Posts Tagged ‘Sam Presti’

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

OKC’s Westbrook Gets Green Light


VIDEO: The Game Time crew hears from OKC coach Scott Brooks on Russell Westbrook’s imminent return

OKLAHOMA CITY – The wait is over. Russell Westbrook is ready to play tonight against the Miami Heat.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard last played on Christmas Day when he dropped a triple-double on the New York Knicks. Two days later, he underwent a third surgery on his right knee due to recurring swelling.

General manager Sam Presti said Westbrook’s re-integration will include “building his minutes over time.” They’ll keep an eye on him to see his availability in back-to-back games. The Thunder’s next back-to-back games come March 16 and 17, at home against Dallas and the next night in Chicago.

“We are all very excited to have Russell back,” Presti said in a statement. “He has worked extremely hard throughout his rehabilitation, and his addition will allow us to build on the progress we have made in his absence. As Russell integrates back into the team we are going to manage the transition by building his minutes over time and will evaluate his availability in back-to-back situations. These steps are an effort to control the areas of his return to play where feasible, given the reduced practice and conditioning time during the regular season. Our goal is to create the best foundation for Russell and the team as we head into the postseason.”

The Thunder (43-12) lead the Western Conference and went 20-7 during Westbrook’s absence.

Westbrook, averaging 21.3 points, 7.0 assists and 6.0 rebounds a game in 25 games this season, had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee that occurred during the first round of the playoffs last season. A second surgery was needed prior to training camp. He returned three games into the season, but returned to the operating table once again in late December.

Oklahoma City is 21-4 this season with Westbrook in the lineup.

Trust Binds Brooks, Young Stars To OKC


VIDEO: Take a closer look at Scott Brooks’ coaching style and strategy

OKLAHOMA CITY – Scott Brooks does a bad job of bragging. As he continued to redirect credit for Oklahoma City’s ongoing success to a meticulous organizational structure and its young stars, the Thunder’s coach, self-deprecating to a fault, spotted Wilson Taylor in the distance.

Taylor is the club’s 30-year-old manager of team operations. The morning shootaround had ended moments earlier and Taylor was busily attending to some normally behind-the-scenes tasks at the other end of the team’s sprawling, immaculately lit training facility eight miles north of downtown. Like Brooks and multiple members of OKC’s staff — general manager Sam Presti, superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, roster rock Nick Collison – Taylor’s been with the team since it opened shop here in the summer of 2008.

“People don’t talk about this, but Sam has done a great job hiring, not necessarily me, but everybody in this building,” Brooks said in an interview last week with NBA.com. “You talk to Wilson right there, he understands that his job is to get our players better. And we all have the same mentality, from our therapists, from our sports scientists, from our trainers, from our equipment managers; we all understand our job is to get our players better, and I take pride in all those guys.”

Still, Brooks, 48, is the coach. And he’s overseeing one of the most unique and potentially historic team-building processes in the modern, free-agent-frenzied NBA. From the start of his career, Brooks has been coaching a rising icon (Durant), a perennial all-NBA player (Westbrook) and a roster that boasts, even after Jeff Green and James Harden‘s departures 20 months apart, seven homegrown players and six who are 25 or younger.

In the last four seasons, the Thunder have challenged the Lakers in the first round, made the West finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012 before last season’s hope got short-circuited in the West semis after a Westbrook knee injury.

Now here they are again.

The bedrock for all this success lies deeper than shrewd drafting. It lies with the bond Brooks forged early on with his two divergent stars. That put the youthful crew on a developmental fast track and put OKC on the map.

On Sunday, Brooks will coach the Western Conference All-Stars in the 63rd All-Star Game in New Orleans because his Thunder sit atop the heated Western Conference with 42 wins in 54 games. Holler if you called that following Westbrook’s third knee surgery the day after he dropped a Christmas Day triple-double at Madison Square Garden.

The only team in the league to rank in the top five in offensive and defensive rating? The Thunder. They’ve popped East powerhouses Miami and Indiana by a combined 41 points.

This is arguably the deepest OKC squad ever and, assuming Westbrook resumes his season in the coming days, the Thunder are the favorite to win the West. (more…)

Cavs Mired In Self-Made Mess




VIDEO: Kyrie Irving sits down with TNT’s Craig Sager to talk all things Cavs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — This is what happens when you try to outsmart the system without the right parts, when you think you’ve come up with a formula for an equation that doesn’t actually have one.

All of the lottery picks, risky free agent acquisitions, financial flexibility, spread sheets and advanced statistical and analytical data on the planet won’t save a NBA executive or coach from that wicked reality when the bill is due.

Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant found out the hard way today when he was relieved of his duties and replaced, at least on an interim basis, by his former assistant and now “acting general manager” David Griffin. The Cavaliers are a mess, one of their own making, and Grant — despite keeping a low public profile by GM standards — found himself on the firing line, and rightfully so. Organizational and institutional arrogance will get you every time.

And there is no quick fix, no easy way out of this tire fire for the Cavaliers. There is only the painful and very public walking of the plank for Grant as Griffin, and whoever succeeds him, tries to salvage whatever they can from the wreckage that is the past four years and steer the franchise back onto solid ground.

You can’t blame All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving for being anxious about the direction of the franchise after yet another season goes sideways before Valentine’s Day. He’s not the one who chose Mike Brown, who had already been unceremoniously dumped in his previous stint with the franchise because he couldn’t get the franchise over the championship hump, to usher in the new era of Cavaliers’ basketball. He didn’t draft Dion Waiters or Anthony Bennett when everyone in the league would have gone elsewhere with those top picks. He didn’t sign Andrew Bynum or engineer any of the other moves that have come post-The Decision. Whether it was his call or not (most anyone with a lick of wisdom about this situation knows that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert‘s voice was heard on each and every decision), Grant owns all of those moves.

Trading for Luol Deng was a nice move, but it didn’t happen soon enough. It came after the air of inevitability about this particular Cavaliers team, a woeful 16-33 in a depressed Eastern Conference that they were expected to make a playoff statement in, was already established.

Gilbert made his intentions for the immediate future clear in a statement released by the team:

“This has been a very difficult period for the franchise. We have severely underperformed against expectations. Just as this is completely unacceptable to our loyal and passionate fan base, season ticket holders and corporate partners, it is also just as unacceptable to our ownership group. I can assure everyone who supports and cares about the Cleveland Cavaliers that we will continue to turn over every stone and explore every possible opportunity for improvement to shift the momentum of our franchise in the right direction. There is no one in our entire organization who is satisfied with our performance, and to say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We all know the great potential of our young talent, seasoned veterans, as well as our recent all-star addition. We believe a change in leadership was necessary to establish the best possible culture and environment for our entire team to flourish.

There is no move, nor any amount of capital investment, we will not make if we believe it will improve our chances of competing and winning in this league for both the short and long term. The fans of this great city have invested too much time, money and effort for the kind of product we have recently delivered to them. This must change,” concluded Gilbert.

This is the latest example of a franchise assuming that there is a template for the type of success enjoyed by the likes of the San Antonio Spurs translating to every other market. It takes stars, superstars usually, and just the right fit to launch an outfit from the lottery to the upper echelon of the league. The players come first, then the success. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be. Assuming that some set infrastructure is supposed to come first is where the Cavaliers went wrong.

They were spoiled during the LeBron James years. They foolishly assumed their fabric had as much to do with those teams making deep forays into the playoffs year after year as James did. Maybe they realize now that there is no chicken and egg debate here. You either grow your superstar and surround him with the right pieces to reach his potential or you make mistake after mistake — the Cavs, before and after Grant joined them (he was an assistant GM first) made plenty of those while LeBron was on his way up — and eventually watch things come apart at some point down the road.

James didn’t depart his native Northeast Ohio because he hated snow or tired of the comforts of home. He went to Miami to win and because the Heat, and Pat Riley, offered a surefire path to the one thing all of the all-time greats covet most, and that’s a Larry O’Brien trophy.

I knew where this thing was headed the moment Gilbert’s now infamous post-Decision promise that the Cavs would win a title before James and the Heat was unearthed to the public.

The risky move to sign Bynum over the summer, when the Cavs were one of a handful of teams with cap space and assets to make big moves, was one that alerted the players already on the roster that Grant and his staff were grasping for anything to make a splash.

It turns out that the Bynum signing was every bit the useless play I thought it was. All it did was increase the tension in an already fragile relationship between Irving and Waiters. The Cavaliers’ locker room culture wasn’t strong enough to absorb and force a cat with Bynum’s baggage to conform, the way he’ll have to in Indiana now if he wants to stick around with a contender for the remainder of this season.

Their Central Division rivals to the north in Indianapolis are a shining example of what the Cavaliers could have and should have been able to do during the time that has passed since LeBron’s departure. They took risks in drafts, free agency and trades and in hiring Frank Vogel as their coach to manage what has become one of the most complete and balanced rosters in the league.

It certainly helps to have Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh and Kevin Pritchard at the helm while going through the rebuilding process. But that’s still no excuse for the Cavaliers taking such a cavalier attitude towards conventional wisdom over the course of the past five or six seasons.

In a results-oriented business, the Grant-led Cavaliers simply never showed enough to warrant him making it to the final year of his contract. And now that same mess he inherited will be passed along to Griffin and whoever else follows. Whether or not Irving, Deng and any of the other players acquired on Grant’s watch will be around to see this thing to the finish is anyone’s guess.

But there are some certainties involved in this process, no matter how many perceived assets the person calling the shots is working with. You can go off on your own and decide to reinvent the game if you want, you can take players that don’t fit and squeeze with all your might to try to make it work. You can look past fresh new faces in the coaching ranks in an attempt to right a past wrong or what have you, but you can not and will not circumvent the system. It just doesn’t work.

If you don’t believe it, ask Gregg Popovich how that all would have worked in San Antonio if he didn’t have Time Duncan to build around; or Sam Presti in Oklahoma City without Kevin Durant.

The superstar players come first, then the structure around them. And it all has to fit together.

Concern Abounds For Thunder As Westbrook Tries To Heal Up Again


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew breaks down the implication of Russell Westbrook’s knee injury

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Starting tonight in Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET, NBA TV), the Thunder and Trail Blazers will play three times in a span of 43 days. Out of nowhere these two Northwest Division teams separated by 1,500 miles and 1.5 games are on the brink of a meaningful rivalry in a division too often devoid of such anticipated matchups.

Unfortunately much of the oomph vanished with Friday’s out-of-nowhere announcement from Oklahoma City that its All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook needed a third surgery on his right knee in eight months and will be out at least through the mid-February All-Star break.

The Blazers won the initial meeting, a 111-104 thriller in Portland on Dec. 4. The remainder of this regular-season series will be played with the Thunder down a superstar, potentially tipping the division title in favor of the talk-of-the-league Blazers, whose more immediate objective is preventing the season’s first two-game skid from becoming three.

OKC begins a 25-game gut-check march to the All-Star break tonight having won the first two games without Westbrook. Kevin Durant scored 34 and 33 points and the Thunder defense held Charlotte and Houston each to 86 points. The schedule is relatively favorable: 11 home games, 14 road; nine against teams currently .500 or better, 16 against teams below .500; 11 against the woeful East (exception being at Miami on Jan. 29); 14 against the West (including at Houston, at San Antonio and the three against Portland).

But that’s all the narrow focus. The wider scope is more concerning: What to make of Westbrook’s troublesome right knee upon his return? Will the league’s reigning iron man prior to the injury face chronic issues? Or has this simply been a bout of really bad luck and a short-term nuisance?

During a teleconference with reporters Friday, Thunder general manger Sam Presti called this latest setback “disappointing” and “unexpected.” He said expectations are for Westbrook again to quickly return to an elite level of play for the final stretch of the regular season. But Presti also acknowledged something new: “I think we have to understand that this is something that’s probably going to have to be managed.”

What “managed” means — a minutes restriction, taking games off — won’t be known until Westbrook comes back, and beyond.

The initial surgery in late April was clear-cut: repair a torn meniscus caused by the collision with Rockets guard Patrick Beverley in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series. As training camp neared, Westbrook’s return date wasn’t certain, but he was practicing with teammates and by all reports was looking terrific.

On media day, the day before training camp opened, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Westbrook was pain-free, but also delivered an ominous statement: There was unexplained swelling in the knee. Three days later, Westbrook had a second surgery. The arthroscopy revealed the swelling was caused by a “loose stitch.” Great news. Structurally, the knee was fine and the surgeons, a new team from the one that performed the initial operation — one, again, selected by Westbrook’s camp and not the Thunder — reported excellent progress in the ligament-healing process.

In fact, Westbrook obliterated the team’s timetable for his return by a month, missing just two games. He quickly played with such explosive force that the 25-year-old’s right knee seemed as good as new. The Thunder was rolling and Westbrook was cementing a certain fourth consecutive All-Star bid. The last two weeks might have been his best, averaging 21.7 ppg, 8.4 apg and 8.7 rpg.

On Christmas Day, Westbrook dazzled with a triple-double. On Friday, he was back on an operating table.

“Russell has been playing pain free, but recently had experienced increased swelling,” Presti said Friday. “After consultation and consideration by his surgeon in Los Angeles, a plan was established to monitor the swelling that included a series of scheduled MRIs. On the most recent MRI it was determined by the surgeon that there was an area of concern that had not previously existed, nor was detectable in the previous procedures, and it was necessary to evaluate Russell further. The consulting physician determined that arthroscopic surgery was necessary to address the swelling that was taking place.”

This time a loose stitch wasn’t the culprit. To be clear, this is not an alarming ACL or micro-fracture situation. The last two procedures were both arthroscopies, far less invasive than a full-blown operation. Westbrook had been playing pain-free despite the recent swelling, and for a player dependent on strength, speed and explosiveness, all traits seemed to be back in abundance.

That’s again the hope and belief. Cranky knees have drastically affected Dwyane Wade‘s ability to play effectively throughout an entire season and the Heat now closely monitor him. Wade, 31, has already sat out seven of Miami’s first 30 games to keep him fresh for the long haul. For Westbrook, with far less mileage on his body, to endure similar restraints would be a blow individually and obviously the for a Thunder team that had again looked like a worthy title contender.

“We know that Russell’s work ethic and commitment will help him return to the level of play that we have all come to appreciate,” Presti said.

Clearly a Wade-like situation at this point is not the expectation. Still, a second and third surgery were never the expectation either.


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks with The Beat’s crew about his team’s play of late