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An Offseason Mistake That Is Costing The Oklahoma City Thunder

(photo courtesy of Chuck Burton/AP)

(photo courtesy of Chuck Burton/AP)

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been trying to get Dion Waiters involved as a part of their team. They tried him in a few different roles last season when they acquired him from Cleveland at the trade deadline. The results were sporadic at best and he did not help them as much as they thought he would. This offseason, the Thunder made a coaching change and also were thinking of signing Waiters to an extension. Both sides were unable to agree on a deal however. But the Thunder expected as Waiters got more comfortable beside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that he would produce better numbers. He was put in the Sixth Man role and recently has been starting for the Thunder. And even with more familiarity with Westbrook and Durant, he is still get the same type of numbers while playing some lackadaisical basketball still. Add what he is producing with the starter for most of the season at shooting guard, Andre Roberson, and the Thunder still have that hole at the shooting guard position. But if they actually looked down the bench some last season, they may have had the answer right there with them.

Jeremy Lamb has had a career in the NBA that has been known more for who he was traded for them what he has done. For those that may have forgot, Lamb was a player that was included in the trade Houston made for the services of James Harden. When he was acquired in Oklahoma City, it was almost a foregone conclusion that he was going to eventually be the starting shooting guard for them. Well, that never materialized in OKC and he was eventually buried on the bench there. Even though he was a guy that shot the ball relatively well and could defend his position, there seemed to be a short leash with him in OKC under the coaching of Scott Brooks. In games where Durant, Westbrook or both would be out, Lamb would have some good shooting games and others where he would go missing. But even with that, he was still competitive on the defensive end more than Waiters was and gave the Thunder more there. But because of the trade that was made for Waiters, it seemed like OKC was going to force Waiters upon that team to justify trading for him. As a result, this offseason Lamb was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for the services of veteran point guard Luke Ridnour (who was consequently waived by OKC soon after the trade) and a 2016 second round pick.

The trade to Charlotte was a now-or-never trade for Lamb. He landed on a team that needed him to play well on the offensive end. And since he has been a member of the Hornets organization, he has definitely done so. Lamb is averaging a career-high 10.8 points per game off the bench in 21 minutes per game. He is shooting 47% from the field, including 32% from the three-point line, and he is getting 5 rebounds a game. Lamb and Jeremy Lin (who combine to make the highest scoring bench duo in the NBA) have helped Charlotte make it to the seventh spot currently in East. He is making the most of his opportunity and will more than likely be getting paid next season because of it. Taking a look at his numbers, he has actually performed better than Waiters in less minutes. Waiters is averaging 9.7 points per game while shooting under 40% and committing 2 turnovers a game. That isn’t exactly what the Thunder were looking for off the bench this year. And despite the success the Thunder have had this year, they could use a consistent shot in the arm off the bench. And Waiters has yet to provide that consistently. The Thunder thought they were getting that from Dion, but they have not got that one just yet at all.

Looking back at it, the Thunder really did not give Lamb a fair shot at all. If the organization would have stayed with him through the growing pains, he would have been the starting shooting guard for them right now. But instead of doing that, they thought Waiters was the answer. And with that, the search for a starting guard beside Durant and Westbrook still goes on. Oklahoma City has been known for grooming and growing players, but they dropped the ball on this move and it could cost them. Lamb would give them a shooter they need instead of a player they cannot trust.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder Matching Enes Kanter’s Contract Offer Is A Gamble

Looks like Enes Kanter is coming back to the Thunder. (photo courtesy of www.basketballinsiders.com)

Looks like Enes Kanter is coming back to the Thunder. (photo courtesy of http://www.basketballinsiders.com)

The Oklahoma City Thunder made a trade at the deadline last season that made them a better team. They got rid of guard Reggie Jackson, who wanted to be a starter, and veteran center Kendrick Perkins, who was vastly overpaid for what he did. And in return, the Thunder ended up with backup point guard DJ Augustin, wing player Kyle Singler and center Enes Kanter. Augustin was a natural fit as a backup for them and Singler was solid as a fill-in for Durant in terms of shooting. But the guy who made the biggest impact for them in this trade was Kanter. He was solid offensively, giving the Thunder what they have never had: solid post scoring. And with Durant missing, Kanter helped ease some of the burden off Westbrook, averaging almost a double-double last season in Oklahoma City. Going into the offseason, Kanter was a restricted free agent and many expected him to come back to the Thunder. The main thing that many wondered was at what price he would make it back to them. Well, that price has been named courtesy of the Portland Trailblazers. The young international big man signed an offer sheet with the Portland Trailblazers on Thursday to the tune of four years and $70 million. Oklahoma City said they would match anything he may be offered this offseason to bring him back, but no one imagined he would be offered that amount of money. Yet the feeling is the Thunder will match the offer from Portland for Kanter to retain his services go on a quest to make the playoffs.

Kanter is a solid offensive player and that cannot be understated. But before he showed up in Oklahoma City, remember the time he was in Utah? Kanter and big man Derrick Favors were looked at as the frontcourt of the future for the Jazz. And because of that, the Jazz let go of forward Paul Milsap so both could start side by side. But the results of both playing beside each other was not the best thing. It seemed like both were in the same spots and they just did not mesh well together. The result was an upset Kanter and a player in Favors that still is learning on the job. Kanter was averaging a career-high 13.8 points at the time of the trade to Oklahoma City, but he was not playing as much as he wanted to due to his defensive liabilities. As a result of the liabilities he brought with him on the court, he gave up as many points as he scored in a lot of instances. Even with Favors back there, he could not protect the big man out of Kentucky on the defensive end of the floor. The Jazz eventually started going more with Rudy Gobert more because of his defense and when that happened, the writing was on the wall: Enes was getting ready to be traded to his next team. His unhappiness with Utah resulted in the trade to the Oklahoma City Thunder and it seemed like he was reborn there. He averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds and was a revelation for them. He and Westbrook fit each other perfectly. But he was also just as terrible defensively there as he was in Utah. And as a result, he did not help the Oklahoma City Thunder make the playoffs.

Going forward, Kanter will more than likely be the center for the Oklahoma City Thunder next season. And when he is, he and Ibaka will be the opposites of each other. Ibaka is very strong defensively but is not as strong as Kanter offensively. Kanter has been very nice offensively since he has been in Oklahoma City, but he has been awful defensively. This means that Ibaka will have to be his bodyguard this upcoming season. And fortunate for Kanter, Ibaka is better than Favors that he had in Utah. Ibaka may be able to cover up for him defensively, but he cannot make enough basketballs to go around for Kanter, Durant and Westbrook on the offensive end. When Durant was out, Kanter was the second option on the court. But now that we hopefully get back a healthy Kevin Durant, there may be less and less touches for Kanter there in Oklahoma City. And as we saw in Utah, there was an issue that came about when he felt he was not getting the touches and time he needed. Kanter better hope that new head coach Billy Donovan brings his motion offense to the NBA or he will not get as many touches as he would like. The outlook is good for the Thunder offensively with a true post player that can score now present. But on the defensive end, it will be hard for the Thunder to disguise a defensive liability like Kanter. The result of Kanter staying will mean they will make the playoffs this season, but they will have to camouflage him more as each round goes on.

The Thunder now put themselves in an interesting position this season. They are heading into the last year of Kevin Durant’s deal and they most likely will want to show him that they mean business when it comes to winning. And paying Enes Kanter will help ease them on into the luxury tax more than likely and that will be something that Oklahoma City does not want, but will have to do. Funny things is they had the opportunity to keep James Harden in Oklahoma City when he was coming upon an extension and they balked at the numbers given. But in 2015, it seems like the Thunder will make it happen and match Portland’s offer. You often wonder if they had done the same when Harden was up for a new deal where this team would be at this point. Some say with that type of talent, they would be running the West. But unfortunately, that is not the case and Harden got traded to the Houston Rockets. Maybe they have learned their lesson with this signing. And with the roll of the dice, the Thunder are attempting to right a wrong they had in Oklahoma City. Kanter is being bet on by Thunder management and he better come through for them. If he doesn’t, then then the Thunder wasted their time and money. And more importantly, this decision to sign Kanter could cost them Kevin Durant. He wants to win and he will do whatever it takes. If the Thunder and this move works out and satisfies him, then he will stay. But if not, it could interesting real quick in Oklahoma City.

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The Oklahoma City Thunder are on the clock for a new head coach

Are we looking at the end of the Westbrook/Durant era in Oklahoma City? The new head coach will give us a view into that equation (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Are we looking at the end of the Westbrook/Durant era in Oklahoma City? The new head coach will give us a view into that equation (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Oklahoma City Thunder have grown a lot over the last seven years. From a team that seven years ago was struggling to make the playoffs to a team that has made the conference Finals a couple times and made the NBA Finals once, the expectations have rose with each passing year. Scott Brooks has been at the helm for all seven of those years and has seen this team grow and mature. But over the years and with the expectations rising, there has been some disappointment. The expectation heading into this season was the Thunder would get a favorable seed and make a run deep into the playoffs. But it wasn’t the Spurs, Clippers and Golden State Warriors that posed the biggest roadblock. Injuries to Durant and Westbrook derailed their run. Their dynamic duo missing games caused the rhythm of the team to be off the entire year. And even though Westbrook had a ton of heroic games, they were not enough to take this team to the playoffs. After the regular season ended, the Thunder decided they wanted to reevaluate the coaching of Brooks over the years. And as a result, the Thunder relieved Brooks of his coaching duties. The firing of Brooks came as a surprise to some, but others looked at is as long overdue. From the questioning of his play-calling (or lack thereof at times) to the curiosity of his rotations, many felt that he was not the guy to get the Thunder where they wanted to go. And finally, the Thunder agreed to that thought by letting him go. The good thing about Brooks is he is not a terrible coach and will get another opportunity. The bad thing for him is that he will more than likely not have the same talents as Durant and Westbrook where he may be headed.

Now that the shock has worm off from Brook’s firing, the Thunder have to move on. Even though it may have been a move that many did not like, it was one that management had to make. He had taken him as far as he could and there was no more he could do for that team. Essentially they were not going to win a title with him at the helm. So the question now is who replaces him? At this point, there have been two names that have been mentioned regularly since news broke that Brooks would be fired. One name is a shocker for some and the other is one that some could have pinpointed. Current University of Florida head coach Billy Donovan has been mentioned as a potential candidate to replace him. The mention of his name has completely shocked people, but he has went this route before in his career. He actually got the job with the Orlando Magic in 2007 only to have a change of heart and go back to Florida. So this foray into the NBA is nothing new for Donovan at all, but it is surprising nonetheless to hear he is interested again. The other name that has been mentioned is University of Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie. And although he recently said that he was not interested in the position, we all know that many a coach has said that before and still bolted for a new position. The name of Donovan is perplexing to understand. It’s fine that he wants to take a chance and go to the professional ranks, but is he really the guy that can make things happen there? One thing that college coaches struggle with when they go to the professional ranks to coach is control. In college, more coaches have control over any and all things and their players. And as a result, they are the ultimate control freaks in regards to what happens with their team at what times. In the NBA, that is one hard thing to do because players are grown men and not growing young men and the team has more control over things than the coach could ever imagine happen. Donovan may be up for a challenge, but the challenge of coaching Durant, Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder is one that he should pass on. It essentially would be something that may go over his head. So, along with Ollie, there is another candidate that has not been mentioned at all and should be mentioned right now. His name: Mark Jackson.

Mark Jackson was handed the keys to the Warriors when they were a bad organization back in 2011. The Warriors were a laughing stock at that time and no one really thought they would ever be back. But Jackson took that team and made them better each and every year he was there. The team was never known to be a defensive one and he actually got them to dig in at that end of the court. It was incredible watching their rise with the Splash Brothers, Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, making big shots while the team enjoyed their resurgence. But unfortunately, the resurgence under Jackson ended when Jackson and management could not get along anymore and he was fired to make way for Steve Kerr to be the next coach. Kerr may be very successful and has led the Warriors to new heights, but the foundation of that team was set by Jackson and he is to thank the most for them being relevant once again. Jackson is the type of coach that would command respect from Westbrook and Durant if he were to come there. The best thing for him in this situation is he has a team that is defensively sound already. The presence of big men Stephen Adams and shot-blocking extraordinaire Serge Ibaka would make things easy for Jackson to transition into coaching them. But where Jackson could make his biggest impact could be in being a leader for this team. In Brooks, many questioned whether he could make it happen when the chips were really on the table. He made it happen a few times for that team, but with the talent that they had, he fell short a lot of times as well. With Jackson, the Thunder would have a better leader of men on their sideline getting them going. The Thunder need a coach that can push them to be better than what they currently are because that will not be good enough in the West. Jackson is the perfect fit to be that guy because he is a motivator at his best. But along with the good things that Jackson could do, there is one thing that could bother some Thunder fans in regards to Jackson. There was often some criticism of Jackson in regards to how his teams did in crunch time execution. To be honest, Jackson may not be any better than Brooks in that area and that is something that motivational speeches cannot cure. If he is to take over the Thunder, he will have to improve that part of his coaching moving forward. If he does not, then there is the possibility that he could help usher in a new era in Oklahoma City that does not have Durant in a Thunder uniform. And that is something that Oklahoma City and its fans fear happening. Jackson is a good choice and the best thing that he has going for him over Ollie is he has previous head coaching experience at the NBA level.

Jackson may have the experience in the NBA being a head coach, but Ollie has something that Jackson does not have: a past relationship with Westbrook and Durant. For those that are not familiar, Kevin Ollie was a journeyman backup point guard during his entire career in the NBA. He played for at least a dozen NBA teams over his career and is well-respected at the professional level. But there is one stop that he made a big impact on and could make an impact again as a coach. Ollie was in Oklahoma City as a backup point guard for the 2009-2010 season. He may not have played a lot on that team, but his impact was immeasurable on one of the Thunder’s key players, Kevin Durant. The elder of the Thunder stars, Durant was asked by Grantland about Ollie at one point in the past in regards to his impact on him and this is what he had to say: “I think he changed the whole culture here in Oklahoma City. Just the mindset, professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that and we all wanted to be like that.” This past comments about Ollie show that he earned the respect of the guys that he played with and that they hold him in high regard. These statements suggest that they would fall in line if he were named the coach of that team. Add to it that he knows the NBA game because he played it so long and you could be looking at a guy that could slide in seamlessly as the head coach there. But along with that, there is the matter of him saying that he is only interested in the University of Connecticut at this time. Honestly, it was believed that he would say that and many coaches have said what he said before. But even with that statement, it is not guaranteed that he will stay. At this point in his coaching career, it is not if he leaves UConn, but when he leaves UConn. The clock is ticking on him and he would be naïve to say that he would stay there and turn down the chance to go back to a place where he fought so hard to be successful.

Donovan and Ollie may be the main names featured in this one, but Jackson is also a name that needs to be mentioned more for this job. All three may love to coach the Thunder, but there is only two names that make sense: Ollie and Jackson. Donovan may want a challenge, but can he really be the one to take them to a new level of success after Scott Brooks? The feeling is that he would be in over his head coaching two NBA superstars and trying to exceed the expectations that Brooks had. Jackson and Ollie, on the other hand, would fit well with the team and could help them take it to the next level potentially. But all in all, the team has to think long and hard about who the next head coach is because that decision could change the team for the better or for the worse. Durant and Westbrook are the key pieces as to this working and they have to be on the same page with the hire as well. If they are not, the Thunder risk one or both leaving the team when their contracts are up. And that would be a situation that they would love to avoid if possible. It should be interesting to see how this all plays out. But needless to say, this decision on a new head coach is a big one for Sam Presti and the Oklahoma City Thunder management.

Kevin Durant: The Next Level

kevin durant In the 2013 playoffs, the fortune of the Oklahoma City Thunder were on their way to defending their Western Conference crown when this play changed their fortunes:

Russell Westbrook suffered a knee injury that would have him miss the rest of the playoffs. After this injury, the Thunder and their playoff hopes fell on the shoulders of their big star, Kevin Durant. And at that point and time, Durant was not ready to shoulder the load. He was trying to do any and everything to help his team win, but he just had not expanded his game enough to handle those responsibilities. He had enough to beat the Rockets, but they fell in the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the Memphis Grizzlies in five games.
Heading into the offseason, it was not for certain when Russell Westbrook would return and many thought his absence would lead to more struggles from Oklahoma City. We never really got to witness early how the Thunder would look without Westbrook because he came back pretty early from his injury. And with Westbrook returning early, Oklahoma City served notice that they were a team to be reckoned with. But just like last year, Westbrook suffered another injury. The dynamic young point guard was again having trouble with his knee and his return to the team was not expected until after the All-Star break. And again the whispers began to come again about the Thunder falling back to the pack without Russell. But little did they know that this was only the time for Durant to obtain the glow.
For those that don’t know what the glow is, check out this movie clip from Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon:

For those that don’t understand how Bruce Leroy obtained the glow or haven’t seen this movie, you must understand that Leroy went through some trials to get to where he ended up. He passively fought some battles with the villain in the scene, Sho Nuff. But eventually, he learned from those situations in the past and looked deep inside himself to find the power he had all along. Durant, like Leroy, is a pretty passive person in his demeanor. And to his detriment sometimes, he does not have that alpha personality that you see from great players all the time. But one thing Durant has done this year is learn from the past. Instead of allowing the team to sink while Westbrook is out, Durant has taken the reins and taken over this team.

Currently, he has led the Thunder to nine straight wins and carried the Thunder offensively with 12 straight games of 30+ points. But it’s not just that he is scoring, it’s how he is doing it. Coming down the stretch of games, Durant is coming up with any and every clutch basket that his team needs. And unlike last year in the playoffs, he is also finding ways to be a facilitator and looks more comfortable in that role. The growth of Durant is undeniable. Just when you thought that he could not get any better, he acquires a keen killer instinct. And with his play so far this year, it seems like he may be the next person to hoist the NBA’s MVP award. It’s still a long season, but the gap is starting to close between two of the best players in the NBA, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
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