STORMY FINISH?

Experiment in Oklahoma City looks to be a failure for Thunder

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder are on the verge of being ousted by Utah. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Last summer everyone was waiting for the next super team to form. Where would Carmelo go?  Where would Paul George go?  One day the Lakers were the place for Paul and the Rockets the place for Carmelo, another day the Cavaliers and so on and so forth until the smoke cleared and both landed in Oklahoma City.  Huh?  Yeah, the place that has been bleeding talent for the last three years suddenly is in the business of bringing Russell Westbrook help?  I guess the powers that be decided that if you’re going to pay Westbrook $200 million dollars he should have some help to actually win something, and so the newest super team was formed.

But honestly, this was never a squad that worked right. Carmelo is known as a guy who scores buckets by the bushel, George has never really lived up to the hype. In the era of the dominant three, he’s always been well, third fiddle, and Westbrook for all his venom and vitriol is probably going to be the odd guy out when it comes to championship rings when it’s all said and done in this era, and putting them together just made for a weird casserole of headlines, under-performance and typical media questions like “who takes the last shot?” “Whose team is this?”

I’ve never understood those questions because there’s one thing Coach Gene Hackman taught me in the movie The Replacements, “winners want the ball.”  So obviously, Westbrook right? Or George? Well definitely not Carmelo right?  Either way it looks a little irrelevant now.  Fast forward to the playoffs and here we are in the first round and Mr Double Triple Double and company are on the verge of a five game bounce by the far less talked about Utah Jazz.  Ricky Rubio, Rudy Gobert and the genuine rookie of the year Donovan Mitchell are stifling the poorly built Thunder and suddenly storm clouds are forming on the horizon.

Paul George is scheduled to make $20.3 million dollars this coming season but can opt out and wear a ski mask to get around $30 million dollars in a new max deal.  It’s the NBA so someone will probably give it to a guy who has never done much more than aggravate Lebron James in a few playoff series. But should it be the Thunder?

Don’t forget about Carmelo, who gave up $8 million dollars in a trade kicker to come to Oklahoma, and also has an opt out for this season.  So if you’re Oklahoma, this year you paid about $70 million to three guys and surrounded them with Australian Jason Mamoa and Raymond Felton to limp out of the playoffs in the first round in what will presumably be five games and now each of those three guys is going to cost about $10 million more next year.  Awesome.

In today’s nonsensical topsy turvy NBA you’re going to see a bunch of talking heads on TV all summer long try and convince you that Oklahoma needs to resign George and Carmelo.  That giving each of them another $175 million each is the only hope Oklahoma has of winning anything. Let me simplify this for you; no it isn’t.  As a matter of fact this is exactly the one thing (I guess technically, two things) OKC shouldn’t do.  You tell them each, thanks but no thanks and you go out and sign three more guys who can defend and shoot the 3 and you let Westbrook sell out your arena night in and night out in his pursuit of all kinds of regular season accolades and early playoff exits, because there isn’t a team that OKC could build in the next three years that would overtake Golden State or Houston. Or next year’s Lakers or this year’s Utah Jazz for that matter.  If you’re OKC you have to have the presence of mind to realize that once Durant left, the championship window closed, and that once James Harden left Durant was never far behind.  So say goodbye to Carmelo and Paul, say hello to lots of stats, 45 wins a year and mediocrity.

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Jae'Sean Tate had himself a night. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

No Christian Wood. No Kevin Porter Jr. No Jalen Green. No problem. Jae’ Sean Tate became a complete superhero for the Houston Rockets versus the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.

He recorded 32 points, 10 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 5.0 blocks, and 2.0 steals and shot 73 percent from the field. With that stat line, he joined former Rocket Hakeem Olajuwon and other historic big men from the past, which Tim MacMahon reported.

Tate is known for his leadership and the ability to be humble. When a reporter asked Tate about the stat line, he said, “How many turnovers? Nah, 25 assists, that’s what sup! Can’t be mad at that.” An expression like that shows the importance of putting his teammates first before taking all the shine. Tate is providing more passion with communication and being the rock that the "Baby Rockets" can lean on.

Coach Silas' confidence in Tate is something built from last year and it shows. Those two have constant dialogue throughout the game, and it’s seen before the huddle or when Silas is standing on the sideline before he calls a play. Silas has run consistent sets for Tate, as he did that within the 15-game losing streak. He dialed up an out of bounds action with 33.4 seconds left, so Tate could make a clutch layup towards the rim.

“Long, long, long ago in his rookie year…we definitely have a bond and with those two guys out, we needed some scoring,” Silas said. “He was the guy who was playing the hardest from start to finish and down the stretch we ran that elbow iso for him. And he just went through his defender and finished. And he made some huge plays in the 4th quarter, which is what you need. Yeah, I trust him as much as anybody else, and he has earned that, and he deserves it.”

“That just shows the confidence Coach Silas, and my teammates have in me,” said Tate. “We lost some of our primary guys tonight. And not only me, but everybody also stepped up.”

His usage rating is slowly going up, which is posted at 18.9 percent per NBA stats. In isolation, Tate is averaging 1.00 points per possession, which puts him in the 75th percentile(!) per NBA stats. Tate is seeing more action out of the corner, so it can allow him to get to his left hand on offense. The elbow iso action is a play that Tate has run since high school, college, overseas, and in the NBA now. He mentioned that the set allows him to get comfortable when his number is called.

“That’s not my primary role and I think everyone knows that,” Tate said. “I am very confident [in] what I bring to the table offensively. Not only scoring wise but seeing the floor and being able to make [a] decision in space. And that kind of helps me when they overlook the scouting report.”

“[I've] been running that play since I was [in] high school. At Ohio St. I ran that. Even when I was overseas, Will Weaver, that was a play he put in. To have that called tonight, it felt familiar and it’s one of my strengths. And playing in the mid-post area and getting to my left hand.”

Tate was excellent for the Rockets on both sides of the ball, as he had a 116.9 offensive and 108.5 defensive rating with an 82.5 percent in true shooting versus the Thunder. Hopefully, Tate can be the leading catalyst again, as the Rockets face the Orlando Magic and New Orleans Pelicans, which are winnable games. It should become a six-game winning streak, as John Wall might play if his condition is right.

Up next: The Rockets face the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

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