What the Thunder should do when the lockout ends

4 Comments

Oklahoma City is out latest stop on our “what your team needs to do when the lockout ends” tour. To see the teams already covered (we’re working our way through the Western Conference right now) click here.

Last season in Oklahoma City: We saw growth. The young Thunder team took the steps forward we all expected (there were some fools who expected a massive leap to the title, but teams grow more slowly than that). They won 55 games, up from 50. They reached the Western Conference finals for the first time (after being knocked out in the first round the year before). They traded for Kendrick Perkins, which was a great move (Dallas was just a bad matchup). OKC made strides, the season was what it should have been.

Since we last saw the Thunder: They made a sweet move in the draft, promising early to Reggie Jackson, the point guard out of Boston College. A lot of teams loved him as a sleeper, but with the early promise he stopped working out for teams and fell all the way to the Thunder at No. 24. That may mean Eric Maynor is on his way out.

Aside that, the roster remains stable.

When the lockout ends, the Thunder need to… Lock up Russell Westbrook to a long-term deal, then pray for more growth from a young team, growth that could have them taking the next step or two. Well, there are a couple more things, but those are the big ones.

When the lockout ends GM Sam Presti should show up on the doorstep of Russell Westbrook and offer him whatever the new max extension to his rookie deal will be — they have to keep this guy. He is part of the core, of the future in OKC. He is one of the best young point guards in the game – he can play at both ends of the floor, gives you 21.9 points per game and 8.2 assists (with a better than 2-1 turnover ratio). And he will be just 23 next season — his game is still maturing.

Westbrook took a lot of heat during the playoffs for taking shots away from and not playing well with Durant. There was a little truth to that, although we saw flashes of brilliance, too (like Game 7 against Memphis). There were ludicrous calls to trade him because he didn’t defer enough to the league’s leading scorer. Royce Young of the brilliant Daily Thunder blog has words for you if you think Westbrook and Durant need to start playing well together.

They already do.  They didn’t win 55 games and come within two fourth quarters of the NBA Finals by playing bad together. Do they need to improve? Definitely. Good thing they’re both just 22 years old.

There’s not a lot else for the Thunder to do, their roster is pretty set. Mr. pro-am. er, Kevin Durant got his extension last summer. Perkins got an extension (and they will need him going forward, they need him in the middle to rebound and protect the rim with Serge Ibaka). They made a qualifying offer and still need to figure out things with Daequan Cook, but the roster is pretty much set.

Still there are things that need to be done to take the next step, and the Daily Thunder’s Young has ideas.

1) Scott Brooks needs to figure out if James Harden is going to start or not. The Thunder drafted Reggie Jackson to potentially fill Harden’s scoring punch role off the bench and it’s pretty much universally agreed upon that Harden should start over Thabo Sefolosha. But Brooks is stubborn and likes to stick with what works, so it’ll be a decision.

And 2), Get Perk healthy. Perkins himself said he was only about 60 percent during the playoffs. He was overweight, out of shape and his knees were a little heavy on him. He’s committed to a pretty tough offseason conditioning plan — one that may or may not include getting in bar fights — and he’s said he wants to get back down to a playing weight of around 250. This is the Perk that Oklahoma City is hoping for. Not the one that lumbered around in the postseason like he was Greg Oden’s overweight brother.

Bottom line is that the Thunder don’t need to do much when the lockout ends — they will come in as more experienced title contenders next season. If the lockout drags on and the 2012 season looks like the 1999 season — 50 games crammed into too few days and then the playoffs — young and talented teams where their leg will bounce back quickly have a big advantage. And that would be the Thunder.

Their time is coming soon, fans just need to be a little more patient.

Rumor: Pelicans interested in trading for Wizards’ Otto Porter

Will Newton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Wizards (5-11) are open for business.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are the big names in trade talks, but how about Otto Porter?

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

There are whispers that New Orleans is interested in Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr.

The Pelicans badly need an upgrade at small forward, and Porter – who has at least somewhat fallen out of favor in Washington – fits the bill. He’s an ideal role player – an excellent 3-point shooter and solid defensively when not overmatched defensively. He could become more assertive, but part of his value lies in his ability to blend. On a team with superstar Anthony Davis, complementary skills are important.

The catch: Porter is earning $26,011,913 this season then due $55,739,815 the next two years.

He’s overpaid, but he can still play. New Orleans, trying to impress Davis before offering him a super-max extension next summer, might view Porter as an acceptable risk. Especially if the Pelicans can unload overpaid Solomon Hill in a trade.

Washington could accept Hill and another player or two and even escape the luxury tax this season. The Wizards would surely want positive-value players and/or picks, too.

There seems to be a middle ground where a Porter trade appeals to both teams. The big question: Can Washington and New Orleans find it?

Report: Grizzlies in ‘extensive discussions’ with Joakim Noah

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Marc Gasol has been awesome this season. The 33-year-old is holding off questions about his decline that reached fever pitch last season. He’s deferring just a little more offensively to become much more efficient and save energy to play superb defense.

The Grizzlies have played like a 61-win team with him on the court this season.

But they’ve also played like a 17-win team when he sits.

A potential solution to Memphis backup-center problem? Joakim Noah.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ivan Rabb haven’t cut it at center behind Gasol. (Jackson has been better at power forward.) JaMychal Green could work, but he’s just getting healthy, and he’s also more of a power forward.

So, Noah could be another option. He definitely has the size for the position. Performing better than the Grizzlies’ other backup centers is not a high bar.

But I still doubt Noah helps Memphis. The 33-year-old looked so wash up with the Knicks, not even Tom Thibodeau would sign the former Bull.

Pelicans: Elfrid Payton out six weeks

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pelicans are 5-1 when Elfrid Payton plays and 4-6 when he doesn’t.

New Orleans will have to find a winning formula without its starting point guard.

Pelicans release:

New Orleans Pelicans guard Elfrid Payton, who suffered a fractured left fifth finger against the New York Knicks on November 16, will undergo surgery tomorrow to repair the fracture. Payton is expected to miss approximately six weeks.

It’s not that Payton is great, though he has been solid this season. It’s that the Pelicans are ill-equipped to deal with this injury.

Jrue Holiday can shift to point guard, but that weakens New Orleans even further on the wing. Without Payton, the Pelicans are also forced to give more playing time to substandard players at point guard: Ian Clark, Tim Frazier and Frank Jackson.

At least New Orleans can pivot its offense to run the ball through Anthony Davis and Julius Randle. Those skilled bigs can distribute.

The Pelicans are in the middle of a tight playoff race. They have little margin for error, and this injury cuts deeply into it.

Report: Cavaliers GM Koby Altman told LeBron James they wouldn’t trade Kyrie Irving

Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LeBron James told the Cavaliers not to trade Kyrie Irving last year. LeBron didn’t do anything to win over the point guard, who asked out. But LeBron still told Cleveland not to honor the request.

LeBron’s last message on the top went to Cavs general manager Koby Altman shortly before they dealt Irving to the Celtics.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

James was adamant on the call — do not trade Irving, especially to the Celtics. By the end of the call, according to four separate accounts of people present for the conversation, Altman told James the trade would not occur.

James suggested he didn’t feel he was lied to by Altman, so much as Altman was overruled by owner Dan Gilbert.

“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby (was just named GM), but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as (former GM David Griffin) had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much,” James said.

Cavs front-office officials declined to be quoted for this story but disputed that Altman gave James any indication the trade would not occur. They also said Altman asked James whether he would commit to the Cavs long-term if Irving were not traded, and James said no.

If he didn’t have the authority to keep Irving, Altman shouldn’t have said he would.

Maybe Altman didn’t know he lacked that authority. He was new in the job, after all. So, maybe his error was easily forgivable. But it sounds like an error, nonetheless.

The Cavaliers also didn’t necessarily err by trading Irving. The package they got proved problematic, but the concept of trading the disgruntled star had more merit to the team than LeBron. LeBron lasted only one more season in Cleveland, and it seems likely – though not certain – he would have left even if the Cavs listened to him on Irving. That meant, the Cavaliers could have been left without LeBron and trying to trade Irving in the final year of his contract, when his trade value would have been lower. LeBron might have just wanted to use Irving for one more playoff run then leave Cleveland holding the bag.

The communication issues are a bigger issue. It’s unclear how to divvy blame between Gilbert, Altman and LeBron, but that call ended with those three on different pages. And it doesn’t seem LeBron’s exit has fixed the problem in Cleveland. Since, the Cavs:

Again, it’s unclear whether Gilbert, Altman or others are the problem. But that’s a lot of disarray under Altman, and at a certain point, it’s his responsibility to ensure proper communication is flowing smoothly within the organization.

There are numerous reasons LeBron left for the Lakers. But it’s hard to overlook the Cavaliers’ crummy management in the last year.