A Daily Babble Production: How the Other Side Thinks
In their first season in their new home, the Artists Formerly Known As the Sonics haven't done a lot of winning, but the Oklahoma City Thunder have provided plenty of excitement. Complete with one of the league's most dynamic players in Kevin Durant and a mega-athletic undersized two guard masquerading around as the point guard (Russell Westbrook) as well as a host of other youngsters, the Thunder have played more competitive basketball over the latter portion of the season, and they haven't lacked for intrigue. In advance of their visit to the New Garden this evening, we check in today with Welcome to Loud City lead blogger Mr. Pappagiorgio...
SW: There has no doubt been plenty of tumult around the once-Sonics-now-Thunder franchise over the last few seasons. With the move long since complete, how has Oklahoma City received its first permanent NBA franchise?
Mr. P.: I can't speak for all of Oklahoma City since I live about 90 miles away, but from the 10 games or so I've attended, the crowd has definitely gotten over its love affair with the Hornets and attached itself to this team over the course of the season. The really cool thing is that our team is so young it feels like we're starting completely fresh and have a chance to grow and develop as a professional sports city and state right along with the players (and coach) of our team. We may not be done with a full season yet, but already the Thunder feel like ours, instead of a borrowed team, which is something that I personally felt was the case when the Hornets where in town.
SW: After a disastrous 1-12 start that led to the firing of P.J. Carlesimo, the Thunder have played a more competitive brand of basketball (albeit still a losing brand) under Scott Brooks. How do you see the coaching situation playing out this summer?
Mr. P.: I have been reluctant to form an opinion on Scott Brooks' future with the team because I wanted to see what he would be able to do over the course of the entire season. There have been points where I felt like he wasn't going to be the guy long term, and there have been times when there is nobody else I'd rather have leading this young team. After that dreadful 3-29 start, the Thunder have gone 17-22 since, and that's not at all a bad record for this young bunch. Hell, that's only a few games under .500 ball, and if they can improve this team in the offseason and maintain this level of play, is it crazy to think they can't flirt with the playoffs next season? Just the very fact that I even have that running through my head makes me think the Thunder should go ahead and offer Scott Brooks at least a two-year deal to see if he can continue the development we've seen in these young players this season.
SW: Talk to me about rookie Russell Westbrook's development this season in learning to fill the point guard role at this level. Is he the long-term solution floor general, or is there too much undersized off-guard in him for that?
Mr. P.: I gotta tell you, I have a man-crush on Russell Westbrook, and even then, I'm still iffy on him being the long term solution at point guard. Don't get me wrong, I love watching the guy play, he's electric on the floor and does things that will flat out make your jaw drop. At the same time, he's had problems with turnovers and the ability to get others involved, two very big things that can make or break a point guard in the NBA. Of course, he's still learning the position and doing so as a rookie, so maybe another year at the point will help him develop into a more well-rounded point guard. What I love most about RW0 is his explosiveness and his uncanny ability to sneak down into the post and grab rebounds he's got no business going after.
SW: Despite recent injury setbacks, Kevin Durant continues to improve by leaps and bounds. What's the best part about watching him every night? What don't observers around the rest of the league know about Durant yet that they should?
Mr. P.: I don't think people realize yet just how impossible he is to guard for most teams. There aren't many small forwards in the league who can guard him, and he can pretty much pull up anytime he wants and shoot a jumper over the defender. If you watched the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam, you already know just how deadly he can be when he heats up. He becomes absolutely unguardable, and it doesn't matter where he is on the court or who is guarding him. If he wants the shot, he's going to shoot over the defender and knock it down. It honestly baffles me that he doesn't get more love on a National level. Just wait until this team grows into a contender: Durant will be regarded up there with guys like Kobe, DWade and LeBron.
SW: I've written before about Nenad Krstic and my hope that playing in OKC would give him a chance to regain some of the progress he made over his first couple of years in New Jersey before injuries and confidence issues conspired to halt his growth. How do you assess his play so far?
Mr. P.: Over the course of his time with the Thunder, it's been slow and steady improvement. I'm not convinced yet that he'll ever be as good as he was in New Jersey, but you can definitely see flashes of that guy from time to time. Right now, he and Nick Collison have formed a pretty solid inside tandem, and between the two of them they put up numbers that most teams would kill for from an inside presence. The only problem is it takes two of them, and they both have very different styles of play. The biggest thing I've been disappointed with has been his outside shot. I guess I remember him being a lot more consistent with that outside shot than he has been with the Thunder. Perhaps he's still getting re-acclimated to the NBA and we'll see some more improvement next season.
SW: What's the long-term outlook for this team? There's plenty of individual promise, no doubt, but what's the timetable for this group to get good as a unit? What are the first priorities for Sam Presti and the front office towards helping that happen?
Mr. P.: This team will be making noise before most people realize. Like I mentioned above, if they can improve upon their second half play this season, there is no reason they can't knock on the bottom side of that playoff door next year. I'm not saying they are a shoe-in or anything, but I wouldn't rule it out. If it doesn't happen next season, it should definitely happen the season after, and I fully anticipate being a title contender thereafter. Of course, I'm sure everyone who tries to answer this question for their team feels the same way, but that's all part of being a fan. The best-case scenario is always running through our heads, and we continually try to find ways to justify our teams running towards championships. Offseason focus for Presti will likely be adding depth at guard and trying to find long term solutions at center. With this supposed weak draft and us likely well out of the Griffin sweepstakes, I'm not really sure which way Presti will go come draft time. One thing is for sure: He has the ammunition to pull off something noteworthy if he finds the right deal.
SW: Time for a Daily Babble staple, word association - just the first word, phrase or thought that comes to your mind, please:
Jeff Green - Uncle Jeff
Clay Bennett - the man with the plan
New Orleans Hornets - can we get CP3 back in OKC?
Howard Schultz - I just think it’s funny that there is a Starbucks just a short walk from the Ford Center
Nick Collison: Garbage Man (LOVE HIM)
David Stern: hmm
Ray Allen: happy he got a ring…as a former Sonic fan, I miss him, yet I’m happy for him
Ford Center: Welcome to Loud City
SW: Score prediction for tonight's game?
Mr. P.: Can I be a homer even though we're not likely to win? Nah, Boston 98, OKC 91.
A Celts win sounds good by me. Much thanks to Mr. P. for coming by and dropping the knowledge.