Trade demands caught Thunder off-guard

By Michael Kinney

After an offseason that saw the Oklahoma City Thunder shocked its fan base and the rest of the NBA with a series of epic trades and deal, general manager Sam Presti finally addressed the public Thursday when he met with the local media.

During his 37 minutes press conference, Presti made one thing perfectly clear. The path the team is currently on now was not one they had expected to see when the season ended.

“We were excited about heading into the season with some of the additions that we made,” Presti said. “But shortly after free agency began, things changed a little bit. The players have the freedom to be able to talk and recruit, and there’s nothing limiting that, and that obviously changed the game for us.”

What changed for the Thunder was Paul George coming to Presti and asking for a trade days after free agency started and weeks after the draft. That led to Oklahoma City also trading Jerami Grant and the franchise cornerstone Russell Westbrook in the following days. In return, they received eight first-round picks, Chris Paul Danilo Gallinari and second-year point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

George described his decision to leave the Thunder as something he and the franchise both wanted.

“This was nothing that came out of the blue; we were all on the same page,” George told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols on Wednesday. “The initial plan was to give it another year, see what we could do and I did that. We played another year and it felt like we were just stagnant. Next thing was, let’s move forward with other plans”

However, Presti provided a little pushback on George’s explanation.

“I think the world of PG. I think everybody knows that,” Presti said. “I know that he had used the term mutual. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that because that would infer that we were wanting to trade Paul George, which I think most people would agree that that probably wasn’t on the top of our off-season priority list. But I would say that it was not adversarial at all, and I also fully respect the way that it was handled.”

Presti was asked if he could have just said no to George’s trade demand, especially since he believed Oklahoma City had the chance to have a very good 2019-20 season.

“The reason that we were able to find a way to do it was because of what we were able to get back,” Presti said. “I wouldn’t say that we were going to appease the request simply because it was made, but more than anything, it was because of the fact that we were able to get the return that we did, which then allowed us to accommodate what he was looking for, as well. So yeah, no, it wasn’t necessarily permission. It was how can we make this work for everyone.”

When it came to trading Russell Westbrook, Presti wanted to make sure he did right by his former star point guard as well.

“I would say the same thing. How do we make it work for everybody? Obviously, Houston was the place he wanted to go, and we were able to find a way to accomplish our goals and his,” Presti said. “If we couldn’t accomplish our goals we wouldn’t have traded him to Houston, but we were able to find a way to communicate through that process to get that to happen.”

Going forward, Presti doesn’t call what the Thunder are doing a rebuild. But even with Paul and Gallinari and Gilgeous-Alexander joining what is left of the Oklahoma City roster, he is asking for patience from the fans.

“I think our focus right now is on the team that we have. It’s going to be a different iteration of Thunder team than we’ve seen over the last several years,” Presti said. “But I would just say that we’re going to take a very long view to make sure that we’re putting ourselves in position to have a long run of success in Oklahoma City as we possibly can and not shortcut that process.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Big 3 doing more than just basketball

(Photos by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — In its three years in existence, the Big 3 Basketball Tournament has become a big deal. The traveling 3-on-3 basketball league has become a hit almost everywhere it goes.

It stopped in Oklahoma City Sunday with six of the league’s 12 teams playing three games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena. The Big 3, which was founded by entertainment mogul Ice Cube and entertainment executive Jeff Kwatinetz, has now come to Oklahoma twice in three seasons.

But while much of attention went towards the rosters filled with former NBA players and the fans who came out to support the event, their biggest move may have taken place Saturday.

With no fan fair and only one member of the media on hand, the Big 3 in conjunction with the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation spent several hours at the City Rescue Mission for the Dribble Out Hunger initiative, which provides food and personal essentials to displaced, disadvantaged and destitute communities and families.

“This is the third year we are now doing stuff in every city,” said former NBA player Rickey Davis. “We are doing the Dribble out Hunger campaign. We do the Legacy labs and health fairs for the kids. Just anywhere we can be in the community lifting a helping hand.  Just giving back.”

Davis spent 12 seasons in the NBA before playing his final game in 2010. He is now a co-captain on the Big 3s Ghost Ballers.

Despite a long career that saw him play on six different NBA teams, Davis wasn’t ready to stop playing basketball. So he jumped at the chance to join the Big 3 when the league began operations in 2017.

Davis also wasn’t ready to stop giving back to his community and those that are less fortunate just because he was no longer in the NBA.

“The Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation started my first year in the NBA,” Davis said. “Just giving a donation to various programs, kids, people in need, communities. And every year it’s just been getting better and better. Adding different programs, different initiatives for kids, homeless people. So now we have just hooked up with different community places like the rescue mission. Just going in and giving a helping hand any way we can.”

The City Rescue Mission (800 W. California Ave.) is the largest homeless shelter in Oklahoma City. The privately-funded organization houses 350 men, women and children and is faith-based.

Davis contacted the mission five days before The Big 3 came to Oklahoma and asked if he could do something for the residents. That help turned into the Ricky Davis Legacy Foundation donating food (from Brother’s Produce), toiletries, clothes, shoes and other items and hand-delivered them to the residents.

Davis personally helped the children pick out new shoes, which many of them have not had for quite some time.

The foundation also provided a barber and hairstylist for the residents.

“You know, you look good, you feel good,” Davis said. “That’s what it’s all about. Some people think it’s all about the money. But if you can help them get a haircut so they can look good to help them get a job. Just little things that some people miss that we try to help with.”

Joining Davis at the shelter were NBA legends Rick Barry and Clifford Ray, along with former players Jamario Moon and Donte Green. The four of them served food to the residents and then took photos and signed autographs with the excited residents.

“This is kind of home,” Ray said. “So any time I can help. I have always been an advocate of (Davis). He does good things.  It’s my pleasure to be here.”

Ray, 70, played his college basketball at the University of Oklahoma (1969-71) before being drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1971. He then went on to play 10 years in the NBA with the Bulls and Golden State Warriors. That included winning a championship with the Warriors in 1975.

Ray, who has also been an assistant coach and consultant in the NBA, said giving back to the community should be something all former players should strive to do after their playing days end.

“I just think that if you can do something all over the country and you have the means to get around and do so, it’s a positive thing,” Ray said. “And it can’t do anything but help. It might be able to encourage some of the other players to do things. Because sometimes if you look around, there are a lot of things we can do if we are just asked. A lot of times people don’t ask us. When you get older, they don’t ask you, but this is a good thing.”

For Davis, giving back is not really a choice.

“God has blessed me,” Davis said. “So just being a blessing to others is important to me and my family. It’s what we stand for. Being able to bring my kids and show that everyone is not privileged. We are blessed.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Now what?

By Michael Kinney

In a span of 11 years the Oklahoma City Thunder rose from the depths of one of the worst season’s in NBA to become a title contender and one of the most exciting franchises in the league.

At their pinnacle in 2012, the Thunder made it to the NBA championship on the backs of four young superstars. And even though they lost to the Miami Heat in five games, it looked like Oklahoma City was destined to be the next dynasty and collect a bunch of rings.

But then a quirky thing took place on the way to that glorious future. Life happened.

Egos, money, questionable decisions, injuries and bad luck all seemed to hit the Thunder at different points and the talk of the small-market wonder team disappeared as frustration and angst took its place.

That era officially came to an end when Oklahoma City traded guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets. Westbrook was the last remaining cog of the four stars that had carried the franchise to the precipice of the promise land.

Along with Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant are all now with large market teams in big cities looking to compete for NBA titles. Durant and Ibaka have already tasted what being a champion taste like while Harden and Westbrook are hoping their reunion in Houston will lead to their first title.

But unfortunately for Thunder fans, none of that ultimate success will take place in Oklahoma City.

What is hard for many Oklahoma City fans to get over is that of the four players, the Thunder ended up trading three of them away. Durant is the only one who left via free agency.

Throw in players such as Paul George, Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter, and Oklahoma City has traded away some impressive talent in its 11-year history.

It has left fans asking what happened? How did this budding dynasty get off course?

The answer for many is the exact fears the NBA had when first making the decision to allow the franchise to leave Seattle and move to Oklahoma City. It’s the small market vs big market battle.

One look at the major player moves this offseason show a distinct tendency of smaller marker teams losing their stars to big markets. Whether it’s by free agency or demanding trades, marquee players are heading to the bright lights of a large metropolis.

According to Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, this type of player movement is only going to continue.

“Some feel that the player movement we have seen, particularly players asking to be traded or leaving teams that have the ability to pay them more money is a problem,” Cuban wrote in his blog. “I don’t. I think it is exactly what we should expect and it reflects what is happening in the job market across industries in our country.”

Through the past decade, Oklahoma City hasn’t felt the full effect of this trend. When they lost players such as Harden, Ibaka and Durant, Presti found ways to wheel and deal and bring in Oladipo and George. And they also had Westbrook to fall back on.

But this offseason, George’s unexpected and painfully bad timing trade demand threw the entire process in flux. The Thunder shouldn’t have given into the bully tactic, but once they did and Westbrook made it known he wanted out, the Thunder had no way to replace them with equal talent.

So now, Oklahoma City has compiled eight first round picks and four pick swaps from their destruction of the team. That gives them the potential of 15 first round picks from 2020 to 2026.

Oklahoma City can use those picks to make trade and bring in big name stars, but they will end up in exactly the same position as they were with George. Someone who really didn’t want to be in Oklahoma City and used the franchise to get his max contract before forcing his way out.

That is Oklahoma City’s future if they continue down that same path.

In order for the Thunder to get back to being title contenders, they may have to take a page from their past. Starting with Durant, the Seattle Supersonics/Oklahoma City Thunder had a three year stretch of almost unprecedented drafts. While Durant was obvious, Westbrook, Ibaka and Harden were reaches in many analyst estimations.

Since then, Oklahoma City’s draft resume has been suspect at best. Since 2010, the only players they have drafted who spent significant time in the Thunder starting lineup have been Reggie Jackson (2011), Steven Adams (2013), Andre Roberson (2013) and Terrance Ferguson (2017). The rest have been dealt away or languished on the roster of the Oklahoma City Blue (D-, G-League).

It may seem impossible that the Thunder will ever be able to collect a young, hungry crew like Durant, Ibaka, Westbrook and Harden again. But that has to be their goal with all of the draft assets they have accumulated.

The only hope of small market teams like the Thunder are to draft great and get as much out of their homegrown talent for as long as they can hold onto them.

But history has told them that at some point, the players will want to leave and the Thunder and its fan base need to be prepared for it.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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