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NEWS OF THE MORNING
Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? | Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up | Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull | Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston
No. 1: Enes Kanter paying off in OKC? — He opened the season coming off the bench, is often back on the bench in a tight fourth quarter and at best is the No. 3 option for the Thunder. Is Enes Kanter really worth the massive contract he signed last summer? Well, it’s a matter of perspective. OKC was virtually forced to match the offer sheet and keep him, if only because you don’t surrender assets for nothing in return. Besides, he is a gifted offensive player. For those who feel the Thunder aren’t getting their money’s worth here in the early season, Anthony Slater of the Daily Oklahoman has a different take:
Enes Kanter signed a max offer sheet with Portland this offseason, giving the Thunder three days to pick between two options — match or decline. Keep Kanter or don’t.
The argument against was simple. It was a four-year, $70 million overpay that included a dreaded player option at the back end. Even in a market flush with escalating money, the long-term pact seemed steep for a one-sided, defensively challenged skill set.
But it was never much of a choice. The Thunder’s eventual decision to match wasn’t just a smart one, but an obvious one and, to them, the only one. The alternatives made it so.
Let’s say OKC, entering a crucial year in the franchise’s history, declined to match, choosing to go cheaper on a big man. Because of salary cap restrictions, the Thunder’s only method to add a piece on the open market would’ve been through a minimum deal or the taxpayer mid-level exception.
Here’s a list of the 14 free agent big men who signed in that price range this offseason: Jeff Withey, Bismack Biyombo, Luis Scola, Kendrick Perkins, Amar’e Stoudemire, Cole Aldrich, Kevin Seraphin, Eric Moreland, Boban Marjanovic, Joel Anthony, JaVale McGee, Salah Mejri, Cristiano Felicio and Shayne Whittington.
Draw from a bargain bin of aged, severely flawed or unknown out-of-the-rotation fill-ins? Or retain a highly skilled 23-year-old offensive center with the capabilities of putting up Sixth Man of the Year-type numbers off the bench?
Wanting to maximize its talent ceiling around Kevin Durant, who is famously entering free agency this offseason, the Thunder chose Kanter. Eight games into that scrutinized mega-deal, Kanter is helping prove OKC correct.
“Enes has been great for us,” Durant said.
His positives are obvious and rarely disputed. Kanter is the most skilled interior offensive presence the Thunder has had in its short franchise history, notching all 11 of the organization’s 20-point, 10-rebound games from a center.
Kanter’s 26 offensive rebounds are tied for sixth most in the league this season. Multiple times per game, he flips an empty Thunder possession into two points with a crafty, position-based rebound-putback. He’s averaging 12.4 points and 8.9 rebounds and doing it in only 21.4 minutes per game.
“He’s a force down there,” Durant said. “You can say what you want about him, but you can book him for (those numbers).”
Kanter’s 19.7 rebounds per 48 minutes trail only the outrageous Andre Drummond (24.9) and DeAndre Jordan (19.9). Among centers, his 27.5 points per 48 minutes trail only Jahlil Okafor (29.3) and Brook Lopez (28.2).
No. 2: Warriors owner Joe Lacob opens up — He’s the owner of the hottest team in the NBA and a fresh NBA championship ring, and that makes Joe Lacob a happy man. Lots has changed since he bought the Warriors five years ago and heard boos from the crowd (Rick Barry famously told the fans to pipe down, that Lacob was the best thing to happen to the club in a long time). The Warriors have reached the playoffs three times and won a title. Lacob has a new arena underway in San Francisco and a team that still hasn’t touched its prime. In so many ways, he’s sitting on a gold mine. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group hitched a ride with Lacob from his home to a recent game and took good notes:
When it was closing time, Lacob refused to get off the phone until it was officially done. They were supposed to be boarding a helicopter. The pilot — looking to complete his last route before he and his colleagues went on strike — pressured Lacob to get onboard.
“And where were we going that day?” Lacob asked, taking his eyes off the road to set up the punchline. “We were going by helicopter to Delphi in Greece. Which is famous for the Oracle. The Oracle of Delphi. To which I then said, ‘We’re off to see the Oracle.’ The irony, right?”
Reflection is how Lacob gets to the happy place he wants for this night. He starts reliving the crazy stories along the way.
The struggles that were debilitating at the time but are now hilarious, such as the painstaking task of replacing the franchise’s top executives.
The hours-long conversations with his cohorts in the trenches, like the hours he spends on the phone with Bob Myers.
The curve balls that came in the middle of the night, like the news of Monta Ellis being sued for sexual harassment.
“The reason this is so important is because of the process and how hard it’s been,” Lacob said as he merged onto Interstate 280 while driving to the arena. “Only Nicole knows fully how hard it’s been. All of that really is what I remember more. It’s the getting here. All the work. The firing of various people and the hiring. All the big trades. The booing. You remember all the things it took to get there, to get the championship. A lot of stuff had to happen, and it’s the details that make this meaningful.”
Lacob’s attention immediately shift to Highway 280. Sometimes it takes 50 minutes to get from his home to Oracle. Sometimes it takes 2 hours.
He likes to get to the arena by 6 p.m. for 7:30 pm games. He needed to be their earlier this night for the pregame ceremony. The worry shines through his eyes as he points to the logjam in front of him.
“Look at this,” he says with a twinge of irritation. “This is bad.”
Curran has seen much worse. That guy you see living and dying with every play on the sidelines at Warriors games, that’s a mild version. Curran sees the unfiltered version.
No. 3: Jimmy Butler got tips from the greatest Bull — He has improved gradually ever since he joined the club, morphing from a defensive specialist to one of the better all-around guards in the league, and then cashed in last summer. Life is good for Jimmy Butler, and that’s due in part to Michael Jordan. During his development, Butler sought out the six-time NBA champ and that was a wise move. Nick Friedell of ESPN Chicago has the details:
What Jordan lesson made the biggest impression on Butler?
“How hard you have to prepare,” Butler told ESPN.com recently. “The games are the easy part, man. You got to work every single day, put in extra work to make sure you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Practice isn’t enough, you got to get in early, you got to stay late. You got to come back at night. He’ll let you know that because he did it, and look what it did.”
No one is comparing Butler to Jordan, but the Bulls have to love to hear that coming from their emerging star.
John Paxson spent eight seasons sharing a backcourt with Jordan and saw that fierce competitor in practice every day. Now the Bulls’ executive vice president, Paxson won’t compare Butler to Jordan — or any other player, for that matter — but that’s not the point. It’s Butler’s aspiration to be a Jordan-like worker that makes him proud.
“The one thing with Jimmy is, that’s a great bar to have. It’s not about achieving it. It’s about following that example that Michael gave,” Paxson said. “And the example is simple, it’s a simple formula: work hard, compete, value the game, respect the game. And Jimmy has. I think the unfair thing to say with Jimmy right now is he wasn’t that way. He just didn’t get a lot of chances prior to the last couple years. From my vantage point, Jimmy’s always worked hard, played hard and valued the game, so it’s obviously not a surprise that he’s put himself in this position.”
The 26-year-old Butler and Jordan built up a relationship after Butler started endorsing Jordan Brand, Jordan’s company under the Nike umbrella. This summer, Butler posted a picture of himself and Jordan at Jordan’s camp in Santa Barbara, California, after they had a shootout with a couple of young campers.
No. 4: Pacers boss Larry Bird is still big on Boston — He always talked a good game, whether he was preparing to drill a three-point shot over a late defender or when asked his opinion on the game of basketball. Larry Bird runs the Pacers, of course, but his heart and thoughts are also in Boston, where he spent his entire Hall of Fame career winning titles and respect with the Celtics. Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe caught up with Bird who, of course, had something to say, and all of it interesting:
“They talk about Chicago and Philadelphia. No. They don’t ever compare to Boston. I mean, there’s ladies in their 90s and they can name every player on the Red Sox and Patriots team. You just don’t have it anywhere like that.
“It’s unbelievable out there, and my gratitude to the fans out there is that I’d never root against them because I know how important sports are to them.”
Larry Legend didn’t take it too seriously when he first heard the deflated footballs charge after the Patriots waxed the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game last January.
“It doesn’t really matter. It was written about a lot around the country, but here in Indianapolis, most people knew. We knew the Patriots was going to beat them anyway. I thought it was pretty chintzy. People finally realized they would have beat us anyway. I just laughed about it.
“They got the footballs they played with and we got our footballs. And their footballs beat our footballs.
“I watch every one of the Colts games. I really like them. But my son loves all things about the Patriots. And I never root against the Patriots.”
I reminded Bird that the deflated footballs debacle was reminiscent of accusations often levied against Celtics godfather Red Auerbach — such as Pat Riley believing that Auerbach rigged the thermostat at the Old Garden to torture the Lakers.
“Right,’’ Bird agreed. “If that’s what they think, then now we’ve got them.’’
It’s a love story, this thing between Bird and Boston. Hub fans loved Bird the first time he showed up at Camp Millbrook in Marshfield in the summer of 1979, and it never changed. He could do no wrong, right through his retirement from the Celtics in 1992.
Almost a quarter of a century later, while Bird has raised a family and excelled as coach and president of the Pacers, he remains loyal to the folks who cheered him all those years on the parquet floor.
“I even rooted for the Red Sox against the Cardinals in those World Series,’’ he said. “That one took me to the dirt because you know I love my Cardinals.’’
Bird’s Pacers beat the Celtics in Indianapolis earlier this month. What does he think of today’s Green Team?
“They’re young and they play together and they’re fun to watch,” he said. “I haven’t really watched them that much. They seem like they’re going to be all right.’’
The Celtics have a lot of players with similar skill sets. Speaking as an ex-coach, what’s that like when doling out the playing time?
“Guys are always going to be pissed off whether they’re playing 30 minutes or 40 minutes or 10 minutes,” said Bird. “It’s the same old thing. The players are never happy.
“It all depends on how they’re playing and how the team’s doing. You can run into that problem. I don’t know if they have that problem. They seem like they get along pretty well, but they do have a lot of guys that are young and want their chance.
“Everybody wants their minutes. We’ve got the same problem.’’
Celtics coach Brad Stevens brings a college mentality to the pro game and tries to make his team play hard for the full 48. Is this realistic in the NBA?
“That’s the only way you get better,” said Bird. “I think the players understand that. I don’t know much about Brad Stevens even though he’s right here in Indiana, close to us. I think I just met him one time in Orlando at Summer League. I know he did a good job here at Butler, so you got the right coach.’’
Most players don’t stay in college very long. In today’s draft, do you really know what you’re getting anymore?
“We spend a lot more time now and have a lot more background checks,” said Bird. “We’re probably more familiar with them than we were 25 years ago.
“But they come in so young. We’ve got a couple kids that are 19 years old, and one of them is playing 20 minutes for us. I couldn’t imagine playing in the NBA at 19 years old.
“It’s tough for these kids. They go from being high school All-Americans to one year of college and being drafted high, and then they come in here and they expect they’re going to walk in here and take over, and that’s not the way it’s going to be.
“It takes time. So there’s a lot of hit and misses out there.’’
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hedo Turkoglu retires and will be honored by the Magic in some manner. No word on whether the Raptors will follow suit … Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who won a title in Milwaukee and then forced his way out of town in a trade, returned recently to say he thinks the Bucks are on the way back … Trey Burke‘s move to the bench has Utah going in the right direction.