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Loud Links: 01|11|10

New, comment Knicks know Durant
It didn’t take long for Mike D’Antoni to get a read on Kevin Durant when, as a U.S. Olympic team assistant coach two years ago, he got his first up-close look when the slender Oklahoma City star played with the U.S. select team. "The biggest thing that jumps out at you is that — everybody knows he can shoot [and] you know he’s long — he really knows how to play," the Knicks’ coach said Sunday as his team prepared to deal with Durant and the precocious Thunder tonight. "It’s a smoothness to his game that impressed everybody. It was easy for him."

I Just Can’t Get Ian Mahinmi & Serge Ibaka Off My Mind | Running from the Name...and its Ghosts
Over in Oklahoma City, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are grabbing most of the headlines. However, the Thunder also have a raw young center named Serge Ibaka who is definitely the real deal. Serge has a solid mid-range jumper, excellent defensive timing, a high motor, long wingspan (your royalty checks are in the mail, Jay Bilas) and hops that are second to none. Ibaka is going to blossom into a beast and the Thunder are destined to become an NBA dynasty. Go ahead and laugh. While I’m occasionally prone to hyperbole, it simply can’t be denied that Oklahoma City will soon join the Lakers, Magic, Celtics and Cavs as the cream of the NBA crop…maybe as soon as next season.

Russell Westbrook, Kevin Love improving greatly as NBA sophomores - ESPN
Russell Westbrook, PG, Thunder (31): Westbrook still needs to work on his shot selection and 3-point shooting before he becomes an elite fantasy point guard, but his potential in points, assists, rebounds, steals and free throw percentage is simply off the charts. While his free throw percentage (.762) and steals (1.1 per game) have dipped slightly off last season's pace, his assists have skyrocketed up from 5.3 to a cool 7.3 this season. Averaging 16.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.8 steals in his past five games, Westbrook has really come into his own as of late, particularly as a ball distributor. It's also nice to see him getting after it a little more on the defensive end. With his skill set, he should be creating at least 1.5 steals per game. I'm not entirely sure what's going on with him at the free throw line this season, but he gets to the stripe at a high rate (5.3 times per game) and he knocked down 81.5 percent last season so we should expect some improvement in this area going forward. My favorite aspect of Westbrook's game is not his ability to easily get into the lane, where he can score, dish and draw fouls (though that is nice, too); it's his impressive offensive rebounding numbers with 1.7 per game. That number leads all guards by a substantial margin -- Dwyane Wade is next closest at 1.4 per game. And with that said, of all the players on this list, I have the highest hopes for Westbrook.

NBA At 2: Rust An Issue For Jazz - Basketball News & NBA Rumors -
Since drafting Kevin Durant three seasons ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder have been one of the teams everyone thinks of as a true up-and-coming power in the NBA. Until now, however, there's been more talk about the Thunder's future than their present. The thought was that they were probably a year away from making a serious run at the playoffs and then another year or two from being a threat to contend. The Thunder are well ahead of schedule, though, with a 20-16 record and a current hold on the West's eighth seed. "I knew that we were a better team just because the guys put a lot of time into it in the summer time and they came back really focused on getting better on the defensive end," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said in a recent interview with The Sports Animal in OKC. "I really believe that you win games by defending and it gives you a chance to win. Plus, we've got better guys now. We've got Eric Maynor now in the mix, James Harden, our third pick, has been terrific and he's another playmaker on the floor, now Thabo (Sefalosha) is back for a full season, Nenad (Krstic) is back for a full season so we've got a good chemistry. The guys are with each other a year now, two years, three years with Nick (Collison), Jeff (Green) and KD (Kevin Durant). I knew that we would be a better team. I just like the fact that we want to get better and the guys push each other every day in practice."

John Rohde: Sonics’ Spencer Haywood helped clear path for Kevin Durant |
Haywood went on to become a four-time All-Star. The Sonics, who were under the current Thunder ownership at the time, retired Haywood’s No. 24 jersey on Feb. 26, 2007. It’s naïve to think there never would have been early entry into the NBA Draft without Haywood. If he hadn’t forced the issue, someone else soon would have, particularly with the likes of Julius Erving and Moses Malone waiting in the wings. Many believe Haywood’s early departure from college helped rekindle freshman eligibility at the major-college level beginning in the 1972-73 season. Indirectly, it could be argued Haywood made it possible for Durant to play as a freshman, and also to leave as a freshman.

Thunder Insider: A blockbuster trade unlikely |
But Thunder heads shouldn’t expect their team to make a blockbuster deal with an eye on punching its playoff ticket. Sorry to spoil the fun folks, but there are many more reasons to believe the Thunder will stand pat than make a splash. From the start, the front office has been fixated on finding long-term playoff success, not fiddling with moves that bring five more wins. Add to that, the Thunder’s meticulous management still hasn’t deciphered what pieces it does and does not have. Making a move now could add an unnecessary piece, or worse, destroy the puzzle before the picture becomes clear. Most significantly, though, are the salary-cap ramifications that come along with pulling the trigger on a major deal. Oklahoma City could be more than $15 million below the cap this summer. Any trade the Thunder makes could mean sacrificing the hard-earned space on a player who most likely carries a long-term contract. For a franchise seeking to re-sign Kevin Durant and Jeff Green this summer, surplus salary has become extremely important.

Early Bosh move would change scenarios - TrueHoop Blog - ESPN
[How would a possible Bosh trade change the free agency smorgasbord in the summer of 2010?] If both the Knicks and the Nets were to get out of the 2010 market, that would greatly open things up for the three other teams with some serious cap room next summer -- the Heat, Bulls and Thunder.

All three teams have some star power already and might be able to lure another top free agent to come there without the added competition from the Nets and Knicks.

The Heat believe they have a real chance at landing LeBron this summer, regardless of what Bosh does, but also feel their hand would be dramatically strengthened if they could add Bosh and James to a team already anchored by Dwyane Wade.

The Bulls will be devastated if they can’t get Bosh, their top target this summer. But they know they are in a scrum with a number of other teams and could become, along with Miami, the top free-agent destination in the league.

The Thunder don’t have Miami’s South Beach or the trappings of a big city like Chicago, but they do have Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the most exciting young team in the league. Plenty of suggestions to improve NBA D-League
[A few suggestions on how to improve the D-League, plus some interesting insight on how the 66ers acquired Hardin.] Well, what if one of those drafted players, who doesn't feel ready for the NBA, wants to play in the D-League before signing an NBA contract. Playing for the parent club's affiliate can be tricky.

Take the case of DeVon Hardin. The 6-foot-11 center was selected 50th in the 2008 Draft by Seattle (now Oklahoma City) and didn't make the team. Hardin played in Greece last season before deciding to play in the D-League this year. Even though the Thunder hold his rights and own the 66ers, Tulsa was forced to claim Hardin through the D-League waiver process.

The 66ers were fortunate enough to have the first waiver claim and used it on Hardin. But if they didn't, another D-League franchise could have claimed Hardin before Tulsa. So a player the Thunder have the rights to could have been playing for, say, the Austin Toros, who are owned by the Spurs.

Assigning drafted players makes more sense for NBA teams that own/operate D-League affiliates. Currently, only four do -- Thunder (66ers), Spurs (Toros), Lakers (Los Angeles D-Fender) and Rockets (Rio Grande Valley Vipers). But the D-League expects more teams to adopt this model in the future.