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Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Mind: The all hail Zach Lowe edition

Deep Thoughts From a Shallow Mind: The all hail Zach Lowe edition
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In the past I’ve been moved to write something in retaliation to questionable Thunder commentary. Today is a new thing for me: I feel the urge to write a few thoughts in response to a damn good look at the Thunder by ESPN’s Zach Lowe. Go read it now if you haven’t already. Then read it again. I could not be more serious.

I’ve got a few thoughts to add and for the sake of brevity, I’m only tackling about half the things I want to.

“It’s fitting that the star-crossed Thunder, in their year of reckoning, have the bad luck of playing championship-level basketball during the season in which two super teams are testing the limits of greatness.”

The highest Margin of Victory since the 1979 season (I typically draw a line when the three point line was introduced) was the 12.24 points per game posted by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Both the Warriors and Spurs are besting that number THIS SEASON. Since that imaginary line, the NBA has never had two teams post double digit MOV’s in the same season. The Celtics (9.41) ad Bucks (9.04) came close in 1985-86. The Bulls (10.80) and Jazz (8.79) came close in 1996-97 as well.

“Luck” is one of those things that a team can’t control, but it is part of life. The Warriors were lucky to get Steph Curry signed to a now-laughable 4 year, $44M extension back in 2012. The Thunder was unlucky to have Patrick Beverley smash into Russell Westbrook’s knee in the 2013 playoffs. The Thunder was lucky to rebuild at a time when a number of franchise cornerstone-type players entered the league. The Heat was lucky to have a long rebound bounce right to Ray Allen in the corner in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. And on and on and on and such. “Luck” or lack thereof is a real thing that doesn’t get discussed enough, though one must be careful to not use it as a catch-all excuse or explanation.

“Oklahoma City hoarded perhaps the best collection of young, star talent in NBA history at the exact moment the league instituted a harsh tax that accelerated the breakup of that core.”

Having said that, you can safely place this in the “bad luck” category. While the Miami Heat may have been the primary target of the 2011 lockout, the Thunder was collateral damage. The new progressive luxury tax system that escalates into a sharper repeater tax was intended to discourage teams like the Heat from hoarding talent. While the new tax structure certainly would have put a dent in the Thunder’s planning, the league went a step further and created the Designated Player Rule. Teams can designate only one player to receive a 5-year maximum salary extension off of their rookie scale contract. That effectively led the Thunder to choose between Westbrook and Harden, not Ibaka and Harden as many assume.

It should be noted that the Thunder (by stroke of luck) got around this by signing Durant to a five year extension under the prior CBA. There’s actually more to that story that needs another 1,000 plus words.

“Now, four years later, an unprecedented spike in the salary cap will give almost every team — including dumb-dumbs who did zero planning — money to poach the Thunder’s foundational star.”

Shove this under “bad luck” as well (this is quickly becoming a catch-all, isn’t it?). LeBron James hit free agency in 2010 and teams began gutting themselves at least two years prior in order to chase him and other free agent prizes. Now something akin to a league-wide TARP will hit the league the morning of July 1.

“Oklahoma City could have warded off suitors by lavishing Durant with a contract extension, but post-lockout limits vaporized extensions from the superstar landscape.”

I never quite understood how this became a thing in the 2011 CBA. Perhaps it’s another example of owners trying to save themselves from themselves (think back to head-scratching extensions given to the likes of Richard Hamilton and Stephen Jackson). Perhaps players wanted free agency to be more advantageous to them. Or maybe both sides were so rushed to get the agreement finished that they glossed over this.

“Kyle Singler was dead for a while, but he’s back and playing a hybrid forward position that could make him the Shane Battier of these Thunder”

In November and December I posted occasional PER updates on Singler. He was bad. Like, historically bad. Every Thunder fan and analyst had their moment treating him like a human piñata, and not without reason. I kept saying on air that fans needed to give him a chance to turn around, because he brings a number of things the Thunder need. Now that he’s emerged from his NBA grave, I think the Shane Battier comparison is a wonderfully apt one.

“Kanter is destroying everyone on the offensive glass, and he has improved his defense from laughable to playable — at least against opposing backups.”

I’ve mused before that way too much attention was placed on Kanter’s defense and not enough was being said about his ability to score and rebound at a high volume. Billy Donovan is able to use him effectively and there’s nary a peep of discontent from Kanter about his role.

“…cruel as it sounds, Roberson’s injury might be a blessing.”

It seems like Roberson’s best role for this team is as a situational player off the bench. However, Thunder players typically don’t get Wally Pipp’d. If Waiters is eventually moved back to the bench, I’ll be less than surprised.

“They’ve been sniffing around for available wings but haven’t gotten serious yet, per several league sources.”

Think back to last season when the Thunder were reportedly interested in Denver’s Wilson Chandler. Or even the near acquisition of Iman Shumpert in 2014 (which Lowe references in the article). Those guys aren’t easy to get.

“We’ve pored over the Harden deal enough, and there were human dynamics that made the situation more complicated than money”

It’s remarkable that it’s been three plus years since “The Trade” and the definitive story still hasn’t been written about it. Lots of folks have background info on the how’s and why’s of “The Trade”. A few journalists may have the semi-complete story. I just find it interesting that it still hasn’t surfaced to counter the “THEY SO CHEAP” narrative.

“…the Thunder underestimated the cap mega-leap that might have allowed them to keep Harden while dipping into the tax just once. “

Marvel Comics will occasionally print an issue of “What If?” that explores what might have happened had one of Marvel’s big stories turned out differently. For example, what if Spider-Man was able to rescue his girlfriend Gwen Stacy? (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just click here.) The “What If?” scenario is almost always a disaster, like “well it’s a darn good thing Gwen Stacy died or else dear old Aunt May would have died and the universe would have imploded.”

I feel sometimes the “Marvel What If” is in play here. I’m not including Lowe in this, but a whole lot of folks believe in their hearts that the Thunder would be reining three-time NBA Champions and working on a four-peat right now  if they’d just kept Harden. And hey, maybe they would be. I don’t have access to alternate realities so I can’t say for certain. But isn’t it possible that dear old Aunt May would have died and the universe would have imploded instead? Or isn’t it just as likely that the Thunder were fine either way?