Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Blogtable: What’s next for Oklahoma City Thunder and for Kevin Durant?

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: What’s next for Durant, Thunder? | Warriors’ most impressive feat so far? |
Who wins The Finals and why?


> So what now for free agent Kevin Durant? And what now for the Thunder?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: You’d be crazy to guess at this point, but the trend lines seem to be going in Oklahoma City’s favor, at least for one more year. As detailed in the Morning Tip on Monday, if Durant signs a two-year deal this summer with the Thunder with a one-year out, he’d set himself up for a potential five-year contract with OKC in the summer of 2017 for more than $200 million. Now, money isn’t the only thing driving Durant’s decision making, of course (and especially given the $250-plus million he’s already banking from Nike), but that’s not a sum you dismiss out of hand. More importantly, OKC’s rapid development the second half of the season and in the playoffs surely gives the Thunder more than a fighting chance of keeping its superstar. Coach Billy Donovan was more than comfortable matching Xs and Os with top-shelf coaches. Steven Adams went Beast Mode on opponents. Andre Roberson carried his weight offensively against the San Antono Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder. Serge Ibaka again asserted himself as a defensive force and Dion Waiters and Enes Kanter gave the Thunder one of the league’s best benches. And, oh yeah, Russell Westbrook was Russell Westbrook. So, if you’re Durant, and you already like living someplace where people basically leave you be, and your team showed itself a legit title contender…where can you go that’s better? The Los Angeles Clippers’ core is older and the Miami Heat’s future is uncertain with Chris Bosh‘s health concerns. The Spurs already have an All-Star small forward in Kawhi Leonard. OKC already had the power of incumbency. After its playoff run, I’d put its chances at retaining Durant at 3-1.

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Kevin Durant is interested in pursuing a championship, he should stay right where he’s at. That team has the talent and depth to contend again next season, and the Thunder surely can find ways to complement Durant and Russell Westbrook‘s firepower in a more balanced attack. Durant won’t find a more committed organization or adoring fan base, either. Now if it’s lifestyle he’s seeking, then fine, go live and work where you want to, the way 99 percent of America’s workforce does it — or could, if people really looked at their options. I don’t think he can get much more famous or ever spend any difference in off-court income that a bigger market might provide, but that would be Durant’s choice. For theatre, it would be fun to see Durant land on one of about a dozen different rosters, just to feel the NBA landscape shift. But for sheer balling, OKC seems to suit Durant fine. And vice versa.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com The Thunder simply wait on Durant. They don’t campaign or twist his arm or send him love letters. They just wait for Durant to reach the conclusion — and he might already be there — that there is no better place for him than Oklahoma City, where he is appreciated, adored and, most importantly, has the pieces already on hand to come right back next season and make another championship run. Where does he find another Russell Westbrook to be his sidekick? Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka, Andre Roberson all are the real thing. And coach Billy Donovan showed he has the chops. Does Durant sign a long-term deal in July or take the LeBron James one-year option and cash in even bigger next season? That’s for him to figure out. But one way or another, I believe he stays in OKC. For good.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Nothing’s changed. Durant comes back for one season plus an option and goes through free agency for real in the summer of 2017. That has been my belief since before the playoff started, and nothing that happened in the postseason alters the opinion. There are a ton of reasons to stay in OKC well beyond 2016-17. He knows it and does not take the positives there for granted. What now for the Thunder? Respond to the ache of that elimination. How it changes them, if at all, will be one of the early storylines to watch for next season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Summer of Durant will fall flatter than OKC did late in Game 6 when Durant decides to return to OKC for at least another year. So much for drama. That’s the safe route, one that leaves him an out, if he so wishes to use it in 2017 when Russell Westbrook‘s deal is up. Meanwhile, OKC will be OK, provided the Thunder find a shooter (and he isn’t Dion Waiters, either). Folks need to calm down about this team. OKC beat a 67-win San Antonio Spurs team and took the 73-win Golden State Warriors to the brink. No shame in that, even if they were up 3-1.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comLogic says that he should sign a two-year deal with the Thunder that gives him the option to be a free agent again next summer, when the max salary is projected to be higher than it is this year. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he signs a long-term deal to remain in Oklahoma City. I would be surprised if he leaves after coming so close to a return to The Finals. The Thunder don’t need much to get over the hump. It would help to have a wing who can both shoot and defend at a high level.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kevin Durant knew the day would come when he could no longer duck the free agency questions. Yet he still found a way to do so even in the moments after the Oklahoma City Thunder completed their collapse in the Western Conference finals. He insisted that he hadn’t given free agency a thought. Sure. Just go ahead and sign the two-year deal with the player option for the second season so we can get not to the free agents that might actually be in play for all of these teams with cap space to use up. The Thunder have no choice but to wait Durant out and see what his final decision will be. They’re clearly closer to championship level right now that many of us thought prior to their playoff run. So they should feel much better about a future that includes Durant.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Doesn’t Durant have to return for at least one more year? Midway through the conference finals he and Russell Westbrook were playing the best basketball of their careers. It makes no sense to give up on their longterm investment when it is so close to paying off.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI’ve seen numerous people say that if Kevin Durant wants his best chance at winning a title, he would leave OKC and go to the Eastern Conference. Which I don’t think is correct. To get to The Finals in the East you have to go through LeBron James, and that is one heckuva roadblock. To me, as we just saw, as presently constructed the Thunder are nearly good enough to get to The Finals. So I think KD stays, at least for a year. Although, I feel like the Thunder are still one rotation player away, some sort of swingman type who can score when needed and reduce the land on KD/Westbrook. (An interesting name who might be motivated to make a fit work? How about Carmelo Anthony?) They just need one more contributor. For so long the Thunder had Derek Fisher as their off guard in crunch time, and this year they made a reach for Randy Foye who they couldn’t really use in crunch time. Making this an even tougher situation is that they don’t have time to develop a young player — this a team needs to win now. Good luck balancing all of that, Thunder GM Sam Presti.

Morning shootaround — June 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron not worried about Finals odds | Barnes unsure if he will start in Game 1 | Durant’s offseason begins

No. 1: LeBron not listening to oddsmakers’ predictions for Finals In Cleveland, the Cavaliers have been in wait-and-see mode ever since they wrapped up the Eastern Conference title on May 27 with a Game 6 rout of the Toronto Raptors. In Oakland, the Golden State Warriors’ win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals clinched a return trip to The Finals and another date with the Cavs. In Las Vegas, the sports books have taken this and other data into consideration and declared the Warriors the heavy favorites in the series. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes, though, the odds mean little to Cavs star LeBron James at this point:

According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Golden State is a 5.5-point favorite to win Thursday’s Game 1 (9 p.m. ET, ABC) and approximately a 2-to-1 favorite to capture the championship.

“Not my concern,” James said Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the Cavs’ Finals rematch with Golden State was set. “I don’t get involved in all of that — underdog, overdog, whatever the case may be. It’s stupidity.”

James was confident in the Cavs’ chances compared to last June when Cleveland lost Games 4, 5 and 6 and the series after being up 2-1, but he framed that confidence as nothing that warrants special attention.

“We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year,” James said. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the significance of the Warriors’ success against the Cavs in the past as a factor for the Finals.

“I wouldn’t say revenge,” Lue said. “I just think both teams are happy and excited to make it to the Finals. It’s a big thing, and I just think that we have a different team than we had last year. Organization-wise, it’s the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we’re a different team. Kevin [Love]and Kyrie [Irving] are both healthy, the addition of Channing Frye, we’re a completely different team than we were last year.”

And based on Irving’s response when asked about the Warriors’ 34-point drubbing of his team in Cleveland on Jan. 22, the Cavs believe they are a completely different team than they were several months ago, too.

“In January?” Irving said Tuesday. “I don’t remember it.”

Irving said that the memory of going out with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of last year’s Finals isn’t giving him any extra motivation for him this time around.

“No, the Finals are the Finals,” Irving said. “Just happy that we’re back here again.”

Analytics Art: Are Ingram-Durant Comparisons Valid?

By Ben Leibowitz, Special to NBA.com

Duke University standout Brandon Ingram is projected to be the No. 2 (potentially No. 1) overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. The slick-shooting 18 year old has drawn comparisons to former No. 2 overall pick Kevin Durant, and not just because of their standing as top prospects entering the draft.

By the eye test, it seems an apt evaluation: both play the small forward position, and both boast a physical build similar to that of a praying mantis — tall, slender, lanky, all limbs.

But is it fair to stack Ingram up against a Kia MVP, four-time scoring champion and five-time All-NBA First Team member?

Below is a comparison of each guy’s stats during their one-and-done seasons in college — Ingram at Duke, Durant at Texas.

It becomes clear rather immediately that Durant, at least statistically, was the superior college player. He averaged more than eight additional points per game compared to Ingram, and he also notched double-digit rebounds.

However, context is key. While Durant did average a whopping 25.8 points per game for Texas, he was the unquestioned go-to scorer. The 2006-07 Longhorns only had two other players post double-digit scoring: A.J. Abrams (15.5 PPG) and D.J. Augustin (14.4 PPG).

On the other hand, Ingram wasn’t even Duke’s leading scorer — that distinction belonged to guard Grayson Allen. The Blue Devils finished the season with five players scoring in double figures. By comparison, Mike Krzyzewski’s crew featured a far more balanced offensive attack that didn’t rely so heavily on one superstar to get the job done. So while Ingram’s scoring output was inferior, there are some factors at play making that outcome understandable.

Moreover, Ingram’s efficiency from the field was impressive for someone his age. He sunk 41 percent of his 3s, launching 5.4 attempts per game.

Ingram wasn’t particularly fond of the right corner, but he splashed triples at rates well above average at the top of the arc and from the left corner during his only collegiate year.

Both Ingram and Durant hoisted about the same number of 3-point shots per game — 5.4 for Ingram, 5.8 for Durant — but it was a larger chunk of Ingram’s offensive repertoire. His 3-point rate (the percentage of field goal attempts that were 3-pointers on a team possession basis) finished at 40.3 percent. Durant, meanwhile, launched treys 31.4 percent of the time, per Sports Reference — so he didn’t lean on the outside shot nearly as much. That could certainly mean Durant entered the NBA with more polish on the offensive end, but it shouldn’t overshadow Ingram’s own scoring ability.

There’s little question Ingram can score at a high level, much like Durant. His reliable 3-point stroke seems a surefire indicator that he’ll contribute at the next level. Whether he’s the next Durant remains to be seen.

At this juncture, the Durant comparison should be viewed as Ingram’s best-case NBA scenario — what he could become at his absolute ceiling. The good news for either the Philadelphia 76ers or Los Angeles Lakers? Ingram’s floor seems to be remarkably high, too.

This article was originally published on PointAfter, a partner of NBA.com.

Ben Leibowitz is a writer for PointAfter, a sports data aggregation and visualization website that’s part of the Graphiq network. Visit PointAfter to get all the information about NBA PlayersNBA Historical Teams and dozens of other topics.

Finals berth not only thing on line in Game 7 for Warriors, Thunder

There’s no need to minimize it or insult the process by saying it’s just another basketball game. Well, yes, it’s only a game, but plenty is at stake for the Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder and the principles involved in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

So let’s run it down here:

Golden State Warriors: All but one team that won 68 or more regular season games also took the championship (the 1972-73 Celtics came up short) and four of the six teams that won 67 were crowned. Which is to say the 2015-16 Warriors, who sit at the top of the heap among regular-season titans, would be forced to wear a nasty pimple on their nose should they fall to the Thunder. They should at least reach the NBA Finals after 73 wins, shouldn’t they? That’s probably the widely-held opinion in basketball circles, anyway, that the Warriors, by way of their own brilliance, have given themselves no choice.

If they double their pleasure and follow up 73 wins with a back-to-back title run, Golden State would demand to be in the conversation about best teams in NBA history. And if they don’t? Well, there wouldn’t be any shame in falling to a loaded and finally-healthy OKC team with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, right? Don’t know about that. The way the Warriors pulverized the field from November through April, there certainly would and maybe should be some level of disappointment if they didn’t defend their title. Debate that if you wish, but a failure to reach the ultimate goal would leave a nasty taste.

Oklahoma City Thunder: When they reached the NBA Finals in 2012 with a nucleus of three players 22 and younger, it was easy to conclude that OKC, at the very least, would have a title by now. But, stuff happened. Bad stuff, mainly injuries to Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka that benched them from the playoffs. And James Harden was traded. The good news is OKC is finally fit and desperate to reclaim their place in line, which currently is occupied by Golden State. Sam Presti, the GM, has done a good job in the post-Harden era by giving Westbrook and Durant a very functional supporting cast. If OKC loses this game, the Thunder could begin to wonder how many more cracks they’ll get.

Kevin Durant: It’s not totally his fault that he’s The Best Player Without A Title; circumstances have played a role. Still, will he suddenly be lumped with Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and a host of other greats who are missing something? And of course, there’s the mater of addressing the elephant in the room: Does a Game 7 loss nudge Durant in the direction of signing elsewhere as a free agent this summer?

Stephen Curry: He has shot, by his standards, somewhat poorly in this series, just 42.2 percent since Game 2. And there have been stretches where the two-time MVP has looked ordinary, perhaps because he isn’t completely healthy. With greatness comes additional expectations that might be unrealistic to an extent. Curry can erase all of that with a massive Game 7, which he’s fully capable of pulling off. If he comes up short, then LeBron James will spend his time in The Finals saying I-told-you-so.

Draymond Green: Overall, it’s been a messy series for Green, what with the groin kick and the constant yapping at the referees, the awful performances in Games 3 and 4 and the lost margin for error regarding flagrant fouls (one more and he’s suspended). Green is discovering that when you move up in class in the NBA, from a good role player to an All-NBA team member, the demands rise as well. How does he respond?

Russell Westbrook: We’ve seen the Good Russ and the Reckless Russ in this series, sometimes in the same game or the same quarter. When the Thunder assumed a 3-1 lead, he was the best player after four games. When the Thunder lost the momentum two games later, it was partly because Westbrook either missed shots and/or lost control of the ball. When his game is pure and clean, he’s a sight to behold. When it isn’t, Mark Cuban might be right.

Klay Thompson: The most consistently good Warriors guard in this series, and the playoffs, isn’t Curry. Thompson has proven why he’s so valuable to the Warriors. He’s a great player — making All-NBA gives you that distinction — who is fine with riding shotgun. Like all shooters, Thompson can go cold at times, but when he’s squaring up at the rim and releasing, is there a purer shooter in the game? Certainly not in this series. Plus, Thompson must guard Westbrook. OKC should be more concerned with him than Curry.

 

Morning shootaround — May 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors more than pretty shots | Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder | Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? | DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach

No. 1: Warriors more than pretty shots — The game was instantly unforgettable, some of the shot-making was remarkable. But the Golden State Warriors’ ability to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals – it will be played on their home court Monday night in Oakland (9 ET, TNT) – owed as much to the defending champions’ ability to grind their way back from the brink against Oklahoma City Saturday. That was the take of our man Fran Blinebury:

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s hard to take your eyes off Steph Curry and Klay Thompson when they’re doing their tricks with the basketball way up on the high wire.

Curry paints the canvas with equal parts imagination and sheer fearlessness. Thompson just fires like a machine-gunner with a hair trigger.

Spectacular to watch, it can take your breath and vocabulary away.

Thompson set an NBA playoff record with 11 3-pointers, firing in five of them in the fourth quarter. Curry tossed in a half dozen that included the one that finally dropped the hammer.

Yet in order for the pair of All-Star guards to flap their wings and soar like eagles, it was the ability of the Warriors to wrestle in the dirt that set up the incredible come-from-behind 108-101 win that now forces a Game 7 in the Western Conference finals on Monday night.

“We battled,” said Draymond Green.

“We fought for every opportunity,” said Andre Iguodala.

“We stuck with it,” said Andrew Bogut.

This was another game that could have gone like that last two times the Warriors stepped out onto the court in OKC, where a leak in their defense and ball handling became a raging flood and the defending champs were swept away by 28 and 24 points

But instead of sinking on Saturday night, the Warriors found a way to paddle their arms and kick their legs and kept popping their heads back up above the water.

They were frustrated time again and by the Thunder getting second shot opportunities that produced putback baskets. And yet they went right back to work on the backboards and down in the paint and out on the perimeter, swinging their axes with the resolve of coal miners.

“Game 5 was a battle,” Green said. “This was a war.”

The TV highlights that will run in an endless loop between now and Game 7 will show the Splash Brothers doing the act. It is the part of the show for which everybody buys their ticket. But it is often only possible if the Warriors are playing the kind of high-level, high-intensity defense that carried them to the title a year ago and built a large portion of that historic 73-9 record during the 2015-16 regular season.

The idea is to keep doing enough of the dirty work with the shovels in order to give Curry and Thompson a chance to come out and play. They never gave the longer, more athletic Thunder a chance to run away and hide.

In closing, here were a couple of pertinent Tweets overnight:

***

No. 2: Fourth-quarter woes return for Thunder — One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. And, of course, vice versa, which is the side of Saturday night’s outcome on which the Oklahoma City Thunder landed. Seemingly within reach of The Finals for the first time since 2012, they wound up with a closing performance worthy of some failed bullpen ace nicknamed “El Gasolino.” The Thunder’s two stars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, found themselves in the he-who-giveth, he-who-taketh-away dilemma: Without their heroics, OKC wouldn’t have been in position to nail down Game 6. But without their gaffes, the Thunder wouldn’t have been forced to head back to Oracle Arena for the Game 7 showdown. Our own Lang Whitaker reported on the OKC side:

For the Thunder, the loss brought about more questions than answers. Despite not shooting the ball particularly well — the Thunder finished 3-for-23 on 3-pointers — they had every opportunity to close out the series. Yet when it came time to make a closing statement, the Thunder were mostly mute.

During the regular season, fourth quarters were not always the Thunder’s happy place: they lost a league-high 14 games where they’d entered the fourth quarter holding a lead. While they had only lost one playoff game in similar situations, Saturday’s game doubled that total.

“I felt like we didn’t do a great job coming down the stretch,” said Thunder coach Billy Donovan, “and I think we’ve made such great improvements coming down the stretch in terms of just on both offense and defense of doing a better job of executing and that really wasn’t — hasn’t been us the last month and a half. I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch.”

Historically, whenever things get stagnant for the Thunder they can usually get help on the offensive end from either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook, their two transcendent offensive stars. But neither shined particularly bright tonight, at least by their standards, combining for six fourth quarter turnovers and going 3-for-14 from the field when the Thunder were most desperate for baskets.

“I like my shots,” said Durant, who finished 10-for-31 overall, including 1-for-8 on 3s. “It’s just a matter of them going in. When I drive to the rim, they’re bringing extra guys at me, so I’ve got to do a better job making the extra pass. I wish I could have got a lot of those shots back. I felt great on a lot of them, but that’s just how it is.”

“We want [Durant] to be everything he can,” said Thunder center Steven Adams. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so we want him to be aggressive and he can. We as a team support and trust him, him and Russ. So we give him that freedom. Hopefully we make a play and we do the best we can to put them in the situation we need to be in.”

With their offense sputtering, the Thunder’s defense, which has been terrific throughout the series, also hit a rough patch, giving up 60 second half points to the Warriors. While the Thunder’s athletic roster has presented problems for the Warriors’ high-octane offense, particularly with their ability to switch picks and bother shots, tonight the Warriors basically ran a shooting clinic, finishing 21-for-44 on three-pointers. Golden State’s vaunted Splash Brothers, Thompson and Stephen Curry, totaled 70 points.

***

No. 3: Tyronn Lue, reluctant head coach? — One team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, already has taken care of its conference championship business and is patiently waiting for the West to deliver its champion to The Finals. That team is coached these days by Tyronn Lue, a rookie head coach thrust into that job when Cavaliers GM David Griffin fired David Blatt four months ago. Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com filled the gap between Cavs games this weekend to pull back the curtain on Lue’s hiring and how – even though he aspired to be a head coach someday – Lue didn’t enjoy the manner in which this promotion came:

Tyronn Lue was enjoying a peaceful, rare afternoon off when his phone begin to ring. There would be little peace for the rest of the day.

Eventually, that one call led to others. It sparked conversations between Lue and every member of the Cavaliers roster that eventually reset a season. But it was that initial call that changed everything. General Manager David Griffin was on the line.

In speaking with numerous sources close to “The Call,” cleveland.com learned the details. There were no initial pleasantries. Griffin got right to the point — David Blatt was being relieved of his duties.

Lue’s response was candid and immediate.

“This is f—– up, Griff.”

That didn’t prevent Griffin from calmly asking Lue if he could take over. Hired as the associate head coach a year and a half earlier, becoming the head of a franchise was Lue’s eventual goal. But this didn’t seem right.

Lue pleaded with Griffin, arguing for several minutes that firing Blatt was an excessive move for a team carrying a conference-best 30-11 record. Griffin listened to Lue’s pleas. When they ended, he told Lue the decision has already been carried out.

Griffin circled back to his original question.

“What’s done is done. I’m asking you if you can lead this team?” It had taken a few minutes, but Griffin got the response he sought.

“Yeah, I can f—ing lead this team.”

Griffin then congratulated him.

January 22 marked the birth of a rejuvenated culture that catapulted the franchise to securing its second consecutive NBA Finals appearance.

“I was like, ‘what the f—.’ That was my initial thought,” Lue told cleveland.com. “I didn’t see it coming. I couldn’t believe it. But, you’re prepared because you’ve done the coaching interviews and you have your philosophies. But to fire the head coach and you take over the next day with no practice or anything and you have the Chicago Bulls coming in. It was overwhelming.”

Owner Dan Gilbert has been reluctant to speak about Blatt’s departure and Lue’s promotion. However, after his team eliminated the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals in Friday night’s Game 6, Gilbert took in the sight of a revived and confident roster. He felt it was the appropriate juncture to comment.

“I just think it was a great decision that was made,” Gilbert said to cleveland.com. “You never know what would happen any other way, but I think [Lue is] fantastic. It’s rare that a guy knows the game and has people skills. You get both with him, like offense and defense almost. He’s a special guy.”

***

No. 4: DeJean-Jones’ death hard on coach — Followers of the NBA were just getting to know Bryce DeJean-Jones, given his brief stints on 10-day contracts this season with the New Orleans Pelicans and the multi-year deal he signed with the team to stick around for 2016-17 and maybe more. But there were plenty of people who knew DeJean-Jones and were stunned by the news of his death in a tragic shooting in Texas. One of those was Dave Rice, who had coached the young wing player during their time together at UNLV. Rice spoke with The Sporting NewsMike DeCourcy:

The news came to Dave Rice as a question more so than a statement. A friend from Las Vegas checked in to ask if it were true: Was Bryce Dejean-Jones really dead?

It did not take long for Rice to confirm. Dejean-Jones, 23, had been shot to death in Texas. The Dallas police stated Jones broke into an apartment, kicking in the front door and a bedroom door, and a startled resident had grabbed his gun and shot. The apartment owner released a statement indicating Dejean-Jones had been attempting to break into the home of an “estranged acquaintance” — multiple reports indicate it was the mother of his child — but had entered the wrong home

Rice had coached Dejean-Jones at UNLV for three seasons, after he transfered from Southern California. It was a challenge at times, and Dejean-Jones spent his final season of eligibility elsewhere. But they never lost touch.

“It’s just tough when you lose a former player that was special, that went through quite a bit of adversity — and Bryce would be the first one to say he was responsible for a lot of that adversity,” Rice told Sporting News on Saturday. “But he’d made a lot of progress.

“When you see someone you’ve tried to help and you see that person making progress, becoming a man and doing well, and then something like this happens it’s — tough is not the right adjective, but you know what I’m trying to say.”

A 6-6 forward from Los Angeles, Dejean-Jones spent a redshirt year at UNLV after transferring from Southern California, then played two years for the Rebels and produced scoring averages of 10.3 and 13.6 points a game. He was suspended for a violation of team rules and missed UNLV’s final regular-season game in 2014. He reportedly was heard yelling at teammates following the team’s conference tournament loss to San Diego State. It was time to move on.

Rice, now an assistant coach at Nevada, said the rough end to their time together did not diminish their relationship. The UNLV staff worked with Dejean-Jones to assure his graduation and transfer would go smoothly, and at Iowa State he averaged 10.5 points for a team that won the Big 12 tournament.

When Dejean-Jones was called up from the NBA Development League to play for the New Orleans Pelicans, he called Rice to share the joy. When UNLV made the impetuous decision to fire Rice last January, Dejean-Jones was among the former players who called to commiserate.

“We had a very special relationship,” Rice said. ”He knew that I always had his back. I think that was his way of saying ‘Coach, I’ve got yours.’ “

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman provides a forensic breakdown of the Thunder’s Game 6 meltdown. … Luke Walton isn’t talking about the Lakers job for now and certainly isn’t inclined to delve into his interview with Phil Jackson. … New Memphis coach David Fizdale may be close to adding a top-notch lieutenant to his staff. … If you want more Klay Thompson — apologies to Thunder fans — here’s a story from last June on the Warrior guard’s high school roots. … For some reason, that Yahoo! site The Vertical treated Thompson’s Yoda socks as if it was breaking news about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping or something. Here’s what all their fuss was about.

Morning shootaround — May 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Thunder can’t pull off clinching win | Green gets back into gear | Magic plan to be active in free agency | Why Beal will likely get max deal

No. 1: Key surge in fourth quarter gets Warriors past Thunder The Oklahoma City Thunder will have to wait at least another day to clinch what they hope will be their second Finals trip in four seasons. Although the Thunder took the Golden State Warriors’ best shot time and again in Game 5 of their Western Conference finals series last night, ultimately the Warriors prevailed to trim OKC’s series lead to 3-2. As Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman points out, a key stretch to start the fourth quarter proved the difference in this still super-close series:

Oracle Arena was alive but nervous. The Warriors’ eight-point halftime lead had been sliced to four. Twelve minutes remained — maybe in their season. And to start that crucial fourth quarter, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were on the bench.

A risky move from Steve Kerr. A chance for OKC to pounce. But, instead, the Warriors bench mob blasted open the game in a flash and created the separation their starters would need to close out Game 5 with a 120-111 victory and send the Western Conference finals back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night.

“I don’t know if it was the stretch (that won the game),” Kerr said. “But it was a very important stretch.”

….

Golden State went with Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes and Marresse Speights to start the fourth. The crowd grumbled.

But Livingston eased the tension with a 16-footer over Enes Kanter, whose rough night led to a postseason-low six minutes.

Dion Waiters, who went scoreless off the Thunder bench, threw a bad pass on the ensuing possession. It was picked off by Barnes and fed to Iguodala on the fastbreak eight seconds later. From the wing, Iguodala canned a 3. In 56 crucial seconds, Golden State had spiked its lead from four to nine.

To try and stem the tide, Billy Donovan called timeout and pulled Kanter, reinserting Serge Ibaka. But out of the break, sandwiched by a Thunder offensive rebound, Kevin Durant and Waiters missed jumpers. Livingston snared the rebound and found Barnes moments later.

Another three. The lead was suddenly 12, Golden State’s biggest on the night, while Green and the Splash Brothers played spectator.

“It was (a game-changer),” Durant said of that 8-0 spurt. “They made shots. They made those two threes that were huge for them and kind of stretched the lead. That was tough.”

Morning shootaround — May 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr wants more from Bogut | OKC’s stars back Donovan’s ways | Noah still open to Chicago return | Silver: ‘Human error’ part of game for officials | Oladipo, Fournier look forward to Vogel era

No. 1: Kerr says Warriors need Bogut in Game 5 At different times and in different ways in the Western Conference finals, Oklahoma City Thunder centers Enes Kanter and Steven Adams have made a sizable impact on the series. The Thunder hold a 3-1 edge over the Golden State Warriors as tonight’s Game 5 (9 ET, TNT) in Oakland nears. During yesterday’s practice, Warriors coach Steve Kerr made a point to single out his center, Andrew Bogut, and how Golden State simply needs more from him if this series is to continue. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle has more:

With the Warriors on the brink of elimination, head coach Steve Kerr used Wednesday’s media session as a chance to issue an all-points bulletin on center Andrew Bogut.

“He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes,” Kerr said at the team’s downtown Oakland facility. “He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there.

“When he’s out there, we rebound better and we’ve got a good passer out of the post. We want to play Bogut more, but he’s got to stay on the floor.”

The Warriors trail the Thunder 3-1 in the Western Conference finals — a best-of-seven series that is being decided by effort, rebounds and defense.

Bogut is usually among the Warriors’ best in those categories, but he has been absent in the series’ first four games. He’s averaging 3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.8 of a blocked shot in 14 minutes per game — numbers that are significantly down from his regular-season contributions.

He has taken only eight shots and has been whistled for 13 personal fouls.

“We’re not out of it yet, but we’ve got to have three perfect games to try to win the series,” Bogut told reporters after Tuesday’s 24-point loss. “… We’ve done a lot of things this season that haven’t been done before, so hopefully, we can do one more.”

Morning shootaround — May 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green on 3-1 series hole: ‘It’s stunning’ | Roberson comes through in Game 4 | Will Raptors be able to keep Biyombo? | Lue expects bigger role for Frye in Game 5

No. 1: Green: ‘This is not where we expected to be’ For all the wins the Golden State Warriors amassed in the regular season — 73 of them to be exact — what they wouldn’t give to have a win or two more this morning. After suffering another drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are down 3-1 after last night’s 118-94 loss in Game 4. After the game, many of the Warriors were in many ways in a state of disbelief that their dream season is just one loss away from being over. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the scene in Golden State’s locker room and how this series has affected the team’s emotional center, forward Draymond Green:

These Golden State Warriors are a rollicking, rolling party bus, the loudest and surest sounds forever coming out this corner of the dressing room. For now, Draymond Green gathered himself in the stillness of the air, uncomfortable with the morose mood surrounding him. He sifted through text messages on his phone and confessed the truth over a sudden and spectacular failure in these Western Conference finals.

“It’s stunning,” Green told The Vertical. “This is not where we expected to be.”

Alone in the corner of the locker room – only the sound of showers in the distance – Green considered the circumstances of the Oklahoma City Thunder train running through these wobbly Warriors. The Warriors are down 3-1, the greatest regular season in NBA history slipping away on a lost trip to America’s dust bowl.

“Yeah, it’s pretty stunning,” Green said.

Green should’ve had Chesapeake Energy Arena livid that the NBA passed on suspending him, livid that he fed upon all the anger and channeled it into the destruction of the Thunder. All his life, Green found a way to validate his villainous basketball self, and he failed on Tuesday night.

“It’s who I am,” Green told The Vertical. “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I’ve thrived off. It’s frustrating, because I know that’s who I always am.

“And right now, I’m not myself. I’m thinking too much, and that’s leading to all the things that I’m not supposed to be doing.

“I just … I just have to be me.”

Stephen Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there’s Curry-esque agility in that knee. “He’s playing at 70 percent, at best,” a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

For months, the Warriors were playing for history. Seventy-three victories, the best team ever and out of nowhere, Golden State is suddenly playing for its survival.

“Right there, that’s what it is,” Green told The Vertical. “We’re the leaders of this team, and we’ve got to be better. Last year, when we were down 2-1 (to Memphis), we talked and we said, ‘Hey, you and me have got to be better.’ And right now, we both have got to be better.”

Better won’t be good enough against this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook monolith. Better will get them run out of Oracle in Game 5, run out of the season. The Thunder have been hungrier, sharper and constructed to force the Warriors to adapt to them. The Warriors have to be historic again, have to be one of the great teams in history to fight themselves out of this trouble, out of a 3-1 hole.

Money Green nodded late Monday night in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and agreed with it all. In the quiet of the losing locker room, in a private moment in the deep corner, he believed this too: “If anyone can do this,” Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors told The Vertical, “we can.”

Green: ‘I’m never going to be careful’

OKLAHOMA CITY — Since Draymond Green is now within a single flagrant foul point of being suspended for one game in the playoffs, there is no more margin for error.

But while Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his emotional forward will have to rein himself in, Green vowed not to change at the Tuesday shootaround prior to Game 4 (9 p.m. ET, TNT).

“I’m never going to be careful,” Green said. “I’ll just be me. I play hard.”

His coach was a bit more circumspect.

“Draymond’s just got to understand the circumstances, which he does and I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Kerr said.

With the NBA having upgraded his Flagrant Foul 1 to a Flagrant Foul 2 and fining him $25,000 for Sunday’s Game 3 incident in which he kicked Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams in the groin, Green was obviously tired of having spent 1 1/2 days as the center of attention. He would not directly answer questions on the league’s ruling. But, he also did not go full Marshawn Lynch, but smiled and deflected:

Question: How do you feel about the league’s decision?

Green: “That is a great question.”

Q: Were you surprised that the foul wasn’t rescinded but you weren’t suspended?

Green: “That is a great question as well.”

Q: Are you relieved at all?

Green: “That is a great statement.”

Q: Did you present your case to the NBA office?

Green:Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are two amazing players that we got to stop tonight. Dion Waiters really got it going in this series, so we’ll be keying on him too.

Green did say he is looking forward to Game 4.

“I am. Exciting game. Down 2-1,” he said. “We’ve been here before. We know what it takes to win a game of this magnitude on the road. Obviously a completely different team. A team that’s playing well. But that doesn’t change what we do. We have to come out and focus on us and when we focus on us as opposed to what anybody else got going on, that’s when we’re at our best. So tonight it’s about us.”

Durant not surprised by ruling on Green

OKLAHOMA CITY — Well, OK, then.

Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant looked at all of the microphones and reporters surrounding him Tuesday morning, hours before Game 5 of Thunder-Golden State Warriors (9 p.m. ET, TNT), and wondered what the fuss was all about. Actually, he knew the questions that were coming, but didn’t understand it.

“They’re not going to suspend Draymond Green,” Durant said. “He’s one of the premier players in the league, on arguably one of the best teams in the history of the game. I didn’t even think about it. I don’t even think it’s something we should even be talking about.”

The NBA indeed refused to suspend Green for kicking Steven Adams in the groin — for the second time in as many games — and instead on Monday upgraded his transgression to a Flagrant 2 and fined him $25,000. Two nights ago, Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said Green should be suspended, and of course the Warriors disagreed.

The end result is this: a dramatic series will continue without being impacted by a league decision. Green will be good to go, and if he keeps his nose clean, will remain that way for as long as the Warriors play.

Had Green been suspended for Game 4, that could’ve changed everything about a series that the Thunder lead 2-1. The Warriors have faced similar deficits twice before since last season, and responded strongly each time, although admittedly neither of those opponents (the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference semifinals and the Cleveland Cavaliers in The Finals) were as healthy or strong as OKC is today.

Durant refused to beat about the bush regarding his feelings about Green and the league. He all but said politics, if not economics, came into play.

“I knew the league was going to let him play or fine him or upgrade to a Flagrant 2,” he said. “We all knew that this was going to happen. The league is all business, man. I get it.”

Clearly, Durant and the Thunder believe Green’s actions have been excessive, if not intentional. And Durant hinted that the league and TV partners favor the glamorous Warriors over the Thunder. Of course, that’s just his opinion. But it will be the fuel the Thunder and their fans use tonight.