It’s not all 14-game home win streaks and looking down at the masses from atop the Western Conference standings for OKC. The Thunder don’t take care of the ball anything like a championship team and have spent much of the season among the league leaders in turnovers. They are to the point where they are asking for trouble in the playoffs (where each possession becomes more valuable) and, in the most telling sign, coach Scott Brooks knows his team has a serious problem. “I’m very concerned,” he said, adding, “It’s a variety of things, and we have to get better. No question. We turn the ball over too many times.” Imagine how much better OKC would be if it didn’t have to spend so much time backpedaling in transition defense and the high-scoring offense had more opportunities.
The turnover rank of the last 10 champions: Mavericks (2011) tied for 12th, Lakers (2010) sixth, Lakers (2009) 11th, Celtics (2008) 27th, Spurs (2007) fourth, Heat (2006) 16th, Spurs (2005) eighth, Pistons (2004) 18th, Spurs (2003) tied for 23rd and the Lakers (2002) second. So there is slight precedence for Oklahoma City being able to overcome sloppy play, mostly Boston ’08 and San Antonio ’03. Not that Thunder GM Sam Presti needs to be told – he was a rising star in the Spurs’ front office at the time and a Concord, Mass., native.
I’m sticking with the belief Dwight Howard will not be traded before the deadline as the Magic play chicken against themselves. They are relying on Howard choosing money and central Florida over the best chance for a title elsewhere because there is no move to surround him with a team good enough to make Orlando close to the favorite in the East ahead of Miami or Chicago the next several years. Credit management for exhausting every avenue in recent years to upgrade the team, from aggressive deals to lavish spending, but when Ryan Anderson is the best trade bait to build a championship-level supporting cast, there’s nowhere to go.
The great unknown, and obviously a hugely important factor, is what Howard is telling the biggest bosses in private. That the Magic continue to signal the league that Howard is not on the auction block with the deadline growing ominously close indicates they have latched on to a hope that the superstar center will consider re-signing in the summer. The other unknown, then, is how much hope he offered. Is Orlando willing to stare down that meteor hurtling toward Amway Center over Howard saying “I’m open to staying” or “I would love to stay if you can tweak the roster”? Big difference.
DeMarcus Cousins might be blossoming into the center the Kings always believed would be worth the migraines – 16.2 points and 11.4 rebounds in just 29.4 minutes as a 21 year old – but his reputation within the league continues to suffer. No longer merely seen as immature, Cousins is increasingly viewed as a bully of a cheap-shot artist delivering unnecessary blows to smaller players rather than putting the same hit on fellow big men. One opposing coach, asked if it’s only a matter of time before someone clocks Cousins, smiled and laughed. A player from another team heard assistants during a timeout referencing underhanded tactics. Said another player: “He knows exactly who to do that with. It’s mostly smaller players,” and, “All it takes is one time in this league to pick the wrong person.”
Results from a Sports Illustrated survey that asked 137 players who their first pick would be when starting a team from scratch were surprising even for those of us who have been pro-Eric Gordon since his arrival in the 2008 draft. The Hornets guard finished 13th, ahead of All-Star locks Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love and instant-impact rookies Kyrie Irving and Ricky Rubio. New Orleans coach Monty Williams, meanwhile, is treating questions of when Gordon may return from knee surgery as if they landed on his doorstep ticking. Williams won’t even rate the chances of Gordon playing again this season.
“This @Lakers team needs help-trade, trade, trade,” Magic Johnsontweeted Wednesday night after losses at Detroit and Washington within about 24 hours.
They’re trying, trying, trying. This isn’t even the typical incalculable pressure for the Lakers to be title-contender good, amid renewed concern as the encouraging Sunday home win over the Heat turned into the pair of road losses to opponents headed down a greased road to the lottery. L.A. got one real asset from dealing reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom to Dallas, a trade exception worth $8.9 million, and is within days of having it blow away in the wind. The Lakers have until December to use it, but getting nothing in 2011-12 from the controversial Odom swap while in win-now mode would generate an understandable outcry.