Thunder, even with Kevin Durant’s season in jeopardy, still have luxury of patience

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Kevin Durant could miss the rest of the season. The Thunder could miss the playoffs. Oklahoma City could miss Durant as he’s playing for the Wizards in 2016.

Are we witnessing the dying days of the greatest dynasty that never was, one undone by a too-soon trade of James Harden and Durant’s bad foot?

Probably not.

The Thunder are too young and too good to dismiss. Even now.

Oklahoma City has been one of the NBA’s premier franchises for years, and most teams’ windows would be closing in such dire times. But the Thunder are not most teams.

The 2010 Thunder were the youngest playoff team of all time, weighted by playing time in the postseason. The 2011 Thunder were second-youngest. The 2012 Thunder were the young NBA Finalist in 25 years.

Oklahoma City’s youth affords tremendous patience, and the team will cash in on some now.

As general manager Sam Presti said today, Durant won’t try gutting out this injury to help the team win this season. Even though the Thunder could win a title this year, Presti maintained Durant won’t return to the court until he’s no longer experiencing pain.

That’s a wise decision for Durant’s long-term health, and the Thunder should be scary as ever next season. Durant (26), Russell Westbrook (26) and Serge Ibaka (25) are still in their primes and will be for a while. As long as the team suffers no further injuries, Oklahoma City will be among the 2016 title favorites.

This long-term view doesn’t even disqualify the Thunder from competing this season. Despite all their injuries, the Thunder are still in playoff position. Durant’s 27 games, 18 wins, might have provided Oklahoma City enough buffer over the Pelicans (one game back) and Suns (2.5 games back). And if the Thunder get in, they have a chance to advance deep. The further they go, the more time Durant has to heal.

And who knows how long he’ll really need? This wouldn’t be the first time the Thunder were accused of overstating an injury.

But even if Durant actually misses the rest of the season, it’s a temporary blip. Expectations will remain sky high for at leas another season.

Durant could leave in free agency, but he’ll begin next season with the Thunder. If anything, this season’s disappointment could make next Durant even happier if next season proves successful. It’s human nature to compare experiences.

Yes, the Thunder are moving closer to their window closing, and Durant’s injury pulls it down a little more. It could slam shut if Durant leaves in 2016.

But that prospect is still so distant, the Thunder can afford the patient approach.

There will be plenty of time to panic about the end of an era later. For now, it’s merely interrupted.

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.