Sports Illustrated Puts Three Thunder Players in NBA's Top 20

By Randy Renner

Sports Illustrated's annual ranking of the Top 100 players in the NBA is top heavy with Thunder stars.

OKC is the only team in the league with two players ranked in the Top 5 and three in the Top 20.

Reining NBA MVP Kevin Durant comes in second on the list right behind LeBron James and point guard Russell Westbrook is ranked fourth, right behind Chris Paul.

KD was also second last year but Westbrook moves up a notch this season from the 5 spot. He replaced the Spurs Tony Parker at #4 and Parker dropped all the way to #14.

Making the biggest jump of the Thunder trio is forward Serge Ibaka who comes in at #19, a full 10 spots higher than the #29 spot he occupied when these rankings came out at the beginning of last season.

Here's part of what S.I. had to say about Durant:

Topping LeBron James in MVP voting, PER and Win Shares requires a truly extraordinary all-around season, and that’s exactly what Durant stringed together in 2013-14.

Oklahoma City’s All-Star forward became the first player besides James to win MVP since Derrick Rose in 2011. He also became the first player besides James to lead the league in PER since Dwyane Wade in 2007, and he became the first player besides James to lead the league in Win Shares since Chris Paul in 2008.

Here's a portion of what was written about Westbrook:

Westbrook had to endure real adversity for the first time in 2013-14, the type that makes harsh media criticism and mocking social media memes look like child’s play. Three knee surgeries in less than a year is a terrifying concept for any professional athlete, but the fear factor was even greater for Oklahoma City’s three-time All-Star point guard. After all, his greatest attributes – speed, quickness, explosiveness, leaping ability, durability, drive, fearlessness, relentlessness – all are contingent upon two healthy knees.

Could Westbrook’s response to that career crossroads have reasonably been any better? While he missed nearly half of the regular season, Westbrook quickly reestablished himself as a big-time impact player. His postseason averages of 26.7 points, 8.1 assists and 7.3 rebounds are unprecedented over the last 50 years; only Oscar Robertson and Bob Cousy have ever posted similar figures. He was the only player to register a triple-double in the 2014 playoffs, and he had three of them.

And here is part of what Sports Illustrated had to say about Ibaka:

The Thunder's system of scrambling defensive pressure wouldn't work if opponents didn't fear Ibaka, and opponents wouldn't fear him if Ibaka didn't follow through by swatting a terrifying amount of shots. Teammates on the perimeter can gamble and attempt to rush foes, content in the knowledge that Ibaka will slide over to challenge any drive that gets through.

Pretty outstanding stuff all the way around. With three of the NBA's best players it's no wonder more and more people are picking the Thunder to win their first NBA Championship this season.

You can read the entire Sports Illustrated article by clicking here.

 

 

Silly Season About To End

By Randy Renner

Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and all his players will meet with the media a week from today on Monday, September 29th, and begin training camp with the first official practice a week from Tuesday.

So as we get ever closer to basketball seriousness, the basketball silly season (where rumors fly around like flies) is about to end.

One rumor that keeps being repeated and seems to change up a little with each new iteration is that the Thunder and the Boston Celtics are working on a deal that would send Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo to Oklahoma City.

When that possibility was most recently brought up by Sean Deveney of The Sporting News he was proposing the Celtics would send Rondo to the Thunder for a package that would not include the Thunder's current point guard Russell Westbrook.

As the story was told and re-told by fans and other media members it quickly evolved into a Westbrook for Rondo trade, something that has been in the trade winds since at least 2011 when Bill Simmons proposed it.

Last night, during a public appearance in Boston, Celtics GM Danny Ainge was asked about trading Rondo.

"The truthful answer is, I really don't know," he said. "I have no intention, I'm not trying to trade Rondo but a trade is not out of the question, no one is untradeable, but I don't really see that happening."

Rondo's contract is expiring and the Celtics haven't been able to come to terms on a new deal. Rondo will make $12.9 million this season so if the Thunder were to bring him in and keep Westbrook on the roster some big salaries would have to go to Boston to make it work, most likely Kendrick Perkins and his $9.5 million expiring contract and perhaps Reggie Jackson.

Still it would seem to make much more sense for the Thunder to use the money they're spending on Perk this season to give Reggie his salary increase for next season and not bring in Rondo, especially since you wouldn't know what chemistry issues might come up by bringing Rondo onto the Thunder roster.

Even though this whole Rondo-Westbrook-Jackson-Perkins-whoever else deal probably isn't worth the time I've spent writing about it, it is one of the more persistent rumors out there.

And the Jackson contract situation is something both sides would probably prefer to have resolved by the October 31st deadline for extensions to get done but something that may very well bubble on through the season and send Jackson into restricted free agency.

When training camp begins the Thunder will begin practice with some real position battles going on and not just for backup positions and extra minutes in the rotation. This time around there is a real question (at least among the media and fans) about who will win the starting shooting guard spot and there could be as many as five players (Jackson, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones) vying for that position.

Throw in rookie Mitch McGary trying to carve out time in the rotation and rookie Josh Huestis hoping to avoid playing only in the D-League if he impresses enough during camp to be given the final roster spot and you have a pretty intriguing camp coming up.

Thunder Name Michael Cage New TV Analyst

By Randy Renner

Wednesday afternoon the Oklahoma City Thunder sent out a press release announcing the new TV analyst replacing Grant Long.

As is often the case with these types of things the name on the press release was not one of the names that had been brought up in newspapers, websites (this one included) radio shows and TV sports segments.

Michael Cage is the name, not Desmond Mason, not Stacey King, not Malik Rose nor Nancy Lieberman nor a dozen or so others folks had talked about.

In case you didn't know, or had forgotten, Michael Cage played 15 years in the NBA and was a pretty darn good rebounder, led the league one season in fact.

Those who have met him or have seen some of his work in TV say he has a great personality, is very fun and engaging and has tremendous knowledge of the game.

Here is the full press release about Mr. Cage sent out by the Thunder:

The Oklahoma City Thunder announced today that Michael Cage is joining the Thunder broadcast team as its new analyst. Cage joins play-by-play announcer Brian Davis, who begins his seventh season as the TV voice of the Thunder on FOX Sports Oklahoma. Sideline reporter and host Lesley McCaslin returns for her third season with the Thunder.

 Cage played 15 seasons from 1984-2000 as a power forward in the NBA with the Los Angeles Clippers, Seattle Supersonics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. He led the NBA in rebounding in 1988, capturing the title by grabbing 30 rebounds in the final game of the regular season.

 “We are very excited and proud to have Michael Cage become part of the Thunder broadcast team,” said Dan Mahoney, Thunder vice president of Corporate Communications. “Michael brings experience, energy, knowledge and passion for the game. We think our fans will enjoy his perspective and knowledge gained by playing more than 1,000 games in the NBA.”

 A native of West Memphis, Ark., Cage was a first-round draft pick of the Clippers in 1984 following a successful career at San Diego State University. At SDSU he was named a second-team All-American in 1984 and twice was selected as Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year. The Aztecs retired his jersey (No. 44) in 1984. He was also a member of the gold-medal winning 1983 United States team in the Pan American Games.

Following his playing career, Cage has worked as both a broadcaster and a high school and AAU basketball coach. His broadcasting experience includes serving as TV analyst for the Memphis Grizzlies, FOX Sports West, Prime Ticket and Westwood One radio. Cage coached Mater Dei High School in Los Angeles to back-to-back state titles in 2013-14. He also served as a guest coach for the Cleveland Cavaliers at the 2013 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Cage has a long history of giving back to the community during and after his NBA playing career. The Michael Cage Foundation works with young athletes to mentor, teach and share life lessons.

"Thank you to the Oklahoma City Thunder for giving me such a wonderful opportunity to join the franchise. I'm looking forward to working with an already terrific broadcast team,” Cage said. “I've been involved in basketball, sports broadcasting and charity work for over 40 years and I look forward to getting to know the passionate Thunder fans in Oklahoma! My family and I are excited and feel very blessed."

FOX Sports Oklahoma will broadcast 70 Thunder games during the 2014-15 regular season, beginning with the season opener on Oct. 29 at Portland. The Oct. 17 Thunder preseason game in Wichita against the Toronto Raptors will also be carried live on FSO. During the other preseason games and any national exclusive regular-season broadcasts, Cage will join Matt Pinto on the Thunder Radio Network.

It's believed that Mr. Cage will be on hand for Thunder media day on September 29th.

 

Lamb Ready For Training Camp

By Randy Renner

The students at Oklahoma City's Christ The King Catholic School got a rare treat Tuesday afternoon when four NBA players and an assistant coach showed up to help lead the Thunder Fit Clinic.

Thunder players Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and Grant Jerrett were all there along with Thunder assistant coach Rex Kalamian.

Usually one, or sometimes two players will help the regular Thunder Fit staff with these clinics but Wednesday the timing was right for almost a third of the team to show up.

"Seeing the kids smile and seeing how they look up to me, it's a great feeling," Lamb said after the workout. "We don't always get to stay long but we make the most of it."

Indeed they do. During the school year these clinic appearances usually occur during the last class period of the school day and many times it's during a normal PE class.

Lamb was the main spokesman for the group on Wednesday, "these events are always great, I think the kids had a good time with us and I know we had a good time with them."

It's been a busy summer for Lamb between trying to have some fun away from basketball during his summer vacation to spending time working on improving his game as training camp gets close.

"Attacking the rim was the main thing and just continue to work on my craft and working on my shot, my handle and my defense, workin' on every area really."

He's been back in town for a few days now getting in some voluntary workouts at the INTEGRIS Health Thunder Development Center and getting to know his new teammates, rookies Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon along with free agent signees Anthony Morrow and Sebastian Telfair.

"Yeah I've been with them a lot. Morrow, he's a vet, he's a great shooter and just a real solid player. He knows how to score, he knows his spots on the floor. Sebastian really helps me. He's a real hard worker and he gives me advice, you know he's been around a long time and then the rookies are coming in and working hard and it's cool to see them grow."

A lot was expected from Lamb last season and he got off to a hot start but tailed off, his 3-point shot failed him at times late in the season and especially in the playoffs when he was just 2-for-14 (14.3 percent) but still he averaged 35.6 percent from deep and 43.2 percent overall during the regular season.

One of the knocks on him last season (and something he admits to) is that he didn't pay enough attention to the defensive end of things.

That should change this season as Lamb fully understands now how important defense is in the NBA.

If he can bring that aspect of his game up and keep his shots falling he'll be in the mix for the starting shooting guard spot for the Thunder but it looks to be a pretty crowded field with both Jackson and Morrow along with defensive specialist Andre Roberson all expected to challenge each other for playing time at that spot.

Last season Lamb was on the floor for 1,538 minutes spread out over 78 of the Thunder's 82 regular season games and he logged exactly 100 minutes of playing time in 11 playoff games. A good chunk of that playing time (67 percent) was spent at the shooting guard position, most of the rest of his time on the floor (29 percent) was logged as a small forward.

The numbers from last season were almost exactly opposite of the time spent at those position in his rookie season when he was at small forward 65 percent of the time and shooting guard 35 percent.

This season? Who knows at this point what the splits will be but Lamb hopes to be ready this season to take full advantage of whatever opportunities are there.





Choctaw Will Host Thunder Blue-White Scrimmage

By Randy Renner

The Oklahoma City Thunder are continuing their tradition of holding their annual blue-white scrimmage at a smaller, fan friendly venue around the state.

This season's scrimmage will be held inside the gym at Choctaw High School on Sunday, October 5th.

The very first blue-white scrimmage was inside what was then called the Ford Center, now Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ever since the scrimmage has generally been held in high school gyms to give fans an up close look at the team.

The Thunder released the following statement about this year's Blue-White scrimmage:

The scrimmage will begin at 3 p.m. and will include many Thunder game-night features, such as Rumble the Bison, the Thunder Girls, Thunder Drummers, Storm Chasers and more. In addition to the open practice, the team will hold Thunder Alley outside of the school starting at noon, with activities such as pop-a-shot, sport court, Thunder merchandise trailer and the OG&E ThunderBolt. Fans will also be able to enjoy a U.S. Cellular semitrailer with an interactive display.

 “Our tradition of the Blue and White Scrimmage enables fans in communities across Oklahoma to understand that they’re an important part of our Thunder team,” said Dan Mahoney, vice president of Corporate Communications and Community Relations for the Thunder. “We love having the opportunity to start the season by bringing the Thunder experience to fans in their hometowns and show them how deeply we appreciate their support.”

 In previous years, the Blue and White Scrimmage has been held in Moore, Bixby, Bethany, Yukon, Midwest City and Oklahoma City.

 All Thunder fans are invited to take part in Thunder Alley festivities. A limited number of tickets will be available on the day of the game, starting at noon outside of Choctaw High School. Tickets are free of charge and will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.

All Thunder players are expected to be involved and of course it will be fans first chance to see the newest members of the Thunder, free agent signees Anthony Morrow and Sebastian Telfair and rookie draft picks Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon.

It's always a lot of fun and you can expect full coverage from our entire crew here at InsideThunder.com. We'll be live tweeting during the game and we'll have postgame blogs and videos.