NBA @ 2: Thunder Not Thinking Championship (Yet)
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the talk of the NBA for several seasons now. First they pushed the Los Angeles Lakers to six games in the 2010 playoffs, then they made it to the Western Conference Finals last season. The next step would naturally seem to be a trip to the NBA Finals, but that’s not something the Thunder are taking for granted.
“I know the players have expectations and they’re always very high on themselves and our team,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks tells HOOPSWORLD. “We don’t focus on the outside. I know our guys expect to play hard and to keep getting better and we always live with our results with that attitude. Expectations are there. I think we’ve made some good improvements, all of our guys individually, and as a team. We had the series with the Lakers two years ago, then the Western Conference Finals last season, but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed a spot in the Finals. You have to treat every season as a new season. There are a lot of variables that take place. You need good fortune, you need good health. We’ve made some improvements, no question. You can’t deny that, but we still have a long ways to go.”
“The good thing about our team is that it doesn’t seem to really matter what expectations are or what people think,” says resident veteran Nick Collison. “We’ve all been together through this whole transformation from being one of the worst teams in the league to now being picked to do some big things. So it really hasn’t affected us, honestly. I don’t know if it’s because we’ve got a lot of young guys who just don’t know any better or what, but I don’t see a difference at all. Even playing in the Western Conference Finals, we just kept playing and doing what we do, and obviously didn’t play well enough to win but it didn’t feel at all like we were rattled or anything like that as we got deeper in the playoffs.”
It sounds cliché to talk about taking one game at a time; after all, it’s right out of Kevin Costner’s media playbook for Tim Robbins in the movie “Bull Durham.” Still, the importance of taking one game at a time, setting and reaching short-term goals without getting lost in the big picture, is not lost on the Thunder.
“We really just try to take one game at a time, one day at a time, and keep getting better,” says Russell Westbrook. “That’s what we’ve been doing so far, coming into this year, and it’s been working for us. It’s very important to stay focused on the here and now. The guys on our team realize that and as long as we continue to take one game at a time we’ll be alright.”
Kevin Durant takes it one step further, pointing out that most NBA teams can’t afford to focus on the Finals when they’re still making their way through January. That’s a game for the media and the fans.
“I think the only people who talk about June are the media,” says Durant. “In this locker room we don’t even think about it. Every game is important, every game is a big game, and we have to approach it like it’s a playoff game. We’re not good enough to look down the line or bypass any game. Every game is important. I’m sure if you talk to any player in any locker room if they’re worried about June this early in the season they would probably say ‘no.’ I know we’re only worried about tonight’s game, how we can get better and how we can get a win.”
It’s an approach that’s been working for the Thunder, and whether they’re planning for it or not it might just be a strategy that gets them all the way to the NBA Finals this season.
Up Close: Russell Westbrook
Oklahoma City Thunder star point guard Russell Westbrook talks with HOOPSWORLD about his relationship with Kevin Durant, how the media misrepresents things, the Thunder’s next step as a team and more in this exclusive interview:
Shannon Brown At Home In Phoenix
Shannon Brown was supposed to be a throw-in. When the Los Angeles Lakers traded Vladimir Radmanovic to the Charlotte Bobcats for Adam Morrison they needed some salary thrown in to make the trade work, and that salary belonged to Brown. No one expected that Brown would actually be the more productive player involved in the trade, but he wound up having a much more significant impact for the Lakers than Morrison ever did. In two full seasons with L.A. Brown appeared in all 82 games and averaged better than eight points per contest off the bench.
He also earned two championship rings.
Now Brown brings his up-and-down style of play to the Phoenix Suns, where head coach Alvin Gentry’s system seems tailor-made for Brown’s style of play.
“It’s great man. It’s a great situation for me, as well as the team,” Brown tells HOOPSWORLD. “We’ve got a fairly young team with a bunch of guys who’s eager to get out there and play and win and showcase their talents to the world. I couldn’t ask for a better situation.”
“He’s tailor-made for our system,” agrees Gentry, “but he’s also learning, too. We think that he can be a really good player for us. He’s a good young athlete and we can always use that. It’s just a matter of him learning and feeling comfortable with our system.”
The Suns have no shortage of veteran leadership around their young core group with Steve Nash and Grant Hill in the mix, but Brown brings something they lack: the championship perspective.
“I think I have something to add, just a different way of thinking a little bit and a different way of looking at things,” says Brown. “Sort of like a different mentality of how to go about winning and going deep, deep into the playoffs. Not just making the playoffs; winning the whole thing. I have a little bit of experience at that and I hope the guys will look at that and take it as a positive and not as a negative.”
Winning a championship is a long-term goal, but Brown says that accomplishing that goal depends upon not getting ahead of the process.
“You got to make the playoffs first. You’ve got to take it one day at a time, you’ve got to approach it with a seriousness and a mentality where we have to play every minute like it’s our last. Can’t be laughing and joking too much. There’s a certain type of level of confidence that we also have to have. It’s just a lot of things that we’ve got to do on the daily basis to make it to the playoffs and then further.”
Former Lakers head coach Phil Jackson was known for his calm sideline demeanor, and while Gentry’s style is different, Brown respects the more animated approach.
“Well you know he’s a type of coach that’s fiery,” Brown says of Gentry. “I think he tries to pick his spots on when he yells and screams and gets at guys and when he falls back and congratulates guys. It’s just about me adjusting to it. I’m used to Coach Jackson never getting off the bench and talking to us once we get to the huddle. He didn’t do a lot of screaming. So it’s just an adjustment, but I respect Coach Gentry and his coaching staff.”
Shannon Brown is still working his way into the Phoenix Suns culture, but there is little doubt that his championship experience and his run-and-gun style of play will be a great benefit to the Suns this season.
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