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The NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago starts Wednesday and one of Oklahoma’s three early departures is missing from the invitation list.
Freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin reportedly was not invited to participate in this key activity, which will be held at the Attack Athletics facility on the west side of Chicago. OU sophomore guard Willie Warren and freshman center Tiny Gallon did receive invitations, as did Oklahoma State guard James Anderson, Tulsa center Jerome Jordan and former local high school standouts in Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh (Edmond Santa Fe), Kentucky’s Daniel Orton (Bishop McGuinness) and Kansas’ Xavier Henry (Putnam City).
Thanks to the NCAA’s newly imposed early withdrawal deadline (which was May 8), this year’s invitation list consists of nothing but draft-eligible players with no possibility of a player withdrawing to return to college. Getting an invitation to Chicago does not guarantee a player will get drafted, but not getting an invite certainly doesn’t help a player’s cause.
The Chicago combine will consist of various drills, medical testing and interviews with NBA teams, but no games. Here is the invitation list:
Solomon Alabi, Florida State
Cole Aldrich, Kansas
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest
James Anderson, Oklahoma State
Luke Babbitt, Nevada
Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky
Trevor Booker, Clemson
Craig Brackins, Iowa State
Avery Bradley, Texas
Derrick Caracter, Texas El Paso
Sherron Collins, Kansas
DeMarcus Cousins, Kentucky
Jordan Crawford, Xavier
Ed Davis, North Carolina
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia
Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech
Tiny Gallon, Oklahoma
Charles Garcia, Seattle
Paul George, Fresno State
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Manny Harris, Michigan
Gordon Hayward, Butler
Lazard Hayward, Marquette
Xavier Henry, Kansas
Darington Hobson, New Mexico
Damion James, Texas
Armon Johnson, Nevada
Wesley Johnson, Syracuse
Dominique Jones, South Florida
Jerome Jordan, Tulsa
Sylven Landesberg, Virginia
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech
Greg Monroe, Georgetown
Daniel Orton, Kentucky
Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
Dexter Pittman, Texas
Quincy Pondexter, Washington
Andy Rautins, Syracuse
Stanley Robinson, Connecticut
Larry Sanders, Virginia Commonwealth
Jon Scheyer, Duke
Lance Stephenson, Cincinnati
Mikhail Torrance, Alabama
Evan Turner, Ohio State
Ekpe Udoh, Baylor
Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
John Wall, Kentucky
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Terrico White, Mississippi
Hassan Whiteside, Marshall
Elliot Williams, Memphis
One year ago this same weekend: Oklahoma was getting ready to take on Syracuse in a Friday night Sweet 16 game at Memphis; Oklahoma State’s season had ended five days earlier; the Thunder lost at Toronto to fall to 20-52 on the season.
This year: OU finished with nine straight losses and its worst record in 30 years; OSU lost its NCAA opening-round game; the Thunder is 43-27 and a half-hour away from playing the NBA’s best team in the Los Angeles Lakers.
Imagine how dull the final Friday in March would have been without the Thunder.
The Thunder has been around just 20 months, yet at times it’s difficult to imagine our sports lives without the franchise. Last season was intriguing because it was the Thunder’s first year. This season, the team’s somewhat unfathomable success has captured our attention.
Barring a late collapse, the Thunder is headed for the playoffs, perhaps against the defending world champion Lakers.
Locals already have put away their NCAA brackets for this year and are merely casual observers of the tournament. Meanwhile, local interest in the Thunder is anything but casual.
The Thunder will have our full attention at least through April and possibly into May. It’s only Year Two, but already our sports lives have grown accustomed to the rumble of the Thunder.
Five times in his 13-year career, Thunder veteran guard Kevin Ollie has played for two teams in the same season. He has been traded twice (2002 and 2003) and waived and signed three times (1998, 1999 and 2000).
The NBA trade deadline is 2 p.m. Thursday, and here’s hoping the Thunder doesn’t dangle Ollie as bait. Though he has played just 16 games all season and only twice since Nov. 22, the 37-year-old Ollie is a valuable commodity.
If the Thunder remains in the playoff race, or if it advances to the postseason, having a stablizing presence like Ollie at point guard could be a key component on the court and/or in the locker room.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, it didn’t appear the Thunder would make a trade. The Thunder doesn’t figure to part with any of its top 10 players, but if a suitor calls for a player farther down the bench such as center Etan Thomas, there could be movement. Here’s hoping other teams bypass Ollie as an option.
Good luck breaking the Sam Presti vault (Member FDIC) for information. Presti is a stickler for general manager/client privilege, which means it’s none of our darn business who’s been on the other end of his cell phone lately.
The Thunder is an easy team to like, and Ollie might be the easiest player to like of them all. We offer these quotes as proof:
“There’s definitely some anxious moments there,” Ollie said of the trade deadline approaching. “You don’t want to get traded when you’re comfortable in your situation, like here. It’s hard to leave your friends and the relationships you built. It’s all part of the business. You don’t take it personally. You say, ‘Thank you’ and you move on to the next spot.
“Coming from the CBA (where Ollie played before making it to the NBA at age 25), you have to be mature about it. You have 10-day contracts. You might not even play one minute and you get cut. You grew up quick. It’s just like your parents leaving the house early in the morning every day. You have to grow up quick. It’s the same thing. You get thrown into the fire in the CBA because you always have to work your way up.”
Asked if any of his midseason changes have been for the best, Ollie said, “I was just always happy to be in this league. I wasn’t trying to figure out if the grass was always greener on the other side. Whatever team gave me the opportunity to play and live out my dream, I was happy with it.”
Bad news for the New Orleans Hornets could bring good news for the Thunder.
Hornets point guard Chris Paul, the best quarterback in the game, will miss at least one month after undergoing knee surgery because of a partially torn meniscus. This adds even further intrigue to the Western Conference playoff race.
The top three playoffs spots seem secure in the LA Lakers, Denver and Dallas. Going into Monday night’s games, only 3.5 games separated the No. 4 and No. 11 seeds.
In order, the other top playoff candidates are: Utah, Portland, San Antonio, Phoenix, New Orleans, the Thunder, Memphis and Houston. What that order will be upon Paul’s return is anybody’s guess, but the Hornets figure to slip the most.
While the Hornets have been cursed with the injury to Paul, the Thunder remains blessed as perhaps the league’s healthiest team. The Thunder’s five starters amazingly have combined to miss just two starts all season. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Jeff Green and Thabo Sefolosha are each 47 for 47, while Nenad Krstic has started 45 of 47 games.
How would the Thunder would hold up for a month without Durant? That’s the void the Hornets are about to experience.
If the Thunder is able to stay healthy, it could begin to separate itself from other contenders and finish in the top eight spots. Today is Feb. 1. It’ll be interesting to see where the Thunder stands March 1.
But keep in mind, the Thunder’s regular-season finish line is April 14, not March 1. There will still be 24 games remaining one month from today.
Fans have had their say concerning next month’s NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. Top vote-getters at each position were announced as starters last week.
Now it’s time from NBA head coaches to select the reserves. The announcement will come around 6:15-6:30 p.m. on Thursday during TNT’s pregame show.
Asked Wednesday if he wanted to share his ballot, Thunder coach Scott Brooks politely refused. “No, too many guys would be against me,” Brooks said with a smile.
Coaches’ ballots were due at 2 p.m. Tuesday. A former point guard himself, Brooks would admit only the following: “I like guards. There are a lot of good guards having great years. I see a game through a guard’s eyes. There’s no doubt.”
As for his criteria, Brooks said, “It was a combination — stats, how their team is doing, feel, attitude, team guys. I’m not going to pick a guy who just worries about himself or statistics, players who are (thinking) agenda, not team.”
Coaches voted for seven players within their own conference — two guards, two forwards, one center and two wildcards — and they could not vote for their own players.
Here’s my guess on what Brooks’ ballot looked like: G Chris Paul (New Orleans), G Chauncey Billups (Denver), G Deron Williams (Utah), C Pau Gasol (Lakers); F Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas); F Zach Randolph (Memphis) and F Carlos Boozer (Utah).
Although Thunder forward Kevin Durant should be a unanimous selection as a reserve (except for Brooks, of course), Brooks said his team has gone about its business despite the pending good news.
“We have not talked about it,” Brooks said of Durant’s selection. “I know if it happens, he’s earned it doing it the right way. He’s worked extremely hard. He brings a lot of effort and he gets better because he works. If it does happen, it would be a great honor for him and our team.”
Fans sometimes get it wrong when they vote for the NBA All-Star Game. They have their favorite players, and they pick them. It doesn’t matter why. All that matters is who.
An example of fan abuse came in 1976-77, when the Denver Nuggets and three other ABA teams joined the NBA. Denver fans (myself among them) voted repeatedly for David Thompson, Dan Issel and Bobby Jones. As a result, all three started in the 1977 All-Star Game at Milwaukee Arena (The MECCA). The West, which was coached by Denver’s Larry Brown, won 125-124.
The clincher came on a blocked shot from Jones, which he turned into a game-winning assist with 35 seconds remaining. It was a good day for Denver.
This ballot-stuffing project pushed players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was returning to his original NBA home), Maurice Lucas, Rick Barry and Phil Smith into reserve roles. Sure, it was wrong, but I loved it as a Nuggets fan who was 16 years old at the time. I have since grown up hating the ballot-stuffing process.
Starters for next month’s NBA All-Star Game in Arlington, Texas, were announced Thursday night, and for the most part, fans got it right.
Philadelphia point guard Allen Iverson, who was traded and has played just 20 games all season, shouldn’t be playing, much less starting. Atlanta’s Joe Johnson should be starting instead.
To their credit, fans corrected themselves by eventually voting Steve Nash of Phoenix into the starting lineup. Two weeks ago, Tracy McGrady (six games and 7.7 minutes per game this season) was on the verge of starting as the second-leading vote-getter among the West guards.
Boston guard Ray Allen recently suggested a format change in All-Star balloting. Allen wanted the fans’ votes to count as 50 percent, with the other 50 percent divided evenly among media and players.
“I like the fact that the fans get the opportunity to vote and pick who they’d like to see in the All-Star Game, but I don’t think it should be 100 percent,” said Allen, a nine-time All-Star selection.
Allen also mentioned that coaches, who pick the reserves, also should be involved in selecting the starters. Allen also suggested increasing the total number of All-Stars from 24 to 30.
“You figure if there’s 24 players that get named to the All-Star team, there’s always 30 that deserve it, and you figure that’s six that should be on the All-Star team,” Allen said.
The NBA isn’t about to change its voting format, however. “We look at it as a great way to engage the fans,” NBA spokesman Brian McIntyre said. “We think it’s a good system. A lot of times voting reflects career achievement as well as yearly achievements.”
This is why Charlotte coach Larry Brown supported Iverson’s selection. “I’ve seen Willie Mays and those older guys start based on what they’ve done in their career in baseball, and we’ve had that happen in basketball for years, guys that have made a contribution,” Brown said. “That’s why the fans are involved, and I think it’s kind of neat that they are involved. They support the league, they vote for their favorite players. I always look at a guy’s body of work.”
I agree with Allen. Let the fans vote, but give other parties a chance to correct poor selections (like Iverson).
The Los Angeles Lakers are 32-9, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 31-11 and the Boston Celtics are 27-12, but the scariest team to play in the NBA might be the 3-37 New Jersey Nets.
There is no disgrace in losing to the Lakers, Cavs or Celtics, but there is great disgrace losing to the Nets.
The first half of last year, folks wondered if the Oklahoma City Thunder might set an NBA record for futility. The Thunder started out 3-29 before closing with a 20-30 record to end up at 23-59.
This season, the New Jersey Nets are struggling like no pro team has ever struggled. With Monday afternoon’s loss against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Nets have now lost eight straight, they’re 24.5 games out of first place and 15.5 wins shy of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They are 2-17 at home and 1-20 on the road.
Spurred by the worst record ever to start a season (0-18), the Nets have a winning percentage of .075, which in turn translate to a losing percentage .925.
The worst 82-game record of all-time belongs to the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who finished 9-73 (.110). The Nets are on pace to end up 6-76.
Not only does the pressure mount for the Nets to win, it also builds for their opponent. Yes, the Nets will take some serious grief if they set the league record for futility, but so will opponents that lost to the worst team in NBA history.
So far this season, teams that have lost to the Nets are Charlotte, Chicago and the Knicks. The Nets visit the Ford Center on March 12. For the Thunder’s sake, let’s hope the Nets aren’t 3-61 and riding a 34-game losing streak. The pressure could be unbearable.
With 6:54 remaining in its game at Detroit on Oct. 30, the Thunder led the Pistons 75-65. If this were last season, Thunder players, coaches and fans would start focusing on the game clock, wondering why the clock was moving so slowly and if the Thunder possibly could hold on for the victory.
When would the Thunder’s late-game fade begin, and what would be the cause? Fatigue? Nerves? Fright? Carelessness? Or was it simply a matter of the other team showing it was better when it mattered most? This self-wonderment resulted in a 23-59 season that occassionally brought a small portion of pleasure, but far more frustration, anger and embarrassment.
That was last year. There have been no such signs so far this season. Yes, it’s extremely early — only six games — but to me, the failure to fade late in games is the most noticeable improvement from last year’s Thunder to this year’s. Thunder coach Scott Brooks said he notices it, too. His explanation is having better players, and more of them.
“We’re much deeper,” Brooks said shortly before his team departed for Sacramento on Monday afternoon. “We’ve got some very capable guys on the bench, some of them haven’t even played yet. That helps our team, but that also helps guys get better at practice. That’s having better players. We now have the ability to rest some of our guys. We now have good enough guys who will either hold the lead or make up from a deficit.”
Getting back to that Detroit game, the Pistons closed to within 77-73 with 4:26 left, but never got closer in a 91-83 Thunder victory. In the season-opening 102-89 victory over Sacramento in the Ford Center, the final margin was the closest the Kings got since 1:08 remained before halftime. And in Sunday night’s 102-74 masterpiece against Eastern Conference champion Orlando, the Thunder took the lead for good with 4:56 left in the second quarter. With 4:56 left in the fourth quarter, the Thunder built its biggest lead at 96-63.
So far, so good for the Thunder when it comes to maintaining late-game leads. Hopefully there will come a day when the Thunder will be able to focus on the score rather than the clock in the closing minutes.