Loud Links: 07|02|10

ESPN the Magazine ranks the Oklahoma City Thunder as this year's 25th best franchise in all sports. The only other NBA teams ahead of OKC were the Mavericks, Cavaliers, Spurs, and the Magic.

Ultimate Standings 2010 - No. 25 - Oklahoma City Thunder - ESPN Insider
The Thunder bolted up the rankings in part because of their first playoff appearance in just their second year in OK City. (The franchise's Title Track jumped correspondingly, up from 86 to 51.) Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green gave the Lakers fits before bowing out in the first round. Speaking of which, the Thunder now own a top-10 ranking in Players and a top-12 in Fan Relations because of their on-court prowess and off-court dedication to the state of Oklahoma.

Free Agency Dime: Seller's market - ESPN
You know who the five smartest men in the room were on Day 1 of free agency? How about five guys who did all their work before all this craziness started: Danny Ainge, Kevin Pritchard, Sam Presti, Steve Kerr and R.C. Buford.

A year ago, all five saw what the free-agent market was going to look like this summer and took pre-emptive action...

...Kerr and Pritchard aren't employed by their teams anymore, even though those moves at a minimum saved their teams tens of millions in additional salary. Aldridge and Rondo would get max offers in this market, guaranteed. Ginobili and Nash would have offers that came close. Camby and even Sefolosha likely would have been richly rewarded as well.

Early lesson on money pays off for Kevin Durant | NewsOK.com
"I never had (a lot of) money when I was growing up," Durant said. "So to make it into the league first of all was a big change for me. So I don't think if I get an extension it'll change.

"And I want to be the greatest. I don't just want to play for the money. The money doesn't really mean too much to me. I just want to be one of the best ever and win. That's what I'm still working for."

It helps that Durant came into the NBA with more money than he knew what to do with. As the No. 2 overall pick, Durant's rookie contract guaranteed him more than $18 million over four years. Even before signing his rookie deal, Nike paid him handsomely to say the least — a $60 million contract over seven years that came with a shiny $10 million signing bonus. Not to mention the $1 million signing bonus Durant received from Upper Deck.

I'm sure KD is also collecting some coin for being EA's coverboy for NBA Elite 11. He deserves every bit of a max that a player can possibly earn, but I'm curious if he'll sacrifice a bit to keep the team intact. The Spurs have been known to pay their player under market value, I'm wondering if that is what Presti is trying to copy in Oklahoma CIty.

THUNDER: Thunder Keeps Williams in Family
"That synergy is important to our overall development program now and in the future," Presti said. "Latavious was someone that we felt really benefited from his time in Tulsa and we wanted to extend our work with him, allowing him and us to continue to build on the foundation that was established this past season."

In some ways, Williams has an advantage over his fellow incoming rookies because the Thunder and 66ers share the same playbook, terminology and practice routines. Williams went through it every day for nearly seven months.

Opposing Views: Good and Bad Fits from the 2010 NBA Draft
Cole Aldrich, C (11th pick, traded to Oklahoma City Thunder) On Draft night, the Oklahoma City Thunder showed how much they wanted Cole Aldrich as GM Sam Presti worked his usual magic to trade up for the big man from Kansas. You know, it’s always nice for a player to feel coveted and highly regarded. Aldrich arrives in a terrific organization who’s building an ultra-talented, young team, and he’ll be asked to grab rebounds, block shots, defend the post, and basically be a presence in the paint: the hard-nosed, tough center just couldn’t be happier.

Free-agent buzz: Rockets look at trade options - NBA - Yahoo! Sports
In their quest to land either of the top two free-agent power forwards – Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire – the Houston Rockets have been offering Trevor Ariza, Shane Battier and free agent Luis Scola in potential sign-and-trade packages, league sources said. Scola obviously would have to agree to a sign-and-trade because he’s a free agent. If the Rockets can’t get either Bosh or Stoudemire, they will push forward in negotiations to re-sign Scola.

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