Questions still unanswered after early exit for the Thunder

Photo by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney

The one thing no NBA player, coach or general manager wants to be doing is conducting exit interviews while the season is still going on. Because that means other teams are still fighting for an NBA championship, while they are cleaning out their locker.

For the third straight season, the Oklahoma City Thunder (49-33) found themselves cleaning out their locker earlier than they hoped or expected after losing in five games to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

However, according to point guard Russell Westbrook, there is no common theme between the three playoff exits.

“Teams are different. Personnel is different,” Westbrook said. “The guys, we play a lot of different combinations, reasons why we lost. We’ll look at it, reevaluate, get some time to go back to the drawing board and see how we can be better.”

Yet, that is not entirely true. While some pf the personnel is different, the core group of the Thunder has been intact. Especially the last two years with Westbrook, Paul George, Steven Adams, Jeremi Grant and Terrance Ferguson. Dennis Schroder was added before this season.

“I’m still trying to wrap my head around that, on what’s the next step, the next phase for this group going forward,” George said. “So you know, that’s something I think we’re all trying to work on internally, figure out like what can we do, because this is a team that can go far. We have pieces in place to have a long postseason reason. I am trying to figure out like what it is for this group.”

What makes this year’s early exit the most stunning of the three is the way the season began. At one point Oklahoma City was in third place in the West with a 38-20 record and was a couple of games away from possibly taking the No. 2 seed.

“For 70 percent of this past season, we were playing at an extremely high level, and I felt like we were playing some of the better basketball that we’ve seen in Oklahoma City, just with respect to the style of play goals we laid out, the defensive improvement that we tried to establish from last year to this year, pace of play, athleticism,” Thunder GM Sam Presti said. “I really felt like the players and the coaches were doing an excellent job of that, and they created an extremely high standard. We were on our way to having the third best record in the league against the top 10 teams in the league. We were playing a really balanced game.”

But then the All-Star break came and everything changed for the Thunder. From the moment the team returned from the week off, they looked completely different than before. Their defense took a nose dive, they were unable to close out games and they became three-point dependent.

But when Presti was asked if he could pinpoint exactly why the downturn took place, he was unable to shed any light on an 11-13 run to close out the regular season.

“That’s the crux of the question for me. Before we can even start thinking about like how do we solve for that. We don’t have the liberty of just making like a snap reaction or coming in with an emotional vantage point,” Presti said. “I don’t think you can discount the fact that we got our ass kicked in the Playoffs. There’s no getting around that. But I think anyone objective and anybody that is more than a momentary problem solver would probably take a step back and look at the whole thing. To try to answer your question, it’s to say, I don’t have that answer, and I would think that if I did, you shouldn’t listen to me because I would just be coming in here with an emotional perspective, which as a leader I can’t do that.”

Coach Billy Donovan also was unable to give any insight on what the true problem was for a team that has the second highest payroll in the league, but can’t get past teams they are favored to beat. That includes the Blazers, who Oklahoma City swept in the regular season.

“I always believe it takes what it takes for a team when you’re competing, and what I mean by that is you go through these disappointments and you go through these struggles, I think you find out more about what you’ve got to do to get better and to improve,” Donovan said. “You know, this is just not an excuse, but every team has got things they have to deal with during the course of the year. We obviously had to deal with two wing players that we were hoping to be a big part of our team this year that was not here, and we tried to do different things to overcome that.”

According to Presti, Donovan will be back for his fifth season with the Thunder. With most of the core unit of the team are signed to long term deals, there doesn’t seem to be much room for drastic changes heading into the 2019-20 campaign.

“The margins for error are small, in the Western Conference for sure, but to me that’s one of the things about competition that doesn’t bother me,” Presti said. “Like sometimes you lose. Competing doesn’t mean you only compete when the wind is at your back. So yeah, listen, we’re not entitled to anything. We don’t come into the year expecting to just automatically be served up opportunities to play in the Playoffs. You’ve got to earn those. But you’ve also got to perform when you get there, and we haven’t done that, so we’ve got to figure out what that is. We’ve never been shy about the fact that like we’ve got to go out and do the work, study it, and make the best decisions for the future of the franchise and the health of the franchise, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Copywriter and content creator

Murray taken No. 1 by the Cardinals


By Michael Kinney

A year ago, it didn’t seem like Kyler Murray’s life could get any better. After playing part-time for the Oklahoma baseball team, the Allen, Texas native was drafted in June by Oakland Athletics with the No. 9 overall pick. Murray’s future seemed to be set on the baseball diamond.

Fast-forward to Thursday night and Murray heard his name called once again. This time it was as the No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL draft, which was held in Nashville.

Murray became the first player to ever be selected in the first round by the two professional leagues. But make no mistake about, Murray has chosen football as his career path.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid,” Murray said. “All the hard work. Everyone that has been in my corner and pushed me to be here, I can’t thank them enough. I have to thank God. This is surreal.”

Murray also became the second Oklahoma quarterback in two years to be taken No. 1 overall. Baker Mayfield was chosen by the Cleveland Browns in 2018. The two Heisman trophy winners face off in Week 15 of this season.

“I’m just so proud of Kyler and the way he’s handled this entire process,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s gone through something that no one has ever gone through with the amount of scrutiny in different sports, the hype that he’s had since he was such a young kid. To see him get to this moment as the No. 1 pick, that’s been his dream. To see him live this part of it out is awesome.”

Oklahoma has now produced 45 first-round NFL draft picks in its history, and is now tied with Auburn, Notre Dame and USC with five No. 1 overall selections. They include defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon (1976), running back Billy Sims (1980), quarterback Sam Bradford (2010) and Mayfield.

At just 5-foot-10, Murray also made history by being first quarterback under 6-foot to be drafted in the first round. But his height seems to not have been a concern for the Cardinals.

Murray’s new coach is also an old acquaintance. Kliff Kingsbury, who was the coach at Texas Tech before being fired earlier this year, has known Murray since he was 15 years old. Despite the Cardinals using a first-round pick on quarterback Jeff Rosen in 2018, when Kingsbury took the job, it became an almost automatic that they were going to take Murray.

“He’s a dynamic talent, a unique talent that I don’t know if anyone has seen,” Kingsbury said.

However, General Manager Steve Keim did have to be convinced, slightly.

“I’m not going to lie to you, I was reluctant,” Keim said. “I did not want to watch the tape, I did not want to fall in love with the player. I watched more and more, saw the things he can do. As I continued to get to know the person, as we did all our homework, our due diligence, the more and more I became convinced this was the right guy for us.”

Joining Murray in the first round was wide receiver Marquise Brown. The speedy receiver was taken by the Baltimore Ravens with the No. 25 pick.

Brown gave an emotional interview after being drafted in which he talked about everything he has had to overcome.

“Marquise’s story is well-documented,” Riley said. “What are the chances a guy who had to walk to work and fight his way just to get to junior college ends up being the first receiver taken? I’m thrilled for him and his opportunity. He’s going to bring a lot to the Baltimore Ravens. Their fans will love his explosiveness, which we really came to appreciate the last couple of years at Oklahoma.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Jaguar I-Pace hits the trifecta in NYC

By Michael Kinney

NEW YORK – The first time Ian Callum strolled onto the stage, he was a happy man. The director of Design for Jaguar Land Rover was accepting the award for 2019 World Car Design of the Year at the New York International Auto Show April 17. Under normal circumstances, it would have been the highlight of the entire event for Callum and the car manufacturer’s team.

But this wasn’t a normal moment. The Design of the Year award ended up being the appetizer to a record-breaking day. Callum found himself on stage twice more to accept the award for 2019 World Green Car of the Year and the coveted 2019 World Car of the Year.

All of the honors were for the Jaguar I-PACE, the company’s first ever electric automobile.

“Designing Jaguar cars is probably the best job in the world, and I can honestly say that no other project I’ve worked on has been as rewarding as I-PACE,” Callum said. “Electric vehicles offer designers unprecedented freedom to rethink the proportions, the profile and the packaging, and it’s an opportunity that my team has exploited in full. Winning the 2019 World Car Design of the Year award, as well as World Car of the Year and World Green Car, is true recognition for their achievements.”

This is the first time in the World Car Awards’ 15-year history that one-car has pulled off the trifecta of winning three of the five awards handed out. It is also only the second time one company hauled in three awards.

It was an accomplishment not lost on Callum.

“In my 40 years in this business, this is my Oscar moment,” Callum said. “I am going to just soak it up.”

Callum and Jaguar Land Rover are used to taking home hardware from the World Car Awards. This marked the third consecutive year and fifth overall World Car Design of the Year award for the company.

But the fact that they were able to nearly sweep the award ceremony with their first ever foray into electric cars makes this year standout, according to Jaguar Land Rover CEO, Prof. Dr. Ralf Speth.

“For I-PACE to be awarded 2019 World Car of the Year, World Car Design of the Year and World Green Car gives our first all-electric vehicle the ultimate recognition it deserves,” Speth said. “We started with an ideal, to move towards our Destination Zero vision; zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion. I-PACE is our first step to achieving this, and it was conceived when EVs were little more than a niche choice. So we started from a clean sheet of paper to create a new benchmark -the world’s best premium electric vehicle, and a true Jaguar driver’s car.”

The I-PACE was chosen from an initial entry list of 40 vehicles in the World Car of the Year award category. The list was whittled down to three finalists on March 5th. Along with the I-Pace, the other finalists included the Audi e-tron and the Volvo S60/V60.

“I am going to run out of words, really. Speechless for once,” Callum said. “On behalf of everyone at Jaguar, thank you very much indeed. This is astonishing. Hat trick, amazing. I’ll be honest with you, when we set up this car, it was set up with a team with absolute determination to create something that was real authentic. A different Jaguar with passion. That’s what Jaguar is. A company with passion. I said to my team when we created this car, let’s build the best car in the world. That’s what I said to them. Hey, looks like we’ve done it.”

The World Car Awards were handed out on during the industry portion of the New York International Auto Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The show runs through April 28.

The Jaguar I-Pace will be on display, along with several other automobiles from the Jaguar Land Rover family, throughout the entire NYIAS.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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