Posts Tagged ‘Fran Blinebury’

Blogtable: Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?

> Never in NBA history have the same two teams played each other in the Finals three years in a row. I know it’s only August, but are we destined for a historic Cavs-Warriors rematch next June?

Steve Aschburner, I can’t see myself picking anything other than Cleveland-Golden State when we do season predictions in October. No team in the Eastern Conference closed the gap on the Cavaliers, and the Warriors’ biggest obstacle will be themselves. Fitting in Kevin Durant’s offense game, notably his “touches,” won’t be simple without sacrifice by others. Klay Thompson in particular might wind up texting and calling Russell Westbrook a bit seeking ways to cope. And let’s remember, Father Time catches up with all NBA players but Crazy Uncle Injury picks and chooses those he torments – if Steph Curry, Durant or Draymond Green comes up lame for any length of time, the West could split wide open. Well, for San Antonio and the Clippers, anyway.

Fran Blinebury, Yes. And it will be spectacular.

Shaun Powell, No, and I say that only because history is against it. On the surface, those two are the Goliaths of their respective conferences and therefore it would make most sense if they’re the last teams standing. Still, I suspect LeBron James‘ 6-year run to The Finals will be snapped. I just can’t answer by whom, and how. Just a silly hunch that somebody else in the East — Toronto or maybe Boston — will sneak through.

John Schuhmann, It’s very difficult to imagine any other scenario. The Warriors took the best player off the roster of team that almost kept them from making The Finals last season. The Cavs, meanwhile, cruised through the Eastern Conference playoffs and no team behind them made enough changes this summer to be much of a threat.

Sekou Smith, No one had won 73 games in a season before the Warriors pulled it off last season, so I’m choosing to believe that we’ll see a bit more history made in June of 2017. While I think an upset of either team along the way makes for an infinitely more interesting postseason, I’m just not sure I can identify the team that’s supposed to pull that upset off. The whole parity idea is lost on me. I want to see the best of the best battle it out for the title every year. If it happens to be the Warriors and Cavaliers for a third straight season, I’m fine with Round 3.

Ian Thomsen, Cleveland will be there. I’m not so sure about the Warriors, who will need to go through some adjustment pains along the way. Can they figure it out in one season? We saw how the San Antonio Spurs were more talented last year with LaMarcus Aldridge and yet not as effective, in part because of changes to their style and a weakening of their bench. Golden State is going to win championships, that is a given, but Durant is not some plug-and-play component that can be added automatically. The guess here is that the Warriors are going to learn how to win multiple championships by way of losing in the Western playoffs next spring.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: It may feel that way, but if we’ve learned anything from watching the NBA over the years it’s that expectations rarely manage to match reality. The Cavs and Warriors certainly seem like runaway favorites to end up in the Finals, and if I had to pick I’d probably go with them just to be safe. That said, there’s a little nagging part of me wondering about the Warriors. It’s not that I don’t think Kevin Durant won’t be helpful, it’s that I wonder if losing Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and assistant coach Luke Walton won’t completely be outweighed by the addition of Durant (and David West and Zaza Pachulia). The last two seasons, the Warriors built something of a dynasty with a lot of moving parts. This season, the parts have changed and I don’t think the Warriors will just waltz back to The Finals.

Blogtable: Your level of concern for Team USA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Level of concern for Team USA? | Will Warriors, Cavs meet in 2017 Finals? |
Who will have biggest impact on Knicks?

> As we head into the quarterfinals in Rio, what’s the level of concern for Team USA? And who do you see as the biggest threat to snap the USA’s gold-medal streak?

Steve Aschburner, I ultimately think Team USA’s biggest concern will be the apathy that they’ll generate by winning gold again but not dominating the way the Dream Team did in ’92 or (in people’s memories at least) other editions of this NBA star-studded national squad did. There are reasons for the closer scores, some owing to the competition, some to holes in the U.S. team. But I think there will be a healthy mixture of respect for foes and fear of failure now for Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al that will see them through. Biggest threat? It’s all relative, but give me Australia, which has some brassy NBA players in Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills; some healthy disrespect for a few of their pro peers, and a pesky defensive style that might already be in the U.S. stars’ heads.

Fran Blinebury, It shocked me to read comments from Americans that essentially admitted surprise that many of the other teams are actually playing like teams, passing the ball, etc. If Team USA wants to stand around and play 1-on-1 “hero” ball, they could lose any game left to anybody. I wouldn’t have believed that before the Olympics began. I thought they had the proper mindset. But the team simply seems to have fallen back into many of the old, bad habits. Where the hell is the defense? Definitely looking more and more like time for a change. They could use a big dose of Gregg Popovich biting them in the butt right about now.

Shaun Powell, The level of concern is cool. Not warm or hot. Yes, there have been some relatively close calls and the ride a bit bumpy, but here in the money round I don’t see the US exposing much vulnerability. The biggest threat to snap Team USA’s streak is Team USA. Only a sloppy performance would leave the Americans open to being upset by an opportunistic country such as Spain.

John Schuhmann, The level of concern is high. The defense is the worst it’s been under Mike Krzyzewski and the Olympic field is stronger than ever, with all eight remaining teams having hopes for a medal. Still, Spain is once again the biggest threat to beat the U.S. After a sluggish first three games, Pau Gasol and his team have found their gear, crushing Lithuania on Saturday and beating Argentina handily on Monday. They have a tough test themselves in the quarterfinals, with a France team that beat them in Madrid two years ago. But if USA and Spain meet in the semis, it may be a toss-up.

Sekou Smith, My level of concern is significant. I hope it’s the same for the members of the team as they face a very real threat from Argentina first and foremost, and either France or Spain in the semifinal round. The U.S. is at its best when it treats every opponent like a credible threat, even the teams that we all know should not come close to touching the NBA stars. In London four years ago, that attitude was prevalent. That team attacked the opposition in a way that made clear that the U.S. would not leave the games without gold. There was always a feeling in the building that no matter how hard the other team played, they would ultimately come up short. I don’t know what it feels like inside the building this time around, but I know what it looks like from afar. And I haven’t seen that same sense of urgency in Rio.

Ian Thomsen, The defense has been alarming. The USA has allowed 92 points over the last three games (equivalent to yielding 110 points over a 48-minute NBA game). Their opponents over the final three rounds – if the US gets that far – all know how to share the ball and move without it, beginning with the clever Argentines in the quarterfinal. The most dangerous opponent will emerge in the semis: France (Tony Parker) and Spain (Pau Gasol) each has the great player capable of leading and finishing the upset. For the Americans, assuming they can’t resolve their fundamental lapses on defense, the question comes down to which one or two of them is going to own this tournament in the way that LeBron James owned it in 2012. If they’re not capable of winning with fluid teamwork, then someone (Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, and/or Kyrie Irving) is going to have to take on the responsibility of carrying them.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: We’re not supposed to be concerned, right? After all, all we’ve heard is what a strong defensive team this is, and we know that the Team USA brass had their pick of dozens of players before curating this particular dozen, so why should there be any concern? Oh wait, I know why! Because this team seems awkwardly constructed. Or because their defense has never come together, and because the default offense seems to be clearing out and going one-on-one. This group is clearly talented, but they just can’t seem to get on the same page. Even if they can’t get things figured out, they will probably still win gold. But to me, Team USA’s biggest threat is themselves.

Blogtable: Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

> Steve Kerr said it’s “absurd” to label Kevin Durant a villain just because he opted to sign with another team. Agree? Disagree?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely agree. I understand Oklahoma City fans, perhaps, feeling that way, but no one without a dog in the hunt should categorize KD that way because he made a decision about where he wanted to work. And, really, that’s all he did. He didn’t do anything to you or me. He decided he wanted to work in Oakland instead of OKC. People do that every day of their lives. No one is considered villainous for doing so.

Fran Blinebury, Of course, agree. It’s silly to think otherwise. He changed teams, didn’t rob a bank.

Shaun Powell, Agree, agree, agree with Steve Kerr. First of all, who gets to determine who’s a “villain?” Jealous couch potatoes? Bored and lazy media types? Durant owes nobody anything. He gave 9 of the best years of his career to OKC. He helped the community. He raised the profile of the franchise (and the value). Why have free agency if certain players — superstars — aren’t “allowed” to be free agents according to the public? Or that there are certain teams (contenders) they aren’t allowed to join? Durant is getting more grief than athletes who, you know, commit actual crimes. Felt the same way about the over-the-top treatment of LeBron for a silly TV show.

John Schuhmann, I agree and I don’t see him as one. But others will and if they enjoy watching the Warriors in that way, that’s their right. I guess it might be too much to ask for them to just keep it civil on Twitter, though.

Sekou Smith, I want to agree with Kerr on this one, on principle alone, but I know better than to think Durant or any star of his ilk could make a move like this and not instantly become the villain to a large segment of the sports-loving public. Like it or not, wearing the villain tag after you bolt Oklahoma City for Oakland the way Durant did and you have to own the foolishness that comes with that move. I agree, Durant has not done anything to be labeled a “villain” in the darkest sense of the word. He did what was in his heart. I’ll never condemn someone for doing that. But he also crossed that imaginary line that revisionist historians love to cite as the point of no return for superstar athletes where loyalty is concerned. Free agency provides a freedom of choice for the player, it does not guarantee that he’ll be free of the consequences of his choice, intended or otherwise.

Ian Thomsen, Agreed. This is not going to be a simple transition for him and his teammates. Durant is going to have to earn his success by adapting his style to fit with the Warriors, and every setback along the way will be exaggerated and celebrated. Accusations of his villainy are based on the premise that Durant has taken the easy path to the championship. And so fans by the millions are going to make sure that it won’t be easy for him, in the same way that they made it difficult on LeBron James when he moved to the Miami Heat. By next June everyone is going to be reminded that winning the NBA championship is almost never easy. Someday we’ll look back and recognize that Durant was no villain based on the hard decision he made.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogIf we’re really going to parse it, my favorite part of Kerr’s quote was how he tried to stretch it to apply to any person on the Warriors, along with Durant: “To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd.” Any of our guys? Hey, you know who probably doesn’t think terming Kevin Durant a villain is all that absurd? How about a kid in Oklahoma City who had a Durant jersey and poster and was a huge Thunder fan? Or how about a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the Warriors were doing their best to eliminate in the NBA Finals? Look, I fully support KD’s ability to choose his own adventure. But there are consequences to our decisions and choices. And to be honest, all in all, enduring a few boos might be worth getting a ring.

Blogtable: Should teams pursue Ray Allen?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

> Ray Allen says he’s fit, healthy and interested in playing in the NBA this season. Should any teams be interested in him?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: In a league that has fallen head over heels with the three, how can I say teams shouldn’t take a look at Jesus Shuttlesworth? He keeps himself in ridiculous shape and is as smart as they come. I’m not sure how much he could have left in the tank, though; he was not quite the same in his last season with Miami, and that was two years ago. But, it’s his life. Fire away.

Fran Blinebury, Sure. If he can put the ball in the basket that is the object of the game. Cavs? Spurs? Clippers?

Shaun Powell, NBA.comHe’s 41 and years removed from being a significant role player. It’s true that Allen takes great care of his body and that shooters are always the last to leave. Could he play 10-15 minutes for a contender? Perhaps. But I suspect most contenders are not a “Ray Allen away” from winning it all; they already have such a player in the rotation. I suspect his comeback window closed a year ago. I’d love for him to prove me wrong, though.

John Schuhmann, Yes. Even if he only played 10-15 minutes per game, he would be a threat that defenses would have to respect on any key offensive possession. Run him off a screen and he’s going to bend the defense and give your team a better chance to score, whether he touches the ball or not.

Sekou Smith, Absolutely, teams should be interested in Ray Allen. In a league where shooting is at a premium, perhaps moreso now than it has ever been, one of the all-time great marksman (even at his advanced age) should at least draw some interest. If nothing else, you find a gym and a ball rack and see how much Ray has left in his tank. If he’s as fit, healthy and interested as he says he is about lacing his Jordans up one more time, it’s worth investigating.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comLet’s see: You can offer your 15th roster spot to someone who might (or might not) play in garbage time; or you can invest in the most prolific 3-point shooter of all time with the potential of turning losses into wins. Allen sounds like a good gamble to me.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Every team. The man is arguably the best three-point shooter to ever play the game, and he famously keeps himself in tip-top shape. So to me, if Ray Allen wants to play basketball, I’d be happy to have him. Especially with the way the NBA is today, with three-point shots carrying so much value. There’s been a lot of money floating around this offseason. If I was an NBA team, I’d have no problem giving a fat slice of that to Jesus Shuttlesworth.

Blogtable: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

> We’re getting a good look at international (FIBA) basketball rules during these Summer Olympics. Which, if any, FIBA rules would you like to see implemented in the NBA?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Shouldn’t this be reversed? FIBA is coming a lot more toward the NBA’s style of play and rules in recent years than vice versa. But, to the question: I don’t like the closer three-point line in Olympic/FIBA competition; God knows we don’t need to encourage the world to shoot more threes. I could be persuaded to think about the 10-minute quarters as opposed to the 12-minute ones in the NBA, if only to make the games a little more compact for fans both in the arena and watching at home. And I’d like to hear smart people make an argument about the efficacy of being able to touch the ball while it’s still on the rim, as FIBA rules allow. But there is one FIBA rule I would instantly implement in the NBA: so-called “unsportsmanlike fouls,” which include fouling players away from the ball, are penalized by two free throws and possession for the fouled team/player. The NBA is the only basketball league in the world that doesn’t penalize “Hack-A” fouls this way. Insanity.

Fran Blinebury, Allow shots on the rim or over the cylinder to be swatted away by defenders. All recent rule changes have favored the offense. Let’s give defenders a break. Also, on offensive rebounds reset shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24. Speed up the game.

Shaun Powell, How about “none?” I love the differences between international and NBA play. And besides, the players adapt quickly to the international and NBA rules. I see no reason to have a one-size-fits-all rulebook for basketball.

John Schuhmann, I love the rule that you can’t call a timeout when the ball is live. A timeout can only be called with a dead ball or after a made basket. Adopting that rule would reduce the number of timeouts called late in the fourth quarter or overtime and shorten the length of games, which would be a great thing. I’m also in favor of adopting the FIBA rule that there’s no basket interference once a shot has hit the rim, mostly because that’s a difficult call to make in the NBA. It would make officials’ jobs easier if they didn’t have to try to figure out from 30 feet away if the ball was or wasn’t in the cylinder. And I wouldn’t be opposed to the league adopting the rule that there’s only 14 seconds on the shot clock after an offensive rebound, because it would increase pace a little bit.

Sekou Smith, The FIBA rule that allows players to touch the ball on and above the cylinder is the one I’ve always wanted to see in the NBA. It would make things extremely interesting around the basket, particularly on free throws. It would mean no more relaxing and catching a breath while someone is shooting free throws. And it would also change the way goaltending is called. But those are things I could live with in the name of seeing the world’s most graceful large athletes being able to use their gifts on and above the rim on both ends of the floor.

Ian Thomsen, I’d love to get rid of the NBA rule that prohibits goaltending on rebounds above the cylinder. Let both teams fight over that airspace in the final seconds of a 1-point game. The potential setbacks in terms of scoring and efficiency would be offset by excitement and unpredictability. Free throws would be more volatile than ever.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogDid you see the clip of Paul George sitting on a bench during a timeout, drinking from a cup of water, and then handing the cup over his head to … nobody? George is used to existing in an NBA world where there are dozens of people jammed around the benches, taking care of everything, and he suddenly found himself in an entirely unpopulated area. And I know that in the NBA there will never be that much empty space so close to the court, but it made me wonder if there weren’t some ways we could make things at NBA games a little more minimalist?

Abdul Jeelani, who scored first hoop in Mavericks history, dies at 62

The pass came in the left corner and it was a simple 17-foot jumper that looked like so many others.

Except for the time and the place.

When Abdul Qadir Jeelani made the bucket on Oct. 11, 1980, it was the first basket scored in the history of the Dallas Mavericks expansion franchise and the crowd of 10,373 at old Reunion Arena went wild.

Jeelani, 62, died Wednesday night, according to the Racine Journal Times.

“Absolutely one of the highlights of my career,” Jeelani told the Dallas Morning News in 2011. “For a journeyman like myself, that’s like the Hall of Fame, to be forever linked to a franchise in such a manner.”

From Dirk Nowitzki to Steve Nash to Mark Aguirre to Detlef Schrempf to Austin Carr to Rolando Blackman to Brad Davis, there have been plenty of big buckets made in Mavs history. But only Jeelani could carry the distinction of the first.

It was part of a two-year NBA career that saw him play one season each in Portland and Dallas, but it helped carry Jeelani through a continued professional career in Europe then a difficult post-playing life that included alcoholism, drug addiction, homelessness, diabetes and cancer.

“That certainly wasn’t in my plans,” Jeelani said. “To say that you have nowhere to go. To say you don’t have any keys to your own place, that you have to depend on the generosity of others to house and feed you.”

Born Gary Cole on Feb. 10, 1954 in Bells, Tenn., the 6-foot-8 forward graduated from Park High School in Racine in 1972. He went on to earn NAIA All-America honors in college at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in 1975 and ’75.

Jeelani was chosen by the Cleveland Cavaliersin the third round of the 1976 draft, he was the last pick in that year’s Draft and was waived before the regular season. He was signed by the Detroit Pistons in September 1977, but waived prior to that season. He played three seasons in Italy before catching on in 1979 and then moved to Dallas in the expansion draft in 1980. After the one season with the Mavs, he signed a four-year contract worth $750,000 to return to Italy with Liberto Livorno.

It was after his playing career when Jeelani reportedly became addicted to drugs and alcohol in the 1990s amid turmoil in his personal life.

Jameel Ghuari, a high school and college teammate of Jeelani, told the Journal Times: “To me, he was easily the best scorer to ever come out of Racine. Scoring for him was such a natural thing.”

No bucket ever meant more than the one that gave Jeelani unique his place in Mavericks history.

Blogtable: What grade do you give OKC’s offseason?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?

> Overall, how would you grade the Thunder’s 2016 offseason?

Steve Aschburner, B-. Can’t give the Thunder an A; that would have required Durant to re-up. But I’ll go as far as the B- even though they lost a proven MVP still in his prime. The Westbrook extension allows the franchise and the city, as well as the remaining players, to breathe. And swapping out Serge Ibaka (and unofficially Dion Waiters) for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova is a strong now-secondary move. Ibaka’s impact was in decline, and with Steven Adams on the rise, the rotation up front is more streamlined now. The team still could use help on the wing, but that seems like a quibble in the wake of Westbrook’s re-upping.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWhen you lose one of the top three players in the league the report card takes a hit. But keeping Westbrook saves the Thunder from flunking summer school. Getting it done before the start of training camp to remove the uncertainty from the 2016-17 gets extra credit points. OKC is no longer among the elite, but I’m giving the Thunder a C+, which includes an A for effort.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBad. You want a letter grade? Let’s say D. The Russell Westbrook deal is big and adding Victor Oladipo could make for a very nice backcourt, but there is no way getting around the bottom line that losing one of the best players in the world, Kevin Durant, without getting anything in return is a crushing setback. The team that could have been a title contender isn’t any more. That’s the bottom line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ll give them a B. They lost Durant, but the Westbrook deal and getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade made the most of a tough situation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost one of the three best players in the world and two of their three most important defenders. Adding some depth and tacking another year onto Westbrook’s deal turns an F into a D.

Sekou Smith, I think a B-minus is more than fair. Since I don’t grade on a curve, the Thunder didn’t make the honor roll. You just can’t when you lose an iconic player like Kevin Durant in free agency. But they salvaged their grade by convincing Westbrook to stick around. We don’t know what the loss of Serge Ibaka will do to this team, if anything at all. If GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan are certain that they have a legitimate top-five center in Steven Adams and a potential star in Victor Oladipo, then they could be in line for a grade change.

Ian Thomsen, It’s a disappointment — with a huge asterisk. They lost Durant and there is no replacing him. His loss removes them from championship contention next season. But they avoided another potential free agent departure by moving Serge Ibaka while they could for three players who will help immediately, including Victor Oladipo, whose rights will be restricted. Based on the events that they could control, they did as well as they could to come out of this summer with a like-minded roster and some level of contractual certainty for the next several seasons.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogI liked trading Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, although I would have liked it much more if Durant was on the roster. Re-signing Westbrook is better than seeing him leave. But then, even while considering the good things the Thunder did, it is impossible to ignore that the Thunder also lost one of the best players in not only the NBA today, but in NBA history. And they got nothing in return. And he went to one of their most bitter rivals. So if I had to assign a grade, I’d say D+. A nice trade, a good extension, but to me they are further away from their goal of a championship than they were three months ago.

Blogtable: Where do Thunder rank in West now?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?

> In the loaded Western Conference, where do the Thunder rank going into this season?

Steve Aschburner, Second-tier playoff team. I think the Clippers and the Trail Blazers bump up into the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with OKC now in the mix with the likes of Memphis, Utah, Houston and Minnesota for the remaining four spots. Not only has Westbrook been a terrific catalyst when playing without Durant, averaging about 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over the past two years in such games, but GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and the rest will be extra-motivated to demonstrate how good the Thunder still are and how well they can remodel a legit contender around Westbrook. They dare not slip into lottery land, at this point.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWestbrook has already proven that he can anchor the team and lead it to a winning record (45-37) two seasons ago when Durant missed 55 games due to injury. While the Thunder are no longer a championship contender, they battle the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. If all goes very well, they’re fighting for the No. 4-5 spots in the Western Conference. If not, OKC is scrambling for the No. 7 or 8 holes. Either way, this is still a playoff team, though the young Minnesota Timberwolves under Tom Thibodeau are coming up fast. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI always dislike August predictions, knowing rosters can still change before the opening of camp, but since you asked: They could still be a playoff team. Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson’s defense, Enes Kanter’s offense and rebounding — there are big holes at both forward spots, but that’s also a respectable starting point. To try and pinpoint it, I’ll say OKC is in the 8-9 conversation. I think they’re going to be very motivated and focused. They are not going away quietly, that’s for sure. Getting a boost from a second-year player (Cameron Payne) or rookie (Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines) would be a big help, especially since Sabonis can play power forward and Abrines small forward. It’s just tough to count on dependable play from newcomers, though.

Shaun Powell, Top 5. Russell Westbrook will have an MVP type season and he and Victor Oladipo will mesh in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey still a good amount of talent, but their defense is going to take a big step backward with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. I would put them behind Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and Memphis, in the mix for lower seed with Portland, Dallas, Utah, and Minnesota.

Sekou Smith, The top six is a realistic starting point. Scanning the list of contenders in a top-heavy Western Conference we have to start with that new-look crew at Golden State, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and then the Thunder. I’m not sure what to make of the Dallas Mavericks and their revamped roster. And the Houston Rockets still have James Harden to lean on. The Thunder are in that same mix with the Mavericks and Rockets, without the benefit of knowing how all of the new pieces will fit on each of those teams.

Ian Thomsen, The sure thing — health permitting — is that they’re going to make the playoffs. The top three contenders are going to be the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves the No. 4 spot wide open. Who’s to say that the Thunder won’t be able to grab it — with the promise of a delicious Western Conference semifinals rematch vs. Golden State in which virtually everyone outside the Bay Area will be rooting for OKC.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blogLet’s do this by process of elimination. Eliminating health concerns, I’d say as presently constructed, the very best teams in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. I would place the Thunder within the next tier of teams, which includes (in no particular order) the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and maybe Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Thunder make the playoffs? Even if everyone stays healthy, I think it may require Russ averaging 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. I don’t know if he can do that over an entire season, but it sure should be fun to watch.

Blogtable: How important was it for Thunder to keep Westbrook?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?

> After losing Kevin Durant to the rival Golden State Warriors, how important was it for the Thunder to lock up Russell Westbrook to a long-term deal?

Steve Aschburner, Only as important as it was for those frontier towns that got lucky 150 years ago when the transcontinental railroad got built through their neck o’ the woods. Losing Westbrook on the heels of Kevin Durant‘s departure – and let’s face it, GM Sam Presti would have had to deal Westbrook between now and the February trade deadline – would have positioned OKC as a tumbleweeds franchise as far as future NBA free agency. I write that with full compassion for the Thunder and their fans – I spent 20 years covering Minnesota, one of those markets that basically teeters on a two-legged stool (draft, trades) of player procurement because the third leg (free agents) isn’t realistically available to them. Such teams occasionally lure someone by overpaying but then, that’s what they wind up with – overpaid, underperforming salary-cap ballast. Westbrook helps himself – bigger paydays now, bigger contract next time – and has a sound supporting cast to now thrive as his team’s alpha dog. OKC avoids a plummet in the short term and has the chance to keep its title hopes afloat while courting Russ 24/7 for at least the next two years.

Fran Blinebury, Absolutely critical, though it’s not exactly a long-term deal. He can become a free agent in 2018. The notion of Russell Westbrook walking out the door right behind Kevin Durant would have been a message that doomed OKC to second-class status, perhaps permanently. His decision to stay gives GM Sam Presti a foundation to build upon and keeps a team in place that can still be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Scott Howard-Cooper, The importance cannot be overstated. Locking up Westbrook is that big of a deal for the Thunder. (And, really, Oklahoma City as a whole.) Even if Westbrook would have stayed in the long run, with a new deal after becoming a free agent in summer 2017, this eliminates a storyline that could have dominated the Thunder’s season — “Durant just left, and now Westbrook could be next.” Now the Thunder can deal with certainties more than what-ifs. This only pushes Westbrook’s possible free agency out one more season, but it takes his departure off the table for the foreseeable future. That’s huge.

Shaun Powell, They bought him for an extra year. That’s all. There’s no big commitment from Westbrook. This isn’t the same as James Harden‘s extension with the Houston Rockets. Mark it down as a half-vote of confidence from Russ when OKC needed a full vote.

John Schuhmann, It’s important, because talent acquisition and retention is the most critical thing in the NBA. If the Thunder were forced to trade Westbrook, there’s no telling when they’d get another player who’s just as good. But essentially (since Westbrook will have a player option in 2018), it adds only one year to his deal. So the positive of this summer are still far outweighed by the negative (Kevin Durant‘s departure) in Oklahoma City.

Sekou Smith, Getting Westbrook to stick around Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future is colossal victory for Sam Presti and the Thunder, given the way free agency began for them this summer. Two more seasons with Westbrook as the head of the snake keeps the Thunder relevant. Whether or not they will be among the playoff elite in the Western Conference remains to be seen. Westbrook’s supporting cast has to remain healthy and performs to its potential and beyond in order for them to compete in that realm. You can craft a playoff team around Westbrook, we know this much. Whether or not they are a true contender in the Western Conference depends on the continued improvement of guys like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and others.

Ian Thomsen, This is a coup for a small-market team to defy trends and convince a star like Westbrook to not only take less money but to not return home to play for the Lakers in 2017, as has been rumored for the last year. It speaks to the program that has been built in Oklahoma City, regardless of Durant’s departure.

Their talent has been diminished by Durant’s move, absolutely, and yet the identity of the Thunder is stronger than ever. The old stylistic tension of Durant vs. Westbrook is no more. They are now indisputably a hard-driving defensive-minded team based on the tireless personality of Westbrook and his leading teammates, and the way they play will serve as a reflection of their community. The fans in Oklahoma City are invested in their team more so than any other fan-base in the NBA, and Westbrook has shown that he is invested too.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: It was either crucial or it was just ok, and I’m not sure which it was just yet. Crucial because after losing Durant, the Thunder clearly needed to keep Westbrook around to have a shot at even remaining competitive next season. And by keeping Westbrook under contract for the next few seasons, the Thunder have a solidified foundation upon which to build. Then again, it may be just OK because we still don’t know if Westbrook is the kind of player you can build an NBA championship team around as the main player. They’ve secured his services long-term, but can he lead a team to a title?


Blogtable: Your favorite Olympic basketball memory?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.

BLOGTABLE: Your favorite Olympic memory? | Should LeBron chase ghost of Jordan? | Are the Knicks a super team?

> With the Rio Summer Games set to begin this weekend, reach way back into your memory and find that Olympic basketball moment that you’ll never forget.

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Easy. A press conference in Barcelona, Spain, the day before the 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic Team — the “Dream Team” — was set to begin play. They’d coasted through the Tournament of the Americas in Portland, playing games of such little competitive value that opposing players were asking for pictures and shoes. There wasn’t a thought that the pros would actually lose an Olympic game, but there was some concern that they’d play sloppy an not be focused on the task at hand. In those days, a lot of people in the Olympic movement were dead set against NBA players in the “amateur” Games, and if the Dreamers didn’t play with some intent, the Ringheads would have a field day castigating their presence.

Anyway, someone asked Charles Barkley what he knew about Angola, the U.S. team’s first-round opponent.

“I don’t know much about Angola,” Chuck said, “but I know one thing–they’re in a lot of trouble.”

I didn’t give the Dreamers’ mental state another thought.

The Dream Team was even better than advertised. I had begged my boss at The Washington Post in the fall of 1991 to let me cover that team, and he agreed. It was the best move I ever made. Barkley, newly traded to Phoenix, was the best player on the team. Chris Mullin shot 75 percent on 3-pointers. David Robinson and Patrick Ewing were unbelievable at the defensive end. Magic Johnson made a dozen or so no-look passes. Clyde Drexler and Scottie Pippen cheated in the passing lanes and filled them on the break, and Michael Jordan was, really, a bystander for most of the fortnight, only dominant here and there. He didn’t have to be. The U.S. team went on a 46-1 run against Angola in that first game, Barkley elbowed an unfortunate Angolan named Herlander Coimbra in the chest, and the Americans went on to win the gold by an average of 43.8 points per game. They were perfection on the court, or as close as I’m ever going to see.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comYou said “way back” so I’m going with the most memorable Olympics basketball game ever, USA vs. Soviet Union in 1972. I saw it as a kid, though little did I know that’s when game officials instituted sports’ first “replay system” — as in, let’s keep replaying this till the desired result is achieved. Allowing the USSR three bites at the gold apple was an international heist worthy of another “Oceans 11” sequel, and bravo for the Americans for not accepting their silver medals. There was a happy update, however: I covered the 40th reunion of that ’72 USA team and the fact is, they are better remembered and probably have bonded more tightly than any of this nation’s (yawn, business as usual) gold-medal champs. Never forget.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com1972 Munich. A skinny, young Doug Collins, who was clobbered after making a steal at half court and driving to the basket with 3 seconds left, gathered himself and made the two biggest clutch free throws I’ve ever seen to give the United States a 50-49 lead. Everybody knows the craziness and controversy that followed. But the sight of a wobbly Collins draining those two shots remains burned in memory.

Scott Howard-Cooper, I once saw a guy, Vince Carter, turn another guy, Frederic Weis, into a step stool. That’s a pretty good one.

Shaun Powell, Vince Carter’s dunk in 2000, the poster to end all posters. Carter should’ve been awarded two gold medals — one for winning the basketball tournament with the U.S., and another for the high jump. Too bad this came before Twitter. I would love to have listened to the conversations between Frederic Weis and his consoling teammates right after the fact. What’s French for, “You good?”

John Schuhmann, On the opening night of the 2008 games in Beijing, I had a seat near the top of Wukesong Culture and Sports Center for USA-China. The game wasn’t very good, but it was an incredible atmosphere that introduced me, as well as some of the American players, to China’s passion for basketball. The sold-out crowd obviously cheered own team, but were nearly as loud when the U.S. team was introduced. And Kobe Bryant was clearly their favorite. There have been much bigger moments in in Olympic history and the gold medal game that year was a classic. But on a personal level, that opening night was something special.

Sekou Smith, I hate to answer a question with a question, but does the entire Barcelona experience count as a moment? If so, I’m going with the original Dream Team and the magical ride we all went on following that team. That includes the exhibition games, the actual competition and all of the fantastic memories the Dream Team provides to this day. I’d never thought about the game in global terms until then, until we got a chance to see how big our NBA stars were on the other side of the world … and to so many other world class athletes. That was also the one chance we had to see Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and others in the same uniform (in something other than All-Star weekend), so it was truly like watching a fantasy team in action.

Ian Thomsen, I remember as a little kid watching the 1972 Olympic basketball final on TV. Doug Collins introduced himself to the world by making two free throws to apparently earn the gold medal with three seconds remaining. Then, in a sequence of inept game management by the officials, the Soviets were given three possessions to win. It turned out to be the most important game in the history of basketball, because it encouraged the rest of the world to think of the Americans as rivals rather than as gods; but I remember it being the first time I realized that the better team doesn’t always win.

Lang Whitaker,’s All Ball blog: Well, the Dream Team is obvious answer, because for me as a teenage NBA fan, seeing that particular collection of greats (Michael! Magic! Bird! Charles!) on the court together at the same time in the same uniform was unimaginable and just so exciting. I showed my support by trying to collect all the cups from McDonald’s. I also had the good fortune to have the 1996 Olympics take place in my backyard in Atlanta, and I was able to attend a bunch of basketball games. It wasn’t the Dream Team, but it wasn’t far off.