My favorite questions from my Power Lunch live chat today. Good questions and discussion.
Q: Who wins tonight and why?
A: The Thunder has more good players, and the best player, and it’s playing at home. Hard to pick against.
Q: What do you think the biggest adjustment will be for the Thunder in Game 2?
A: Dealing with LeBron guarding KD more; 2) Re-activating Serge Ibaka; 3) Re-activating James Harden. The Heat’s defensive intensity just has to increase, and Harden will be essential. The Heat has no answer for Westbrook. None.
Q: I know you guys rub elbows with national media types all the time, but are there ever guys in town where you catch yourself being a little awestruck?
A: Not by the national media. More with our city. Truth-telling time: I grew up just outside a major-league city (Baltimore) and spent my early career in OKC longing to get back to a big-league town. There’s just a buzz and excitement that you can’t quite describe, you have to experience. And now we’re in it.
What’s really rewarding is that we’ve been telling the story of this town’s rise for a long time. We’ve been telling the story of its love-at-first-sight with the NBA, and now it’s right here, on Reno. That’s the awestruck moment.
I like Stephen A. Smith. Nice guy. I got to meet Bill Plaschke of the LA Times a couple weeks ago and I can’t say enough about what a quality guy he and the other Laker writers seem to be. It’s always neat to meet new, good people who share your passion for something. But the pinch-me moments for us are really seeing what’s happening to our community.
Q: Do you think if LeBron is unhappy, it’s due to the prospect of losing this series, or is it the prospect of KD passing him as the country’s top NBA superstar, eclipsing both him and Kobe?
A: Put yourself in LeBron’s shoes: You left your hometown for the stated purpose of giving yourself a better chance to win a championship, and he probably is a step closer. I think he expected to be better than closer. I think he expected the Heat to be the Showtime Lakers and it’s not happening, mostly because they’ve got no money to surround him with supporting players who aren’t old or limited.
Take a look at their bench. It’s a wreck. That — and the weight of the expectations of his own making — is what’s he’s wearing around like a milestone. But I think the KD stuff is probably a minor part. He’s gotta be thinking: That used to be me. Carefree, beloved, having fun and on the fast-track to basketball immortality.
Q: Is Harden’s lackluster performance reason for Thunder fans to have confidence? The Sixth-Man of the Year didn’t play well, but the team still won.
A: Absolutely. It seems like there’s something like that every game. The Thunder’s free throw shooting is bad and it still wins. In the San Antonio series, Westbrook was off offensively and the Thunder wins in 6. This team is layered. And it doesn’t have this in-game drama crap that Miami has: Who will take over.
The Thunder’s approach: Play ball. Let the game, matchups and feel dictate that.
Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird is the NBA Executive of the Year, and who can argue after Tuesday night. He’s put together a feisty squad that has the Miami Heat on the ropes. With Chris Bosh out indefinitely, are you ready to say the Pacers WON’T win that series? I’m not.
Bird got 12 of 28 first-place votes cast by a panel of NBA executives.
Sam Presti received none and finished eighth, behind Utah’s Kevin O’Connor, New York’s Glen Grunwald and Miami’s Pat Riley.
All of which leaves me thinking two things:
1) You’ve got to be kidding. Kevin O’Connor? Utah leaked into the playoffs as the eight seed. Yawn. Glen Grunwald? For what, not releasing Jeremy Lin? Pat Riley? Pat Riley?
2) Presti will never win this award. His window of opportunity has closed.
The NBA executives who vote on this award traditionally treat it as a most-improved honor. Only once in the last 10 seasons has the award gone to an executive whose team went on to win the NBA title (Boston’s Danny Ainge in 2008). Clearly it’s based on regular-season improvement.
Since the NBA lockout made this a 66-game instead of an 82-game season, we’ll need to using winning percentages instead of win totals. But let’s look at the Thunder franchise’s annual winning percentage during Presti’s five seasons as GM
– .244 in 2008
– .280 in 2009
– .610 in 2010
– .671 in 2011
– .712 in 2012
Now let’s compare the last four NBA Executive of the Year winners’ improvement in winning percentage to the Presti/Thunder improvement.
Mark Warkentien, Denver (49 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (36 percentage-point improvement)
John Hammond, Milwaukee (146 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (330 percentage-point improvement)
Gar Forman, Chicago (256 percentage-point improvement) Pat Riley, Miami: (124 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (61 percentage-point improvement)
Larry Bird, Indiana (185 percentage-point improvement)
Presti (41 percentage-point improvement)
Clearly, Presti should have won the award instead of John Hammond in 2010. The Thunder went from a 23-win team that had been in the lottery three straight years to a 50-win team that gave the defending NBA champion Lakers all they wanted in a first-round series. Maybe the panel of voting executives included too many execs from the Suns and Jazz — teams Presti fleeced to get Serge Ibaka and Eric Maynor. Maybe they think he got lucky in getting the No. 2 pick the year of Oden/Durant. (He did).
There should have been an investigation after that vote. But it’s hard to make a case Presti got jobbed any other year.
Under Presti the Thunder has improved by 468 percentage points in five seasons to become one of the NBA’s model franchises. He hired the 2010 NBA Coach of the Year (Scott Brooks), used the No. 4 overall pick to take an off guard who is on the verge of becoming a two-time All-NBA point guard (Westbrook) and used a No. 3 overall pick to select an NBA Sixth Man of the Year (James Harden).
He turned deals involving Kurt Thomas into first-round picks coming and going — using one to select NBA blocked shot leader Ibaka. He stole Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics. He horded second-round picks and then dealt them to acquire Daequan Cook, and gain the roster and cap flexibility he used to strike shrewd long-term deals with Perkins, Nick Collison and Westbrook.
All of which has moved the Thunder into serious NBA title contention, and pushed Presti past consideration for the league’s top executive honor.
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?