Thunder taking change in stride

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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."

Preview: White Sox kick off 10-game homestand vs. A's tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox kick off 10-game homestand vs. A's tonight on CSN

The White Sox take on the Oakland Athletics tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Mike Pelfrey (3-5, 3.56 ERA) vs. Jharel Cotton (4-7, 5.40 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the White Sox: All of the most recent news and notes.

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

Nikola Mirotic and why the Bulls traded their second-round pick

The Bulls entered rebuild mode on Thursday night after they dealt Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves. They acquired a pair of guards in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick which they used to select Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen.

But the Bulls opted not to continue adding youth to their roster when they sold their second-round pick, No. 38 overall, to the Golden State Warriors. That pick was Oregon power forward Jordan Bell, who many considered a late first-round prospect.

The move was perplexing for a team that hours earlier had traded away its franchise player to start a youth movement. But VP John Paxson said after the draft that the decision to move the pick was based on team depth, hinting at a significant move the Bulls will make in free agency.

"We had some wings on our board that we had targeted that were the only way we were going to keep that (No. 38) pick, and they went before us. And drafting Lauri (Markkanen), and the fact that we have, Niko’s a restricted free agent we intend to bring back, Bobby Portis, we didn’t want to add another big and that’s really all that was left on our board."

Both Paxson and general manager Gar Forman have said since the season ended that Mirotic, who will become a restricted free agent on July 1, is part of their future plans. The Bulls will be able to match any contract that another team offers Mirotic, and they intend to keep the 26-year-old in Chicago. After Butler's departure, Mirotic is now the longest tenured member of the Bulls. He's been with the team for three seasons.

The wings Paxson may have been referring to include Miami's Devon Reed (32nd overall to Phoenix), Kansas State's Wesley Iwundu (33rd overall to Orlando) or SMU's Semi Ojeleye (Boston, 37th overall). Point guards Juwan Evans (Oklahoma State) and Sterling Brown (SMU) were still on the board and potential options, but the Bulls were set on looking for wing help after receiving point guard Kris Dunn and shooting guard Zach LaVine in the Butler trade.

The Bulls frontcourt depth looks filled, as Cristiano Felicio is expected to return behind Brook Lopez. Mirotic, Portis, Markkanen and Joffrey Lauvergne should make up the power forward depth chart. Opting against using the 38th pick, which Golden State bought for a whopping $3.5 million, also leaves the Bulls with room to add a 13th player in the fall.

"It keeps us at 12 roster spots and gives us real flexibility for our roster," Paxson said. "So we didn’t just want to use up a roster spot on a player that we probably wouldn’t have kept."