Long Gone From Thunder TV Broadcasts

By Randy Renner

In a move that surprised almost no one, the Thunder announced Monday that TV analyst Grant Long had resigned his position effective immediately and would not be returning this coming season for Thunder TV broadcasts on Fox Sports Oklahoma.

Long had held the position since the Thunder moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle back in the summer of 2008.

Long's name got into the news recently for more than just basketball and that has apparently led to his decision to leave the team and the broadcasts.

According to a report aired early this month by Oklahoma City's Fox TV affiliate, KOKH Channel 25, Long received a $5,000 loan from an Oklahoma City businessman to pay off some outstanding debts. The report said Long agreed to pay back $6,000 in 45 days. That debt became due last October but when Fox 25's report aired this month it still hadn't been paid.

Long confirmed to the TV station that he did indeed have a handwritten agreement for a loan with Larry Rowell, a jewelry store owner, and was quoted as saying he would repay the debt.

“There is an agreement between Larry and I,” Long told Fox 25. “Without going into much detail, which I won't do, (I'll) just say that his loan will be satisfied. It's not like I'm running out of town on a deal that I left on the table.”

Long is now being sued by Rowell. The station's report also quoted court documents as indicating nine different business, including two local quick-cash companies, have filed lawsuits against Long since his loan from Rowell.

Earlier this year, Long filed for bankruptcy in federal court. His initial paperwork, according to Fox 25, listed just four creditors.  Two of them are out-of-state casinos that Long said he owed more than $300,000.

The team announced Long's resignation in a brief statement sent out to reporters late Monday afternoon, "The Thunder wishes Grant well and will immediately begin the search of finding his replacement."

The team would like to have someone in place by media day which will be coming up in a bit more than two months.

Among those who might be considered for the job one local favorites is sure to be Desmond Mason. Mason played his college ball at Oklahoma State and spent a decade in the NBA. he was drafted by the Sonics and also played here in OKC with the Hornets when they played here for a couple seasons and for a season with the Thunder.

He looks good, sounds good and has a stellar reputation. What's not clear right now is if he would want the job. Mason's art career is really rolling now and he also works for a local bank. He might not want the day-to-day grind of NBA games and road trips and hanging around practices.

If he's interested in the gig, he'd be great.

Someone else who'd be outstanding, if he's interested, would be current Chicago Bulls TV analyst Stacey King. King of course grew up in Lawton and played at OU under former Sooners coach Billy Tubbs and is considered one of the best Sooner hoopsters ever.

However, King has been in Chi-Town for a long time and is very popular on Bulls telecasts so it might be near impossible to pull him away.

A couple of other names that might come up include Malik Rose, who also played for the Thunder toward the end of his NBA career. Rose is already doing some TV, he was a studio analyst for Fox Southwest for a while, working a few Thunder games but mostly San Antonio Spurs contests. Last season he was the game analyst on Philadelphia 76ers telecasts.

More than likely the Thunder and Fox will pick a former NBA player for the job but if not they might decide to look within their own organization. Thunder radio voice Matt Pinto knows the NBA game as well as anyone but play-by-play has always been his thing so he might not be interested in being an analyst, even on TV.

Now back to Grant Long for a moment.

I met him when the team moved here that summer of 2008. From the beginning he was always a pleasure to talk with and discuss the NBA, cuss and discuss our favorite baseball teams (the Red Sox and Astros, me and the Yankees, Grant) and he was always quick with a smile, a joke and a laugh.

G-Man, I wish you nothing but the best as you move forward and work to solve the problems you face.

Better days are ahead my friend, but I'm still not gonna root for those damn Yankees of yours.

 

Thunder Will Benefit From 66ers Move

By Randy Renner

It may hurt Thunder community relations in Tulsa a little bit but there's no question the move of the Tulsa 66ers to Oklahoma City will be a big help to the basketball operations side of things.

The 66ers averaged a couple thousand or so fans a game at Bixby's Spirit Bank Event Center, the crowds might actually be a big larger here in Oklahoma City where Thunder fever is highest but the attendance count isn't really the issue here.

The issue is making the Thunder better and having the organization's D-League squad just down the street is better for that than even having it just up the Turner Turnpike.

The Thunder didn't force the move, the Spirit Bank Events Center in Bixby decided it wanted to move away from hosting live sporting events and will likely turn the arena portion of that venue into convention and meeting space.

The Thunder looked at some other facilities in the Tulsa area but a fit wasn't found. We're not sure just how hard the Thunder looked or just how much they wanted to stay in the Tulsa area once they had to leave SBEC.

Obviously the team could see the benefits of consolidating everything here in Oklahoma City as easily as we can.

Negotiations are ongoing between OKC officials and the Thunder about leasing the Cox Center for 66ers games but that's almost certainly where they'll play. They'll practice at what's known now as the Thunder Community Events Center in far north OKC where the Thunder practiced when the team first moved to Oklahoma City from Seattle before the team's new facility opened near Britton and Broadway Extension.

So the teams will practice about four miles down the road from each other and will play games across the street from each other, can't much more convenient than that.

Coaches and front office staff will be better able to keep an eye on Thunder players who've been sent down for work in the D-League both during practices and games. Being able to take a five minute drive or a stroll across the street beats the 90 minute trek to Tulsa.

For Thunder fans eager for hoops action they'll have a chance to see the younger players get more meaningful minutes than perhaps garbage time at the end of an NBA game.

2014 draft picks Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon will likely spend most if not all of their season with the 66ers and Mitch McGary, the 21st overall pick in the 2014 draft will probably also see some time with the 66ers.

In fact the NBA's relationship with the D-League continues to grow, there will be a record 18 teams in the D-League next season, seven of those teams are owned by NBA squads. The NBA would like to see all 30 of its teams own and operate a squad in the D-League for a true minor league structure.

Rules have also been relaxed as to how often a team can send a young player down, it used to just be three teams a year and now it is unlimited.

Rules have also been relaxed when it comes to the acquisition of players. Draft picks can now be signed by a team's D-League affiliate and that's almost certainly what will happen with both Huestis and Christon.

As The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry pointed out in Saturday's paper Huestis would be the first 1st round draft pick to be stashed in the D-League instead of overseas in Europe.

The Thunder did the draft and stash move with last year's 2nd round pick Grant Jerrett but there were a lot of rules hoops to jump through then in order to get Jerrett to the 66ers, he was also a 2nd round pick with no guaranteed NBA deal.

Now there are no more league hoops to get through, if the team and the player agree then it's a done deal.

Jerrett was rewarded recently with a brand new NBA contract for his year of financial sacrifice and quality work in Tulsa last season.

Huestis would also make a significant financial sacrifice, 1st round picks get guaranteed NBA contracts, late 1st round picks are slotted to get almost $1 million their first season. In the D-League that slashed to about 25 grand.

But the future rewards are great and the Thunder have already demonstrated they will come through on their end of the deal with what Jerrett received.

This was probably discussed with Huestis before the Thunder even made him the 29th overall pick. Had he not been supportive of the plan the Thunder probably wouldn't have pulled the trigger.

Now with the 66ers move to Oklahoma City, Huestis, Christon and any other Thunder player who ends up spending time in the D-League will feel much more a part of the big league team than ever before.

Huestis Campin It Up

By Randy Renner

The youngsters participating in this week’s Thunder Youth Basketball Camp at Oklahoma City’s Casady School have gotten a rare treat. Visits from not just one Thunder basketball player but two.

Thunder rookie Josh Huestis with camp director Keeton Peery. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Thunder rookie Josh Huestis with camp director Keeton Peery. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Wednesday rookie center Mitch McGary stopped by and Thursday rookie small forward Josh Huestis dropped in to give the campers some hoops tips and share some memories.

“It feels like just yesterday I was in the same situation going to camps like this. It’s amazing that now I have a chance to give back,” he said. “I always looked up to the people who came and talked to us at the camps and now the fact that I have an opportunity to do the same thing and try to make a difference in kids’ lives, it’ just indescribable.”

Speaking as someone who’s been there Huestis said it’s really important when dealing with kids who are just beginning to refine their basketball skills to make camps like this feel like fun, not work.

“To me at this age, it’s all about falling in love with the game first. I think when they’re young like this too much drilling and making it super-organized might burn them out,” he advised. “So just help them fall in love with the game first and then if they wanna keep pursuing it they will.”

Thunder Youth Basketball Camp at OKC's Casady School. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Thunder Youth Basketball Camp at OKC's Casady School. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Huestis developed that love for the game early on and it’s something that drives him still. That’s another reason he loves to play defense and it was something a couple of the kids even asked questions about.

“One of the best questions I got, a couple times actually, was why do you like playing defense? Why is defense important? And I told them offense doesn’t always offense doesn’t always go every single day, shots don’t always fall all the time, but defense is something you can do every single day. It’s all about hard work and what you can do to help your team win.”

Huestis sounded like he was channeling Eddie Sutton when he said that because I heard the legendary for OSU basketball boss say that very same thing I don’t know how many times when I would talk to him about the importance of playing defense.

It’s a philosophy Huestis clearly understands and readily admits his offensive game isn’t on a level his defense is.

“Defense was how I got playing time (at Stanford), I realized offense wasn’t what I was brought there to do so I wanted to be somebody who could come in and defensively lock somebody down and rebound because that was what would get me on the floor. And once I saw how that affected the game and got me more time I really adopted that mentality.”

Huestis showed off his defense and rebounding skills last week during the Orlando Summer League, he also showed a few offensive flashes, mostly on putbacks and baseline cuts. His 3-point shooting was, well, something he needs to work on.

Thunder rookie small forward Josh Huestis talks to Thunder Youth Basketball campers at Casady School. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Thunder rookie small forward Josh Huestis talks to Thunder Youth Basketball campers at Casady School. Photo by Randy Renner for InsideThunder.com

Overall it was a good experience for him and a wakeup call about what life might be like in the NBA.

“It was my first NBA-type atmosphere and I was able to figure out a little more about the speed of the game. I really enjoyed it.”

The biggest surprise for Huestis wasn’t really the speed of the game, it was the size of the players.

“In college I could step on the floor and always be one of the bigger guys and one of the stronger guys but you get out there on the NBA floor and everybody’s a grown man, everybody’s big. So I think that’s the hardest thing to get used to.”

And if he thinks the guys at summer league were grown men just wait till he goes up against Perk. And Serge. And KD and Russ.

“I’m really excited and anxious to be able to play with them and learn from them.”

But on this day, with training camp and those battles with superstar NBA teammates still 10 weeks or so away, it was Josh who was doing the teaching, not so much the learning.

“I’ve always wanted to be somebody who could affect lives. Basketball is great and everything but at the end of day I wanna find a way to change the world and if I can come in here and reach one kid even then that’s fine with me.”

And sometimes, all it takes is just one.

McGary Goes Camping

By Randy Renner

Thunder rookie center Mitch McGary was right back where he wanted to be on a dreary, drizzly Wednesday afternoon…inside a basketball gym.

This time instead of refining his own game he was helping the young participants in the latest Thunder Youth Basketball Camp work on theirs.

“Just to be able to come out and give back to the community is incredible, to take some time out and go help some kids is pretty awesome, it’s great,” McGary said after he’d spent an hour or so with thye campers at Oklahoma City’s Casady School.

McGary never had the chance to go to a basketball camp and see an NBA player when he was growing up. Camps put on by Valparaiso University near his hometown in Indiana were as close as he ever came.

“At the time I thought the players there were basically NBA players and I just think it’s cool that little kids will look up to you and think of you very highly, they think the world of you.”

Some of them of course had never seen him before, but a few watched him play last week in the Orlando Summer League.

McGary was the second leading scorer on the Thunder summer squad, averaging almost 15 points and just over eight rebounds a game.

“It felt great to be back on the court but I was just dippin’ my toes in the water, trying to get adjusted to the style of play.”

McGary made clear his style of play is aggressive and uptempo. Despite back surgery last winter that ruined his last season at Michigan, McGary showed no ill effects in Orlando.

“I feel great,” he said. “I was anxious to get out there and eager. I thought I performed pretty decent considering I hadn’t played in eight months.”

That’s going to change now. McGary proved there’s no need to go slow so it’s full speed ahead with off-season workouts and continuing to get his body ready for training camp in 10 weeks.

“Really it’s just getting’ in shape. My back was the main thing and now that’s 100 percent so I need to get my body right.” He’s also been given some things the coaching staff would like to see him work on and improve over the next several weeks.

“Some of the intangibles, finishing around the rim, getting my jump shot right out to about 15 feet, just really trying to be a great team player and a great teammate.”

Fans who watched McGary in summer league were surely impressed with his ability to grab a rebound and then take off to lead the fast break, “yeah, a lot of people probably didn’t know I could do that,” he said with a grin.

But he also said not to expect much of that sort of thing when he suits up this fall.

“I had a little bit more freedom in summer league so I did a little bit more but I expect when Russell (Westbrook) and Kevin (Durant) get back it’s gonna be maybe one bust out dribble and kick to them…not me take it coast-to-coast, for sure.”

Of course if he’s out there when Russell and Kevin aren’t, well then he’d probably be more than willing to take the ball and run.

Thunder Announce Morrow Signing

By Randy Renner

The Thunder continue to get their paperwork in order as the team officially announces deals made so far during the free agency period.

Yesterday the team formally announced the Sebastian Telfair signing and this afternoon comes official word that free agent sharpshooter Anthony Morrow has signed on the dotted line.

“Anthony Morrow has demonstrated that he is amongst the most consistent and efficient three point shooters in the NBA over his career, and we are pleased to welcome him to Oklahoma City and the Thunder organization,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said in a statement released by the team.  “With his body of work, we feel Anthony is a unique addition to a diverse roster, while also possessing the toughness and selflessness that we are consistently seeking in Thunder players.”

Morrow (6-5, 210), shot 45.1 percent from three-point range last season (4th in the NBA) while averaging 8.4 points, 1.8 rebounds and 18.8 minutes in a career-high 76 games (nine starts) with New Orleans.

An undrafted rookie out of Georgia Tech, Morrow shot an NBA-best 46.7 percent during the 2008-09 season becoming the first rookie in NBA history to lead the league in three-point field goal percentage. The six-year NBA veteran owns career averages of 10.4 points on 42.8 percent shooting from three-point range (3rd highest amongst active NBA players), 2.5 rebounds, 1.0 assist and 23.7 minutes in 373 games (129 starts) with Golden State, New Jersey, Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans.

It's not known for sure when Morrow will come to OKC for an introductory news conference. He will more than likely come off the bench for the Thunder.

Terms of his contract were not made public by the team but his agreement is believed to be for three years and approximately $10 million.