NBA PM: Thunder Adjusting Without Westbrook
Kevin Martin - VIDEO OF THE DAY
Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard Kevin Martin talked with HOOPSWORLD after the team's Game 4 loss against the Houston Rockets. He discusses what the Thunder need to do going forward, how the team has responded without Russell Westbrook and much more.Watch More Video Here
Thunder Adjusting Without Westbrook
When Russell Westbrook went down with a meniscus tear, many people crossed the Oklahoma City Thunder off of the list of legitimate contenders. With Westbrook sidelined, fans and pundits assumed the Miami HEAT were going to win it all and not face any challengers along the way.
However, the Thunder still believes that they can compete with the NBA’s elite teams. Westbrook was a big part of what they do, but they still have one of the best players in the league in Kevin Durant, a top defensive player in Serge Ibaka, a talented sixth man in Kevin Martin and another young, speedy scoring guard in Reggie Jackson. Throw in role players Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison as well as experienced veterans Kendrick Perkins and Derek Fisher, and it’s clear the Thunder shouldn’t be written off just yet.
Some, including ESPN’s Jon Barry, have compared the Thunder without Westbrook to LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers teams, saying that Oklahoma City now has Durant and “not much else.” However, Durant’s supporting cast is much better than James’ was and the Thunder isn’t ready to lie down.
Many players are stepping up in Westbrook’s absence. Durant has averaged 39.5 points in the two games without the All-Star point guard. Players like Martin, Jackson and Ibaka are taking more shots than usual because Westbrook’s touches are being spread around. Every player feels like they have to do more to replace Westbrook’s production.
“I think everybody feels like they need to [be more aggressive],” Martin said. “He’s such a big key to what we do and he’s a tough cover out there. We miss him, but we’ll figure it out.”
Durant, in particular, has taken it upon himself to keep the Thunder in contention. Not only is he scoring the ball more, he’s distributing, rebounding and playing improved defense. Last night, he led Oklahoma City in points, rebounds and assists and also played solid defense throughout the game.
Even though the Thunder lost Game 4 to the Rockets at the buzzer, they’re expecting to end the series back home in Game 5. This past season, the Thunder was 17-4 in the ensuing game after a loss. Since the start of the 2011-12 season, Oklahoma City is 32-7 in games played after a loss, which is the best record in the NBA during that span.
“We’re a veteran group and we know what we can do,” Martin said. “Hopefully we can take Game 5. … We just need to come out with intensity. If we get them down again, we need to keep them down.”
The Thunder have come together since losing Westbrook – Durant and Hasheem Thabeet wore ugly Hawaiian shirts to Game 4 as a tribute to their injured teammate – and the team is determined to prove that they can still win with one of their best players missing.
Gasol Discusses Trade Rumors
For the last two years, Pau Gasol’s name has surfaced repeatedly in trade rumors. He has been included in a number of scenarios and he was even dealt at one point – in a three-team deal with the Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets – but the transaction was vetoed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
Now, Gasol is preparing for the offseason and there’s a good chance that he’ll hear rumors once again. While Kobe Bryant has said publicly that he hopes the same group is back in L.A. next season, there’s a good chance that the Lakers brass will shop Gasol again this summer. In the past, Gasol was difficult to move because of his contract. However, he’ll be much easier to trade now that he is in the final year of his deal. He will make $19,285,850 next season, but that money will come off of the books once the year is over, which makes him more attractive to teams. Not only is he a veteran contributor, he’s also a huge expiring contract that frees up a large amount of money before the star-studded 2014 offseason.
On Tuesday, Gasol had his exit interview with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak and head coach Mike D’Antoni. During the hour-long interview, Gasol was told that his future is uncertain and that he may not be back with the team next year.
“There’s a possibility that I could be gone,” Gasol told USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick. “There’s a possibility that I could stay. I don’t know exactly exact percentages of it, but I’m prepared either way.
“Like I said, I understand the challenges that the franchise is facing, the decisions that they have to make in order to take the team in the direction that they want to looking at the present and the future and also understanding the business side of it. It’s a lot going on. I wish things were a little simpler, but they’re not. So we’ll see. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Dwight Howard’s free agency situation will impact everything the Lakers do this summer, but Gasol doesn’t think his future is directly tied to Howard’s.
“I don’t think it’s 100 percent attached to [Howard's situation],” Gasol said of his uncertain future. “I think the franchise would like to keep Dwight, will do what it takes to keep Dwight here, but that doesn’t mean if he’s here [that] I’m automatically gone. At least that’s my understanding.
“I think the team has shown that they would like to keep me but also that there are a lot of other factors that are coming into play, and those factors cannot be ignored. It’s still early. [Kupchak] still has to talk to ownership. Ownership needs to make a lot of decisions, and go from there. There was no rush on my part. I didn’t demand an answer, because I think it’s pointless to do it at this point and irrational.”
Gasol also gave his take on the Lakers’ season and whether or not the players made sacrifices, as they vowed to do early in the season.
“I think at the beginning we probably struggled a little more, because everybody wanted to assert himself and establish themselves and make sure they got their role or their part established,” Gasol told reporters. “But things didn’t work out that well, probably, from the beginning, and probably the coaching change had a big role into it. But I think we progressed as the season went along and we put our individual desires aside. We figured out what worked, and I think we finished the season playing the right way as far as our balance.
“Kobe also distributed the ball — there was a point that he also flipped the switch and started distributing a lot, and getting a lot of assists, and setting people up and making the game a lot easier and simpler for other guys. And then I was able to get into the post a little more, and get to the elbows a little more, and also create a lot more from those positions. I think Dwight was shooting a very high percentage — I was able to get him a lot of good looks close to the rim, and good finishes. He’s worked hard for those. And then the rest of the guys were able to play off that. Once we established that, it seemed to work better.”
Whether or not Gasol is back next season to make another run with the Lakers remains to be seen. One thing is certain though: the Lakers will shop Gasol this summer and see if there is more interest in him now that he has an expiring contract.
Kidd Wins 2012-13 Sportsmanship Award
For the second year in a row, Jason Kidd has won the NBA Sportsmanship Award, the NBA announced today. Kidd becomes the first back-to-back winner, having won the award last season as a member of the Dallas Mavericks and now as a member of the New York Knicks. Kidd is only the second player to win multiple sportsmanship awards, joining Grant Hill, who has been honored three times.
Kidd (Atlantic) was one of six divisional winners, which included Chicago’s Luol Deng (Central), Golden State’s Stephen Curry (Pacific), Memphis’ Mike Conley (Southwest), Oklahoma City’s Nick Collison (Northwest) and Orlando’s Jameer Nelson (Southeast).
NBA players voted on this award, with 11 points given for each first-place vote, nine points for each second-place vote, seven points for each third-place vote, five points for each fourth-placed vote, three points for each fifth-placed vote and one point for each sixth-place vote. Each team nominated one of its players for the award. Former NBA players John Crotty, Antonio Davis, Eddie Johnson, Steve Smith and Jay Williams selected the six divisional winners from a pool of 30 team nominees.
Kidd received 91 first-place votes (2,474 total points) of a possible 355. The NBA will make a $10,000 donation on behalf of Kidd to The Jason Kidd Foundation, which is dedicated to improving education among the youth, by ensuring that kids of all ages have the tools needed through mentoring, tutoring and technology programs to succeed in life.
The NBA will make a $5,000 donation to each of the divisional winner’s charities of choice: the Luol Deng Foundation on behalf of Deng; Rapha House on behalf of Curry; Methodist Healthcare Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center on behalf of Conley; Care OKC on behalf of Collison; Pete and Jameer Nelson Foundation on behalf of Nelson.
The NBA Sportsmanship award winner receives the Joe Dumars Trophy, which is named after the former Detroit Pistons guard and Hall of Famer, who was the award’s first recipient.