Three reasons this is not 2012 and the Thunder are not coming back on the Spurs

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Oklahoma City has been here before, exactly here, in 2012.

The San Antonio Spurs had won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals and seemed to be in control. On blogs and across talk radio there were questions about just how good the Thunder really were. Then suddenly the lightbulb went on over the Thunders’ head before Game 3 — “We’re way more athletic than these guys and we can overwhelm them on both ends of the court.” They did. Oklahoma City defended aggressively, won Game 3 by 20 and went on to sweep the Spurs right out of the series.

Thunder fans are hanging their hat on that again in 2014 — they turned it around against the Spurs before, they can do it again.

No. Not this time.

This time the Spurs are going to win this series and return to the NBA Finals. It will take four or five games, based on the fact they won the first two by a combined 52 points (it was 12 in 2012).

Here are three key reasons 2014 is not going to be a repeat of 2012.

1) No James Harden. Back in 2012 it was the heady days when the Thunder were a trio, not a duo. Harden came in off the bench but was the Thunder’s second leading scorer in that series, averaging 18.5 points a game with a true shooting percentage of .641 in those six games (Westbrook scored 18.3 but had an unimpressive true shooting percentage of .450). At the end of games OKC put the ball in Harden’s hands to create for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, to guide the offense and share the ball. That third scorer no longer exists. That glue that got Durant and Westbrook to play with each other and not next to each other is gone. And it shows.

2) No Serge Ibaka. Thunder management made the call to pay Ibaka and not Harden, and while there are things you may question about that choice you can’t question how much Serge Ibaka means to the Thunder. Not now. On one end the Spurs have scored 120 points in the paint in two games, exploiting the lack of shot-blocking with Ibaka out with a calf injury (Scott Brooks should play more Steven Adams, but that doesn’t solve this issue). However, the Thunder miss Ibaka more on offense — they miss his baseline jumper to bail out Westbrook on drives, they miss his offensive putbacks, they miss his activity off the ball and his energy. They are not the same offensive team without Ibaka, thy are much easier to defend. And it shows.

3) The Spurs are much more athletic, much deeper now. When these teams met two years ago, the fourth leading scorer for the Spurs was an aging Stephen Jackson. Kawhi Leonard was still growing into the player his now, he was not a defensive force, he was not getting that much run. Tiago Splitter was not a guy Gregg Popovich trusted, now he starts and is a key defensive force. Splitter gives them a versatile big man who is a defensive anchor and can make a few plays on offense, too. Danny Green wasn’t getting many minutes, nor was Patty Mills. Bottom line is that the Spurs are still not the most athletic team in this series, but they closed the gap some. And it shows.

The Thunder can play better, make some adjustment (start Steven Adams and Caron Butler, for one) but this is a very different Spurs team from two years ago. One that is not going to let the Thunder roll them this time.

It’s not 2012.

Kings finally waive rights to 44-year-old European player they drafted in 1995

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Back in 1995 — while you were listening to Coolio rap “Gangster’s Paradise,” watching the O.J. Simpson trial, and using your cell phone to actually make calls — Sacramento Kings GM Geoff Petrie used a late second round pick on Dejan Bodiroga.

The Serbian point forward — who played for the Serbian national team with Vlade Divac — never came over to the NBA, despite multiple efforts by the Kings, and is still considered one of the better European players never to test the NBA waters. He was a Spanish and Greek league MVP and won multiple titles in European leagues.

Friday, the Kings finally renounced his draft rights.

He’s just 44 and hasn’t played professionally since 2007, are they sure he still couldn’t contribute? (Insert your own Jose Calderon joke here.)

Kings fans on Twitter were awesome.

 

Report: Kyrie Irving considered requesting a trade after Cavaliers’ championship season

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Kyrie Irving reportedly made his desire to leave the Cavaliers known during his first few years in Cleveland. Then, LeBron James returned and that talk quieted – for a while. This offseason, Irving renewed his trade request, reportedly before the draft then again to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert last week.

But this has apparently been percolating throughout Irving’s time in Cleveland – even at the Cavaliers’ peak.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When Irving signed his deal, he expected to be the franchise player for the foreseeable future. But about two weeks later, James arrived from Miami. The sudden change of situation rocked Irving, and he has vacillated at times over the past three years about working as a secondary star to James and the original plan of having his own team.

He discussed the challenge during last month’s NBA Finals.

“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually, and then he ends up joining it, and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe,” Irving said. “Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself. … Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”

With this in mind, Irving considered requesting a trade after the Cavs’ championship last year but decided against it, sources said.

Irving is catching a lot of heat for wanting to ditch LeBron and the consensus second-best team in the NBA. Imagine if Irving requested a trade immediately after a title!

This is yet another example of winning curing all ills. Irving clearly sees playing a supporting role as suboptimal, but he was willing to do it when Cleveland was winning a championship. Now that the Cavs title chances have slipped (hello, Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors) – even just to second-best in the entire league – Irving has prioritized his exit.

We’ll see how this affects Irving’s image. That’s important for such a prominent endorser. But it’s safe to say a trade request last summer would have gone over far worse with the public.

Report: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns recruiting Kyrie Irving to Minnesota

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When Draymond Green and other members of the Warriors spent time recruiting Kevin Durant to come to Golden State it made sense — he was about to be a free agent who could make his own choices. Watching players such as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard recruit Carmelo Anthony to Portland makes sense — ‘Melo has a no-trade clause so he needs to waive it to go anywhere, so recruiting makes sense.

This one makes less sense, but it is happening — Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are recruiting Kyrie Irving to come play in Minnesota. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has the reporting.

League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part to recruit Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.

This could happen, but just about anything could happen the door is wide open with Irving to a lot of teams. That said, here are my two thoughts.

First, recruiting Irving is nice, but he has zero say in where he gets traded. Irving does not have a no-trade clause, he is not a free agent, he has two years left on his deal and the Cavaliers will/should send him to the team that gives them the best return. What Irving wants is irrelevant (although teams trying to get and keep him may take it into consideration).

Second, Minnesota could put together an interesting package, but there would be hurdles. It would likely involve one or both of Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Wiggins can be extended this summer, but that salary would not count toward the salary in this trade so someone such as Cole Aldrich would need to be thrown in (and it would take more than that, there would need to be picks). More likely, it would take Jeff Teague and his $19 million salary to get a deal done — except the Timberwolves signed him this summer so Teague cannot be traded until Dec. 15.

If the Cavaliers can’t find a deal they like this summer, they can step back and look at their options, then decide to wait out the market and bring Irving back to start the season. At that point, a deal with the Timberwolves makes more sense.

In the short term, Butler and KAT can recruit all they want.

Report: Kyrie Irving initially requested trade before draft – to Bulls

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Kyrie Irving reportedly asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last week for a trade.

But that apparently wasn’t the first time Irving approached Cleveland about a trade this offseason.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s Draft, in hopes of being traded to Chicago and playing with All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler.

That’s around the time Irving reportedly told former Team USA teammates – who include Butler – that he might be interested in a trade and was keen on the Bulls. It seemed that was in preparation for LeBron James leaving in 2018, but Irving’s timeline might have been accelerated.

Irving and Butler are close, but the Cavs went the other way with that information – trying to line up a trade for Butler. Cleveland obviously didn’t pull of a deal, as Chicago dealt Butler to the Timberwolves.

Beyond Butler, the Bulls lacked the assets to trade for Irving. Yes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade are friends. No, Wade’s value is not anywhere remotely near Irving’s. And remember, without a no-trade clause and contracted for two more years before a player option, Irving has minimal leverage to pick his destination.

This report also negates the idea that Irving hurt the Cavaliers and his own likelihood of getting dealt by not requesting a trade before players like Chris Paul and Paul George were settled. Maybe Irving could have been more insistent earlier, but he at least gave a full offseason of notice that he was ready to move on.