May 17, 2013 12:45 AM EDT
Kevin Durant missed some shots. Offensively he wasn’t the dynamo that carried the Oklahoma Thunder past the Houston Rockets. It’s hard to argue that Durant doesn’t need to be better next season for his team to return to The NBA Finals. But Oklahoma City’s second-round exit is hardly his fault.
Not even the injury to Russell Westbrook, a three-time All-Star, can be legitimately viewed as the sole reason the Thunder lost. It certainly played a role, but those that have watched the team all season understand that Westbook’s injury only made the team’s mistakes more visible.
The real failure belongs to Sam Presti and the Thunder front office. The franchise’s bright future was put at risk the moment they decided to trade James Harden.
It’s rare when a franchise finds a group of young players that are good enough and work well enough to compete for championships. Most teams are looking for two, the Thunder had three. Durant, Harden and Westbrook improved each season and the team improved around them. The next step was winning a championship. Presti, however, never gave that talented core a chance to keep going.
It’s a story that has a predictable outcome, mainly because it’s something we’ve seen before.
Think back to the 2008-09 Orlando Magic and their run to The NBA Finals. That tough, well-coached team never had a chance to make another run to The Finals. Moves were made during the summer that changed the dynamic and chemistry of the team. Vince Carter was acquired while Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston were shipped out. The mix was never right and Otis Smith, the former general manager of the Magic, would be forced to make more trades in search of a mix that would recapture the chemistry of the Finals team. Ultimately they would take steps back in the three following seasons, leading to Dwight Howard asking out and being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. In just three years, they went from conference champions to a lottery team.
Who knows if the stars in Oklahoma City get frustrated and ask out at some point? Certainly not I, but it’s a safe bet that guys are interested in winning and they’re aware of the factors that hurt their chances to compete.
In the world of sports, things can change in a moment’s time. Nothing, especially winning, is guaranteed. Injury, free agency and complacency can all change the fortunes of a team. This year the injury bug caught the Thunder, who knows what’s next?
It’s important to cultivate assets while you have them and go for the win. The Thunder had three of the best assets any team could ask for. Those guys produced on and off the court; the risk was minimal. Perhaps they would need to make a change at some point, but that point wasn’t before giving Durant, Westbrook and Harden one more chance to make a run. Only then could Presti and the Thunder ownership truly evaluate whether the reward of keeping Harden outweighed the risk. In fact, the deal Presti made for Harden surely would have been available after the end of the season.
That team, at the very least, deserved one more shot.
Had the Thunder been patient and truly believed in the strength of their program, they would have discovered that Harden is better than good. So good, in fact, that he’s made Houston an attractive landing spot for upcoming free agents. Meanwhile, the Thunder are left with the burden of finding the right guys to get the team back to contender status.
The reality that nothing is guaranteed should have been incentive for Presti to roll the dice. Now, the conference is certain to change and the road to the NBA Finals could become much more difficult for the Thunder. Who knows where guys like Chris Paul and Dwight Howard land this summer? It’s a safe bet that both men will make a great impact on the conference.
Still, the biggest impact on the Thunder was made by Presti when he made that trade. It’s something that he’ll regret.
May 07, 2013 4:45 PM EDT
Winning the Atlantic Division and advancing to the second round of the playoffs, the New York Knicks are once again relevant for basketball reasons. Much of that is because of the performance of Carmelo Anthony. He’s played great for the Knicks, enjoying his best season since joining the Knicks in 2011. But as good as Anthony has been, he needs to be better in a hurry.
There is no doubt that Anthony can score the ball. On any given night he’s capable of scoring 40 points, but what else can he do? What else is he willing to do?
Through the Knicks’ first seven playoff games, the 28-year-old has taken 188 shots while only recording 12 assists. He’s shooting 38 percent from the field and has almost twice the number of turnovers (22) as assists. A player with those types of statistics is most frequently called a gunner or volume shooter. Never would that player be considered great or the right guy to lead a team to a championship.
Anthony, however, has managed to avoid heavy criticism for his style of play. It’s hard to argue with the results of the regular season and there’s no doubt he’s the team’s catalyst. The time, however, has come for Anthony to make plays that don’t require him taking so many shots. That approach was good enough to get the Knicks past the older Celtics; it won’t work against the Indiana Pacers. Anthony is going to need to create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Many times scoring is viewed as the only way for a star player to help their team. Making the play somehow becomes scoring the basket. With that type of mentality, a player is going to shoot as many shots as they need to get points. But that doesn’t help a team win, one guy taking the majority of the shots never does. Anthony isn’t LeBron James, but he could become a more effective player by adapting elements from the game of the league’s MVP.
James makes plays and controls the game without shooting his team out of it; I believe Anthony is capable of doing the same thing. Great scorers can quickly identify and attack a scoring opportunity. Great players understand that taking the shot isn’t always the best play. Anthony can see scoring opportunities two plays ahead, what he now needs to do is show a willingness to make the pass. Ideally, Anthony would shave two or three shots per game off his average in exchange for two or three assists. Otherwise, Anthony turns himself into just another player.
I’ve always had the opinion that any player in the league can get hot and have a good night. Most players would score a lot of points if they had the freedom to hoist a bunch of shots. The special players separate themselves from the average league guy by impacting the game in a multitude of ways, not just scoring or shooting a lot of shots. If they get hot they score 50 or 60. If they take over 25 shots, well, they score 50 or 60. There’s nothing great about Anthony taking 28 shots from the floor to get 27 points (including six points from the free-throw line). Anthony cannot truly become a great player until he consistently makes great plays that go beyond simply scoring. The championship chances of the Knicks depend on Anthony’s willingness to do more than shoot the ball.
There is a big difference between being a great scorer and a great player. The playoffs give Anthony an opportunity to show everyone which category he fits into.
Apr 30, 2013 10:01 PM EDT
Dwight Howard has a decision to make, the biggest he’s faced since deciding to enter the 2004 NBA Draft straight out of high school. An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career, Howard will have to choose the franchise that best positions him to grow as a player and compete for championships. His future home, however, isn’t the only choice he’ll need to make this summer.
The time has come for Howard to decide whether he wants to be an all-time great player, or just a player that was good for his time.
We’ve seen glimpses of both.
At times Howard has been the league’s best two-way player, impacting the game in a way that few players can. Then there are the times where he looks limited offensively, easily frustrated and overly emotional to the officiating and evaluations of his game. It’s a hurdle that he must clear before he can consistently lead a franchise into the future.
Howard has no peer in the league. There isn’t another center with his physical gifts or potential. Most people look at Howard and expect him to be dominant like Shaquille O’Neal or as impactful as the league’s other stars. Howard should be the chief rivals of LeBron James and Kevin Durant en route to the NBA Finals, but he’s not. There’s still a lot of work for Howard to reach his potential. It’s within his reach to be one of the most dominant, imposing and successful players in the league, anyone can see the potential. Getting there will require a lot self-inventory, maturity and hard work. The results of that work come down to how badly he wants to be great, the rest will take care of itself.
Choosing where to spend the next phase of his career is a huge step in the process. Vowing to make a decision that makes him happy, Howard has an opportunity to get things back on track by showing growth in an area that he has a few struggles – decision making.
There are many that believe staying with the Lakers is the key to Howard reaching his potential, which is ridiculous. Wearing the uniform of the Lakers isn’t a prerequisite to greatness. Being great isn’t exclusive to a city or team, especially the Lakers, even though certain teams have enjoyed more success than others. Players, and the right coaches, make franchises great. They generate interest, produce a quality product and excite their fans. Truth be told, staying with the Lakers doesn’t guarantee Howard anything other than an extra year and about $30 million.
The 27-year-old center can’t allow the nostalgia or media pressure to dictate his decision. This contract is his most important and will position him to compete with James, Durant and the other talented teams around the NBA for years to come. He doesn’t have time to wait for a team to find pieces. He doesn’t have time to wait for a coach to adjust his system and learn to coach defense. Howard has even less time to risk his future on the chance that an organization can find him a co-star that’s good enough to compete and young enough to grow with.
Those things, however, are specific to a team and solely their responsibility to fix before recruiting a player; Howard’s responsibility is now to himself.
He can make any choice he wants and there isn’t a wrong choice so long as he’s happy with the decision he makes. But the next step in his progression is non-negotiable. Howard can’t come back for the 2013-14 season as the same player. To his defense, the injuries had a great impact on his game. But the growth of individual skills will always compensate the loss of athletic ability. Happiness will provide the extra patience needed to deal with unfavorable officiating. The lessons learned over the past two seasons must be on display for the world to see.
Where Howard plays doesn’t matter, but it’s time for him to take the next step and be the player that many of us know he should be.
Apr 19, 2013
The Bulls finished the season 5-5 over their final 10 games. While the record is disappointing, they know they're much better than they've played. Leaving the regular season behind, the Bulls are looking forward to getting the playoffs started and reminding everyone what they're capable of when healthy and focused.
Apr 19, 2013
The Celtics, old as they may be, are still capable of playing good basketball, that we know, but will they have enough in the tank to compete for another title? Rested and healthy, the Celtics are confident that a deep playoff run is not only possible, it's probable.
Apr 15, 2013
The Bucks are are expected to put up a fight against the Heat, with enough talented pieces to be a dangerous team with nothing to lose. But they are finishing the regular season looking far more like a lottery team.
Mar 31, 2013
In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition? But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.
Mar 30, 2013
Tobias Harris has gone from benchwarmer to trade throw-in and now he's widely seen as nice young piece with a lot of upside for the Magic. Needless to say he appreciates his new role.
Mar 27, 2013
One of the most admirable things the Heat have shown us is that even the most talented team isn't opposed to the idea of growth and maturity, elements that have been at the forefront of their season. Winning the championship only made them hungrier for more championships. The same thinking can be applied to their historic streak.
Mar 23, 2013
Serge Ibaka has truly benefitted from not trying to replace James Harden. Accepting and knowing his role has allowed him to win the respect of his teammates and made his job a lot easier.
Mar 07, 2013
Without a doubt the Kings have a locker room filled with talent and also immaturity. Many times the latter overwhelms the former and results in a team getting drubbed regularly and developing a losing culture where the individual becomes the focus.
Feb 17, 2013
One of the best moments of the weekend each season is the player introductions. Hearing their names announced has always been a moment when a player can look around and without a doubt say, “I’ve arrived.”
Feb 17, 2013
Paul George plans on making many trips to the All-Star game and understands that hard work and attention to detail are the keys to becoming a fixture in the league’s showcase game.
Jan 24, 2013
Selecting the All-Star reserves is always an exercise in controversy as many deserving players become victims to the number game. Which 14 players are most deserving this season?
Nov 26, 2012
The Nets have changed the direction of their franchise by moving to Brooklyn and are now striving to take the city of New York in their budding rivalry with the Knicks.
Nov 04, 2012
The Nets have given Brooklyn a sports identity again, and in doing so, they have transcended sports by touching the nerve of one of the country's biggest and proudest areas.
Nov 03, 2012
Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have helped each other adjust to life in Miami. Neither guy knew much about their new teammates. In fact, they didn’t know anything other than what they learned from playing against them. They’ve relied on their friendship to help them deal with their new surroundings.
Oct 30, 2012
Jameer Nelson has always been a leader, but now he is the go-to guy for in-game production and off-court leadership.
Oct 30, 2012
Jeremy Lin won't be distracted by the enormous amount of attention he's sure to get. Nobody knows how good Lin really is, but there is a feeling that his popularity, not his game, is the biggest reason the Rockets gave him a three-year, $25.1 million dollar contract.
Oct 29, 2012
The Spurs will gladly put their continuity up against the flashy additions that other teams have made in the offseason. They believe in each other, their culture and they have no doubt they'll have a shot to compete for a title.
Older Blog Posts »
Basketball Wiretap Headlines