Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

Blogtable: Why not go defense-first?

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: Future for 7-footers? | Going defense-first? | Cavs or Warriors in 2016?



VIDEOHow the Warriors’ defense made life tough on the Cavs in Game 6

> The Warriors are the 19th NBA champion in the last 20 years to have a top 10 defensive rating during the regular season (they were ranked No. 1). So why don’t more teams focus on defense, and what does a defense-first roster look like?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: There are plenty of coaches who believe that defense wins. But NBA rules are set up to facilitate scoring, grinding defense isn’t very entertaining and there might be a player revolt if a team practiced and played defense as intently as this question suggests. Because even when it’s a source of pride, defense isn’t fun. As for what a team built that way might look like, do we really want to see Rajon Rondo, Tony Allen, Kawhi Leonard, Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan laboring for points when their team has the ball?

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Good teams do concentrate on defense, as evidenced by 19 of the last 20 champions ranking in the top 10. The Spurs went away from defensive emphasis for a year or two, slipped back into the pack and then made a renewed commitment that produced back-to-back Finals appearances and the 2014 championship.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBecause defense isn’t glitzy. It doesn’t sell a lot of tickets. I also think a lot of teams do try to focus on defense, but actually coming up with a good defensive unit is difficult. It didn’t just fall together for the Warriors. They took serious heat for trading Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut. They lucked into getting Draymond Green in the Draft. There was no way to anticipate Stephen Curry’s improvement on that side of the ball. There is no “look” to a defense-first roster. The best defender can be on the wing or inside. But there has to be at least a couple players who are not only good in that area, but who also have a strong presence in the locker room to have others follow their lead for a level of commitment that does not come with the same glory as scoring 20 points a game. And there obviously has to be a coach using the strengths the proper way.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I suspect teams do concentrate on D. But not everyone can play it at a high level. The Warriors had athletic players who could guard multiple positions and shut down the perimeter. The Memphis Grizzlies also play terrific D. Any team with a rim protector and quick wingmen will more often than not win games with defense.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Two-way players don’t grow on trees, and teams have to build around the personnel that they have. The Cavs (when healthy) obviously had a higher ceiling offensively, while the Milwaukee Bucks had no choice but to earn wins on defense. Versatility — having guys who can defend multiple positions — is a key. The Warriors (and Bucks) were so good defensively, because they had a lot of like-sized, lengthy defenders, who could switch on screens and prevent dribble penetration. Good offenses get good shots by drawing two defenders to the ball, so having the ability to switch (and keep just one guy on the ball) helps you stay in front of the ball and stay at home on shooters.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Defense doesn’t sell tickets. And at the end of the day, stoking interest still seems to revolve around the idea of playing faster, shooting more 3-pointers and an up-tempo attack. The Warriors nailed the model by fashioning a team that proved to be elite on both ends. With versatile defenders at nearly ever position on a team capable of dominating teams on either or both ends of the floor, they built a champion. That’s as good a place as any to start talking about the ideal, defense-first roster.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Teams haven’t been able to focus on defense at the expense of offense in the years since the old man-to-man rules were relaxed: If you don’t put five scorers on the floor then you become too easy to defend. The goal is to find two-way players like Draymond Green; or else to convince scorers to commit to the defensive end, which is what the 2008 Celtics were able to do with Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (and what Cleveland will try to do next season with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love). The Warriors are the ultimate example of a team that commits first to defense – and then knows how to convert those stops and steals into offense.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI read so many stories yesterday about how Warriors had embraced the Mike D’Antoni style of play and were going to change the way NBA teams were built going forward. To which I thought, I don’t remember those D’Antoni teams being all that good on defense. Because to me, as great as the Warriors were offensively — and make no mistake, they were a juggernaut on that end — it was their commitment and ability defensively that made them NBA champions. But sure, it’s probably more exciting to focus on the 3-pointers and the fast pace. But as we all know, defense wins championships.

Blogtable: Thoughts On Donovan, OKC

Each week, we 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. Today, it’s a special, one-question-only edition of the blogtable …


VIDEOBilly Donovan’s biggest challenges with Thunder?

> The Thunder have hired Florida’s Billy Donovan to be their next coach. What do you think of this move? And how do you measure success at the end of next season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’m no fan of college coaches in the NBA, Brad Stevens’ fine work in Boston a praiseworthy exception. For every one like him, there are two or three — Mike Montgomery, Tim Floyd, Lon Kruger — who struggle to make the challenging transition. In college, the coach is king and it’s men bossing around boys. In the NBA, the players rule and largely allow themselves to be coached. The urgency of OKC’s situation makes Donovan a shaky fit too, in my view. Unless Kevin Durant flat-out loves the guy, they have just one season to get back at least to the Western Conference finals – and even that would carry no guarantee that the 2014 MVP wouldn’t land elsewhere in 2016 free agency. Then it could be Russell Westbrook after that. Looks to me like the Thunder are most committed to Donovan (five-year deal) at a level, frankly, they never committed to Scott Brooks.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It seemed that general manager Sam Presti didn’t think the Thunder were going to take the next step forward with the laid-back style of Scott Brooks. He’s brought in a friend and a more intense personality in Billy Donovan, because he thinks his team needs a spark and next season is critical for the future of the franchise with Kevin Durant about to become a free agent. Success now for OKC is 55-60 and no less than a trip to The Finals. It’s a very high bar and one that might be necessary to hang onto both K.D. and Russell Westbrook.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHiring someone who has not spent a day in the NBA makes it a risky move when a team is in win-now mode — there will be a transition — but Donovan has the counter: a long track record of success. This is not just any other college coach, and that will help with credibility within the locker room. How do I measure at the end of next season whether the move was a success? If we’re “at the end of next season” one year from now. If the Thunder, health willing, are done at the end of April or the first days of May, their 2015-16 has been a failure. How much of that would fall on the new coach remains to be seen, depending on his adjustment to the next level, but certainly he gets blame if OKC has an early exit. Success is a long playoff run and nothing less.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Billy Donovan is a former NBA player with deep ties to Rick Pitino and other former and current NBA coaches, so in terms of knowing the game and relating to the professional player, he should be fine. Honestly, I think this is pretty close to a home run for the Thunder, at least in terms of splash. On the surface, Donovan gives them a chance and should have a smooth relationship with Kevin Durant; if Durant leaves it probably won’t be because of the coach. The real work will be with Russell Westbrook; will Donovan press Russ to tweak the shoot-first mentality? Bottom line: Donovan needs a rookie season in OKC the way Steve Kerr is having a rookie season in Golden State.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I don’t have a strong opinion either way. I like the idea of bringing in some new blood into the coaching ranks, which has generally worked out well over the last few years. But Donovan is a guy who’s never coached in the NBA, taking over a pretty unique team in terms of its talent, which was already very good on both ends of the floor. So none of us really know how it will work out. But success will be measured by whether or not Kevin Durant re-signs next summer. Asking Donovan to get to The Finals in his first year is a lot. But if he establishes something that convinces Durant to stick around, he’s done his job.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They had to hire someone with name recognition and a long track record as coach, so in that respect this move would appear to be a positive one. But assuming Donovan will make the same sort of transition like Brad Stevens has made in Boston is a huge mistake. It’s all about the expectations. If Donovan has healthy stars for the 2015-16 season, he’ll be greeted with the same sort of outlandish expectations that awaited David Blatt at the start of training camp in Cleveland this season. If Thunder GM Sam Presti stuck to his ways and hired Donovan without at least giving consideration to the preferences of Kevin Durant and/or Russell Westbrook, this could turn out to be an even more diabolically divisive move. If either one of them walks on Donovan’s watch, Billy D will carry that blame with him, right or wrong, until he leads the Thunder to a title. Presti has a long history of spectacular moves — be it in the Draft, trade market or free agency — but he’s compiling an equally long list of head-scratching moves, too. That’s a cause for concern. It only takes one or two gaffes (James Harden comes to mind) to erode years of confidence from fans. Donovan’s fit has to be perfect for this move to work and I’m just not sure it is. The only measure of success for the Thunder next season is the sort of renaissance turnaround that comes from being a lottery team this summer to being a No. 1 playoff seed this time next year. And that’s just for starters.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It is a long-term investment. Success will be measured by progress: If Durant and Westbrook believe by this time next year that they’re on track to win championships in partnership with Donovan, then what better way to convince them to re-sign as free agents? The goal is to create an environment that serves their best interests as they enter their prime years – a team built for a long run of contention that they can’t afford to leave.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not really sure what to make of Billy Donovan. To my knowledge he’s known for winning a lot of games and winning national titles, but he’s never been touted as an offensive genius, the kind of coach who can make OKC’s offense a little more liquid than it’s been the last few years. To be honest, I thought Larry Brown would be an inspired coach for a short-term, win-now project. Donovan feels like more of a long-term hire, someone who will build a foundation and be there for years to come. but with Westbrook and Durant staring down free agency just around the bend, I’m just not sure that Donovan is who or what the Thunder needs right now.

Blogtable: Thunder coach’s to-do list?

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: Cavs in trouble? | Next moves for OKC’s next coach? | No more Hack-a-Shaq?



VIDEOSir Charles was not a fan of the Thunder firing Scott Brooks

> If you were named coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, what would be atop your “to-do list” your first day on the job?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: I’d pull Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook aside immediately after my introductory press conference to thank them. There’s no way a new coach gets hired there without the team’s two stars signing off on it – it probably is a top priority to have them on board, rather than just hold veto power, over Scott Brooks‘ replacement. Then I’d consult with them on their favorite plays, their preferred practice schedule, their desired minutes vs. rest workload and what their favorite meals are to have aboard our chartered flights. Would that be weenie, letting two players dictate so many team decisions? Not if I want to stay employed as coach and fear the leverage Durant and Westbrook wield with their upcoming free-agency decisions. Such is the power dynamic in the NBA these days.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comAfter I’m finished having an All-Star level suck-up session with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, I’m installing an offense that gets more ball movement and relies far less on both of those guys to make hero shots at the end of every shot clock and game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Find out what Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are doing that same day. Pick up the phone, arrange a video conference, fax, singing telegram — whatever. I find out how their schedules look and how soon we can visit in person. (Which is probably exactly what will happen, with a lot of the Thunder roster, not just the two stars.)

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I take Kevin Durant to dinner and exchange ideas. That’s a no brainer. Next season will be all about keeping him happy and appreciated and in the loop and engaged. If I can successfully sell Durant on my vision and blueprint for winning a title, then I’ve done my part in keeping him in OKC in the summer of 2016.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’d call Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook and schedule a day to spend with each of them. I’d ask Sam Presti to trade Dion Waiters. I’d try to figure out if free agent Enes Kanter can help me offensively more than he hurts me defensively. And I’d start making calls in an effort to put together a good staff.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’d need an immediate sit down with my two biggest stars, so we can figure out a happy medium for them in terms of how they co-exist now and in the future. It’s not that the rest of the guys don’t matter, but I need to know where the dynamic stands between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and what exactly I’m working with as their coach. It looks one way from a distance, but could be totally different inside that bubble. We all need to be on one accord about who and what we are, in every sense of that phrase, if we’re going to climb back into the thick of things at the top of the standings in the Western Conference and the league. So there’s no sense in wasting any time talking about anything else.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: First of all, I would recognize that Scott Brooks is an excellent coach who probably tried everything I am going to consider. My priority would be to improve their passing game, enabling  the ball to move from side to side in the half court. I would ask Russell Westbrook to make quicker decisions, and also try to help Mitch McGary become a better defender so that he can spend more time in the game – because he could give the Thunder a crucial passer from the high post.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogMaking sure I had a long-term contract? Going to breakfast with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and making sure they were both committed long-term to continuing to build something there?  No matter who they hire, whether it’s Billy Donovan or whomever, all eyes will be on next summer, when Durant can become a free agent, and the incredibly small window there for the new coach to make something happen. Whether or not it’s a real or imagined pressure, it’s pressure nonetheless and something annoying the new coach will have to deal with. And if these aren’t the things the new coach deals with on his first day, the other thing I’d do is I’d sit down and design an offense that made life easier on all the players involved. What better way to get people to stay?

Morning shootaround — April 29


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Clippers falter down stretch in Game 5| Report: Thunder, Donovan open talks | Harden focused on bigger goals | Report: Lakers willing to add Rondo for low price | Lillard’s speech inspires Blazers

No. 1: Clippers freeze up down stretch of Game 5 — Save for a Game 3 blowout in San Antonio, the Spurs-Clippers series has lived up to its billing as the best one of the first round. Each game has been a nail-biter and last night’s Game 5 was no different. Los Angeles had a solid shot at claiming a 3-2 lead, but some late blunders and bad plays late in the game puts them on the flip side of that status, writes Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Yeah, it happened again. With the pressure on the precocious Clippers, they wilted again. Needing one big play, they again responded with a botched play, and now they are down to their last chance to make it all better.

In a pivotal playoff game against the NBA’s championship measuring stick known as the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, the Clippers again crumbled under the weight of every critic’s charge and skeptic’s claim, falling apart in the fourth quarter of a 111-107 loss in Game 5 of the first round, falling behind three games to two.

The play that everyone will be talking about will be DeAndre Jordan‘s goal-tending on a potential game-winning runner by Blake Griffin with 4.9 seconds remaining, especially since it was clearly goaltending and Griffin’s shot appeared destined to roll through the rim without any help.

“At this point, it ain’t about the stats,” said Chris Paul, who vainly tried to do it all during the quarter with nine points. “We have to execute better and play better down the stretch.”

It didn’t help that by that fourth quarter, a Clippers bench that helped them win Game 4 had been ineffective or ignored.

While five Spurs reserves played at least 11 minutes, only two Clippers reserves played that much, and Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers combined to make five of 19 shots. Overall, the Spurs bench outscored the Clippers bench, 48-17.

For the second time in five games in this series, the Clippers were punching bags in the final rounds, although this has happened to Spurs opponents before. In fact, this traditionally most pivotal of games has long been the Spurs’ most favorite game. The Spurs are now 24-8 in Game 5s since their first championship in 1999. They have won six straight Game 5s over last two seasons and were 15-1 in Game 5s during their five championship years.

“They’re not going to panic, they’re not going to go away, you’re not going to knock them, you’re going to have to win by a decision,” Clippers Coach Doc Rives said of the Spurs. “Our guys have to embrace that.”

 


VIDEO: The Clippers discuss their Game 5 defeat

*** (more…)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are Durant and Westbrook doing?

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

Thank you Scotty!

A photo posted by Kevin Durant (@easymoneysniper) on

Morning shootaround — March 28


VIDEO: All the highlights from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Hawks clinch Eastern Conference | Mavericks lose Ellis | What’s next for Thunder, Durant? | Shaq would have stayed in Orlando

No. 1: Hawks clinch Eastern Conference — Coming into this season, the Atlanta Hawks were dealing with an underwhelming free agency period, a GM on an indefinite leave of absence, and an ownership group that wanted to sell the franchise. And then the season started, which the Hawks used as a terrific reminder that all the off the court noise ends there, and what really matters is the results on the floor. Friday night, with a win over the Miami Heat, the Hawks moved to 55-17 on the season and clinched the Eastern Conference championship. Yet despite the incredible season and improbable title, as Jeff Schultz writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks acted like it was no big deal …

The Hawks clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs Friday night and they acted as if they had just beaten Milwaukee on a Tuesday in November.

That’s probably a good thing.

“Maybe we’ll do a little, ‘Hip-hip, hooray’ on the plane,” Kyle Korver said.

“I mean, it’s great,” Paul Millsap said. “But we really haven’t been focusing on it. We’ve got bigger goals ahead. We haven’t been looking at the scoreboard or looking at other teams. We’ve been looking at ourselves, trying to get ourselves right.”

The Hawks (55-17), playing the best defense they had in a few weeks, led Miami by 18 points at halftime (55-37) and cruised to a 99-86 win over the remains of the Heat.

Miami isn’t the same team without LeBron James (Cleveland) and Chris Bosh (injured), and with Dwyane Wade seemingly playing on one leg. The Heat’s bandwagon fan base, which used to fill Philips Arena, also appears to have shrunk, or at least morphed into Cleveland fans. Funny how that works.

But the Hawks’ win, combined with Cleveland’s loss to Brooklyn, officially clinched the East, even if it was a bit anti-climactic. It almost seemed fitting that when coach Mike Budenholzer walked into the locker room minutes after the game to tell his players that the Cavaliers had lost, half of the team was in the showers.

“Bud found out, came in and there were only like five guys in here,” Korver said. “He was like, ‘Good accomplishment, we won the East.’”

***

No. 2: Mavericks lose Ellis — The Dallas Mavericks have made several changes this season — trading for Rajon Rondo, signing Amar’e Stoudemire — and despite the growing pains involved they have managed to remain in the playoff picture. But a calf injury last night to Monta Ellis not only got Mark Cuban fired up on Twitter, but without Ellis on the floor, as Tim McMahon writes for ESPNDallas.com, the Mavericks offense was a “hot mess” …

The Dallas offense didn’t exactly look healthy without its leading scorer. The Mavs scored a grand total of 22 points in the final 18:43 without Ellis, finishing with their second-lowest point total of the season.

Of course, the Mavs didn’t quite light it up in the first half with a healthy Ellis, either. Dallas scored only 41 points in the first half, shooting 38.6 percent from the floor. But the Mavs closed the first half with a 10-2 run, capped by Ellis speeding through the Spurs for a coast-to-coast layup, and opened the second half with a 13-4 spurt to slash the Spurs’ lead to four.

Then Ellis limped off the floor with 6:43 remaining in the third quarter, a little bit after he got kneed in the calf while defending Manu Ginobili, and took the life out of the Mavs’ offense with him. Dallas didn’t score for the next 3:03 and managed only 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Chandler Parsons failed to pick up the slack with Ellis out. They both failed to score in double figures, combining for only 16 points, none of which came in the fourth quarter.

Was that hot mess a preview of the Mavs’ offense minus Ellis?

“We’ll find out,” Mavs owner Mark Cuban said before correcting himself. “Hopefully, we won’t have to find out.”

The Mavs will know more about Ellis’ status on Saturday, but his streak of playing in 237 consecutive games is certainly in jeopardy. The Mavs’ next game is Sunday night in Indiana.

“We just have to wait and see what the doctors say and how he feels tomorrow,” Nowitzki said. “Hopefully, he will be OK. We all know he plays injured and sick and he is always there for his team.”

It could be painful to watch the Mavs without their best creator by far, but it also might be in everyone’s best interest if Ellis misses some time. The Mavs have no hope of making a playoff run if Ellis isn’t at his best.

Ellis’ toughness can’t be questioned. He has proven repeatedly that he’ll fight through pain and play through injuries. That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, particularly with the playoffs weeks away.

Ellis refused to even consider missing any games after straining his left hip two games before the All-Star break. The injury bothered Ellis for weeks, a major factor in an extended slump he finally busted out of with his 38-point performance in Tuesday’s home win over the Spurs.

“Our trainers will evaluate the situation, and we’ll communicate with him,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t see us putting him out there if he’s not feeling good. You can’t underestimate his ability to bounce back from things. He’s a fighter, he loves to compete and he hates missing games. That said, we aren’t going to put him in harm’s way.”

***

No. 3: What’s next for Thunder, Durant? — The Oklahoma City Thunder have had bad luck with injuries, but even as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have missed time the last few seasons, Kevin Durant was able to carry the load, logging heavy minutes and scoring hundreds of points. But after winning the MVP a season ago, this season Durant hasn’t been able to shake the injury bug, and after having two surgeries on his right foot since the summer, the Thunder announced yesterday that Durant will need a third surgery on that right foot that will keep him out four to six months. The bone graft procedure Durant is in for should give Durant his best shot yet at fixing his troublesome right foot. And with free agency for Durant looming in the summer of 2016, as Royce Young writes at Daily Thunder, there are plenty of questions left to answer …

The big question I’m seeing a lot is, “Did Durant come back too quickly?”

The answer is, yeah, probably, in hindsight. But also what you have to understand is the team is in constant consultation with specialists about this. And sometimes, things don’t go as anticipated. It’s not like they were just saying, “I don’t care, get Durant back out there before we lose more games.”

In these situations, it makes everyone feel better to assign blame. Point a finger at someone, lash out, yell, gripe, whatever. And in truth, it probably is someone’s fault in there. Maybe it’s Durant’s. Maybe it’s Sam Presti’s. Maybe it’s the medical team. Maybe it’s your fault, ever think of that?

What’s necessary to keep in mind, though, is no one was being irresponsible here. If Durant did return earlier than he should of, it’s only because he was cleared to do so. The team and Durant can only operate off of what they’re being told, and up until literally a week and a half ago, this thing was healing the way it was supposed to. The thought was that the screwhead had created a severe bone bruise from the constant rubbing, and Durant just couldn’t shake it off without significant time off. That’s what everyone thought. I was told by someone that’s pretty close to it all that he was going to play against the Celtics two weeks ago. That’s how unexpected this turn of events became.

Durant practiced on that Saturday before, doing some 3-on-3, then he played 1-on-1 in Dallas on Monday. And after that, he walked out of the arena with a severe limp, and pretty deflated. It wasn’t improving the way it was supposed to with the increased activity and at that point, the writing was really on the wall.

It doesn’t look good that Durant has had three surgeries on his foot. One is plenty. One is supposed to do the job. With what happened last season with Russell Westbrook, there’s good reason to wonder what’s going on. But I’d look at it this way: The Thunder’s conservative approach opens the door for them to get egg on their face. They didn’t mess around with Westbrook, taking a chance to let him play on a swollen knee. They pulled the plug, and made the decision to scope and deal with the consequences and fallout.

And then they did it again. They knew there would be skeptics and critics, questioning what the hell they were doing. But instead of delaying for the offseason to address it, they prioritized the long-term health of Westbrook and made the decision with only that in mind.

I’d say it worked out pretty well for them, and Westbrook.

The Thunder could’ve taken a different measure here with Durant. They could’ve rested him the next few weeks, then put him back on the practice floor and tried to ease him back on the floor for the postseason. That option was absolutely on the table.

But in collaboration with literally three of the top foot and ankle specialists in the world, the consensus was to go ahead and take the steps to end Durant’s season and do the bone graft. Instead of risking anything in his future, they’re going to just take advantage of the coming offseason which should let him completely heal, and then start over next season.

***

No. 4: Shaq would have stayed in OrlandoShaquille O’Neal began his pro career with the Orlando Magic, and he lasted four seasons before leaving Orlando in bitter circumstances and signing with the Los Angeles Lakers. But time heals all wounds, or at least it does in the Magic Kingdom, and last night the Magic welcomed Shaq back and inducted him into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame. In his remarks during the festivities, as Josh Robbins writes in the Orlando Sentinel, Shaq said if he could do it over again, he would have played out his seven-year contract in Orlando and handled things differently …

Flanked by Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, the mammoth center led Orlando to the 1995 NBA Finals, where the Magic lost to Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston Rockets in four games.

The next year, the Magic fell to Michael Jordan‘s Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference finals in four games.

O’Neal never played for the Magic again.

The Magic initially made him a low offer, and the Lakers swooped in with a $121 million offer and the lure of Hollywood.

The Magic eventually offered O’Neal a deal that eclipsed the Lakers’ offer, but it was too late. Restricted free agency didn’t exist in those days, so the Magic were powerless to prevent O’Neal from leaving.

And he left.

“We came back later and beat the Lakers’ offer at the closing minutes,” said Magic co-founder and Magic Hall of Famer Pat Williams. “But, emotionally, Shaq was gone.”

O’Neal was 24-years-old when he spurned the Magic in favor of the Lakers.

“It was all business,” O’Neal said. “Do I regret it? I never fully answered. I regret it sometimes. This is where I started, where I should’ve stayed. I actually wish that they [had] made it a law that whoever drafted you, you’ve got to stay there your whole career. No trades. No nothing. No free agency. No anything like that. Do I regret it? I regret it only because the DeVos family, they deserve a couple [of NBA titles].”

As it turned out, he didn’t finally win a title with the Lakers until 2000 — four years after he left the Magic.

“I just wish I would’ve had more patience,” O’Neal revealed. “It was all about I wanted to be protected from the bashing. What I mean by that [is] I wanted to win then. Even when I got there [to L.A.], I still got bashed and it still took four years to win. But I was very impatient. I was very young, and I thought that if I go there with those guys out there, that I could win right away. And that wasn’t the case.

“So now that I’m older now, I wish as a youngster, I wish I had had more patience.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Former Jazz player and announcer Hot Rod Hundley has died at 80 … Warriors big man Draymond Green has launched a line of t-shirts poking fun at Clippers coach Glenn “Doc” Rivers … The Rockets got Dwight Howard back from injury and now lose big man Donatas Motiejunas for a few weeks with a back injury … The Heat hope to get Hassan Whiteside back by the playoffs … The Nets have signed Earl Clark to a 10-day contract

Durant to undergo surgery on right foot, ruled out for season


VIDEO: Durant to have season-ending surgery

HANG TIME BIG CITY — If the Oklahoma City Thunder are going to make a run in the NBA playoffs — not to mention even making the playoffs — they’re going to have to do it without Kevin Durant.

The Thunder on Friday announced that Durant was done for the season, as he will undergo a third surgery to his right foot, where he suffered a Jones fracture that led to the first surgery before the season began.

According to a release from Thunder VP and GM Sam Presti:

“As we communicated last week, Kevin was going to use this time to engage in consultation and evaluation regarding the persistent soreness in his right foot at this stage of his rehabilitation. As part of this process, Kevin and Thunder personnel traveled to two additional specialists this past week; Dr. Martin O’Malley in New York City and Dr. James Nunley at Duke University. These in-person consults were designed to further supplement the previous evaluations of Dr. Bob Anderson. Several conference calls and discussions amongst the specialist team concluded that, while the majority of the soreness in Kevin’s foot was related to continued inflammation of the cuboid bone and would subside with rest, the evaluation process also determined that the Jones fracture of the fifth metatarsal, which had shown significant healing previously, was now demonstrating signs of regression.

With the focus of this process being aimed entirely on Kevin’s long term health and stability, it was the consensus of the specialists team, in addition to a collective decision by Kevin, his representation and the Thunder, that to address the setback of the fracture site, a bone graft procedure would be the most proactive and recommended approach. The bone graft is the standard procedure for the five to eight percent of Jones fracture surgeries that do not initially have success or experience setbacks sometime within the recovery period. While everyone is disappointed that Kevin falls into that group, we are encouraged that the bone graft procedure has historically demonstrated long-term health and stability.

Dr. O’Malley will perform the bone graft surgery early next week in New York. He has extensive bone grafting experience amongst athletes and has been consulting on the case throughout. Kevin will miss the remainder of the 2014-15 season and is expected to return to basketball activities in the next four to six months.”

Durant won the NBA MVP award last season after averaging a career-high 32 points. After surgery in the offseason to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot, Durant missed the first 17 games of this season. He returned in December and played well enough to earn an All-Star nod, but began underwent another surgery at the end of February intended to relieve some pain and discomfort in the foot.

There was still hope that Durant could rejoin the Thunder in time for the postseason, though one week ago Presti said Durant would be “removed from basketball activities” until he was able to return to the floor “without soreness.”

The Thunder are also without Serge Ibaka, who recently had a knee procedure. Russell Westbrook missed 14 games earlier this season after surgery to repair a hand injury.

Despite the terrible luck with their injured superstars, The Thunder are currently 41-31 and hold a three-game lead in the loss column over the Phoenix Suns for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.

Morning Shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs run clinic on Hawks | Thunder rely on defense (Westbrook) for latest win | Carlisle: We don’t play hard all the time

No. 1: Spurs run clinic on Hawks — The teacher schooled the master Sunday at Philips Arena. Everyone saw it. There was no doubt which system ruled the day. The original pace-and-space kings from San Antonio owned the floor against the imprint version that has led the Atlanta Hawks to outlandish success this season. The Spurs rolled to their third straight win by running a clinic on the Hawks. Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

It was billed as a battle of the Spurs vs. Spurs East, aka the Atlanta Hawks.

Instead, the Spurs ran a clinic on the team that has raced to the top of the Eastern Conference by emulating the Spurs, scoring a 114-95 beatdown to complete a 2-0 season sweep.

Mike Budenholzer, the longtime Gregg Popovich assistant who has incorporated his former boss’ approach since becoming Atlanta’s head coach in 2013, didn’t stick around to watch the destruction, thrown out after getting two technical fouls in the third period.

The win was the third straight for the Spurs, 44-25 and sixth in the Western Conference.

Kawhi Leonard was three assists shy of what would have been the first triple-double of his career, getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in just 31 minutes and 41 seconds, his presence hardly necessary in the final period of a start-to-finish domination by the Spurs.

Beneficiary of Leonard’s slickest assist of the game — a half court bounce pass that produced a layin — center Tiago Splitter recorded a season-high 23 points. It was the second time in the last two games Splitter scored a season-high.

Ball movement again keyed an efficient Spurs offense. They had 30 assists on 46 baskets and shot 56.1 percent.

The Spurs will go down as the only team in the league the Hawks have not beaten this season. But just as important on this lone trip to Atlanta for Popovich was a chance to catch up with his good friend and TNT’s very own Craig Sager:

*** (more…)

Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

*** (more…)

Report: Ibaka needs knee procedure

Oklahoma City Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka is need of a surgical procedure to address knee soreness, according to ESPN.com. Ibaka would join a long list of Thunder regulars to miss time with injury, including All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant has missed 39 games (foot surgery and soreness) and Westbrook 15.

Ibaka has been sent to a specialist, according to ESPN.com:

The Thunder have not confirmed that Ibaka will undergo the surgery, saying in a statement Monday that they have sent him to a specialist.

“As we continue to monitor and evaluate the soreness in Serge’s knee, in consultation with his representation, we decided the next best step is to have him travel to New York to see a specialist,” a team spokesman said. “We will provide an update as appropriate.”