Posts Tagged ‘Sam Presti’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 13


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 13

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC trying to figure out its Plan B | Bryant mentoring in a new way | Jackson: Dolan won’t ‘meddle’ in roster moves | Shaw monitoring Lawson’s ankle injury

No. 1: OKC searching for lineup solution in wake of Durant injury — In case you were under a rock yesterday, the Oklahoma City Thunder received some tough news mid-morning that their superstar (and the NBA’s reigning MVP) Kevin Durant will be out 6-8 weeks with a stress-related fracture in his right foot. It’s tough news for that team to swallow, but they must move forward as the start of the season approaches. One of the most well-informed OKC observers, The Oklahoman‘s Darnell Mayberry, offers up this view on what may be next in Thunder-land:

There is no Plan B for losing the NBA’s leading scorer four times over to injury. Still, the Thunder must come up with one.

Quick.

Five preseason games might remain, but Oklahoma City’s season opener arrives two weeks from Wednesday. And the Thunder, remember, hasn’t even determined — or at least hasn’t announced — who’ll be this year’s starting shooting guard and center.

Now tack onto that the chore of figuring out who will be the starting small forward. Figuring out who will replicate Durant’s 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists. Figuring out how to survive 20 games in the ruthless Western Conference.

“Replacing 30 points and high efficiency, that is not going to be easy,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said at a news conference discussing Durant’s injury Sunday. “It will be a collection of things.”

Presti pointed first to defense.

“One of the ways to improve your team and make up for loss offensively is to be play even better defensively and reduce the net rating between the offense and the defense,” Presti said.

Part of the shame in Durant going down will be the delayed unveiling of OKC’s revamped offense, which has looked phenomenal at times through two preseason games thanks to ball movement, spacing, cutting and off-ball action that has been missing for the better part of six seasons.

The challenge for the Thunder, and it will be a real challenge without the world’s best scorer standing on the wing striking nightly fear into defenders, is to maintain that offensive identity and allow it to lead to easier scoring opportunities. No longer can the Thunder rely simply on the two-headed monster of Durant and Russell Westbrook. For too long OKC has gotten by with their supreme talents bailing out the offense. Now, the offense will have to sustain what suddenly has become a far less talented active roster.

The basketball world already is on edge waiting to see what Westbrook will do as a ball-happy, shot-hungry point guard without Durant by his side. But if all goes according to plan, the basketball world will be disappointed. Because unlike the 2013 postseason, when the Thunder’s offense unsuccessfully went from a glorified two-man show with Westbrook healthy to a horrifying one-man show staring Durant after the infamous Patrick Beverley play, Westbrook and his teammates have displayed a commitment to better ball movement, better execution and, thus, better structure.

In time, it could lead to the Thunder becoming a better team.


VIDEO: Thunder GM Sam Presti discusses how OKC will move on after Kevin Durant’s injury

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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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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.”

Spurs won’t be surprised to see Ibaka

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Let’s just say it happens when you have a team that is populated by veterans who have been around the block so many times that they’ve worn a rut into the block.

They get suspicious, skeptical, well, downright cynical.

That’s why Tony Parker has expected to see Serge Ibaka play all along.

“I don’t really believe it,” Parker said on the eve of Game 1 after the Thunder held a press conference to announce that their power forward would miss the series and probably the rest of the playoffs. “I’ll believe when I see…he is not on the court. It’s hard to believe. We’ll see.”

So, in addition to becoming quite a good basketball team, it seems the Spurs have learned a bit about seeing through smoke screens after all these years. With the word coming down that OKC could get its defensive stopper back into the lineup — maybe even for Game 3 on Sunday — the Spurs are taking it in stride.

“Shocked. So surprised,” coach Gregg Popovich told reporters as the sarcasm practically dripped down his chin. “Like I told you from the beginning, we know (Thunder general manager) Sammy (Presti). We knew he’d be back.”

“It doesn’t change anything,” said forward Tim Duncan. “We’re going to play the same way, attack the same way and hopefully have the same results.”

Ibaka averaged 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in the playoffs before straining a muscle in his left calf in Oklahoma City’s Game 6 clinching win over the Clippers.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks repeatedly and emphatically had insisted that Ibaka was “not coming back.”

Without their defensive anchor in the middle of the lineup, OKC’s defense has been a virtual sieve as the Spurs have scored 122 and 112 points and rumbled to 66 and 54 points in the paint, getting to the basket at will. In addition, Ibaka’s absence at the offensive end has taken away a third scoring option outside of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and create problems for the Thunder in spacing the floor.

But now that door is cracked open and all the Spurs say is that they aren’t exactly thunderstruck or shaken to their core.

Thunder to soldier on without Ibaka

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

VIDEO: OKC’s Ibaka done for rest of playoffs

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a significant injury blow to their title hopes Friday with power forward Serge Ibaka, one of the league’s premiere shot blockers, likely to miss the rest of the postseason with a Grade 2 strain of his left calf.

The Thunder opens the Western Conference finals Monday night on the road against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. Ibaka limped off the Staples Center floor in the third quarter of Thursday’s series-clinching victory of the Los Angeles Clippers. He immediately headed to the locker room and did not return. An MRI exam on Friday revealed the strain.

Through the second round of the playoffs, Ibaka was averaging 12.2 ppg — shooting 61.6 percent from the floor (69-for-112) — plus 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks in 33.9 mpg. Monday’s game will be only the second time this season the Thunder will play without their 6-foot-10 paint protector.

“We are obviously disappointed for Serge, as he is a tremendous competitor,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “We know how badly he wants to be on the court with his teammates.”

It’s the second consecutive postseason that the Thunder has had to deal with a key season-ending injury. Last year point guard Russell Westbrook tore the meniscus in his right knee during the first round and Oklahoma City was bounced from the playoffs in the semifinals against Memphis.

Oklahoma City defeated the Spurs in the West finals in 2012, 4-2, after losing the first two games at San Antonio. Repeating that feat just became tougher.

Ibaka, 24, played 81 games during the regular season and recorded career-highs with averages of 15.1 ppg and 8.8 rpg while leading the league in total blocks for the fourth consecutive season with 219. He’s been as durable as they come, missing just two games over the last four regular and postseasons.

The loss throws a wrench into coach Scott Brooks‘ rotation. Veteran backup forward-center Nick Collison, whose minutes were limited in the Clippers series, is a candidate to start at forward alongside starting center Kendrick Perkins. More minutes will likely be available to emerging rookie backup center Steven Adams, who had monstrous Game 6 in Los Angeles with 10 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. Little-used forward Perry Jones and center Hasheem Thabeet are also available to absorb spot minutes if needed.

Brooks could also employ a smaller lineup at times that has been successful in which Kevin Durant plays the power forward position, however pitting Durant defensively on Duncan might not be a strategy Brooks will want to use often.

“We’ve had this group together for quite a while,” Presti said. “We’ve been through some ups and downs and this one will only make us better.”

The Spurs are also dealing with an injury to a key player, although the left hamstring issue that hampered point guard Tony Parker in their series-clinching Game 5 against Portland does not appear to be serious. Parker said the Grade 1 strain will not keep him out of Game 1.

Thunder rise as one; Clips fall as one

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

 


VIDEO: Kevin Durant dominates as OKC ousts the L.A. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti waited outside his team’s locker room after Thursday’s 104-98 series-clinching Game 6 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Folded arms. Straight face. Business as usual.

Still a few birthdays shy of turning 40, Presti started cutting his teeth in the San Antonio Spurs’ front office more than a decade ago. Come Monday night in San Antonio, Presti’s hand-crafted Thunder will take on the Spurs for a second time in three seasons for the right to advance to the NBA Finals.

For anyone who believes it is impossible to recreate the successful, machine-like precision of the small-market Spurs in this demanding age of instant results and quick hooks, the Thunder deserve a much deeper look. Starting with the fortuitousness to be able to draft a once-in-a-generation superstar who lacks elitist sensibilities, both franchises are rooted in front office and coaching stability, fiscal responsibility, shrewd drafting and, beyond all else, an overarching foundation of trust and sense of family.

The Thunder, of course, hope to begin their own ring collection.

“We’ve been together so long, we’ve grown a lot,” said the once-in-a-generation superstar and first-time MVP Kevin Durant, who persevered through a 1-for-7 start to then go 11-for-16 and finish with a game-high 39 points and 16 rebounds, two shy of his career best. “Guys have matured through every type of situation and every type of game.”

All of it shined through during difficult moments of a seven-game, first-round slog against Memphis and in this wild, momentum-shifting semifinals series against L.A.’s talented point guard Chris Paul, its rising star Blake Griffin and rock of a coach Doc Rivers. All were thrust into the unfair position of shouldering an untold emotional toll beyond the realm of the hardwood, heaped upon them by a disgraced owner now banished from his team and league for the remainder of his life.

It’s impossible to gauge just how much cumulative damage the ongoing Donald Sterling saga wreaked on the Clippers, but it was always there.

“I know I’m tired, I can tell you that,” Rivers said. “That’s what I was really trying to do throughout this, is try to bridge; I felt like I had to try to protect our guys. The playoffs are hard enough without any of this stuff.” (more…)

KD delivers MVP speech for the ages

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant’s complete Kia MVP acceptance speech

OKLAHOMA CITY – This was no standard-issue award news conference held in a sterile gathering space inside the receiving player’s home arena in front of media, family and friends.

This was a music-blaring, carnival-like civic celebration attended by the city’s mayor and the state’s governor; a crowning of sorts in which a thousand or so members of this close-knit community felt compelled to watch the indoor proceeding outside on video screens in the parking lot of the team’s original training facility during the middle of an unusually warm Tuesday afternoon. A giant banner draped the side of the building with a photo of Durant surrounded by children and big, bold letters that read: “OKC’s MVP”.

They arrived in droves because around here, Kevin Durant, the 2013-14 Kia Most Valuable Player, is one of their own.

Best of all, Durant considers himself one of them. He delivered an impassioned acceptance speech for the ages: thoughtful, sincere, genuine. Without the use of note cards, he spoke from the heart through a mixture of smiles, sniffles and tears.

“I don’t know why I’m crying so much,” Durant said midway through his 30-minute speech.

Wearing a blue suit and black shoes with white soles and his now-trademark glasses, Durant, 25, passionately expressed why he thrusts himself into the Oklahoma City community, professed his love and appreciation for his mother and addressed each of his teammates, all of whom were seated to his left on the large stage, with detailed anecdotes of appreciation.

After he was introduced as the MVP, a video was shown on the movie screen behind the stage. It showed police officers and teachers and children and arena workers praising Durant’s decency, and even at times his basketball prowess. It showed Durant active in the community, most prominently his grief-stricken walk through the devastation left behind by last spring’s tornadoes that leveled the nearby town of Moore. Durant donated $1 million to the relief fund and made himself a genuine fixture of the relief effort.

But why?

“Well, like they said in the video, there’s so many things trying to bring us down here in Oklahoma, from natural disasters to the Oklahoma City bombing,” Durant said. “There’s just so many things trying to bring us down, and I feel as though us being here as the Thunder, we just try to shine a bright light, bring life to people. And having something like this represents what we’re about. We fall down, we fall down, we get up. We fall down, we get up. We may finish second, but we keep fighting until we finish first.

“That says a lot about this city: Perfect place for me. And I enjoy…”

He had to stop right there. Applause overtook the cavernous room that used to serve as the team’s practice gym when it arrived from Seattle in 2008. He continued.

“I enjoy being a part of something like this, knowing that when we come into the arena, they’re going to love you no matter what — Losing by 25 in the playoffs …”

Laughter erupted at Durant’s reference to Monday’s lopsided home loss to the Clippers in Game 1 of their second-round series.

“… Or winning a Game 7 on the home floor — they’re going to always feel the same way about us. You don’t want to take that for granted, because the grass is not always greener on the other side and you need to learn to appreciate these wonderful people here.”

Those comments, of course, will be clipped-and-saved for two summers from now when Durant’s contract is up and he becomes an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. The MVP award is sweet, but it can also be cruel. Durant and the Thunder barely escaped a burly first-round series with the Grizzlies.

If they don’t get by the Clippers, a 57-win team built on All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin and an excellent cast around them, Durant’s season will be considered a bust. He will be criticized for failing to lead the team back to the Finals. He and co-star Russell Westbrook‘s relationship will again be micro-analyzed and coach Scott Brooks will be fired multiple times by the media.

But in this very moment, all we can do is judge Durant by his actions and his words, which only the most cynical can argue are not authentic or sincere.

“One of the things that I’m proud of in regards of the players, coaches and the staff that I’m fortunate enough to work with is that we mean what we say,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “These guys really do care about each other, there’s an authenticity to it. I think it’s a sign of tremendous strength and leadership on the part of Kevin to be able to share his emotions in today’s society where sometimes that is not looked at with the strength that it should be. But it doesn’t surprise me because he’s an authentic person and when you go through the ups and downs that we have as an organization, everybody wears the same scars, and I think it brings people closer together.”

By name, Durant singled out his teammates, looked at them and thanked each one for something different they do that he said makes him better. He started with the veterans, then thanked the young guys. Only one player remained.

“I know you guys think I forgot Russ,” Durant said, drawing more laughs from the crowd. “But I can speak all night about Russell. An emotional guy who will run through a wall for me, and I don’t take it for granted those days where I just want to tackle you, and tell you to snap out of it sometimes. But I know there’s days you want to do the same thing with me. I love you, man, I love you.

“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player and I’m the first to have your back through it all. Just stay the person you are. Everybody loves you here, I love you.”

He looked back at his entire team: “I know we have a bigger goal in my mind, we have a tough game tomorrow, but this means the world to me that you guys are here celebrating with me.”

Also there to celebrate was Durant’s mother, Wanda Pratt, who was seated in front. Durant delivered the most emotional moment of his speech, one that carries so much weight as to why Durant is the humble superstar he is, why he immerses himself in the Oklahoma City community and seems to be one of the few athletes committed to staying where he is.

“And last my mom,” Durant said as he sniffled and his voice cracked. “I don’t think you know what you did. You had my brother when you were 18 years old. Three years later I came out. The odds were stacked against us, single parent with two boys by the time you were 21 years old. Everybody told us we weren’t supposed to be here. We moved from apartment to apartment by ourselves. One of the best memories I have is when we moved into our first apartment, no bed, no furniture and we just all sat in the living room and just hugged each other because we thought we made it.

“When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here,” Durant continued, speaking directly to his mom. “And you wake me up in the middle night in the summer time, making me run up the hill, making me do push-ups, screaming at me from the sidelines at my games at 8 or 9 years old. We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe, you kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on the table. When you didn’t eat you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry, you sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”

Rolling Thunder thrive without Harden

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA’s crew discusses Kevin Durant’s streak of 25-point scoring games

It wasn’t so long ago when the citizens of a certain city in Texas were ready to vote Sam Presti as 2013 Man of the Year for the trade that sent James Harden to Houston.

The wise-cracking line was that if the Rockets eventually won an NBA championship, the OKC general manager would be first in line to get a ring.

And by the way, did he derail the hopes of the Thunder winning a title of their own?

Now, 17 months later, while the Rockets would probably still be willing to save him a seat in a victory parade, Presti’s move does not quite seem to be his folly.

After all, it was OKC that snapped San Antonio’s 19-game win streak — completing a 4-0 season sweep of the Spurs — and now bring the NBA’s second best record into the Toyota Center tonight to face Harden and the Rockets (9:30 ET, ESPN).

The plain and simple truth is that Presti’s decision to trade away Harden was all about money, something he never made a secret of. After having given new contracts to the cornerstone duo Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, along with a four-year extension for Serge Ibaka, there was simply no way small-market OKC could “max out” on Harden.

We can debate all through the night whether Presti might have been better served by keeping his Big Three together for one last run before he would have had to deal Harden. But Westbrook’s knee injury in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs last season likely dashed championship dreams in any case.

Presti’s challenge after the Harden deal was done was to fill in the hole in the lineup and keep the Thunder moving forward.

Enter Reggie Jackson.

The immediate return for Harden from Houston was Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. Martin capably filled in capably off the bench in Harden’s old role last season before jumping to Minnesota. Lamb held down that spot in the rotation through the first 60 games of this season before giving way to free-agent small forward Caron Butler, who was signed last month.

However, the added bonus in the equation is Jackson. He was drafted in the first round in 2011, but was mostly stuck behind the young backcourt trio of Westbrook, Harden and defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha. But since the Harden deal, he has gotten an opportunity to play. He’s performed well, with his first opportunity coming in the 2013 playoffs after Westbrook’s injury. This season, he’s averaging 13.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 3.9 rpg and 1.1 spg. No one is putting him close to a level with Harden, but then neither is his $2.3 million salary, which helps make the rest of the OKC operation work.

As for Lamb, he’s seen his playing time cut over the last month because Butler can also hit the 3-pointer and adds size and rebounding on the wing. Still, the 21-year-old has upside that fits the Thunder blueprint going forward.

Presti also counted heavily on Ibaka, giving him an additional $48 million and expecting him to play up to that good faith. A year ago, it appeared to be a bad gamble — to many, OKC was choosing Ibaka over Harden. But this season he’s averaging career bests of 15.1 ppg and 8.7 rpg. While his blocked shots are down slightly (2.6 bpg, 3.0 bpg in 2012-13), the truth is Ibaka has concentrated less on trying to swat everything. As a result, he’s become a more consistent, more effective rim-protector and all-around better player.

Ultimately it was a choice between paying Ibaka or Harden. The Thunder might have correctly decided that, at some point on any championship contender, defense has to matter. They were, after all, exposed by the Heat in the 2012 Finals.

The Thunder’s banner still has to be carried by Durant and and a healthy Westbrook in order to win a championship.

Yet they also have an offense that is rated seventh and a defense rated fifth in the league. They are more balanced, and likely even better, overall.

While Presti can perhaps count on the eternal gratitude of every Rockets fan and maybe even that seat on their bandwagon, the fact is he did what he had to do to keep the Thunder on track.

Jump ball!!!: the Phil Jackson debate

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: What does it take to make the transition from great coach to great GM and does Phil Jackson have it?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The debate will rage on for years, long after the results are in and a legitimate case can be made one way or the other about the job Phil Jackson will do as the boss of the New York Knicks.

The initial surge from the hire has subsided, just a bit, and as the Knicks’ last-gasp effort to unseat the Atlanta Hawks for the eighth and final playoff slot in the Eastern Conference plays out, it’s a good time to restart this conversation.

Plenty of experts have weighed in, most of them no more qualified to dish on the prospect of Front Office Phil than they claim Jackson is for a job in the front office after making his championship bones (11 times as a coach and twice as a player) on the other side of the line.

My colleague and Hang Time California bureau chief Scott Howard Cooper, born and raised in Los Angeles and as knowledgeable about the Lakers and their lore as anyone in the business, lit the flame this time, questioning Phil’s credentials (it’s blasphemy, and will get you banned from Original Tommy’s Hamburgers for life all over the Southland SHC!).

I had to come to the defense of the Zen master, anyone who has been the common thread in as many championship situations as he has shouldn’t really need defending … but I had to go there in Jump Ball!!!  …

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 3:00 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: JUMP BALL !!!

I get why Knicks fans and players are excited: because they need any reason to be excited. But all the organization did by hiring Phil Jackson was win the press conference. James Dolan did something popular for a change and brought in a superstar. But Phil is a coaching superstar, not a front-office success. He has a lot to prove to earn this attention in the new job.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 1:48 PM, Smith, Sekou

You get Knicks fans, huh? They’ll boo you at the Garden for even suggesting something like that. The Phil factor is much like the Bill Parcells factor was in the NFL, his mere presence alone signals bigger things to come for whatever franchise he is working with. Seriously, ask folks in Dallas and New England. The Knicks need someone who can be held accountable for the big picture vision of the franchise. It doesn’t take a genius to come up with a plan … but if you can get one, why not?

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 5:43 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Would you like a straw or will you drink the Kool-Aid straight from the jug? His mere presence doesn’t signal anything other than the Knicks willing to spend a lot of money. “Bigger things to come” is a slogan, not based in fact. Phil is a brilliant basketball mind. I think, if anything, he is underrated as a coach. I am a fan. But they did not hire coach Phil Jackson. They put someone in charge of basketball operations who has not worked in a front office. And if it’s such a thin line from one job to the other, let’s see how people react when New York names R.C. Buford or Sam Presti or Masai Ujiri head coach. There will obviously be others handling the day-to-day work while Phil handles the big picture and deals in final rulings. But the Knicks are a tangled mess, from salary cap to the roster itself, and he has to get a lot of things right before the Knicks can say they’re at bigger things.

On Mar 28, 2014, at 2:56 PM, Smith, Sekou

Actually, I prefer one of those fancy Camelbak adult sippy cup/water bottles when drinking my Kool-Aid, Scott. You know how I do it. Seriously, though, you are selling Phil short and the job of a general manager in this league way long. I won’t run down the list of knuckle-draggers who have been general managers in this league the past 40 years or so, but there haven’t been a ton of Hall of Famers to speak of in that regard. And to suggest that anyone’s success in the NBA isn’t rooted in equal parts blind luck and superior personnel is a farce. You can’t mention R.C. Buford or Sam Presti without also mentioning Tim Duncan and Kevin Durant, the cornerstone/Hall of Fame(caliber in Durant’s case) talents that their organizations are built around. I’m not saying those guys aren’t good at what they do. I’m just saying their jobs are much more manageable because of the personnel in place. Presti was no one’s genius before Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden came into their own. And he’d be the first one to shoot down that label. Phil deserves some time and the benefit of anyone’s doubt right now based on his Lord of the Rings status alone.


VIDEO: WRick Fox discusses the nuances of Phil Jackson’s system and how it will work in New York

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:10 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Then let’s do it this way: What has Phil done to win you over? Are you basing his success as a GM on what he did as a coach? (And, again, I’m the last guy who sells him short. I’m the one who said he was underrated as a coach. He is an all-timer. But that’s a different job.)

On Mar 28, 2014, at 4:37 PM, Smith, Sekou

Seriously! We’re haggling over Phil’s credentials to do a job that has been bequeathed to the children of owners, former agents, guys who have graduated from the video room and folks whose credentials pale in comparison to what the Zen master has accomplished in his storied career. Coach or GM, it doesn’t make much difference to me when we’re talking about management style. Phil’s style has produced unmatched success everywhere he’s been. So he didn’t take the GM training course. Folks have to get over that and let’s see what he can do.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 1:08 AM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

So your argument that Phil Jackson is a good hire is centered on “There have been plenty of bad hires before”? And we’re not haggling. We’re having a discussion in the loftiest of all debate societies: the sports media.

On Mar 29, 2014, at 12:06 AM, Smith, Sekou <Sekou.Smith@turner.com> wrote:

Don’t put words in my mouth … er, on my email, or whatever. What I’m saying is this, for you or anyone else to doubt Phil Jackson’s ability to do this job is shortsighted. You clearly have not embraced the Zen! I’m simply a believer in the power of experience. And no one interested in running a franchise has more championship experience than PJax!

From: Scott Howard-Cooper
Sent: Saturday, March 29, 2014 4:19 PM
To: Smith, Sekou
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

Experience is great. And Larry Bird successfully made the transition to head of basketball operations without previously working in a front office, so it can be done. But Larry Legend had two advantages. He was very familiar with the personnel after coaching the Pacers. And, Indiana was a good team. Bird had to make adjustments to a stable situation. Jackson doesn’t need to make adjustments. He needs to marshal an overhaul. The Knicks are a mess of salaries and personnel. He will be relying heavily on others for scouting and for cap management. I don’t think I’m being shortsighted. I’m being practical. Phil was a winner like few others, but that was Zen and this is now. He has to prove he can deliver in a new job. Don’t swoon over a GM because of his coaching record.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2014 6:51 PM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

You’re making this about all of these other guys and not about Phil. Does he have to prove himself as a GM? Sure. Just as all of those other guys did. But you’re acting like all of the work he’s done in the game hasn’t prepared him for this next step and I think that’s ridiculous. I’m not saying Phil is perfect and can wave his magic Zen wand and fix all of the problems facing the Knicks. But whatever issues arise, they won’t be foreign to Phil. He’s worked in championship situations and has the benefit of that vast experience to use in his new role with the Knicks. Don’t knock a guy as a GM before we give him some time to dig in on the job.

From: Scott Howard-Cooper

Date: March 29, 2014 at 11:35:28 PM EDT
To: Sekou SMITH
Subject: Re: JUMP BALL !!!

I hope he does well. I just think it’s fair to be skeptical. If he proves it, if he delivers big results, great. But let’s let him prove it.

From: Smith, Sekou
Sent: Sunday, March 30, 2014 7:38 AM
To: Scott Howard-Cooper
Subject: RE: JUMP BALL !!!

I knew I’d get you to come around to my side. And I agree, it’s fair to be skeptical. Just as it’s fair to assume, based on his lengthy history, to give Phil the benefit of the doubt we might not give someone else who doesn’t own more championship rings than fingers!


VIDEO: Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas talks Phil, the Knicks and the fit

Buyout Business: Where They Fit Best




VIDEO: Caron Butler lights it up off the bench for the Bucks, where will he do it next?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Last week’s NBA trade deadline was just Phase 1 of the late-season player grab for contenders looking to upgrade in certain areas and give themselves a push in the right direction with the playoffs on the horizon.

Phase 2 is the buyout market, when teams lock up veteran help at an area of need when teams start purging their rosters of players that were moved last week or veterans on lottery-bound teams in search of work with a contender. And that means we switch our focus from superstars who were rumored to be traded (yes, you Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol) to those players who were actually moved or probably should have been (guys like Danny Granger and Caron Butler, headliners in the buyout market).

Now it’s just a matter of matching the right player with the right team …

DANNY GRANGER TO THE … LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Pacers didn’t have any use for Granger with a younger and much cheaper option available in Evan Turner, but plenty of other teams are interested in adding him to their mix for the remainder of the season and playoffs. He reportedly spoke, via phone, with five different teams Thursday, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Granger explored the possibilities with the Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. A free agent-to-be this summer, Granger knows that the work he does between now and June, should it last that long, is as a temp. He’ll have time to find the long-term fit in the summer, which takes some of the pressure off right now.

ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne has more on why Granger picked the Clippers:

Former All-Star forward Danny Granger has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks all made a run at Granger, but ultimately he chose the Clippers late Thursday night because they offered him the best opportunity to play meaningful minutes for a contender.

Granger hopes to play Saturday when the Clippers host the Pelicans, a source said.

By signing with the Clippers, he will become the second veteran player coach and senior vice president of player personnel Doc Rivers has recruited to the team in a week. Last week Rivers outrecruited several other teams to sign forward Glen Davis, after he was bought out by the Orlando Magic. Davis played for Rivers in Boston, where they won the 2008 NBA championship and lost in the 2010 Finals.

The Clippers traded Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison last week to create roster spots to pursue players such as Granger and Davis, who were likely to be bought out. They also backed out of late trade discussions with the New York Knicks for injured swingman Iman Shumpert and guard Raymond Felton. Both decisions look prescient a week later.

The unique thing for Granger is he’s going to get work with the Clippers the same way he would have gotten it with the Pacers, off the bench as a veteran scorer-for-hire. Granger coming off of that Clippers’ bench alongside Jamal Crawford and others is a dangerous proposition for the opposition. And if J.J. Redick‘s injury issues linger, Granger could always work as a starter alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, giving Rivers a boost no one saw for the Clippers before Granger was sent to Philadelphia at the final hour of last week’s trade deadline.

***

CARON BUTLER TO THE … OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The race for Butler’s services has turned into a battle between two teams that could very well end up battling for the ultimate prize this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, are the leaders for Butler. They both have a need for a quality veteran to help work on the perimeter. Butler’s career began in Miami and he has institutional knowledge of how to operate in the Heat’s system. He could slide right into the mix with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew and fit in well. But the chance for more meaningful minutes might actually come with the Thunder, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could use another wise vet with a championship ring (Butler won his with Dallas) to help with some of the heavy lifting.

Butler was not on the active roster when the Mavericks won that title in 2011 (and the Mavericks went through both the Thunder and Heat to snag the Larry O’Brien trophy that year). Butler would bring some balance to the Thunder’s attack and his ability to defend on the perimeter would also take some pressure off of Durant, depending on the matchup, in critical situations. He’s a good fit in both place but needed more in Oklahoma City.

***



VIDEO: Jimmer Fredette works his magic against the Knicks

JIMMER FREDETTE TO THE … CHICAGO BULLS

The rumblings of a Fredette move to the Bulls started early Thursday, courtesy of a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It would be an odd marriage considering the Bulls’ defensive-minded focus and Fredette’s allergy to anything defensive during his time with the Sacramento Kings. But if Fredette wants to continue his playing career in the NBA and not abroad, proving himself as a contributor and key component for a rugged playoff outfit coached by Tom Thibodeau would do wonders for his cause.

The Bulls need the scoring help, particularly on the perimeter and from a shooter with Jimmer’s range. And he’ll get a chance to learn the fine art of true team defense playing for a coach and a team, led by All-Star center and defensive backbone Joakim Noah, that could very well save the No. 10 pick from the 2011 Draft.

***

METTA WORLD PEACE TO THE … SAN ANTONIO SPURS

World Peace has nine NBA lives. Who’d have thunk it a decade ago when his career was hanging in the balance? This is admittedly more of a guilty pleasure exercise for us than it is a necessity for the Spurs, but the potential World Peace and Gregg Popovich chemistry experiment is one that would keep social scientists up at night trying to figure out how it works. Metta proved during his run with the Lakers that he was capable of folding himself into the fabric of a championship outfit. He could do it again with the Spurs and Pop, who has made an art form of integrating veteran role players into the right spot in the rotation.

Seemingly every contender on both sides of the conference divide need help at the three, so Metta could see the interest in his services pick up when Granger and Butler make their decisions. He’s not necessarily a great fit in Miami or with the Clippers, but he’d be an intriguing fit with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.


VIDEO: Danny Granger shows that he still has some bounce left in those legs