Russell Westbrook says Thunder don’t need to fill James Harden’s slot

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At the time the Thunder traded James Harden to the Rockets, the thinking in OKC was that if they were never going to come to terms on a contract extension, then the team might as well get something in return for its most dynamic scorer off the bench.

History, however, will not be kind to that deal from the Thunder’s side.

Kevin Martin was the player who was supposed to immediately fill the void left by Harden’s exit, but he was hit and miss at best over the course of the season, and was never capable of taking over a game for stretches the way Harden could at times.

Martin is gone now, signed by the Timberwolves in free agency. All that’s left in terms of assets (besides a trade exception) is Jeremy Lamb, who has potential but will need to make a considerable leap this season to help the team in a meaningful capacity.

Whether or not the Thunder can contend for a title hinges on whether you believe that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are strong enough to carry the rest of the team to the Finals. Most observers believe that Harden’s production needs to be replaced for that to happen, but Westbrook himself doesn’t see it that way.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.com:

Which is why so many of us pests on the outside are openly wondering if the Thunder, with suddenly little to show in return for Harden unless they use the trade exception they created via Martin’s sign-and-trade to Minnesota, have enough to regain the 60-win form we witnessed before Westbrook went down.

It’s no lock even if you presume, as we do here, that Westbrook will make a fairly full recovery from the knee tear he suffered when Houston’s Patrick Beverley lunged at him in Game 2 of OKC’s first-round series with Harden’s Rockets.

Said Westbrook: “The main problem is, I personally think, since James has left I think everybody thinks we need somebody to fill that slot. The slot doesn’t have to be filled. We have a great team. If everybody does their job, we should be all right.”

Thunder GM Sam Presti is obviously in agreement with Westbrook, considering he’s expecting the team to improve upon last season’s 60-win campaign.

But simply put, we wonder if Oklahoma City will have enough overall firepower to make that a reality. Someone on that roster is going to need to provide a scoring punch in a reserve role, or multiple players will need to consistently contribute in order to make things tough on opposing defenses — especially during the postseason.

It’s tough to buy what Westbrook is selling. But who knows, if he’s healthy and motivated and Durant has an MVP-caliber season in store, that could be enough to ultimately prove the doubters wrong.

Rumor: Lakers hired Jason Kidd to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo

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New Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he wanted Jason Kidd because Kidd is a good coach.

Steve Popper of Newsday:

the person familiar with the Lakers process said something else: that Kidd was brought to Los Angeles to attract Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in two years when the Bucks star could become an unrestricted free agent.

Things I believe:

1. This plan probably wouldn’t work. Not only does Antetokounmpo appear happy in Milwaukee, he has specifically said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. And though I believe Antetokounmpo respected Kidd while Kidd coached him, look at the Bucks now. They’re so much better under Mike Budenholzer. You think Antetokounmpo is itching to play for Kidd again after seeing the other side?

2. The Lakers might just try this wild plan anyway. Remember when they were waiting to hire a coach in 2014 so free agent LeBron James could pick? Aside from signing LeBron last year, who seemingly had his eye on Los Angeles for years and for reasons other than basketball, the Lakers have struck out on star free agents. The franchise is getting desperate.

3. People want to believe the Lakers would do something crazy like this, and that makes the rumor spread faster – whether or not it’s true. The Lakers, because of their stature, tactics and general manager have made many enemies around the league. Plenty of folks are enjoying piling on.

Drake says Raptors ‘are like a college sports team’ (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors are just one win away from their first ever NBA Finals appearance. Kawhi Leonard helped Toronto beat the Milwaukee Bucks, 105-99, on Thursday night in game 5. That gave the Raptors a 3-2 Series lead over the Bucs as they head back to Canada on Saturday.

Meanwhile, rapper Drake and a bunch of fans watched the victory over Giannis Antetokounmpo in the Jurassic Park outside of Air Canada Centre. Elated with the win, Drake of course made statements to local television and to the crowd itself, saying the Raptors were “like a college team”.

Via Twitter:

Game 6 is on Saturday in Ontario at 5:30 p.m. PST.

Kendrick Perkins says not to sleep on Clippers signing Kevin Durant (VIDEO)

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We don’t know what to think about Kevin Durant and his plans for the offseason right now. Reports have him choosing between the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks. Others think he might just stay with the Golden State Warriors. At the very least, some have suggested that nobody really knows where he’s going to go, and Durant’s own business partner says he’s undecided.

So take this with a huge, giant, rough-edged grain of salt.

According to former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, he would not be surprised if Durant decided to signed with the Clippers this summer.

Via Twitter:

It’s not even the end of May yet and I’m already tired of talking about Durant. He’s not even playing and he’s tiring. Durant is perhaps the league’s best player, but the next time this story will be interesting will be when he finally signs somewhere in early July.

In the meantime, talking about what the mercurial Durant wants is a lost cause. Nobody knows what he wants — maybe not even Durant. That is, until he decides to furiously tweet it at a media member. That’s not out of the realm of possibility, either.

Durant won’t be back for the start of the NBA Finals, which is the real story of interest. Golden State looks great against the Portland Trail Blazers without their former two-time Finals MVP, and if the Warriors win a championship without Durant actively participating in that series, it will make his legacy that much more compex.

Mallory Edens wears shirt with Pusha T as a dig against Drake (PHOTO)

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There has been sort of a weird back-and-forth happening during this Eastern Conference Finals matchup between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors. Ontario native Drake has been seen courtside during games in Toronto, and his interaction with Raptors head coach Nick Nurse during Game 4 drew the attention of many around the league.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said that he didn’t believe Drake should be standing where he was, nor touching Nurse during the course of a game. That caused the Raptors fan base — and Drake — to fire back at Budenholzer via Instagram, berthing one of the weirdest beefs in playoff memory.

Adding to that rivalry on Thursday night was Mallory Edens, the daughter of Bucks owner Wes Edens. Sitting next to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Edens could be seen wearing a t-shirt with rapper Pusha T on the front of it.

Pusha T and Drake have had a back-and-forth beef for years.

Via Twitter:

Let’s see what Drake comes up with for Game 6 back in The 6. The Raptors are looking to close the Bucks on Saturday and head to the NBA Finals, and it appears that ol’ Aubrey is ready to go:

Toronto beat the Bucks in Game 5, 105-99.