Posts Tagged ‘Scott Brooks’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 184) featuring Vince Goodwill Jr.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If you want to know the fastest way to spoil something special in the NBA, just check the chemistry.

No championship team operates without good chemistry. No team harboring championship dreams, even the ones boasting the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant (the last two men to earn MVP honors, can overcome bad chemistry.

That would explain the presence of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Oklahoma City Thunder being involved in the three-team trade with the New York Knicks that went down Monday, a somewhat shocking player and asset swap that sent Dion Waiters from the Cavs to the Thunder, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert from the Knicks to the Cavs. The Knicks piled up more Draft picks and cap space that will help them continue the Phil Jackson-led chemistry tweak going on in New York.

They are all chasing the same thing the Detroit Pistons discovered when they waived veteran forward Josh Smith before Christmas and promptly ripped off five straight wins. They are searching for that cosmic mix that Vince Goodwill Jr. of The Detroit News describes on Episode 184 of the Hang Time Podcast.

LISTEN HERE:

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

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


VIDEO: The Detroit Pistons are on a roll right now that no one saw coming

Morning shootaround — Dec. 29


VIDEO: Check out all the highlights from Sunday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron blunt assesment of Cavs | Wizards head West for test | Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams | Thunder players talk trust after latest loss

No. 1: LeBron’s blunt assessment of Cavs … it’s not good — The wobbly wheels on the traveling road show that is the Cleveland Cavaliers this season came all the way off Sunday in a loss to lowly Detroit. There’s no way to avoid it anymore. The Cavaliers are simply not playing good basketball these days. Even LeBron James has had to come to grips with that reality. He said so so in his postgame assessment of his team after that loss to the Pistons. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com provides some context on what pushed the frustrated James over the edge.

After falling down by as many as 27 points en route to a 103-80 blowout loss on Sunday to the Detroit Pistons — a team that came into the game with the fourth-worst record in the league — LeBron James did not sugarcoat the current state of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“We’re not a very good team,” James said after the defeat dropped the Cavs to 18-12. “As far as on the court, we’re still trying to find our way as well. We’ve won some good games, we’ve lost some games. But right now, we’re just not very good in every aspect of the game that we need to be to compete every night.”

t has become a common refrain for James. Following the Cavs’ Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat, he echoed the sentiment, saying, “We’re not that good right now.” The next day, after a comeback win over the Orlando Magic, James said Cleveland was playing “nowhere near championship ball.”

It was so bad against Detroit that the Cavs were booed off the court by their hometown fans during a third-quarter timeout amid the Pistons outscoring Cleveland 86-52 over the final three quarters. Despite being 11-6 overall at Quicken Loans Arena this season, the Cavs’ past three home losses have all come by 17 points or more — albeit the previous two routs were at the hands of the Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks, the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the East, respectively.

“I can’t tell you what it was,” Kevin Love said. “We need to play better in front of our home crowd, home fans, and it’s just unacceptable.”

***

No. 2: Wizards  head West for test — The Washington Wizards will find out exactly what they are made of to start the New Year, heading out for a Western Conference road trip that will give them a clear understanding of exactly where they stand in the league pecking order right now. A grueling five-game road trip kicks off tonight in Houston. This could be where the rubber hits the road for a team that has feasted on a favorable early season schedule, writes Jorge Castillo of The Washington Post:

The Wizards have piled up a multitude of those victories this season preying on the NBA’s weaker teams in a remarkably favorable opening third of their schedule. Through 29 games, they have played the second-easiest schedule in the NBA, the fewest road games, just eight Western Conference teams and zero Western Conference teams on the road.

Those statistics will change drastically this week, when the Wizards embark on their toughest trip of the season to face five of the top nine teams in the merciless Western Conference. The trek begins Monday in Houston against the 21-8 Rockets.

“It is a test,” Wizards forward Paul Pierce said following Saturday’s win. “We get a chance to play against some of the upper-echelon Western Conference teams. It will be a great measuring stick about where we are. We know we are an upper-echelon team in the East, but we know if we want to be champions, this is an opportunity with the East being wide open for us to get to the Finals, for us to gauge where we are as an elite team in this league.”

All five teams on deck are at least .500, and Washington has beaten just three teams currently at least .500, including the New Orleans Pelicans, whom they play to conclude the trip Jan. 5. The results suggest the Wizards haven’t been sufficiently tested, but wins against bottom-tier teams count the same, and unlike last season, Washington has rarely faltered against inferior opponents. They are 19-4 when favored.

“You got all 82 of them, and we play them the way they are on the schedule,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “We’d like to change the schedule once in a while, but we can’t. You just approach it, again, one day at a time. There’s always stretches over the course of the year that provides a tough challenge. I think our guys understand that.”

***

No. 3: Nets have all but given up on Deron Williams — So this is how it ends for Deron Williams in Brooklyn, huh? Benched by the Brooklyn Nets? This is now the way the story was supposed to play out for the former All-Star and supposedly elite point guard and franchise player the Nets built their team around. The Nets have all but given up on Williams just two years after making him the face of the franchise, writes Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Considering how this relationship began, the fall of Deron Williams has been a stunning and debilitating change of course for the Nets.

It didn’t seem that long ago that they were eagerly handing him the keys to the franchise, basing each move on whether it would improve their chances of retaining the point guard. It wasn’t a question of whether they should offer Williams the biggest deal in the organization’s history, it was whether he’d sign it.

Williams did, of course, sealing his future on an iPad. It was trumped up as the seminal moment of the move to Brooklyn, a reason to believe the Nets had fully left behind those woebegone days in Jersey. Now they’re trying to get rid of him after just two seasons, reaching a conclusion that Williams comes up way short as a franchise player, even when healthy.

It has reached the point of coach Lionel Hollins putting Williams on the bench, warning Saturday that the 30-year-old needs to play better to earn more than the 20 minutes he logged in the loss to the Pacers.

Imagine that a couple years ago: Williams, the $100 million man, getting benched to clear up time for Jarrett Jack.

“(Hollins) is definitely right, we do need to play better,” Williams said, referencing himself and his high-paid partner on the bench, Brook Lopez. “We’re two of the highest-paid players on the team, so that’s our responsibility to play better.

“Hopefully we can accept that challenge — I think I do, and Brook does.”

***

No. 4  Thunder players talk “trust” after latest loss — Trust issues appear to be the latest topic of discussion in the Oklahoma City Thunder locker room. This comes after their latest loss, to the Dallas Mavericks, and their latest squandering of a chance to reach the .500 mark this season. It’s become a bit of a cycle in Oklahoma City, as Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman writes, these issues the Thunder have to sort out:

Here we go again.

Thunder players are talking about trust.

That, of course, has become the go-to buzzword whenever the ball stops moving, the offense breaks down and Oklahoma City suffers the same type of avoidable loss as it did in its 112-107 defeat at Dallas on Sunday night.

“We just got to do a better job of trusting our sets, actually running our sets with pace, trusting each other and I think we’ll be all right,” said Kendrick Perkins.

They keep saying it.

When will they learn to do it consistently?

“I don’t know. We just got to figure it out,” said Reggie Jackson. “We got to figure something out or we’re going to continue to have disappointing losses.”

The Thunder squandered another chance — its third this season — to climb to .500 after delivering a head-scratching final four minutes and allowing Dallas to snap its two-game winning streak.

In that game-deciding stretch, the Thunder went 2-for-6 and had three turnovers.

“We had some tough breaks at the end of the game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We just got to get better. We got to get better. We got to do a better job of executing. We got to do a better job of getting better shots down the stretch.”

Russell Westbrook’s final four minutes were as forgettable as anyone’s.

Westbrook had two of his team’s turnovers over that span and missed both of his shot attempts, including a point-blank layup that would have trimmed Dallas’ lead to one with 1:17 left to play. After his first turnover, Westbrook compounded the giveaway by committing a costly foul 90 feet away from the Mavs’ basket. He delivered it against Dirk Nowitzki, while Dallas was in the bonus.

Nowitzki stepped to the line and swished both shots to break a 102-102 tie with 3:25 remaining.

The Thunder never saw the lead again.

An overly aggressive Westbrook later committed another unnecessary foul on Nowitzki with 1:05 left to play, and Nowitzki again made both shots, this time to put the Mavs ahead by five.

It characterized Westbrook’s night, as his customary hustle and relentlessness allowed him to finish with 18 points, nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals. But his refusal to settle for the smart play resulted in him shooting 6-for-23 from the floor while committing five turnovers.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony has a sore kneeKobe Bryant returns to action looking to be more (wait for it) patient … The Minnesota Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio is weeks away from mounting his own comeback … Everything in Chris Kaman‘s life changes now … Angry Clippers will see a different Utah team tonight in Salt Lake City … It appears that Chris Bosh is ready to return to the Miami Heat? … Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker speeds up his process by slowing down …

Brooks: Durant to face Pelicans tonight

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant will make his 2014-15 NBA debut in New Orleans Tuesday night, according to Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks in comments to media at the Thunder’s shootaround. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, who first reported the news, has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced this morning that Kevin Durant will play against the New Orleans Pelicans tonight – Durant’s first game action since fracturing his right foot in the preseason.

Durant participated in a full week of practices leading up to Tuesday’s announcement from Brooks. Durant’s last five practice sessions all involved contact with no setbacks, per The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry.

Durant makes his debut against a Pelicans team that is currently 7-8 – fifth in the loaded Southwest Division. The Thunder is third in the Northwest Division, eight games behind first-place Portland (13-4).

As expected, Twitter was also abuzz about OKC’s turn in fortune:

For the 5-12 Thunder and their fans, this has to feel a little like opening gifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. They got Russell Westbrook back on Friday, and the irrepressible point guard, who had surgery on a broken bone in his right hand just two games into the season, scored 32 points with eight assists and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes in a blowout victory over the Knicks.

Now it’s Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, who has been out since undergoing surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot in mid-October. The 6-foot-10 forward won his fourth NBA scoring title last season, averaging 32.0 points with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists to help OKC go 59-23 and reach the Western Conference finals.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 29


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday’s action

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook’s historic return | Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach | West recalibrates view of Pacers | Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses

No. 1: Westbrook’s historic return — Never before in NBA annals, according to the authorities at the unassailable Elias Sports Bureau, had a player scored so many points with so many assists in so little time. And then Russell Westbrook did it Friday night against New York in what was his comeback from a 14-game injury layoff (broken hand), the sort of contest through which many of his peers might have eased themselves.

Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s irrepressible point guard, scored 32 points with seven rebounds and eight assists in just 24 minutes as the Thunder clobbered the Knicks by 27 points (and led by as many a 37). Going off one night, that gym where OKC plays ought to be renamed the “Westbrook” Energy Arena rather than Chesapeake, because he brought a bundle of heavy voltage. Here is some of the recap from Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman:

It started in the pre-game introduction line.

Russell Westbrook raced onto the court so fast you would have thought he was shot out of a cannon. All the energy that he had pent up for the past 14 games exploded from his pores before his name was even announced over the public address system.

That’s when you knew the type of night it would be.

Back in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand on a fluke play against the Clippers on Oct. 30, Westbrook wasted no time showing the NBA he was indeed back.

New York was in town on the wrong night.

The Elias folks attached an asterisk to Westbrook’s distinction – no one in the shot clock era had ever gone for 32 points and eight assists in 24 minutes or less, but c’mon, do we really think some old-timer did it without the imperative for his team to shoot in 24 seconds? Here’s more from Mayberry:

He made 12 of 17 shots, three of his four 3-point tries and five of his seven free throw attempts.

He netted a game-high plus-24 in the plus-minus category.

“An area that’s not shown on the stat sheet is his ability to raise the level of his teammates,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “That’s what the great ones do, and that’s what he did tonight. I thought everybody responded when he was on the court. He did a good job of getting guys involved.”

Westbrook was nearly flawless in his first shot at it in four weeks. And it was clear early on that he couldn’t wait to get back on the court.

“You get so used to sitting on the side…and now I got an opportunity to go out and hear my name called. You never want to take that for granted,” Westbrook said. “Never. At any time. So I was just hyped to be able to hear my name and run out on the floor.”

***

No. 2: Scott rips Lakers’ mental approach — Minnesota rookie Zach LaVine scored a season-high 28 points off the bench against his boyhood hero and LaVine’s team won the game, beating the Lakers by one point at Staples Center. That hero, Kobe Bryant, scored 26 points on 18 shots and was the only starter on his club in the black on plus/minus.

And still, the best performance of the night came later, when Lakers coach Byron Scott vented about his team’s lackadaisical approach. At 3-13 after the loss, L.A. cannot afford to look past the Sixers, never mind the Timberwolves. But that’s what happened and it bit them hard, according to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes. Just like the animals in the metaphorical zoo Scott spoke about afterward:

“Do you ever go see the gorillas, the elephants, the lions and the monkeys, and they’re looking right back at you?” Scott asked. “That’s what Minnesota was doing. They were looking right back at us.”

They looked at the Lakers, now 3-14, as an easy target — and rightfully so.

He raised his voice, all but shouting. He pounded the table before him in the postgame news conference. He beat his hands into it four times — hard.

“There’s nobody in this league that we should be looking at thinking, ‘This is an easy win,’ ” he boomed, beating the table as he spoke. “Period.”

Was this rock bottom? So far, yes. It’s still November. It can — and probably will — get worse.

***

No. 3: West recalibrates view of PacersDavid West had begun the season more plugged into the disappointment of Indiana Pacers fans than into the stay-upbeat-and-sell-tickets approach of his bosses within the organization. West knew the Pacers’ chances of chasing an NBA title had taken serious hits with the departure of Lance Stephenson and then the gruesome, season-crushing leg injury of All-Star wing Paul George. West said as much as 2014-15 began, advising all on Media Day that the team’s ambitions needed to be scaled downward.

Then West watched from the side, nursing an ankle sprain through the first 15 games, as Indiana went a surprisingly resilient 6-9 without four of last year’s starters (George Hill was hurt, too) and a couple key reserves. By the time he got in on the action Friday with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists in a victory over Orlando, the Pacers’ sixth victory in the past nine games, the veteran power forward was ready to re-adjust his expectations. Mark Montieth of Pacers.com chronicled the upturn in West’s mood:

“These guys compete and play hard, and they do that at a very high level,” he said. “They’ve won some tough road games by being competitive and engaged and having a fight about them, which is one of the reasons I was anxious to get back out there. You appreciate that. You appreciate how hard they’ve competed while being undermanned.

“I’m just feeding off these guys. I’ve watched them for the first month or whatever. We’ve got some good guys who can cut off the basketball, guys who can execute, so we’re just going to keep getting better.”

He said that with a lilt in his normally gruff voice. It’s clear he’s revised his realism.

As injured veterans return – C.J. Watson also came back on Friday and scored nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, Roy Hibbert could return for Saturday’s game in Cleveland and George Hill is still a couple of weeks away with an injury coach Frank Vogel revealed in the pre-game to be a torn quad muscle – the continued improvement seems likely.

So, what does the Media Day realist believe the team’s ceiling is now?

“I’ll evaluate that when we get there,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m going to enjoy this this year and try to do something special with this group. The thing that people had overlooked is that we’re in the East, so we’re not going to be out of it.

“Before the season (began) I didn’t realize how hard these guys were going to play. Donald (Sloan) hasn’t played major minutes in his career but all of a sudden he’s out there. But he’s a competitive dude. Solomon (Hill), he competes every single play. And that’s inspiring. You want to get in the trenches with guys like that.”

***

No. 4: Stoudemire sick of Knicks’ excuses — When the best news the New York Knicks can offer is an updated medical report suggesting that Carmelo Anthony’s sore back is 80 percent healthy – spasms vs. structural damage is what passes for good fortune these days – it’s clear there are serious issues within Phil Jackson’s, Derek Fisher’s and Anthony’s crew. Sure, Russell Westbrook was back Friday but 2014 MVP Kevin Durant still was out (right foot surgery). So Veteran forward Amar’e Stoudemire called out the Knicks on their courage and desire after that loss in OKC, the most lopsided of their dreary season. Marc Berman of the New York Post offered details:

“They played like they wanted it more,’’ Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.’’

The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony (back spasms) for the second straight game, but it seemed as if they were lacking passion.

“[Oklahoma City] came out with a lot of energy and it seems as if we got taken back by that,’’ Stoudemire said. “We have to have a lion’s heart and can’t be afraid of teams coming out and playing with that type of aggressiveness. We have to retaliate.”

Stoudemire was one of the few Knicks to play aggressively. He scored 20 points on 7-for-8 shooting, 6-for-10 from the line, with nine rebounds off the bench.

“It’s intensity level at this point,’’ Stoudemire said. “The learning process is there. We can’t keep saying we’re learning. We’re learning. Teams want it more than we do. We can’t say we’re still learning. We can’t say we had an off night shooting. That happens, but you can still win the ballgame with defense. We have to become students of the game and become masters of our craft.’’

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The mood in Milwaukee is changing, top down and inside out, according to our own Steve Aschburner. And it served the 10-7 Bucks well again in their victory in Detroit. … Folks in Portland like their big-small combo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard, but Memphis’ version – Marc Gasol and Mike Conley – left town with a victory and the league’s best record. … Clever Heat fan suggests that Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose considering teaming up to job-share. … One more to go – Saturday night in Utah – on this seven-game, 12-day trip for the Clippers and it’s already been a success (5-1) thanks to the victory in Houston. … Doc Rivers sounds like he’s throwing his hands up over James Harden throwing his arms up, but it’s meant as a compliment to the Rockets guard.

 

Russell Westbrook set to return for OKC Thunder

HANG TIME BIG CITYRussell Westbrook will return to the starting lineup tonight for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the New York Knicks, head coach Scott Brooks told reporters this morning. Westbrook had missed Oklahoma City’s last 14 games following surgery to repair a broken right hand.

Though he played just two games this season, Westbrook was averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game before the injury. The Thunder went 4-10 without Westbrook, who was expected to carry a heavy load with Kevin Durant out with a broken foot. Durant’s projected return remains unclear. The Thunder are currently six games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Durant, Westbrook set to practice

Is that a bugle call we hear just around the corner? Is that cloud of dust from the cavalry kicking up a storm and charging to the rescue?

The Thunder took another tough one on the chin with a 94-92 home loss to the Nets Friday night. But the good news is the All-Star pair of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will rejoin their teammates for a practice on Saturday.

Westbrook still wore a splint, but shot with his surgically repaired right hand and Durant made a couple of dunks off his surgically repaired right foot at Friday’s shoot around.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks told Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman that the pair of Thunder stars will now take the next step in their rehabilitation:

“They had good workouts the last couple days,” Scott Brooks said.

And the positive injury news didn’t stop there. Brooks also revealed that the two superstars will participate in parts of Thunder practice on Saturday afternoon — the first team work for either since their injuries.

“Probably not any of the contact stuff,” Brooks said. “(But) they will go through some of our practice and we’ll go from there.”
The two seem to be healing at an accelerated rate and a return by the end of next week — particularly for Westbrook — isn’t out of the question.

Per the NBA’s hardship rule, neither of the stars (or Mitch McGary or Grant Jerrett) are allowed to return until the Nov. 28th home game against Derek Fisher’s New York Knicks.

The news can’t come too soon for the Thunder, who have now dropped to 3-11 on the season. In order for OKC to reach the 49 win mark that was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference last season, the Thunder have to finish up 46-22 (.676) the rest of the way.

Westbrook out at least month after surgery on broken hand


VIDEO: Who steps up now for Thunder?

The clock of healing and recovery from major injury starts the moment the surgery ends, but as expected in Russell Westbrook‘s return from a broken right hand, the clock really is a calendar. The Oklahoma City point guard will be out at least one month after suffering a fractured metacarpal bone in his right hand.

Westbrook, 25, underwent surgery Saturday morning on the fracture he suffered in the second quarter of the Thunder’s loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles. The team said he would be reevaluated in four weeks, by which time he will have missed at least 15 games.

Darnell Mayberry of NewsOK.com offered an update on Westbrook’s condition and on the many injuries that have hammered the Thunder in the early NBA season:

Westbrook is the latest victim of an injury bug that that has come through and decimated Oklahoma City’s roster. Kevin Durant, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Mitch McGary and Grant Jerrett are all out with injuries. Jackson was expected to rejoin the lineup as early as Saturday against Denver in the Thunder’s home opener, but he said at the team’s shootaround Saturday morning that he is not 100 percent and doesn’t expect to play against the Nuggets.

If Jackson does not play, the Thunder would be left with only eight healthy players. Only one, veteran Sebastian Telfair, is a point guard.

“This is the time when we stick together, especially with the guys that we have out,” Telfair said. “It’s no way to replace them guys.”

Due to the rash of injuries, however, the Thunder will soon be eligible to exceed the maximum of 15 players on its roster should the league grant Oklahoma City a hardship exception. It’s an exception that allows teams with at least four injured players who will be sidelined for at least two weeks to add an additional player. For a team to qualify for the exception, all four players must miss at least three consecutive games while sitting out those two weeks.

The Thunder will meet the criteria following the Nuggets game, as Durant, McGary, Morrow and Jerrett all will miss their third straight game while nursing long term injuries. Westbrook’s fluke injury from Thursday night will soon give the Thunder a chance to apply for a second exception once he misses three consecutive games.

“It’s unfortunate the way it is right now, but that’s the way it is,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “We have to figure out how we can improve and get better from all of our experiences. And this is going to be a tough one, but the good teams, good players bounce back through adversity.”

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Jackson’s dreams await with patience

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

reggie-jackson

Reggie Jackson averaged 13.1 points and 4.1 assists last season in 28.5 minutes. (NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Reggie Jackson didn’t start the Oklahoma City Thunder’s preseason opener Wednesday night at Denver, and that’s not likely to change regardless of how many impassioned pleas he makes.

“I want it. I feel strong about it. I want to be the starter,” Jackson said a couple of weeks ago during Media Day, delivering a rambling and emotional speech that spilled over the 10 minutes allotted for each player. “What I have always grown up just believing, I want a majority of my time to be spent playing against other starters. I want to play against the best, I want to play against Chris Paul, I want to play against Kyrie Irving, I want to be mentioned on the highest of levels.”

It’s certainly admirable. It’s just not practical. Three-time All-Star Russell Westbrook is the Thunder’s starting point guard, and coach Scott Brooks just anointed him best in the business.

But that’s not the point here. Oklahoma City has a starting job open at shooting guard, not point guard. Jackson, a quick, 6-foot-3 point guard, filled the 2-guard spot well several times during the second round and the West finals when Brooks benched longtime starter Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha moved on to Atlanta and OKC will replace him in-house. Just not with Jackson.

The overriding issue is — and this should make Jackson feel all warm and fuzzy — he’s too valuable right where he is. It’s more ideal for OKC to fill in the starting 2-guard spot (second-year player Andre Roberson, a defensive-minded two-guard with little offensive upside, and erratic Jeremy Lamb, a natural for the position as a lanky 6-foot-5 shooter if he can ever harness consistency, are the top options) than to replace Jackson’s critical production off the bench.

It’s unfortunate really. Here’s a young player so determined to make a name for himself but is convinced being a reserve is taking a back seat. Brooks and others try to tell him it’s more impressive to be a “finisher,” which he is, that he’ll log as many minutes as a sub and he’ll play many, many minutes alongside Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

The decision to not start Jackson isn’t a personal one, or one made because there’s somebody better to do it. As shown above, there’s not. Keeping Jackson on the bench is purely strategic. OKC needs his aggression, penetration and scoring to lead the second unit. As they realized last season, the Thunder bench is compromised without him.

“For some people [starting is] important. To others it’s not,” Jackson said. “It’s very prideful for me. I feel like I’m very talented. I feel like I can lead a team. That’s just how I’ve been raised and that’s just how I’ve always felt. I want to be the guy in charge. I want to be the guy leading the team, the head of the snake.”

Again, admirable, but not realistic. Intertwined in all this is Jackson’s eligibility for an extension by the end of the month as he enters his fourth season. If one doesn’t get done he’ll enter next summer as a restricted free agent, which seems the likely path, where other teams can set his value.

Comparisons have been made to James Harden‘s situation a couple of years ago when OKC stunned everybody and traded him to Houston before the start of the 2012-13 season. But lets not confuse Jackson for Harden, a No. 3 overall pick and an emerging star when he was dealt. Jackson, the 24th pick, barely got off the bench as a rookie. He averaged 14.2 minutes the next season before being thrust into the starting lineup in the first round of the playoffs after Westbrook injured his knee. He started 36 games last season when Westbrook was out and staked himself as key contributor. His 32 points in 37 brilliant minutes off the bench in Game 4 at Memphis, all but saved an embarrassing first-round exit.

A more accurate comparison is Eric Bledsoe, the 18th pick in 2010 (actually drafted by the Thunder and traded to the Clippers) who spent three seasons backing up CP3. He got his break last season after being traded to Phoenix. He played great in a two point-guard backcourt with Goran Dragic and the Suns made fast strides. Although Bledsoe missed half the season with a knee injury, he cashed in as a restricted free agent with the Suns — albeit rather contentiously — on a five-year, $70 million contract.

Jackson won’t get that chance to start, but what he has that Bledsoe did not is the opportunity to win a championship. If he does that, or even gets close, while being perceived as a selfless, super sixth man, all of Jackson’s boyhood dreams will be in front of him starting next summer.

Just not likely with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.