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Posts Tagged ‘Thunder

Is Portland a threat to sign Kevin Durant in 2016?

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9 years after passing on him for Greg Oden and after a history of bad breaks since their 1977 title, it would be a great story if Kevin Durant signed with the Portland Trailblazers in 2016.

Portland has been rarely listed as a possibility for Durant’s free agency. Portland isn’t known as as a big enough market to be a free agent destination. His hometown Washington has become a popular Durant free agency talking point. There’s also the likelihood Portland will have Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge on max contracts and Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez both making over 10 million a year by 2016. This makes them a less obvious fit capspace wise even though Nicolas Batum’s contract expires that summer.

Here’s my retort to each of those problems:

Portland as a free agency destination

Portland’s lack of free agent history doesn’t bother me because from an outside perspective it appears Durant doesn’t care about the size of his market. Durant is already swimming in endorsement deals and fame playing in Oklahoma City. We just saw Kevin Love spurn the Lakers but embrace playing in Cleveland because he wanted to win. I’m guessing the competitive Durant has the same mentality: It’s all about winning. If he leaves Oklahoma City after 9 seasons my money is on it’ll be because he has more faith winning championships and enchancing his legacy elsewhere.

Washington: A red herring?

I’m strongly against the odds of Durant leaving the Thunder for Washington for this reason. Does Washington provide a better opportunity to win than Oklahoma City? Washington has a star PG and competent defensive big men but so do the Thunder. Washington’s coaching and management in Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld do not have a more trustworthy history than Scott Brooks and Sam Presti. Durant’s sentimental attachment to his hometown may still pale to the sentimental attachment to staying with the team that drafted him. Washington would need Bradley Beal to become more of a 3rd star than Serge Ibaka to really sell Durant that Washington is a “talent upgrade” in my opinion, but Beal’s 3rd season has been barely more productive than Jeremy Lamb’s. Some argue the move from the West to the East in competition could help sell Durant on switching. But the main difference between the West and the East is likely to come in the first 2 rounds which Oklahoma City hasn’t struggled with anyways by making the conference Finals the last three years Russell Westbrook was healthy. In the conference finals and Finals you play 1 West team and 1 East team to win the title no matter which side you are on so I don’t buy conferences are a major swinging factor by that point. Furthermore with teams like Cleveland and Chicago in the East and up and coming teams like Toronto who could be dangerous by 2016-2017, making the Finals in the East would not be a cakewalk.

What I like about Portland’s case is they conceivable *could* provide that elusive talent upgrade. Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge are two other true perennial all-stars compared to one in Oklahoma City in Russell Westbrook. If they can keep Wesley Matthews this also gives them an excellent starting shooting guard who fits perfectly on a team with other stars. A case can be made Matthews is as valuable at SG as Serge Ibaka is for a PF. Terry Stotts is also a coach of the year contender and appears to be ahead of the ball more than Scott Brooks in terms of offensive creativity. A team headlined by Lillard, Matthews, Durant and Aldridge with Stotts coaching could conceivably be enough of an upgrade over Oklahoma City to draw Durant’s attention.

Salary cap problems

Now a big retort to Portland is how getting Durant would work under the cap. While Portland currently has all but nothing signed after 2016 it’s a no brainer Aldridge and Lillard will have max deals by then. Wesley Matthews and Robin Lopez are unrestricted free agents this summer and should easily clear over 20 million a year combined if they both resign. Portland is contending now and most likely won’t let either go for a longshot chance at Durant.

Their saving grace is the upcoming TV deal where capspace is expected to rocket in 2016. This doesn’t mean Portland will have enough capspace to have all of Lillard, Aldridge, Matthews, Lopez on the books and still sign Durant. But consider what will happen in the rest of the league in 2016. There will be a massive oversupply of capspace compared to quality free agents available. Even in a non-TV deal year teams who expected to hit it big in free agency strike out and are forced to overpay whichever free agent is left. In 2016 the prices for the available free agents could be a ridiculous bidding war.

What this also means is sharp teams could end up seeing a more appealing alternative: Using capspace to trade for players with expensive contracts. This allows them to take on contracts that were signed in the pre-TV deal era and many of these contracts would only have an affordable 2-3 years left.

Because salaries will be so liquid a case can be made Kevin Durant could sign on virtually any team in the league. For example say Durant wanted to sign with the L.A. Clippers but they are blocked by a new Deandre Jordan contract at over 12 million a year, plus Spencer Hawes and JJ Redick’s mid-level deals. The Clippers in this situation may find it very easy to dump Jordan, Hawes and Redick to teams who have tens of millions in capspace but are garnering no free agent interest. Just as Houston this summer managed to move Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin’s contracts relatively easily to make room for Chris Bosh if he had chosen to sign there. I suspect that only the worst NBA contracts will be unmovable in 2016 considering the amount of excess capspace that teams will have. Even for the ones just over the line of untradeable, throwing in a 1st round pick could help grease the wheels to move a contract.

I suspect in 2016 Portland could simply move however many non-Lillard or Aldridge contracts they need to make space for Durant, such as trading Robin Lopez or an MLE signing made in the summer 2015 to bolster their depth to a team with capspace. I haven’t checked the math close enough to see if keeping Wes Matthews along with Lillard and Aldridge and signing Durant at the same time is possible but if push comes to shove, moving Matthews to make room for Durant is still a no-brainer. All in all for teams like the Blazers, Clippers and Rockets I don’t see the salary cap getting in the way of signing Kevin Durant. The real race for Durant is to see who can offer him the best chance of winning a championship after 2016 if he doesn’t have one by then. If he feels Oklahoma City’s chance from 2016 on is as good as anyone else’s I doubt he leaves. If Portland’s supporting looks more dynamic by then, I would treat them as a big a threat as anyone.

Written by jr.

December 27, 2014 at 8:56 pm

Oklahoma City’s marriage to Serge Ibaka

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The most important decision of the Oklahoma City Kevin Durant era was when they traded James Harden to Houston. Clearly the Thunder understood they couldn’t pay Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Harden long term and stay under the luxury tax.

Although there are other things problematic with the Harden trade such as dealing him a year too early, the real long term decision they made was choosing to keep Ibaka over Harden.

The Thunder likely made this decision on the merit of fit over raw talent. Harden was considered the Thunder’s “3rd star” over Ibaka at the time, but Ibaka is a defensive anchor and a big man, while Harden is an offensive perimeter star like Westbrook and Durant. Thus the Thunder decided they need a defensive anchor/big man more than a 3rd offensive perimeter star.

My main objection to this for the last few years is keeping the best offensive talent is a good idea, because defense can be made up for elsewhere. With Durant, Westbrook and Harden, the Thunder could have filled the rest of the team with defensive role players and done whatever they can playing-style to have a defensive identity. By giving more offensive responsibility to Harden, Durant and Westbrook, along with Harden himself, may have been groomed into expending more energy on defense such as how Chris Bosh became a far more valuable defender in Miami than Toronto now that he wasn’t required to use as much energy on offense. The Thunder would NOT have had a defense-less roster if they chose to trade Ibaka. Westbrook, Durant, Harden is still a physically imposing wing rotation on the defensive end and they had other role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison who were game on that end. That’s before considering Ibaka could have gotten them strong value in return for a trade, possibly a defense-first cheap prospect or big.

However to defend the Thunder there may be a few other reasons to shy away from Harden. One is that we don’t know how Harden acted behind the scenes to being the Thunder’s 3rd perimeter scorer and whether long term he’d have wanted out to become a star elsewhere. Secondly, Harden’s personality is different than Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s. Harden’s reputation as loving nightclubs is now well known and his body is not as finely conditioned as his three former Thunder teammates. It’s possible the Thunder partly made they trade because they were turned off by factors like Harden’s late night habits or diet, especially during the 2012 Finals.

The Thunder haven’t made the Finals since they traded Harden as their 3rd star. They’d had a few excuses. It’s hard to blame them for 2013 when they didn’t have Russell Westbrook. Last year they lost Serge Ibaka for the first 2 games of the Spurs series. However they still lost the last 2 games of the series with Ibaka, including Game 6 at home when Tony Parker missed the 2nd half. If the Thunder had the team to beat the Spurs when healthy, there’s no way they can blow an elimination home game with the gift of Parker’s injury. I personally don’t feel the Thunder were going to beat the Spurs last year even if Ibaka played the whole series. The Spurs caliber of play had been higher in the regular season and postseason and they proved it the last few games of the series once they made the adjustment by putting Matt Bonner in the starting lineup to stretch the Thunder out. The Spurs point differential over the Thunder was also overall a massive domination, which is tough to blame on just 2 Ibaka-less games. Furthermore OKC missing Ibaka for 2 games is a problem some teams have to get past to win the title. When Miami won their title in 2012 they had to do with Chris Bosh for some of the 2nd and 3rd round and managed to get through it.

Still, the Thunder have plenty of time to prove their decision to keep Ibaka over Harden is correct. They’re playing the long game to develop young talents like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams long enough to win around Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka before Durant and Westbrook hit their free agencies in 2016 and 2017. It’s hard to bag the Thunder for their post Harden plan not working yet when they’re only passed year 2 of it and those years were marred by injury.


But what’s interesting is they probably chose Ibaka over pursuing the “3 offensive star” model again. What I mean is the complete lack of Serge Ibaka-Oklahoma City involvement in the Kevin Love rumors this summer. I’m of the belief that if Oklahoma City offered Ibaka along with pieces like Jeremy Lamb and draft picks, there’s an excellent chance they’d be heavy players or leading for Love.

Consider the deal all signs say Minnesota wanted before Andrew Wiggins was offered, which is was a Klay Thompson/David Lee centered package from the Warriors. I presume Minnesota wants to win games next year and pursue the playoff appearances upside of a Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, etc. roster. Serge Ibaka is an ideal fit for this plan from Minnesota. He is both a win-now player and young enough to be in long term plans. He fits in perfectly beside Nik Pekovic, with Pekovic providing the low post offense and Ibaka providing the floor spacing and defense. When added to the Thunder’s ability to sweeten the deal with young prospects and draft picks, it’s exactly the type of deal to woo the Timberwolves right now.

Yet the Thunder have not been in the picture, it hasn’t even been reported they’ve made any offer at all. I would put the chances of the Thunder offering their best non-Durant and Westbrook pieces for Love but having it turned down behind the scenes, as fairly minimal. Even if turned down it’d likely have been heard about in some way or Minnesota would have leaked it to gain leverage over other suitors. Remember that Kevin Love trade rumors were going strong for a month before Cleveland’s Andrew Wiggins offer got involved, so it’s not as if Minnesota would have been turning down Ibaka for Wiggins this whole time, if charging hard after Love, Oklahoma City’s biggest opposition in mid-late June would have been the Boston and Golden State offers. It’s pretty easy to speculate a conclusion from this. The Thunder don’t have an interest in moving Ibaka for Love for some of the same reasons they chose Ibaka over Harden. They prefer having the defensive compliment over a 3rd offensive star, along with possible continuity reasons.

And I’m of the belief this is probably even crazier than choosing Ibaka over Harden. Love at least is a big man instead of a 3rd offensive wing, fitting into the lineup more than Harden did. Any concerns about Harden’s off-court commitment not being at Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka’s level, don’t exist with Kevin Love. Although he provides less defense than Ibaka, his offense is a perfect fit for the Thunder co-stars, providing devastating spacing on a roster where teams already struggle to defend Westbrook and Durant at once, along with his outlet passing skills complimenting Westbrook and Durant, two of the scariest transition players in the league for different reasons. He gives OKC what they’ve needed for a long time which is a low post scorer. In addition to his defensive rebounds, his offensive rebounding could provide a scary amount of 2nd chances, putback points and free throw line trips to an OKC offense that doesn’t even need it to dominate. Love is widely considered a better player than Serge Ibaka. Love is considered potentially the best true power forward in the game and a top 10 player in the league, which is the type of resume Serge Ibaka does not have. By virtue of being presumably better, I have to think there’s a good chance Kevin Love makes every team in the league better than if they had Ibaka.

Defensively Love could try to make a Bosh-like transition to a stronger defensive focus, while again, Westbrook and Durant may benefit defensively from playing with Love. It’s true they give up shotblocking by trading Ibaka, but they also gain all these other offensive things Love does that Ibaka doesn’t, along with his rebounding.

What it comes down to is that Durant, Westbrook and Love would be anchor an insanely talented at a level beyond the present Thunder. And when a franchise can overwhelm the league with star talent it usually works out. Some of the great teams haven’t been the best “fits” positionally. The 1980s Celtics effectively had 3 star bigs in Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish instead of a more balanced roster with a PG or SG star, but they still fit well and won 3 championships. The most recent Miami Heat had a lot of overlap between Dwyane Wade and Lebron James and at first before we knew Chris Bosh could make a defensive transition, it didn’t appear they had an anchor on that end. The list of teams who lost because they didn’t have enough talent, is longer than the list of teams who teamed up superstars in their mid 20s but didn’t fit together well enough to win.

Another HUGE motive for the Thunder to go after Kevin Love, is it takes him off the board for other teams. Letting Kevin Love be traded to the Cavaliers creates a serious threat in Cleveland to win the title the next two years. The Thunder snatching Love instead would’ve taken the wind out of Lebron’s sails, presuming the Cavs would then proceed with an Andrew Wiggins-centered long term plan. Likewise for when it looked like the Warriors were a top contender for Love last month. The Thunder would’ve been wise to act against a potential West behemoth being created in Golden State and a Stephen Curry-Kevin Love combination. Considering all the other reasons why it’s smart to trade Ibaka for a star talent in Love, strategically weakening the competition alone especially now that we know that competition is “Lebron’s team”, would just be the sealer for me. The Thunder would have 3 of the game’s superstars in their mid 20s and importantly, there’d be a shortage of other teams in the league who had more than one. This is the type of landscape giving them the upside of not just a title but a dominant dynasty.

Finally, there’s an argument just for variance. We saw how the 2013-2014 Thunder played in the regular season and postseason and it wasn’t spectacular. Again one can harp on the Ibaka injury, but not taking care of business in Game 6 at home with the injury bug on the Spurs side, is a major enough sign the Thunder weren’t ready to win the title last year. So why not trade Ibaka for Kevin Love for the sake of it being different? It’s not a guarantee to work out spectacularly as Durant-Westbrook-Love enter their names in superstar “Big 3” lore, but there appears to be a fair chance it could. And the downside? There’s only so badly a Durant-Westbrook-Love era could turn out. Perhaps there’s a chance they win games in the mid 50s but bow out in the 2nd and 3rd round. Well that’s the same downside the Thunder core right now has.

The Thunder have 2 seasons until Durant’s free agency and last year’s results would not make me excited about the status quo. That’s not to say they have to make a move just for the sake of it, but if you can team up a potential top 10 player in the league with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Why not see what’s behind this Door Number 2? Why not try to the shoot the moon? Why not go for the “scary, seize the balance of power of the league?” option? To be frank, don’t complicate it. Serge Ibaka is a good player, Kevin Love is a superstar player and going from good to superstar at PF could take the Thunder to an entirely different level in a way desperately needed to avoid Durant 2016 free agency problems.

Written by jr.

August 1, 2014 at 3:29 pm

The evolution of a player: Old Dirk, young Durant/Young Dirk, old Durant

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Dirk Nowitzki

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One of the reasons I find this Dallas-Oklahoma City matchup intriguing is the comparison between Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. Both guys are nearly incomparable to another star in NBA history due to their length and shooting ability for their positions – except maybe to each other.

What I see in Durant is shades of young Dirk, a player who’s height, speed and jumpshooting ability allow him to dart around the court and find open shots whenever he wants. Dirk started his career at C actually, where his speed and off ball cutting was even more pronounced. What’s fascinating about Durant’s current game to me is how despite being the 2 time scoring champion, he needs remarkably little set plays to get his points. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

May 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

How the Thunder looked the 09 Blazers in the eye and said “We’re not you”

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Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunders at ...

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The Oklahoma City Thunder won 55 games this year, grabbing a division title and home court advantage for the first time in the Kevin Durant era. Two years ago Portland won 54 games and also grabbed home court in the first round for the first time in the Brandon Roy era. But, Oklahoma City came out flat with the pressure against a more experienced Denver team and fell 13 points back by the early 2nd quarter of their Game 1. Portland similarly came out flat against Houston and stood 14 pts back by the early 2nd quarter of their first game.

Yet this is where the similarities end for the two games. Oklahoma City ended up cutting the deposit to 1 by halftime on the way to a hard fought 2nd half and 4 pt win, Portland went the other direction and fell down 18 by halftime, losing by 27 when all was said and done. Read the rest of this entry »