Thursday Bolts: 4.25.19
Zach Lowe (ESPN) on Russell Westbrook: “A poor shooter needs shooters around him. Oklahoma City has been thin on shooting for Presti’s entire run. His track record suggests a fetish for long, defense-first tweeners, and some faith the Thunder can teach such players to shoot. They have failed. Andre Roberson was dynamic enough on defense to thrive in the highest-stakes moments, but he’s hurt. Most of the other long-shot bets busted. Most late first-round picks bust. Most “second draft” prospects — e.g., Dion Waiters — just are what they are. If shooters who could survive on defense were easy to find, every team would have a bunch. But good teams stay good as their stars age because they nail a couple of long-shot bets. One of the Thunder’s stars — the remaining foundational Thunder star, the one they in many ways chose over Harden — appears to be aging, and aging badly. Presti surely has a plan, even as he appears pinned in by cap realities. Let’s see what it is.”
Ben Golliver (WaPo) says the Thunder have no reason for hope moving forward: “Identity crisis” is used too casually and too often in sports, but it applies to the Thunder. The 30-year-old Westbrook and 28-year-old George are both relatively young, and they made a combined $66 million this season. Oklahoma City had one of the league’s top-five payrolls and already has committed to spending more money in 2019-20 than any other NBA team. Together, just four of its players — Westbrook, George, center Steven Adams and guard Dennis Schroder — will combine to earn more than the NBA’s projected $109 million salary cap. In short, the Thunder is spending as if the team is in the middle of a championship window, but it isn’t good enough to win big now and it has little flexibility to improve its short-term positioning.”
Jay King (Athletic) on Marcus Morris (Markieff’s brother) ripping into Billy Donovan and the Thunder coaching staff: “Admittedly biased, Marcus Morris said he believes his brother should have gotten more of a chance in Oklahoma City. He thinks he could have energized his team during the series and deserved better from the Thunder. Markieff Morris, who had other interest after receiving a midseason buyout from New Orleans after a trade from the Wizards, signed with Oklahoma City because he considered it a strong fit. Marcus Morris also believed so at the time, but in retrospect wishes his brother had taken another opportunity. “I just wish he never went there,” Morris said, “because I know he could have helped another team get somewhere just by the effect he has on the court.”
Erik Horne (Oklahoman) on the Thunder taking their beating into the offseason: “In the past week, the frustrations of a Thunder season that derailed post-All-Star break collided with the media. By the end of the Blazers’ dominance over the Thunder, it seemed as if some victory was scored for the question askers against Westbrook and an organization which prides itself on the complete comfort of its players. Mass criticism has followed. The actuality is the criticism which has smothered the Thunder following the fatal blow by Lillard was not the product of the media “winning.” It was the product of the Thunder losing. If the Thunder wins games, Sam Presti’s plan is justified. If the Thunder gets out of the first round just once in the post-Kevin Durant Era, Westbrook, George, Schroder, Steven Adams and Co. can operate any way they see fit, shoot the errant shots they want, and keep playing basketball into May. Instead, for the third season in a row, the Thunder finds itself in the unenviable position of bottom of the pile.”
Matt Calkins (Seattle Times) on Sonics fans really enjoying that Damian Lillard game-winner: “Tuesday night, a new iconic image emerged for Emerald City sports fans, and it was authored by an athlete who has never played a pro game here. Thanks to Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, this city will forever have “the wave.” There is no team more despised in Seattle than the Oklahoma City Thunder. Husky fans may loathe the Ducks and Cougs, and Seahawks fans will get caught up in divisional rivalries times — but it in terms of incessant, ear-steaming hatred, it’s OKC by a panhandle. Every year since the Sonics left in 2008, jilted fans wait for the Thunder’s demise. And every year since 2008, they have experienced the joy of the Thunder’s misery. They’ve watched OKC lose in the Finals to the Heat and blow a 3-1 series lead to the Warriors. They’ve watched it lose to the Spurs and Mavericks in the conference finals as well. They’ve watched James Harden get traded for Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant leave for Golden State, and Russell Westbrook lose in the first round despite winning NBA MVP. But there may never have been a more satisfying moment than Tuesday’s Game 5.”
Darnell Mayberry (Athletic) on what years of covering the Thunder tell him about what’s next for OKC: “The good news is the Thunder are talented enough for an annual playoff berth and some semifinals appearances, maybe even another conference finals with a few appropriate additions. And maybe the Thunder are fine with that. It would keep the honeymoon alive, the magnificent moments pouring in and the unforgettable memories piling up. But no longer are the Thunder a championship contender. They need major reconstructive surgery to get back there. A shakeup this summer wouldn’t come as a shock. But the smarter play for Thunder fans seeking change is to start with the only two constants who’ve been in OKC from the beginning. In deliberate but desperate attempts to stay relevant and remain a high-level playoff contender, Presti put his trust in Westbrook. Together, they have given millions memories that will last a lifetime. But in successfully keeping the franchise out of the sewer, they steered the Thunder straight into the current hellhole, a place they never wanted to be, stuck on the treadmill of mediocrity. It’ll soon be three years since Westbrook responded to Durant’s league-altering departure by standing his ground and asking Presti a short but substantial question. It’s time Westbrook pose it again. What’s next?
Danny Leroux (Athletic) previews the 2019 Thunder offseason: “The most interesting question the organization faces this offseason is whether they could make big moves even if Presti thought that was the best course of action. Westbrook and George are cornerstones on massive contracts through at least 2021 and 2022, respectively. Over the next two years, the Thunder also owe Adams $53.4 million, Schröder $31 million and Grant $18.7 million, so those five players will make a combined $125 million per season through 2021. Unless a team is very bullish on Adams or Schröder, the most likely scenario is this group staying together for at least one and likely two more seasons. There is always the possibility of larger change and Presti has taken big swings in the past but given their contract structure expect the Thunder to look very similar next season, though their remaining decisions are extremely important as we saw clearly this year.”
The Oklahoman’s Exit Interview Live Stream: These will be going on throughout the morning.