ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

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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.

Draymond Green on Raiders move to Las Vegas: I won’t attend another game

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The Raiders are moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, and Draymond Green — whose Warriors also play in Oakland is not pleased.

Green, via Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

I wouldn’t attend a game. I won’t attend a game.

“And I’m not a diehard Raiders fan, but I support the city of Oakland. It ain’t for me and I feel like all fans should feel that way. You just don’t do that. Come on man, that’s ridiculous.”

“If I were the fans, I wouldn’t attend a game for the next two years. But that’s just me. That’s ridiculous. No way I’d pay my money to attend a game.”

 

Um, does Green realize the Warriors are also moving from Oakland (to a new arena in San Francisco)?

Green:

“It’s one thing if you’re moving them from Oakland to Fremont or something,” Green said of the Raiders. “To Las Vegas?

OK, that’s Fair. I am just being pedantic. I don’t actually see moving across the bay as similar to the Raiders moving hundreds of miles away.

Green:

“That’s like moving the Dallas Cowboys or moving the Packers,” he said. “Moving the Raiders? You can move a lot of teams. Ain’t many fan bases like the Raiders fan base. That’s like moving the Boston Celtics from Boston or the Lakers from LA.

“You just don’t move certain franchises with the fan base they have.”

But seriously this time: Someone tell Green that the Raiders have already moved from Oakland to Los Angeles and back to Oakland — hundreds of miles each way and a ridiculous drive in traffic.

I get that Green — who grew up in Detroit Lions territory, roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers and is pictured above in a San Francisco 49ers jersey — just wants to connect with Oakland fans, but this argument is just intellectually dishonest.

Lonzo Ball: I’m better than Markelle Fultz

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Who should go No. 1 in the 2017 NBA draft?

A pair of Pac-12 freshmen point guards, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, lead the discussion.

Fultz looks like the leading contender, but Ball doesn’t buy into the conventional wisdom.

Ball, via ESPN:

“Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him,” said Ball, who led the Bruins to a pair of blowout victories over Fultz’s Huskies this season.

“I think I can lead a team better than him,” Ball added. “Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

This will get spun into a discussion of Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball. But, without digging deeply, D'Angelo Russell, Shabazz Muhammad and Enes Kanter each claimed to be the best player in their respective drafts. Look further, and there are many more examples.

Reaching Lonzo Ball’s level usually comes with supreme confidence. This is normal — not a cause for concern about the influence of his boastful dad.

And for what’s it’s worth, I’d favor Ball over Fultz right now, though there’s still more information to gather in the draft process.

Steve Kerr on Mike D’Antoni as Coach of the Year, “He’s earned it.”

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There are some strong candidates for NBA Coach of the Year this season. Brad Stevens has built up Boston over the past couple seasons, and they are now the top seed in the East. The Wizards are having their best season in a long time, and the players there credit new coach Scott Brooks. Quin Snyder has done a fantastic job building a culture and strong team in Utah. Eric Spoelstra didn’t allow the Heat to let go of the rope in the East when they were 11-30, and now they are on the cusp of making the playoffs. Gregg Popovich needs to be in the running every year because he is the best coach in the game.

However, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni is probably going to win the award. Golden State’s Steve Kerr – who won the award last year — is good with that, here is his quote via ESPN from after the Warriors beat the Rockets Tuesday night.

“I think the fit with the roster and Mike’s philosophy has been perfect,” Kerr said Tuesday night. “What he’s so good at is really giving his players confidence and belief. They’re obviously having an amazing year. My guess is that he’ll get the trophy. He’s earned it.”

Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves a lot of credit for how good Houston has been. Unlike the front offices in New York and Los Angeles, when Morey brought D’Antoni in he went out and got role players who fit with the coach’s style of play. If you’re hiring D’Antoni, you’re doing it to play up tempo and take threes, and he needs the right roster to win that way. Morey gave him that.

Still, D’Antoni is the frontrunner for reasons beyond he’s the coach of the team that most exceeded expectations this season. He truly trusted James Harden in the point guard role and helped the beard elevate his game to MVP levels. He got the role players to buy in. He also has the Rockets playing decent — middle of the NBA pack — defense, which is better than many people expected (at times this season the Rockets have played actual good defense, they just don’t sustain it).

Kerr is right, D’Antoni deserves it.

 

 

Lamar Odom regrets affairs, says cocaine helped end career

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lamar Odom says he’s “a walking miracle” after being found unconscious with cocaine in his system in a Nevada brothel in 2015.

Odom tells US Weekly he hid his cocaine use from ex-wife Khloe Kardashian for a while, but she found out about two years before their 2013 split. He also says that he regrets “having multiple affairs with different women” while married to Kardashian.

Kardashian filed for divorce in 2013 but delayed it after the incident at the brothel. He says Kardashian helped him regain his memory following the episode. Their divorce was finalized in December.

Odom blames cocaine for helping end his NBA career. He says “drugs killed my drive to want to train and be in shape.”

Odom says he’s sober now after finishing a rehab stint in January.

Here is some of the interview, however warning the language is not safe for work.