Russell Westbrook, James Harden

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


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

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.

Kristaps Porzingis grew up a Kobe fan. Still is one.


When you hear player comparisons for Knicks rookie, the most common is Dirk Nowitzki — a European big with ridiculous shooting range and potential to embarrass anyone.

So did he grow up idolizing Dirk? Not so much.

Rather, like many of his generation, he grew up idolizing Kobe Bryant, he told Mike Francesa of WFAN.

“My favorite player growing up was Kobe. The Lakers were my team and I still love him.”

There is an entire generation of NBA players — and just fans — who would say the same thing.

In the interview, Porzingis laments his missed shots and turnovers, he thinks he can be a lot better. That is exactly what you want out of a rookie. It’s a huge adjustment playing at the NBA level, the speed of the game and IQ is a leap from Europe (or college). Recognizing the challenge is part of it.

There’s a lot to like in Porzingis. He could be special (we don’t know yet, we see only the potential). But idolizing Kobe — and if you understand the work he put in, the passion for the game — can be a good start.

(Hat tip NBA reddit)

Warriors’ interim coach Luke Walton’s car stolen

Luke Walton

If you’re looking for a “when are things going to go wrong for the Warriors” moment, we have one for you. But it may not be what you had hoped for.

Warriors’ interim head coach Luke Walton — the guy on the sidelines for the 15 (soon to be 16) game winning streak — had his car stolen during a crime spree, reports

One of the cars stolen during an Oakland Hills crime spree belongs to Golden State Warriors coach Luke Walton, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley said late Monday.

Walton’s Mercedes Benz was stolen Tuesday by two suspects, who police believe are also responsible for a violent attack on a 75-year-old woman outside her home on Thursday. The suspects also took the woman’s car during the attack, according to police.

Yikes. That’s serious.

I’m sure Steve Kerr has like 14 cars, he can loan one to Walton.

Pacers guard George Hill returns Tuesday against Wizards

Paul George, Marcus Morris
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Pacers guard George Hill returned to the lineup Tuesday night against Washington after missing three games with an upper respiratory infection.

Hill is averaging 14 points and just under 37 minutes in 10 games this season. He was on the bench in case of emergency in Saturday’s victory over Milwaukee.

Coach Frank Vogel said Tuesday Hill’s infection had improved “to the point where he’s fine to play,” but would keep an eye out for fatigue after an 11-day layoff.

Hassan Whiteside on intentional fouls: “It’s not working, so keep fouling me”

Hassan Whiteside

Remember how Adam Silver was preaching that the league didn’t want to change the intentional foul rule — the hack-a-Shaq strategy — because it was really about two players (DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard) and a handful of others now and then. The fact that it’s not basketball didn’t matter.

Well, it’s not just two — Miami’s Hassan Whiteside has gotten the treatment this season. He’s a 53.4 percent free throw shooter this season.

And he says bring it on. From Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post:

“I’m enjoying this,” he said. “Foul me so I can get a double-double and we can win. It’s not working, so keep fouling me.”

He’s even smart at not getting fouled.

Whiteside also is liking that teams are looking at their options against the best defense in the NBA — yes, Miami at 94 points allowed per 100 possessions, is the best defense in the NBA right now — and deciding to attack Whiteside.

“There’s teams that’s out there that say ‘Stay away from Hassan,’ and there’s teams that say, ‘We don’t care if Hassan’s down there. Attack Hassan.’ I love them teams that do that. God bless them coaches. I love them teams.”

Whiteside is not as great a defender as the block totals would indicate — if he doesn’t see a block in it, his rotations can be a bit slow. One scout recently called him a selfish defender to me recently, suggesting he is in it for the numbers, not the sacrifices needed for an elite defense. True or not, the Heat have an elite defense and Whiteside is at the heart of it.

And if the strategy is to try to exploit him, Whiteside plans to make people pay.