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Loud Links: 10/28/09

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So today is the start of a new season. It is time to stop speculating and start spectating some Thunder basketball. ESPN brought up the LeBron vs. Durant debate again. After watching LeBron become a blocking machine last night, I think that debate should be retired for a bit. The Thunder have received a lot of love in various web season previews. Charles Barkley made a point to mention that Thunder and Clippers are the teams to watch, not once, but twice. Chuck mentioned it the first time on NBATV and the second time on TNT. So it is nice to know that the Chuckster supports OKC. With Griffin’s injury the ROY race is supposedly a wide-open contest again. Perhaps Harden really does have a chance? Sefolosha supposedly is not signing an extension with the Thunder. I believe that will make him a restricted free agent next summer. The Thunder has also added some new features to their website. You should check them out.

Thunder Notebook: Kevin Durant at ease entering third year |
"I feel good," Durant said. "This time the last two years I was shaking. I had butterflies. But now I’m calm and I’m ready to play. I’m the leader of this team. They follow me, so I’ve got to be calm and go out there and lead us."

Kevin Ollie's NBA odyssey | recently conducted its annual general manager survey. Maurice Cheeks and Ron Adams both received votes for the league’s best assistant coach. Ollie received votes in the category "Which active player will make the best head coach someday?" When Thunder coach Scott Brooks met Ollie during summer-league play in Las Vegas, "I told him, ’I don’t need a coach yet. I need a player,’ and he understood what I meant," Brooks said.

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James: Round II | Thunder Rumblings
Well, Durant has two things that LeBron never had. He has a good GM, and he actually has good young teammates that they’re building around. I mean, LeBron, what did he have? Ricky Davis? Zydrunas Ilgauskas? Like, he never really had that second guy and that third guy. As we talked about before we came out, if LeBron goes to the Clippers next year, suddenly he’s got cap space, he’s got a good young team. So I don’t know if the LeBron book as been written yet because it’s all going to depend on where he goes.

Sam Smith: Race for the trophy
Thunder: This seems, for now, to be a young team more satisfied to be noticed. You get fancy stuff from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, but little grind it out. James Harden should work his way in past Thabo Sefolosha at some point. They have a lot of pieces and if they connect may be able to do something.

NBA season preview: Western Conference
Oklahoma City Thunder Shocker special! I’m buying in. I’m drinking the Kool-Aid by the pitcher, not just the glass. Kevin Durant is that special of a player. The Oklahoma City Thunder will sneak into the playoffs as the No. 8 seed this year. Mark it down. Durant is otherworldly as a scoring forward. He could easily put up 30 on the daily this year. Russell Westbrook is electric at the point guard. James Harden gives them one of the most polished rookies to come into the league. And coach Scotty Brooks deserves a world of credit for keeping his young team competitive all last season, despite loss after loss. This year, some of those losses turn into wins. I’m all in. Maybe I’m a year early, but I think Durant showed what a leader he can be last year, and I really like them better than the other floundering options out West.

THUNDER: Season Preview: Thunder set for second season in Oklahoma City
So when the Thunder opens the regular season on Wednesday, at home against the Sacramento Kings, it will have another year of experience. It will have more depth coming off the bench. And it will continue to grow. That’s why the organization strays from making any grandiose expectations. It would be foolish to underestimate, or even overestimate, what a team is capable of. The NBA is a fluid situation. Injuries can change the course of one’s season and have a trickle down effect. Trades can rattle chemistry. Things can go wrong. The Thunder knows it’s no longer under the radar. Both the national media and the rest of the league have taken notice of its talent crop and upside. But both the players and the Thunder’s front office have learned to keep things in perspective. "We’ve got to tell each other to take it a game at a time and get better," Durant said. "That’s what we’re looking forward to. That’s what Scotty’s been preaching to us these last couple of years, is to always take it a day at a time. Never take steps back."

THUNDER: Versatility, Interchangeable Parts Should Help Thunder
After his rookie year, the 6-9 Green made a commitment to becoming a better three-point shooter and ball handler. The results last season: he made more three-pointers (96) than he attempted as a rookie (76). The Thunder’s starting power forward worked on his midrange jump shot and post game this past summer, and prides himself on being able to play both down low, where he often matches up against the league’s top big men, or the perimeter. "When you have a group that poses a problem to another team then, yeah, they’ll have to adjust to us because Kevin Durant is someone who will pose a problem, especially if he goes to the 2 because he’ll be a lot taller and longer than most of the 2s he’d play against. Jeff Green is going to be stronger if he goes out to the 3 than a lot of the 3s he’d play against," Thunder center Etan Thomas said. "It’s going to cause problems for teams. But it’s kind of early, so we’ll see how it goes."

NBA Draft Class of 2006 Not Cashing In -- NBA FanHouse
Thabo Sefolosha, Oklahoma City: While he won't be extended, he could be another young piece Thunder officials might want to hold on to after he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Blake Griffin Injures Kneecap | Empty the Bench
The Rookie of the Year race is now wide open. Whereas Griffin was a virtual lock for the award just last week, the rest of the field now has a chance. I don’t know what sort of stats he’ll put up once he returns, but they probably won’t be as good as they would have been had he started healthy right out of the gate, and he’ll now have 25 percent less time to display them. I think the Thunder’s James Harden, the SpursDeJuan Blair, and the WarriorsStephen Curry have the best chance to win if Griffin doesn’t return on fire and obviously improve the Clippers. Harden will score, Blair will do everything (but is sitting behind proven veterans), and Curry will have the chance to score. Sacramento’s Tyreke Evans could be in the mix as well since he will get points and some assists in the Kings’ starting lineup. Minnesota’s Jonny Flynn might have something to say about it, as well.

The Thunder are one of my favorite teams in the league. Sam Presti is doing a great job; he also happens to be an excellent dude. I love Kevin Durant despite what those number crunchers say. Numbers can’t measure heart. I love Russell Westbrook. He brings energy and toughness. I think Thabo Sefolosha is going to show people he can play. Rookie James Harden is an old-school type player, I’m looking forward to seeing him knock down jumpers. Shaun Livingston used to be a big time player back in the day, can he restore his game to where it used to be? Hopefully Scottie Brooks and his staff can work on defense, teams are shooting the ball well against them. "We’re definitely not happy with our play. You can’t just shrug it off as preseason because we’re trying to play well and we’re not doing it. It’s something that we need to get better at. That’s all it is. We just realize we’re not a great team yet and we got to work hard every day to get there." said Nick Collison after a pre-season loss against Sacramento.

NBA Preview: 10 burning questions about the 2009-10 season
Is the Oklahoma City Thunder playoff-ready? Kevin Durant is a future all-star and perhaps a scoring champion; Russell Westbrook is a frenetic guard who can get to the rim with abandon; Jeff Green has the makings of a do-it-all utility forward; Rookie James Harden is the prototypical shooting guard the Thunder needed. But calm down, Thunder fanatics: the team has no proven power forward — it passed up on signing David Lee and Paul Millsap — and will be starting Nenad Krstic at centre. Oklahoma City will be fun to watch, but wait another year for the post-season. No time to waste? Fast-forward through the 2009-10 season
Players Rising: Rajon Rondo (it's now the Big Four in Boston), Brook Lopez, Jeff Green (especially if he gets enough touches), Anthony Morrow, Blake Griffin (even though he hasn't played a game yet; he's that good). Also, just a wild, wild hunch: Roy Hibbert. Wild hunch.

NBA PREVIEW: Western Conference
If this were a 25-and-under league, you'd really like their chances. Kevin Durant, who just turned 21, now must do the hardest thing of all: turn those stats into wins. Russell Westbrook, 20, and Thabo Sefolosha, 25, might be the game's most athletic backcourt, with versatile Jeff Green, 23, alongside Durant. That leaves them one center and another year or two away.

Previewing the 2009-10 NBA Season (With a Little Help From Tracy Morgan) - SB Nation
I’m pretty sure this is a variation of what Kevin Durant told himself during All-Star Weekend last year, when he was left off the Western team and relegated to the rookie game (he won MVP) and H-O-R-S-E competition (where he came from behind with ice water in his veins to win it). If ever a game of H-O-R-S-E convinced me of a player’s destiny, it was that one, and Durant’s destined for great, great things. And so are the Thunder. The lack of a national spotlight means that, at least for now, most basketball fans don’t realize quite how good Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Jeff Green really are. And that’s fine; it probably won’t happen this year, but as long Sam Presti continues to build with patience and prudence, this is a team that could emerge as a serious title contender for years to come. When they get their chance to really make a splash in a year or two, that young core, along with whatever veterans they can add, will be a crew to be reckoned with. Until then, their GM will say things like this, as found in the 09 Basketball Prospectus: "It would not be prudent for us to let restlessness be our nemesis." Sounds a little bit like Confucius is running things in Oklahoma City, no? Understatement of the century: with Sam Presti at GM and Kevin Durant the face of the franchise, the Thunder are in very good hands.

Hoopsworld - Basketball News & NBA Rumors
One interesting thing to watch starting with tonight's opening games is enforcement of the bench rule. Players who constantly stand up, blocking the view of the high-dollar customers, are subject to fines. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant said it'll be tough to remember the rule. "People behind us pay good money to see the game," he said. "But on our end it's exciting to see a teammate dunk or make a big shot. It's tough for us, especially for this team. Your reaction is to jump up and cheer them on…At the same time I understand where the fans are coming from, and I understand where the league is coming from."

The "better defense" credo applies to Oklahoma City rookie guard James Harden, the third pick of the draft. "He's fitting in well," Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. "But it's going to be a process for him just like any other young guy. He'll help us as a facilitator. He's very skilled offensively. But it will continually take time for him to learn and grow. We're pleased with where he is. But James understands he has a lot of work to do. He accepts that. He respects that."

Kobe Vs. LeBron? I Choose... Durant? | Bleacher Report
There's nothing like the end of October. Leaves falling, Pies baking, and people dumber than Mike Dunleavy trying to make their predictions for the NBA MVP Award. While it remains fairly obvious that the '09-'10 MVP race will be closer than ever, discussions lurk as to who will be relevant in these trophy talks come May. Will it be Kobe? Lebron? Wade? Luke Ridnour? No, No, No, and Absolutely Not. The two superstars that will be battling it out for this years NBA MVP will be the young Kevin Durant and the Danny Granger, who will finally get some time in the spotlight after flying under the radar for 4 years. Yes, Lebron is an absolute stud and Kobe may be "hungry as ever," but I will give you 3 reasons why Durant and Granger will be the two leading MVP vote-getter when it's all said and done.

SLAM ONLINE | " The Questions — ‘09-10 Season Preview
Despite different, and even opposing, strengths, there is no question both guys possess singular offensive talent — both can flat out score. Iverson’s abilities come in such a unique package, though, that only one coach and team has been able to harness those abilities into a successful team structure. It seems Durant fits a little better into the traditional team structure, aKevin Durantlthough even he has already changed positions once (from shooting guard to small forward). In addition, both guys’ teams suffered losing seasons in their first couple campaigns. A.I. turned that around in year 4, and has generally stayed on the winning side of things ever since. It remains to be seen if and when Durant can make that same turnaround. Perhaps their biggest similarity is the debate of whether or not each improves his teammates on the court. Despite his ridiculous individual talent, and high assist numbers, A.I. has been roundly criticized for not making his teammates better over his career. In recent weeks, Kevin Durant has faced similar heat, in a debate centering around his adjusted plus-minus numbers. This is an interesting similarity, but we stand on the side of things that says these numbers will reverse for KD. Because he has shown a burning desire to improve each and every year and he is backed by an extremely competent GM, we think he is going to get better, his team is going to get better, and therefore his APM will get better.

82 Things to Watch For This NBA Season
The boldest of my bold predictions. The best thing that ever happened to Durant's career was when P.J. Carlesimo got fired after just 13 games last season. Once Scotty Brooks took over and moved Durant to small forward, Durant officially took his first step towards becoming a superstar. In the 13 games under Carlesimo, Durant averaged a respectable 21.8 points per game. Under Brooks, he averaged 26 points per game. With two seasons of experience, a coach who uses him correctly, a system designed to make him the focal point, and limitless range, Durant is poised to make the leap and become the elite NBA scorer that everyone though he'd be after he left Texas. Don't be surprised when he averages 30+ points per game this season.

The Painted Area: TrueHoop Network: 10 NBA Questions for the 2010s
In attempts to salve the wound of the Sonics’ departure, Seattleites have tossed plenty of insults in the direction of Oklahoma City, including some variation of this: "Enjoy Kevin Durant while you have him, because there’s no way he’s staying in Oklahoma once he’s a free agent." This summer, we started to hear the first musings that KD might consider jumping to his hometown Wizards in 2012. Here’s the only issue with all this speculation: Kevin Durant has given every indication that he is perfectly happy with the Thunder. Thunder GM Sam Presti seems to be doing a masterful job of rebuilding his roster. Still, retaining Durant is a must for Oklahoma City to have serious championship aspirations. If they keep him, don’t be surprised if we see some titanic Thunder-Blazers matchups in the Western Conference Finals throughout the middle part of the decade. How would the NBA feel about potential TV ratings for such matchups? That’s another question for another list….

Most Likely to Drop 50 at MSG
Everyone is predicting that this will be a break out year for KD (you know, because averaging 25 points per game on 48% from the field and 42% from three wasn't a break out). Joining the 50-point club at the Garden would surely help the mainstream become more aware of Mr. Durant.

Etan Thomas In The Gym | Thunder Rumblings
It’s been a long and hard road back to basketball for Etan Thomas, who underwent open heart surgery two years and two weeks ago. He missed the entire 2007-08 season following the operation. His 6-foot-10 inch, 260-pound frame lost 35 pounds during the recovery process. He struggled to put one foot in front of the other more than 10 times without exhaustion setting in while rehabbing.

Thunder notebook: Subtle wrinkle demonstrates Russell Westbrook's improvement |
"I learned," Westbrook said. "Last year, I was running out and things like that. And after watching other point guards, you’ve got to come back and get the ball and run the team. I watched a lot of film of myself this summer and it’s just me seeing what I can get better at."

Hoopsworld - NBA Wire News
"The talent is there. There's no question about it," Livingston said. "These guys are young, they know how to play, the guys have got a big heart on this team. It's just we have to pull it together. This team isn't about one player. It's about guys coming together and forming chemistry."

Yeah, Ryan Bowen is official now.