What I’m thinking about a possible Thunder-Lakers series and the story lines we’re likely to pursue for The Oklahoman and NewsOK Sports if the Lakers advance. (I’d love to hear yours):
– Built to Beat L.A.: I think that’s the theme of this series for the Thunder. Sam Presti traded for Kendrick Perkins in February 2011, about 10 months after the Lakers took out the Thunder in 6 games by playing volleyball on the offensive glass. Oklahoma City needed to do something to counter Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The arrival of Perkins and development of Serge Ibaka have done that. How much of that plan is thrown off if Perkins misses time with a strained hip flexor? A lot. But Berry Tramel made an interesting point in our writer’s meeting Monday: Presti actually started building to beat the Lakers two years earlier when he sent a first-round pick to Chicago for Thabo Sefolosha – Oklahoma City’s counter to Kobe Bryant.
Berry’s started working on an in-depth look at the building of the Thunder through the prism of facing the Lakers, and if Oklahoma City should survive that series there’s the obvious Spurs blueprint angle for a potential Oklahoma City-San Antonio Western Conference Finals….
– Did David Stern save the Lakers from themselves? For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over NBA commissioner David Stern rescinding the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade because it was as bad deal for the Hornets, has anyone considered how badly it would have damaged the Lakers? Gasol gets knocked a ton for being soft, but would Bynum be breaking out the way he has the last month or so without Gasol? And how well would the Lakers have weathered Bynum’s bouts with immaturity without Gasol? It’s easy to think about how much better the Lakers would be with CP3. You don’t hear too much about how much worse they’d be without Gasol.
– Perk vs. Pau: Obviously Perkins’ hip is the great unknown. John Rohde addressed it in a story today and Darnell Mayberry blogged on it. It’s topic No. 1 for the Thunder, especially given Perkins’ history — and success — vs. the Lakers’ twin towers. There are more than a few Celtics fans who swear Boston would it all in 2010 had Perkins’ not gone down with a knee injury in Game 6 of that NBA Finals with the Lakers. Digging into Perkins’ history with the Lakers should be interesting.
– The Derek Fisher Factor: I wonder when the last time a player dumped during the season wound up facing his former team in a playoff series. The story of why the Lakers traded Fisher and how the Thunder managed to sign him might seem obvious, but I think there’s more to it. From the start I’ve said the Thunder signed him with the postseason and mind and now even some critics of the move are coming around. Any chance Fisher’s performance in the Mavericks series has Mitch Kupchak squirming a bit? I think it’s also time we looked at Fisher’s five biggest postseason moments — and it’s possible we could stretch it to 10. He’s had a tone of them. If the Lakers advance, having our staff in L.A. for Games 3-4 should give them a chance to write more about his place in Laker lore and among the L.A. fans.
– The Thunder’s L.A. guys: Last year at the NBA All-Star break Darnell did a really good story on Russell Westbrook’s Los Angeles roots and took us to the neighborhood where Russ developed his game. Feels like time to do the same for James Harden and in the process write about who the Thunder’s young L.A. natives were during the current Laker dynasty. I wonder if either of them ever attended a game at Staples Center. Who their favorite Lakers were? Wonder if they ever had a brush with Shaq or Kobe or Phil Jackson? Imagine growing up loving the Lakers and then coming back to face them?
– Metta World Peace returns: If you’re read this far it’s fair to wonder why I took so long to get to the most dramatic angle of a potential Thunder-Lakers series. You’re also probably wondering how often we’ll use it as an excuse for word-play headlines on MWP. (Jenni Carlson is steamed and I do mean steamed that we didn’t use PEACE OUT when the NBA suspended him for seven games for elbowing James Harden). If the Lakers wrap up their series with Denver late Tuesday, the Lakers forward formerly known as Ron Artest would miss Game 1 in Oklahoma City. If the Lakers have to win at Denver in Game 6, he would play Game 1 in Oklahoma City. That probably won’t be a good time for the local chamber of commerce to run ads on what a friendly place Oklahoma City is.
Lots of good angles coming out of MWP-Harden, but one of the best is this: Is James Harden about to play his way out of being known to the rest of the world as the guy MWP elbowed — and do it in two short weeks? What if the NBA presents Harden with the Sixth Man of the Year Award before Game 1 and two minutes later MWP gets introduced with the other Laker starters?
– Reintroducing the 2008 Pac-10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year: When the Thunder took Westbrook with the fourth overall pick in 2008, conventional wisdom was that Presti had drafted a defensive wiz who could shutdown opposing point guard in the NBA’s new no-handchecking era. Westbrook built his collegiate reputation by shutting down O.J. Mayo in some big UCLA-USC clashes. But until the Mavericks series, Westbrook’s NBA star has soared with his considerable offensive gifts. What he did to Jason Terry the last couple weeks still hasn’t been properly tallied or appreciated. Is there any chance the Thunder will sic him on Kobe? Jenni is planning something on this the next couple days.
– First-round flashback: Remember the euphoria around town back in the spring of 2010 during the Thunder-Lakers first-round series? I’m hearing a lot about how that’s when the casual OKC fan really bought into the Thunder. My wife, who no one who knows her would mistake for a big sports fan, went to Game 6 with my oldest son, sat up in Loud City, and ever since has been requesting a ticket to one Thunder playoff game every year for a Mother’s Day gift. I gave up trying to turn her into a sports fan years ago, and probably would have even earlier if I knew it was going to be this expensive. But if they don’t set the series soon she may backslide. I’m told she’s wavering between a ticket to Game 1 and a blender, which could be even more expensive.
Maybe it’s because today is NFL Draft day, the greatest marketing hoax ever pulled on the sporting public — and eveyone would rather talk about a second-team All-Conference USA defensive tackle teams like the Dallas Cowboys could waste a first-round pick on.
Maybe it’s because Blake Griffin didn’t do it. Maybe it’s because the Thunder lost. But for whatever reason Kevin Durant’s two-handed throw-down in the face of Denver’s high-flying center JaVale McGee has inspired….. nothing.
Not even a shrug. Not even a Skip Bayless wise-crack.
For my money, it’s way more impressive than Blake Griffin’s non-dunk dunk over Kendrick Perkins. Question: How can it be a dunk when you he never got to the rim? Answer: Because we’ve left the slam out of slam dunk. (I’m blaming headline writers).
I’m not saying it’s the Dunk of the Year in the NBA. But I’m not saying it isn’t. Thoughts?
With 71-year-old Larry Brown apparently headed back to coaching at SMU, it got me to wondering what it would take for Oklahoma’s three living coaching legends to jump back in.
Of course, I speak of Barry Switzer, Eddie Sutton and Billy Tubbs.
Outlandish, you say? I’d probably agree. But…
What if someone really, really wanted Tubbs, Sutton or Barry Switzer? Which would be most likely to jump back in?
1. Switzer: There’s less than a five percent chance any of them would do it, but talk about Arkansas hiring an interim coach in wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal made it fun to ask and discuss “what about Switzer?” for about two minutes. It wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen in Fayetteville this spring.
2. Sutton: Here’s how close we came to this happening. Scott Sutton from ORU to Tulsa, Sean Sutton from ORU director of basketball operations to ORU head coach, Eddie Sutton to Sean’s assistant emeritus. In other words, not very close.
3. Tubbs: If Lamar had lost its mind and thrown Pat Knight under the bus 10 minutes after he threw his seniors there late last season, Tubbs would have received a call from his alma mater — seeking recommendations. Is it possible that he would have pulled a Dick Cheney/Larry Cochell “why-not-me?” Unlikely. (I couldn’t resist the unrelated but always entertaining clip of a THE vintage Billy Tubbs moment).
Let’s play a no-Googling game: Rank those three Oklahoma living legends from youngest to oldest.
My first thought was Tubbs, Switzer, Sutton — probably because I haven’t seen Billy in a while and in my mind’s eye he’s still got that blonde swooped hair and a twinkle in his eye.
The correct answer: Switzer (74), Sutton (76) and Tubbs (77) — all children of the Great Depression, all born in a 43-month span between 1935 and 1937. I didn’t realize how close they were in age, or how old they were. I prefer to think of them all in their 50s because that would mean I’m still in my late 20s.
How old is old?
Larry Brown is 71, the same age Eddie Sutton was when he coached his 800th career victory as interim coach at San Francisco in 2008 (Eddie turned 72 weeks later).
Barry Switzer is 74, the same age Casey Stengel was in 1965, when he managed for the last time with the 1965 New York Mets.
Bill Tubbs is 77, three years younger than Jack McKeon was last year, when at age 80 he managed 90 games for the then Florida Marlins. Tubbs coached his last game at his alma mater Lamar in 2006 at age 71.– the same age as the incoming coach at Southern Methodist University.
Our man Mike Baldwin’s Main Event package in today’s editions of The Oklahoman focused on Matt Kemp, the former Midwest City High School star who is definitely the best state player in Major League Baseball because he’s probably the MLB player.
As part of the package Baldwin updated readers on big-leaguers and some other pros with state ties, while wisely offering this disclaimer. “If you know of a player with Oklahoma ties in the majors (who is) not on the list, notify The Oklahoman so we can monitor his progress.”
Nice touch by Baldwin, though it would have been nicer if he would have offered readers an email address or phone number by which they could notify us. No matter. One of Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Jeff Salazar’s elementary school teachers didn’t need one.
Jayne Smith of Edmond took Baldwin up on his offer and called me this afternoon to tell me Salazar, a Putnam City West High School product who played at Oklahoma State, had been omitted from our list. Mrs. Smith, who taught his third-grade class at Lake Park Elementary, said she was watching a spring training game last week and saw Salazar was still with the Rays.
Sure enough, he is. A Sunday story in the Tampa Bay Times headlined “Outfielder Jeff Salazar appears to have made Tampa Bay Rays roster” focuses on how the 31-year-old Salazar is the leading candidate for the final roster spot. ”He’s obviously the last man standing,” Maddon said, “but it’s not been decided yet.”
Baldwin’s package and Mrs. Smith’s phone call got me thinking about features called “Oklahomans in the minors” and “Oklahomans in the majors” that we once ran most Sunday’s during baseball season. It was a list of the most current for everyone in professional baseball with a legitimate Oklahoma tie. I miss it, and since it’s baseball season again I expect to start hearing from more readers who miss it too.
The 200 or so names and corresponding statistics were provided by a service we contracted through Stats, Inc. It wasn’t cheap, but I guess Stats, Inc. thought it should have been charging more because it discontinued it a couple years ago for business reasons. But even they didn’t bat 1.000 when it came to getting everyone with an Oklahoma connection, and we were grateful when people like Jayne Smith called us with a name we needed to add to the collection.
We’ve talked about trying to find a way to bring it back, but it’s a chore to try to do a weekly listing of everyone who grew up here or played high school or college ball here still getting paid to play the great game of baseball. I know because it was a load when I did it just once a summer.
I got my start in this business 30 years ago as a part-timer with the Oklahoma City Times, an evening paper and The Oklahoman’s sister publication. In addition to coming in every weekday by 5 a.m. to compile sports results to published in small type, I compiled what was known as “the Times’ annual state baseball census.”
The census was sports editor Bob Colon’s creation, and in summer of 1982 I compiled the sixth-annual census. This was way before the Internet and months, before the first fax machine appeared in our old newsroom at the corner of Fourth and Broadway downtown. So tracking every player in baseball with an Oklahoma background essentially meant calling every minor league team and asking “hey, do you have any Okies on your roster?”
Granted, there were five previous census to work off, and there were June amateur draft lists. But you couldn’t just Google up the San Antonio Dodgers of the Texas League to see if they had any Sooners or Cowboys on the roster.
Our story on the 1982 census included this disclaimer “It’s not easy to keep up with all these people and we’ve surely missed some,” and invited readers to “drop us a line if we’ve missed anyone.” Colon, however, advised against me missing anyone, so for a week or so after that census published on Friday, Aug. 13, 1982, I tried to answer every phone call on the first ring.
I located 132 Oklahomans playing professional ball. Colon felt confident enough about that number to use it in his lead that day. There were, however, some additions.
Some of the big names from that census:
– Former Oklahoma State pitcher Darren Dilks, who was “toiling” — one of Colon’s favorite words — with the Memphis Chicks. “Dilks was terrible at the start of this season,” says a spokesman for the Chicks. “Then he won six straight and now he’s had some shaky outings lately.”
– Danny Jackson, a former University of Oklahoma lefthander who was still three years away from dazzling his way through the American League Playoffs and World Series for the Kansas City Royals. Jackson had just been promoted to Double-A Jacksonville.
– In a matter of months, former Southeastern State star Brett Butler, a Colon favorite, had gone from NL Rookie of the Year candidate back to the International League, where he was hitting .363 before Atlanta recalled him, two days before the census published. Colon called Butler’s old Southeastern coach Don Parham for a quote because that’s what Colon did every time Butler’s name came up. Said Parham, “I told him he had to be more aggressive at the plate. He was taking too many pitches and letting the pitchers get ahead of him.”
Funny how a phone call from an elementary school teacher about one of her former pupils still chasing his baseball dream will send you foraging through The Oklahoman/Oklahoma City Times archives and down memory lane. Thanks, Jayne Smith for the tip on Jeff Salazar and for reminding me of the value of Oklahoman’s in professional baseball.
I’ll see if we can find a way to resume that service.
Does anyone around here realize who and what the Oklahoma City Thunder got when it signed Derek Fisher? Really?
I don’t think so.
There’s still quite a bit of talk around town that gives you the feeling Derek Fisher is Kevin Ollie 2.0 and not someone the Thunder should be granting important minutes. I hear a good bit of it around my office.
Did last night change anyone’s mind? The Thunder rolled over the Lakers, 102-93, in a game that competitively wasn’t that close. But Oklahoma City was wobbling when Fisher stabilized things with seven points in the second quarter. None came on forced 3-point attempts. Everything was off drives and pull-up jumpers in the flow or off a hustle play, like Fisher’s and-one basket after Nick Collison went to the floor for a loose ball.
Derek Fisher wears his age on his No. 37 jersey, but he’s got the body of a light-weight fighter and the heart and mind of — well — a champion.
Here’s what Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (himself an NBA champion with the Celtics) told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears about Fisher: “He’s won five rings. Now I can kind of shut up around here and listen to him.”
I also like what Thunder coach Scott Brooks said on the radio pregame show Thursday: The Thunder didn’t sign Fisher to sit around the campfire and tell stories about the Lakers’ championship days. They got him because he can play.
The other day the Sports Animal’s Al Eschbach made the best point about why Fisher can play better here than he did in L.A.: The Lakers traded Fisher basically because he couldn’t guard quick point guards like Russell Westbrook anymore. But in Oklahoma City he’s playing with Westbrook, not against him, and guarding everyone else’s backup point guard.
Meanwhile, the Ramon Sessions hysteria might be wearing off in Tinseltown. The Lakers still don’t have anyone who can guard Westbrook, and I’m not certain that anyone does.
The Thunder’s defensive culture is perfect for Fisher and vice versa. On defense, Fisher is prone to crowding opposing point guards like a boxer cutting off the ring. He’s not going to be guarding Derrick Rose Sunday at Chesapeake Energy Arena, so Brooks need not worry about too many contingency plans. But just in case there’s Serge Ibaka’s incomparable weakside shotblocking skills, and Nick Collison’s uncanny weakside help. Fisher, whose trade to Houston made him out to be the scapegoat for the fact that the Lakers aren’t the Lakers anymore, had no backing like that in L.A.
When the ball is in his hands, Fisher always makes the right play, always does what the team needs and/or what the coach asked him to do. You think jacking all those 3-pointers last Friday night against Minnesota was his idea? It was a court-spreading strategy that worked splendidly — taking one more defender away from the basket and clearing a better path for Westbrook’s drives that contributed to a 45-point night.
Sometimes it’s easy to miss the little things guys like Derek Fisher contribute. But it’s not just the little things. More than one national expert has said it: Sometime in the playoffs, Derek Fisher is going to win a big game for the Thunder. He didn’t win that game Thursday night, but I’m not positive the Thunder would have won without his second-quarter contribution.
I don’t think it’s crazy talk to believe that playing in OKC could add a couple years to Fisher’s career. Hopefully it won’t take that long for some folks in OKC to figure out what the Thunder has in the player Royal Ivey has taken to calling “Uncle Fish.”
We’re still waiting for the governor to declare the Thunder’s NBA title hopes a state of emergency, but the President and Derek Fisher have been dispatched to Oklahoma City in wake of last night’s loss to the Utah Jazz.
Maybe an aging, stationary, classy guard who just might be the NBA’s best non-superstar clutch shooter can save the day. But reports about a Fisher citing at the airport Wednesday and the local conversation about the merits of signing him definitely affirm something: This town’s obsession with the Thunder.
And into this swirl comes an email from the Oklahoma City RedHawks, tapping us on the shoulder today to remind us that baseball is still around. The RedHawks opened their ticket office at 9 a.m. Wednesday to begin selling single-game tickets for the 2012 season, Bedlam Series tickets and Big 12 tournament tickets.
Their pitch: affordable family entertainment and fresh air.
Admission will cost you $5 on the outfield lawn (the berm), $9 for third-base terrace (Friday-Sundays only), $11 for bleachers and $17 for field seats.
The Oklahoma-Oklahoma State Bedlam baseball series plays at the Brick on May 5-6. A little more pricey ($22, $17 and $13).
All-session and weekend passes to the Big 12 Baseball Championship May 23-27 are now available at the Brick box office. Here are those prices:
Club seats ($202)
Box seats ($117)
Reserved seats ($87)
Box seats ($87)
That’s a lot of baseball, and you can get it at the RedHawks Box Office on Mickey Mantle Drive, through Ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000.
Our old Thunder live chat buddy @MartzMimic — aka Chris Lambert — came up with quite a find yesterday as Derek Fisher-to-the-Thunder talk heated up. It’s a Q&A Fisher did with USA Today in 2009 in which the then Lakers guard professed his affection for Oklahoma City. You can read it here.
As part of their conversation about travel for USA Today’s Destinations package, Kelly Carter asked Fisher what was the most surprising/unexpected place he’s ever visited.
Fisher’s answer: OKC.
“Being in the NBA, you are on the road and in a different city every few days. We have traveled to Oklahoma City, and I was very surprised to find such a sense of community, kind people and was extremely touched by the Oklahoma City National Memorial honoring those who were lost in the bombing of the Federal Building.”
Go ahead, Thunder fans, say it. He had you at hello.
We’re hiring a new University of Oklahoma football writer, again.
Travis Haney is leaving to become a national college football writer at ESPN. We’ll miss Travis. Like our readers, I appreciate the job he did covering the Sooners.
Travis caught ESPN’s eye in the one season he spent with us because of his talent, the visibility of the Oklahoma football beat and the tools and platform The Oklahoman and NewsOK affords our reporters. The amount of newspaper space we devote to college football is second to none, as are our video and multimedia platforms. And the content we produce is strong.
Recently, the Associated Press Sports Editors judged The Oklahoman to be among the top 10 for daily, Sunday and special sections. We’ve also been judged among the top 10 for websites with more than 2 million unique visitors. We are one of four papers in the country to achieve the so-called APSE “grand-slam,” joining the New York Times, the Boston Globe and Omaha World-Herald.
This is a good place to work and one of the most visible college football beats in the country. You can read the job description below.
I’ll have more to say on this opening later, and I’m also interested in your feedback on what you look for from our OU coverage.
OU FOOTBALL WRITER
The Oklahoman is hiring a strong storyteller and passionate journalist to cover University of Oklahoma football for our award-winning sports section and website, NewsOK.com. Our next OU football writer will engage readers across all platforms by:
– Breaking news on the No. 1 reader-interest topic we cover;
– Writing memorable features, enterprise, project and game stories;
– Making our OU blog a must-read throughout the day, every day;
– Building deep relationships with sources and readers using social media and old-fashioned tools like conversation;
– Being as comfortable in front of a camera as behind one;
– Contributing to and collaborating with a team of journalists to serve a readership captivated by sports and how we cover it.
If you’re committed to all this and helping us get better, please send a cover letter, writing samples and examples of your best digital work to: