Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant reacts during NBA Global Game against Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder


Last season: The Thunder finished the regular season with a record of 60-22, which was good for the number one playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Thanks to the unfortunate knee injury that occurred in Game 2 of the team’s first round playoff series against the Rockets, however, OKC quite literally limped to the finish line, and was overmatched by a Memphis Grizzlies team in the second round that took care of them easily in five games.

Signature highlight from last season: The play that was most impactful was, of course, Westbrook’s injury in the playoffs. But let’s keep it positive here, and with too many ridiculous Kevin Durant highlights to choose from, let’s go with this explosive dunk from Westbrook on the break that he threw down over Golden State’s Stephen Curry.

Key player changes: OKC didn’t make any additions that would lead you to believe the roster this year is better than it was a season ago, and lost it’s only reliable scorer from the bench unit in free agency.

  • IN: Rookies Steven Adams (drafted with the 10th overall pick) and Andre Roberson (drafted with the 26th overall pick by Minnesota, then dealt to OKC on draft night) are the only new faces with guaranteed contracts in place for the coming season.
  • OUT: Kevin Martin was allowed to leave in free agency, and although he got more from the Timberwolves than he would have been worth to the Thunder (especially when retaining him would’ve meant entering luxury tax territory), his loss will be noticed, especially in the early part of the season. Ronnie Brewer was a midseason acquisition, but he didn’t have much impact and ended up signing with the Rockets this summer.

Keys to the Thunder’s season:

1) The health of Russell Westbrook: We know Westbrook is going to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season following an additional knee surgery that took place just recently. What we don’t know is how long it’ll be before he returns to form as one of the most dynamic and explosive players in the game today.

The timeline of Westbrook’s ascent back to the player he once was is going to make all the difference in how the Thunder’s regular season plays out. The team is obviously looking at playing deep into the postseason, after finishing with 60 wins last year and making it to the Finals in the season before that. But in the midst of a crowded Western Conference stacked with at least six powerful teams, finishing lower in the standings will make the desired playoff results that much more difficult to achieve.

2) The development of the bench: OKC traded away James Harden before the beginning of last season, and while history is not going to look kindly on the deal from the Thunder’s perspective, at least they got a semi-serviceable scorer in Kevin Martin in return who could fill that role off the bench. With Martin now gone in free agency (and with no one added to replace him), the Thunder are going to need to get production from the reserve unit somewhere if they’re going to be able to compete with the league’s elite teams.

The hope is that Reggie Jackson, who saw heavy minutes during the playoffs and performed better than expected, can continue to develop into a reliable contributor that he’s already shown signs of proving to be. But it would be nice if Jeremy Lamb, DeAndre Liggins or one of the freshly-drafted rookies could contribute as well, and there’s just no guarantee that they’ll come along as quickly as the Thunder need them to in order to remove some of the burden from the starters’ shoulders.

3) Kevin Durant, MVP? This could be the year that Kevin Durant unseats LeBron James as league MVP, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost on the list could be voter fatigue — we all know that James is considered to be the game’s best player, but if the Heat coast a little during the regular season and Durant is forced to put up ridiculous numbers to keep his team in the hunt while Westbrook is out, it would be easy to see him quickly becoming the favorite to take home the award if those making the call are looking to give it to someone besides James.

Durant is capable of dominating offensively, and will be expected to do so with his All-Star teammate sidelined. He could take on an even bigger role as the season progresses depending on Westbrook’s recovery and whether or not he gets much help from his teammates. If he puts up MVP-caliber numbers, there’s no reason the Thunder can’t be right where they need to be by the time the season concludes, despite all of the apparent challenges.

Why you should watch the Thunder: Durant and Westbrook are arguably two of the league’s top-five players. Beyond that, the intrigue with this Thunder team runs deep. Can Durant carry them to a high place in the regular season standings, or will the team collapse under heavy expectations, and due to Westbrook’s injury and the lack of a capable bench? There’s drama here, and that’s exciting.

Prediction: 53-29, good for a top-five finish in the West. Durant will need to come through with that MVP season for the Thunder to be in the championship conversation, especially in a deeper-than-usual Western Conference. While he’s certainly capable of that, the questions surrounding Westbrook and the reserve unit are too plentiful for the team to warrant anything more than a forecast of a similar outcome as it experienced a season ago — a second round playoff loss.

Report: Lamar Odom found unconscious, taken to Las Vegas hospital

Lamar Odom

Let’s hope that this is not as bad as it sounds.

Lamar Odom, whose NBA career was cut short due to his challenges with drug use, has been taken to a Las Vegas-area hospital after being found unconscious at a brothel in a city not far outside the city, according to the report from TMZ.

Lamar Odom is fighting for his life after falling into unconsciousness at Dennis Hof’s Love Ranch South in Pahrump, Nevada … TMZ Sports has learned.

Sources at the Love Ranch tell us … 35-year-old Odom arrived at the Ranch Saturday and was partying with the girls for days. A source at the Ranch said Lamar was taking an herbal substitute for Viagra. We spoke with Hof … who tells us Tuesday afternoon, a woman went into Odom’s room in the VIP suites and found him unconscious.

Odom spent 14 seasons in the NBA, starting his career with the Clippers and going on to be a key figure in the 2009 and 2010 Los Angeles Lakers title teams. He won Sixth Man of the Year in 2011.

While famous in basketball circles — and incredibly well liked by players and media, he was one of the funniest guys in the league — he became a pop culture sensation when he married Khloe Kardashian. However, it was about that time that his drug use started to take a toll on everything in his life. It was not long before he was traded to Dallas, and things started to truly spiral out of control for him. He went for treatment after that, but never returned to the NBA.

We will have more as the story develops. Our thoughts are with Odom, and we hope he pulls out of this.

Jazz waive Jack Cooley and J.J. O’Brien

Jack Cooley, Jordan Mickey
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Utah Jazz said Tuesday that they have waived forwards Jack Cooley and J.J. O'Brien.

Cooley played in 16 games with the Jazz last season after being called up from the NBA Developmental League. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.6 rebounds. Cooley’s fate with the team seemed to be decided when 7-foot center Jeff Withey signed a multi-year free agent deal in August. The 6-9, 260-pounder was in his second NBA season.

O’Brien was signed as an undrafted rookie Aug. 28 and played in one preseason game with the Jazz.

The Jazz roster now stands at 18.