Russell Westbrook, James Harden

Russell Westbrook says Thunder don’t need to fill James Harden’s slot

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At the time the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, the thinking in OKC was that if they were never going to come to terms on a contract extension, then the team might as well get something in return for its most dynamic scorer off the bench.

History, however, will not be kind to that deal from the Thunder’s side.

Kevin Martin was the player who was supposed to immediately fill the void left by Harden’s exit, but he was hit and miss at best over the course of the season, and was never capable of taking over a game for stretches the way Harden could at times.

Martin is gone now, signed by the Timberwolves in free agency. All that’s left in terms of assets (besides a trade exception) is Jeremy Lamb, who has potential but will need to make a considerable leap this season to help the team in a meaningful capacity.

Whether or not the Thunder can contend for a title hinges on whether you believe that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are strong enough to carry the rest of the team to the Finals. Most observers believe that Harden’s production needs to be replaced for that to happen, but Westbrook himself doesn’t see it that way.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Which is why so many of us pests on the outside are openly wondering if the Thunder, with suddenly little to show in return for Harden unless they use the trade exception they created via Martin’s sign-and-trade to Minnesota, have enough to regain the 60-win form we witnessed before Westbrook went down.

It’s no lock even if you presume, as we do here, that Westbrook will make a fairly full recovery from the knee tear he suffered when Houston’s Patrick Beverley lunged at him in Game 2 of OKC’s first-round series with Harden’s Rockets.

Said Westbrook: “The main problem is, I personally think, since James has left I think everybody thinks we need somebody to fill that slot. The slot doesn’t have to be filled. We have a great team. If everybody does their job, we should be all right.”

Thunder GM Sam Presti is obviously in agreement with Westbrook, considering he’s expecting the team to improve upon last season’s 60-win campaign.

But simply put, we wonder if Oklahoma City will have enough overall firepower to make that a reality. Someone on that roster is going to need to provide a scoring punch in a reserve role, or multiple players will need to consistently contribute in order to make things tough on opposing defenses — especially during the postseason.

It’s tough to buy what Westbrook is selling. But who knows, if he’s healthy and motivated and Durant has an MVP-caliber season in store, that could be enough to ultimately prove the doubters wrong.

Klay Thompson masters scoring while barely having the ball

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson follows through on a shot during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Warriors guard Klay Thompson possessed the ball for 1:28 last night.

Teammate Ian Clark had it for 2:05.

Obviously, Thompson made a little more of his opportunities.

Thompson scored an insane 60 points in 29 minutes in Golden State’s win over the Pacers.

Remarkably, he didn’t hijack the offense to produce those eye-popping numbers. Thompson shot a cool 21-of-33 from the field, and 20 of his baskets were assisted. In addition to Clark, Stephen Curry,Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston all possessed the ball longer than Thompson.

In fact, nobody has come close to scoring so much while having the ball so little.

Here are the highest scoring games since the NBA began publishing possession time in 2013-14, marking points in time of possession:

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The the second-lowest time of possession on that leaderboard was also by Thompson. He scored 52 points in 2:40 of possession against the Kings in 2015.

But even that game required more than a minute of extra touch time.

Who has scored the most points in a game while possessing the ball for fewer than two minutes? Again, Thompson litters the list – with last night blowing the rest out of the water:

  • Klay Thompson (GSW-IND 12-5-16):60 in 1:28
  • Klay Thompson (GSW-DAL 1-27-16):45 in 1:40
  • Bojan Bogdanovic (BRK-PHI 3-15-16):44 points in 1:53
  • Klay Thompson (GSW-PHO 12-16-15):43 in 1:17
  • Anthony Davis (NOP-UTA 11-22-14):43 points in 1:36

Maybe Thompson knew what he was talking about when he said he wasn’t sacrificing for Durant. Even with his usage rate down slightly, Thompson has still found ways to flourish. He gets hot in a hurry.

It does take him a while to cool down, though.

Stephen Curry runs from bench into tunnel celebrating Klay Thompson 3-pointer (video)

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Ever been so excited you didn’t know to react?

That was Stephen Curry as Klay Thompson worked his way toward 60 points in 29 minutes, running from the bench toward midcourt then doubling back and heading right into the tunnel.

Eventually, Curry found his senses and tried to put out the fire.

Donatas Motiejunas’ agent, B.J. Armstrong: ‘We have our rights. We’re not going to show up’

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 12:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets and Bojan Bogdanovic #44 of the Brooklyn Nets fight for the loose ball at the Barclays Center on January 12, 2015 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.The Houston Rockets defeated the Brooklyn Nets 113-99. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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After the Rockets matched the Nets’ offer sheet, Donatas Motiejunas skipped his Houston physical today.

It doesn’t sound as if Motiejunas will become more cooperative anytime soon.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Unlike previous examples of Armstrong making foolish points to protect his clients, this could be a path that bites his client.

Motiejunas’ rights here were collectively bargained, and they’re pretty clear here.

He has a right not to undergo the physical within two days of Houston matching, but that means the Rockets can hold him in limbo through March 1. On March 2, his offer sheet would become void, and he’d be a restricted free agent – and unable to sign with Brooklyn for a year. Houston could also elect to formalize its offer match or make him a restricted free agent – still without the ability to sign with Brooklyn for a year – at any point between now and March 1.

Motiejunas probably wants the Rockets to “fail” him on his physical, which would send him to the Nets under the terms of the offer sheet. I doubt he’d even need to actually come in for a checkup if the failing is prearranged. But that’d require Houston general manager Daryl Morey squandering an asset out of the goodness of his heart.

Otherwise, Motiejunas is heading toward exercising his right to not get paid – while losing the ability for one year to sign with the one team outside Houston we know wants him.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas no-shows physical after Rockets match Nets’ offer

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Nets’ signed Rockets restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas to an offer sheet. Houston elected to match.

Case closed?

Hardly.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Houston has a right to demand Motiejunas undergo a physical within two days of exercising its matching rights, which it did yesterday. Motiejunas is requires to answer questions truthfully and supply requested medical information.

If Motiejunas fails to meet those requirements, he hangs in limbo until the Rockets decide his fate.

At any time between now and March 1, they could elect to undo their offer-sheet match. That would invalidate Motiejunas’ offer sheet and make him a restricted free agent again, and the Nets couldn’t sign him for a year. On March 2, the same effect will become automatic.

I don’t see what Motiejunas gains by not reporting. If he fails his Houston physical, he’d go to Brooklyn on the terms of the offer sheet.

By not undergoing the physical, he goes nowhere.