If the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t clean things up in a hurry, the Houston Rockets are going to make very quick work of them in the Western Conference quarterfinals. According to starting center Steven Adams, the improvement needs to start with him.
Following his team’s 118-87 loss, Adams put the blame on Oklahoma City’s front court and singled himself out.
“The turning point was not an exact moment, but offensive rebounds and second-chance points was what really killed us,” Adams said, per ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “The bigs, especially me, played trash on the reads, and the pick-and-rolls were absolute garbage. We have to get back to the drawing board.”
The Thunder out-rebounded opponents during the season, but Houston beat them 56-41 in that category on Sunday. The Rockets also outscored OKC 62-38 in the paint and an eye-popping 31-4 in second-chance points.
Thunder guard Victor Oladipo said the entire team needs to do a better job on the glass — not just the bigs.
“They just did a great job getting offensive rebounds,” he said. “We have to do a better job as guards to rebound collectively as a team. It’s not just on the bigs, it’s on everybody to rebound.”
The Rockets are a tremendous outside shooting team, so the Thunder tried to close out and make them beat them inside. James Harden had no problem with that, finishing with a game-high 37 points despite hitting just 3 of 11 three-pointers. Russell Westbrook, who many believe will win the NBA MVP Award over Harden, scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, which was a lone bright spot for OKC in that department.
Based on Harden’s criteria for being named MVP, he certainly got the best of Westbrook and the Thunder in Game 1. Adams is going to personally try to change that going forward.
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Although he’ll be sitting out recovering from a knee injury, Kevin Durant is likely going to be booed once again by fans in Oklahoma City on Monday night. If you ask the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder should be doing a much better job of trying to prevent that.
According to a report from Chris Haynes of ESPN.com, the Warriors were “furious and bewildered” that the Thunder did nothing to ease the tension between Durant and his former team in the days leading up to Durant’s first return to Chesapeake Arena as a visiting player. The Warriors reportedly felt that Oklahoma City Thunder management should have addressed the media and thanked Durant for nine great years with the team.
Here’s more from Haynes:
The Warriors’ belief, according to sources, is that the Thunder’s silence contributed to the raw emotions, outrage and indignation that created an unsettling, hostile atmosphere for a player many consider to be the franchise’s all-time best.
The Warriors felt, according to sources, that for a player who meant so much to a city — a small-market city at that — a courtesy greeting was in order from top brass, who should have issued their fans a reminder and proper perspective on Durant’s role in elevating the Thunder into a perennial championship-contending team.
Durant was not acknowledged or thanked during the Feb. 11 game, but Thunder GM Sam Presti praised Durant in the week leading up to it for “helping to build a culture and identity for a franchise in its infancy stages.”
Haynes notes that Durant was “emotionally drained” after the game and felt the Thunder could have done a better job of handling the situation. Perhaps he simply didn’t want to give Oklahoma City fans the satisfaction when he made these comments after the game.
Durant will likely spend most — if not all — of Monday’s game in the locker room receiving treatment, but we can expect to see more posters and T-shirts like the ones we saw back in February. Even if the Thunder do give Durant some sort of thank you, it’s far too soon to expect fans to give him a warm reception.
With all the memes and the merriment of All-Star Weekend 2017 now officially in the books (not to mention the universe-shattering Boogie Cousins blockbuster), Thursday’s NBA trade deadline looms overs us with an urgency befitting of the Jaws theme. These next few days have the potential to turn pretenders into contenders or contenders into Crying Jordans. So as short-term and long-term destinies hang delicately in the balance, it’s time to have a gander at the five teams most in need of a move before the clock strikes 3 PM Eastern Standard Time on February 23.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Oklahoma City Westbrooks are interested in a serious playoff push, they’re going to need more than No. 0 letting out a primal roar as he charges solo into battle every night like Bluto after giving the “Germans bombed Pearl Harbor” speech in Animal House.
While Victor Oladipo has proven to be a worthy vice president and Steven Adams has the mad game to go along with the mad ‘stache, the OKC bench has been quite the wasteland this season, especially since Enes Kanter assaulted a piece of furniture. Cameron Payne is still working his way back from foot surgery, Alex Abrines looks like Generic Euro Player No. 47 on NBA 2K, and I’m fairly certain that Kyle Singler’s basketball skills are fake news.
The numbers support the brutality as well.
Since the Kanter injury, the Thunder bench ranks 22nd in the league in points per game and dead last in field goal percentage. They’re also getting outscored by 9.1 points per 100 possessions over that span, which basically means it’s rest in peace every OKC lead whenever Westbrook sits. Would they benefit from acquiring a dynamite perimeter scorer (maybe this very available Laker?) to hold down the fort for the second unit until Kanter gets back? Perhaps. But we won’t know unless general manager Sam Presti picks up that dang phone.
2. Washington Wizards
Kevin Durant briefly allowed himself a look back, and he thinks there were a few chapters left to be written about Oklahoma City’s former Big Three.
Durant told Anthony Slater of the Mercury News that he believes James Harden could have thrived in a sixth man role with the Thunder had he not been traded to Houston.
“I think he’d have stayed in that role. I think so,” Durant said. “He’d have still been a really great player. You look at it, a lot of people wouldn’t have looked at him as a Sixth Man. He’d have been better. I think he’d have been better. Obviously I’m sure he loves what he’s doing now, but if we would’ve won a championship, I think the perception of him would’ve just been as a great player. ‘He’s the heart, he’s what makes us go.’ That’s what his label would’ve been, instead of just Sixth Man. He would’ve probably been the best Sixth Man that ever was.”
That’s all true, but eventually, something probably would have had to break. Harden is a guy who likes the ball and is currently an MVP frontrunner in Houston. Sharing the ball with Durant and Russell Westbrook would have grown old, and he’d have wanted a bigger role.
This may be wishful thinking and reminiscing on Durant’s part. The two are known to be close still and Durant is an avowed fan. The Warriors star would have liked it to work, but finances and roles dictated otherwise.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have lost Kevin Durant in free agency to the Golden State Warriors, but they’re working to keep a new core intact.
According to a report from The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Thunder are talking with Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo about rookie contract extensions.
Sources: OKC engaged with Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo reps on rookie extension talks. Discussing Adams $100M-range, Oladipo $80M-range.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) October 30, 2016
Adams, 23, was a first-round pick by the Thunder in 2013 and has quickly developed into one of the better big men in the league. He emerged last postseason as he averaged 10.1 points and 9.5 rebounds per game for OKC. Adams is under contract for $3.1 million this season and has a $4.3 million qualifying offer for next season, but the Thunder would like to get him under contract for longer.
Oladipo, 24, was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and was acquired by the Thunder in the Serge Ibaka trade. He has displayed a strong overall game, including 43 percent shooting, 80.8 percent from the line, and averages of 15.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4 assists per game during his career. Oladipo is making $6.5 million this season and can earn $8.5 million for his qualifying offer next season.
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Kevin Durant did not appreciate a recent report that said he lied to his former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates about his free agency plans, so he decided to respond.
On the TrueHoop podcast this week, ESPN Thunder insider Royce Young said Durant had been telling people he was returning to OKC. That includes point guard Russell Westbrook, whom, in a recent dinner, Durant reportedly told he was staying with the Thunder.
“It’s false,” Durant told The Vertical on Thursday. “I didn’t say that – words about me telling Russell or Nick that I would stay or leave never came out of my mouth. We met as teammates, but no promises came out of it. In this day and age, I can’t control anything people claim out there. Someone can go out and say something random right now, and people will believe it.
“I never told Russell or Nick [Collison], ‘All right, guys, I’m coming back to the Thunder’ – and then a week later, I decide not to. Never happened. I don’t operate like that. I heard people say that story, but it’s not the truth.”
Durant is adamant he never told his former teammates he was re-signing with them.
As is the case in most misunderstandings, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Though Durant may not have said the words, “I am going to re-sign with the Thunder, I promise,” to his former teammates, he could have made it seem to them like he was going to. Maybe he told them he’s not planning to go anywhere. That would be slightly different than a concrete promise because it leaves some wiggle room for plans to change.
Given the way Durant likes to please others and the way he has trouble disappointing people, we’re guessing he did make it seem to his former OKC teammates that he was going to stay with them. But when he got a chance to hear the presentations from other teams and sit down with his inner-circle, he probably decided moving on was best for him.
Three years ago Durant made a very serious decision in a capricious manner before walking it back months later (remember this?) The man is very prone to changing his mind on important matters. That could be what happened here.
Kevin Durant reportedly spoke with Draymond Green and other Golden State Warriors players about joining their team long before free agency began, and that did not sit well with Durant’s former teammates.
On his podcast “The Vertical Pod” this week, Adrian Wojnarowski revealed that Russell Westbrook and other Oklahoma City Thunder players were bothered by Durant’s friendly relationship with Green.
“I know Russell (Westbrook) was bothered by it, and some other teammates were too,” Woj said, as transcribed by Chuck Chaney of Thunder Digest. “There was some knowledge there that Draymond was in contact with Kevin all season long and they’re in a playoff series and I know there was some conversation around the Thunder team of. ‘Hey man, this guy kicked Steven Adams in the nuts twice in this series. What are you doing hanging out with this guy? What’s the relationship? We’re trying to beat these guys.'”
Warriors players reportedly texted Durant all throughout their record-breaking 73-win season, despite one of them — who has now been traded — claiming the team didn’t want Durant. There was a lot of hostility during the Western Conference Finals after Green kicked Adams in the groin (video here), so you can understand why Durant’s former teammates were irritated that K.D. had been buddy-buddy with Green for months.
While fans were shocked when Durant announced he was signing with Golden State, we know the Thunder front office saw it coming. The same is likely true of the players.