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Small-market reality hits Thunder with Harden deal

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Small-market reality hits Thunder with Harden deal

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The first big dose of small-market reality has hit the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Before the Thunder even played their first real game following a trip to the NBA finals, the franchise parted ways with Sixth Man of the Year James Harden in a trade with the Houston Rockets, fracturing the team's core and substantially changing the second unit.

``We made several efforts to try to make this work,'' general manager Sam Presti said at a news conference Sunday.

``I think there's a point in every negotiation where you start to realize where things are lining up, and at that point you have to play the hand that you're dealt. I feel like as an organization, we've made some tough decisions. This one was right up there with them.''

Presti said the Thunder made what was supposed to be a final offer on Friday, then approached him one last time before pulling off the trade Saturday night - making sure that Harden realized he could be dealt if he didn't accept.

But Harden, who developed into one of the league's most dynamic shooting guards after being the No. 3 pick in the 2009 draft, still wanted more.

Oklahoma City already had All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook plus NBA blocks leader Serge Ibaka inked to long-term, eight-figure deals and - even with an arena upgraded by taxpayer funds that's sold out for every game - wasn't willing to offer him a maximum contract.

Presti said the Thunder made an ``extraordinary effort'' to keep Harden and side-stepped whether the team tried to low-ball Harden.

``That's for other people to determine, I suppose, and ultimately we'll live with that. We understand what we were able to do, and what we did, and the significance and the importance it made, especially considering the commitments that it would have taken our payroll to,'' Presti said. ``Our ownership group was absolutely behind that effort.''

Harden said Sunday he expects to sign a long-term deal with Houston before the regular season starts. He was saying the same thing about Oklahoma City when training camp began.

Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka all took marginally less than they could have demanded on the open market to stay in Oklahoma City but Presti suggested ``the term sacrifice gets thrown around maybe too loosely.'' He said the Thunder didn't begrudge Harden for rejecting their offers.

``We're not going to judge anybody. We're not going to put anything on anybody,'' Presti said. ``We're going to do the best thing for the franchise. In a lot of cases, in most cases, the players are going to do the best things for them. You hope that those things overlap, and we've been very fortunate they have overlapped in a lot of cases.''

The Thunder simply aren't in a position to spend like the Miami Heat, who went over the cap to add Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis after beating Oklahoma City in the finals, or the Los Angeles Lakers, who added All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to a lineup that already featured Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol.

``I think we all know that James Harden was a big part of their team. That goes without saying. He was a big part of why they made it to the finals,'' the Heat's LeBron James said. ``They got a couple pieces back that are really good as well. But we don't know how it changes their team until they actually get out there.''

Presti said the Thunder got more for Harden because they dealt him early enough that Houston could re-sign him before a Wednesday deadline to reach a contract extension.

Oklahoma City received guards Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb, two first-round draft picks and a second-round pick in the swap, and also sent Cole Aldrich, Daequan Cook and Lazar Hayward to the Rockets. Presti expects the draft picks to be critical to rebuilding quality depth at a low price.

The departure of Harden and, to a lesser degree, Cook and Aldrich rattles Oklahoma City's second unit that already lost veterans Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed in free agency. Backup point guard Eric Maynor will return after missing most of last season with a knee injury, with power forward Nick Collison the only other holdover from the second five.

First-round draft pick Perry Jones III and free-agent acquisition Hasheem Thabeet figure to move up in the rotation now.

Presti said the Thunder still consider themselves championship contenders - but so does every team in the league when the season starts.

``With the group that we have, they've been through a lot together and they've won a lot of games together. So, for us, of course we're always going to feel like we've got a chance to do good things,'' Presti said. ``However, I would also add that it's never been our approach to do a lot of talking about what it is we're going to do or who we are.

``I think we're at a point as a franchise where we have to do what we say.''

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AP Sports Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report from Miami.

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

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Capitals' T.J. Oshie had so much fun golfing, drinking through shirt again at celebrity golf tournament

Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo may have won the American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament this weekend, but T.J. Oshie definitely had the most fun.

Using the Modified Stableford scoring format for the tournament — which included several pro and retired athletes, such as Steph Curry, Aaron Rodgers, Larry Fitzgerald, Carson Palmer, Charles Barkley and Joe Pavelski — Oshie finished with 11 points, tying for 48th with NFL Hall of Famer Tim Brown and Golf Channel host Lisa Cornwell. 

But the Capitals' winger's score didn't really matter because Oshie was out on the Lake Tahoe golf course in Nevada just having fun with his family and continuing the epic celebration as a new Stanley Cup champion. Obviously, that meant playing and chugging a beer through his t-shirt as 'We Are The Champions' played.

His brother, Taylor, was his caddy, and at one point, Oshie borrowed his brother's beer helmet while putting. He sunk it, and it was amazing.

Yeah, Oshie had a great weekend. Here's a look at some other moments from his weekend on Lake Tahoe.

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

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Key Caps questions: How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How will the Caps look different under new head coach Todd Reirden?

Tarik: It’s an important topic, but let’s not overthink this one. Since winning the Stanley Cup on June 7, the organization has pretty much telegraphed EXACTLY what it hopes will occur in 2018-19. Consider:

  • Todd Reirden was promoted after spending four years as Barry Trotz’s assistant, including the last two years as an associate coach with an expanded role. Reirden already knows everyone, from the players to the trainers and other support staff. He knows what buttons to push and when to push them. There’s a built-in comfort level and trust that should allow everyone to hit the ground running in September.
  • Four of Reirden’s assistants are holdovers, too. The one newcomer, Reid Cashman, is joining the group from Hershey and is a Reirden disciple. So, no adjustment period there, either.
  • Assuming restricted free agent Tom Wilson re-ups (and that would seem to be a very safe assumption), the Caps are bringing back 11 of the 12 forwards that were on the ice for Game 5 in Las Vegas. They’re also bringing back five of six defensemen. And the starting goaltender. Chemistry is a hard thing to explain and/or quantify. But you know when a team has it. And the Caps had it at the end of last year.

So if you look at what GM Brian MacLellan has been doing in recent weeks—and have been listening to what Reirden has been saying publicly—you can only come to one conclusion. The decision-makers feel they discovered the right mix of personnel and systems play at the end of the playoffs, from the defensive structure to special teams. In fact, they were first in goals per game, second-best on the power play and the fourth stingiest team in the postseason.

“Many of my [philosophies] were involved in how we were going to play, how our team was going to look, the identity that we had,” Reirden said on The Junkies recently, referring to last year’s game plan. “So, from a systems standpoint, I would say not much is going to change, at least initially, just because it seemed to work. …You’ll see much of the same.”

That doesn’t mean Reirden won’t make adjustments. He will because he’ll have to over the course of an 82-game regular season and, hopefully, another long postseason run. But it does underscore the fact that the foundation upon on which last year’s championship team was built is going to look awfully familiar. And that's clearly by design.

JJ:  The message from the Caps ever since Reirden was promoted to head coach has been one of consistency as they try to make a seamless transition to the new head coach. In that sense, we probably won't see many changes at all to start the season.

The Capitals just won the Stanley Cup and general manager Brian MacLellan worked to bring almost the exact same roster back for next season. Coming into the locker room saying there's a new sheriff in town and making drastic changes is not the way to go here

But that doesn't mean Reirden will do things the same way.

Reirden has coached at the college, AHL and NHL level. He has seen firsthand how Dan Bylsma won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins and how Trotz did it in Washington. He also saw what didn't work.

Reirden got to this point by developing relationships with the players. He is much more of a players' coach than Trotz and that will be evident in training camp. I also expect there will be a much greater emphasis on development. Trotz famously said to the media that the NHL was not a development league, but a performance league. I expect Reirden to take a different approach.

After failing to win with veteran-laden teams, the Caps finally hoisted the Cup last season after getting significant contributions from young prospects such as Jakub Vrana, Chandler Stephenson, Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey. Like it or not, the Caps' core will not last forever. Every year those players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson get another year older. I do not believe a coach who is as good at reaching players and developing them as Reirden is will be quite as reluctant to reach down onto the farm and sprinkle youth throughout his lineup whenever the team needs a spark.

It should not be lost on anyone that one of Reirden's new assistant coaches this year will be Reid Cashman, promoted from being an assistant with the Hershey Bears in the AHL. This is all good news for players like Lucas Johansen, Jonas Siegenthaler and Connor Hobbs, the team's three best defensive prospects who are hoping to have an impact at the NHL level sooner rather than later. The Caps roster is pretty loaded, but at the very least you can expect Reirden to have a hand in helping those players along at training camp.

Ultimately, the product on the ice is going to look almost exactly the same at the start of the season with the biggest changes coming off the ice. We won't see who Reirden is as an NHL coach, however, until we let the full 82-game season play out.

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