Posts Tagged ‘Russell Westbrook’

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.”

On LeBron opt-out, KD says back off

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant believes friend and rival LeBron James made the only prudent move he could by exercising the early termination option in his contract earlier this week.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Durant said Wednesday at a Washington D.C. event promoting the release of his new Nike shoes, the KD7.  “As a player, I think that’s the best way to go about it. You have all your options. It’s better for you as a player to opt out. You can get a bigger deal, get more years, you never know what happens. If you opt in, you pass up on that. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I’m sure it was a decision that he made, something that he was thinking about for him and his family.”

We don’t know with which team or co-star James, who opted out of the final two years and nearly $43 million on his Miami Heat contract, will prefer in the coming weeks. Could it be Miami and a return of the Big Three? Cleveland and Kyrie Irving? Chicago and Derrick Rose or, maybe, L.A. and Kobe Bryant? But we do know which team and with whom he won’t — the Thunder and Durant.

Durant has two more years remaining on his contract in Oklahoma City and the cost-conscious Thunder and have no room to add a player of James’ stature. Interestingly, when Durant signed his five-year deal in 2010, he specifically did not request an early opt-out. He wanted to fulfill the full five-year obligation.

But he said players who do choose to exercise their contractual right to opt out and look at opportunities elsewhere, or even switch teams, should not be subject to criticism. For instance, a billboard recently put up in San Antonio reads: “LOYALTY > ROYALTY”. The “O” in LOYALTY is the face of Spurs star Tim Duncan, who has spent his entire 17-year career with the franchise and just won his fifth championship. The “O” in ROYALTY is the face of James.

“He switched teams; he’s not the first guy to do it,” Durant said. “He decided to opt out; he’s not the first guy to do it. Sometimes a lot of people criticize him a little bit too much for doing normal things, doing stuff that everybody has done. [Even] Tim Duncan went into free agency before. He got courted by quite a few teams. We’ll see what happens with me, but everybody’s done the same thing. He’s not the first.”

Durant’s free agency already has front offices around the league planning ways to create cap space to offer the 2014 league MVP a max contract in the summer of 2016. If the Thunder captures a championship before then, it would seemingly greatly increase the odds that Durant would stay in OKC.

However, if the Thunder continue to fall short, it could force Durant, who will have completed his ninth year in the league and will have turned 27, took look around. OKC advanced to its third Western Conference finals in three years. Key injuries have plagued it the last two seasons. Point guard Russell Westbrook injured his knee in the 2013 first round and missed the remainder of the playoffs. The Thunder lost in the West semifinals.

This season, power forward and defensive anchor Serge Ibaka sustained a calf strain and missed the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. He played through pain for the final four games of the series, but he was far from healthy.

“Being MVP and all that stuff is cool, but I have bigger goals in mind, bigger team goals,” said Durant, who recently got a tattoo on his right calf of a what looks to be a fearsome-looking saber-toothed tiger on the prowl. “I think just working on every aspect of my game and bringing it back to my group is what I’m most excited about. And I have a lot of work to do.”

Beasley says season in the background has changed him for the better

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Indiana Pacers v Miami Heat - Game 6

Michael Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. (NBAE via Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO – The Miami Heat’s main characters had taken their spots for media day at AT&T Center on the eve of the NBA Finals. Stars LeBron James and Dwyane Wade entertained in the interview room. Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mario Chalmers and other key cogs answered questions from behind podiums spaced around the perimeter of the floor.

Then there were the others, plopped down in the front row of seats along the corner of the court, just outside the sphere of the media’s interest. It was a fitting foursome: Greg Oden then Chris “Birdman” Andersen then Rashard Lewis then Michael Beasley. All four had signed with Miami within the last two seasons, eager to join LeBron and D-Wade for a championship ride, but also to seek a resurrection of sorts for careers that veered in different directions for differing reasons.

Only Beasley, the troubled, 25-year-old forward, sought something deeper: Salvation.

“I’ve seen him grow immensely, maturity‑wise, as a pro, on and off the court,” said Erik Spoelstra, the Heat’s rookie coach in 2008 when they drafted the 19-year-old Beasley No. 2 overall. “It’s really been ‑‑ it’s been cool to see.”

Even so, if judging solely by how Spoelstra has used him, it’s fair to wonder if Beasley, his disappointing career already dwindling by a thread, has failed in his pursuit. Some may have even forgotten he plays for the Heat. Few players are perceived so negatively by fans and media alike, with much of the scrutiny coming by way of his own missteps; a self-destructive path of poor decisions off the court and a sliding, seemingly increasingly lazy effort on it through his first five seasons spent with three teams.

Yet despite never realizing a rotation niche this season, and being inactive more often than not during the postseason, Beasley is adamant that this second stint with Miami has served as a vessel for personal growth.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just from LeBron and Dwyane, but from Rashard, Udonis [Haslem], Birdman and Ray, a team full of veterans, a team full of future Hall of Famers,” Beasley told NBA.com from his front-row seat little more than a week ago. “Definitely a great move for my career, more on the mental side of things. I’ve learned a lot: How to do things the right way, how to have fun the right way, not to sweat the small stuff.

“I’ve worked. The thing I’ve learned above all else is how to win, what it takes to win, the attitude and dedication to work. You get tired, but once you get used to it, it’s like your body needs it.”

Those are words that might pique the interest of skeptical general managers as Beasley becomes an unrestricted free agent next month. Last summer, after an underwhelming first season in Phoenix, the Suns bought him out of his remaining two years and $12 million as legal issues swirled around him. It followed a flame-out with Minnesota, the team Miami traded him to for a couple of second-round picks two seasons after drafting him one spot behind Chicago’s Derrick Rose and ahead of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.

After the Suns cut ties, Beasley signed a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract with the two-time champion Heat, a team with established leaders and where Beasley believed he would be afforded the chance to reset his career, and his life, while removed from the daily pressures of the spotlight.

“Who doesn’t have a past? Who doesn’t have skeletons?” Beasley said. “It’s just my skeletons are in the open, not in the closet. So have I been unfairly portrayed? I can say yes, I can say no. Did I bring it on myself? Most definitely. But it’s the growing process in life, maturing, a grown boy turning into a young man.”

Beasley has yet to be active in The Finals and has been inactive in 10 of Miami’s 19 playoff games. He’s played a total of seven minutes in three games. During the regular season, he appeared in a career-low 55 games and averaged career-lows in points (7.9), rebounds (3.1) and minutes (15.1).

Yet, Beasley said: “Honestly, this season has flown by faster than any other I’ve been in. I don’t know why, I don’t know how. I guess time really does fly when you’re having fun.”

The Heat had no fun in Games 3 and 4 in Miami and now head back to San Antonio for Sunday’s Game 5 in the unenviable position of trailing 3-1. After Game 4, Spoelstra was asked if Beasley could be an option in Game 5 to provide some much-needed scoring punch. While his playing time was sporadic, Beasley did record a career-high shooting percentage of 49.9 percent and 38.9 percent from beyond the arc, a better mark than only his rookie season.

Spoelstra didn’t give a direct answer, and in an indication as to how Beasley is still perceived, the questioner was roasted on Twitter by fans and also media covering The Finals for having even broached the subject.

“I shouldn’t say no. I do, but I’m not going to stress over it,” Beasley said when asked if he cares more now how others view him. “People who know me, my family, my kids, my closest friends, they know me. I’m not trying to get everybody to know that I’m a good guy, a great guy or whatever. At this point I’m just focused on playing basketball.”

Beasley has worked closely with Heat assistant coach Juwan Howard. Unlike past seasons, Beasley is said to arrive early for practice and stays late, cues he said he immediately gleaned from the team’s veterans. He is said to listen intently to coaches and teammates, and he hasn’t uttered a peep about being limited to an end-of-bench role.

He even pays more attention to nutrition when in the past a pregame meal of chicken strips and french fries from the concession stand would do.

“Everything that we’ve discussed privately, everything that we’ve been working on individually and also with other coaches, he’s been grasping it, and he’s been enjoying it and working hard at it,” Howard said. “That right there, that’s how I judge Michael.”

After he signed with the Heat, Beasley hired a new agent. Beasley said he is solely focused on finishing out this season and declined to answer if he’d be willing to sign a deal similar to his current one to remain with the Heat. His agent, Jared Karnes, said there have been no discussions yet with Miami president Pat Riley.

Beasley did make one declarative statement: He will be sticking around in the NBA.

“Definitely,” Beasley said. “There’s still some immaturity about me, but that’s what keeps it light. I’m a goofy, fun-loving guy, I like to think so myself anyway. But you’re definitely going to see a different me.”

It’s up to Beasley to make believers.

Westbrook eyes All-Defensive team

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Preparing for Heat-Spurs Finals clash

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook showed throughout the playoffs that when he puts his mind to it, with his quickness and size — 6-foot-3 and 200 rock-hard pounds — he can be an elite defender.

During the Oklahoma City Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday, one day after being eliminated from the Western Conference finals, Westbrook said the impact of his defense during the playoffs showed him he can bring a more intense disposition to that end of the floor more consistently.

He said he’s eyeing an All-Defensive team selection next season, even if he’s a bit miffed as to the criteria to qualify for the honor.

“The way the defensive team is made now,” Westbrook said through a series of chuckles, “it’s based on, I guess if you steal the ball, or, I don’t know how it’s made up because, to me, you know, there should be guys on the defensive team that should be on there; there’s guys that should not be on it. If people watch the games, then they will know those things.”

Westbrook’s comment came the day before the NBA announced its All-Defensive first and second teams. He didn’t name names, and it’s not known if he might have gotten an early glimpse at the selections. A three-time All-Star (who would have made it four consecutive appearances if not for a right knee injury) and a three-time All-NBA second-team selection, Westbrook has never made an All-Defensive team in his six seasons in the league.

This year he received just five total votes — fourth on his own team — with one for the first team. The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada. Teammate Serge Ibaka was named to the first team, Kevin Durant received 10 total votes with one for the first team and Thabo Sefolosha received eight votes, including one for the first team.

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul secured his sixth All-Defensive team appointment and his fourth — and third in a row — on the first team. Paul, who received the most votes among guards, happened to be the league-leader in steals (2.5 per game). Westbrook finished tied for fourth (1.9), which also tied his career-high from 2010-11.

Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala (148 total votes, 57 first team) made his second appearance on the All-Defensive team and first on the first team.

Westbrook’s 2.16 steals per game in the playoffs was second to Paul’s 2.85, but Westbrook’s strong two-way play against the Clippers in the second round helped to knockout Paul in the second round.

“Coming out of college, I take it personally, coming in and defending every night based on who I’m guarding,” Westbrook said. “And obviously through the playoffs you can see it a lot more through [each] series. You can see how much it can impact the game, and I’m definitely going to make more of an effort. That has to start next year to go throughout the season.”

The two second-team guards were Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (29 first-team votes) and Westbrook nemesis Patrick Beverley (44 first-team votes) of the Rockets. He made the team for the first time in his second season.

Beverley careened into Westbrook’s right knee during the first round of last year’s playoffs trying to make a steal as Westbrook slowed up near the Thunder bench to call timeout. Westbrook tore his meniscus on the controversial play and was out for the remainder of the playoffs. Two additional surgeries were needed in early October and then late December, limiting him to 46 games this season.

It was easily the most challenging season of Westbrook’s career. He had never missed a regular-season game until the 2013-14 opener. After a quick return early in the the season, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career just prior to undergoing a third surgery days after Christmas. He returned after the All-Star break in late February and was on a minutes restriction up until the end of the regular season.

Westbrook, 25, still finished the regular season averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He boosted each category during the playoffs, averaging 26.7, 8.1 and 7.3.

“Thinking positive thoughts take you a long way, I constantly say that,” Westbrook said. “You can easily be down on yourself when you have surgeries, injuries, have bad games, anything. You can easily think to yourself that you did something wrong or you can’t do it. And, you know, the whole time throughout the season — I’ve never been hurt — it was different for me, but I stayed positive.”

Now he plans to get defensive.

Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.

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.

*** (more…)

Brooks and the power of continuity


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks with the media on Sunday afternoon

OKLAHOMA CITY – The fickle and volatile nature of the NBA coaching business swept aside four 50-game winners the last two seasons. Memphis’ Dave Joerger nearly became the fifth last month, and the second in a row with that franchise.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ job security always seems to be a topic fluttering in the breeze. He’s overseen three Western Conference finals appearances in the last four seasons, yet his critics continue to howl. Saturday’s Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs ended a second season of falling short of a return to the Finals.

However, it didn’t stop the franchise’s superstar, the league’s MVP from endorsing his coach.

“That’s our guy,” Durant said of Brooks during Sunday’s exit interviews, “and I’m riding with him.”

It would seem owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti would, too, but then Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson — fired 50-win club members — are still tidying up their resumes.

That’s typically not the case for a coach who has won better than 70 percent of his games in each of the last three seasons. Brooks has two years left on his contract at what is believed to be between $8 million and $9 million. The Thunder are not a franchise that takes a cavalier approach to paying one man not to work while paying another to fill his position.

Yet, Mike Brown is out in Cleveland with $16 million owed to him.

Is it possible the Thunder believe Brooks has taken this team as far as he can?

“It’s something that I don’t even consider. I do my job every day,” Brooks said. “I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother and she’s always told me this: You do your job every day and you live with the results. ‘They say,’ you can’t worry about what ‘they say'; you never ever meet those people. I have many stories that I can tell you about my mom and that’s one of them — don’t worry about ‘them.’ Those are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a 4-11 freshman in high school. My dream was to be an NBA player. If I would have listened to ‘they’ I would never have been able to make it.”

Presti won’t listen to ‘they.’ He’ll make up his own mind, if there’s even a decision to make. He spent Sunday conducting exit interviews with players and he will soon talk with Brooks, who Presti hired as an assistant onto P.J. Carlesimo‘s staff in Seattle and then promoted when he fired Carlesimo after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.

Soon after, Brooks elevated No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook to starting point guard. If Brooks and Westbrook have anything in common, it’s that criticism never strays far.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

Brooks said the Thunder’s No. 7 -rated offense must continue to evolve around his two superstars, to become a better passing team with higher assist totals and fewer turnovers and periods of stagnation.
“I know I have to get better and I know our team has to get better,” Brooks said. “And we’re excited about moving forward together as a group as the summer unfolds, and coming back in October with a better team.”

If scheme isn’t Brooks’ forte, as his critics will claim, forging relationships is a strong suit. He’s helped develop a team of talented youngsters at the ages of 20 into perennial contenders now at 25. Before the All-Star break, Durant called Brooks the coach of the year for steering the team through Westbrook’s multiple knee injuries.

The Thunder remain as well-positioned as any club to challenge for Western Conference supremacy for at least the next two seasons, and beyond that if Durant re-signs when he can become a free agent in the summer of 2016. Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka have three years left. Reggie Jackson is eligible for an extension this summer.

The 2013-14 season was a struggle from the start of training camp when Westbrook was told he needed a second surgery on his right knee. He tore the meniscus in the second game of the first round last season and missed the remainder of the postseason. Westbrook had to undergo a third surgery in December just as he and the team were rolling. He was out through the All-Star Game.

Then OKC lost defensive-specialist, and now unrestricted free agent, Thabo Sefolosha and starting center Kendrick Perkins each for six weeks with injuries.

The Thunder still finished with 59 wins and Durant won the MVP. They beat Memphis in the first round and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the second round before falling to the Spurs. Both Westbrook and Perkins said the key area of improvement for next season isn’t personnel, but sharpening their mental approach to the game, specifically limiting careless turnovers that can turn a game or even a series against a team like San Antonio.

Changes will be made on the periphery of the roster, but the core is set for another run at a first title. It would seem the coach is, too, for a general manager and a franchise that place high value on continuity.

“You can easily say we lost the season because we didn’t win a championship,” Durant said. “But I don’t look at it that way because we learned so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially, and it’s going to help us towards the future. When you look at it that way it stings not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up, and hopefully one day you’ll look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his future in OKC and more

Thunder exit, but not going anywhere

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew discusses future of the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – The new guard came ripping through in 2012 like a whipsaw, razor sharp and bristling with youthful exuberance, striking size and superstar talent.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, unbridled and unstoppable, tapped out the last-gasp San Antonio Spurs, and set to unleash an era of mouthwatering East-West Finals fury with the Miami Heat not seen in 30 years since Magic Johnson‘s L.A. Lakers and Larry Bird‘s Boston Celtics.

Two years later and LeBron James — holding his end of the bargain with not one, not two, not three, but a fourth straight Finals berth after navigating the least competitive road to a conference title in recent memory — is still waiting for his Thunder contemporaries to join him.

Instead James will again see the San Antonio Spurs and their immortal Big Three, a group who raised their first of three Larry O’Brien trophies the year James was showing his percolating potential as a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.

Durant chased down LeBron as this season’s league MVP, but the championship remains on hold. He had a chance to give the Thunder a four-point lead in overtime, but his straightaway 3 — contested by Kawhi Leonard but still a good look — caromed off the back rim with 1:45 to go in overtime. Then down by three, the game’s most lethal closer got off a clean 3 off the inbounds, but it, too, wouldn’t go down.

The killer, though, was a no-show third quarter. Tony Parker never returned from halftime because of a sore ankle and San Antonio answered with perhaps its finest period of the season, a 37-20 whipping that erased the Thunder’s seven-point lead and set the stage for their NBA Finals-clinching 112-107 Game 6 victory.

It was perhaps Durant’s worst period of the season — five points, five turnovers and one awful foul of Danny Green on a made 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds on the clock. The four-point play culminated a 7-0 run and put the Spurs up 79-69.

“They’re a great team, they made a run, but that shows the character we have on this team to force that overtime and not give up,” said Durant, who ended his seventh season with 31 points, 14 rebounds and seven costly turnovers. “It’s easy to give up, but you can say that about any run throughout our game. They could have put us away to start the fourth quarter, but they didn’t.” (more…)

The Duncan Experience keeps growing


VIDEO: Duncan comes through in the clutch to send Spurs to NBA Finals

OKLAHOMA CITY — Experience is the name men give their mistakes.

The Spurs have had nearly 12 months to learn from their very biggest.

On the first day of training camp back in October, coach Gregg Popovich showed them the video of everything that had slipped through their grasp last June in Miami.

As if they needed a reminder.

“It was just to put it away, get over that part of it, learn from it and move on from there,” said Tim Duncan.

So they’ve moved full circle, like the Earth around the sun, and here was Duncan, one of the immutable forces of basketball and nature, completing that orbit.

He’s done it so many times in the past– those critical rebounds, those key baskets, those difference-making plays — that you tend to nod your head and move on.

The official play-by-play sheet called it a 5-foot turnaround and the guy who typed that up probably would have called Rome just a city on some hills.

The Spurs had just a one-point lead when Manu Ginobili found him with the pass that OKC’s Russell Westbrook tried to swipe at and missed. Westbrook went around and underneath the play and took another swing at the ball and missed again down low. Duncan then rose up, let go with the turnaround over the outstretched arms of Reggie Jackson, but not before Westbrook took one more try and fanned one more time. The ball bounced off the front rim, kissed off the backboard and fell into the net.

“Finally got a roll,” Duncan said.

After four previous championships and five prior trips to the last series in June, the Spurs finally are making back-to-back trips to The Finals and it’s most important to be getting their chance to make up for the agonizing loss against the Heat.

The Spurs did it down the stretch without their starting point guard and best player Tony Parker, who was sidelined at halftime with a sore left ankle.

The Spurs did it against a Thunder team that probably had the two best individual talents in the series in Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The Spurs did it with balance and patience and poise and trust and with a few of the usual tricks from Old Man Riverwalk, who at 38, is still pulling out those tried-and-true basic moves that keep working in every lunchtime game in every YMCA from sea-to-head-faking sea.

Duncan was 2-for-2 in the overtime with a pair of rebounds and scored the seven consecutive points that ultimately lifted the Spurs to the 112-107 victory over the Thunder and the Western Conference title.

As he’s done so often for 17 NBA seasons, Duncan was there to make the plays and do the heavy lifting at the end, which was particularly poignant in a year when the Spurs carried their burden.

“We just had a weird year,” Duncan said. “We were pressing hard early on and grinding on each other, just because of what happened last year.

“We were able to settle ourselves down. We played with a bunch of different lineups all year long. We had guys ready to play and it’s shown throughout these playoffs where guys just step up and step in and are ready.

“I’m proud of the team for just being ready, just not letting that weigh on us and using it as an excuse for anything. We’re back here now and we want to get it done this time.”

When the Thunder had used their young legs and a wave of youthful enthusiasm to win two straight games on their home court to tie the series, there was some thought that the Spurs were finally ready to pass into history.

Instead Duncan kept right on making it by hitting 14 of 27 shots, scoring 41 points and grabbing 27 rebounds in the last two games to keep the door closed on what is supposed to have been the ushering in of the Thunder Era.

“You know that he might be struggling one game or missing a few shots,” Ginobili said. “But he’s there and the opponent has got to respect him. He’s always ready with a solution down the stretch.”

As ready as he has been for nearly two decades in the league. As primed for this moment as since the last second that ticked off the clock last June in Miami.

“It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after exactly that, that devastating loss we had last year,” Duncan said. “But we’re back here and we’re excited about it and we’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

Tim Duncan has had enough experiences.