51Q: If Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are healthy, can anything hold back the Thunder?

6 Comments

The Thunder have won 71% of their games with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook the last five years. The only team with a better mark in that span is the Spurs.

But without those stars, Oklahoma City’s win percentage drops to 57%.

When Westbrook got hurt in the 2013 playoffs, Oklahoma City lost in five games to the Grizzlies in the second round. Without Durant for large portions last season, the Thunder missed the playoffs entirely. In surrounding years – 2011, 2012 and 2014 – they reached at least the conference finals and even the 2012 NBA Finals.

At this point, we know this team. Oklahoma City is a championship contender when Durant and Westbrook are healthy, a borderline playoff squad when at least one isn’t.

With Durant and Westbrook healthy right now, can anything hold back the Thunder?

Serge Ibaka is a bona fide third core piece. Oklahoma City has spent to build a suitable bench. Durant remains under contract.

So much appears to be falling in line for the Thunder, but the list of potential pitfalls is long:

1. The NBA’s other contenders, especially in the Western Conference, are loaded. The Warriors, Spurs, Clippers and Cavaliers look about as good on paper as the Thunder. If they successfully integrate Ty Lawson, the Rockets could reach that level, too.

2. Most first-year coaches aren’t Steve Kerr. Looking beyond last season, history strongly suggests Billy Donovan will need more time before he’s capable of leading Oklahoma City to a title. Plus, he has the added challenge of coming from college – a jump few have successfully made.

3. Donovan must balance the Thunder’s fit/talent divide.

Andre Roberson and Steven Adams have played exceptionally well with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka. That unit posted an offensive/defensive/net rating of 109.8/96.4/+13.4 last season. The year before, albeit in a small sample, it was 103.0/78.0/+24.9. Roberson is a defensive ball hawk, though his outside shooting is putrid. Adams, also defensive-minded, does a lot of the little things. They work well next to the ball-dominant Westbrook and Durant.

So where does that leave Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter? Waiters is a low-efficiency, chucker – an awful fit with other talented players. He doesn’t put enough energy into defense, either. But Oklahoma City surrendered a first-rounder for him for a reason, and he’ll likely be entering a contract year wanting to post big numbers. Kanter already his max contract, but he might see that as validation for deserving a large role. Kanter provides an offensive boost with his pick-and-roll finishing, but it’s not clear that offsets his defensive shortcomings.

Roberson and Adams know their limitations and play within them. With Durant and Westbrook, that’s frequently enough. Waiters and Kanter might be capable of more, but they too often fail to complement their better teammates. If Donovan can reign in those two, that’s ideal, though it will be difficult. It might be even more challenging to use them if they remain committed to their previous styles.

4. The roster is probably set, as is. There’s little room for upgrading. The Thunder are already above the luxury-tax line and might be reticent to accept more salary in a trade. Plus, they can send a team only one guaranteed first-round pick, and they can’t guarantee it will be conveyed until 2022.

5. Durant might get hurt again. His foot injuries were more serious than we initially knew, and they were already pretty troubling. There might be something about his long, lanky frame and playing style that leaves him susceptible to injury. Plenty of players have had their careers derailed by foot injuries.

If Durant has a structural issue, that’s it. The Thunder can’t win without him.

But if he and Westbrook remain healthy, we might look back on this team as the NBA’s best. It will still have to cross several landmines, but the potential is there.

NBA players react to Kyrie Irving to Mavericks trade news

Dallas Mavericks v Brooklyn Nets
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Is there going to be a football game of some kind next weekend? You’d never know the way the NBA trade deadline can dominate the headlines.

Kyrie Irving is getting traded to the Mavericks, which has blown up the NBA world — Dallas looks like a threat in the West, and there is a countdown clock over Kevin Durant‘s time in Brooklyn. It wasn’t just fans and pundits stunned by the news, NBA players past and present took to Twitter and social media to react and give their thoughts on the Irving trade. Starting with one of the guys in the trade.

Nets reportedly trade Kyrie Irving to Mavericks for Dinwiddie, Finney-Smith, picks

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets
Dustin Satloff/Getty Images
0 Comments

Dallas desperately needed a second star and shot creator to go next to Luka Dončić.

They got one — Mark Cuban has always been willing to take risks to win. The question about how long this can last comes later.

The Nets are trading Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, their unprotected 2029 first-round pick their 2027 and 2029 second-round picks, according to multiple reports.

Irving is reportedly “ecstatic” to make the move to Dallas (the hard questions about a future contract will wait until after the season).

Irving reportedly will land in Dallas Monday, take the standard post-trade physical, and could be available for the Mavericks on Wednesday against the Clippers.

Brooklyn had several suitors to choose from but wanted in return players it could slot in around Kevin Durant now (or, once he is healthy and returns) so they could still have a puncher’s chance to win the East. Dinwiddie gives Brooklyn a point guard and shot creator who can play some off the ball — and he returns to Brooklyn, where he made a name for himself in the league. Finney-Smith is a coveted two-way wing who can step in right now. Plus, the Nets add some potentially valuable picks down the line.

That offer gave the Nets more win-now possibilities than they got out of the Lakers’ offer (two future first-rounders and Russell Westbrook) or what the Suns and Clippers put in the mix.

There are questions for Dallas, but ones they believe they can answer — elite talents figure out a way to make it work on the court. Off the court, it helps that both coach Jason Kidd and former Nike executive turned Mavericks GM Nico Harrison have strong relationships with Irving. That’s a start.

The pairing of Dončić and Irving should lead to games and stretches where they look brilliant, but the question is not the highs but the lows — how deep and how prolonged will those be? Irving works well off the ball (as he has done with Durant and LeBron James) and should be able to play off Dončić. However, can Dončić play well off the ball when Irving is hot? Do the Mavericks — with Tim Hardaway Jr., Christian Wood, Maxi Kleber, Reggie Bullock and the rest — have enough around their two stars to be a serious threat in the West? Off the court, can the very different personalities of Irving and Dončić mesh, or at least work well enough not to be a distraction?

The biggest question: Do Cuban and the Mavericks really want to re-sign Irving for the four-years, $198.5 million he demands at the end of the season? There are reports that Dallas (like every other front office in the league, including Brooklyn) is hesitant to do a long-term deal with Irving that gives him that kind of guaranteed money.

But that is a concern for the future — Dallas got its second star. It has vaulted itself into the upper echelons of the Western Conference and positioned itself to contend.

Reports: Stephen Curry out ‘weeks’ with leg injury, Warriors hope for return after All-Star Break

Dallas Mavericks v Golden State Warriors
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
0 Comments

This is bad news for the Warriors. How bad depends on how the word “weeks” is ultimately defined.

Stephen Curry has torn ligaments in his leg — in the shin area just below the knee — and while the team does not have an official timeline he will be out “weeks” reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

“Weeks” is a vague word, and for the Warriors the difference in Curry being out three weeks (with one of those being the All-Star Break) versus him being out six to eight weeks could be the difference in how long a playoff run the Warriors have.

The Warriors are hoping for a Curry return just after the All-Star break, reports Monty Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.

Of short-term concern, this has Curry out for the All-Star Game where the fans voted him a starter. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will bump one of the reserves up to a starting spot — likely Ja Morant, who was third in fan voting — and name an injury replacement for the team. The top candidates are Devin Booker (if he returns from injury this week as expected), De'Aaron Fox or Anthony Edwards.

Longer term, the Warriors can’t afford to be without Curry for an extended period.

Curry is averaging 27.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists a game, and the Warriors outscore opponents by 5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 5.4 when he is off. With the team one game above .500 and struggling to avoid the play-in, an extended absence for Curry is trouble for a Warriors team that has never found its footing this season.

 

Nets reportedly going to sit Kyrie Irving until he is traded

0 Comments

This time it looks like it’s going to happen, the Brooklyn Nets will trade Kyrie Irving (unlike this summer).

Just don’t expect to see Irving on the court for Brooklyn until he’s moved, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

That is at one time a combination of smart, the only real call to make, the Nets wanting to look like they have control over the situation because Irving’s camp already leaked that he was going to sit out the rest of the season if not traded.

Irving did not play Saturday night when the Nets went down by 20 in the first quarter but rallied behind 44 points from Cam Thomas to get a much-needed win.

Four primary suitors have stepped up for Irving: The Lakers (considered Irving’s preferred destination), Suns, Mavericks and Clippers. The question is what do the Nets want back in a trade? If, as most around the league expect, the goal is to remain in the championship picture around Kevin Durant, Brooklyn will prize quality players and depth over draft picks. That’s bad news for the Lakers (the core of their offer is two future first-round picks plus Russell Westbrook) and good for the team down the hall, the Clippers can offer good players — John Wall, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson, plus young players such as Terance Mann — plus a pick if they need it.

The question for teams: Irving wants a max contract after this summer, similar to the four-year, $198.5 million fully guaranteed extension the Nets would not offer after Irving had 10 weeks or so of not being disruptive and focusing on basketball. Around the league, front offices are very hesitant to get into the Irving business for that long (most thought he would never get more than a two-year offer). Are the four teams above desperate enough for a bold move that ownership would sign off on four years with Irving? Will any of them? Or, like this summer, will Irving find the market not to his liking?

It’s going to be interesting until the Feb. 9 trade deadline.