Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

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Led by Russell Westbrook‘s triple-double tear for the ages, the Oklahoma City Thunder fared quite well in their first season without former NBA MVP Kevin Durant, winning 47 games and advancing to the playoffs, though they did get bounced in the opening round.

Nonetheless, the Thunder are well equipped to return to prominence in the Western Conference in 2017-18 after acquiring Paul George. Along with Westbrook and center Steven Adams, Oklahoma City has an elite Big 3 at its disposal that Durant isn’t exactly looking forward to battling with the Golden State Warriors.

“But they got Russ and PG and Steven Adams to be their Big 3. I think if they feed off each other, it could be great,” Durant told The Athletic’s Anthony Slater. “I’m a fan of the game. So I can see if something is going to work or not and I think that’s going to be a really, really great pairing. It’s going to suck for us and the rest of the league. But as a fan of the game, it’s going to be tight to see how they work that thing out.”

The West in general has undergone a major transformation in a short period of time. The Houston Rockets landed Chris Paul to play alongside James Harden, the Minnesota Timberwolves made a huge splash to acquire Jimmy Butler, and Paul Millsap signed with the rising Denver Nuggets. That doesn’t even take into account the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, and Los Angeles Clippers, who won’t be easy outs themselves.

Golden State won 67 games in 2016-17, and lost just once en route to its second title in three years. Durant realizes it’s going to be much more difficult to replicate that level of success in the revamped West, yet he’s ready to face that challenge head on.

“It is a new landscape. And I like it. I don’t know how it’s going to work together, but I can’t wait to see it all. It’s going to be fun every night,” he added. “You’re going to see what you’re supposed to be seeing, not a bunch of dudes you know aren’t good on the court. There’s going to be a bunch of talent on the floor, top to bottom.”

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Giannis Antetokounmpo may have “loyalty inside his DNA,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean the 22-year-old phenom will remain in Milwaukee for the entirety of his career.

The Bucks forward was non-committal when asked about his future in Milwaukee, saying that many players have expressed their desire to stay in a particular city before bolting for greener pastures.

“A lot of people say they’re going to stay on a team and decide to move to a different team,” Giannis said at a recent event in Manila, Philippines. “But you guys got to remember: A guy might want to stay on a team, but the team doesn’t do the right things and the right moves for the player to become great.”

The 2017 All-Star added that Kevin Durant gave every indication that he planned to stay with the Thunder, but ultimately left Oklahoma City after the team failed to win a title.

“KD, the reason he wanted to stay in OKC was to win, right? So, they didn’t win the championship,” Giannis said. “That’s why he decided to leave. So do not hate only the player, because sometimes it’s not up to the player.”

While Giannis’ comments may be a little unsettling for Bucks fans, the 6-foot-11 forward still has four years remaining on his contract, and he won’t become an unrestricted free agent until the summer of 2021.

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Seattle could someday have an NBA team again.

In a Players’ Tribune interview with Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum last week, commissioner Adam Silver said it’s possible the league will bring a franchise back to the city, but he doesn’t know when.

“I think it’s just a question of when the right time is to seriously start thinking about expansion,” said Silver.

“I don’t want to put a precise timeline on it, but it’s inevitable at some point that we’ll start looking at the growth of franchises. That’s always been the case in this league, and Seattle will no doubt be on a short list of cities we’ll look at,” he added.

The Seattle SuperSonics entered the league in 1967-68 and captured an NBA championship in 1979. The club relocated to Oklahoma City in 2008 and became the Thunder.

Several Sonics greats have been strong proponents of the city regaining a team. Gary Payton said last year that Seattle “deserves” an NBA team and he’d be interested in becoming an owner, while Ray Allen echoed those sentiments in May.

“I still can’t believe that there is no basketball in Seattle,” he wrote in a post on Instagram. “This city is too great not to have a hoops squad. Come on everybody we need to rally and bring the NBA back to Seattle.”

OKC Thunder Paul George

Just like the rest of the NBA world, Paul George was stunned to learn he’d been traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder on the eve of free agency.

While the move may have caught the 6-foot-9 forward by surprise, George said he’s happy to be part of a true contender, believing the combination of him and Russell Westbrook will give the Thunder a solid shot at winning a championship.

“It was surprising. This team wasn’t one of the teams that we had in mind,” George told ESPN’s Royce Young. “I thought I was going to four or five other teams that were pretty active in trade (talks). When I found out it was OKC, I was quite surprised but at the same time I was happy about the trade. I was thrilled, I was looking forward to it. All I wanted was a chance and an opportunity to play for something special and ultimately to try and win a championship and right off the bat I think I can do that here playing alongside Russ.”

The Pacers began engaging teams about potential deals for George after the four-time All-Star reportedly told the franchise he intended to leave Indiana as a free agent in 2018. While a number of teams expressed interest in the 27-year-old, Oklahoma City rarely came up as possible destination.

George averaged 23.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.6 steals on 46.1 percent shooting this past season.

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Unlike the last MVP from OKC, Russell Westbrook likely isn’t going anywhere.

The Oklahoma City Thunder plan to offer the newly crowned MVP a five-year extension shortly after midnight on July 1, and it’s widely expected that Westbrook will accept, sources told ESPN.

Westbrook will presumably receive the designated player exception, which is worth over $200 million across five seasons. Signing such a contract would make him one of the highest-paid NBA players of all time.

Every sign from Westbrook has pointed to him staying with the Thunder for the long haul. He said during his exit interviews in April that he hoped to remain in his current situation.

“Obviously, Oklahoma City is the place that I wanna be,” Westbrook said at the time.

Westbrook inked a three-year extension last summer, but that pact essentially boiled down to a massive short-term raise to stay on for one additional season. Adding this five-year deal would officially keep Westbrook in Oklahoma City for the remainder of his prime.

The 28-year-old has only played for the Thunder since being drafted fourth overall in 2008.

 San Antonio Spurs v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game Three
 

After being jilted by Kevin Durant last summer, the Oklahoma City Thunder were faced with the task of constructing a new, entirely Russell Westbrook-centric team structure.

Thanks to Westbrook’s ludicrous, record-smashing season, the first phase of that project has gone about as well as anyone could’ve hoped. And make no mistake: Thunder general manager Sam Presti very much sees this season as phase one.

“I think he’s getting better,” Presti told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne on Sunday, after Westbrook recorded his 42nd triple-double of the year (breaking Oscar Robertson’s single-season record) and eliminated the Denver Nuggets from playoff contention with a game-winning 30-footer at the buzzer.

“I think he’s become a better player. With players at that level, it’s generally going to happen in these small, incremental ways unless the circumstances change around you. In this case, the circumstances obviously changed. The team is different. It’s been a season of discovery for our team and our organization.”

The Thunder had previously gotten a glimpse of what a team revolving around Westbrook’s incandescent star might look like. Durant spent most of the 2014-15 season on the shelf, and Westbrook produced some astonishing individual results after taking the reins, winning the scoring title and averaging 31.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 9.9 assists after the All-Star break. That team ultimately fell just shy of the playoffs, but it helped write the blueprint for how the Durant-less Thunder might thrive.

They are, by Presti’s admission, very much still honing that blueprint. While the front office has surrounded Westbrook with size, athleticism, and defensive mobility, the supporting cast still lacks depth and is woefully short on spot-up shooting threats, leaving the offense overly reliant on Westbrook. But the team didn’t have much time to adjust to their new reality in the wake of the Durant bombshell, and Presti is confident they’ll find the right alchemy as they continue to learn more about who they now are.

“There’s a discovery period for Russell that’s taking place, and we’re at the very front end of that,” he said. “We’re not making any bones about that. We haven’t had a tremendous amount of time to understand and to build. It’s going to take some time, but I will say that if this is the first year of that process and project for us, he’s made it very exciting.”

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Nothing lasts forever, and in NBA title-contender parlance, windows aren’t open for long. There was a time when the Oklahoma City Thunder had a “Big 3” – and some would even stretch it into a “Big 4” if Serge Ibaka was included.

Yet the high-water mark for the franchise led by Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and James Harden was a five-game loss in the 2012 Finals, and now only Westbrook remains.

“This is basketball, it’s business,” Ibaka, now with the Toronto Raptors, told The Vertical podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski about the breakup of the Thunder dynasty that never really was.

“At some point, somebody had to leave. But I didn’t expect that to happen so quick and so soon,” he said. “At some point you knew somebody had to leave.”

Ibaka’s trade from the Thunder to the Orlando Magic on draft night last summer was seen as a roster upgrade in Oklahoma City’s efforts to retain Durant.

Eleven days later, Durant decamped for the Golden State Warriors. Ibaka said his former teammate did what made him happy, and that’s all that matters.

“I know its tough for OKC fans to understand that, but hey man, this game, when we start getting 36, 37, 38, it’s going to be over.”

Ibaka also added that the bellyaching that still exists almost five years after Harden’s trade to the Houston Rockets is silly, given that Harden wouldn’t be the MVP candidate he is now had he stayed with the Thunder.

“If James stayed with OKC … he would not be the James he is right now,” Ibaka said. “He was coming from the bench, and you’ve got a player like Russell and Kevin on the same team. He would still be a good player, but not what he is right now.”