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Failed promise of the Thunder

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After Oklahoma City reached the 2012 NBA Finals, James Harden set expectations.

“A dynasty is being built here,” Harden said.

It sure appeared to be trending that way.

The 2010 Thunder were the youngest playoff team in NBA history. In fact, they were so young, they kept the same core, and the 2011 Thunder became the second-youngest playoff team in NBA history. The 2012 Thunder were the youngest NBA Finals team in decades.

Oklahoma City was loaded with talent. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Harden were future MVPs. Serge Ibaka became a near star.

The Thunder were a nova.

But like all stars, their enormous and powerful fire eventually burned out.

Oklahoma City closed a chapter by agreeing yesterday to trade Russell Westbrook to the Rockets for Chris Paul. The Thunder have now completely turned over their roster since the 2012 Finals, leaving Harden’s proclamation unfulfilled.

Harden was the first to go. When he didn’t agree to a contract extension, Oklahoma City traded him to Houston in 2012. Durant left for the Warriors in 2016. Ibaka got traded to the Magic the same summer. Now, Westbrook exits.

After ascending so far so quickly, the Thunder not winning a title with any of those players is a historic disappointment.

Oklahoma City’s average age (weighted by postseason playing time) was 22.9 in 2011 and 23.8 in 2011. It was still just 25.7 in 2012, when the Thunder lost to the Heat in the NBA Finals.

Just four teams since the NBA-ABA merger have reached the Finals while so young. The other three eventually won a title.

The youngest NBA Finals teams since the merger:

  • 2012 Oklahoma City Thunder: 25.7
  • 1986 Houston Rockets: 25.4
  • 1977 Portland Trail Blazers: 24.2
  • 1977 Philadelphia 76ers: 25.5

The 1977 Portland Trail Blazers won the championship that year.

The 1977 runner-up 76ers had Julius Erving, who was in his first NBA season. He helped Philadelphia return to the Finals in 1980 (loss), 1982 (loss) and 1983 (win).

In an incredible example of the staying power of a young NBA Finals team, the Rockets lost momentum after the 1986 Finals. In the next seven years, they had four first-round exits and two second-round exits and once missed the playoffs entirely. But because Hakeem Olajuwon was just 23 in 1986, he remained a superstar long enough to lead Houston to titles in 1994 and 1995.

It seemed the Thunder might have similar staying power.

Oklahoma City re-tooled around Durant and Westbrook after trading Harden. That edition of the team peaked with a 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the 2016 Western Conference finals.

Then, the Thunder built around Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Then, Westbrook and George without Anthony. Those teams fizzled with first-round losses. Oklahoma City trading George to the Clippers ended that plan.

Now, dealing Westbrook closes an entire era.

The Thunder accomplished plenty in this period. Only the Spurs have a better regular-season winning percentage in the last 10 years. Oklahoma City reached four straight Western Conference finals. When healthy, the Thunder were a mainstay that deep into the playoffs.

But they never won even a single title, a blemish that would’ve once seemed so unlikely.

Pacers’ increasingly optimistic Victor Oladipo to play in restart

Victor Oladipo play
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“With all the variables, from how I have to build my 5-on-5 workload back up, to the increased risk of a soft tissue injury which could delay my rehab, and the unknown exact set up of the bubble, I just can’t get my mind to being fully comfortable in playing… getting fully healthy for the 2020-21 season is the right decision for me.”

That was Pacers’star Victor Oladipo explaining why he would sit out the NBA restart in Orlando.

Then he got to the Walt Disney World property and saw the set up of the bubble, and he got in some five-on-five practices with teammates, and not it appears he might play after all, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Oladeipo may lace them up and play at the end of the month, but nothing is set in stone. Of course, a competitor like Oladipo wants to get on the court, and there is an unquestioned energy finally getting back out there after the coronavirus-forced interruption.

There are also another $2.7 million reasons for him to play (the salary he would lose sitting out). Countering that, Oladipo also got one more year under contract and his concerns about an injury from ramping up to fast are legitimate.

Oladipo missed more than a year after surgery to repair a torn right quad tendon. He played in 13 games before the league was shut down, and in the last five of those he averaged 18.6 points and 4.8 rebounds a game.

Indiana enters the bubble as the five seed in the East, tied with the sixth-seed Sixers, and just two games back of the four seed Heat. There could be a lot of shakeups in the middle of the East standings, which would impact first-round playoff matchups.

The Pacers are a much more dangerous threat with Oladipo in the lineup, but the player and the team need to decide if now is the time to push that advantage.

Kings’ Richaun Holmes quarantined after leaving NBA bubble for food delivery

Kings center Richaun Holmes
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Coronavirus cases are surging in Florida. The NBA’s bubble is in Florida.

Is that a problem?

Theoretically, the bubble location shouldn’t matter. The NBA’s setup at Disney World is designed for players never to come into too close of contact with the surrounding community. So, it wouldn’t matter how prevalent coronavirus is in the surrounding community.

Unless someone violates the protocols.

Which nobody eeeeever expected would happen.

Kings center Richaun Holmes:

Presumably, Holmes – like Rockets forward Bruno Caboclo – faces a 10-day quarantine

That’s the way to ensure Holmes didn’t contract coronavirus from the deliverer. Holmes would almost certainly test positive and/or show symptoms within 10 days if he has coronavirus. A player spreading coronavirus within the bubble is the ultimate fear for the NBA.

Unlike some other players, Holmes even vouched for the quality of food brought to his room. Yet, he still wanted outside delivery.

Maybe there’s a safe way to get it. The deliverer – away from people – could set the food down at the edge of the campus then retreat at least six feet. At that point, Holmes could go pick it up.

But without those precautions, Holmes put himself – and therefore everyone else in the bubble – at too great of a risk. Hence, the lengthy quarantine.

Holmes has been essential to Sacramento’s turnaround. Yes, Marvin Bagley III should be healthier. But the energetic Holmes is the Kings’ most dependable center.

To make the playoffs, they’ll need him following the rules and allowed outside his room.

NBA: 19 more players, two at Disney World tested positive for coronavirus

NBA coronavirus
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On June 23, 16 NBA players tested positive for coronavirus. Between June 24-29, nine more NBA players tested positive.

But that downward trend took a sharp reversal in July.

At least 19 more players, two after arriving at Disney World, have tested positive for coronavirus

NBA release:

Of the 322 players tested for COVID-19 since arriving on the NBA Campus July 7, two have returned confirmed positive tests while in quarantine.  Those players never cleared quarantine and have since left the Campus to isolate at home or in isolation housing.

Since July 1, during in-market testing, 19 NBA players newly tested positive.  These players are staying in their home markets and recovering until they are cleared under CDC guidelines and NBA rules for leaving home isolation and joining the Campus.

Those 19 new positive tests are a disturbingly high number.

It can be difficult to compare different date ranges. June 23 is only a single day, but as the first day of in-market testing, it covered weeks of players potentially contracting coronavirus. The second testing period (June 24-29) is shorter than the July period (which varied based on whether teams departed July 7, 8 or 9 for Disney World).

But, ideally, the number of cases would’ve shrunk as players became increasingly immersed in the NBA’s plan, which called for greater precautions and testing.

The league and teams should investigate why there were so many new cases in July – then explain the findings to the public. Given the lack of transparency around the restart, I wouldn’t hold my breath, though.

At least there are no known positive tests from players who’ve been given free reign within the bubble. That’s the most alarming scenario. Two players testing positive during their in-room quarantines appears to be the system working.

However, the league should confirm that anyone traveling with those two players didn’t become infected en route. A false negative could be catastrophic.

This brings the minimum total of NBA players who’ve tested positive for coronavirus under the league’s restart plan to 44.

And there’s two positive tests at Disney World.* Plus everyone who tested positive before June 23 (at least 10 players**) and tested positive only outside the NBA’s system.

That’s a LARGE segment of NBA players – at least 54.

*It’s possible these two players previously tested positive, tested negative, traveled to Orlando then tested positive again. So, they’re not necessarily new cases.

**Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, Pistons big Christian Wood, four Nets including Kevin Durant, Celtics guard Marcus Smart and two Lakers.

Yet, it still doesn’t say much about the safety of the NBA bubble, which is just getting underway. The outside world is dangerously full of coronavirus. That’s what all these positive tests so far show.

Additional positive tests – by players fully involved in the bubble – will be far more chilling for the NBA’s planned season completion.

Goran Dragic: Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn not with Heat

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn
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Three Heat rotation players reportedly tested positive for coronavirus. One was Derrick Jones Jr.

The other two?

Goran Dragic said Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn weren’t with the team at Disney World.

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Goran Dragic revealed that Bam Adebayo and Kendrick Nunn are the players who are not with the team.

“Hopefully Bam can come and K-Nunn and we can be a whole team and make some damage,” Dragic said. “Some guys are not here. We are eager, expecting them to come, hopefully to be healthy and we can all start practicing together.”

Did Adebayo and Nunn test positive for coronavirus? Not necessarily. They could be absent for other reasons. But there’s obviously some circumstantial evidences.

That people are forced to connect these dots is an indictment of the NBA, which has shown a troubling lack of transparency around its restart.

Adebayo is an All-Star – a two-way big who plays versatile defense and contributes so many ways offensively (finishing, screening, passing). He’d be a huge loss. Nobody on the Heat could come close to duplicating his varied contributions.

Nunn is one of the NBA’s biggest surprises. But Dragic, Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro could collectively pick up Nunn’s scoring from the backcourt.

Of course, Adebayo and Nunn might join the team soon. There’s far more we don’t know than know.