Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

Key questions crop up for Thunder in wake of Brooks’ firing


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his philosophy as an NBA coach

Scott Brooks is done in Oklahoma City and his dismissal had nothing to do with the injured superstars who ruined the Thunder chances of making the playoffs. Brooks is done because OKC management soured quickly on him the last few seasons and looked for their first chance to dump him.

Is there any other explanation? Brooks had a contentious contract negotiation with GM Sam Presti three summers ago and that alone spoke volumes on what OKC thought of Brooks. After he was named Coach of the Year in 2010 and coached the Thunder to The Finals in 2012, Brooks had to grovel for cash and, in a sense, respectability from his own bosses.

OKC hasn’t reached The Finals since then and missed the playoffs altogether in 2015. Although, this was mainly due to injury circumstances that went far beyond Brooks and his perceived inability to cook up a lethal offensive system, which was his biggest flaw. (Although stats-wise, he had some pretty great offenses in OKC).

Russell Westbrook hurt his knee in the first round in the 2013 playoffs. Serge Ibaka’s calf strain spoiled last year’s playoff chances. And then, Westbrook, Ibaka and Kevin Durant all missed significant time this season, even though OKC nearly managed to squeeze into the playoffs anyway.

It also needs to be mentioned that OKC’s unwillingness to deal with luxury-tax penalties forced Presti to trade away James Harden two years ago for 50 cents on the dollar.

Brooks was in an awkward situation, to say the least. While management was obviously not sold on him, Brooks enjoyed solid relationships with OKC’s stars and usually in that scenario, the coach wins out. Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka all vouched for him in the last few months, when rumblings about Brooks’ job (which were heard every summer) flared suddenly. Unless the three players were merely putting forth a friendly face, OKC’s decision on Brooks went counter to the wishes of the players whose opinion matter, including Durant’s.

And speaking of KD, it’s hard to imagine Presti firing Brooks without consulting him. Durant is one of the NBA’s five best players and, most notably, a free agent in 2016. Nothing happens in OKC unless Durant gets a whiff of it first. Did Durant sign off on Brooks’ dismissal? Did he essentially tell Presti to “do what you have to do” and look the other way? Or did he fight Presti? We may never know the truth.

Given the understandable fear of Durant fleeing town, OKC will do nothing to annoy or discourage him, which makes the Brooks firing a curious one. Brooks allowed Durant and Westbrook free reign as players and kept an open-door policy in terms of suggestions, not that he had much choice. Will the next coach draw the line when it comes to that level of freedom, or fall in line with Brooks?

Durant respects and is friendly with Kevin Ollie, his former teammate who won an NCAA title a year ago at Connecticut. Ollie would be an obvious replacement for Brooks but just yesterday announced he was staying at UConn. But, people change their minds all the time — especially when big money and big career decisions are involved.

Had he been blessed with a team with better health, or had Harden stuck around, Brooks would likely still be coach and might have an NBA title by now. Basketball is a cruel game, however. Those who thought Brooks was merely an average coach who was overmatched against the Gregg Popovichs and Rick Carlisles of the NBA world are nodding in approval today. Those who factor the untimely injuries that torpedoed OKC at the wrong time the last few years are scratching their heads.

What are Durant and Westbrook doing?

Update (7:35 p.m. ET):

Thank you Scotty!

A photo posted by Kevin Durant (@easymoneysniper) on

Morning Shootaround — April 18


VIDEO: Ahmad Rashad goes one-on-one with Steph Curry

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pierce savoring these final playoff moments | Pelicans’ Davis eager to take next step | Clippers using Spurs blueprint to knock off champs | Kidd at center of Bucks’ turnaround

No. 1: Pierce savoring these final playoff moments — The truth is Paul Pierce knows this might be one of the last times he’s on this stage, this playoff stage. And the Washington Wizards’ veteran swingman is savoring each and every second these final playoff moments of his career. Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post provides the details:

The end is near for Paul Pierce. Next season will be his 18th and final tour as a professional basketball player, meaning scenes like the one that will unfold Saturday afternoon in Toronto, Game 1 of an NBA playoff series, are dwindling for the future Hall of Famer.

“It’s very different for me because I don’t have too many chances left in my career of playoff basketball and opportunities to try to win a championship,” Pierce said. “So I enjoy each and every moment, each and every practice, each and every game.”

Pierce, 37, will step onto the Air Canada Centre hardwood Saturday before a frenzied crowd in a Washington Wizards uniform, his third playoff appearance in three years with a third different team. He will be Raptors fans’ Public Enemy No. 1, the result of his clutch play as a Brooklyn Net against Toronto last postseason and his recent comments on the Raptors’ lack of the “It” factor, whatever “It” is.

The setting is why the Wizards hired him, to supply his famed shot-making ability, valuable experience and notorious swagger to help ascend the Wizards to another level when the stakes are highest.

“He can help on the floor. Off the floor. Around the floor,” guard Bradley Beal said. “Whatever it is related to basketball and life in general. You can basically call him the Oracle. He knows pretty much everything.”

This will be Pierce’s 12th career playoff appearance. He has crashed the tournament seven straight springs. He has been on underdogs, on favorites. He has suited up for underachievers and overachievers. He has experienced nearly every possible scenario, including both ends of regular season sweeps that were reversed in the playoffs. So he insists that the Wizards losing all three meetings with the Raptors during the regular season doesn’t concern him.

“Each team’s [0-0], so right now we’re a confident group,” Pierce said. “We feel like we can beat pretty much any team in the East.”

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Westbrook gets scoring title, not playoffs


VIDEO: Thunder guard Russell Westbrook nets 34 points in first half at Minnesota.

All things considered, Russell Westbrook would have rather the situation had been reversed.

While the Thunder wonder poured in 37 points Wednesday night to keep the NBA scoring title in the family, it wasn’t enough to lift injury-plagued Oklahoma City into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the man he beat out for the crown — ex-teammate James Harden — got the bigger payoff as his Rockets used a win over Utah to claim their first division title in 21 years and jumped up to the No. 2 seed in the final Western Conference standings.

Westbrook’s 28.1 points per game average finally closed out the race with Harden, who finished at 27.4 ppg after playing the role of facilitator in the regular season finale, hanging up his fourth triple-double of the year with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Coming after the title by Thunder teammate Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s feat marks the fifth time in the last six seasons that the scoring crown will reside in OKC.

But it also was the end of five straight playoff seasons for the Thunder.

In season when the Thunder were constantly hamstrung by injuries to Durant, Serge Ibaka and himself, Westbrook waged what at times seemed like a one-man battle through the last month of the season in an attempt to get OKC into the post-season. But the Thunder lost out for the final spot in the West by tie-breaker to the Pelicans.

Since Durant was the scoring champion last season, Westbrook’s taking the crown this season was a rarity. It was the first time since 1952 and 1953 when Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston of the Philadelphia Warriors that teammates claimed the title back-to-back.

Westbrook became the first point guard to lead the NBA in scoring average since Philly’s Allen Iverson’s  three times, the last in 2005. Hall of Famer Tiny Archibald did it in 1973 and the great Oscar Robertson  in 1968. Dave Bing  was the official scoring champ in 1968, based on total points scored.  The method for determining the official scoring champion was changed from total to scoring average in the 1968-69 season.

In addition, Westbrooks career-high 8.6 assists per game is the highest per-game figure since Archibald led the league in both categories in 1973, averaging 34 points and 11 assists.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 197) Changing The Game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Russell Westbrook‘s exploits on the basketball court this season have wowed us all.

The fury, focus and fearlessness he has displayed is truly awe-inspiring.

But is the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar playing an outdated style for today’s NBA? For all of his hard work, Westbrook will likely find himself on the outside looking in when the MVP votes are tallied — giving way to either Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors or former teammate James Harden of the Houston Rockets, or both — due to conditions beyond his control.

The iso-era of the NBA is over, having been replaced by a universal embrace of a pace and space game that lends itself to teamwork as much as it does individual star power. The San Antonio Spurs used the system to perfection last season to dethrone LeBron James and the Miami Heat in The Finals. And the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks have used it to rise to the top of the standings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

The game is changing before our very eyes … but is one of the league’s most mercurial talents paying attention? We debate and discuss that and so much more on Episode 197 of the Hang Time Podcast: Changing The Game.

While Rick Fox is “on set” for one of his many potentially award-winning roles, the rest of the crew dives in on the playoff possibilities, the business of ballots that come with the end of the regular season and a vigorous debate about the shape-shifting of the game of basketball from the NBA all the way down to the grassroots level (the good and the bad changes).

You get it all and more on Episode 197 of The Hang Time Podcast … Changing The Game …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook just doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about the way he plays the game

Morning Shootaround — April 13


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 12

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder | Budenholzer: Ferry deserves most credit for Hawks’ roster | Confident Warriors waiting on first round opponent | Monroe to Knicks not a done deal

No. 1: Too much Westbrook not enough for Thunder — They couldn’t get the win on a night when Russell Westbrook went off for a career-high 54 points. And now the Oklahoma City Thunder might have to continue their chase for a playoff spot without their superstar point guard, for at least one game. It’s the disaster scenario Thunder fans have been dreading for weeks with the losses and technical fouls from Westbrook piling up. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:

C.J. Miles lined up the corner three and knocked it in – the ensuing swish, ovation and OKC timeout putting a fitting bow on the most nightmare sequence of the Thunder’s nightmare season.

With only 5:20 left, Miles’ dagger gave the Pacers a 12-point lead in their eventual 116-104 win over the Thunder. At the same time, the Pelicans were holding steady to a surprising advantage down in Houston, a result that would have put OKC on the brink of playoff extinction.

A potential disaster scenario was unfolding. And it was only worsened by what had happened moments earlier.

With the Thunder still in the game – trailing by five with 5:56 left – Russell Westbrook was called for a foul at the top of the key. Luis Scola and Westbrook had collided, Westbrook drew the whistle and didn’t agree. He chirped a little at referee Ed Malloy. Malloy, peeved at the argument, nailed Westbrook with a technical.

In most cases, not a disaster. A small fine for Westbrook, one free throw for the Pacers and the game resumes. But this technical, potentially, came with far greater consequences.

It was Westbrook’s 16th technical of the season, which, per NBA rules, comes with an automatic one-game suspension, meaning he will miss OKC’s crucial home tilt against the Blazers on Monday night.

“He was aware (that he was at 15),” coach Scott Brooks said. “He’s been aware for a while now.”

The Rockets came back to beat the Pelicans, tossing the Thunder a temporary life raft during this tidal wave of bad decisions and bad luck. But Westbrook’s potential absence in a near must-win game against Portland could still be the death knell.

“I got no view on it,” Westbrook said of the technical. “He called it, and we’ll move on.”

The Thunder, though, remain hopeful Westbrook’s suspension will get overturned. Last month during a road game in Phoenix, Westbrook was called for a questionable technical. The next day, the league rescinded it.

Following Sunday night’s loss in Indiana, Brooks, who was standing directly in front of Malloy and Westbrook when the brief argument occurred, said he believed the league would take this one back, too.

“I’m pretty confident that one will be rescinded,” Brooks said. “That’s not my decision, but I’m pretty confident about it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook could care less what you think

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Westbrook on style of play: ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks’

NBA.com staff reports

Westbrook's shot chart vs. Pacers

Westbrook’s shot chart vs. Pacers

Once again Russell Westbrook left it all on the court for the Thunder tonight in Indiana — scoring a career-high 54 points — and, as has happened more often than not lately, Oklahoma City ended up coming just short of a much-needed win.

In another common theme, the Thunder point guard found himself defending his style of play in the postgame media scrum. And defend it he did, adamantly so …


VIDEO: Westbrook ‘don’t care what nobody thinks’ about game

Blogtable: 2015’s biggest surprise and disappointment?

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: Surprise and disappointment? | Under-the-radar free agents? | Your All-Defensive team



VIDEOThese guys might have been the League Pass team of 2014-15

> With one week left, what has been the biggest surprise of this NBA season? And biggest disappointment?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: No way, no how did I expect the Atlanta Hawks’ leap in the standings off of last season’s 38-44. Two of Atlanta’s big offseason moves were trading away Lou Williams and drafting Adreian Payne in the first round, so the help didn’t come from the outside. That’s development, building, bonding. My biggest disappointment: the rubble of Oklahoma City’s 2015 championship aspirations. It’s a bummer for the Thunder, the nasty West bracket is a little less head-spinning and it’s always tricky business propping open a window of contention to accommodate injuries. So often, either the time is right or it’s not, and OKC’s might be passing.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Everybody’s been waiting for the injuries to catch up with the Rockets all season, but James Harden’s MVP-level play hasn’t let them fall and could even produce the No. 2 seed in the West. We knew he was good. His play has been shockingly good. The biggest disappointment has been the long list of injured stars that have unfortunately made for more headlines off the court than on: Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, DeMar DeRozan, Jabari Parker, just to name a few. But for sheer, jaw-dropping, oh-my-God-how-did-that-happen, awfulness, I can’t neglect to mention that huge hole in the ground at 7th Ave, between 31st and 33rd Sts. in Manhattan. Nobody expect that big of a crater from the New York Knicks.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is easy: John Stockton, fresh off releasing a book, starring in insurance commercials, in costume and everything. Who is this guy? The Knicks will come back to make the playoffs on the last night of the regular season, then win the championship, and it still won’t top Stockton, who worked hard to avoid the spotlight as a player, as the king of all media. (If you’re going to insist on a surprise on the court, it’s anyone blowing away the field in the Western Conference standings. This was supposed to be a tight race, right? The Warriors have turned it into a non-race.) Biggest disappointment: Injuries. They happen every year, only this time fate ganged up on the Thunder, costing OKC the chance for a long playoff run, and on the rookies, costing everyone the chance to see three of the best newcomers for more than a portion of the season.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The Celtics might make the playoffs despite dumping their top two players (Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo) and watching another miss games because of injuries (Jared Sullinger). Yes, the East is so bad that somebody with a losing record was destined to make the playoffs, but still this rates as a surprise to a degree. Disappointing? Lance Stephenson bombing almost immediately in Charlotte and never recovering. I figured if nothing else, he’d be a pain off the court, not on it.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The biggest surprise is the dominance of the Hawks and Warriors in their respective conferences. I had Atlanta eighth among East teams in my preseason Power Rankings and only two GMs picked them to win the Southeast Division. They were, by far, the East’s best team until it was time to ease off the gas pedal, beating a lot of Western Conference contenders along the way. The Warriors were projected higher than the Hawks, but I don’t think anybody saw them registering the best point differential since Steve Kerr was playing for the Bulls. The biggest disappointment is Oklahoma City suffering through a wasted season with Kevin Durant’s ongoing foot issue. The Thunder are a title contender when healthy and while they’re still in the mix for a playoff spot, their season really never got off the ground.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The biggest and most pleasant surprise has been the Atlanta Hawks and their improbable rise from an offseason filled with uncertainty. I don’t think anyone but the most die-hard of Atlanta fans would admit to believing the Hawks would put together the sort of season they have. How they finish the story in the playoffs remains to be seen. But there is no doubt the Hawks achieved the unthinkable finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings. The biggest disappointment, and I don’t think we need to belabor the point, has been the bi-coastal dumpster fires that have consumed the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks this season. I knew they’d struggle mightily. But the Lakers and Knicks have been brutal this season. Just brutal.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The Hawks have been the most inspiring team: They may be benefiting from the Spurs’ system, but they’ve been running it without Hall of Fame talent, and if their devotion to teamwork could produce a championship then it would be a huge breakthrough for the NBA. The biggest disappointment has been the physical breakdown of so many players: The Rockets, Clippers, Spurs, Cavaliers, Blazers, Bulls, Thunder, Pelicans, Raptors, Wizards, Bucks, Jazz, Pacers, Heat, Hornets, Pistons, Kings, Lakers, 76ers, Timberwolves and Knicks have all been diminished by meaningful injuries this season.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You’re baiting me, right? How can I not go with the Atlanta Hawks, the team that was pegged by many to be a playoff team, but nobody, not in their wildest dreams, expected the Hawks to have the season they’re having. As for biggest disappointment, it’s hard to overlook the team right up I-85 from the Hawks, the Charlotte Hornets. I know they’ve had injuries throughout the season, but adding Lance Stephenson seems to have just made that whole situation into a mess.

Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George makes Pacers better right now | James Harden is the ultimate facilitator | Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in the playoffs

No. 1: Paul George makes Pacers better right now — The future can wait. Paul George is back and ready to lift the Indiana Pacers right now. That chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference race got a lot more interesting after George made his triumphant return from injury. Will it be enough to lift the Pacers past the crowd and into that last spot? Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star tackles that question and more:

Paul George makes the Indiana Pacers better, not in the future but right now. And not a little better, but a lot better. At both ends. The Paul George that came back Sunday night against the Heat came back a star in full, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes, making a mess of the Miami Heat’s half-court offense, breaking the game open with consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

This game was not going to be easy for the Heat, not without injured center Hassan Whiteside and not playing their second road game in 24 hours and their third in four days, but it wasn’t going to be this ugly. It wasn’t going to be a 112-89 blowout for the Pacers, except for one guy.

And the guy isn’t Luis Scola.

All due respect to Scola. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. He was sensational. But he was not the point of this game, not the spark, not the havoc-wreaking agent at both ends that Paul George was in his return after missing 76 games following that gruesome broken leg in August with Team USA in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are better with George, but how much better? Good enough to pass the Boston Celtics, who are a game ahead for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot? I asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel exactly how much better this Paul George, rusty as he may be, makes the Pacers for the final five games.

“Tough to measure,” Vogel said, “but certainly we’re a lot better with him. We missed him on both ends, but what he’s able to do on the defensive end is almost unparalleled in the NBA. Certainly we’re a lot a stronger on that end, and (with) the scoring punch he gives us on the offensive end as well.”

Boston has the tiebreaker on Indiana, so the Pacers have to not only catch the Celtics but pass them to make the playoffs. Each team has five games left. Time is running out. But it’s like Vogel said.

“There’s no bad time to get a Paul George back,” he said.


VIDEO: Paul George’s return was a hit for the Pacers

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Morning shootaround — April 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: I have ‘freedom’ to call Cavs’ plays | Harden boosts his MVP case | Smith, Noel developing on-court bond in Philly

No. 1:  Blatt supports James’ ability to call Cavs’ plays — The Cleveland Cavaliers have been and will be a much-scrutinized story in the NBA world for as long as LeBron James is on the team. That has been true all season to date and remains true with the latest issue about the team, that being a recently revealed item by Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com that James often calls the Cavs’ plays. The NBA world went wild with that fact the last day or so and after yesterday’s practice, James and his coach, David Blatt, responded to all the chatter. ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin has more:

LeBron James says he has “freedom” to call plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers during the course of the game, and coach David Blatt claims that the superstar dictating the action is business as usual.

“I don’t think that’s peculiar,” Blatt said after Cavs practice Wednesday. “When the game is going on and you are in the heat of the battle at times, you can’t get a message through or you don’t want to stop the flow, so a guy may [call the play on his own].

“We have sets that we know what we’re going to use going in. You know, we have a package that we’re going to use going in and at times, according to the flow of the game, somebody may call out a play. I don’t think that’s unusual.”

James has been open about the influence he has over the Cavs’ offense this season. Back in December, he shifted from his more traditional small forward position to point guard for a spell and said, “I can do it on my own … I’m past those days where I have to ask,” explaining that he didn’t consult Blatt about the change.

James elaborated on his leeway to call plays Wednesday.

“Well, we have a package,” James said. “If I see something, I have the right to call plays. Kyrie does as well. We kind of do that play calling. Coach Blatt does the play calling obviously throughout the game in timeouts, but it’s great to be able to have some type of freedom out there with Kyrie to be able to call sets that we feel best suit our team.”

“It’s just I have a feel for the game,” James said. “I know what helps our team and we got great minds. Our coaching staff are great. I thank them that they allow me to give some input on what I think we should do at times, but ultimately it’s their call. So, it’s great to be able to just get different sides of the game with some of the great minds that we have.”

Blatt, who was named the NBA’s Eastern Conference coach of the month for March on Wednesday, was asked if he encourages James to assume the responsibility for play calling.

“Yeah, especially when it works,” Blatt quipped. “No, but I mean, again, it can happen and it’s not an all-the-time thing, but it certainly can happen.”


VIDEO: LeBron James explains why he is allowed to call some plays for the Cavs

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Hawks rest their case with Schroder

One of the benefits of clinching a playoff spot before April is sitting key people. In that sense, the Hawks earned the right by virtue of claiming best record in the East days ago.

And now, there’s perhaps a chance we won’t see Dennis Schroder for the rest of the season. Not that the German point guard is an injury case — his left toe damaged the other night against the Bucks was diagnosed as sprained — but it’s just another reason for the Hawks to play it safe here in the season’s final two weeks.

While the Hawks played their usual starting five tonight against the Pistons, none were scheduled to play 30-plus minutes. From now until mid-April, expect to see lots of Mike Muscala, Kent Bazemore and Shelvin Mack.

Other teams aren’t so lucky, especially those chasing playoff spots. For example: You think Miami would love to give Dwyane Wade a break? Well, not if they want to get the No. 7 or 8 seed in the East. With three teams chasing those spots, the Heat can’t afford to give Wade’s chronically-sore body a rest here down the stretch. Same goes for David West and the Pacers, Russell Westbrook and OKC (although that might change in a week) and a few other teams.

Still, the “rest” controversy is here to stay. Weeks after the lottery-bound Nuggets sat three players, the Kings gave DeMarcus Cousins a night off.