Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant

GM Presti thinks Thunder can improve on 60-win season

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James Harden left before last season starter, yet the Thunder improved — they scored 2.6 points more per 100 possessions and allowed 0.8 less per 100. They were a 60-win team, a better team than the year before, their playoffs just cut short by Russell Westbrook’s injury.

This year Kevin Martin is gone and the Thunder are going to need Jeremy Lamb and Reggie Jackson to step into bigger roles and thrive — and that just may happen. First off, Kevin Durant and Westbrook are just 25, their games are still improving each year. Also, the Thunder have built a Spurs-like system where guys just can step in and do the job, whether it be Serge Ibaka or now Lamb.

Thunder GM Sam Presti said at the team’s press conference he thinks the team will improve this year, as reported by the Oklahoman.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to build on the success and strengths of last season,” Presti said, “and we think we have an opportunity to do that….

“I think Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb have, really, almost pushed the standards higher for some of the younger players that will follow them in our program in the future,” Presti said. “They’ve been incredibly diligent. The time they’ve put in and the quality of the work has been exceptional.”

The Thunder will be one of the NBA’s best teams in the regular season (I think they will have the best record in the West). The fact is in the grind of the regular season you just can’t prepare and make changes to deal with OKC’s athleticism (it’s the same reason Miami just overwhelms teams in the regular season). That is mostly about Durant and Westbrook being healthy.

The playoffs, when teams have time to prepare and can take away your first couple options in your offense, that is when I wonder how the Thunder will do. Last season when Westbrook went down the Thunder were lost when the primary options on their basic sets were taken away. I’m not sure they have all the weapons they need for the playoffs.

But this is still a contender and a team that could improve off last season, and make their GM look even smarter.

Heat center Willie Reed has bursitis, out for Monday

AP
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MIAMI (AP) Willie Reed will not travel with the Miami Heat for Monday’s game in Dallas because of bursitis in his right ankle.

Reed was injured in the fourth quarter of Miami’s win over Indiana on Saturday. He limped around for several seconds, then went down in obvious pain and eventually was carted off the court.

The Heat originally called Reed’s injury a calf strain, and tests performed Sunday showed the bursitis.

Reed is being listed as day-to-day. He’s averaging 5.3 points on 57 percent shooting this season.

His injury means the Heat will have 11 players available Monday, with four forwards or centers all out. Chris Bosh has not played this season, Justise Winslow (shoulder) is expected to miss the rest of the season and Josh McRoberts (foot) remains sidelined.

Chris Webber eager for new ‘Players Only’ NBA programming

Chris Webber
AP
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MIAMI (AP) Chris Webber’s first night as a television analyst ended with the former Michigan star getting teased about his infamous extra timeout that helped seal the Wolverines’ fate in the 1993 NCAA championship game against North Carolina.

He laughed it off.

It was, as Turner Sports colleague Ernie Johnson called it that night, an initiation. And not only did Webber pass, he has flourished – evolving into one of the game’s respected voices, a player-turned-broadcaster who tries to combine the emotion of what’s happening on the floor with a professionalism that he believes is required of those behind the microphone.

Webber will be one of the headliners when TNT unveils its new “Players Only” platform on Monday night, a five-week run of doubleheaders where all the commentators will be former pro men’s and women’s players.

“It’s a crazy opportunity as a player to be able to kind of take over the studio,” said Webber, a finalist for induction in this year’s Basketball Hall of Fame class. “Some of the guys and I have talked about what a crazy opportunity this is, and we’re going to make the most of it.”

Among the other players involved: Chris Bosh, Isiah Thomas, Baron Davis, Grant Hill, Kevin McHale and Lisa Leslie.

“I do think we can change the game with this opportunity,” Webber said.

In a time when television remarks have started feuds between current and former players – like the longstanding back-and-forth between Charles Barkley and stars like Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and in the last few days the dustup involving Shaquille O’Neal, JaVale McGee and Kevin Durant – Webber has prided himself on being fair with criticisms.

There are times when people within the game tease one another, like the night Johnson asked him how many timeouts are allowed in college games. Webber thinks that’s fair – but he avoids the banter that turns personal.

“As long as I don’t speak about guys’ character, then it really doesn’t matter,” Webber said. “There’s nothing that I can say about a player that hasn’t already been said about me. There’s no sensitivity there. Players, when certain commentators say something, he can say: `How can he say that? He’s never been in that position.’ Well, the player can’t look at me and say that.”

Webber retired averaging 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds, numbers that will likely have him headed to the Hall of Fame – possibly this year. He’s among 14 finalists who will get word on their fate in April at the Final Four.

The induction in Springfield, Massachusetts, is in September.

“About time,” said Barkley, a Hall of Famer. “He should already be in there.”

Webber said hearing his name listed as a finalist was surreal.

“I’m just thankful that I was nominated,” Webber said. “I’m taking in the moment, being very thankful and that I’m here. But as far as thinking about more than that, nah, I don’t do that.”

Webber doesn’t play anymore – nearly losing to his 16-year-old nephew in a 1-on-1 game last summer was the last straw – and has enjoyed being around basketball in other capacities since retiring. He represented the Sacramento Kings at an NBA draft lottery, agreed to teach a class at Wake Forest in sports storytelling and is involved in a production company.

He said he sees broadcasting as a privilege, after working alongside the likes of Kevin Harlan, Dick Stockton and Marv Albert, which is why he’s taking “Players Only” especially seriously.

“If you’re around someone and you’re willing to learn, you can get better,” Webber said. “We’re going to take from their examples. You have to honor the game with professionalism, but I also think we give a unique perspective. And I think we have a validation that can’t be taught.”

Russell Westbrook dunks on DeMarcus Cousins, who fouls out (video)

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In one fell swoop, Russell Westbrook scored two points, eliminated the Pelicans’ second-best player and got the Thunder all the momentum.

This dunk on DeMarcus Cousins, who fouled out trying to contest it, helped Oklahoma City pull away for a 118-110 win.

 

Report: Knicks waiving Brandon Jennings

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 01:  Brandon Jennings #3 of the New York Knicks in action against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on February 1, 2017 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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The Knicks made no deals prior to the trade deadline, causing Carmelo Anthony to question the team’s direction.

It’s as if Phil Jackson now just woke up and realized he could do something.

With the trade deadline passed, New York is waiving Brandon Jennings to sign Chasson Randle.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This is a good move executed in seemingly the most ham-handed way possible.

The Knicks couldn’t have traded Jennings for a second-rounder last week? He’s on a one-year contract worth just $5 million, which should have made it easy to line up salaries. He’s overrated, because his flashy moments and presence in a big market dwarf erratic play overall. Still, for teams ready to win now that needed a backup point guard, Jennings could have added value.

And even if potential Jennings trades wouldn’t have cleared a roster spot, the Knicks could have waived Sasha Vujacic instead. Vujacic is washed up, but he’s a Jackson favorite.

Still, the Knicks are better off now. They open playing time for promising rookie Ron Baker and add the 24-year-old Randle, who shined in limited minutes with the 76ers earlier this season. New York has circled Randle since went undrafted out of Standford in 2015. He played for the Knicks in summer league and the preseason, but they cut him once he got hurt.

For a team headed back to the lottery, better to emphasize youth — though it would have been even better to do so before the trade deadline.

Jennings is also better off, likely to join a better team. I wouldn’t rule out the Nuggets or Jazz claiming him on waivers, but he most likely clears waivers and picks his next destination.