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

ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder

14 Comments

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: Trail Blazers receive permission to interview Stephen Silas

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 21: Assistant coach Stephen Silas of the Charlotte Bobcats (L) works on a computer with Cory Higgins #11 before a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is putting the “carousel” in coaching carousel.

Hornets assistant Stephen Silas (a Rockets head-coaching candidate) and Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts (a Grizzlies head-coaching candidate) are also both interviewing to become the Warriors’ lead assistant. If Tibbetts gets the job, Portland would have a vacancy, so…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Portland also was granted permission Sunday to talk to Silas about being its top assistant, league sources said.

Working for Steve Kerr in Golden State – which propelled Alvin Gentry to Pelicans head coach last year and Luke Walton to Lakers head coach this year – is probably preferable. But Silas’ star is rising, regardless. He’s a highly regarded assistant coach.

Terry Stotts, contract extension in hand, could add Silas without fearing being undermined. That’s the value of giving head coaches security. Hiring good assistants becomes more tenable.

Why would Silas leave another good coach, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, for the Trail Blazers? I don’t know for certain, but in these situations, there’s usually one place to start: money. Portland’s willingness to spend could pay off.

Coaching carousel report: Nate McMillan targets Bill Bayno in Indiana; Dave Joerger to keep Nancy Lieberman with Kings

12 Dec 1998:  Head coach Bill Bayno of the UNLV Rebels looks on during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California. UCLA defeated UNLV 72-67. Mandatory Credit: Aubrey Washington  /Allsport
Getty Images
Leave a comment

While a couple of the big chairs have yet to be filled — Houston still hasn’t settled on a coach, neither has Memphis — the assistant coaching spots around the league are starting to fill up.

Marc Stein of ESPN dropped some nuggets about the bench of Nate McMillan in Indiana and Dave Joerger in Sacramento:

Bayno, the former UNLV head coach, had not been in the NBA this season but had been with Dwane Casey in Toronto the two seasons before that, and before that had been an assistant with Minnesota and Portland.

Corliss Willamson had been popular with players in Sacramento, as had Nancy Lieberman — but she also had a big fan on owner Vivek Ranadive. She is one of only two full-time female assistant coaches in the NBA (along with Becky Hammond in San Antonio).

Kevin Love steps on referees foot, tweaks knee, sits fourth; expect to play in Game 5

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23:  Rapper Drake reacts in the first quarter of game four of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
1 Comment

Once again Monday night Kevin Love struggled — 4-of-14 shooting overall, 2-of-7 from three — and once again he sat on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Channing Frye.

However, this time an injury played a role.

Love was limping around by the end of the third and said after the game he stepped on a referee’s foot and tweaked his knee. He also said this was not going to keep him out of Game 5, reports Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“I think Kyrie [Irving] was shooting towards the end of the third quarter, and I stepped on the official’s foot, and it didn’t feel too great,” said Love, who had a total of 13 points and 11 rebounds in Games 3 and 4. “More so the knee [than the ankle hurting]. Will be sore tomorrow, but nothing that will prevent me from playing.”

Love had seemed to find a groove playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to start the playoffs, averaging 18.4 points per game and shooting 44.9 percent from three in the playoffs as the Cavaliers opened the playoffs with 10 straight wins. But like a few Cavaliers, his shooting has gone ice-cold in Canada — he also was rejected at the rim by Bismack Biyombo. Frye has played in crunch time because he is hitting shots.

“I had a lot of great shots, I just didn’t knock them down,” Love said. “It’s a simple as that. I had a lot of confidence in shooting the ball, a lot of really wide open 3’s, especially to start that first quarter. A number of them went in and out, so I just need to continue to stay aggressive.”

This series is knotted 2-2, and the Cavaliers need Love to find his shot before Wednesday night’s Game 5 — the Cavaliers have a series on their hands.

Kevin Love shut down at the rim by Bismack Biyombo (VIDEO)

1 Comment

Once again, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint that the Raptors leaned on heavily during their Game 4 win against the Cavaliers.

His biggest play of the night was this clean block of Kevin Love at the rim. Love passed to LeBron James in the post, caught his defender napping and cut the rim, got the pass back from James and… denied.

Biyombo also got LeBron James at the rim but was called for a foul much to the dismay of Biyombo, Raptors fans, and the ESPN broadcast crew (it was the right call — watch Biyombo leap across the lane, he is anything but vertical, he contacts LeBron’s body, that’s a foul).  Either way it’s worth watching.