The Oklahoma City Thunder have two of the best 10 players in the NBA with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. But after another unproductive and uneventful offseason, the Thunder saw every Western Conference contender get better. Here’s my HoopsHabit article on whether or not OKC’s title window is shrinking.
This is a fun one: Here’s my HoopsHabit article with the best current NBA player at every age.
In a move that has one city up in arms, another city rejoicing and the rest of us straddling the border between sympathy and excitement, the Maloof family is nearing a deal that would send the Sacramento Kings to Seattle. Yahoo! Sports reported yesterday that the deal was nearly complete and that the Kings would be sold for approximately $500 million to a group led by investor Chris Hansen and Microsoft chairman Steve Ballmer. ESPN has reported that the deal is not close to being done and that the Maloofs are still uncertain about whether or not they even want to sell the team, but considering their poor track record for doing all they can to prevent the franchise from leaving Sacramento, it’s hard to picture the deal not going through. There’s still a chance for Kings fans to keep their team in town, but what happens if the deal does go through?
There are a few angles to this news, and I feel everyone needs to be aware of them all. For Seattle basketball fans, this is tremendous news. The downright despicable way the SuperSonics left the city for Oklahoma City means they have a right to be happy that they may be getting their beloved franchise back. And of all the basketball cities in the country, no one deserves a new NBA team more than Seattle. When you combine a loyal fanbase with a rich basketball tradition that may soon be restored and returned to Seattle with the unfortunate events that led to the Sonics’ exit, it’s hard to deny them the right to be excited. And as an NBA fan who felt a lot of disappointment for the city and the league in general when Seattle’s basketball team was gone, the news that basketball may be returning is news to celebrate, even if it certainly isn’t the way anyone would have liked to see it.
However, as awesome as it would be to see the SuperSonics’ franchise and history restored, NBA fans who don’t reside in Seattle would be wise to avoid openly celebrating just yet. This move would have really excited me if it didn’t come at the expense of another great basketball city with equally despicable owners. In the same way Sam Presti crapped on the entire city of Seattle, so too have the Maloofs crapped on Sacramento every step of the way as the city has fought to keep its team where it belongs. From the Virginia Beach talks to the new plan drafted by Sacramento that was suddenly and inexplicably turned down by the Maloofs, Kings fans have every reason to resent their owners.
From a history and records perspective, this constant mixing and moving and relocating of NBA franchises we’ve seen over the past few years brings up a fair amount of conflict. Would the SuperSonics get their history back or would Oklahoma City keep it? Should the SuperSonics adopt the Kings’ history and records as their own like OKC did? What would we do with the Kings’ history if Seattle does get the Sonics’ history back? And where should the jerseys of Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, Kevin Durant and the rest eventually hang? In my opinion Sacramento should hold on to the Kings’ records for the future, Oklahoma City should have their own records and the Thunder should give Seattle’s history back, but that’s a conversation that will likely be way more convoluted than it needs to be.
In recent years, the Kings have been a terrible team with young talent was never fully realized, inconsistent coaching and a star player with major attitude problems. But the rich history of Kings basketball and the loyal fanbase that have fought for their team (despite the fact that their team has been appallingly bad for years now) speaks volumes about how great a basketball city Sacramento is. Who can forget Mike Bibby, Vlade Divac, Chris Webber and the Kings team that took the Los Angeles Lakers to the edge in a disappointing and controversial seven-game series for the 2002 Western Conference Finals? If not for some terrible (and probably corrupt) officiating in Game 6 and horrible free-throw shooting in Game 7, the Kings would have contended for a championship! It’s only natural to be happy to have one of the NBA’s loved franchises back, but we should also realize that if this move goes through, the Sacramento Kings are the new Seattle SuperSonics in the sense that we’ll ALL be nostalgically wanting them back soon enough.
Which brings me to you, Seattle basketball fans. I’m not going to go as far as calling you hypocrites like others have done, but it’s time to point something out. If this deal goes through and you end up getting your beloved Sonics back, it’s time to let go of your hatred for the Oklahoma City Thunder. You can still resent Presti and the people responsible for moving your franchise away in the first place, but you had no right to be angry at the Thunder, at Oklahoma City fans, at Kevin Durant or at anybody else during this whole time. No one’s saying you should have supported the Thunder, but blaming them for the move was just looking for a scapegoat to deal with the pain. And if you get the Sonics back, you DEFINITELY don’t have that right. Because even though it wasn’t your decision to take the Kings away from Sacramento, you of all people know how it feels to hate another city for taking your team away. Do you feel responsible for the Kings leaving? Do you feel guilty or deserving of Sacramento’s anger because you will have their team now? No? Then now you understand why your anger at Oklahoma City was never entirely acceptable.
Likewise, Sacramento fans, don’t resent the city of Seattle for the move. Unfortunately, you now understand what they went through and that the real blame lies with your insufferable owner. However, the city of Seattle should give you hope. Not because anyone expects you to cheer for the new team there, but because if Seattle can get their team back, maybe one day down the road Sacramento can too. I truly feel sorry for Kings fans. It doesn’t matter that they’re at the bottom of the Western Conference and have been there are the better part of the last decade. The Kings were a great franchise and even if they hadn’t been, any one of the 30 NBA squads leaving their city for another would be regrettable. I hope that Sacramento will keep its drive for an NBA team alive, because just like the SuperSonics, maybe one day the Kings will come home again.
Now that all the facts of one of the most shocking trades of the offseason have come pouring in, I thought it was important to separate fact from fiction to determine what NBA fans should think about James Harden leaving Oklahoma City. Was Harden greedy? Or was this OKC’s fault?
In short, it was OKC’s fault. You can gripe about how Harden turning down a $55.5 million deal over four years is selfish considering he’ll only be getting $60 million over four in Houston, but there are a few facts to consider. For those who say that Harden doesn’t deserve a max deal, that’s just downright foolish. Harden was a top 25 player in the league last year, and although many claimed he reaped the benefits of playing against the other team’s bench, often with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that’s just not true. Harden led the Thunder past the Mavs in crunch time during the postseason last year. He delivered critical blows to a Lakers’ squad that couldn’t keep him from getting to the basket and the free throw line. His consistency balanced out Westbrook’s poor shooting streaks. His chemistry with his brothers in OKC was palpable. He was the third best player on his team, but a lot of championship teams have needed a third, underrated player who could give up shots but still be effective with his minutes like Harden. And even if you disagree with all of that, about half the league would have given Harden a max deal if they had the cap space.
So how is all that OKC’s fault? After all, they did offer him a pretty sweet deal that wasn’t far behind what he’ll be getting in Houston, right? Wrong. Harden originally wanted a five-year deal, but OKC went with four, which would allow him to trade him if they wanted to when the time was right. Much like the Celtics did with Rondo, they tried to convince Harden they wouldn’t trade him if he just agreed to a smaller deal now. They wanted him to take less money with no guarantee he’d stay in OKC for the extended future. When Harden refused and held out for the max deal he deserves, OKC management declined and immediately shipped him off to Houston. And since Houston wants him to sign an extension, Harden will probably get a five year, $75 million deal. Which, as I’ve said, is what he fully deserves.
I was originally disgusted with Harden’s decision to turn down that kind of money and break up OKC’s dynamic young group with so much chemistry. But then the facts came out. And the truth is, this wasn’t his fault. This is on Oklahoma City, a team that said they didn’t want to offer Harden a max deal because it would put them over the luxury tax. But considering their extensive profits last year, paying the measly luxury tax is a small price for keeping a championship-contending group intact.
Like the rest of the nation, I was struck by the three stars of Oklahoma City standing arm in arm as the clock ran out in the NBA Finals last year. That moment was a sad one, but because of the youth of those three, it also seemed like the perfect moment to reflect on later, a time when this talented young dynasty finally broke through and won their first title. Now that moment is wasted. We’ll never see that dynasty happen now. Durant might win a title, but OKC’s path to the Finals will be nearly impossible without the chemistry and bench scoring Harden brought to the team. Kevin Martin can score and Jeremy Lamb will be a fine prospect one day, but neither one of them will provide the chemistry Harden brought. None of them will fit in with Durant and Westbrook the way Harden did. And no one can replace the fan favorite beard that became a trademark symbol of the special unity the Thunder shared. Oklahoma City effectively stepped down as favorites to win the Western Conference and ruined their title chances, possibly for good, by shipping Harden away. The Lakers and Spurs now seem poised to send the Thunder home disappointed once again. Because as talented as Durant and Westbrook are, Harden was an instrumental part of their championship-contending team last year.
As for Harden? He’ll never get the chance to redeem his disappearing act in the NBA Finals last year. He’s extremely talented and I think he can step up as Houston’s top scorer, but he won’t lead the Rockets to a championship. He won’t have a shot at a title in Houston. We will never get to see what might have been with the young Thunder dynasty. We’ll miss out on some truly epic Finals between the Miami Heat and OKC squad hungry for revenge. All because OKC didn’t want to shell out some extra money to continue sporting one of the most exciting, talented and profitable teams in the league. All because their financial motivations outweighed the desire for a championship. This team certainly could have afforded to keep Durant, Westbrook, Harden and Serge Ibaka together. Yeah, they got draft picks, but what message does that send? That it’s ok to change the lineup of a team THAT WAS IN THE FINALS LAST YEAR as long as you leave some light at the end of the tunnel? That saving your organization a measly amount of money for one year is worth wasting your chances at a repeat appearance in the Finals or a few potential championships? You can’t blame Harden for asking for what he deserved. This one’s on Oklahoma City.
After another sloppy start, the United States blew open a big lead in their second Olympic matchup against Tunisia. For the game recap and analysis, click here.
The United States earned a 98-71 win against France in their 2012 Olympic opener, making it clear that it will take a gargantuan effort to knock this team off. However, it also became pretty obvious that this is no ’92 Dream Team. Read the game recap and analysis from Team USA’s Olympic opener here.