For 2½ hours Thursday’s night, every non-Lakers fan in a sellout crowd of 18,203 at Chesapeake Energy Arena seemed to boo superstar Kobe Bryant.
Roughly an hour after the Thunder’s 100-85 victory and well past local newspaper deadlines, Bryant showed OKC far more respect than he had just been shown himself.
Here are some of Bryant’s thoughts on the game and the Thunder:
- On OKC All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook, who at times has been heavily criticized: “I don’t know what the media is doing out here, but everybody just needs to lay off of Russell. That’s a bad little dude, man. That’s a bad little dude, man. You guys are fortunate to have him. You guys have got two explosive scorers here. I like how he’s playing. He just has to continue to improve and do his stuff.”
- Does Bryant see any of himself in Westbrook? “He’s got the same type of dog that I had in me – that I still have in me – when I was coming up with Shaq (former teammate Shaquille O’Neal). He’s got the same fight and he’s just 6-4.”
- How has center Kendrick Perkins instilled his tough attitude into the Thunder? “Perk, in my opinion, he’s the best one-on-one post defender in the league. He’s that good in the low-post. That gives them an added presence. He’s also a very good help defender and a screen-and-roll defender. Boston really gift-wrapped them one (with the Feb. 24, 2011 trade that sent Perkins to OKC).”
- The development of All-Star Kevin Durant: “You just have to continue to get better. He’s making great plays for other players. He’s obviously been a phenomenal shooter. He has a developing post game. They’ve got two, three of my favorite players in the league on that team, man. They’re fun to watch.”
- On his verbal altercation with James Harden with less than two minutes remaining: “The conversation was pretty brief. I mean, I was doing all the talking. There are certain things you can’t (share publicly) … Maybe one day they’ll be able to sit at my lunch table [laughing]. Right now, we’re at two different lunch tables, man. That conversation was pretty brief.”
John Rohde: 475-3099. John Rohde can be heard Monday-Friday from 6-7 p.m. on The Sports Animal Network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. Follow him on Twitter @RohdeOK.
The Thunder has the NBA’s third-youngest roster and its second-youngest starting lineup. Several players should still be in college, or are not that far removed from college.
Of the Thunder’s 14 roster players, only three attended college for four years — Nick Collison (Kansas), Royal Ivey (Texas) and Eric Maynor (Virginia Commonwealth).
This youth certainly is evident inside the Thunder locker room in March during the NCAA Tournament. Four Thunder players are No. 1 seeds in Daequan Cook and Byron Mullens (Ohio State), plus Cole Aldrich and Collison (Kansas).
Ohio State faces Nazr Mohammed’s No. 4-seeded Kentucky team on Friday in Newark. Cook playfully suggested he and Mohammed might not pass to each other Wednesday or Friday night becaause of that game. KU plays Richmond in San Antonio on Friday and potentially could face Maynor for a berth to the Final Four on Sunday.
Kevin Durant and Ivey were underseeded at No. 4 and Texas suffered a painful 70-69 loss to Arizona in large part due to a questionable five-second violation against the Longhorns on an in-bound play, which still has Durant shaking his head. Russell Westbrook’s No. 7-seeded UCLA team ousted Michigan State in the opening round, but couldn’t survived Florida. Nate Robinson’s No. 7-seeded Washington Huskies could have, and probably should have, beaten No. 2 North Carolina, but wilted down the stretch.
No one is puffing out his chest more than the 175-pound Maynor, who was recruited to VCU by former Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel. Maynor is a No. 11 seed who many inside (and outside) the locker room believed didn’t deserve a tournament berth. Instead, VCU is two wins away from advancing from the so-called First Four (play-in games) to the Final Four. The Rams have beaten teams by an average of 16.3 points — Southern Cal by 13; Georgetown by 18; and Purdue by 18.
Each time VCU has a game, someone from the other side of the locker room (usually Cook) tells Maynor to enjoy his last game of the season. “You’ve been saying that for three games now,” Maynor said.
The only player on the Thunder roster from a school that didn’t qualify for the tournament is Arizona State’s James Harden.
A transcript of former Thunder coach P.J. Carlesimo’s interview with The Oklahoman on May 13:
Thoughts on the Thunder going 50-32 this season and advancing to the playoffs:
“I don’t think anybody saw this coming, except the (Thunder) players and the coaches. In my opinion, they’re certainly ahead of schedule. People believed how talented and young they were and that eventually they would become a good team. When they got (Serge) Ibaka and (Thabo) Sefolosha is what really jump-started the whole thing. Thabo in particular gave them a perimeter defender, which helped a lot. It also made the defensive matchups a lot better for Kevin (Durant) and Jeff (Green). The trades and acquisitions helped tremendously. The rest was just natural.”
Did you envision this much success coming this soon?
“I really believed they were going to be that good eventually. Would I have said were going to win 50 games in the third year? No. I think that was because of the players and the staff there this year doing an exceptional job.
“The feeling was there was going to be light at the end of the tunnel, but you also didn’t think you would struggle as much as we did the year before when we started out 2-14. You didn’t think it would be to that extreme. In some of the games you play well, and in some of the games you don’t. But there was just no reward whatsoever, so that’s when you’ve got to wonder. To me, that’s when all the hard work pays because in retrospect you didn’t expect the level of struggling early. You knew it wasn’t going to go well because you had road games against tough people. You’re like, ‘Uh-oh,’ but you didn’t expect it to be 2-14 and 1-12, nor do you expect it to turn the way it turned.
“Looking back, you could see where the numbers were starting to get pretty good at the end of last year (2008-09). You could say, ‘Looks like we’re starting to turn the corner. Looks like we’re starting to become a better team.’ But, boy, few people would have thought it would have turned so dramatically and then take the current NBA champs to the wall. It was just so unfortunate we got off to the start we did because we could tell the city wanted to win so badly. Obviously, the product on the floor is one they’re really proud of now.”
On Kevin Durant, a first-team All-NBA and All-Star selection who become the youngest scoring champion in NBA history:
“You didn’t have to watch Kevin for more than five seconds to say, ‘This kid is going to end up being one of the best players in the league.’ To be first-team All-NBA, you have to be on a successful team. I didn’t think there was a question Kevin would get there. The question was how quick could the team get good enough for him to get that personal recognition.”
How can the Thunder get better?
“Scottie (Brooks) and the coaches have a very good handle on what they need to take the next step. They certainly would like to shoot the 3 better and they could be better in their defensive rebounding. Offensive rebounding, they were pretty good. They also could take a little better care of the all, but you’re really nitpicking there. They did everything else so well.
“They were a very solid team. It wasn’t like they did it with mirrors. It’s not just the 50 wins, it’s how close they were in so many other games. It wasn’t like there were peaks and valleys. They were pretty consistent. These guys have settled into their roles, and they’re going to continue to get even better.
“Scottie has put them in positions where they can be successful. Having a good work ethic has always been the trademark of these guys from Day 1. Not only are they getting talented players, they’re also really good people. The coaches work hard, too. It’s a very, very positive situation there. They’ve got young talent that doesn’t think they have all the answers and they’re not afraid to work. Four starters played all 82 games. That’s a trademark of having a young team, but you’re also very fortunate. That’s also great for your continuity. This was a horrible year for injuries for a lot of teams.
“The league is fragile. Nobody talks about it, but every year only one team wins and the other 29 are asking, ‘What do we need to do to get better?’ There’s still a ton of work to do, but in terms of where they were at and where they are now, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing better than the Thunder. It just goes back to the people.”
The Thunder’s roster now compared to when he was coach:
“It wasn’t like our (2007-09) teams were divided. It wasn’t like they didn’t get along. There were good people on the team, but the team wasn’t nearly as talented then as it is now. They’ve done even a better job of getting good people. When they add a piece, they’re very mindful of what type of person they’re bringing into the mix.
“Kevin and Jeff were in a very difficult situation that first year because they were such high draft picks and they were going to be the face of the franchise going forward. There was all the normal rookie-veteran stuff on that team, but the way Kevin and Jeff handled themselves really made it work. That could have been a very difficult situation with a lot of resentment, but it wasn’t because of the type of guys they’ve got. The feeling from the beginning was all it was going to take was time because the pieces were so good. The work ethic, that’s the thing that gets lost in the shuffle.”
The importance of having a good practice facility when the team arrived:
“That’s one of the better practice facilities (14701 N. Lincoln Blvd.) in the league right now. It’s not in the top 10, but it’s one of the better ones. That to me was a reflection of the commitment they had. It was going to take a lot of hard work. Everything in that organization has gotten better since Day 1 — the team, the practice facility, the (Ford Center) arena.
“They could have said, ‘Let’s just use a gym that we don’t have access to 24/7, that doesn’t have extra baskets, that doesn’t have the weight room right there for you. But they said, ‘No, no, no. This stuff is important. We need this today.’ There are a lot of owners who wouldn’t have done it that way when they have a brand new facility on the way (due for completion late this year).
“When I think of Oklahoma City, I think of that practice facility. That’s where we spent most of our time. That’s the side of it people don’t see — the mornings and the nights. A lot of those guys come back at night, but you can’t do that if you don’t have a dedicated facility or a facility the players don’t like going to. That facility was made for the players. It was a strong commitment. That new place (due for completion at the end of the year) is going to be unbelievable, one of the top two or three in the league, I’m sure. That practice facility made a significant, significant difference.
“I think it’s a corporate mindset with that team. They won’t forget where they came from and they’re going to be very successful.”
On Scott Brooks being named NBA coach of the year:
“I thought it was an unbelievably tough year to pick just one, and yet at the same time it was clearly a no-brainer. Scottie was the guy. I don’t think you could do a much better job that Scott did this year. It’s not an accident those guys got better, and are continuing to improve.”
The Thunder’s home crowd:
“It was very obvious in the playoffs and I saw it during the regular season, too. I remember very few games that were televised where the crowd didn’t come across great. Every time I’ve seen a game televised out of the Ford Center, it’s been very, very positive. The home court is an advantage, even in the NBA. Will it win you a game? No, but it makes it more of a factor. There are some teams in the NBA where it really doesn’t matter if they’re home or away. If you’re going to be successful in the playoffs, you’re going to have to win on the road anyhow. But when you have a home court that is an advantage, you want to make sure that potential Game 7 is on your building. Game 7 in the finals is significant.”
What’s harder, getting into the playoffs or staying there?
“When you’re on the outside looking in, particularly when you have a long way to go, you wonder about so many things. If you’re a Western (Conference) team compared to an Eastern team, it’s absolutely night and day. For the Thunder to come from where they were was twice as hard. People don’t understand the difference between playing 52 games in the West and 30 in the East, and playing 52 in the East and only 30 in the West. It’s apples and oranges.
“Then they legitimized it even more with how well they played against a team I still feel is the best in the league (the Lakers). The Thunder really is that good. They were so good people stopped saying, ‘How in hell did they do this?’ Because they did it over the course of the year and made it look like they deserved to be there, it almost took a little something away from it. You have to step back and say to yourself, ‘Do you understand what their record was the past couple of years? Do you understand they just made the playoffs, they almost beat the Lakers, they have a first-team All-NBA player, the coach of the year?’ I mean, come on. It almost like now it’s just accepted how good they are.
“By them doing it so confidently and making it look like they belonged, to me it almost detracted from what they did a little bit. Believe me, there are a lot of other franchises out there scratching their heads and saying, ‘How in hell did they do that? We can’t even get in the playoffs.’
“Is sustaining it going to be easy? No, it’s not. They need to continue with the same attitude they have right now, and I’m sure they will. Maybe there was a time early in the year in November or December when they snuck up on some people, but that was over very early. I’m sure the (Thunder) coaches were screaming to their players from Day 1, ‘Hey, guys. We’re a lot better.’ But any player who might have doubted that, that was out the door by Christmas. That was over.
“These guys are a year older and that will be a big plus. Scottie knows what every player needs to do to get better. They didn’t do it by shortcuts. They didn’t do it by a miracle free-agent acquisition. They did it building with young guys, building with character people and I think excellent coaching and player development.”
Why is the Thunder’s success rewarding to you?
“This feels good for me, more so because I felt so good for that staff and players that I worked alongside. You can’t spend that much time with people and not feel good for them.”
Thoughts on Russell Westbrook, whom Carlesimo did not consider to be a true point guard:
“Then again, I don’t know what (position) Dwyane Wade plays, either. I believe in him (Westbrook) as a talent. Russell reminded me of (Boston’s) Rajon Rondo from Day 1. The thing that stuck out with me was the anticipation and the steals. But the ability they have that no other point guards have is the rebounding. They distort a game with their rebounding. Russell totally disrupts you with his quickness, his steals, his anticipation and then his rebounding is off the charts.
“To me, Russell is always going to be a wild card, in a good sense. A wild card because of all the positions he could play. There’s going to be games and series where it’s an enormous advantage. Russell might not have been a classic point guard, but he was too damn good not to draft. (General manager) Sam Presti felt he was too special to not draft, and he was right. ‘Don’t worry about what position he is. Let’s just get him and play him because he’s going to be really good.’ A lot of people were saying ‘Yeah, but’ about Russell being a true point guard. A lot of wins from now, people are going to still be saying, ‘Yeah, but.’ ”
- John Rohde
The most predictable way to win a coach-of-the-year award is to overachieve, to make an underwhelming team become overwhelming in its own way. This is why the Thunder’s Scott Brooks was named NBA coach of the year on Wednesday, and it’s also why he clearly deserved the award.
Composure is a terrific quality in coaching, and Brooks repeatedly has shown he has it. If a coach doesn’t freak out, chances are neither will his team. There is an undeniable sense of calm with Brooks, a patience that shows in the Thunder’s steady improvement.
I’ve often wondered what Brooks is like inside the locker room or during closed practice sessions. Playoff television coverage miked Brooks inside the locker room and during timeouts in Games 1 and 2 against the Lakers, and evidently he’s the same person reporters see during pre-game and post-game chats. His demeanor is the same in any circumstance, whether he’s handing out praise or demanding better screens and tougher defense against the Lakers. I have yet to see any proof of Brooks losing his composure, which is no easy feat when dealing with such a young team.
Just 17 months ago, Brooks was an assistant under coach P.J. Carlesimo who inherited a 1-12 team the night of Nov. 21 after a 105-80 loss to New Orleans inside the Ford Center. Brooks went 22-47 last year and 50-32 this year.
No team threatened the Thunder’s 27-win improvement from a year ago. Brooks had to be the choice as top coach. The closest was 40-42 Memphis with a 16-game improvement under coach Lionel Hollins. Milwaukee went 46-36 and had a 12-game improvement under coach Scott Skiles.
Brooks won half-a-hundred games while leading a team to the playoffs at least one season ahead of schedule, perhaps two or three.
Brooks is winless in the playoffs so far, which is precisely where most folks figured the Thunder would to this point against the world champion Lakers. Brooks so far has stuck with many of the same substitution patterns and player combinations he used in the regular season. Some believe coaches must change their approach in the postseason. Brooks apparently feels it’s best to stick with what got you to the playoffs, and no one knows what works best for the Thunder more than Brooks.
Those who have questioned Brooks’ method wouldn’t have nearly as much ammunition if his players had performed to their capabilities the first two games. Imagine if Jeff Green wasn’t a combined 6 for 23, Thabo Sefolosha wasn’t 2 for 11 and James Harden wasn’t 0 for 5 and playing like a rookie.
Kevin Durant, who is a combined 19 for 50 from the field with 12 turnovers, got far better looks in Game 1 than in Game 2. He seemed to be in a much better space, literally and figuratively, and that’s because of adjustments from Brooks.
What the Thunder must do is shoot better and cherish each possession much more than it did in Games 1 and 2. Brooks no doubt has preached this to his team, and you can bet he was calm when he did it.
Here is how the Thunder went from being in Seattle to being in the playoffs and playing the world champion Los Angeles Lakers:
July 18, 2006: An eight-member group of Oklahoma City-based businessmen led by Clay Bennett join to form the Professional Basketball Club, LLC and agree to purchase the Seattle SuperSonics and WNBA’s Storm for $350 million.
Sept. 21, 2007: Sonics owners file an arbitration demand seeking a ruling by arbitrators that would prevent Seattle officials from forcing the Sonics to remain at KeyArena through 2010. A judge later denies the request.
Nov. 2, 2007: Sonics owners file a relocation application with the NBA seeking to move the franchise to Oklahoma City.
Feb. 16, 2008: NBA Commissioner David Stern says the Sonics leaving Seattle is “an inevitability.” Stern also says Seattle turned down an offer of about $30 million to buy the team out of its lease with KeyArena.
March 4, 2008: Oklahoma City voters approve a 1-cent sales tax to pay for about $121 million in improvements to the Ford Center and an NBA practice facility.
March 14, 2008: Oklahoma City officials sign a letter of intent with the Sonics ownership group, outlining preliminary terms of a 15-year lease agreement for the use of the Ford Center.
June 26, 2008: Selects guard Russell Westbrook (fourth overall) and center Serge Ibaka (24th overall) in the NBA Draft; acquires forward D.J. White (29th overall) in exchange for Walter Sharpe (32nd overall) and Trent Plaisted (46th overall).
July 2, 2008: Bennett announces the franchise will relocate to Oklahoma City.
Aug. 11, 2008: Acquires guard Kyle Weaver from Charlotte in exchange for a future second-round pick.
Aug. 29, 2008: Three moving vans arrive in Oklahoma City from Seattle.
Sept. 3, 2008: Formal announcement at Leadership Square that the Seattle SuperSonics will be called the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Oct. 29, 2008: Thunder plays its first-ever regular-season game and loses 98-87 to Milwaukee at home.
Nov. 21, 2008: After opening the season with a 1-12 record, Thunder replaces coach P.J. Carlesimo with assistant Scott Brooks on an interim basis.
Dec. 30, 2008: Signs free agent center Nenad Krstic.
Dec. 31, 2008: Off to a 3-29 start and riding a five-game losing streak, the Thunder beats Golden State 107-100 inside the Ford Center and goes 20-30 the remainder of the season. Earlier that same day, Thunder announces the hiring of defensive guru Ron Adams as an assistant coach.
Feb. 13, 2009: Durant scores a record 46 points for the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge game during All-Star Weekend in Phoenix. Durant made 17 of 25 shots, had six dunks and four 3-pointers.
Feb. 14, 2009: Durant wins the inaugural H-O-R-S-E competition as part of All-Star Weekend.
Feb. 17, 2009: Thunder trades forwards Chris Wilcox and Joe Smith and the draft rights to center DeVon Hardin to the New Orleans Hornets in exchange for center Tyson Chandler. Later that same night, the Thunder’s new mascot, Rumble, makes his debut inside the Ford Center during a game against the Hornets.
Feb. 18, 2009: Chandler trade is rescinded when Thunder officials are not satisfied with the results of a physical examination of Chandler’s toe.
Feb. 19, 2009: Acquires guard Thabo Sefolosha and cash considerations in exchange for the least favorable of Thunder’s 2009 first-round draft picks.
March 2, 2009: Entering the game with a 14-45 record, the Thunder stuns the Dallas Mavericks 96-87 inside the Ford Center without Durant (injured ankle) and Jeff Green (injured lower back). It comes in the middle of a three-game winning streak, the Thunder’s longest of the season.
April 15, 2009: Brooks agrees to a multi-year contract and formally becomes head coach.
June 25, 2009: In the 2009 NBA Draft, Thunder selects guard James Harden (third overall), also acquires center Byron Mullens (24th overall) in exchange for guard Rodrique Beaubois (25th overall) and a 2010 second-round pick.
July 27, 2009: Acquires center Etan Thomas from Minnesota in exchange for Chucky Atkins and Damien Wilkins.
Aug. 1, 2009: Signs free agent guard Kevin Ollie.
Aug. 14, 2009: Hires former Philadelphia 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers coach Maurice Cheeks as an assistant coach.
April-October 2009: Construction for the first phase of the Ford Center’s $100-million renovation.
Nov. 8, 2009: Snaps three-game losing streak by dominating 2009 world championship finalist Orlando with a 102-74 victory inside the Ford Center.
Nov. 24, 2009: Posts a 104-94 victory at Utah, one of the toughest places to win in the NBA, and the Jazz was at full strength with Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap all playing 32-plus minutes.
Dec. 22, 2009: Acquires point guard Eric Maynor and assumes the contract of Matt Harpring (who did not report) from the Utah Jazz in exchange for the draft rights to Peter Fehse.
Dec. 23, 2009: A 117-113 victory at Phoenix starts a five-game winning streak while ending a skid of five losses in a six-game span. Led by Durant’s 38 points, the Thunder evened its season record at 14-14 and would never dip below .500 again.
Jan. 18, 2010: Highlighted by Green’s driving dunk from 35 feet away with 12.2 seconds left in the game, the Thunder defeats the surging Hawks during an afternoon game on Martin Luther King Day in the reverend’s former hometown of Atlanta.
Feb. 12, 2010: Westbrook scores 40 points for the sophomores in the Rookie Challenge during All-Star weekend in Arlington, Texas.
Feb. 13, 2010: Durant repeats as the H-O-R-S-E champion.
Feb. 14, 2010: Durant plays in his first All-Star Game, finishing with 15 points and five rebounds in 20 minutes.
Jan. 29-Feb. 21, 2010: A nine-game winning streak, which included five road victories in a six-game span. Brooks said he considers an 89-77 victory at Portland on Feb. 9 as perhaps the biggest win of the season. The Thunder savored that victory for an entire week because it was the last contest before the All-Star break.
Dec. 22, 2009-Feb. 24, 2010: Durant scores at least 25 points in 29 consecutive games. In the last 35 years, only Michael Jordan had a longer NBA streak, with 40 straight in 1986-87.
March 26, 2010: Thunder ends its 12-game losing streak against the Los Angeles Lakers with a convincing 91-75 victory inside the Ford Center, which saw the Thunder lead 80-47 at the end of the third quarter.
March 31, 2010: The Boston Celtics shoot 59.5 percent from the field, including 85.0 percent in the second quarter, and still lose 109-104 at home. The Thunder gets 37 points from Durant, 21 points and 10 assists from Westbrook and clutch back-to-back 3-pointers from Green late in the game.
April 3, 2010: The Thunder franchise wins at Dallas for the first time since Dec. 9, 2004. With the 121-116 victory, the Thunder clinches a playoff spot and is greeted at the airport at 12:15 a.m. by a vocal gathering of 100 fans outside a private hangar.
It’s the morning after, and I’m still not feeling the Thunder.
After sleeping on it, the nickname Thunder still leaves me feeling groggy. I’m not saying I hate it, but I’m not feeling the love. Cohort Berry Tramel says we’ll learn to love the name. That seems a long ways off. Right now, I’m just learning to accept it.
When the name, logo and colors were revealed Wednesday at Leadership Square, the Golden State Warriors immediately flashed before my eyes.
The Warriors’ colors are dark blue, sky blue, yellow and something called Golden Gate orange. The Thunder’s colors are dark blue, sky blue, yellow and something called Thunder red, which looks suspiciously close to Golden Gate orange. Also, Golden State’s mascot is named “Thunder.” Presumably, the Thunder won’t name its mascot “Warrior.”
If I shelled out $350 million for a franchise, (potentially) another $75 million for the right to bring the team here, another $30 million in NBA relocation fees and a few million trying to communicate with the people of Seattle for two years, I would have gone for a bigger splash than “Thunder.”
Thunder won the name contest staged by The Oklahoman and team ownership went along with the choice, and this is one time I don’t mind being in the minority. It’s far more important for the masses to like the nickname rather than appeasing a few dissenters.
I’m excited about the franchise being here. I’m just not particularly excited about the name or logo. Not yet, anyway.
Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll feel differently, but right now, I still don’t feel the Thunder.