Thunder taking change in stride


Thunder taking change in stride

The Thunder have been no strangers to change this season, but their ability to move on during difficult times has made it a near-seamless transition for one of the top teams in the Western Conference.

A team that built their core the last four years almost entirely through the draft, Oklahoma City made major news a week before the season began by trading Sixth Man of the Year James Harden to the Houston Rockets.

It was a trade that took most of the league by surprise. Oklahoma City was attempting to fit Hardens eventual contract extension into their already tight salary cap, which had committed more than 45 million to three players for next season. Harden eventually received a five-year, 80 million max contract with Houston, where he has played well, while the Thunder received fellow shooting guard Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb in return.

The move was a difficult one for the Thunder, the team that drafted Harden third overall in the 2009 Draft and watched him mold into one of the league's top scorers. It was also difficult for stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who considered Harden a brother in the Oklahoma City locker room.

Just being around a guy every single day for the last three years, forget the basketball part of it, Durant said. We called each other family here, so just to see one of your brothers leave the way he did so unexpectedly was the toughest part of it.

"Basketball-wise, we just know we have to come in and handle business because anything can happen in this league. Us being so close as brothers and doing everything together, it was kind of tough not having him here the next day.

With such a young core consisting of 23-year old Westbrook, 23-year-old Serge Ibaka and 24-year-old Durant, it would have been easy for them to have trouble accepting the trade of someone they grew with both on and off the court.

And while head coach Scott Brooks said it was a difficult adjustment, hes been happy with how his team has moved forward post-Harden.

Theyre young but theyve been in the league for five or six years now, so its an adjustment," Brooks said. "Theres no question about that. If there wasnt an adjustment youd be worried about them because theyd have no emotions, and youve been with guys for a long time, even myself as a coach, its an emotional job.

You get to be with these guys every day, but you also have to understand thats part of the job. Youve got new faces and new opportunities for guys and you have to integrate it as quickly as possible. Theres no excuses. You dont have time. Nobody feels sorry for you. You do the best you can and you move forward without excuses and things usually work out."

Durant began the rebuilding project in Seattle, when he was selected second overall by the Sonics in the 2007 Draft. A year later, the brand new Oklahoma City Thunder selected Westbrook with the No. 4 pick and Ibaka with the No. 24 pick, and saw their record jump to 50-32 with a playoff apperance. Harden arrived a year later as the Thunder improved to 55 wins and a Western Conference Finals appearance.

And last year, that core came within three wins of an NBA Championship. It seemed as though this could have been the year the NBAs best young talent made it over the top, but the financial restrictions kept Harden away from Oklahoma City.

Durant said it was difficult, but also that the team is adjusting well with Martin in tow. Martin has averaged 19.3 points per game off the bench through four games. The Thunder are just 2-2, but seem to have adjusted well to the major change that took place just a week before their season began.

Its all in a days work for Durant, who said the change was difficult to cope with but something he understands as being part of the business of the NBA.

"Anything can happen in this league. We see some of the best players switch teams quickly, we've seen so many players get traded, let go in this league, so theres nothing thats new to us, and I think that with that mind set youll always be prepared for anything," Durant said.

"And we just gotta come in and do our jobs every single day and everything will work out for us for the best. So Im not worried about anything that happens in this league. Its been happening for the last five or 60 years, so you've got to just play through it and move on."

Crosstown class: White Sox congratulate Cubs on World Series berth

Crosstown class: White Sox congratulate Cubs on World Series berth

The Cubs are headed to the World Series for the first time since 1945. 

The White Sox took to Twitter to congratulate their Crosstown rival on their World Series berth.

Classy move by the South Side, which won the World Series in 2005.

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

Five Things from Blackhawks-Maple Leafs: Richard Panik stays hot

This Five Things was headed for a lot of negativity before the final three minutes of regulation. But thanks to the Blackhawks’ third-period comeback, this one won’t sting as much as Friday’s installment.

So while you all celebrate the Cubs going to a World Series, let’s look at Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ 5-4 shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1. Waking up just in time. The Maple Leafs haven’t played their best hockey in third periods – entering Saturday’s game, they’d been outscored 6-1 in that frame. But for 17-plus minutes of the third it didn’t look like the Blackhawks were going to take advantage of that stat. But they would, salvaging a point out of nowhere with two goals within a minute (Artem Anisimov at 17:32 and Richard Panik at 18:32). Better late than never.

2. The Richard Panik show continues. The forward said he doesn’t think about Toronto anymore, that it’s all about the team he’s with now. But looking at his celebration on his game-tying goal late in the third period, there had to be a little motivation to score against the Leafs, right? The Blackhawks don’t care who the opponent is, and Panik now has six goals to start the season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Power play fizzles. Ah, thought we were going to talk about the other special teams? In a second. The bigger problem on Saturday was the Blackhawks’ advantage, on which they went 0-for-6. It took until overtime, when their fifth power play was a 4-on-3 for them to really generate anything against the Leafs.

4. Late-period goals hurt. The Blackhawks looked set to enter first intermission with a 1-0 lead but Tyler Bozak scored with just 14 seconds remaining. They could’ve had a 2-2 tie entering the second intermission but James van Riemsdyk scored with 1:44 remaining in the second. Again, the Blackhawks overcame that. But coach Joel Quenneville talked about the loss of momentum in games, and here are two examples of it.

5. The Auston Matthews show. The Leafs phenom didn’t score a goal on Saturday but there’s no doubt he had his effect. His speed was especially on display on William Nylander’s goal; Matthews drew several Blackhawks and Nylander had a rather open net on the rebound.