The Return of Russ

Last night was incredible. It was special. It was something I have never experienced before in my life. Last night, Russell Westbrook returned to Chesapeake Arena for the first time as a visiting player, in a blowout win for Oklahoma City.

I could spend time here talking about the game, but I don’t want to do that, because last night was about more than one game. To be precise, it was about 821 games, and a million more moments. It would have been so easy for him to leave OKC earlier than he did, with star after star leaving until he became the last man standing.

The love was apparent from well before the video (I’ll get there), as this video has made me drop into a puddle of pure emotion on 7 separate occasions today.

The night officially started with the first video tribute in the history of the Thunder organization, and oh buddy was it something.

The waterworks began for me at about the 0:01 mark. This was followed by an ovation so loud it shook the foundation of the very organization Westbrook has known and loved for over a decade. Then, an intro that made even the hardest hearts turn to butter.

And then, something very special happened. Maybe nobody understands the significance of what happens here, but don’t you dare tell that to any Thunder fan, because it happened. He did the thing.

He’s done this for a long time now, but the way that this resonates with a crowd that prides itself on the Loud City reputation it got during those early 2010’s playoff runs is incredible. It pumps them up, giving them the assurance that no matter what, 0 was going to show up and bring the energy.

Last night was unforgettable. It had me and damn near everybody in their feelings, and rightly so. This was not a regular homecoming. As is par for the course with Russell Westbrook, it was vibrant, it was emotional, it was so uniquely Russ.

Russell was a flawed player on some flawed teams and the 30 for 30 on that OKC Dynasty That Never Was will probably punch me in the chest with the force of a thousand Westbrook dunks. None of that is being disputed.

There have been better players in history, there will be better players to come. But last night was about the love between a man and a city, and a bond that will never be broken. All of the defending we did on Twitter about his triple doubles never felt like a chore, because it wasn’t. He’s your favorite player’s favorite player for a reason.

To my New York friends who just don’t get it, or those of you who will make the RANGZ argument, the stat padding arguments, we don’t care. Does that stop you from celebrating players like Henrik Lundqvist or David Wright? Of course not. Philly has Allen Iverson, Utah has Stockton and Malone, the Knicks have Ewing. They are and will forever be adored where they are, and beyond.

The worst thing in sports has become Ring Culture. If you don’t win a championship you’re a failure. You need a ring to have a legacy. Last night was the ultimate showing of resistance against that.

I will tell my kids about Russell Westbrook, and the utterly unique joy he brought me during my time rooting for him on the Thunder. I will make damn sure my kids tell their kids about him. And that’s a damn legacy.

Russell Wesbrook, forever and ever.

 

So The Knicks Just Traded Kristaps Porzingis…

 

Source: HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…

*takes deep breath, wheezes slightly, takes two (2) puffs of my rescue inhaler*

OKAY

Don’t worry. I swear I’m here to be therapeutic (as of this point in the blog. I have a lot of thoughts and I’m not sure where this will end up. Don’t hold me to that). Look, I’m here to be objective. I’m not a Knicks fan nor am I a Mavs fan, though I recently did convert to Lukaism. Praise be to Doncic.Β Amen.

So, let me talk you through this by saying something to help calm everyone down. My favorite team traded away James Harden. Make you feel better? Probably not, because Knicks fans have been molded by a special glue made of anti-depressants and constant disappointment. So, let me take you through the stages of accepting that your team traded away a young star.

Step 1: Watch This Clip From The Wedding Singer While Looking At Pictures Of Said Traded Player

I swear on my life this is one of the funniest scenes in movie history. The second chorus makes me crack up every time. Don’t be afraid to cry, friends.

Step 2: I Hate This Team. Why Would They Do This To Me?

I promise you, this trade was 100% a personal attack on you and you alone. James Dolan fucking hates you, and everything he does is to spite you until the day you die. Just like Clay Bennett hated me until 2 summers ago by refusing to pay the luxury tax.

Step 3: Okay, Objectively We Got Some Decent Pieces Back

Key pieces to the OKC-HOU trade for Harden.

Draft Picks: 2 first round picks

Promising Young Player: Jeremy Lamb

Strong Veteran Presence: Kevin Martin

Centerpiece: James Harden, a promising young player in his third year in the league.

Now, compare that to the Knicks trade of Porzingis.

Draft Picks: 2 first round picks. Weird coincidence!

Promising Young Player: Dennis Smith Jr. Ok the similarities are a little scary.

Strong Veteran Presence: Wesley Matthews & DeAndre Jordan. I’m having flashbacks.

Centerpiece: Kristaps Porzingis, a promising young player in his third ye–OH COME ON.

Step 4: Rationalize

When Harden was traded, nobody knew his ceiling. And yes, Kristaps has had better seasons with a heavier load on a worse team, but this is a gentle reminder, and I can not stress this enough: YOU DID NOT TRADE JAMES HARDEN. Kristaps is an incredible young player, but he is not a GENERATIONAL talent. Who knows what his ceiling is, but it is almost assuredly not (possible multiple) MVP, and he might never be the best player on his own team, because Luka Doncic is that good.

And look, now you have 2 max salary spaces this summer, and you cannot afford to mess this up. Last time the Knicks were in this position, they whiffed on LeBron so they spent on a veteran with bad knees (Amare Stoudemire), which worries me with Kyrie and his injury history said to be an option in the summer. It is now fully Kevin Durant and Kawhi or Kevin Durant and trade for Anthony Davis this summer. Reminder: Melo was also a free agent the year AFTER the biggest free agency period in league history, but, and again I cannot stress this enough…AD IS NOT MELO (no fucking duh Jared). He is that much better. If the Pelicans call and ask for your picks and young guys, you almost assuredly have to say yes if you can pair him with any of the members of this summers free agency class.

 

That was easy. Congrats, you’ve now moved on. Unlike OKC, the Knicks can spend in the summer and genuinely hope to attract one or more of these guys. There is a real chance that they can and will land a major signing this summer. And they have to. This trade can’t be judged until July, plain and simple.

 

Bonus: Me Being A Wet Blanket

I just don’t get the appeal of playing for the Knicks right now. When they were last TRULY relevant, every one of these guys was just probably learning to play the game. So what’s the appeal now? Let me sort you through the Knicks free agency pitches that they can offer.

Marketing

Uh, guys, it’s fucking 2019. KD signed a $250 MILLION shoe deal WITH STOCK OPTIONS while playing in Oklahoma.

We Have A Young Core Playing In New York City…The Mecca!!!

You might not even have the best young core in the state! The Nets play in the same city and have twice the young talent at this moment. Though I’m bullish on Knox, Trier, and Robinson, it hasn’t amounted to anything but the worst record in basketball this season. Of course it’s only Season 1 (Season 2 if you include Frank Ntilikina), but Brooklyn has had none of their own picks for about 30 seasons give or take, and they’re a playoff team!

Okay, But The Barclays Center Isn’t MADISON SQUARE GARDEN

How does this pitch sound to you? “Hey, you should come play in New York, where, after a debilitating season sweep by Orlando, you can take a 3 hour commute home in gridlock traffic?”

Did that do the trick? How about this one? “Listen, nowhere else on the planet can a team be bad, sell out every game, and then lose to a depleted Cleveland team, where you can think about how bad it is to be an employee of James Dolan during your trip home to Saddle River, where it will take you 2 hours to get through the Lincoln Tunnel, which has only one tube open for no apparent reason?”

You Get To Be An Employee Of James Dolan

Okay, I wouldn’t pitch that. In fact, I’d probably totally avoid that.

 

Good luck Knicks fans. I truly hope this summer is a good one. Because if it’s not, it really might be time to start considering if this team will ever be good again.

Houston: We Have a…Melo

What a week this has been in the Melo saga. I guess, being the resident Thunder fan and spending my last year getting a PhD in Washed Melo, I’ll run through the ordeal whilst trying not to be too–wait for it–Melodramatic.

 

After getting bounced by Utah in the first round of the playoffs, the OKC brass did a rather immaculate job projecting that Melo would no longer be a part of their 2018-2019 plans. They seemed to exclude him from every narrative in their post-season press conferences in what seemed like a rather earnest and poorly veiled attempt at getting him to opt out of his $27.9 million player option. This did not work as, days before free agency began, Carmelo decided to opt in to his deal, complicating the future of the franchise. With Paul George and Jerami Grant re-signing in Oklahoma City within the first 7 hours of free agency, the first thing that many people noticed was how OKC was due to pay the biggest luxury tax bill in history. Something had to change, and there was only one realistic option: Melo.

The front office sat down with him and explained that he would not be coming back to run year 2 with PG and Russell Westbrook. To give Melo credit–of which he certainly deserves it–he did not complain or moan or make a public spectacle of everything. He accepted his fate, and instead of forcing OKC to waive him or stretch him (both incredibly pricy options), he said that he would accept a trade and a buyout, allowing him to choose his next option in UFA. For this, and for how the saga turned out, Oklahoma City owes Melo a debt of gratitude. The question then became, where?

One-by-one, trade destinations fell by the wayside. Brooklyn, Sacramento, Chicago all viable options before making trades or signings of their own that complicated matters for the Thunder. But one team seemed to come out of nowhere in the closing days before the deal was made: Atlanta. They hadn’t been able to find a trade partner themselves for Dennis Schroder, and were desperate to get off his contract and the headache of his current legal issues. It was the perfect match.

Quickly addressing OKC’s haul in this deal before moving onto the Melo portion. The big concern with waiving Melo was going to be how to replace his scoring. Efficient or not (he wasn’t), he was still a big part of their offense. In comes Schroder and his 19 PPG, who will take that 6th man spot that Carmelo was so vehemently against. He will be used in the Reggie Jackson role from years ago, albeit a better scorer and distributer. I’m not totally sure how he helps an already shaky outside shooting team, and I don’t think he can play next to Westbrook (especially because of that), but he’s a big bench presence that will allow Westbrook to actually rest and not worry about the offense going in the tank. My guess is now Billy Donovan will stack PG/RW minutes, with PG playing alongside Schroder for balance and RW getting to run a bench unit at times without PG. The starting lineup figures to be Westbrook/Roberson/George/Patterson/Adams, with Patterson in over Grant (a superior player, but turning him into a corner ball three shooter was totally ineffective and they need space in the lane to make this team click).

Another underrated aspect of this trade is that, along with their unused MLE, OKC created a $10.3 million trade exception, which will have to be used during the season if GM Sam Presti can find a shooter who is slightly over their price range. Also something not very understated has been that this move essentially saves OKC’s owners $100 million in luxury tax payments. For those of you bad at accounting, that is actually a lot of money.

Now, on to Melo. Sources have said that he will be going to Houston in the coming days once the trade and subsequent buyout are complete.

Melo will go to Houston and complete the ball-holding holy triumvirate of James Harden-Chris Paul- Carmelo Anthony. Honestly, I don’t get this move one bit for Houston. On one hand, yes it makes Chris Paul happy and *IN THEORY* gives them another shooter and a man who loves iso-ball, which is essentially all that Houston does outside of the Clint Capela P&R. But on the court I just don’t see it. Melo’s bread and butter is a midrange isolation jump shot. It’s the move that’s forged his Hall-of-Fame career. But no team over the last two years has shot less midrange jumpers than the Morey-D’Antoni era Rockets. Their love of analytics has molded Houston to shoot almost exclusively from deep or within the restricted area, which, in turn has made Houston one of the more efficient offenses in the league and the consensus “biggest threat” to Golden State (whatever that’s really worth). Melo was also worse than Trevor Ariza on both ends of the floor, and certainly can’t replicate anything defensive that Luc Mbah a Moute brought to the Rockets.

Melo posted a 105.6 defensive rating and a 106 offensive rating, while Trevor Ariza had a better defensive rating (104.3) and offensive rating (112.1). Ariza also held a significantly better true shooting percentage (56.7% to 50.3%) and effective field goal percentage (54.2% to 47.6%).

Anyways, the point of this was not to trash Carmelo, who again, is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but to question his fit in this Houston scheme after a season in which he posted career lows in efficiency across the board. And let’s do away with the notion that he didn’t try to change. He did. There was a clear effort to move the ball with an extra pass when it was available and he did try to become a spot up shooter. It just didn’t work out because the truth of it is, he’s just not very good anymore. I applaud his efforts, but at the end of the day, a leopard doesn’t change his spots. He did give at least some effort defensively, but he’s never been much of a defender anyways, so a Melo sapped of all his remaining athleticism often became flat-footed and slow to recover.Β There became times where the jab stepping would single-handedly kill possessions and it became a chore to watch him and this team on offense. I wish him luck in Houston and hope he succeeds, because it’s tough to see him as a punchline. But, the first time he is asked to come off the bench or hustle back on defense or to stand around while James Harden or Chris Paul dribble the ball through the hardwood for 20 seconds, everybody is going to be looking at him. And I hope that he handles it the right way.

stella

P.S. We’ll always have this, which is probably a top 3 Melo moment ever, next to scoring 62 at The Garden and the time he laid down for an entire possession (against OKC ironically, there’s a metaphor in there somewhere).

Daily Mix Report Podcast Episode 27 – Jon Saponara and Hot Takes With Jared Gosule

Episode 27 is in the books and the common theme of the day: Hot Takes.

Founder of the The Anti Odyssey and friend (brother) of the show, Jon Saponara, joined the show to discuss his polarizing article that he wrote about The Chainsmokers and if they will be staples in pop music in 5 years. Jon also went to Game 1 of the Cavs vs. Pacers series so we got into the game and the city of Cleveland itself. (Interview starts around 21 Mins)

We then brought in our resident Hot Takes expert, Playoff Gos aka Jared Gosule, to give us his takes on Kevin Durant, The Thunder, and Aaron Hernandez. We might have to call him Skip Gos after this segment. (Interview starts around 44 Mins)

DG, LTS, and Producer Jim also discussed the Aaron Hernandez news as well as the Carmelo Anthony saga.

Shout out to Jon and Jared for giving us two great interviews. Check it all out on our Soundcloud Page.

 

It Was All Good Five Years Ago. When Did It All Go Wrong?

How the new CBA, cheap OKC management and some bad luck pushed Kevin Durant to Golden State.

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June 21st, 2012. The Oklahoma City Thunder dropped a deciding game 5 in the NBA Finals to the Miami Heat as LeBron captured his first NBA title in South Beach. For the Thunder, it was a huge step in the right direction at the time, coming back from 2-0 against the vaunted powerhouse San Antonio Spurs in the conference finals. Just getting that finals experience was a success in itself for a team led by 4 players ages 23 and under. Durant and Westbrook bloomed as superstars, James Harden picked up 6th man of the year honors and Serge Ibaka asserted himself as one of the best shot blockers in the NBA. The Thunder put the league on watch, showing you the blueprint to building through the draft as each one of the prior names mentioned was drafted in 2007-2009 by the team, which is a credit to their general manager, Sam Presti. Everyone thought this nucleus would be back numerous times to the finals in the coming years.

What Happened?

In 2011, the new collective bargaining agreement made spending over the cap penalty harsher than ever, attempting to scare teams to go into the luxury tax. For example, in 2016 the salary cap is 94 million and the luxury tax is 113 million. The luxury tax is for every dollar you go over, there is a tax owed to the league on that dollar that goes as follows.

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This was a reaction to the 2010 Miami Heat “Big 3” of LeBron, Wade and Bosh. Keep this in mind, teams had no idea the cap influx would increase as much as it did because of the new television contract. So the luxury tax is having a reverse impact on building super teams in the league, as bigger markets are more willing to spend well into that luxury tax. The Cleveland Cavaliers owed a record 54 million to the league for their roster this past season, luckily it paid off with a championship.

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Fall 2012 – James Harden significantly outplayed his 4 million dollar rookie salary and looked for an extension from the Thunder. Serge Ibaka entered the last year of his rookie deal. So it was decision time, do they go over the salary cap and into the luxury tax for the reigning 6th man of the year or extend Ibaka for cheaper and stay under the salary cap. They did the later, signing Ibaka to a 4 year, $49 million dollar extension and dealing Harden to the Houston Rockets right before the season for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, Two 1st round picks, and One 2nd round pick. A very underwhelming package for a player that went on to become a superstar and the best shooting guard in the NBA in my opinion. A huge botch by Thunder management.

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The next three post seasons for the Thunder were ravaged by injury. A torn meniscus for Westbrook in 2013, a calf injury for Ibaka in 2014 and a broken foot for Durant in 2015 prevented Oklahoma City from having a healthy team at the end of the postseason, as they failed to get back to the finals.

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Golden State Warriors’ Klay Thompson (11) gestures after scoring a three-point basket against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the fourth quarter of Game 6 of the NBA Western Conference finals at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Golden State defeated Oklahoma City 108-101. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

May 25th, 2016 – The Thunder looked to close out the Golden State Warriors at home in Game 6 of the 3-2 series. They played a great three quarters leading by 8 at the end of the third. Enter Klay Thompson, who started scorching from deep. Nailing 4 of his 11 three pointers within the first 5 minutes of the quarter. The Thunder were apart of their fair share of blown fourth quarter leads, but could they really let this one get away? Yes, as Curry then hit two 3s, the second of which tied the game at 99 with 2:47 to play. Thompson’s 3 with 1:35 remaining put the Warriors up 104-101 over the Thunder, who turned the ball over 6 times in the last 3 minutes. The Thunder saw their chance for a title fade in those last few minutes as they crumbled under the pressure. They then went on to drop Game 7 in Oracle as the Dubs pulled off the improbable 3-1 comeback.

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June 24th, 2016 – Serge Ibaka was dealt in a surprising draft night trade to the Orlando Magic. Ibaka is going into the last year of his contract. The Thunder acquired explosive combo guard Victor Oladipo, first round pick Domantas Sabonis, and forward Ersan Ilyasova. I actually thought this was a good deal and would only help their chances of retaining incoming free agent, Kevin Durant.

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July 4th, 2016 – After taking meetings with numerous teams in The Hamptons, it was time for Kevin Durant to reveal where he would be playing next year in a poorly written Player’s Tribune article. I really thought there was no way he would leave the Thunder after having the Warriors on the ropes 3-1. I felt he owed it to himself and his teammates to give one more attempt to bring a championship to Oklahoma City, a franchise he helped build from the ground up. I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t picture him in a Warriors jersey. Did a 73 win team just add a superstar, who happens to be a top 5 player? How is this possible? Should we just give them the trophy now? It really is crazy, and unprecedented in the league. It all comes back to the spike in salary cap and having Steph Curry on a bargain 12 million dollar contract. I feel it’s way worse than LeBron joining forces with Bosh and Wade on South Beach in 2010. Durant is a perfect fit and that team is going to be straight up scary. If Durant is all about winning he made the best choice, but to me it will always be the quality of the championship rings you win, not the quantity that defines your legacy.

The third member of the former “Big 4” is gone and the Thunder are left in quite the conundrum. Do they try to compete in the west and patch up the gaping hole Durant left? Do they strip this down and press the reset button and trade Westbrook?

Either way, by next summer, I believe the thought to be future dynasty will be no more as Russell Westbrook will test free agency, and hopefully take his talents to the Knicks. Hey, I can dream, right?

Don’t blame Durant though. Blame the new CBA, cheap Thunder management, and bad luck for Durant’s departure. A few defining moments over the past few years changed Oklahoma City forever. What if they hold on in game 6 of the Western Conference Finals? What if they resigned James Harden? What if Westbrook didn’t tear his MCL in the playoffs? How many rings would this group have before the age of 30?

A lot of what ifs are on the table as the KD & Russ experiment will end with 0 rings.

I can’t wait to see this as an ESPN 30 for 30 in 20 years.

See you next year Russ!

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Remember When I Said The Warriors Should Go After Kevin Durant? It Looks Like They Listened

I hate to say I told you so

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Hey Warriors, You’re Welcome.

Ok, I can’t take all of the credit for the story. The Warriors had to beat the Thunder in the playoffs and then had to blow a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals in order for this move to happen so I’ll share the credit with the players.

I said this on February 2ndΒ and I will say it again. The Warriors should go after Kevin Durant.

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I’m probably in the minority when I say this but I do not blame stars for wanting to play with other stars. Why should Kevin Durant stay in Oklahoma City when he feels that he has a better chance to win in Golden State? Kevin Durant gave everything he had to OKC, and now he’s hated? Why play with Russell Westbrook when you can play with Steph, Klay, and Draymond? Isn’t this a no brainer?

All I keep hearing is how Durant is soft and Durant is weak and blah blah blah. If KD went to your team, you would be CHEERING this move. Hypocritical fans at it again. I do not blame Kevin Durant whatsoever for leaving. There are only two reasons as to why you leave a team. You either get paid more or you increase your chances of winning. It’s no secret that Durant wants to win a title in order to add his name to the list of the greatest players of all time. If the Warriors give him that chance, then going to the Warriors was the right decision. As much as the front office gets praised in Oklahoma City, they should’ve seen this coming. OKC had a big 3 with Westbrook, Durant, and Harden but they traded The Beard away. They fired Durant’s friend / coach, Scott Brooks. Kevin Durant is Top 5 in the NBA, and yet it started to feel like Russell Westbrook’s team towards the end. Durant did not like his cards anymore so he decided to get new ones.

I don’t understand the criticism towards Durant, but I do understand the criticism of the NBA and specifically, the owners. The owners knew the salary cap was going to go up. They knew the formation of a super team was possible. It finally happened, and now the fans are pissed.

Don’t be mad at Durant. Be mad at the system.