Basketball notes

Forecast is OK for Thunder

By Marc J. Spears
Globe Staff / November 30, 2008
  • Email|
  • Print|
  • Single Page|
  • |
Text size +

There was a lawsuit filed against the team by the city of Seattle. There was negative publicity. About 70 team employees, from players to ticket office staff, left the Emerald City for a much different life in a state where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. There was no team name, logo, practice facility, or floor to play on. The uniforms eventually arrived, just before Media Day. The floor arrived two days before the season began.

In about a 90-day span, the Seattle SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. And if that wasn't a big enough challenge in itself, the Thunder recently fired their coach, P.J. Carlesimo, and began the season without thunder at an NBA-worst 2-16.

A former Emerson College basketball star, however, is working hard to get the franchise turned around.

"Every situation has its challenges," said Sam Presti, a Concord native who became the team's general manager on June 7, 2007. "We're no different from anyone in that respect. Moving and relocation present some issues that not every NBA team has to deal with. Our approach has been to support the players and staff.

"As we go through the change, we've had an interesting journey at this point. But we feel like the things we have endured and hurdles we've overcome will continue to build the organization in Oklahoma City."

While the Sonics had two stars in Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis when Presti took the job, they had made only one playoff appearance together with the team, which was coming off a 32-win season, and they had millions of dollars earmarked for them on the horizon. Presti started from scratch and cleared salary-cap space by trading Allen to Boston and losing Lewis in free agency (he received a six-year, $118 million deal from Orlando).

"Most people involved have to look at them like an expansion franchise trying to get everything off the ground, getting everybody situated," Allen said. "It's like building the whole organization over again, regardless of having a team that has been transported from one city to another. They are starting over new and it's going to take them a while."

The Sonics struggled to a 20-win campaign last season, but added talented newcomers in Rookie of the Year Kevin Durant and swingman Jeff Green. Oklahoma City drafted promising point guard Russell Westbrook this year and has the draft rights to an intriguing big man playing in Spain, Serge Ibaka, a 19-year-old who played in the 2008 Nike Hoop Summit.

Next spring, Oklahoma City will have its own first-round pick and likely San Antonio's (though it's lottery-protected) as well as $25 million available for free agents.

In 2010, the Thunder have their own first-rounder and Phoenix's. If interim coach Scott Brooks doesn't retain the job, the young talent, draft picks, and salary-cap space will attract a quality coach.

So while the Thunder won't make many sparks this season, there is optimism. With the storied Sooners football program playing nearby, Oklahomans are used to winning.

But considering how long Oklahoma City waited to get its first pro franchise and the Thunder's relocation and rebuilding challenges, it wouldn't hurt to give the challenged Presti some patience and support.

"People in Oklahoma are passionate and excited about having an NBA team in their state and in their city," Presti said. "They had an experience previously by having the New Orleans franchise here in the wake of a national tragedy [Hurricane Katrina].

"But having your own team is different. That brings in different components. Our team is working hard to meet those components and I think the fans are supporting us as we start to get our feet in the ground in Oklahoma and our roots placed because the decisions we are trying to make from a basketball perspective, business perspective, and a community perspective are for the long term and not a brief stay."

A huge parcel in the post
A source close to the University of Connecticut men's basketball program said there has been concern about junior center Hasheem Thabeet getting big-headed over his NBA future. Potentially adding fuel to that fire is an NBA scouting executive telling the Globe last week that the 7-foot-3-inch, 265-pounder is considered a top-five draft prospect next year and likening him to Dikembe Mutombo after watching him at the Paradise Jam tournament in the US Virgin Islands.

"He was off the rack in USVI," the scouting executive said.

According to the executive, a college coach said Thabeet "blocks shots as good as Greg Oden, but he is more athletic and quicker off his feet than Greg. He is just scratching the surface."

Thabeet, 21, was named the Paradise Jam's MVP after averaging 12.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5 blocks in the three-game tourney.

Through five games, the Tanzanian was third on the Huskies in scoring, averaging 13.8 points on 62.2 percent shooting from the field. He was averaging 10.6 rebounds and 4.4 blocks and shooting 67.6 percent from the free throw line.

But the source close to UConn also said Thabeet's teammates aren't confident throwing him the ball in the post because he has a limited post game and needs to get stronger. But you can't teach 7-3 height, and assuming he enters the draft, his next team will surely feel confident that it can improve his post game and get him stronger.

Asked about Thabeet having a limited post game, the scout said, "So did [Mutombo]. He shuts down the rim [defensively]."

Colangelo carries torch After spearheading the journey to a long-awaited Olympic gold medal in Beijing last summer, Jerry Colangelo recently decided that he will be back with USA Basketball. He will now oversee all of the men's and women's programs after his recent appointment to the chair of USA Basketball's board of directors.

Persuading his key players from the Beijing squad to return for the 2012 London Olympics, however, could be a challenge.

"My connection with staying with the game is USA Basketball," Colangelo said. "I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the camaraderie. It was a great experience.

"It's one thing to climb the hill and now it's another thing to defend. There is some joy in doing that. This additional duty as chairman is to lift the bar for all of the teams. It's a passion."

LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and Carlos Boozer have all played in two Olympics. Kobe Bryant will be 34 in 2012. Chris Paul and Chris Bosh have played on the last three US teams.

According to Colangelo, three-quarters of the players said after the Olympics that they wanted to return for London. However, he understands that those statements were made at an emotional time, when the Americans had won their first gold medal in eight years.

"There is no timetable here," said Colangelo. "I will see a lot of them at the All-Star Game in Phoenix. We'll have plenty of time to talk."

Asked if he would play in the 2012 Olympics, Anthony said, "I don't know if I'll play. I'll be 28."

The fact that London is closer to the United States than Beijing could help Colangelo's cause. Anthony also said that not having to make a three-year commitment is a factor among the aging US stars.

"If guys can just come and just play, I think that would help," Anthony said.

Colangelo is hoping for a two-year plan. A gold medal in the 2010 World Championships would qualify the US for London.

While many Americans seem more impressed with an Olympic gold medal, the basketball world is more impressed with a World Championships crown, which the US has not won since 1998.

"If you don't take care of business in 2010, shame on us," said Colangelo. "It's up to us to get the job done in '10."

USA Basketball won't compete next summer since it qualified for the World Championships by winning the Olympic gold. But Colangelo does plan on getting a group of 24 young players together for future development. A Select Team that included budding stars Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, and Rodney Stuckey competed against the national team during training camp in Las Vegas. Celtics guard Rajon Rondo and center Kendrick Perkins, who was injured at the time, declined invitations to be on the Select Team but could be invited again.

If some of the Beijing stars don't come to London, Colangelo would have to add some of these budding stars.

"There is a short shelf life, for sure," said Colangelo, about his post-Olympic glow. "The moment was tremendous. The journey was great. It was a sense of accomplishment. I was very proud about how everyone conducted themselves and performed.

"We said it would be a great experience, and to a man I think that's how they felt it was. It was a great feeling, but that passes over time and you go on to what's next. That's life."

Getting in his head? Knicks forward Quentin Richardson raised eyebrows after a 110-101 loss at Boston Nov. 18 by saying the Celtics "are the world champions and rah-rah-rah, but the tough part I don't factor. I come from a neighborhood where you can say what you want to say, but till you do something, it don't mean nothing. Some of those guys are happy to get a ring, but you ain't been in the league long enough to talk to people like that. I don't have a lot of respect for that." An NBA scout who worked that game, however, said Richardson told then-Knicks teammate Zach Randolph that his trash-talking helped him frustrate Paul Pierce mentally.

Free throws An NBA executive said the Knicks are so concerned about rookie forward Danilo Gallinari's back problems that they have him working with a "super physical therapist" from England. The sixth overall pick in this year's draft, Gallinari injured his back during the Vegas Summer League and has played in only two games this season . . . So where does all the money go when the Celtics are fined for technical fouls? To the Shamrock Foundation and other charities . . . An NBA source said the disappointing Heat have been heating up their efforts to move four-time All-Star forward Shawn Marion, who is making $17.8 million in the final year of his contract.

Marc J. Spears can be reached at

  • Email
  • Email
  • Print
  • Print
  • Single page
  • Single page
  • Reprints
  • Reprints
  • Share
  • Share
  • Comment
  • Comment
  • Share on DiggShare on Digg
  • Tag with Save this article
  • powered by
Your Name Your e-mail address (for return address purposes) E-mail address of recipients (separate multiple addresses with commas) Name and both e-mail fields are required.
Message (optional)
Disclaimer: does not share this information or keep it permanently, as it is for the sole purpose of sending this one time e-mail.