I just signed with the Atlanta Hawks and am truly thankful to be a part of their organization. I am truly blessed. I see how many good players there are still not signed, and that makes me even more thankful. This is a great organization with a young, exciting, extremely talented team. I am looking forward to contributing to the success of this team this upcoming season in any way that coach Larry Drew sees fit.
I wanted to write an article thanking the Oklahoma City Thunder and the entire state of Oklahoma. I had a great time there, and that organization really has something special. From top to bottom they are really a first-class organization. I have read a lot of articles since the end of the summer that questioned if what the Thunder organization accomplished last year was somewhat of a fluke or if they are the real deal.
Allow me to speak from first-hand experience, from someone who has actually seen what goes on behind closed doors and has been in the trenches with the team for an entire season... This was definitely no fluke, and here are the reasons why.
No disrespect to Steve Francis. I have the utmost admiration for everything he has accomplished, enjoyed watching him at Maryland and with the Rockets... But Kevin Durant is on his way to being one of the best players in the league – far surpassing the best from the DMV status. (Again no disrespect intended.)
Not only is he the youngest to ever lead the league in scoring, but he has a work ethic that will put him in the upper echelon of players for years to come. In fact, in three years he very well could be regarded as the best in the league. If he's not better than Kobe, LeBron, Carmelo and D-Wade right now, he's the closest one (excluding nobody).
Every day, he is one of the first people on the court as well as one of the last people to leave. Even after dropping 30 points night in and night out, he is never satisfied. That alone means that although he is nearly impossible to guard as a 6-foot-9 two guard, he is going to get better. He works in the weight room so he is going to get stronger. He plays good defense now and can cover so much ground with his length. Again, he is going to get better there too. And even though he possesses all of these gifts, and this incredible work ethic, he remains humble. He takes criticism. Encourages his teammates. Is gracious with fans and media. And is a leader by example.
Nobody on the team can complain about being singled out if Kevin Durant has no problem with being criticized, so everyone falls in line. The team sees how hard he works on his shot, his offensive moves, cuts to the basket and moving without the ball even after dropping 40 on an opponent the previous night, so they work extra hard as well. Everyone sees him going to chapel before the game and they start going as well. Everything starts with him, and when you have a leader like that, good things will happen. He doesn’t have to yell, curse teammates out, embarrass anyone. He leads by example, and at such a young age, it really was amazing to see that level of maturity.
The Big Three
Kevin Durant, combined with Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook, will form a Big Three that is just as good if not better than any Big Three in the league. Green, in my opinion, is underappreciated and is an integral part of the Thunder success. He doesn’t complain about shots, or touches, or lack of accolades or praise. He just goes out there and does his job. He is too quick for most power forwards and too strong for most small forwards.
After completing his years at a great system at Georgetown University (although he could’ve also been great if he attended Syracuse) his game really blossomed, which happens a lot when players make the transition from Georgetown to the NBA. They play in a system, and learn the fundamentals, teamwork and how to play within the confines of structure. It usually proves to be more than beneficial to their growth as players.
Westbrook, who was criticized for leaving UCLA early, has turned into one of the premier point guards in the league. He's lightning quick, explosive, can pick up full court, works hard and also remains humble. He worked with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks every day, and took criticism very well. Coach Cheeks didn’t sugar coat anything with him. They all fall in line with Kevin Durant remaining humble and if they stay grounded (which I believe they will) sky's the limit
Thabo Sefolosha is one of the best defenders in the league. I still don't understand why he didn't play more when he was with the Bulls. I’ve seen him give guys fits on the defensive end. He doesn’t have to score a point and can effect the entire game.
Serge Ibaka is a freakish athlete. Can jump out of the gym and block anything that comes anywhere near the basket. Has worked tirelessly with big man coach Mark Bryant and is ready to dominate.
James Harden is an absolute sharpshooter who has continued to work on his defense, which is typical with most rookies. He listens and has a great work ethic and will be very successful in this league.
Nenad Krstic is a seven-footer that can shoot from anywhere on the court, and as recently seen at FIBA games, he will have his teammates’ back when push come to shove. He will literally go upside someone’s head if they dare.
Nick Collison does all the dirty work. He brings his lunch pail and his hard hat to work everyday. He knows his role and plays it well.
Eric Maynor can give Russell a breather as well as challenge him for minutes if he forgets to pass the ball every now and then to Durant. Not to mention Byron Mullens, who is an athletic seven-footer who can shoot from outside. And DJ White, who can score with ease. Both have worked hard to show what they can do in the league and it's only a matter of time before they get their chance.
Although they aren't on the team this season Kyle Weaver, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Ollie, and Mustafa Shakur were absolutely great teammates.
They have something special in Oklahoma City, and will be great for years to come.
I have been fortunate to have played with good organizations. Sure, the Wizards had things that they could’ve done better. They are a good organization overall, though.
But the way that Sam Presti runs the Oklahoma City Thunder pays off in dividends. He is honest, straight-forward, holds everyone to a certain standard of discipline, and keeps his word. Any player can tell you that this isn’t always the case with GMs.
After the season, Sam Presti told me that he appreciated how professionally I treated a tough situation and would speak highly of me to other GMs. Throughout this free agency period, GM after GM, coach after coach informed me that he did indeed give me a ringing endorsement. Honestly, when Presti told me he would do that for me, I took those words with a grain of salt.
Nothing against him or any other GM, but GMs say a lot of things and sometimes (I won’t say most of the time) the things they say aren’t exactly... Hmmm... How can I say this... The truth. Any player will attest to this. They'll look you in your eyes and tell you that you are in their plans and a part of their future, then as you are driving home you'll hear on the radio that they are looking to trade you.
Ask any player how many GMs swore to them when they were coming out in the draft that they wouldn't go past their draft number, and if they were on the board when their draft number came up they would surely, without a doubt pick them. And as they watched their name pass team after team that made them the same promise, they experienced their “Welcome to the NBA ” moment.
Ask how many players have been approached by a team when their contract is up and convinced to take a small deal now just until they can get under the salary cap, or “Free up some money when X player’s contract comes off the books” or “We just can’t pay you right now, but be patient and we will take care of you next year, we promise”, only to see those empty promises fall by the waste side when the time came for them to keep their word.
I’ve seen all of these scenarios happen to guys numerous times, and the lesson learned is that this is a business, and personal feelings have to be put aside. Teams are going to make business decisions no matter what they say, no matter how much they say they “like you.” When it comes down to it, they do whatever they feel is best for them.
That's the nature of the business.
Which is what made the whole incident with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert and Raptors GM Brian Colangelo so interesting. They acted as if Lebron and Chris Bosh owed them something and not the other way around. In both of those situations, who was really making money off of who? Does everyone remember where the Cleveland franchise was pre-Lebron?
Now, I may not have used the same language that Reverend Jesse Jackson used in describing the situation, but I definitely understood why the Reverend took issue with Gilbert’s reaction. LeBron and Chris made business decisions for themselves. LeBron’s heart may have felt loyal to his hometown, but he did what he thought was best for his career.
But I digress.
My point is Sam Presti is a good GM and runs a good team. He does things the right way and has my utmost respect as a man who keeps his word.
The fans are amazing. Like nothing, I have ever seen before. We had great fans in DC, don't get me wrong. But the Oklahoma City fans gave the entire team a standing ovation for about 20 minutes after the playoff loss to the Lakers. I never heard anyone boo us no matter how bad we played. They were with us win lose or draw. In good times and bad times, it was really similar to a college atmosphere. I felt like I was back at Syracuse, although the Carrier Dome is one of a kind. The team fed off of that energy and it gave us a boost out there. The guys talked about it all the time and appreciated the support. I think a lot of times, the fans can make a bad situation worse by the way they react.
I remember one year while I was with the Wizards and we were playing in New York, the fans started booing after they lost the jump ball, and didn’t stop the entire game. Needless to say, the Knicks weren’t playing well, and didn’t have a good game that night, but I’m sure the fans didn’t help the situation. In comparison, the fans in Oklahoma City always showed appreciation. That atmosphere is really unique.
I really enjoyed being a part of that organization. Although things didn’t personally work out for me, I wish the Oklahoma City Thunder nothing but success in the future.