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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
The Astros suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Yankees Thursday. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

After an impressive two-game sweep of the NL-best Mets at home earlier in the week, the Astros took to the road to begin a four-game series with the league-best Yankees on Thursday night. To little surprise, the series started with a bang (no, not a trash can bang) in more ways than one, confirming that this series should be a must-watch this weekend.

New York's comeback proves no lead will be safe

Right from the get-go, the loud Yankee Stadium faithful had their chance to rain boos down on Jose Altuve before showing some pleasure as he led off the series by being hit by a pitch. They were quickly, though only temporarily, quieted as Altuve would come in to score two batters later on a three-run blast by Alex Bregman.

Three-run homers seemed to be a theme, as New York would get one of their own to tie the game off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton to tie the game, then Yordan Alvarez continued his dominant June by pushing the Astros back in front by three with another three-run bomb in the third, making it 6-3. That lead held through to the bottom of the ninth, where instead of holding it, Ryan Pressly issued two walks to set up the fourth homer of the game to tie things again before Aaron Judge would get a walk-off single to complete the impressive comeback.

Not only will we get to sit back and watch the slug-fest between Yordan and Judge this weekend, but it looks like with Alex Bregman swinging well again to round out the top of Houston's order, the Astros may be getting closer to their full power. So far in June, these two teams sit third and fourth in on-base percentage, with the Astros at .351 and the Yankees right behind at .350. That means we should continue to see scoring opportunities on both sides that can tilt momentum one way or the other as these lineups try to battle against the opposing pitcher.

How will the aces fare

Verlander vs. Judge, and Cole vs. Alvarez, need I say more? Although we won't see Justin Verlander go up against Gerrit Cole in the same game in this series (they should go head to head next Thursday, however), they will pitch on back-to-back days, with Houston's ace going Friday night and New York's on Saturday afternoon. Verlander is coming off his worst start of the year, a three and two-thirds inning outing where the White Sox put up seven runs, four earned, against him and knocked him out early to give him his third loss and increased his ERA from 1.94 to 2.30.

The last time he faced the Yankees was in the Bronx in the 2019 playoffs, in ALCS Game 5, where he went seven frames while allowing four runs, all on two homers in the first inning, which is all New York needed to grab the 4-1 victory to make it a 3-2 Houston lead in the series, which the Astros would go on to clinch in Game 6. So, with the double dose of bad taste in his mouth, it will be interesting to see if he can use that as the fuel to get back to the phenomenal form he's had this year or if the Yankees try to jump on him early like they did nearly three years ago.

Cole, meanwhile, is fresh off of two quality starts in a row against the Rays, where he allowed just one run on six hits with nineteen strikeouts over 13.1 innings of work. He's had his share of strife this season, though, including a seven-run shelling by the Twins earlier this month, along with a start in April where he couldn't make it through two innings against the Tigers. He's had success against his former club, most notably a complete-game shutout in Houston last July with twelve K's and holding the Astros to just three hits.

If the series opener was any indication, we are in for the treat of a playoff-caliber matchup, if not a potential ALCS preview that we may see in October. The Yankees showed why they have the best record and are the hottest team in baseball on Thursday night, but the Astros were only a good outing from their closer away from having a relatively lopsided win. The rivalry is real; the competition is close, and we get to enjoy the show.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome