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

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.

Rudy Gobert fined $25,000 for making contact with official during Jazz-Bucks

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert shouts after a foul by a teammate during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016, in Salt Lake City. The Kings won 94-93. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert has been fined $25,000 for making contact with an official during the third quarter of Friday’s game between the Jazz and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The incident occured with 5:19 left in the third after a drive to the bucket by Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks star was driving past Jazz wing Joe Johnson, who fouled Antetokounmpo as he went up with a shot over Gobert in the paint.

A foul was whistled on Johnson, but it appeared that Gobert thought the call was initially on him despite his up-and-down contest.

That sent Gobert flying after the official, where he made slight contact, earning him an immediate technical foul.

Video of the incident was released by the NBA and can be viewed here.

Vlade Divac on DeMarcus Cousins trade: “If I’m wrong I’ll step down”

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Vlade Divac of Serbia watches during the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Vlade Divac has started the clock on his own success or failure as an NBA GM with the Sacramento Kings. Speaking with the Sacramento Bee this week in a long Q & A, Divac said that if the DeMarcus Cousins trade hasn’t put the Kings in a better position in two years he will step down.

The trade that sent Cousins and teammate Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans returned Buddy Hield, a first round pick with protections, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and a second round pick.

Via the Sacramento Bee:

Q: Well, the pressure is on you now. It’s pretty clear that Divac, not Ranadive, is making the personnel decisions. Some people still can’t believe Ranadive actually stepped aside and allowed you to trade his favorite player.

A: That’s my job, and I take responsibility. And I totally understand why some fans would be upset. They supported DeMarcus, and I like DeMarcus a lot. But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years. I want to hear again from these same people in two years. If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.

Divac also mentioned that he approached Cousins’ management team about anger therapy, and again harped on the move as being the right thing for the “culture” he wants to build in Sacramento.

The clock is ticking.

Cristiano Felicio steals final rebound needed for Dwyane Wade’s triple-double (VIDEO)

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 31:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Chicago Bulls in action against the Brooklyn Nets during the second half at Barclays Center on October 31, 2016 in New York City. 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 Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Dwyane Wade could have had his first triple-double since 2011 when the Chicago Bulls played the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday. Unfortunately for the Bulls veteran, a teammate got in his way.

Center Cristiano Felicio, who was not aware of the situation or momentarily forgot about it, went up for a rebound as time expired, knocking the ball out of Wade’s hands.

Via Twitter:

After the game, Wade was calm about the matter and even joked with ESPN saying, “My teammate didn’t want me to be great.”

Wade finished the night with 20 points, 10 assist, and nine rebounds.

Teammate Jimmy Butler did notch a triple-double of his own with 18 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. Chicago beat Cleveland, 117-99.

Briante Weber goes from Warriors to Hornets, signs 10-day contract with Charlotte

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: Briante Weber #12 of the Miami Heat looks on during a timeout against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 13, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Backup point guard Briante Weber has signed a 10-day contract with the Charlotte Hornets. This comes after Weber signed two 10-day contracts with the Golden State Warriors earlier in the season. News of the signing was first reported by Yahoo! Sports.

Weber, 24, played his college games at VCU and in his work this season for Golden State was somewhat disappointing. In seven games, Weber put up 1.7 points, 0.7 assists, 0.6 rebounds, and 0.4 steals per-game. His advanced numbers tell a more complete story, where his box plus/minus was -6.1.

Charlotte will look to use Weber in a backup role to Kemba Walker. Ramon Sessions had been playing rotation player minutes for the Hornets until early February when he suffered a left knee injury that could keep him out up to six weeks.