30 teams in 30 days: Westbrook-George duo puts Thunder back into West mix


30 teams in 30 days: Westbrook-George duo puts Thunder back into West mix

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Oklahoma City Thunder .

“Real g’s move in silence like lasagna.”
It was a catchy one-liner from hip hop artist Lil’ Wayne a couple years ago.
And in so many ways it describes how Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti seemingly came out of nowhere to orchestrate one of the more stealth trades last season in landing Paul George in exchange for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.
Russell Westbrook had a phenomenal season, winning the MVP while averaging a triple-double of 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.
Still, as good as Westbrook was, he was going to need help if the Thunder were to be anything more than first-round fodder for teams with more depth and overall talent.
In comes George, whose trade demand led many to believe he would wind up in Los Angeles with the Lakers, or possibly with the Celtics, who were among the favorites to land the two-way standout who has been named to four All-Star teams (2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017) and three All-NBA defensive teams (first team in 2014, second team in 2013 and 2016).
He’ll be a free agent next summer, with most anticipating he’ll play for the Lakers. A successful run in Oklahoma City could lead to a change of heart for George, as well as Westbrook, who has a player option after this season which would allow him to hit the free agent market as well.
Westbrook and George give Oklahoma City a dynamic tandem for sure.

Still, their place among the top teams in the West is cemented in part by the pieces surrounding their 1-2 punch of Westbrook and George.
Steven Adams is a bruising, physical 7-footer who gives Oklahoma City a strong presence around the basket defensively and an active body to attack the glass.
Last season, he averaged 11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and should be able to be even more impactful with Sabonis out of the picture and the addition of Patrick Patterson, who is a stretch big capable of providing more opportunities for Adams at the rim.
The Thunder’s potent scoring punch gets headlines but Oklahoma City has a very underrated defense that returns most of its key players from a year ago when they ranked among the best teams defensively.
Oklahoma City was ranked among the top 10 in several key defensive categories such as a defensive rating (105.1, 10th in the NBA), defensive rebound percentage (.790, 3rd) and blocked shots (5.0, 10th).
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Paul George (Indiana); Patrick Patterson (Toronto); Raymond Felton (Los Angeles Clippers).
Key losses: Victor Oladipo (Indiana); Domantas Sabonis (Indiana);
Rookies of note: Terrance Ferguson.
54-28 (first in the Midwest Division, third in the West)

Tatum may find himself in Celtics' starting lineup on Opening Night

Tatum may find himself in Celtics' starting lineup on Opening Night

BOSTON -- Jayson Tatum has been the talk of the preseason for the Celtics, a basketball prodigy in the eyes of many whose feel for the game goes well beyond what you would expect from a 19-year-old.
That’s why the idea of him being an Opening Night starter, while somewhat far-fetched just a few weeks ago, may indeed become a reality. 
Coach Brad Stevens has not announced who his starters will be for the season opener at Cleveland on Tuesday, but all indications are that it’ll include Tatum. 


And that would make Tatum the first rookie to start for the Celtics since Vitor Faverani in 2013, Stevens’ rookie season with the Celtics.
“I don’t want to say (who will start) because then I feel like I’m stuck to it,” Stevens said. “It’ll probably be pretty similar to what we’ve been doing.”
Boston’s new Big Three of Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford will certainly start. Second-year forward Jaylen Brown has been with the first unit in all four preseason games. 
And who has started the most games after that? 
Jayson Tatum. 
He appeared in all four preseason games (three starts), averaging a team-best 24.3 minutes played while averaging 8.3 points per game. 
Even more impressive was his defense, as he showed the ability to contain players with different strengths. 
In Boston’s 108-100 win at Charlotte last week, Tatumhad a comparable level of comfort defending the speedy Kemba Walker, who is eight inches shorter, or Marvin Williams who is about 15 pounds heavier. 
There was a sequence in the game in which Tatum guarded Walker and blocked his shot, only to turn around to defend Williams and block his shot as well.
Tatum has also benefited from circumstances that he had no control over, to be in position to be in the starting lineup. 
Aron Baynes, who started the first preseason game, suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss one preseason game, but beyond that has been a solid contributor for Boston.  In three preseason games, he averaged 8.0 points and 4.3 rebounds. Stevens said Baynes spent some time practicing with the first unit on Sunday, primarily to work on the chemistry of playing with Al Horford. 
If Stevens doesn’t start Tatum, Baynes would be the likely choice. 
Stevens will also be without Marcus Morris (knee) who will be re-evaluated in 10 days to two weeks. He, too, was a possible option to consider starting. 
But to Tatum’s credit, he has made the most of his opportunity to play and, by and large, has done a good job.
Still, preseason success is by no means an indicator of how he will fare against Cleveland, the team everyone in the East is chasing.
This isn't lost on Tatum who says he has been getting some sage advice from the team’s veteran players. 
“Regular season and preseason are like night and day,” Tatum recalls the Celtics’ more seasoned players telling him. “[Regular season is] a totally different ball game.”
Especially when Tatum thinks about how at some point on Tuesday night, he’ll be face-to-face against LeBron James. 

“I used to watch LeBron on TV and now playing my first game against him . . . ” said Tatum who acknowledged that he has envisioned himself playing against James before. 
How’d that go?
“It went good in my head,” Tatum said, grinning.



New-look Celtics know they have still have to 'bring their game'

New-look Celtics know they have still have to 'bring their game'

WALTHAM, Mass. – After being acquired via trade from Detroit this summer, Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris will be suiting up for his fourth team in seven seasons.

But this season will be unlike any other for Morris as he joins a Celtics’ roster that was significantly strengthened in the offseason with a roster overhaul that, now that the dust has settled, leaves them with a lineup that includes three All-Stars – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

“That’s a big change for me,” Morris, who will miss the first week of the season due to right knee soreness, told NBC Sports Boston.

The same is true for the rest of his teammates as they gear up for the season opener at Cleveland on Tuesday.


Boston has not gone into a season with this level of excitement and heightened expectations since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were donning the green and white.

While Cleveland remains the team to beat in the East, the Celtics aren’t that far behind.  

And while the KG-Pierce-Allen triumvirate was credited with much of the success Boston enjoyed during their time, their success was a collective effort because of the contributions of many who understood and embraced their roles.

For the most part, the current group of Celtics have done just that.

But the true test of their selflessness, of their willingness to put the team first and foremost, won’t have a chance to materialize until Tuesday’s season opener against the Cavs.

Marcus Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic on the roster, has played starter-like minutes his entire career in Boston and was under strong consideration to be in the starting lineup.

After going back and forth with the idea prior to preseason games, coach Brad Stevens ultimately decided to keep Smart coming off the bench to help lead what’s shaping up to be an extremely young second unit.

While Smart would love to start, more important to him is being a player that’s significantly contributing to the team’s success which often means being on the floor in the decisive fourth quarter of games.

“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “I’ve also come off the bench as well. We have a lot of great players. It doesn’t really matter. It’s easy to be in the game and play when things are going well. The buzzer just goes off, it’s tip ball. Everybody just getting warmed up. It’s hard to play at the end of the game, Eastern Conference finals and the game is on the line. Your nerves are going crazy and it’s your first time there. Those are the moments you want to be in. So, it doesn’t matter if you start or not. You want to be in at the end of the game. That’s when it really counts.”

And there’s a very good chance that he’ll be on the floor with Boston’s new Big Three who each bring a different set of skills to the floor that collectively give the Celtics hope that they can take one more step forward after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals last season.

As important as it is to figure out the best way to mesh their skills with the Big Three, it’s also vital that they remain true to who they are as players and not get into defer-mode which would do more harm than prove helpful to the Celtics’ chances at success.

Everyone has a role on this team.

It’s that simple.

“If I don’t come to play and I don’t bring my grittiness and my game and my scoring, I would be letting the team down,” Morris said. “Even though we have three All-Stars, we need everybody to bring their game every night and play. I’m still gonna step up and do what I gotta do.”