The Thunder have emerged as a perennial contender in the Western Conference, thanks in large part to the job that the team’s general manager, Sam Presti, has done in rebuilding the franchise.
But even he himself will tell you that luck played an important part in that success.
Many have touted the OKC model as the proper way build a team when you’re essentially starting from scratch, and there’s some truth to that when you consider that bottoming out and accumulating draft picks is the easiest way to acquire multiple players capable of becoming stars while being relatively inexpensive on their rookie contracts.
It’s also a bit flawed, however, because not everyone is going to be as fortunate to have draft picks in consecutive seasons work out as well as they did in Oklahoma City.
From Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe:
Kevin Durant was the second overall pick in 2007 of the Seattle SuperSonics, who became the Thunder. That was an easy choice after the Portland Trail Blazers selected center Greg Oden first overall. A year later, the Sonics selected at No. 4 Russell Westbrook, who wasn’t such a consensus pick, and later in the first round, general manager Sam Presti grabbed Congolese forward Serge Ibaka and allowed him to stay with his Spanish team for another season.
All three of those picks worked better than expected. Durant and Westbrook are perennial All-Stars, and Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the NBA. Presti was astute, but he admits luck played its part.
“We’ll be the first to say that we’ve had a tremendous amount of good fortune. Nobody in our organization is taking credit for the development of Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook,” said Presti, a Concord native and former Emerson College player. “Our focus was on building a team that was capable of sustainable competitive success. We felt like building through the draft and building an identity for a team over a period of years was the best approach for us. It’s really so much about the individual team and organization and how they see their envisioned future.”
Rebuilding through the draft is indeed a sound strategy, for all the reasons we’ve already mentioned. But it requires sharp scouting and quite a bit of that “good fortune” Presti mentioned in order for it to truly work out to perfection.
Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.
Here we go again?
Royce Young of ESPN:
I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.
But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.
Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.
But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.
Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.
The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.
Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.
The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.
Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?
Andy Larsen of KSL.com:
A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.
The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.
The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.
But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adams – whose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.
Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.
After Ricky Rubio‘s 26-point triple-double in Game 3, Russell Westbrook said, “I’ma shut that s— off next game though. Guarantee that.”
Westbrook definitely tried. The Thunder star defended Rubio far more aggressively in Game 4 last night. But Westbrook also fouled Rubio four times in the first half and played too out of control, committing five turnovers. Rubio (13 points, eight rebounds, six assists) wasn’t nearly as individually excellent, but his passing keyed the Jazz’s offense.
Most importantly, Utah outscored Oklahoma City by 12 in the 30 minutes the point guards shared the court and won 113-96 to take a 3-1 series lead.
How did the matchup with Rubio go, Russ?
It’s not about me and him. Let’s get past that. We’re done with that.
Westbrook is the one who brought attention to the individual matchup. He took stopping Rubio upon himself. Now, when it didn’t go well, Westbrook suddenly doesn’t want to talk about it?
Maybe Westbrook realized he got carried away, to the detriment of his team. It’s not too late to fix that, and this could be his attempt to do so before Game 5 Wednesday.
But he also must own the egg on his face for putting the spotlight on Westbrook-Rubio and then dodging the attention once the matchup went south.
James Harden missed a floater and clapped in frustration. The Rockets’ third quarter in Game 4 against the Timberwolves didn’t get off to a great start. Harden’s shooting had underwhelmed since Game 2.
Then, Harden and Houston broke out of the funk – in a big way.
The Rockets outscored Minnesota 50-20 in the third quarter of their 119-100 victory last night, giving Houston a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. The 30-point margin in the third quarter was tied for the most lopsided playoff quarter in the shot-clock era:
Harden singlehandedly outscored the Timberwolves himself, 23-20. Paul added 15.
The Rockets shot 5-of-10 on 2-pointers, 9-of-13 on 3-pointers and 13-of-13 on free throws. Houston committed no turnovers and offensively rebounded a third of its misses.
It was incredible output, even for the NBA’s best offense.
The Rockets’ 50 points were second-most in a playoff quarter – and the most in a victory – in the shot-clock era. The leaderboard: