Thunder weaken title chances to save almighty dollar

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Mark Cuban once said that there are two kinds of NBA owners: Those that want to win and those that want to make money.

We know where the Thunder owners fall.

Oklahoma City traded their Sixth Man of the Year and best playmaker James Harden — the guy with the sweet beard who often had the ball in his hands at the ends of games — to the Houston Rockets, along with Cole Aldrich, Lazar Hayward and Daequan Cook for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and at least two 2013 first round picks.

Here’s why it’s a mistake for the Thunder — when you’re a title contender, you go all in to win now. These opportunities are too rare to take a step back. The Thunder just did that. The Thunder were one of the three NBA teams with a legitimate chance to win a title this season, and they got worse right now with this move. Not a massive step backwards, but it was a step. And in a West with the Lakers — and an NBA where the Heat got better — any step back is magnified.

The Thunder went from serious contender to “team that needs a lot of things to go right for them to win it all this year.” Two 2013 picks in the double digits (the Raptors are better than you think) is not a huge help in winning a ring. Not this year. Not for a contender. You can make the argument they are better in the long term if you want, I’m not sold, but they are not better this year. They still have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, they didn’t become bad, but they didn’t get better.

Kevin Martin can shoot the three and get up points, but since changes to how fouls are called — not calling a defensive foul on the offensive sweep-through move, for example — he is not the efficient machine he was. He’s not the same guy he was years before, and even if he was he’s more of a spot-up, isolation player. Harden was a playmaker

It will be on Westbrook to keep the ball moving in this offense now. The Thunder can tend toward isolation and that would make them easier to defend.

This was about all about the Benjamins for OKC. Harden wanted a max extension (around $58 million for four years) and turned down a $52 million offer from the Thunder. Oklahoma City didn’t want to pay a tax after two seasons from now that could be more than $28 million, that could give them a $100 payroll (with tax). So they made a trade. Now they avoid the tax problems. Congrats.

If you own and NBA team and you move it from the 22nd largest city by population and the 14th largest television market (Seattle) to the 30th largest city and 45th largest television market (Oklahoma City), you sacrifice potential income. And the Thunder knew the Harden price and tax when they made the Westbrook extension and gave Serge Ibaka $50 million deal this summer. The Thunder knew the cost, they just don’t want to pay it.

For the Rockets, Daryl Morey had been going after an elite star for a while, someone he could build a contender around. He struck out with getting Dwight Howard and others.

But is Harden really the answer? That’s the plan. I’m not sold. He’s certainly very good, but he and Jeremy Lin are similar in that both are pick-and-roll players. On a team that now needs to get a really good roll man. I’m not sure either Lin or Harden works as well off the ball.

But I get the logic of why the Rockets did this.They are a team than needs bold moves and this was that kind of trade for them.

For the Thunder, they looked to save money and were willing to make the team a little weaker in the process. And you can bet Kevin Durant is not happy about this.

Bucks’ minor-league coach suspended two games for rant (video)

Bucks minor-league coach Chase Buford
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Chase Buford, who coaches the Bucks’ minor-league affiliate, went on an epic rant after the Wisconsin Herd’s latest loss. He singled out referee Matt Rafferty as a “f—ing clown” and said the officials were “bad and biased and unfair and illegal and cheating.”

Ryan Rodig of WFRV-TV:

G League release:

Wisconsin Herd head coach Chase Buford has been suspended for two games without pay for a direct and extended public attack on the integrity and credibility of the game officials.

I can’t recall an NBA coach ever getting suspended for something he said during a press conference.

I also can’t recall an NBA coach ever saying something so inflammatory during a press conference.

In 2005, then-NBA commissioner David Stern threatened to ban Jeff Van Gundy from the NBA after the then-Rockets coach criticized officiating. That incident still led to just a $100,000 fine. Twice as large as any previous fine for a coach. But still just a fine, nonetheless.

Watch entire Kobe Bryant memorial service (video)

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The public memorial for Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant featured several unforgettable moments, including:

But I can’t overstate how well done the entire event was, how heartfelt the speakers and performers were. If you missed it yesterday and are in the right headspace, it’s worth watching to get a more complete understanding of Kobe and Gianna.

Joel Embiid flips off Hawks guard Kevin Hurter (video)

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Joel Embiid scored 49 points in the 76ers’ win over the Hawks yesterday.

It appeared he was gunning for 50.

With Philadelphia up 14 in the final minute, Embiid dunked. Then, he hit an off-the-dribble 3-pointer. After grabbing a rebound on the other end, Embiid brought the ball up court himself – with the shot clock on.

Atlanta guard Kevin Huerter raced from behind and stole the ball. Embiid gave him the finger.

Embiid, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

There’s always this thing about you shouldn’t shoot the ball if you’re up 20 or something like that. And I feel like it should go both ways. I’m running the clock down and I feel like the game is over. That’s why I’m doing it. But to me, if the other team is gonna keep playing defense, and they’re gonna keep shooting the ball at the other end, I feel like we should just be like, ‘Well, be better next time,’ and just go out and score.

How dare Huerter play basketball. During a basketball game.

Embiid had just been attacking for multiple possessions! He was dribbling toward the Hawks’ basket with urgency! How was Huerter supposed to know that was the suddenly the moment Embiid was done playing?

What nonsense.

Three Things to Know: Emotional celebration of Kobe’s life just start of day for Harden, Booker

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Emotional, moving Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life just start of the day for James Harden, Devin Booker. The most fitting way to honor Kobe Bryant? Play the game of basketball with passion. Leave everything on the court.

James Harden and Devin Booker did just that.

Harden, Booker, and Russell Westbrook were at the powerful and unforgettable Kobe Bryant Celebration of Life memorial Monday afternoon at Staples Center in Los Angeles. All three left that event, hopped on charter flights, and were playing in NBA games that night.

Harden had 37 points on 14-of-25 shooting, leading the small-ball Rockets past the Knicks.

Westbrook also was in Los Angeles and then in Houston for the game, but he did not play (officially due to a sure thumb).

Booker’s flight took him to Salt Lake City where he scored a fitting 24 points to spark the Suns in an upset win over the stumbling Utah Jazz.

However, the most impressive double-duty of the day belonged to Oregon women’s basketball star Sabrina Ionescu. She spoke at Kobe’s memorial that morning.

Then she was on a plane to the Bay Area where she laced them up for the Ducks against Stanford and made history becoming the first college basketball player — male or female — to score 2,000 points and have 1,000 rebounds and 1,0000 assists in a career.

Somewhere, Kobe is smiling watching the way Ionescu plays. That passion is the most fitting way to honor him.

2) Bradley Beal scores 50+ points for the second straight game. Wizards lose for the second straight game.
Bradley Beal is putting up up points like he’s an NBA Jam game come to life — “He’s on fire!” In Chicago Sunday night Beal scored a career-high 53 points, but Washington still lost in Chicago.

Monday night against the Bucks Beal topped it, scoring 55 points — including 22 in the fourth quarter to force overtime, then seven more in the extra frame — and still the Wizards lost. Again.

Around the league last summer, teams were making calls to see if the Wizards were ready to trade Beal. Instead, he took the cash and showed his loyalty to the franchise by signing a max extension. Beal and everyone else knew the Wizards would struggle this season, he made his $71 million decision (and you can’t blame a man for getting paid).

Those trade calls are going to start up again next summer, but the Wizards are intent on getting John Wall back on the court with Beal and their younger players such as Rui Hachimura then making a playoff push next season. Beal is not going to be on the move. Yet.

Also of note out of Milwaukee’s win, Khris Middleton scored Milwaukee’s final nine points on his way to 40 for the night.

3) Joel Embiid scores career-high 49 points in 76ers win. Joel Embiid is another one of the NBA players who has talked about how much Kobe influenced him — watching Bryant in the 2010 NBA Finals is what inspired him to play basketball.

Embiid played inspired ball on Monday night, scoring a career-high 49 points plus grabbing 14 rebounds in a 76ers win at home over the Hawks.

That win leaves Philadelphia just one game back in the loss column from Miami for home court in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. (A Heat/76ers matchup is looking more and more likely in that first round.)

However, the Sixers found out Monday that Ben Simmons will be out for an indefinite amount of time due to lower back pain. Losing the All-Star could be a blow to the Sixers home court (and maybe playoff) chances.