NBA PM: The Missing Scandal?
The Seattle SuperSonics weren’t exactly the darlings of the NBA when they left Seattle. Sure, a group of fans got together and put up a valiant effort to save their Sonics, but ultimately the city didn’t want to do what had to be done to keep the team in town. The Sonics left Seattle, changed their name and mascot, and started a new life in Oklahoma City . . .as the Thunder.
Since then things have definitely changed for the former Sonics. Behind the amazing play and even more amazing personality of Kevin Durant, the Thunder have become one of the top teams in the league while also being one of the true feel-good stories in professional sports. Who doesn’t love a team with humble stars, a relatively low payroll, and steady annual progress through internal development and smart management?
That’s the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team no one can find a way to hate (except perhaps disgruntled NBA fans in Seattle). Yet while no one can find a way to hate them, plenty of people have been looking for ways to stir up trouble in paradise. During the playoffs we heard criticism of head coach Scott Brooks, we heard talk that Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook were feuding, and we have since heard trade rumors regarding Westbrook and New Orleans Hornets star Chris Paul.
Of course, none of that turned out to be true.
The bond between Westbrook and Durant, which is very close to brotherhood, is as strong as ever; Scott Brooks wound up leading the Thunder to the Western Conference Finals while making key adjustments along the way; and neither the Hornets nor the Thunder are interested in trading away their floor leaders.
So what’s the deal in Oklahoma City? Why are people so dead set on finding some scandal or some controversy to cast a shadow over a remarkably successful team that’s done things the right way?
It’s simple: controversy sells.
But overturn every stone, snoop around players-only meetings and infiltrate the inner workings of the Thunder and there is no controversy to be found. They have a GM in Sam Presti who somehow managed to put together a Western Conference Finalist while living well under the salary cap, they have a fiery young head coach who has the trust and loyalty of his team, and they have a humble superstar who is as committed to getting better as any player in the NBA despite being an elite player in his own right. There’s an all-for-one-and-one-for-all mentality in the Thunder locker room that most NBA teams can only dream of having.
It may not sell outside of OKC, but the budding NBA fans in Oklahoma City are completely on board.
Perhaps instead of looking for scandals where there are none, the rest of NBA nation should just get on board, as well. If more teams were run like the Thunder the league might not be locking out its players.
Kobe’s Turkish Bluff?
When Kobe Bryant limped off the court after the Dallas Mavericks summarily dismissed the Los Angeles Lakers from the playoffs, I wrote that some time over the summer we would learn through some leaked report that Kobe had surgery to repair whatever was wrong with his knee. Not to take anything away from the Mavericks, who thoroughly dismantled the Lakers in the second round of the playoffs, but Kobe just never looked right after coming down awkward on his leg in a first round game against the New Orleans Hornets.
As it turns out, that was true. A report came out of Germany that Kobe was there exploring some kind of new and innovative surgery for his knee, which was more banged up than he let on during the playoffs. It explains why we never saw him take over a game as we’re accustomed to seeing him do in postseason play, but it doesn’t explain why he would suddenly decide to accept an offer to play professional basketball in Turkey in the event of an extended NBA lockout.
If anything, Bryant is one of the many veterans who would actually benefit from time away from the game. After three straight trips to the NBA Finals, two of them successful, Bryant had played nearly an entire season more than many of the players he faced in postseason play. The toll on the Lakers was clear when they just ran out of gas (and lost their composure) in Dallas. When they walked off the American Airlines Center court for the last time they clearly had nothing left in the tank.
Why, then, are we hearing this talk about Kobe playing overseas?
As HOOPSWORLD’s Steve Kyler reported recently, much of the reason why big NBA stars are talking about playing overseas is to expand their marketing reach, not just to play basketball. Imagine the brand bonanza it would be for Dwight Howard to play a few games in China. Let’s take is a step further and say he should pair up with Yao Ming and do some co-branded NBA marketing. Imagine how much money adidas would make from that partnership, no matter how brief.
That’s what’s going on with Kobe in Turkey. He doesn’t need to go to China; his jersey outsold Yao’s for the two years in Yao’s home country. His standing there is already solidified. Playing in Europe would help Kobe gain a foothold in another part of the world, which would be sure to embrace him as quickly as China did. After all, despite losing in the second round this year Kobe is still the gold standard of basketball to the rest of the world.
Will Kobe actually play in Turkey? Even Seref Yalcin, the Head of Basketball Operations at Besiktas who already has an agreement in place with Deron Williams, believes it to be only a 50/50 chance that Kobe will suit up. Even if he does suit up, don’t be surprised if he is little more than a cameo player who picks his spots. Only 17 players in the history of the NBA have logged more minutes than Kobe, and his body is showing the corresponding wear and tear. Given than all Kobe really cares about is matching Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships, he’s not going to jeopardize that goal by playing some relatively meaningless games overseas.
Rookies Take Another Hit
Today the NBA took another step to hinder the progress of the 2011 rookie class, postponing the annual transition program with the following press release:
The NBA Rookie Transition Program, scheduled for August 9-11, has been postponed. The program, which provides first-year players with the skills and information necessary for a successful transition to the NBA, is run jointly by the NBA and the Players Association.
“Without a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union, we will be unable to hold RTP as originally scheduled,” NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver said. “This is an important educational program for our incoming players, and it will be rescheduled once the parties agree on a CBA.”
I recently detailed the many ways in which the incoming rookie class has been sabotaged by the lockout (see that story here!), and this is just one more step along the way. The Rookie Transition Program is pathetically inadequate, but it is the only thing the NBA does to help the young men who were just drafted into the league to prepare for the immense pressure they’re about to face both on and off the court. The NBA could have used the lockout, which they knew was coming, as a time to develop and start to implement a new, more involved rookie program, but instead they are just postponing the seminar, no doubt with the intention of delivering the exact same program down the road with slight modifications as dictated by the new CBA.
Kevin Love Talks Coaches
As we’ve reported previously, the Minnesota Timberwolves are late to the head coaching party, and as such they have anything but their pick of the cream of the crop. Instead, the top candidates for head coaching positions are already spoken for, and the Timberwolves are left to pick from the guys who were left behind. Rick Adelman was the last to interview, though he chose to take part in an interview with David Kahn via telephone rather than meeting in person, but it seems highly unlikely that a coach of Adelman’s stature would jump into a rebuilding process like the one going on in Minnesota. The Big Lead recently interviewed Timberwolves star Kevin Love about the many names who have surfaced, including Larry Brown.
“There are other coaches – [Bernie] Bickerstaff, Adelman, and on and on and on – who will be interviewing and Brown is definitely an interesting prospect. Obviously, he’s got a different style than the other guys I mentioned. I’m hoping we can adapt to his style, but hopefully he can adapt to our style, too, because we’re going to be a team that wants to run and be up-tempo. And we want to play hard-nosed defense. We’re going to make mistakes, and hopefully he can work with us [while we're] making mistakes and growing over time.”
Much has been made of the fact that the Los Angeles Lakers didn’t consult Kobe Bryant before they hired Mike Brown to be their next head coach, even though Bryant generally prefers to be left out of those discussions. The Timberwolves, on the other hand, have kept Love involved in ever step of this process.
“I have definitely been asked by David Kahn what I thought about the situation, and I gave my two cents. I told them I think we need a coach to help us grow and win in tough situations and learn how to win. A guy who is going to be able to work with young guys and go through the growing pains to help us become a better team. There were a few names thrown out to me prior to the interview process, and they’ve all interviewed so far.”
Assuming the title-hungry Adelman isn’t interested, Larry Brown might be the most interesting name thrown out there. He has a knack for developing young players, even though he also tends to walk away in the middle of the process. If it comes down to Don Nelson, who is just looking for another paycheck, Bernie Bickerstaff, who struggled in his last head coaching gig in Charlotte, Brown might just be the one to salvage the summer for Minnesota.
It’s just important that the Timberwolves are also on the lookout for their next head coach. Brown is the Mary Poppins of the NBA, leaving as soon as the weather changes.
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