Friday, October 31, 2008

How to turn OKC into a contender today

Wednesday night was so bitter sweet.
The excitement in the Thunderdome was spilling over because you know, it was the first game ever, but the team didn't really produce on the court. At a few points, if you looked around you could see people resting their chins on their palms likely thinking, "I wonder what Chris Paul is doing right now... (loud sigh)."

This team is young, raw, talented and young. They will get there but it's going to take some time because, well, you know, they're young. Did I say they're young? But as I watched the Thunder fall behind by 24 for a third time in the third quarter, I started wondering, how could we turn this team into a contender now? What (reasonable) pieces could OKC acquire that could guarantee 45 wins? Even before a thunderous (see what I did there) fast-break dunk by Dez that ignited the crowd, I was already putting together trades in my head that I couldn't wait to rush home and plug into the ESPN Trade Machine. (Now, I'm no Bill Simmons, the self-proclaimed Picasso of the Trade Machine, but I was determined to try.)

Just know: We miss you.

"Ok, how about Earl Watson, John Lucas III and cash for Kobe and Andrew Bynum? No? Ok, Robert Swift straight up for Al Jefferson. Denied? But Robert's upside! His upside!"
So I was a little overzealous with my trades. And the thing about the Trade Machine - as awesome as it is, it will basically accept any trade you propose as long as the money lines up. It doesn't really have a "common sense" factor. Chris Wilcox's expiring contract, Earl Watson and cash for Carlos Boozer? Yes please.

So moderating the fairness was difficult. You give me an hour on the Trade Machine and my starting five would be Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Kobe, Carlos Boozer and Andrew Bynum. My bench would then have to consist of Keith Van Horn, a janitor and Matt Pinto, but you get the point about the Machine.

Anyway, I started plugging in stuff. I made a list of the team needs in "most needed" order. One was "big man to control the paint." Two was "deadly outside shooter." And three was "consistent complement to Kevin Durant." I truly believe the Thunder could win with a lineup like this:

PG Russell Westbrook
SG Kevin Durant
SF Consistent scoring complement to Kevin Durant (one day supposed to be Jeff Green)
PF Nick Collison
C Big man to control the paint

And then a lights-out shooter off the bench. So who should we go after? The thing is the Thunder doesn't have a lot of enticing pieces outside of the "off-limits" guys. The very tradeable guys are Joe Smith, Chris Wilcox, Earl Watson, Desmond Mason, Damien Wilkins, Mo Sene, Kyle Weaver and D.J. White. Not exactly a group that an opposing GM would skip lunch to swing a deal for. But regardless, that's who we were working with.

I set my sights on a good scorer to play the three. I needed to find a team that could use a decent point guard (Earl Watson) or a solid four (Chris Wilcox). I locked on to Indiana's Danny Granger. He's a good three-point threat (39 percent career and 40 percent last year) and averaged a solid 19.6 last season. He's got excellent size (6'8") and a good defender and best of all, he's got an expiring contract. The Pacers probably aren't going to contend this year, so they would likely be enticed by draft picks and expiring contracts themselves. So you send Chris Wilcox's expiring contract and next year's first round pick and get Danny Granger and Jarrett Jack in return (Jack is a throw-in to line the money up). Both Granger and Jack's contracts are up after this season and Indiana would probably go for unloading both to free up cap space. Plus, they could really use a body like Chris Wilcox on the blocks and it might give them a chance to groom Brandon Rush into a primo scorer. And honestly, I feel like Granger could kill two birds with one stone by giving OKC a consistent scorer and an outside threat.

Now I don't know enough about this and Granger may be an untouchable for the Pacers, but we can dream, right? Especially since Granger dropped 33 in the season opener, they might not take Kevin Durant and gold bullion for him. Oh well.

On to finding a good big man. With Wilcox gone, the best leverage to use is either draft picks or Joe Smith and Earl Watson. Here the Thunder needs to set their eyes on a well-tested big that they don't have to keep if they don't want to. The victim? Brad Miller. He's got a huge contract ($11 million plus) and the Kings would likely love to dump that. (Right now Miller is suspended five games for violating the league substance abuse policy). Miller has two years on his contract, so if the Kings could get rid of it for some expiring ones, they'd likely bite.

The Kings have a lot of needs so depending on what they'd bite on, you offer up any two-piece combination of Earl Watson, Joe Smith or Desmond Mason. More than likely, the Kings don't want Watson because he's signed through 2010. So a trade of Mason and Smith for Miller might work. Both Mason and Smith's deals are up this year and the money lines up. Smith could fill the void of Miller for the season and Mason could either start in place of John Salmons or provide a nice back up. It's win-win for both teams.

So now, the Thunder starting lineup looks like this:
PG Westbrook/Watson
SG Durant
SF Granger
PF Collison
C Miller

I think the Thunder could win 45 games with that lineup, don't you? Plus you've still got expiring deals with Granger and Miller in 2010, to which you could use Miller as trade leverage next season. Jarrett Jack or Watson could (and should) be traded to try and replenish Sam Presti's cupboard of draft picks. The bench just got lighter without Joe Smith or Dez, but you've got Jeff Green to play behind Granger and Johan Petro/Robert Swift/Mo Sene to fill the blocks.

Now, this will never, ever, happen because 1) The Pacers probably don't want to part with Danny Granger and 2) Presti doesn't really want to contend right now. It's not the plan. The plan is to draft wisely and sign a few good free agents. Which makes sense because the Thunder only has $20 million in committed salary for next season. So there's a lot of green to play with. Throw money at Carlos Boozer or Chris Bosh, draft Blake Griffin or Ricky Rubio... things are going to be alright in OKC.
But if we didn't want to slump in our chairs and dream of CP3 all season, this is what we do. Or maybe we just pray KD turns into a megastar, Jeff Green plays to potential, Chris Wilcox has a career year, Russell Westbrook develops faster than thought and Damien Wilkins shoots threes like he's lost his mind. It could happen. I guess. Until then... you think Chris Paul is maybe eating dinner now or breaking down game film?

Friday Bolts - 10.31.08

  • An excellent feature from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: "At some point you kind of have to let that go and learn from your mistakes, I suppose. But the thing is, nobody in this town has stepped up and said, 'My fault, I had a hand in this, I'm sorry.' Former ownership, politicians, nobody. I guess it's a region full of Fonzies. They can't say that 'S' word."
  • And to be fair a feature from the Star-Telegram: "This NBA neophyte is still trying to get to a place where it can go through some growing pains. If you want to buy a No. 35 Durant authentic jersey, you’ll have to wait until January. None available now. The transplanted Seattle SuperSonics— now Oklahoma City Thunder — had only team logo-manufactured T-shirts and ball caps available for sale at the Ford Center on Wednesday night. And if you want to take the kids to see a cute-and-cuddly mascot ... well, uh, please hold that thought. One is still in the works."
  • David Thorpe's rookie rankings has Russell Westbrook at No. 8: "Westbrook figures to get serious playing time right away, despite a far-from-ready offensive game. He was drafted because of his defensive talents and his ability to complement Kevin Durant and Jeff Green. And because he's a winner. Although he will suffer through some real struggles, especially as a shooter, the Thunder want him to develop into a future starter, so playing time is mandatory."
  • You know you're in Oklahoma when people are already restless about Coach Peej after one game (See: OU message boards after an OU loss): "I am not a fan of PJ and I question many of his coaching decisions. His starting lineup and player rotations for one. This is the most glaring problem that the team has. The wrong players are playing at the wrong times. Second the fact that he didn't have his team ready to play last night was a horrible mistake. There was only one game that this team HAD to win and it was last night. Keep it up PJ, your days I numbered, I hope."
  • More thoughts from Joe on the Bucks game: "I’ve been reading a book by Dave Berri titled “The Wages of Wins” after hearing so many good things about it, as well as reading Mr.Berri’s blog “the Wages of wins journal” (see link on blogroll). In his book and on his blog he puts forth a sort of big picture stat called the “Win Score”. The win score can be expressed in several different ways, one of them being win score per minute, and thereby can be compared to the win score per minute average by position to help us evaluate and compare players and performances."
  • Looking for last minute Halloween costume ideas? Well, why not see what the Big 12 is dressed up as? "Sexy Nurse - Baylor. Robert Griffin is darn fun to watch but by the end of the night, everyone has had their way with them." (Sometimes I have to plug myself.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thursday Bolts - 10.30.08

  • Thunderguru on last night's game: "As for the actual contest that was played, the headline here could easily be titled: “Thunder starters stink, bench makes it fun”. The opening lineup was Petro, Collison, Green, Durant and Watson and they played like a D-league team. Coach thankfully put Wilcox in for Petro halfway through the first, and started double teaming Bogut in the post, but the tone was set and we were in the hole by 10 points after the first quarter. We shot 25% to their 45%, were out-rebounded and had 5 turnovers."
  • Blue Blitz: "The key to revitalizing the starting lineup here might be benching Earl Watson. While he and Westbrook had the same amount of assists, Westbrooks driving actually helps the Thunder. Watson will sit at the top of the key, hardly creating any ball movement. Westbrook will drive the ball down to the post, and create opportunities for guys like Chris Wilcox, Desmond Mason, and Joe Smith. His method isn't perfect, but every indication I'm getting now is full steam ahead for Westbrook."
Highlights from last night's game:


David Stern after last night's game:





  • Jenni Carlson on Kevin Durant's less than stellar game: "On a night that Oklahoma City will long count as glorious, Durant had a game that was anything but. He had an utterly forgettable first half, missing every shot he attempted, scoring no points, rolling up fouls and turnovers but not much else. His woeful start helped sink the Thunder into a halftime hole from which it never recovered."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Milwaukee bucks Thunder in franchise opener

Tonight wasn't about the scoreboard. Though it did read 98-87 with a Thunder loss and it sure would have been nice to start out 1-0, it really didn't matter that much.

This night was about Oklahoma City. And during Mayor Mick's speech, I won't lie, I had tears welling in my eyes. I know that sounds crazy, but as someone that's spent all 23 years of his life in this wonderful state and someone that is Oklahoman to the bone, October 29, 2008 meant a whole heck of a lot to me. When Commissioner Stern grabbed the mic and said, "Oklahoma City... welcome to the National Basketball Association," I nearly lost it. The crowd hung on every word from the Commish and Mayor Mick and the Mayor even pulled Clay Bennett out of the shadows to which the crowd gave the Boss a full minute standing ovation. Just magical.

As for the game, not so magical. I hate to nit-pick and snipe at things about the presentation, but it's unavoidable. But we all need to keep in mind, this thing has been thrown together in a matter of months and this was the first go-round. Give it a year and I'm sure the in-game festivities will be cleaned up and much better. The emcee will be better with more practice. The transition from one thing to the next will be better. Heck, hopefully the team will be better.

A couple notes about the game presentation:
I never thought I'd say it because I've never really noticed it until now - the Thunder needs a mascot. One is coming and is supposed to be introduced before the end of the season, but the lack of a mascot is a gaping whole in the presentation. It's kind of like the Seattle SuperSonics - you never really notice them until they're gone. Ok, that was uncalled for. But not having a Hugo run around and de-pants (or pants, depending on where you stand on that issue) referees, throw t-shirts, dive through fire, break dance or do whatever really brought down the entertainment value. I'm a college guy through and through and mascots are always an afterthought because they have little to do with the game in college (it's all about the bands, the cheerleaders, the chants, the tradition). But in the pros, mascots are pretty key.

Even without a mascot, there was certain entertainment value missing. No t-shirt cannons. No unique fan contests or clever skits. They never played a single video on the jumbo screens. Though I loathe the movie, no Anchorman clip. No Noise-O-Meter. No cool graphic. The extent of what was on the video board was "Make! Some! Noise!" with a dark cloud behind it. Bor-ing. They didn't even pass out those long balloon things to distract the other team at the free throw line. Come on!

To be honest, it felt kind of like an OU basketball game without the band. A Midfirst bank giveaway, a "best/funny dancer" thing, a t-shirt toss and a couple performances by the "dancers." There was just an element lacking. Not having the t-shirt sling shot sucks for us proud patrons of Loud City because the Thunder Girls aren't exactly gifted with Brett Favre type arms.

I was slightly disappointed with the court. I loved the baselines, but the choice of color combos is just off. Mainly because the fact that the team has four colors. Putting the blue and yellow together in the lane was weird because the yellow is barely noticeable on the logo or the jerseys. I was under the impression that they were featuring the blue and orange-red? Guess not. They really need to cut one of those colors. I do like the simplicity of it though. I like the design and the look of it overall. Just not so sure about the color combination.

The crowd was unbelievable though. For the first quarter I think everyone had kind of a "So what are we supposed to do again?" feel because it was so surreal to be back in this situation. And it also tough to get loud because the team was down double digits before you could say Thunderstruck. But I've never seen a crowd ready to explode like the one tonight. Down 20 in the fourth, after a quick little 6-0 spurt that was lit with a monster Dez Mason jam, the Thunderdome faithful erupted. Then Russell Westbrook hit a three to cut it to 11 with five minutes left and you'd have thought he hit a go ahead three in game seven of the Finals. It was awesome. I hope we're in for a full season of that.

But I'll admit, I'm a little fearful of what it will be like in February if the team is 6-29 and just plain stinks. Will people still want to go? I won't lie: During a stretch in the third quarter when the Thunder fell behind by 24 again and couldn't get a defensive rebound and when they did, they promptly threw the ball out of bounds like it was on fire, I was thinking, "I don't know about this..." But then the little run in the fourth brought me back. But that kind of said to me: This team can get by for a while sucking; but they're going to need to get good at some point.

As for some expert breaking down of the game - it was rough. The lack of a low post scorer/defender was showcased by super stiff Andrew Bogut scoring the first six Buck points. The Thunder couldn't get clean rebounds and couldn't start any fast breaks. Kevin Durant not scoring until the third quarter hurt and only having 12 for the night really hurt. OKC has to have him lighting up the board. Has to. Russell Westbrook makes me feel better and better by the second. He plays so hard and is so athletic that I see great things for him. Heck, he led the team in offensive rebounds with four. I'm starting to become a little anti-Earl because 1) I love Westbrook and 2) Earl just screams "solid back-up point guard." Coach Peej might need to consider different alternatives to getting Westbrook time rather than just swamping him and the Earl. Peej seems a little set in his rotation, but maybe playing the Earl and Westbrook together could liven up the offense. I don't know... just thinking out loud.

We got out-rebounded by eight and the Bucks hit six more threes than we did. Turnovers were even but the Thunder shot much more poorly at the free throw line. All a recipe for a loss.

I officially have my first ThunderCrush
To wrap up - we all need to keep in mind that this is a major work in progress and we don't turn into the Boston Celtics overnight. We don't flip on a switch and have all the bells and whistles of a Dallas Mavericks game. It's a process and we all are growing into this. I'm learning how to be an NBA fan. It's just weird for me to get all super-pumped and paint my face with Thunder blue, dark blue, yellow and orange-red because this is all so new. We're all learning. The team will get better and the games will get better. Give it time. We've got the crowd thing down though - we're awesome at that. The Thunder goes to Houston on Nov. 1 and then returns home this Sunday. See you at the Dome.

An opening night for the ages

Tonight, something will happen in downtown Oklahoma City. Something that I can't really wrap my mind around. Something so unbelievably far-fetched that it doesn't seem real in any way.

A professional sport will be played in the Sooner State but with a catch - it won't be leaving any time soon.

I know. I know. We didn't get this team in the most favorable way. Some say we stole them. Some say we don't deserve them. And honestly, if I could change the way it went down, I would. I hate that Seattle won't see the emerald and yellow take the floor. It's weird to even think about it. The Sonics have been such a staple in the NBA over the past, well, 41 years, that not having them will be like turning on Spike TV and not seeing an episode of CSI. I bet nearly every Thunder fan would admit they don't like the circumstances in which a basketball team found its way to Oklahoma City. But that won't stop this city from exploding with excitement for NBA basketball.

Oklahoma City was the darling of professional sports back in 2005. Everyone couldn't believe how we embraced the transplanted Hornets. And it was unbelievable. A small market like OKC, filling the seats in an arena for a bad team that wasn't going to stay. It was truly something else. But just that little taste of the big time lit a fire under OKC - a fire that burns brighter than ever today.

But now, OKC is the whipping boy. Everyone outside of Oklahoma can't start a sentence about the Thunder without thinking or saying something about the empty hole in Seattle. And it is a shame because I wish the rest of the country could just have a taste of what we're feeling here.

In a few years, it will all pass. People will forget about the logo, the nickname and the jerseys. People will forget about the circumstances of the move from the Emerald City to Oak City. In three years, the talk will be about the players, the coaches and what's happening on the floor - not what happened off it.

I remember when Art Modell packed up the Browns' gear and put it on a bus to Baltimore. The entire country was outraged. Just furious. Especially when the new Browns picked purple as their primary color. But it passed. Nobody complains any more, except about the Browns' defense.

I remember when the Oilers quit pumping and scurried to Nashville. People couldn't believe there was no football in Houston. And have you seen the Titans uniforms? But the NFL still lets them play. And the animosity passed.

If you're a Thunder fan, you should root for one thing (besides Thunder victories) - that Seattle gets another team. Because then OKC can drop its No. 1 Enemy status and hopefully go back to being the little city that could. Seattle gets the pity and OKC gets the hate. But it will pass. And if Slick Sam Presti is doing as good a job as we think he is, it may pass a lot quicker than anticipated.

But four years ago, can you imagine this would be here? Thinking back to when I was in middle school, I remember OKC making a push for an NHL team. We thought that would be huge. We thought that was our chance to be a real city. Our chance to show people what we were all about. We were going to have a pro sports team to follow, to talk about, to write about. We were going to get to know the players, buy their jerseys, paint our faces and go to the games. For once, we were going to just get a taste of what it's like to live in Chicago or Dallas. But we failed. We didn't land the team. And after the ice melted, it looked as if our ship sailed right past the harbor and would never come back.

Some have this view of Oklahoma City as a cow town where cars battle stage coaches on the highway. Where the Ford Center is surrounded by tepees and barren wheat fields. Where we've yet to find out about the Internet and cable television. Before the Thunder, if someone in the Northeast heard Oklahoma, they either though "bombing," "college football" or "dust bowl." The NBA is giving Oklahoma a chance to show what we really are. To show the country that we're a really special place with extraordinary people. Some think Oklahoma is boring and the only thing to do here is rope cattle. But you know what? Keep it that way. Because if the people that made fun of OKC only knew what it was like here, they'd drop that latte they were sipping on, pack their crap and board a plane to Bricktown in a heartbeat.

Proof that the NBA has set this city on fire: Me. One year ago, you couldn't pay me to watch 48 minutes of NBA basketball. But over the past three weeks, I have watched seven preseason games in their entirety. Heck, I even started a blog to talk about the NBA. If you would've told me I would do that 12 months ago, I would've kicked you in the nards to see if you had a pulse.

As a life-long Oklahoman and someone that bleeds Oklahoma, this is as big a moment as I can think of, outside of any of the seven national championships the Sooners have claimed. (Look, as much as we love the Thunder, nothing, and I mean nothing, will knock OU football from the top of the mountain.) As I walked on OU's campus this morning, in a matter of minutes I saw a handful of students wearing Thunder shirts and Durant jerseys. And when I saw them, it hit me. I stopped. I smiled. I can't believe I am going to an NBA basketball game tonight for my hometown team.

This state's idols have been guys named Bud, Barry, Bob, Barry (Sanders), Eddie, Adrian and a slew of other college stars. Oklahoma is a state rabid about college sports and the Thunder will never nudge Oklahoma State or Oklahoma. But there's a spot for this team. And that was shown by the 13,000 strong that ate up season tickets in five days. OKC is one of four cities with season ticket waiting lists. Let me say that again: Oklahoma City is in the same company as Boston, Los Angeles and Phoenix. Oklahoma City. Mind blowing.

So you outsides, hate on Oklahoma City all you want. Call them the Bennett City Hijackers, call them Kevin Durant's team, or don't even acknowledge them at all. But just know that this city finally has something to hold on to - an identity outside of what happened on April 19, 1995 or what you perceive us to be. It's a fairy tale and us Oklahomans can't believe it's real. There's professional basketball in Oklahoma and no one can take that from us. You can bash us, make fun of us and laugh at us - but you'll never steal our Thunder.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Bolts - 10.28.08

The NBA season tips off tonight! Hooray.
  • One last season preview to toss up: "Let’s get the big one out of the way early: Kevin Durant is incredible. Absolutely incredible. And despite some criticism for supposedly underwhelming, the Durantula put up a LeBron-esque rookie campaign (sans assists, of course). The most exciting thing in OKC this season may be seeing what Durant does next. At the tail end of last season, Durant flipped the switch. He scored well all season long, but the last two months (err month and a half, really) he had pretty incredible efficiency for a rookie and his points per game skyrocketed despite taking fewer attempts. His defense…well, so he has some room or improvement."
  • An opposing team's scouts sizes up the Thunder: "The move from Seattle will help them because they're in a city where they're wanted, and they'll have a nice home-court situation that they didn't have last year. The improved home court will help them, but I don't see as much improvement in their roster as a lot of people think. They don't shoot the ball well enough, especially from the three-point line. Jeff Green is a guy they're trying to push, but I don't think he's as good as they seem to think he is. They'll be fun to watch, but they're still such a young team."
  • A nice treat for opening night tomorrow - free parking: "He’s still stunned, however, by where he will find that free parking space: Bricktown. "It’s really crazy to even believe they’re doing it,” Pauley said when told the district will provide more than 1,000 spaces. "I’ve always heard that’s the one place not to bother with.”
  • A buzz in the air for opening night: "Former Oklahoma State star Desmond Mason said public appearances, season tickets selling out in five days and a packed house downtown for the nickname unveiling are signs Oklahoma City fans are stoked about the season opener Wednesday night at the Ford Center."
  • Tremendous upside potential for big guy Robert Swift: "Underneath the flop-top red hair and all those tattoos lies a talented basketball player within Robert Swift. This must be true, or why else would the Thunder be clinging to this great unknown? Swift is remarkably agile for someone who stands 7-foot-1 and weighs 270 pounds, which are the primary reasons he occupies an NBA roster."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Bolts - 10.27.08

You're running out of time to vote for your favorite Thunder blog. Do it. Do it.
  • Darnell Mayberry answers five questions about the upcoming season: "How will Oklahoma City play off the court? The Washington Post’s and ESPN’s Michael Wilbon called Oklahoma City the Green Bay of the NBA when the Hornets played here for two seasons. But Hall of Famer Charles Barkley called the state a vast wasteland."
  • READ THIS. Please, read this. It's an excellent, in-depth feature about Clay Bennett, the acquistion and transformation of the Thunder and other things by the New York Times. The most interesting thing being that Bennett originally tried to buy the Hornets. Amazing. "Convinced that the city was ready to go national, Bennett tried to buy the Hornets and keep them in Oklahoma. According to a letter Shinn subsequently wrote to Stern, Stern recommended that he sell. "You pressed me to sell the team," Shinn wrote. "You even told me that owners were asking you, 'What's wrong with George - why doesn't he sell his team[?]' " Shinn's response made it clear that he, too, coveted the new territory. "We need to immediately begin laying the foundation for what I believe will be great relationships in Oklahoma City," he wrote. "I believe there are several options that we have, none of which involve returning to New Orleans."
  • Marc Stein's new power rankings. OKC is dead last: "Might be misleading to say that Kevin Durant and Co. have nothing to play for in their maiden season in Oklahoma City. You have to figure they've got a shot to be crowned Most Raucously Supported Bad Team in NBA history."
  • A little diddy from Sports Business Journal: "Inside a posh Oklahoma City dining club, where local power brokers gather to cut deals and filet mignon, hang photographs of the city’s business elite. Look closely and you’ll find a picture of Clay Bennett, the NBA’s newest, and perhaps most retrospective owner, wearing a pair of thick-framed glasses dating back more than a few years."
  • Joe from Thunderguru has more terrific insight for us, as recaps the preseason: "The numbers are in, the preseason games are over. The Thunder faithful are now in a holding pattern waiting for the games that count to begin. I’m going to use this article to hand out grades for the preseason. This will be part 1 where I will cover the “starters”. These five are not so much the true lineup starters, as much as they are the top 5 statistical contributors. Coach understandably did much lineup shuffling due to injuries. Part 2 in the near future will cover the rest of the team. Also notice a glossary of terms at the bottom of the post."

Friday, October 24, 2008

ThunderLaked, 105-94


Not as good as ThunderClipped. I think my theory fails.

But something became very clear tonight: The Lakers are really good. The post combo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum is scary especially with how terrifyingly good Bynum looked. Kobe played just eight minutes but within those ticks he knocked down two jaw-droppingly sweet treys. Like those kind of threes that every slightly overweight white guy wearing a sweaty red headband at the Rec Center tries and airballs every time. A little cross-over, shimmy-shake pull-up-in-your-face three that just makes you mumble, "He's good."

It was fun to watch Oklahoma City on ESPN tonight. A little ironic former Sonic play-by-play stud Kevin Calabro was on the call. You think he had an iron fist clenched under the scorers table and was forcing that on-camera smile through gritted teeth like John McCain during a presidential debate? I think so. He spent 20 years calling games for the team and then they left him like Donald Gennaro split on Lex and Tim in Jurassic Park. I'm sure he's not bitter. Nah. (EDIT: But to be clear, Calabro didn't want to follow them to OKC, I just mean the team left him, so he left the team, if that makes sense.)

It took Calabro an hour to mention the 41 years of history and the Sonics move to OKC. I thought Marc Jackson and Calabro handled it pretty well though. It had to be touched on in some regard, but they kept it short and sweet; said what needed to be said and moved on. They weren't unfair to OKC at all and we're fair to Seattle. Nicely done. Just more unnecessary evidence that Calabro is one of the finest voices in the business.

Oh yeah, the Thunder. The team played like its typically feisty self in the last preseason tuner, hanging around and scrapping all game long, but coming up short, 105-94 to the Lakers (6-2). One key stretch stood out tonight as the difference in this game. Oklahoma City (1-6) had closed the gap on LA to two late in the third with a 7-0 run to cut it to 77-75. They were hustling, making plays and hitting shots. It looked like the game was going to turn into a fourth quarter gruelfest. But then the tide turned.

Faster than you can say Vladimir Radmonivic, the Lakers put up 10 points to close the third. OKC just melted. It turned the ball over, Earl Watson took a "What are you DOING!?!" three and the game got away. Because of that stretch, the team had to try and play catch up during the fourth.

But for a second straight night, Russell Westbrook was solid. The turnovers (six tonight) are a clear issue, but remember folks - this is just his seventh professional game. He's major league raw and learning the game on the fly. Turnovers happen with youth. But the fact that he played ball-hawking D and scored 23 in 28 minutes on 7-12 shooting was great. He attacks the bucket like Refrigerator Perry attacks an all-you-can-eat buffet. His jumpshot is coming along already and he's beginning to get the feel for the kick-out. I think this kid will be a star. I know I'm just excited about the team as a whole right now, but every time the ball is in Westbrook's hands I get a little more amped. He's just fun to watch. And he grabbed six boards. I love that he gets in there with the bigs and rebounds. He just cuts out the middle-man. If he snatches the board, he doesn't have to get an outlet pass to start his hellish fast break. He starts it on his own. I love that.

Johan Petro was ok, but it's clear Joe Smith is going to be a major help. He plays great defense and is a reliable post man. Good to have him back in the rotation. Another thing that's becoming more clear: Kevin Durant is going to have to be consistent for the Thunder to win. The team is going to rely a lot on him scoring 25 to stay in these games. He went for 15 tonight and looked a little passive again. He's a superstar in waiting and is figuring out the fine line between "get my team involved and don't hog the ball" and "take over the game and don't let someone screw this up." It's surely a difficult thing for a 20-year-old to get the hang of.

Lastly, Jeff Green is not a jumpshooter. He went 2-11 from the field and just doesn't look comfortable from 20 feet and out. The potential and skillset is there. He just needs to understand his game and get comfortable with what he does best.

Not the best game, but not anything to cry about. Now we're done with the meaningless things and time to get revved up for opening night on Wednesday.

Friday Bolts - 10.24.08

  • Blue Blitz's recap of last night's game: "As soon as I saw that for some inexplicable reason Suns were starting Shaquille O'Neal, Steve Nash, and Amare Stoudemire, I knew we were screwed. Even a Shaq who could care less about the game and, judging from his quotes, hates the idea of NBA basketball in Oklahoma, he's still 10x better than anything we could have put on the court tonight, as far as big men go. Despite my forecast of impending doom, the Thunder showed heart in the first quarter, led by KD and trailing only by one."
  • Thunderguru's: "I did a little number crunching as always and I compiled our Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating. our Pace and the number of possessions for last night’s contest. You may be surprised. We had 101 possessions and our Offensive rating was 92.3. 101 possessions is a lot. We had the ball in our hands and had our opportunities to score. The Offensive Rating was very low because we didn’t score as effectively as we needed to. The league average Offensive Rating 107.5!"
  • The Commish will be in the Thunderdome for opening night: "NBA vice president of communications Maureen Coyle said Thursday that Stern would be attending the Thunder’s season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. It’ll be the first official game for the franchise, which relocated from Seattle and changed its name during the off-season. Stern attended the Hornets’ final game in Oklahoma City in 2007."
  • ESPN's David Thorpe has Kevin Durant and Jeff Green in his '10 sophomores that should soar': "I'm not expecting Durant's scoring numbers to jump nearly as much as his overall efficiency and productivity. Yes, he could average close to 25 points per game -- which would be impressive -- but doing so while rebounding better, defending with more purpose and getting more buckets inside the paint will establish Durant as a true future star. Building on this past April's play would be a good start ... The Thunder might see improvement only if Green makes a big jump in production. He settled for far too many outside shots last season with too few makes (similar to Durant). But he finished the season strong and occasionally dominated Orlando's summer league in July. The talent is there. He'd be better served by focusing on defense and rebounding, though, where he has the ability and agility to be excellent."
  • What are they eating? Darnell Mayberry tells us: "The Thunder contracts a local catering service to provide meals for its players every day before and after practice. The goal is to ensure players receive optimal nutrition to help keep their bodies healthy and in the best possible shape. Team officials also hope players learn the importance of having healthier diets."
  • SI's Power Rankings: "After two years of legal wrangling in Seattle, owner Clay Bennett finally got his wish and relocated the franchise to Oklahoma City. As a result, the NBA has a new team with a new nickname and a new uniform color scheme. Unfortunately for Oklahoma fans, the team still looks a lot like last season's Sonics. At least Kevin Durant is back to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign."
  • Pro Basketball News' Sam Amico: "I wrote it before and I'll do so again -- my heart aches for pro basketball fans in Seattle. That city shouldn't sleep until a new version of the Sonics is brought to town. And someday, it will happen. That said, the fans in Oklahoma City have already been a constant reminder that when all else is wrong in the world, there's always the NBA. My goal this season is to get there for just one game and experience the love these people have for their new team. Just reading the blogs and message boards can tingle your spine. In OKC, the Thunder can do no wrong."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Thunder gets Sun burned, 102-93

Let me just say this: I want Robert Swift to become a great player. OKC needs him to. But Lord help us if he ever becomes the face of this franchise. Nothing against the big fella, but we all know he isn't exactly easy on the eyes. The hair, the pale skin, the tats. The awkward lumbering. But if he ever gets it he could be a major piece in the Thunder puzzle.

But the good news is Big Robert played tonight. Because without him, the Thunder (1-5) would've only had eight players dressed. And the nine that were in their light blue unis played hard all night, taking the Suns (5-3) to the limit in a 102-93 loss. The Thunder tipped a ton of passes and got most loose balls. Very impressed with the hustle this evening.

You add Chris Wilcox, Joe Smith, Earl Watson to the mix tonight and things might have been different. You could visibly see the team wear down late in the fourth. Phoenix started getting more of the loose balls, picking pockets and grabbing offensive rebounds. But even without them, Johan Petro played another solid game scoring 17 on 7-10 shooting. But missing Wilcox and Nick Collison not playing a lot due to foul trouble contributed to being outrebounded 38-35.

Jeff Green went down hard and appeared to have hurt his wrist. Kevin Durant limped off late in the fourth. Either these guys are all made of ceramic, they're big babies or they're really unlucky. Pretty much anytime someone went up for a rebound, slipped a little or was fouled, I just knew they sprained and ankle, blew out a knee or broke their face. Seriously. With the rash of injuries, I've got it in my head that every play someone is going to get hurt. I saw Earl Watson bend over to tie his shoe and I swear I saw his MCL snap.

Bob Swift looking ridiculous.
Other than the hustle and active hands, there were some other major positives. Russell Westbrook played his best game of the preseason. He led the team in scoring and knocked down some nice looking outside shots, but he played really, really good defense on Steve Nash. Every now and then I see Westbrook cross someone and dive to the bucket and I think I'm watching a perennial All-Star. In a few years, that hesitation-cross over move Westbrook has could be deadly. Dare I say it looked kind of Chris Paul-ish? Tonight Westbrook finished with 22 points on 7-13 shooting and was 6-6 from the line. He pulled down six boards and dished four assists, but did turn it seven times. But that comes with him playing the most minutes of the preseason (39) and having to handle the ball basically the entire game.

And the sequence with Green's awesome block then Durant ooping to Westbrook was electric. That, combined with all the blocks and steals showed how athletic this team is.

Durant was ok, netting 19, but seemed reluctant at times to try and take the game over. Green was ok as well, putting up 12 and seven, but on 4-12 shooting. Damien Wilkins might as well have stayed home tonight, as he had two points in 18 minutes on 1-5 shooting.

All in all, I think this game might be a microcosm of what lies ahead for the season (other than army of players missing with injuries). The squad played hard until the finish, but didn't have the gas or the wherewithal to finish. They couldn't secure a major defensive rebound with about five minutes left that turned into a big Sun three. They couldn't score with 40 seconds left down six. There were just small things they didn't do which resulted in the loss. They turned it 23 times and were sloppy at times. But they worked hard and showed flashes of brilliance. Just keep telling yourself as it goes on - they're young; it will come.

Kyle Weaver for three! Cue... what?

Now other than the obvious - playing the riff of Thunderstruck or the "Thuhn-daa! Nuh-huh-uh-uh-huh-huh-uh-uh!" part every time we score - each player needs a unique song to celebrate when they score a basket or do something worthwhile. Some more than others, because it doesn't happen very often (Mo Sene.) Since the team is new and to my best knowledge, they may not be settled on this, I thought I'd lend a hand. Some are more ridiculous than others, but what the heck. All in good fun, right? Right? Hello?

Remember every time Chris Paul scored, Ric Flair's "Woo!" would echo throughout the Ford as everyone yelled it? That was awesome. Or when Desmond Mason scored, "Who Let the Dogs Out?" would blare and the crowd would bark the "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh-ooh" part? (But seriously, Who Let the Dogs Out? Sheesh.) No reason to change Dez's, because we're all familiar with that.

Robert Swift. Tough decision here. First I settled on Crazy Train (for obvious reasons) and just blast the "Aye! Aye! Aye!" part. But then I reviewed recent pictures of Big Robert with the freakish Carrott Top hair and the painted nails and the tats and all that stuff and I thought just playing this entire video might be more appropriate. (Disclaimer: if you haven't seen this movie, I recommend to stop watching at about 2:38. Some things can't be unseen. Don't say I didn't warn you.)



Russell Westbrook. As mentioned with CP3, the "Woo!" was awesome. So why not keep the theme with young, rookie, drafted at No. 4 point guards? Nothing seems to complement "Woo!" better than this. Westbrook cuts and dives to the bucket and lifts it up and in and then we hear the Macho Man's, "OOOOH YEEEEEAAAAAH!" Perfect.

Johan Petro. I remember in like my third grade music class, we learned this song called Alouette. It was some French song about pulling the feathers off a bird. Whatever. But evidently, football fans (not the good football) of Chelsea sing a version of this song loudly at bars while the team plays. Petro is French. Check. The song is French. Check. Loud chanting and yelling in the Ford Center. Triple check.

Kevin Durant. Honestly, nothing sounded good. Maybe I misheard, but I could've swore I heard an announcer call him the Big Train. (He's from DC just like the real Big Train, Walter Johnson, so it fits I guess.) So maybe a steam train whistle? Boring and lame city. Whatever is picked for KD has to be cool because there's potential to hear it 10 to 15 times a night. When I think of KD, I think of cold-blooded killer, as in cold-blooded scorer. So let's just nickname him Jules and play this when he scores. So maybe that really won't fit into the context of a basketball game, but I can dream right?

Mo Sene. He's from Senegal. Which is in Africa. Play the first four seconds and you've got a winner here. I hope Mo scores 60 a night.



Jeff Green. Lots of people are calling Jeff Green a sidekick - Robin to Kevin Durant's Batman. The Dwight Schrute to Michael Scott (or Dwigt to Agent Michael Scarn). The Ed McMahon to Johnny Carson. So what's the best sidekick to use? Mr. Smithers, Fall Out Boy, Goose, Tattoo from Fantasy Island? I choose the best sidekick ever - General Disarray. As to what to actually play when he scores, you tell me. I just know that Jeff Green = General Disarray which in turn means Kevin Durant = Professor Chaos. Nickname solved.

So if Jeff Green is Fall Out Boy, does that make Kevin Durant Radioactive Man?

Joe Smith. Ok, so I couldn't come up with anything for ol' Joe. But word is, he has to wear one of those protective masks for a while because of his broken nose. So we could just cop out and play a clip from "The Mask." Maybe "SMOKIN'!" or the whole Cuban Pete dance or even just this. But I say let's take it a step further. Let's play a clip of the real man in the mask.



I just hope Joe doesn't get suckered into doing something this embarrassing.

Chris Wilcox. Ok, so I couldn't come up with anything, so I just picked my favorite song from when I was six.

Kyle Weaver. This was the most obvious choice for me. "Westbrook penetrates, kicks to Weaver standing open for three. Weaver, rises... KNOCKS IT DOWN FOR THREE!" Crowd erupts. Cue the chorus of this.

Nick Collison. I looked up his nickname. Evidently, it's "Mr. USA Basketball." Lame. So I've got nothing... nothing... nothing... ah heck, just play this.

Earl Watson. Probably the worst pick here, but just cop out and play the opening bars of Duke of Earl by Gene Chandler. But if that's what we played, then maybe we could nickname Earl "The Duke" and play this instead. Much better. Pilgrim.

Damien Wilkins. Damien really hasn't accomplished a whole lot in his four-year career, but his uncle sure did. I vote just play one clip after another of uncle Human Highlight Film doing one awesome dunk after another.

So that's it for now. No D.J. White because he won't be playing for a while and no John Lucas Three because who knows if he'll have a jersey. And just as a bonus - I think Coach Peej should be nicknamed "Dr. Thunder." He looks like a doctor with his glasses over his nose and who doesn't love the awesome generic brand of Dr. Pepper?

Who knows if management will listen to my plea. I asked for Never Been to Spain for the game closer, so we'll have to wait and see there. But, please at least play MAAAAA-SAAAA-BAAINYAAA!!! when Mo Sene scores. I don't ask for much.

Thursday Bolts - 10.23.08

Vote.
  • UPDATE! Ball Don't Lie just added their season preview of the team: "Here’s hoping they do trade Wilcox and Smith. Chris will be in his prime and he can really put a team over the top without needing plays called for him, while Joe can still contribute and has a salary that matches most MLE-types. These two are very trade-o-ble, and you just hope that GMs will look past the fact that they’re dealing with the savvy Presti and work toward improving their team. While we’re waiting, the Thunder will struggle to win 20 again. The home court advantage might play into the team’s hands, but beyond that this will be a horribly inefficient team with too many shortcomings to list. That doesn’t mean things won’t pick up, considerably in the future. Here’s looking at 2010-11, kids."
  • Sports Illustrated's team scouting report: "There will be no shortage of references to a certain Rogers and Hammerstein musical when the Oklahoma City Thunder, a transplant from Seattle, begins play as a long shot to even improve upon last season's 20-62 record. So let this be one of the first. Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo could call upon this lyric from Oh, What a Beautiful Morning to describe last year's SuperSonics defense: All the cattle are standin' like statues/ They don't turn their heads as they see me ride by. Thus, Carlesimo spent most of the preseason concentrating on that more bovine end of the floor."
  • Speaking of said SI Preview, Kevin Durant is on the regional cover. Very spiffy.

  • Joe surmises that Coach Peej may be having an identity crisis - or worse: "I’d love to have a sit down conversation with P.J. because when I look at the numbers for the teams he’s coached, I see some fairly consistent themes in his coaching style; his coaching worldview if you prefer. Yet when contrasted with his first season with Seattle/OKC I see a stark contrast from his past coaching style."
  • Deadspin's preview: "They already have their franchise cornerstone in the form of last season's Rookie of the Year, Kevin Durant, who fills the basket the way a waiter at Ponderosa refills your Pepsi: Effective (20.3 PPG) even if he's a little sloppy (43 percent shooting from the field, 28 percent from beyond the arc). Plus, it looks like he spent the summer slurping down some Weight Gain 4000, and the added beefcake should help him both on defense (where, hopefully, he'll get to play in position this year) and on the boards (4.4 RPG last season)."
  • The Sports Network's preview: "This season certainly doesn't look promising for the Thunder on the floor but the future looks bright. When you add Westbrook to a nucleus that already contains Durant and Green, you have to feel good about the next two-to-three years." (try to ignore the fact they got our record wrong - but we'll take the two extra wins.)
  • And be sure to acquaint yourselves with the Thunder's division foes by looking at other blogger previews of the Northwest Division.

Denver Nuggets
Jeremy: Pickaxe and Roll
Nick Sclafani: The Nugg Doctor

Minnesota Timberwolves
Derek Hanson & Staff: TWolves Blog
Andrew Thell: Empty the Bench
Stop-n-Pop: Canis Hoopus

Oklahoma City
xphoenix87: BallerBlogger
Zorgon: Blue Blitz
Royce: The Thunderworld

Portland Trail Blazers
Mookie: ...a stern warning
Benjamin Golliver: Blazers Edge
Coup and SJ: Rip City Project

Utah Jazz
UtesFan89: The Utah Jazz
Basketball John: SLC Dunk

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday Bolts - 10.22.08

Don't forget to go vote for your favorite Thunder blog.
  • ESPN.com's massive team preview is up for both the Western and Eastern conferences. Be sure to check out point No. 6 on the Thunder page. Booyah.
  • Please read this wonderful season preview from Pro Basketball News. It's perfectly written and it really expresses everything I've ever tried to say concerning the Sonics evolution into the Thunder. "Set aside how screwed the people in Seattle feel long enough to realize that fans in Oklahoma City have nothing to do with said screwing. All they did was support New Orleans' team impressively enough to wind up inheriting their own when local businessman Clay Bennett essentially gifts it to them ... Sentimentality is all that makes the situation different. Seattle just had a team ripped away from it. Oklahoma City is perceived as a pack of poachers. The wound is too fresh right now to see it at face value. That knowledge won't stop many of you from casting an evil eye towards the league's newest fan base, anyway." Amen. Amen. We just love our new team. Don't hate us.
  • The Ankle Sprain Fairy has struck again. Doesn't seem to serious with the way Coach Peej was talking and the fact that Kevin Durant "may" miss the last two preseason games.

  • And here's some *awesome breakdown of the injuries by Darnell Mayberry and some other guy. Could NewsOK possibly put anyone more awkward on camera? That's not a challenge NewsOK.


  • Here's a look at OKC's season tickets which started arriving on folk's doorsteps yesterday. (Thanks to artbypaul from OKCThunderFans.com, click to make bigger.) Where does Paul live? In a Saudi Arabian castle?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The World's official OKC Thunder preview

This is our installment in Jeff Clark's (CelticsBlog.com) amazing series of NBA blogger previews.

Last Years Record: 20-62
Key Losses: Fransisco Elson (signed with Bucks), Luke Ridnour and Adrian Griffin (trade with Bucks/Cavs), Donyell Marshall (waived)
Key Additions: Joe Smith and Desmond Mason (trade with Bucks/Cavs), Russell Westbrook (drafted)

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Other than drafting Russell Westbrook at No. 4, the signing of Joe Smith is a pretty big deal. Smith has almost always played on a contender and should be the "P.J. Brown" to this team's young players. Desmond Mason was picked up in a three-way deal and he should be a nice safety cushion in case Jeff Green falls on his face this year and doesn't appear to be working out.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

Youth and exuberance. I highly doubt any team will play harder night in and night out than the Thunder this season. This team is thirsty for wins. They want it. But right now they're too young and too raw to get it done. But with the foundation GM Sam Presti has built, it will come. Defensively, they stunk last year (allowed 106 ppg) but should improve because of hustle and effort and also because there's some real length and athleticism there. And that's been one of coach P.J. Carlesimo's main focuses this preseason.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

Kind of like explosions in a Michael Bay flick, this is getting a little redundant. The answer: no consistent outside shooter and no consistent low-post scorer. Johan Petro has played decent in the preseason and everyone is waiting for Robert Swift's upside to become a reality (or for him to be healthy), but for now, the Thunder stinks in the post. And Damien Wilkins is not the answer from the outside.

4. What are the goals for this team?

To go .500 at home. Most people are picking them to finish last in not only the West, but the entire NBA. Most experts don't think they'll improve on their 20 wins from last year. But by playing good .500 ball at the Ford Center this year, they'll be assured of 20 wins right there and then if they play decently on the road, they could be looking at a 30 win year, which would be a huge, huge boost. Look, no one gave the 2005 Hornets a prayer to compete. They won 18 games the year before and appeared to have gotten worse. But behind a bump from a rabid city and a really, really good point guard, the team challenged for a playoff spot. There's no reason the Thunder can't aspire to do the same. (Key word: aspire. Look it up.)

5. Will the current roster resemble the roster at season's end?

You know Sam Presti probably worked his magic again by acquiring Joe Smith. Smith will be a great bargaining tool at the trade deadline and OKC will probably pull a few draft picks from a contending team that needs a warm body in the post. (Atlanta I’m talking to you and we’ll take that unconditional 2010 pick, thank you.) But Smith will serve his purpose here. He helps the Thunder not be totally incompetent in the post and should guide along Johan Petro and Bob Swift. Heck, he could probably show Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison a thing or two. Come 2010, this team should be a serious contender. Presti can either hand pick all the top talent from college or use the bevy of picks as trade leverage and land a couple veteran pieces. There’s going to be so much cap room to work with it’s not even funny and some pretty good free agents are hitting the market soon. And it’s not like there aren’t good pieces in place already. Kevin Durant will be a top five scorer for the rest of his career and once Jeff Green “gets it” he could turn it on and be very Scottie Pippin-ish (not that Durant is MJ, let's be clear there). Russell Westbrook should be able to lock down any guard and by all appearances, may turn into a dang nice player. And Serge Ibaka. Good heavens, Sergeant Slam (yeah, that’s my nickname for him, get it?) He’s more raw than sushi, but boy, he is a talent. He has dunking machine written all over him.

Predicted Record: 30-52,fourth in the Northwest, 13th in the West.

Tuesday Bolts

First off, LABallTalk.com is trying to figure out the best blog for each team and The Thunderworld is one of many Thunder blogs entered in the contest. If you feel deep within your bones, go vote for The TW. Or Blue Blitz. Or Thunderguru. Just one of us. Much thanks.

On to Tuesday's media hits...
  • Speaking of LABallTalk, how about a preview from them: "GM Sam Presti is to be congratulated for shaping a positive future for the Thunder. Anyone who can turn Kurt Thomas into three first round picks is doing good work, to say the least. As for the present? OKC opens a day after Halloween, but there isn't a costume on the planet scarier than the hardwood horrors the Thunder will give their new fans (who, given the excitement at having pro spots in town, likely won't care). Oklahoma City is led by the young twosome of Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant at the two- he'll be a better fit as a forward down the line- Georgetown product Jeff Green at small forward, and have a decent third piece in power forward Chris Wilcox."
  • The Big Lead's team preview: "Because Kevin Durant is a tremendous joy to watch, let’s start with the positives: We like Chris Wilcox’s power game, Nick Collison is becoming a garbage man power forward, we really like Russell Westbrook’s potential as a lead guard - perhaps becoming a Gilbert Areans-type player - and DJ White, when healthy, was a nice college player."
  • Mike Baldwin on the open practice: "The Thunder’s annual session Monday night at the Ford Center was an opportunity for approximately 3,000 fans to see players in a non-game environment. 'We wanted to see these guys on a more personal basis,” said Stephen Smith, who brought his two sons. "You get to see them interact with their coaches and find out more about their personalities.'"
  • Blue Blitz on the open practice: "So, tonight I got a small insight into how the Oklahoma City Thunder practices go. It was my opportunity to be Darnell Mayberry! I got there at about 6:15, and they were running drills. I got my pizza and Mountain Dew, and watched. There were several mini-hoops and face paint set up outside the Ford Center, and it was all free. Admission was free too, but since I got there late I had to stay behind the green railing. Eventually I was let down into the first row, but not onto the floor."

Monday, October 20, 2008

Monday Bolts

  • Nick Collison sprained his ankle Friday: "Nick Collison sprained his right ankle Friday and did not finish practice. Collison was battling what team officials called soreness in his left ankle in Tuesday night's game, limiting him to 15 minutes against the Clippers."
  • CBS Sportsline supports the Bump: "In a sports-crazy part of the country usually concerned only with football at this time of year, Oklahoma City is embracing its first major professional franchise, the NBA's Thunder.
  • Jeff Green = Scottie Pippin? Mike Baldwin makes the comparison: "It would be unfair to compare any duo to Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in NBA history and Pippen, who collected six NBA championship rings. But if Oklahoma City is to evolve into a playoff team, much less a Western Conference contender, Durant and Green must improve in upcoming seasons. There are similarities between Green and Pippen. Both were selected No. 5 overall. One reason Green admired Pippen was he played multiple positions and was a perennial all-defensive player best known for his all-round game."
  • Q&A with Kevin Durant: "What have you learned about this team so far? We work hard and play hard and we play for each other. We love being around each other. That’s one thing that always helps a team out, and we didn’t have as much of that last year. Now you can see the camaraderie and us jelling together. We should be good throughout the year. "
  • If you're an ESPN Insider, you can read about John Hollinger's second year studs: "Second-year players always make great breakout candidates, particularly in the backcourt. The hard part is choosing a horse -- you can make a case for darn near anyone based on what he showed you on a given night. But four players in particular have the strongest case for making an upward ascent this season. Each one has strong college numbers and at least a halfway-decent rookie campaign on his side."
  • Blue Blitz put together a monster season preview post for the upcoming year: "Our #1 skill is, undoubtedly, rebounding. Our lineup, quite simply is huge. Durant is big enough to play PF, but he's an SG. We have a log jam of inside tendencied SF/PFs (Mason, Collison, Wilcox, Smith, Green), and our Centers (Swift, Petro) are like sticks. I mean, we don't have a Troy Murphy like rebounding star, but we can rebound the ball simply because we'll have so many tall guys with hands in the air."
  • Joe's final installment of his position breakdown: "The Center position as it was played last year is nothing short of a train wreck. By the numbers it wasn’t the worst statistical position of the five (that dubious honor goes to the Small Forward position), but it was the second worst. It would have been much worse than it was if PJ hadn’t played Kurt Thomas and Nick Collison (both rugged Power Forwards) 53% of the team’s minutes at Center. The remaining 47% went to Johan Petro for the most part (33%), and a bit of Francisco Elson, Robert Swift, Chris Wilcox and Mo Sene."
  • And don't forget, today is the open practice!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Thunder and Lightning Round

There's some downtime between games and we're all real itchy for the real season to get underway. So first of all, Joe over at thunderguru.com rounded up us Thunderbloggers and had us do a little survey. If you want to see what us smarties predicted, click HERE. But with this little lull, I'm going to use my ridiculous, expansive knowledge of Thunder basketball to answer a few questions that I know are keeping you up at night. Since I don't have enough dedicated readers to actually produce a "mailbag" type thing, I'll make one up on my own.

Where are the points going to come from?
The points will come from three people, mainly - Kevin Durant, Chris Wilcox and Nick Collison with a little here and there from Earl Watson, Damien Wilkins, Jeff Green and Desmond Mason. And maybe a little icing from Russell Westbrook if he starts to get the hang of NBA basketball. Scoring has been an issue in the preseason, but I'd expect it to improve a little during the regular season as Durant gets more in the flow and Wilcox and Collison see more minutes.

What will it take for the Thunder to get near .500?
Someone to surprise and Kevin Durant to rise into the NBA elite. Look, Cleveland had to start somewhere with LeBron James. As he became a superstar, so the team improved. Nothing says that KD can't emerge this season into a prime player and the Thunder starts shocking people. Remember, the Hornets' 2005 roster looked much worse than this roster (I mean come on, they had Arvydas Macijauskas, Moochie Norris and Kirk Snyder playing significant minutes) and those Hornets won 38 games.

Is there any shot we'll see a 2005 type Hornets run because of the OKC bump?
I say yes because I believe in the Bump. But by run, I mean "exceed expectations." Home court advantage is huge and I think every player will feel it each time they step on the floor at the Ford. They know the excitement in the City so they'll probably play just that much harder for us. They want to win. And more importantly, I think they want to win for us.

What's more important for this team to improve: offense or defense?
Defense, for the simple reason that defense is what Sam Presti is building the team around. He's going with the Spur model and that model says defense wins games. There's already some solid scorers on the team even though the offense has looked inept at times during the preseason. But keeping the ball out of the basket is more important than putting it in, especially when you have difficulty with the latter.

What would be better: the Thunder to win 35 games and show serious improvement but fall well short of the playoffs, or win 18 games and land the No. 1 pick in next year's draft?
As I wrote that question, I had my answer in mind. But as I re-read it to check for errors, I'm having a little trouble deciding. Both look extremely good in one way, but extremely bad in another way. It's like a question my old college roomie posed to me once: You're in a tank, tied down and can't move with puke filled up to your bottom lip. Someone is about to throw a pile of crap in your face. Do you duck your head into the barf and dodge the poo or take the dungaree right in the kisser? There's really no right answer. Anyway, with this question, I settled with "get the No. 1 pick" because I would dance naked on top of Leadership Square wearing cowboy boots and a ribbon in my hair if OKC landed Blake Griffin next year, but I've changed my mind to "win 35 games."

The reasoning: Because that means the youngsters made serious improvement and that's better than getting another high pick. Presti already has an army of draft picks lined up and he'll probably lock away another couple before the end of the year, so it really isn't that big of a deal. But if OKC won 35, Russell Westbrook will have had to evolve into a darn nice guard and more importantly, Jeff Green will have had to made a giant leap. And KD will likely have upped his averaged and played more efficiently.

Will the Thunder roster look the same at the end of the season as it does today?
No chance. Sam Presti wheels and deals more than a Wall Street day trader. But for Presti, times aren't nearly as tough right now (or are they?). Joe Smith, Earl Watson, Chris Wilcox and Desmond Mason could all be shopped to a contender later on in the season if some other GM dangles some draft picks in front of Slick Sammy. We all know he eats those draft picks up like Rosanne at an ice cream buffett.

By the end of the season, will the league and the general public respect the OKC franchise?
Tough to say. Right now, OKC is the punching bag for every blogger, journalist and TV dude out there. They can't start a sentence that contains the words, "Oklahoma" "City" or "Thunder" without snickering about the colors, the logo, the jerseys, Clay Bennett or the name. And that's just the way it's going to be for a while - sadly. But if OKC starts putting together a serious franchise and has the look of a competitve team by year's end, people will stop focusing on the negatives and start talking about what's been happening on the floor - not off it.

Will Kevin Durant be an All-Star?
Probably not. There's so many good twos and threes in the West that it will be hard to outshine them; especially playing on a subpar squad. He'd have to average 25 or 26 to catch anyone's eye.

Will Russell Westbrook overtake Earl Watson as the starter by the break?
This is my Vegas "Lock-O-the-Week." Lock it up. Westbrook is the future of this franchise and Watson is some contender's solid backup point guard. If OKC falls ten below .500 quickly out of the gates, Sammy and Coach Peej will jump ship and start looking toward the future - which is bright with Westbrook, Jeff Green and KD.

Who is going to win the Thunder "David West Award" for "Who saw that coming?"
How about Chris Wilcox? He's only 26 and has as much athleticism as any four in the league. If I could explain to you why a guy with his ability is a career 9.6 ppg/5.5 rpg guy, my name would be John Hollinger and I'd actually be making money for all this pointless writing. Before West's 2005 season, he averaged 5.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Then in '05 he jumped to 17.1 and 7.4. One big reason? His minutes almost tripled. The same issue has plagued Wilcox. He's never averaged more than 30 minutes a game, but as a pillar to this team's "success" he should see more time and maybe put up bigger numbers. Last year, Wilcox showed a little life averaging 13.4 ppg and 7.0 rpg. If he bumps those up to 17 ppg and 10 rpg, he could be what pushes OKC into that "surprise team" catagory. And, like I've said before, this is a contract year for him and money talks - and makes you play harder.

What are the main missing pieces?
We've been over this before, but quickly: a consistent outside shooter, a big man that can score and a point guard that distrubutes and manages the game.

Who needs to go?
Time to throw up the "peace out" to Watson and Joe Smith. There's a serious youth movement in OKC and those two guys are just holding us back. They'll serve their purpose for this season (or maybe half of it) but by year's end, OKC will be looking at bringing in new guys and drafting even younger ones. Watson and Smith will provide some nice veteran leadership to this group for now, but they won't be here next year.

If the team really, really stinks, will the Ford Center still be full by seasons end?
Yes. No doubt about it. Yes. OKC will be known for having the best fans in the league within ten years. Mark it down.