change to the chemistry of the team. Harden had grown up with the Thunder. It was a blow to Durant and Westbrook.

But you can add to that change the strain of expectations. Oklahoma City is no longer the young underdogs everyone wants to see succeed — they are a team that has been to the NBA finals, a team people expect to return to the biggest NBA dance and win it this time.

A team that expects itself to succeed.

All that has led to some tension, some strain on the family feelings around the team.

But don’t expect this to be a long-term concern. Not with Durant and Westbrook in charge — there is no doubt whose team this is (and was even before Harden was sent away). That super duo is going to figure it out, the team will get over this bump.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks and the players there told Royce Young of Eye on Basketball not to worry.

“I’ve never once went into a practice or a game thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I’m really worried about our chemistry tonight,” Brooks said. “[Chemistry] was never a question. It really wasn’t. I think when you talk about chemistry with our group and if you question it, I don’t think you’ve been around our group as long as I have.”

“You can’t duplicate it,” Westbrook said of chemistry, “but we have a group of guys that have been here for a while. We’re switching the team up a little bit but every year we’ve had a different team and we’ve found a way to incorporate guys and make sure everybody knows what it takes for us to win. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

It’s not. Perceived problems (or success) gets overblown the first couple weeks of a season (see Lakers for more info). Things find their level and even out, as will happen with the chemistry of the Thunder. They are figuring it out. They will get there and be who we expect as the season moves on.

Report: Cavaliers nearly traded Richard Jefferson last year when he revealed championship rings on Snapchat

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Richard Jefferson announced his retirement after the Cavaliers won the 2016 championship, changed his mind, re-signed with Cleveland then played another season there. He played big playoff minutes for the Cavs both years.

But they traded him to the Hawks (who waived him, allowing him to sign with the Nuggets) in a rather abrupt end to his Cleveland tenure.

His exit could have been far more strained.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Then he was nearly traded the summer after the championship because he revealed what the Cavs’ rings looked like on his Snapchat account before the team was ready to release them to the public. Then-GM David Griffin was so ticked that he was ready to ship him out of town, sources told ESPN, before eventually calming down and accepting Jefferson’s apology.

Talk about some petty nonsense. And Griffin was known for soothing tension!

Thankfully for Jefferson – at least if he wanted to stay in Cleveland – he revealed the ring design in September. As a newly signed player, he couldn’t be traded until Dec. 15. That gave Griffin time to cool down.

Carmelo Anthony: Phil Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips”

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Carmelo Anthony wanted to be traded to the Houston Rockets. Badly. (Whether that was good for Houston is a different discussion.) His time in New York was over by mutual consent, but now was time to move on, however, thanks to a no-trade clause Phil Jackson gave him, Anthony had leverage. And he wanted to be a Rocket with James Harden and Chris Paul.

It looked at one point like a deal would get done between New York and Houston, then it fell apart. So what happened?

Phil Jackson was booted, that’s what happened, Anthony told Marc Stein the New York Times.

The delay to find a workable trade, in Anthony’s view, stemmed from the fact that Jackson was willing “to trade me for a bag of chips,” while Scott Perry, who became the Knicks’ new general manager after Jackson’s departure, took a harder line in trade talks with Houston and Cleveland that eventually fizzled.

“They went from asking for peanuts to asking for steak,” Anthony said with a laugh.

‘Melo can laugh, he landed in a good spot with Oklahoma City. He’s on a potential contender.

As for his feelings on Jackson and leaving the organization? Still some hard feelings there.

“There was no support from the organization,” he said. “When you feel like you’re on your own and then on top of that you feel like you’re being pushed out …”

Kobe Bryant sends inspirational recovery message to Gordon Hayward

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Kobe Bryant has been there. He tore his Achilles at an age most players would have said: “that’s it, I’m out.” Not Kobe. He fought through it, came back, and was able to leave the game on his terms — and with a 60-point night.

So when Kobe sends an Instagram recovery message to Gordon Hayward, he knows of what he speaks.

Be sad. Be mad. Be frustrated. Scream. Cry. Sulk. When you wake up you will think it was just a nightmare only to realize it’s all too real. You will be angry and wish for the day back, the game back THAT play back. But reality gives nothing back and nor should you. Time to move on and focus on doing everything in your power to prepare for surgery, ask all the questions to be sure you understand fully the procedure so that you may visualize it in your subconscious while being operated on and better the chance of it’s success. Then focus on the recovery process day by day by day. It’s a long journey but if you focus on the mini milestones along the way you will find beauty in the struggle of doing simple things that prior to this injury were taken for granted. This will also mean that when you return you will have a new perspective. You will be so appreciative of being able to stand, walk, run that you will train harder than you ever have. You see the belief within you grow with each mini milestone and you will come back a better player for it. Best of luck to you on this journey my brother #mambamentality always.

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The message was vintage Kobe, all about the drive and steps to recovery. Focus on the next thing, don’t let any obstacles stop you.

Let’s just hope Hayward can take this to heart and make a full recovery.

PBT Podcast: Gordon Hayward injury, Celtics’ future, opening night news

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The buzz of the NBA’s opening night was killed just a 5:15 into the first game when Gordon Hayward went down with what could be a season-ending ankle and leg injury.

What’s next for Boston now? Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into that with this latest PBT Podcast.

They also discuss the opening night game between the Celtics and Cavaliers and what we can take away from it, same with the Houston Rockets upset of the Golden State Warriors. The pair also gets into the Nikola Mirotic/Bobby Portis incident in Chicago (this was recorded just before the Portis suspension came down), the LaMarcus Aldridge extension with the Spurs, and if Joel Embiid should be ticked about being on a minutes limit to start the season.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.