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Oklahoma City Thunder

Did the Thunder do enough this offseason? Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

(Posted on behalf of massive fan of Oklahoma City professional basketball, Thunderstolt.)

Starting Five: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins
Key Bench Players: PG Reggie Jackson, SG Jeremy Lamb, PF Nick Collison, SF Perry Jones III
Notable offseason additions: C Steven Adams (12th overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: SG Kevin Martin
FACT OR FICTION: The quiet Thunder offseason was a failure for a team with title aspirations?
FICTION. The relatively quiet offseason for the Thunder was a story in itself. While other teams in the Western Conference like the Clippers, Warriors and Rockets were making big moves to bolster their rosters, the Thunder stayed pat. Kevin Martin, in the eyes of OKC, didn’t warrant what Martin was expecting in his next contract and lost him to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Martin is the only player in the nine-man rotation from last year who won’t be suiting up in OKC this season.
But those who were yelling for OKC to do more in the offseason should realize the Thunder led the NBA in point differential and possessed the No. 1 offense and No. 4 defense last season. There is cause for concern though, as the past 12 months have seen the Thunder go from James Harden, to Kevin Martin, to Jeremy Lamb as the shooting guard off the bench for Scott Brooks.… Read more...

(Not So Instant) Trade Analysis: Kevin Martin to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Andrei Kirilenko to the Brooklyn Nets

Minnesota Timberwolves get: SG Kevin Martin (four years, $30 million), re-signed SF Chase Budinger (three years, $16 million), re-signed Corey Brewer (three years, $15 million)
Milwaukee Bucks get: PG Luke Ridnour, Minnesota second round draft pick
Oklahoma City Thunder get: The draft rights to second round PF Szymon Szewczyk. Szeriously.
Brooklyn Nets get: F Andrei Kirilenko (three years, $9 million)
In a series of transactions that slapped each other like dominoes, five major league basketball players switched squads as if a group of GMs played a round of high stakes musical chairs.
The Timberwolves were at the center here, first passing on the opportunity to re-sign Kirilenko after the Russian forward opted out of a Minnesota contract that would have paid him $10 million this year. Vastly overestimating the market of contending teams that would offer him the same money over multiple years, AK47 signed a cut rate deal with the Brooklyn Nets for three years and $9 million, with the third year being a player option. With that extra money coming off the books, the Wolves re-signed forward Chase Budinger, brought back their 2007 number 7 draft pick Corey Brewer and dumped Luke Ridnour onto the Bucks in order to sign-and-trade for Kevin Martin. For their participation in facilitating Martin’s end of the transaction, the Oklahoma City Thunder got the rights to 2009 second round draft pick and Polish sensation Szymon Szewczyk, who may never play in the NBA. Even amidst all these signings, the Timberwolves still have enough cap room to retain free agent center Nikola Pekovic and possibly still be under the luxury tax threshold (depending on how nuts they decide to go with his contract).… Read more...

NBA Playoffs: Conference Semifinals Predictions

1) Miami Heat vs. 5) Chicago Bulls
How do the champs make this a clean sweep?
El Mariachi: LeBron James.
Can the beat-up Bulls push this to 5 or 6 games?
KOBEsh: There really isn’t any logical reasoning to this prediction. Everyone on the Bulls is either physically injured or seriously ill. Derrick Rose’s brother continues his rope-a-dope with the NBA fan base at large, a sentence which leaves me wondering “Why the fuck are we listening to Derrick Rose’s brother anyway?”
But the most salient point in defense of Joakim Noah and company? The Chicago Bulls have all the ingredients to beat the Heat–extremely physical defenders, capable shot-blocking bigs that can avoid foul trouble and enough three-point shooting to disrupt a usually sterling Heat perimeter defense. To push this to a 6 game series, Da Bulls must outrebound the Heat by double-digits every single game; after all, this sometimes offensively challenged Chicago unit simply doesn’t have the playmaker to outwit superior defenders like James, Wade and Mario Chalmers on game-to-game basis. More importantly, Jimmy Butler, Marco Bellinelli and Nate Robinson have to continue to shoot in the upper-30% on threes in order to open up the middle for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. The Heat’s perimeter defense is completely predicated on their athletes moving inside-out so quickly, not on size alone. In order to counter-act that, those three perimeter players must hit shots.
Most importantly, the Bulls know they can beat Miami. Being the team that ended the 27-game streak in a raucous United Center, Chicago has that intangible confidence to combat a Heat squad that quite frankly, most oppositions are afraid of. … Read more...

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Predictions

On Friday, we took a look at our Eastern Conference predictions. Even though one game is in the books, better late than never. Let’s get right to the other side of the bracket, the Western Conference:
1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8) Houston Rockets
Why OKC takes it in 5 games
KOBEsh: It’s a 1-seed versus an 8-seed. That’s reason enough right there. 
But going further? You’ve got the league’s best and most efficient offense playing a squad with a middling 16th ranked defense, though they’ve certainly improved over the second half of the season. You’ve got two of the NBA’s deadliest scorers in Westbrook and Durant, and no one on the opposition that is at all suited to slow them down. You’ve got an experienced OKC front line that knows how to work advantages against a bunch of first-time playoff virgins, including Serge Ibaka whose mobility and shooting touch should tear up whatever platoon coach Kevin McHale chooses.
This shouldn’t be a contest. No further explanation necessary. … Read more...

Instant Trade Analysis: Derek Fisher to the Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder get: PG Derek Fisher
On the most feeble NBA trading deadline in recent memory, the Oklahoma City Thunder shipped off reserve guard Eric Maynor to Portland in a move that couldn’t be described as anything besides cost-cutting. Even as Maynor was getting DNP-CDs on a nightly basis, the Thunder still needed to add another back-up point guard to a now thin reserve corps.
Not surprisingly, OKC went with a known quality in regards to not only adding personnel, but also keeping together the team’s locker room chemistry. Today, the Thunder signed PG Derek Fisher to a prorated veteran’s minimum deal in order to obtain his services for the rest of the regular season.… Read more...

What To Do About "Bad" Russ Westbrook? Questioning an OKC Fan

(The Oklahoma City Thunder fell in LA last Sunday 105-96 to a resurgent Lakers squad. The loss was in part because Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol took control of the game late, but also was pinned on the Thunder’s two young stars. Russ Westbrook and Kevin Durant shot 16 for 48, just one part of a relatively lifeless Thunder team tired from the last bout of a 6-game road trip. The loss immediately spurred several questions at MAMBINO HQ to our resident OKC fan, Thunderstolt)


KOBEsh: On Sunday we watched Russ shoot 6-22, igniting anew any controversy regarding Westbrook’s actual effectiveness in games and questioning how he’s best used. After talking to Bockerknocker following the slugfest against the Lakers, I have several questions, but let’s start with the first:

Do you feel like Russ has reached an “Eli Manning”-esque place in performance? As in, you know you’re always going to get a few clunkers along with 40-plus point Finals games? Do you just accept him for what he is at this point, or do you feel like his game is going to change?

Instant Trade Analysis: James Harden to the Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets get: G James Harden, C Cole Aldrich, G/F Daquan cook, G/F Lazar Hayward

Oklahoma City Thunder get: SG Kevin Martin, SG Jeremy Lamb, two 1st round picks (via Toronto and Dallas), one 2nd round pick (via Charlotte)

The writing was on the wall, but typing it out is still shocking: reigning Sixth Man of the Year James Harden has been traded by the Oklahoma City Thunder to the Houston Rockets. The former Sonics dealt one of the key pieces that built them up into a Western Conference Champion and supposed future perennial title contender not as a basketball decision, but one that was almost 100% business.

The back story is the Thunder front office wasn’t willing to offer James Harden a maximum contract, which was about $60 million over four years. The closest they got was approximately $55 million over four years, which Harden and his management promptly rejected Saturday morning. The deadline for negotiating an extension with the OKC super-sub is Wednesday, and if not signed by then, Harden would become a restricted free agent next summer. Knowing that the team probably wouldn’t be able to get their reserve shooting guard to change his mind over the course of the season (they had been negotiating with him all summer long), GM Sam Presti worked out a deal with the Houston Rockets, and hours later, Harden was an ex-member of the reigning Western Conference Champions. That simple.

Harden can now sign a contract anywhere up to five years, $75 million, an extra year he couldn’t have gotten with the Thunder (a team can only dole out one five year contract under the current CBA–which was what the lockout was about last year–and they already used it on Russ Westbrook’s maximum extension). Rockets GM Daryl Morey will ink Harden to the deal before Wednesday, but at this point it’s just a matter of whether it will be four years or five years long.

So the question here is…why would the Thunder make this move?… Read more...

Winning Three More Games – Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

Starting Five: PG Russ Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins

Key Bench Players: PG Eric Maynor, SG James Harden, G/F Daquan Cook, PF Nick Collison, F Perry Jones III
Notable offseason additions: F Perry Jones (28th overall pick)
Notable offseason subtractions: PG Derek Fisher, C Nazr Mohammed
How do the Oklahoma City Thunder win three more games? That’s it. Just three more?

With the NBA Finals notched at a 1-0 advantage Thunder, OKC went on to lose an unfathomable four games in a row to the Miami Heat. Each passing game the Thunder seemed to look younger and younger, with James Harden looking more like a petrified kid wearing a Brian Wilson costume than a future All-Star. Kevin Durant and Russ Westbrook still shined under LeBron’s total eclipse of the court, but both young stars couldn’t do enough to prevent the gentleman’s sweep. 

Think about that: it’s not just that the Thunder were beaten by the better team: they essentially were swept out of the Finals after being spotted a game. Yes, two of those contests were only decided by six points, but those losses happened because of the superior execution by the more seasoned villains from South Beach. OKC didn’t get beaten by coincidence or luck or suspect circumstance. They didn’t even “come up just a bit short”. They got mauled right out of the Finals. Three more games? Yes, they only have to win three more games. But what they need to close a gap of 144 minutes is far more complicated than just a few more W’s. 

Coming into the summer, the Thunder knew how much better they had to get. It wasn’t a secret–the youthful exuberance on the faces of the OKC stars was gone, replaced with a humility only served up by such a scalding loss. Lots of wholesale changes were bandied about by the media at large, especially when analyzed financially. The Thunder had secured both Durant and Westbrook to long-term contract extensions, but F Serge Ibaka and Harden remained unsigned beyond 2012-2013. If indeed the core needed some changes to win the NBA title, perhaps the coinciding cap crunch OKC would inevitably fall into could be the catalyst for a major trade.

But the summer came and went, and the Thunder made only a few cosmetic changes in personnel. New to the team is rookie Perry Jones III, a forward with big potential but huge questions about his aggressiveness and true desire in improving as a basketball player. The Baylor forward was once projected as a lottery lock with Lamar Odom comparisons, but after staying in school through the 2011-2012 season, his stock plummeted in accordance with his ca

Are the Lakers the Clear-Cut Favorite for the Western Conference Title?

Expanding on an earlier post from Silver Screen and Roll, do the additions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks make the Los Angles Lakers the clear-cut favorites to win the Western Conference?

In a word, no. But let’s go a bit further.

The two horses in this race are clearly the Lakers and the defending Western Conference champions, the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s easy to see why anyone would see this more like a lopsided Usain Bolt sprint rather than an actual fair competition: the Lakers imported two players who are one of the five best at their position and heavily fortified their biggest weakness in bench scoring. However, Lakers fans have to temper their expectations. Why? There’s just so many variables:

Nash’s age, Kobe’s age, Jamison’s age, Metta’s age: Out of these four players, Metta World Peace is the youngster of the group at age 33 in November. Kobe will be 34 later this month, Jamison just turned 36 and Nash is of course 38 years old. Each of these men are still highly effective, competitive players, but are all on the downsides of their careers. I’m not so much worried about their skill level depreciating, as they all still are goodato excellent major league NBAers, but with advancing age, so increaess the risks for injury.

Dwight’s back: Unbeknownst to many before his press conference last Friday, Howard admitted that he might not be ready for the beginning of the 2012-2013 season in November (even if he were to be cleared by the doctor today, he’s looking at a two to three month rehabilitation period). His injury, originally thought to be a relatively minor hernia surgery, could keep him out of action for up to six months. Obviously back surgeries are a very serious matter, but if the Lakers were willing to give up a major piece like Andrew Bynum (albeit a piece who has injury concerns of his own), Dwight’s injury can’t be that serious. Right? Either way, it’s going to be hard to tell how and at what strength he comes back at.

Jordan Hill’s continued development: With the pipe dreams of Lamar Odom’s return passing the Lakers by, and the trade of Josh McRoberts to Orlando, Jordan Hill is left as the primary big man back-up. Hill will be called on primarily to rebound the ball, provide defense in the post and generallly fight hard for hustle points. In the last month or so of the season, Jordan finally began to live up to his lofty draft spot as the 8th overall pick in 2009, elevating himself into Mike Brown’s rotation–as well as earned himself a two-year, $8 million dollar deal this offseason–by dropping 14 points and 15 rebounds in a season-high 35 minutes versus Oklahoma City on April 22nd. The question is, will Hill continue to shine and morph into a reliable big who will be able to give the Lakers the rebounding and toughness they need? Or will be revert back into the draft bust that MAMBINO contributor El Miz proclaimed him just a year into his NBA career?

Mike Brown’s offense: Over his six seasons as head coach, Mike Brown’s six teams have excelled at their defensive prowess. Very few people have had the opportunity to criticize Brown in regards of his teams locking down, and rightly so. However, the coach’s offense leaves a lot to be desired. Many have justifiably knocked Brown for his lack of creativeness in his team’s scoring, despite coaching two of the greatest talents of the last 15 years in Bryant and LeBron James. To Brown’s credit, on the Caval… Read more...

A Five-Game Series: Early Thoughts on the 2012 NBA Finals

Two games in, this Finals is shaping up to be everything we thought it’d be: exciting, epic, historic and potentially, dare I say, one of the greatest of all-time. This could all be a premature evaluation, but if you came to this blog looking for even-handed opinions rather than bold statements, then maybe you should head over to a lesser organization.

The series is knotted at one game a piece, and we’re down to what amounts to a five-game death match for the NBA title. On Sunday, both the Heat and the Thunder are headed to Miami for three games, and then (basketball Gods permitting), back to Oklahoma for two more.

To get the pulse on the most important storylines arising from this week’s games, we’ve assembled the MAMBINO basketball-heads to break down what we’ve seen, and what’s coming, roundtable style. Read on!

Russ Westbrook has seemingly turned into a modern-day AI over these playoffs, averaging 21/5/6, on 39% shooting in the last 10 games. Is he hurting the Thunder with this high-volume, low efficiency scoring?  
BockerKnocker: Conventional wisdom (and ironically, hero ball) dictates that the best player should take the most shots. But while everybody will pile on Russell Westbrook for his poor shooting percentages, the Thunder have compiled a 25-6 record this season when Robin has more field goal attempts than Batman. And in Game 2 specifically, when Kevin Durant left the game in foul trouble, it became harder to tell Westbrook that he shouldn’t be shooting the ball.

Is he hurting OKC when he misses a shot? Yes, but the kid more than makes up for it by BEING THE BEST ATHLETE IN THE NBA. Why must we require a point guard to be in a box? Pass-first PGs are put on such a pedestal nowadays; Steve Nash won two MVPs without playing a lick of defense! Westbrook is the premiere antithesis of the old guard’s theory, yet the dude still dropped 18 dimes in these first 2 games, while committing only 4 turnovers. Can’t we celebrate him for doing things that no other point guard can do, like tip dunking Durant’s missed layup last night? These things give him an excuse to wear those ludicrous, no-lens Sally Jessy Raphael specs and the Urkel getup.

Okay, fine, there is absolutely no excuse for looking like that. But lay off the man. He’ll be just fine.

The Thunder have battled back from deep deficits, with a successful come back in Game 1 and coming damn close in Game 2. How is Scott Brooks getting his team down so much early?

Thunderstolt: Anyone who watches the Thunder consistently throughout the season knows they often don’t have the best starts (essentially playing 2-on-5 on offense with Thabo, Perk, and Ibaka will do that) and its been glaring now with the bright lights of the Finals.  Brooks justifies the starting lineup (which has not changed since Kendrick Perkins was acquired last season) with the fact that the defensive-minded unit outscores its opponent by an average of 7 points per 100 possessions even though the it is one of the worst offensively (24th in the league according to stats).  Essentially, Brooks trades off marginally bad offense for fantastic defense.
Hey Thunderstolt, I own you!

Thabo and Serge both had huge individual games in the WCF (Thabo in Game 3 & Serge in Game 4) but those seem so long ago because neither one has been able to replicate anything close to that since.  That won’t cut it in the playoffs when lineups not seen the entire season are used.  Spoelstra used a starting lineup last night of Chalmers, Wade, LeBr