Thunder players stick up for Scott Brooks

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What, you expected Kevin Durant to throw his coach under the bus? Have you followed the guy at all?

“That’s our guy. I’m riding with him. I’m riding with him. It’s easy for everybody on the outside to criticize, but once you’re in the fire, once you’re in that arena, those are the guys that matter. The guys that share the blood, sweat and tears, and sleepless nights, those are the guys that count, those are the guys that matter in our book. Everybody on the outside really doesn’t.”

That was Kevin Durant when asked about Brooks’ job security, as transcribed by Royce Young at Daily Thunder.

Then there is Russell Westbrook, via Jeff Caplan at NBA.com.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

There are a lot of voices around the NBA suggesting it is time for Scott Brooks to go, for a new coach to see if he can lift this team to the next level.

There is logic to the argument — the Thunder run pretty simple offensive sets, ones that rely heavily on the creativity of Westbrook and Durant, but that leave the other players without as much of a defined role. The role players on this team sometimes play their role, sometimes, step up, but their definition of what to do is more nebulous.

One of the keys to San Antonio’s success, to making their depth work is Gregg Popovich clearly defines everyone’s role. Everyone. Including Tim Duncan. But when Marco Belinelli arrives at training camp he isn’t wondering “where do I fit in” he is told exactly how that is going to happen. Phil Jackson used a different methodology — he suggested and guided, then let the players come to their own realizations that what he wanted was best — but he got to the same place. His role players understood and bought into exactly what they were supposed to do.

Do we see that with the Thunder?

All that said, what Brooks does do is build strong relationships with his players — they play hard for him. They respect him. They want to win for him. That matters.

There are questions for the Thunder to answer here:

Do you let go of a coach who got you to the Eastern Conference Finals that your two cornerstone, superstar players want back?

Maybe more importantly in a small market, do you fire a coach you will still need to pay at leaf $8 million total to over the next two seasons anyway? To bring in a name coach who is going to command a large salary?

My hunch is that Sam Presti answers those questions no.

The Thunder realize they have a window that is still open for years to come. The only real clock is Durant’s 2016 free agency (and Westbrook a year later) and there may be no superstar since Duncan more loyal and built to play in a smaller market than KD. They will not be rushed.

The Thunder are close — they were one of the three best teams in the NBA this season, they were contenders. Consistency matters in these situations when trying to take that last step, you only make big changes when you have to and know there is a sure thing upgrade. We’ll see how it plays out, but I don’t see the Thunder organization thinking change is the answer.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.