Posts Tagged ‘Reggie Jackson’

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Morning shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after his first practice with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant, Nash take part in practice | Jackson wants to be a starter | Gay holding off on contract extension talk | Smith pledges to shoot less 3-pointers in Detroit

No. 1: Lakers’ Bryant, Nash participate in practice — The L.A. Lakers had one of their worst seasons ever, something that could be attributed to the number 21. That’s the total number of games that Kobe Bryant (six) and Steve Nash (15) played in for L.A. last season. With the start of training camp on Tuesday, though, the Lakers got good news simply in the fact both players suited up and made it through practice without issue. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more on Bryant and Nash’s first practice under coach Byron Scott, including Bryant’s trademark competitiveness showing up early on:

To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.

The Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made an impact while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.

He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.

“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.

Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”

It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.

“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”

The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even laying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.

Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.

The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.

“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”

Additionally, Lakers fans will be happy to see this bit of news from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears:


VIDEO: Steve Nash talks after the Lakers’ practice on Tuesday

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New LeBron leads Cavs’ new era | Presti wants to ‘invest’ in Jackson | Budenholzer opens up on Ferry’s comments, Hawks’ roster | Carter-Williams not cleared for contact

No. 1: New era in Cleveland begins with a new James — Among all the teams that will host their team media days either today or Monday, perhaps no other squad’s will be more anticipated than the Cleveland Cavaliers’. Ex-MVP LeBron James is back in the fold, point guard Kyrie Irving has a new contract extension to live up to and All-Star Kevin Love came over from Minnesota this summer. All that combined means the Cavs will be the story all season long. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com notes, though, this LeBron return to Cleveland isn’t about warm fuzzies and jersey sales — it’s about him using his championship experience gained as a member of the Miami Heat to lift the Cavs to that level, too:

The version of James who is reporting for work this week isn’t just a touching coming home story and a ticket- and jersey-selling machine. This is an all-business man who is accustomed to an all-business attitude. He is not afraid to issue demands for those around him to follow suit.

The Miami Heat influence on James is undeniable. James may be gone from Miami, but he will no doubt carry the lessons of that franchise for the rest of his career and, probably, his life. Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra are all business. From the way they practice to the way they play down to the way they eat, they conduct their franchise in such a manner.

James embraced many of the Heat’s principles. He called his time in Miami a college experience. In some ways, it was a military school experience. It is not an accident that James wanted Mike Miller and James Jones with him in Cleveland, and his recruitment of Ray Allen is part of the same idea. James knows he is going to need help in applying a makeover to the Cavs’ comfort zone.

The young Cavs players are about to learn who the last ones on the court will be after practice. This is how it is done in Miami, and this is how James will want it done in Cleveland.

This was evident in the way James handled himself over the summer. Within moments of making his free-agency announcement, James was on the phone with Love, Miller, Jones and, later, Shawn Marion. He helped close those deals shortly thereafter. Nearly 30, James is about execution these days, not just the show.

James will do all this from the position of knowing that he will be in top physical shape, he will put in the work at practice and in the film room, and he will know not just where he is supposed to be all the time but where everyone else is supposed to be. He is a two-time champ, a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time MVP and a man starting to feel his basketball mortality who has put his reputation on the line — again — to make it finally work in his hometown.

He is going to live up to his end of the bargain. If anyone with the Cavs doesn’t live up to theirs, and that starts with owner Dan Gilbert and goes right down to the ball boys, James is not going to let them get away with it.

The Cavs organization will remember the James who liked to joke around and plan pregame routines and then run away when ownership and the front office came to him when they needed real help. It wasn’t that James failed as a recruiter for free agents and coaches his first time in Cleveland, it was that he wasn’t even interested in taking part.

Those days are over. James will have his fun and involve teammates; that’s why he has become so well-liked in the league. But you better execute your job because James will execute his.


VIDEO: New Cavs coach David Blatt talks about getting ready for training camp, LeBron and more

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Blogtable: Training camp showdown

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: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown



VIDEO: Dennis Scott previews some questions facing teams as camps open

> Training camps begin this week. Is there a looming camp showdown between teammates that you see as especially intriguing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My top pick here would be in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all are good-to-excellent point guards — but only if Bledsoe is back on a one-year qualifying deal. If he and the Suns actually come to terms on a more lucrative, long-term extension that was in the air Wednesday morning, then Thomas’ ability to challenge for minutes takes a serious hit, because contracts matter in this league. Here’s my backup: I expect Zach LaVine to see time and potentially push Ricky Rubio (another max extension seeker) hard at point guard for Minnesota, though training camp might be too soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKobe vs. the Lakers. He’s got pent-up, inflated expectations and they don’t have the talent to match.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: A looming camp showdown? Hmm … Yeah, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe. If a long-term deal gets done here within the week, then I think all hard feelings can be smoothed over. However, if he signs the one-year qualifying offer, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself on a team that has expectations of improving on last year’s surprising start under coach Jeff Hornacek. Bledsoe is going to want the ball in his hands a lot as he eyes unrestricted free agency and big money next summer. How will that jive with Goran Dragic and the Suns’ overall plans?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kyrie Irving vs. Dion Waiters, Cleveland. Unless maybe you mean a position showdown? In that case, it’s the shooting guards in Oklahoma City. Open job, championship implications, young talents — that counts as especially intriguing. Reggie Jackson got the playoff starts when the Thunder pulled the plug on the Thabo Sefolosha era, but Jeremy Lamb will get a long look and Jackson is valuable as the backup point guard. Newcomer Anthony Morrow will also challenge for minutes.

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see who will replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Thunder’s starting lineup. Barring injury, Scott Brooks has used the same lineup for three years, and Sefolosha’s departure gives him a chance to shake things up, even if we have to wait another year before Kendrick Perkins is eventually replaced by Steven Adams. Brooks could go with Reggie Jackson for extra speed and playmaking, Anthony Morrow for shooting, Andre Roberson for defense, or Jeremy Lamb as a long-term investment that could pay off on both ends of the floor. OKC is a title contender that has historically gotten off to bad first-quarter starts. That could continue with Perkins still around, but there’s a chance to bring some more early energy with a new starter in the backcourt.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a splendid fit in Phoenix, even if injuries prevented us from seeing those two young Thundercats at full strength for an extended period of time last season. Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, however, is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure if they have the same chemistry and synergy. Two ball-dominant point guards is one thing when their skill sets are as different as Dragic and Bledsoe’s were. But Dragic and Thomas have some serious work to do in that department. Do these ultra competitive guys treat camp as a chance to decide who the man is? Or will they spend that time finding ways to make each other better? It’s must-see action either way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in Phoenix, where they have what feels like about two-dozen guards on their roster, all of whom are worthy of playing time. Assuming Eric Bledsoe comes back, he’ll be jockeying for playing time with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker. This is a good problem to have, sure, but I bet there will be knock-down games of two-on-two during practice.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Suns hoping to add another Dragic | New NBPA prez faces full schedule of duties | Could OKC’s Jackson benefit from Bledsoe’s next deal?

No. 1: Report: Suns hoping to add Zoran Dragic — The Phoenix Suns already have one set of brothers — Markieff and Marcus Morris — on the roster, and may soon be adding another set to it. According to Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic, the Suns are hoping to land Zoran Dragic, the younger brother of their star point guard, Goran Dragic. Zoran Dragic has to be bought out of his contract with his Spanish team, but the Suns are considered the early favorites to pick him up:

The Suns have become the leader in the pursuit of shooting guard Zoran Dragic, the younger brother of Suns star guard Goran Dragic. One other NBA team remains in serious pursuit but negotiations for a contract and a buyout from Dragic’s Spanish club have progressed to the point that a deal could be finalized early this week.

Dragic, 25, has been talking to Phoenix about a two-year contract or a three-year deal with the third year as an option for the player or team.

After joining Goran for the Slovenian national team’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals, Zoran reported to training camp with Unicaja Malaga, his Spanish club that had signed him to a contract extension in July. The extension included a NBA buyout for about $1.1 million, of which the Suns can contribute up to $600,000. A NBA contract might have to exceed $2 million for Zoran to leave for the NBA, a goal he openly has shared.

Realgm.com reported early Sunday that Dragic was in advanced negotiations with an NBA team.

Zoran Dragic’s addition would give the Suns 14 guaranteed contracts, leaving one regular-season roster spot open for restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe. Signing both would give the Suns seven guards on the roster, although Gerald Green is a small forward too.

Zoran Dragic is a 6-foot-5 guard with aggressive defense, a familiar attacking style in transition and a developing perimeter shot. In seven World Cup games, he averaged 14.1 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.3 minutes per game with 50 percent shooting overall and 43.3 percent shooting on 3-pointers.

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Caldwell-Pope bouncing back big


VIDEO: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drops 30 points on Day 2 in Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Nobody had to tell Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that it was time for him to step up his game this season.

The Pistons delivered that message when they brought in free agent shooting guard Jodie Meeks on a three-year, $19 million deal to play his position.

Two days into the Orlando Pro Summer League, Caldwell-Pope’s response has bounced loudly off the walls of the Amway Center. He followed up a 26-point, six-assist effort in his first game with 30 points and 12 rebounds Sunday as the Pistons beat the Grizzlies 85-82.

“Just creating my own shot, getting to the basket and finishing strong,” said Caldwell-Pope. “I been working on that a lot during the summer and it’s coming on.”

It didn’t hurt that he banged home back-to-back 3-pointers on the Pistons first two possessions of the game. But much more impressive has been the way the 6-foot-6 guard has played at both ends of the court with a competitive zeal and self-confidence that had drooped considerably during a rookie season where he yo-yoed in and out of the starting lineup. He shot just 39.6 percent from the field and 31.9 percent from behind the 3-point line.

Caldwell-Pope showed flashes of his potential, but only just enough to make everyone to want more from the player that Detroit made the eighth pick in the 2013 draft. He became quiet, even sullen and it showed.

Here in the first two games, he’s been vocal, always aggressive and constantly on attack.

“It’s just coming more natural,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We have a lot of different players on our team right now. We have to learn how to communicate, how to talk to each other.”

In addition to hitting 18 of 39 shots in the first two games, he’s been trying to affect play any way that he can.

New Pistons head coach and team president Stan Van Gundy has said the big scoring from Caldwell-Pope is secondary to being aggressive and sinking his teeth into games defensively. The team also wants him to improve his ball handling.

“Our expectations are for him to play well every night and he did again tonight,” said Pistons assistant Bob Beyer, who is running the summer league team. “Not only statistically. But he was matched up in the beginning of the game against (Jordan) Adams who had a great game yesterday shooting the ball. He took the challenge defensively as well. One thing I really like about KCP is just his overall spirit and competitiveness.”

A year ago, Reggie Jackson of the Thunder came to the summer league and dominated in every game he played, then used that as a springboard to having his best NBA season.

“I don’t want to say no. I hope yes,” said Beyer. “There’s a lot of guys that go through the summer league and some guys use this experience to do exactly that. Some other guys struggle through it and they come around eventually. I just think it’s a great, great stage for KCP to kind of demonstrate all the things that he can do as an NBA player.

“I think the one thing, and we’re gonna continue to put him in pick and rolls, we want his ball handling to get a little bit better. But the way he attacks the glass defensively, the way he’s aggressive in catch-and-shoots, that’s been very impressive and he’ll get those opportunities during the regular season as well.”

One opportunity Caldwell-Pope is looking forward to is giving his own response to the Pistons’ signing of Meeks.

“Something like that,” he said. “I am looking forward to it. I just want to continue get my game better so I can get ready for the season coming up and for training camp.”

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

Morning Shootaround — June 2


VIDEO: Relive the Spurs’ West finals series with the Thunder

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Parker hopeful for Game 1 | Westbrook, Durant back Brooks | Celts’ history appealing to Love?| Parsons opens up on Houston future | Jackson, Perkins likely to stay in OKC

No. 1: Report: Parker should be OK for Game 1 of Finals — The San Antonio Spurs are three days away from their first ever back-to-back appearances in the NBA Finals and their hopes of winning the series may rest heavily on Tony Parker‘s gimpy left ankle. Parker missed the second half of the Spurs’ win against the Thunder in Game 6 of the West finals with the injury and his status for The Finals was unclear. But Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reports that Parker should be OK for Game 1:

Despite a sprained ankle, San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker is hopeful to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Thursday, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Parker “should be ready” to play in Game 1, two sources with direct knowledge told Yahoo Sports.

Parker will work to rehabilitate the sprain over the next several days of preparation for the Finals rematch with the Miami Heat.

Parker had been bothered by the ankle since Game 4 of the Western Conference finals and tried to play on it in Game 6 before missing the second half of the clinching victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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