Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: Bye Bye P.J. Edition
7:54 PM EST on November 27, 2008
Hours after I finalized the first edition of Peace, Love and Thunderstanding, I had decided that the second article would focus on creating a vocal movement to fire head coach P.J. Carlesimo. The plan was for it to be a running segment of PLT, but Thunder general manager Sam Presti ruined that less than 48 hours into my planning phase. Rather than explain, why don't we just start out with...
GOAT OF THE WEEK: P.J. Carlesimo
It could be argued that P.J. Carlesimo was doing his job too well. Knowing this team is loaded with players who will likely be playing in Europe within the next few years, the unstated objective has to be collecting ping-pong balls for the Blake Griffin/Ricky Rubio raffle. From that standpoint, losing the attention of his team and leading them to a 1-12 start might have been by design.
Every game the team found a unique way to lose. Whether it was coming out strong early against the defending champion Celtics before being outclassed the rest of the way, getting anihilated early by Utah before making it competitive near the end, or just getting completely shellacked by Orlando, the games was something of (morbid) interest.
His deft incompetence reached a tipping point, though, in the game on Wednesday night versus the L.A. Clippers. Carlesimo's players just gave up. Oklahoma City fans can accept a lot. They will take it in stride when the team is out performed, but they will not take a team who doesn't even compete. And as Robert Swift stood idle while Marcus Camby snatched rebound after rebound of half hearted shots from a cavalcade of Thunder players who seemed to want to be anywhere else while boo-birds reigned from the crowd, Carlesimo's fate was sealed.
Possibly within seconds after the buzzer sounded on the 105-80 embarrassment the next night, P.J. and his beard were unceremoniously shown the exit doors of the Ford Center for the last time. I would say that we will miss him and his voice that sounds like it is coming out of a broken speaker, but in only thirteen games, it's like we never got to know him.
THIS WEEK'S REASON TO LOVE THE THUNDER EVEN THOUGH THE PRODUCT ON THE FLOOR IS AWFUL: The Scott Brooks Era
The odds of Scott Brooks still being the coach by June are slim, or none if Avery Johnson shows any interest in the job. However, during his first two games at the helm, he's shown something P.J. lacked--competence.
His first act as head coach was to shift the team's star player, Kevin Durant, from the shooting guard position that Carlesimo favored him at, to the small forward position that Durant favors. The results have shown immediately. Durant no longer looks like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. He looks comfortable, even. Smaller, quicker guards aren't leaving him in the dust on the perimeter and Durant is now in a position where he can use his height and length to aide in the rebounding department (whereas at shooting guard, he was supposed to lag back on defense to prevent fast breaks).
Brooks also appears to have gotten the attention of the rest of the team. The players who performed on Tuesday night against Phoenix appeared to play with a lot more confidence and desire than the same guys when they were directed by Carlesimo.
"ALL STAR" OF THE WEEK: Chris Wilcox
The obvious choice of the Thunder all-star "candidates" for this week would have been Kevin Durant. After an ordinary night at home versus the Hornets, Durant scored 30 and 29 in the following two games. However, Chris Wilcox returned from his injury and provided the Thunder with a low post presence that opposing defenses actually had to respect. Rather than Nick Collison shot putting jump hooks at the underside of the rim or Robert Swift hiding from any opportunity to touch the ball, Wilcox demanded the ball, occasional double-teams, and scored often at will.
His numbers aren't as impressive as Durant's, but the difference he provided on the floor was palpable. Besides, when my wife, who generally would dislike him based on the style choices that make him look like an extra on The Wire, becomes the president of the Chris Wilcox fan club, you know he had a good week.
THIS WEEK'S THING TO LOOK FORWARD TO: The T-Wolves are coming
To date, the Thunder have won a single game. A home game versus the Minnesota Timberwolves. Tomorrow, the Thunder have a home game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. You know what that means? Hope.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mrs. Matthews
On the halftime entertainment at the game versus the Suns on Tuesday:
She can shoot an arrow at a target fifteen feet away. I'm impressed.
STATISTIC OF THE WEEK: 23-11-8-3
This was the average stat line (points-assists-rebounds-steals) for Chris Paul in the two game set the Hornets played against the Thunder this past week. He actually played better in the game that was closer, achieving his fifth career triple-double with 29 points, 16 assists, and 10 rebounds. For our sake, I hope Russell Westbrook was taking notes while being schooled by CP3.
THIS WEEKS WTF: M.C. Jonathan Meisner
Tuesday night was the first Thunder game that I had been able to personally attend at the Ford Center. While all of the game presentation appeared to be clunkier than the Hornets (who, to be fair, were more experienced at game presentation since they brought along more of their staff from New Orleans than the Thunder did from Seattle), I was struck by how bad the master of ceremonies performed. And, really, what's the deal with the hand motions? Maybe I'm just being sensitive because I tried to explain to a co-worker this morning what needed to be done on a spreadsheet by accentuating every word with a karate chop or finger wag like Jonathan Meisner describing the mini-dunk contest, and the co-worker told me I looked like a dorky white guy. I probably shouldn't have performed the robot at the end.
SILVER LINING OF THE WEEK: At least we aren't Washington
In essence, the Wizards and the Thunder have had the same season to date. Washington started out 1-10 and fired their head coach. The difference, though, is astounding. While the Thunder were expected to be awful this season, the Wizards thought they were going to be a contender for the Eastern Conference title. Or, at minimum, a playoff team.
Most of that optimism was because the team ownership invested hundreds of millions of dollars to lock up their core players for the next five to six years. That means, Washington has no hopes of getting any better unless they can trade the players they overpaid.
As much as we will make fun of the Thunder's awfulness over the rest of this season, the team is in surprisingly good shape. Nick Collison is the only player on the team who is signed past next season and his contract is positively reasonable for a player of his caliber. By this Summer, the team should be about $30MM under the salary cap making them one of a very few teams who will be able to sign free agents for more than the minimum salary. And as much as other franchises like to believe players won't want to play in Oklahoma City, money is the biggest factor in any player's decison. Sure, the Thunder might be hurt if they can only offer the minimum salary and a team in L.A. is doing the same, but that shouldn't be the case any time in the near future.
In the meantime, this poor performance is setting the team up to rack up some of the best young talent in the league while we wait for the extreme makeover that Sam Presti is preparing to take on.
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