Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter Says He Wants to Become American Citizen

Posted by admin on May 24, 2017 with Comments Closed
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Oklahoma City Thunder’s Enes Kanter posted this picture to Twitter upon his return to the United States over the weekend. Photo courtesy Enes Kanter/Twitter

center Enes Kanter, who was detained in Romania over the weekend after his passport was revoked said he wants to become an American citizen.

The United States "is my home now," he said Monday.

Kanter has been an outspoken critic of Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter said Turkey canceled his passport in retaliation for his political views.

Kanter also said he is receiving death threats "every day" on social media, including two on Monday.

Kanter, who returned to the United States on Sunday, called his whirlwind trip "one of the craziest experiences I’ve ever had" in a conference call with the media Monday morning.

Kanter previously called the Turkish president "the Hitler of our century" in a video he posted on Twitter while being detained in Romania on Saturday.

Kanger said Monday that Erdogan and the Turkish government have tried to silence anyone who speaks out against their power.

Erdogan, who met with President Trump last week at the White House, has declared a new state of emergency in Turkey — arresting 120 journalists, closing more than 150 news outlets and jailing 140,000 people, according to news reports.

Kanter said he was "shocked" Erdogan was in Washington D.C. While there, Erdogan’s bodyguards were captured on video attacking protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s home on Embassy Row.

"He’s a terrible man," Kanter said Monday. "I hope the world does something about it. … I hope the whole world is watching. Once these people get to jail, it’s not over for them.

"People are getting kidnapped, murdered, tortured, and raped. I love my country, but I’m just trying to speak up for innocent people. … There are thousands of people out there with situations worse than mine."

Kanter said his family’s life in Turkey is in danger and he can’t communicate with them.

"If they contact me, they’ll be put in jail," Kanter said. "The jails are not fun."

Appearing on "CBS This Morning" on Monday, Kanter described his road back to the U.S..

Kanter said the trouble began in Indonesia when his manager knocked at his door and said Secret Service and the Indonesian army were looking for him because the Turkish government had called him a "dangerous man."

"I was sleeping around 2:30 or something and my manager knocked on my door," Kanter said on the CBS show. "He said the Secret Service and the Indonesian army were looking for me because the Turkish government told them I was a dangerous man.

"We didn’t know what we had to do. We escaped the country and went to Singapore, then we came to Romania."

The 6-foot-11, 245-pound Kanter averaged 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in 72 games this season for the Thunder. He was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz before getting traded to the Thunder in February 2015.

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Interviews and Photos: Oklahoma City Ballet Shares Art Experiences Through Community Outreach Programs

Posted by admin on May 19, 2017 with Comments Closed

Oklahoma City Ballet dancers perform "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall as part of the ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Students enter the Civic Center to watch an Oklahoma City Ballet ArtsReach performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall. More than 3,000 Oklahoma schoolchildren got the chance to see the performance for free through OKC Ballet’s ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

A version of this story appears in Thursday’s Life & Style section of The Oklahoman.

Reaching out
OKC Ballet shares art experiences through community programs

The gasps of wonder swept through the Civic Center Music Hall like a breeze through an enchanted forest.

“Fairies!” children exclaimed as the Oklahoma City Ballet’s pack of pixies fluttered onto the stage to sweep the changeling child (Hannah White) off to their magical land.

The youngsters dominating the crowd of almost 2,000 people, most of them likely first-time ballet patrons, burst into riotous laughter as the inelegant actor Bottom (Ronnie Underwood) suddenly found himself with a donkey’s head. They used their newly learned grasp of audience etiquette to enthusiastically shout “bravo” when King Oberon (Alvin Tovstogray) crossed the stage in impressive leaps and bounds and “brava” when Queen Titania (Amanda Herd-Popejoy) seemed to float through a graceful series of turns.

Since the schoolchildren were watching “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it’s no surprise that the rascally sprite Puck (Walker Martin) frequently had them giggling with his antics.

“Puck is fantastic in any rendition of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ He seems like he had a lot of fun. He had a really good energy with it,” said Anabelle Weissinger, a Paoli High School senior. “I had never seen it as a ballet before. I really like the dialogue of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ so I don’t think I liked it as much as the play. But it was a really fantastic rendition.”

The day after Oklahoma City Ballet officially closed its performance season, Anabelle was among the 3,100 schoolchildren from across the state who saw the professional dancers again perform Artistic Director Robert Mills’ new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s beloved romantic comedy. The two weekday performances were staged through OKC Ballet’s ArtsReach, one of several outreach programs the nonprofit arts organization offers throughout the year.

“It gives them the opportunity to go to the ballet when some of them may not ever have that opportunity,” said Paoli High School and Junior High English teacher and librarian Vicky Standridge.

“(They were) just in awe some of them just walking in the building.”

Oklahoma City Ballet soloist Amanda Herd-Popejoy performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall as part of OKC Ballet’s ArtsReach program. Photos by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Ballet soloist Walker Martin plays Puck, left, student dancer Hannah White plays the changeling child, principal dancer Yui Sato plays Lysander and DaYoung Jung plays Hermia in an ArtsReach performance of "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Important mission

Watching the crowds of field-tripping schoolchildren filing into the Civic Center on the recent spring morning, Mills said he thought back to his own boyhood.

“For the dancers, I think it’s fun. They hear the energy of the kids. They hear the laughter, they hear the oohs and the ahhs. That’s always a great thing for a performer to feel the energy from the audience,” Mills said.

“Just being at a different point in my life and in my career, for me, it is always about opening doors for the youth. I always go back to myself and my own life. … I’m the youngest of nine children, I came from a very modest blue-collar family in the suburbs of Chicago, and it was ballet that really opened a whole other world of possibilities for myself.

“Those worlds of possibilities for these kids is not always that they’re going to become a performer, but it is going to see downtown Oklahoma City for the first time, it’s stepping into a cavernous, incredible theater for the first time, just experiencing a theatrical production. Of course, there are those segments of youth that it does light a lightbulb above their head, and it does pique an interest. Whether it’s music or dance or theater, acting, singing, they understand that there’s another avenue … to them that in their day-to-day education with public schools may not be as clearly drawn out to them.”

Support from both local and national foundations enables Oklahoma City Ballet to offer ArtsReach performances free of charge to the schools and students. In existence for more than two decades, the program has been recognized by the Business Committee for the Arts in New York City and featured on A&E and Bravo. In 1997, ArtsReach received the prestigious Governor’s Arts Award.

But ArtsReach is just one of several outreach programs OKC Ballet offers. An initiative largely inspired by American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland, Project Plie takes an OKC Ballet instructor to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County Memorial Park location to teach free lessons. Similarly, BalletReach takes OKC Ballet teachers into public schools, many of them Title I locations, to offer free dance and movement classes.

“I think it’s safe to say in spending a lifetime in dance that I was a very kinetic person. I learned through physically doing, and some people learn best audibly, some people learn best visually. So, we’re taking movement into public schools and … some children’s brains respond better to kinetic environments,” Mills said.

“With the lack of money, the first thing to go is the arts. Quite frankly, unlike visual arts and music, which were much more readily available in public school systems across the country, dance was not. Even though those cuts are happening, to me, it was important to get the dance into public schools because it just wasn’t there.”

Started at The Fountains at Canterbury assistant living center, the new Golden Swans program also dispatches an OKC Ballet instructor to teach free movement classes, in this case to senior citizens.

“Clearly, it’s arts education and it’s culture … and it’s opening up the area of the mind for a kinetic thinker. But it’s exercise. Dance is just simply exercise,” Mills said.

With BalletKids Club, the company works with nonprofit organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs and Positive Tomorrows to give underserved youth a chance to see an OKC Ballet performance for free.

Oklahoma City Ballet dancers perform "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall as part of the ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Students raise their hands to answer a question posed to the audience before the ballet began as to whether they had heard of a man named William Shakespeare. Oklahoma City Ballet dancers performed "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 the Civic Center Music Hall as part of the ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

Arts exposure

Dressed in matching, color-coded T-shirts, the entire first-grade class of Weatherford’s Burcham Elementary – about 170 students strong – chattered enthusiastically as they lined up on the way out of the Civic Center. They were following up an ArtsReach performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a picnic.

“It was great. The kids like it. They’ve never been to anything like this before, like in the Civic Center. This is a whole new thing for us,” said first-grade teacher Robyn Randol, who said she was attending the ArtsReach performance for the second year. “A lot of them have never even been to downtown Oklahoma City.”

Fellow first-grade teacher Judy Zehr said Burcham Elementary has been bringing its first-graders to the OKC Ballet field trip for the past several years to give them exposure to the arts.

“It’s just so great for them to be able to come to the Civic Center and experience this. Some of them never would,” Zehr said.

The ArtsReach performances are about an hour long, meaning students got to see Mills’ new adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in its entirety. In past years, the youth shows included just one act of productions like “Cinderella” or “Mowgli, The Jungle Book Ballet.” He said he hopes that children who come to the performances have a positive experience with an art form that many are experiencing for the first time.

At Standridge’s behest, the entire student body of Paoli Public Schools – about 270 students – turned out to see Mills’ neoclassical take on the enchanted Shakespearean favorite, and she said she hoped they were caught up in the color and magic of the balletic retelling of The Bard’s Fairy Story.

“I had several students who told me that they felt that they knew the storyline a little bit better by watching it performed for dance,” she said.

“I would rather see plays performed, but I like reading them as well,” added her student, Anabelle. “It’s definitely more fun and it’s more enjoyable to see it. It’s more dimensional.”

TO KNOW MORE

For more information on Oklahoma City Ballet’s outreach programs, go to www.okcballet.org/outreach or call 843-9898.

Oklahoma City Ballet dancers perform "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall as part of the ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma City Ballet dancers perform "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" for hundreds of schoolchildren from across the state April 24 at the Civic Center Music Hall as part of the ArtsReach program. Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman

-BAM

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The Best Things To Do While Visiting Oklahoma City This Year

Posted by admin on May 18, 2017 with Comments Closed

Have you been to Oklahoma City in the last few years? There are many new attractions. Some of them you have probably seen before, but there have been upgrades. It’s a city that is well-known for its focus on cowboys, science, and it also has a banjo Museum. Here are a few of the top attractions that you may want to consider going to while you are in Oklahoma City this year.

Visit The Science Museum Of Oklahoma

One of the best attractions that you can see while you are in Oklahoma City is to go to the science Museum. There are summer camps for kids, art displays, and many interesting exhibits including Bodies Revealed which is there for people to see. It’s open seven days a week, so regardless of when you arrive, you will always be able to get in. It’s a great place to learn about backyard bugs, and for children that would like to be a scientist, you should be able to help them have a lot of fun.

The National Cowboy And Western Heritage Museum

This is a place where you can learn about the influence of cowboys back in the day, when Americans were crossing all the way to the West Coast. It’s a very inexpensive Museum, less than $10 for students and just over $12 for adults. You can learn about the origins of the city, and also discover different things about the people that moved into this area originally. It is a way to get to know how Oklahoma City came to be a couple hundred years ago.

If you haven’t been here, definitely choose to go during the spring time. The weather will be nice, and you can avoid many of the problems such as tornadoes that may come up from time to time. Other than that, it’s a wonderful place to live event you will definitely spend a few hours at these beautiful museums and attractions that are available in the city all year long.

Oklahoma City Beats Fresno 5-2 Friday Night

Posted by admin on May 14, 2017 with Comments Closed

The Fresno Grizzlies (14-21) fell 5-2 Friday night to the Oklahoma City Dodgers (17-16), snapping a six-game win streak against the club dating back to June 1, 2015.

Fresno scored first against the home team in consecutive games to take a 1-0 lead after the first. With Tony Kemp (double) on third and Derek Fisher (fielder’s choice) on first, a double steal scored Kemp to put the Grizzlies ahead.

Fisher’s team-leading eighth home run of the season put the Grizzlies up 2-0 in the fourth. With the solo shot he extended his hit streak to a club-high 15 games (April 25 – May 12). During that span Fisher is 26-for-66 (.394) with five homers, six doubles, 14 RBI, 10 runs scored, three walks and two stolen bases. Fisher’s streak matches the longest by Fresno in the 2016 season which was accomplished by Tyler White (July 2 – July 19).

A nine-batter four-run bottom of the fourth gave Oklahoma City a 4-2 lead over the Grizzlies. RBI singles from Bobby Wilson and Darnell Sweeney (2-for-3) and a two-run single by Alex Verdugo did the damage. The Dodgers tacked on one last run in the eighth with a Max Muncy (2-for-4) RBI single that scored O’Koyea Dickson to make the score 5-2.

Grizzlies starter Trent Thornton (1-1) was charged with the loss after allowing four runs on six hits and two walks with six strikeouts. The six strikeouts equal a season high for Thornton, who also punched out six in his last appearance on May 5 against Sacramento.

For Oklahoma City, starter Justin Masterson (3-1) was credited with the win allowing two runs on three hits and two walks with six strikeouts through seven innings. Madison Younginer registered his second save of the season with two scoreless innings of relief.

The Grizzlies and the Dodgers continue the series on Saturday at 5:05 p.m. PT at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. RHP Mike Hauschild (0-1, 16.50) is the starter for Fresno and will face RHP Jair Jurrjens (3-0, 2.60) for Oklahoma City.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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Russell Westbrook Says Oklahoma City Is ‘Home’ in New Commercial

Posted by admin on May 9, 2017 with Comments Closed

For the Oklahoma City Thunder, their biggest offseason question once again resides in a franchise player’s uncertain future — and a pending contract offer.

But with more than a month to go before the Thunder can officially open negotiations with Russell Westbrook on a possible five-year extension, Westbrook seemed to provide some clarity as to where his mind is currently at.

In a new commercial for luggage company Tumi, the theme is pretty obvious: Oklahoma City is home to Westbrook.

"Home," Westbrook narrates, as images of Oklahoma City show on the screen. "Home is where my journey takes me."

Westbrook signed an extension with the Thunder last summer, a three-year deal with an opt-out on the final season, but he will be eligible for a new maximum contract this summer because of a clause in the re-worked collective bargaining agreement. The Thunder are preparing to offer Westbrook the new deal, which can’t be negotiated or agreed upon until July 1. But should Westbrook decline, the Thunder would suddenly be forced into considering options, of which may include trading the likely MVP.

The expectation from many around Westbrook and the team, though, is that scenario isn’t remotely in the picture as his 2016 signing was as much a public display of commitment to the franchise as much as it was about a new, bigger contract. Westbrook signed his extension a month to the day after Kevin Durant announced his decision to join the Golden State Warriors.

The new commercial isn’t exactly subtle with Westbrook’s apparent feelings, but of course, a commercial isn’t a binding contractual agreement. He has to put his name on the dotted line if he actually wants to remain with the Thunder. But as one person close to Westbrook emphasized last summer as he pondered his options in the wake of Durant leaving, "Russell operates in the light of day; there won’t be any wondering how he’s actually feeling."

As Westbrook himself said at his extension press conference: "I’m a straightforward type of guy. I shoot you straight. No need to go back and forth and try to figure out any other options, create this hoopla, rumors and all this stuff. This is where I want to be, and that’s what I made the decision based on."

Westbrook was asked about the extension at the team’s exit interviews a couple weeks ago, but said he hasn’t thought much about it yet. However, he did add, "Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place I want to be."

The commercial subtly nods to Durant’s departure, too. "The state of Oklahoma loves him more for his loyalty. That’s what we’re built on, loyalty — we’re hard people, man. We stay loyal to who’s loyal to us," a fan says. "A lot of people could leave the state and go elsewhere." Part of Westbrook’s brand during the season became about touting loyalty and commitment, playing off the fact Durant was the one that left.

"Definitely, when I had the opportunity to be able to be loyal to you guys, that’s the No. 1 option," Westbrook said at his extension press conference last summer. "Loyalty is something that I stand by."

With Westbrook, everything is intentional. He’s as calculated, organized and meticulous as any player in the league. From wearing a photographer’s vest to his first meeting last season against the Warriors, to a new commercial that repeats "Now I do what I want" over and over, everything has a purpose. And with more than a month to go until anything could become official, and anxieties beginning to rise around the team’s fan base, Westbrook has a commercial out with a strong message.

"Home is what I fight for," he says in the ad. "I’ve been feeling love since I got here. The people in Oklahoma City have done nothing but welcome me with open arms."

And if you’re looking for any extra potential Westbrook-Durant shade: Durant often referred to Oklahoma City as "home" during the 2015-16 season, his last in OKC.

For Thunder fans and management looking for some level of reassurance over the next month, a commercial where Westbrook is walking around with a suitcase would seem like an unlikely source. But it’s hard to not read between the lines here. Turning down the contact offer in July would basically contradict everything in it, a very un-Westbrookian thing to do, and on top of it, probably make OKC a Samsonite luggage town, too.

Will Russell Westbrook Be in Oklahoma City Next Season?

Posted by admin on May 4, 2017 with Comments Closed

As each NBA team is eliminated from contention for the 2016-17 title, The Washington Post will look ahead to what they have in store for this offseason. The series continues with the Oklahoma City Thunder, which was eliminated by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs.

2017 draft picks

First round: Their own (No. 21 overall).

Second round: None.

2017-18 salary cap space (with projected $102 million cap)

None. (Nine players with $107.6 million in guaranteed contracts; two draft picks worth $2.7 million, $2.4 million in stretch payments to Ronnie Price). Doesn’t include a team option for Jerami Grant and a non-guaranteed contract for Semaj Christon.

2017 free agents

PG Norris Cole, PF Taj Gibson, PF Nick Collison, SF Andre Roberson (restricted).

Five questions to answer

1. Will Russell Westbrook be willing to sign a contract extension with the Thunder?

When Westbrook chose to commit to a contract extension last summer, he was lauded for his willingness to stick with the franchise in the wake of Kevin Durant’s departure for Golden State. But here’s what Westbrook really did: get himself a several-millions-dollar raise while agreeing to stay for essentially only this past season and the chance to see how things played out with the Thunder without Durant.

After likely winning the league’s MVP award, averaging a triple-double for a season and leading the Thunder to the playoffs, Westbrook has a choice to make: truly commit to Oklahoma City for the long-term by taking a five-year contract extension worth over $200 million this summer or decline it and set up the opportunity to enter unrestricted free agency in 2018.

Make no mistake: If Westbrook declines, the chances of him playing another game in a Thunder jersey drop virtually to zero. Thunder General Manager Sam Presti isn’t going to allow Westbrook to potentially leave as a free agent in the same fashion Durant did this past summer. Losing one franchise-changing superstar for nothing was bad enough. But losing two? That would be truly unprecedented.

The expectation is that the Thunder will meet with Westbrook at the start of free agency and offer him that five-year extension. If he takes it, he’ll solidify himself as the face of the franchise, and the hub around which Presti will try to reconstruct a championship contender. But if Westbrook isn’t willing to commit, it would almost certainly set off a frenzied bidding war for Westbrook’s services — and, in doing so, give Presti the chance he didn’t have with Durant: to get something in return for a departing star.

2. Can Victor Oladipo and Steven Adams become full-fledged Westbrook sidekicks?

In trading for Oladipo and then inking him and Adams to significant contract extensions last offseason, Presti made it clear he was buying into Oladipo and Adams becoming long-term pieces next to Westbrook as the core of the next contending version of the Thunder. The results in their first season, though, have left that outcome in doubt.

That’s not to say Oladipo and Adams were bad; far from it. But Oladipo’s numbers were right in line with where they were each of the prior two seasons in Orlando (15.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 44 percent shooting, 36 percent from three), while Adams saw modest jumps (11.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in roughly 30 minutes a games) but didn’t come close to the potential all-star some — this space included — felt he could potentially be this season.

If Westbrook stays in OKC, he, Oladipo and Adams will combine to make around $80 million per year through 2021. That would mean the Thunder are locked into this core for the next several years — and if Oladipo and Adams don’t make further improvements, it’s hard to see how the ceiling for such a core goes higher than this year’s first-round exit.

3. Can Oklahoma City keep Taj Gibson?

Gibson is a good, solid player — the kind any team would like to have. A durable player who can rebound, defend and reliably hit a midrange jumper, he’s a versatile big who can switch back and forth between playing power forward and center.

Adding Gibson was a big upgrade over rookie Domantas Sabonis, and getting both him and Doug McDermott for Cameron Payne was a nice move by Presti at the trade deadline. With that said, keeping Gibson — despite his fitting on Westbrook’s timeline — seems unlikely, if not impossible.

Why? It’s hard to see Oklahoma City committing to spending heavily in luxury tax payments, given how the Thunder have operated in the past. And with OKC already just a few million below next season’s tax line with Andre Roberson’s contract still to be resolved and several empty roster spots to fill, giving Gibson the, say, $15 million or so a year he’ll be looking for over the next three or four seasons seems like a price too steep for Thunder ownership to sign off on.

4. How much money will Andre Roberson get in restricted free agency?

Roberson showed his defensive prowess while guarding James Harden during Oklahoma City’s first-round series loss to the Houston Rockets. He showed how dismal he can be on the other end of the court in the same series.

This is the conundrum Roberson presents, and what will make his impending restricted free agency so fascinating to monitor. In a league where teams are trying to find every way to play small and be flexible defensively, Roberson provides that in spades. But his lack of offense, which includes being a poor free throw shooter in addition to struggling to hit threes, makes paying him a significant salary a complicated endeavor.

At 25, with the defensive gifts he possesses, Roberson will likely get an eight-figure salary for the next four years, either from Oklahoma City — likely — or elsewhere. And if Roberson can ever even become just a negative offensively, instead of a black hole, paying him that contract will easily have been worth it.

5. Will Enes Kanter be on the move — and what could he fetch in a trade?

This goes back to the question about Gibson’s future. Kanter, in today’s NBA, is a difficult fit. While Kanter is a quality offensive option, he’s a defensive liability of the highest order, as the Rockets proved to the point where Thunder Coach Billy Donovan was caught saying “Can’t Play Kanter” on the broadcast cameras while sitting on the bench during the series.

So, with the Thunder pushing up against the luxury tax and Kanter set to make $17.8 million this season with a player option of $18.6 million for next, will the Thunder try to move him this offseason? If so, would anyone want him?

Given the preponderance of centers around the NBA, it seems more likely that the Thunder would have to attach an asset to Kanter — possibly its 2017 first-round pick — to do so, which would go against how Presti approaches things. That’s why it seems more likely than not Kanter will remain with the Thunder next season, and Oklahoma City would then keep its fingers crossed Kanter opts out of that final year of his deal and eases some of its financial commitments.

Oklahoma City Thunder Close Out ‘The Year Of Russ’

Posted by admin on April 29, 2017 with Comments Closed

The Oklahoma City Thunder were eliminated from the playoffs by the Houston Rockets, closing out one of the most polarizing seasons in NBA history.

Has a 47-win team ever been so scrutinized? So dissected, so controversial. To many NBA fans, the Oklahoma City Thunder were as likely to heroically battle the Golden State Warriors as they were to be swept by their first-round opponent, the Houston Rockets.

That polarization began and ended with Russell Westbrook and his year that broke records and barriers across previous basketball emergent truths. Famous records, dubious records and the triple-doubles. My goodness.

It became business as usual to log in to Twitter or watch Sports Center and see Elias Sports Bureau or another statistical tracking company to note that Westbrook had shattered another mark etched in history.

The problem being many of those records broken began with the words “most, highest, biggest.” Most triple-doubles, highest usage rate, most points scored in a triple-double, most turnovers (though that was topped by James Harden).

Westbrook’s season was best defined by volume, except for wins.

It created a following for Russ, not the Thunder, that spawned a deity effect the likes the NBA, a player-driven league, had rarely (if ever) seen.

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Views from OKC: Sam Presti’s most important offseason yetThunderous Intentions

Evidenced by the countless number of people who roamed Twitter with their names as some iteration of “Russell Westbrook MVP.” Somewhere along the way, team and playoff success took a back seat to whatever it is that we witnessed this year.

According to Basketball Reference, in the regular season with 5:00 or less in the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within five points, Westbrook took 198 shots. That is 62 more than the next closest player, Isaiah Thomas.

Out of the 86 makes in those stretches, a mere six were assisted, meaning that those other 80 field goals were in isolation/high pick-and-roll/post-up situations.

The recipe was clear when it came to winning time: clear out and watch Russ go to work. It was enthralling and breathtaking and ultimately hard to not get caught up in.

This was particularly true in the stretch late in the season where Westbrook seemed to be hitting 35-foot game winners every night, with his signature shot coming against the Denver Nuggets.

On that night, it seemed Westbrook could will himself and his teammates to win any game put in front of them. They always had a chance.

And yet, there’s a reason the highest usage percentage seasons haven’t (usually) translated to outstanding team success. Basketball is a team game, even in the NBA where great players dictate the market and standings.

In the five highest usage percentage seasons in NBA history that include Westbrook’s 2016-17, Kobe Bryant‘s 2005-06 season, Westbrook’s 2014-15, Michael Jordan‘s 1986-87 season and Allen Iverson‘s 2001-02 season, none of the teams have advanced past the first round of the playoffs.

All five teams finished between 40 and 47 wins. The overarching theme? Such massive individual volume from historically great players doesn’t translate to team success. There’s a line to toe. The game isn’t as easy as “put the ball in your best player’s hands every time.”

Especially now, when coaches, players and front offices are smarter than ever with more tools at their disposal than ever before.

The Oklahoma City Thunder did succeed in one way that I truly believe they set out to do, once they knew Kevin Durant would not be returning. They changed the narrative of this year. They didn’t want to be the Cleveland Cavaliers of 2010-11, the post-LeBron era.

They didn’t want their biggest home game of the year to be KD’s “homecoming” to raucous boos and testy altercations.

And that was likely the best way to go about having a successful season. Run everything through Westbrook. It created a perfect storm of player and team unity, from the front office down, that Russ was the pilot, co-pilot and traffic controller rolled into one flaming, scowling package.

A team-wide consensus emerged that this was their best chance to reach 47 wins and remain visible amid the NBA landscape, at the expense of playing basketball in its current iteration.

Much of this has to do with the roster as well, and that general manager Sam Presti values stretchy, athletic wings and traditional bigs over shooting and offensive skill.

That Oklahoma City’s starting lineup in the playoffs consisted of three non-threats from the perimeter (Andre Roberson, Taj Gibson, Steven Adams) merely reflected the rotations and plans of the team all year.

Pound the glass, be a pain on the defensive end and get out in the open court. Only in the age of the 3-point shot being the most important shot in basketball, there is some level of prerequisite shooting that must exist on the court for an NBA offense to function.

Maybe even more so in a Westbrook-led offense, who thrives on lanes to the rim and using his jet pack-induced burst.

That has been a problem since day one of the season and continued through the acquisition of Gibson and Doug McDermott.

This summer, it remains to be seen what the Thunder do. Presti has always been shrewd and extremely calculated in his moves, certainly not one to shy away from draft day deals or free agency acquisitions.

Roberson and Gibson will both be seeking new deals, with Roberson sure to get a pay raise. Adams and Victor Oladipo are fresh off signing new extensions in the fall.

The Oklahoma City Thunder did they had to in order to stay viable. Hopefully, it doesn’t hinder them going forward.

Houston Rockets Beat Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to Take 3-1 Series Lead

Posted by admin on April 24, 2017 with Comments Closed

OKLAHOMA CITY — Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Houston.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at the break. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter, and the Thunder led 58-54 at intermission. Meanwhile, Harden made just 2 of 9 shots and scored just six points in the first half.

The Thunder opened the second half with a 10-2 run, but Houston closed to 77-73 at the end of the third quarter.

Adams made the first of two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to four. He rebounded his missed second free throw and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer that cut Houston’s lead to one point. But the Thunder lost track of Nene on the other end, and he converted a three-point play. Gordon’s two free throws with 6.2 seconds made it a four-point game.

Tip-ins

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 by the NBA for confronting a fan after Game 3. The league announced the fine about two hours before Game 4 tipped off.

Thunder: Westbrook had just one turnover in the first half. … Adams went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half. … Westbrook missed all six of his shots in the third quarter.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets Odds, Analysis, NBA Betting Pick

Posted by admin on April 19, 2017 with Comments Closed

The Houston Rockets will look to go up 2-0 on the Oklahoma City Thunder as solid home favorites again at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark for Game 2 of their first-round NBA playoff series on Wednesday.

The Rockets are coming off a 118-87 rout of the Thunder in Game 1 on Sunday, covering the spread easily as 7.5-point home favorites behind a game-high 37 points on 13-of-28 shooting from James Harden, who also totaled nine assists and seven rebounds in the winning effort.

Point spread: The Rockets opened as 7.5-point favorites; the total is at 223, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark. (Line updates and matchup report)

Why the Thunder can cover the spread

In the battle of top NBA MVP candidates, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook really struggled against Harden, making only 6-of-23 shots from the field, including 3-of-11 from three-point range.

Westbrook needs to get his teammates more involved, as he had just seven assists to go along with a team-high 11 rebounds. Andre Roberson and Jerami Grant joined him as the only other Thunder players to score in double figures, and they can definitely improve in that category.

Why the Rockets can cover the spread

Harden seems to be focused on winning his individual matchup with Westbrook by simply earning a victory.

The bottom line is that Harden also has a much better supporting cast around him, as he had four teammates also score in double figures last game, including two off the bench in Nene Hilario and Lou Williams. Houston is the deeper team as well, and that will become a bigger factor late in games and later in the series.

Smart betting pick

Those bettors who follow the Rockets closely know how frustrating they were to wager on prior to the playoffs, going 0-8-1 against the spread in their last nine games.

But the postseason is a totally different animal, changing the mindset of inconsistent teams that paced themselves throughout the grind of the regular season (see the Chicago Bulls).

Houston will not waste this opportunity to blow out Oklahoma City again, improving to 11-3 straight up and 11-2-1 ATS at online sports betting sites in 14 meetings with another easy double-digit win.

NBA betting trends

Oklahoma City is 4-2 ATS in its last six games on the road.

Houston is 1-8-1 ATS in its last 10 games.

The total has gone under in six of Oklahoma City’s last seven games on the road.

All NBA lines and betting trends courtesy of Bleacher Report’s official odds partner, OddsShark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line-movement updates and the OddsShark YouTube page for picks and analysis, or download the free odds tracker app.

Positioning for Growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City Innovation District

Posted by admin on April 18, 2017 with Comments Closed

In today’s global economy, cities rise above international competitors—or not—based on their ability to innovate not within single industries—autos, steel, energy—but rather by finding new points of convergence across them.

The implications of this new competitive landscape for Oklahoma City are significant. Two of the region’s largest economic clusters—energy and health care—are undergoing substantial disruption. The expansion of North American natural gas has opened the energy economy to new players. In health care, life science breakthroughs are coupling with information technology in areas like personalized medicine and health IT to redefine the care continuum, creating wide openings for technology and life science capitals like Austin, Texas; Boston; and San Francisco.

Yet as crosscutting technologies—from “big data” to sensing—expand the competitive playing field in industries critical to Oklahoma City, they also create unprecedented opportunity for the region to vault ahead of its peers.

This great leap will not happen spontaneously, however. To leverage advantages in health, energy, and other sectors, Oklahoma City’s public and private leaders need to take action to improve joint industry-relevant research; grow, attract, and retain new technology companies; and ensure that the workforce is prepared for future jobs. They need to invest in creating dynamic, high-quality places where research institutions, firms, and talent concentrate and connect. And they need to nurture the talents and potential of low-income residents, who, if history is any lesson, will otherwise remain disconnected from the innovation economy’s growth.

The Oklahoma City metropolitan area has long-standing industry strengths and assets on which to build a new convergence economy. The region dominates in oil and gas extraction, and it is becoming a global center for advanced energy technology, evidenced by the recent opening of the General Electric (GE) Global Research Oil & Gas Technology Center. Outside of energy, the region has economic strengths in aerospace engineering, led by Tinker Air Force Base, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, and in health care, driven by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC), the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), and several private-sector firms, including COARE Biotechnology, Charlesson, and Selexys.

The new GE facility and these health care assets largely concentrate in Oklahoma City’s emerging innovation district. Bounded roughly by Robinson and Lottie Avenues to the west and east and 4th and 13th Streets to the south and north, this 1.3-square-mile area encompasses both the Oklahoma Health Center and the vibrant commercial corridor of Automobile Alley. A significant center of job growth, the district reflects the shifting geography of the global economy and the emergence of dense hubs of economic activity where innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and placemaking intersect.

With the right investments, the Oklahoma City innovation district has the potential to become a major center of gravity for innovation and economic development in Oklahoma City.

With the right investments, the Oklahoma City innovation district has the potential to become a major center of gravity for innovation and economic development in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City’s innovation district is already a vital part of the region’s innovation economy. Over 18,000 people work in the area, almost 5 percent of the city’s total. Its cluster of medical and research institutions attracts three-quarters of the project dollars the state receives from the National Institutes of Health, and its improved commercialization outcomes, coupled with the presence of business support organizations like i2E, position it to become the region’s hub of entrepreneurial activity. Furthermore, the district’s proximity to downtown—which is home to several major energy company headquarters—and other areas of growth give it a powerful locational advantage. Though only about 1,200 people live within the district itself, the neighborhoods to the west and south, such as Bricktown and Deep Deuce, have enjoyed a noticeable uptick in housing values, development, and amenities.

For all its strengths, however, the district yet to tap its full potential, and it faces a number of challenges in terms of innovation, place, and inclusion:

  • Innovation challenges: A historically medical-centric area, the district has neither the density nor diversity of institutions, firms, startup companies, and innovations spaces that many of its peers possess. And while many of the area’s health care and energy institutions and firms are physically close to one another, few organizing structures exist to strategically connect these industries—to one another and to other regional assets in Norman and elsewhere—around common technology platforms.
  • Place-related challenges: The district’s car-centric physical layout and lack of gathering spaces hinder companies and workers from taking advantage of their proximity to interact, exchange ideas, and build collaborative networks. Meanwhile, limited walkability in and around the district makes the more amenity-rich areas nearby feel further away than they actually area. Such place-related drawbacks may impede the ability of district firms and institutions to attract young talent.
  • Inclusion challenges: Though well-paying jobs exist in the district for workers with varying education and skill levels—roughly 55 percent of district jobs do not require a four-year degree—the low-income residents of neighboring communities remain largely disconnected from employment within the district.

Oklahoma City’s innovation district concentrates innovation and technology assets that could propel the region into global prominence within a range of converging technologies, particularly those related to health and energy.

Oklahoma City’s innovation district concentrates innovation and technology assets that could propel the region into global prominence within a range of converging technologies, particularly those related to health and energy. But reaching this potential will require that district and Oklahoma City leaders address the area’s challenges and collectively define and support a new vision and set of strategies to create a dynamic, inclusive hub of innovative and entrepreneurial activity.

To this end, this report recommends four multifaceted strategies around which innovation district anchor institutions, firms, and civic leaders should rally city and regional stakeholders to engage with their time, expertise, and resources:

  • Establish an Oklahoma Center for Energy and Health Collaboration that serves as the physical and programmatic umbrella for innovation and applied research within these and other sectors. The center would be a staged, multitiered initiative that supports the collaboration between prominent but currently disjoined economic clusters, beginning with energy and health care and eventually expanding to other clusters such as aerospace. The district should become the central hub of collaboration by securing space for the new center and attracting strategic partners, including corporate anchors, faculty from external universities, and entrepreneurs. The center should also house a translational research and commercialization office for crosscutting industry applications of research.

The new center would likely be initially funded and operated by the overarching governance structure of the district, but eventually—as regional energy companies and universities outside the district begin to partner with the center on translational research—a coalition of internal and external organizations should emerge to help set the center’s agenda and direction.

  • Implement a technology-based economic development and entrepreneurship effort within the innovation district specifically tasked with overseeing strategic business development, technology business attraction, marketing, and regional cluster development between entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized enterprises, and large firms. This new effort should serve as a conduit between market-oriented entities in the district like i2E, which works with entrepreneurs, researchers, and companies to help them commercialize their technologies and grow new businesses. Finally, an innovation district seed fund and tailored accelerator would go a long way toward helping research entrepreneurs access early-stage capital for prototyping and market testing.

This effort likely does not require a new institution. Instead, existing organizations could coordinate and be tasked and resourced to focus on economic development and entrepreneurship activity within the district.

  • Create a denser, more active, and better-connected mixed-use urban environment in and around the innovation district, an essential complement to the actions recommended above to build a collaborative network among institutions and companies to spark innovation and firm development. To do so leaders should undertake new land use and real estate development efforts that will provide the types of commercial and residential uses, whether in new infill development or in existing buildings, that will lead to a more vibrant, sociable, and around-the-clock district environment; implement new placemaking efforts such as lectures, networking activities, food events and festivals, outdoor performances, recreational activities, health fairs, and opportunities for outdoor play; strengthen connections between the Health Center and Automobile Alley via new landscaping, lighting, and other pedestrian improvements on NE 10th and NE 13th Streets and on the bridges over Interstate 235, and by new development along 10th Street; improve bike and pedestrian routes within the Health Center to allow for easier access between parking lots and workplaces and between workplaces and new destinations (such as programmed public spaces); and make the innovation district more porous and connected to residential neighborhoods.
  • Form a standing committee on diversity and inclusion charged with overseeing the design of strategies aimed at forging better economic, social, and physical connections between the innovation district and the underserved communities surrounding it. The committee would comprise and/or work more broadly with representatives from the district’s institutional and private-sector stakeholders; education providers such as Oklahoma City Public Schools, local community colleges, and technology (CareerTech) centers; area workforce entities; and the nonprofit community, including neighborhood groups. The committee would focus on issue areas like education, workforce development, entrepreneurship, and placemaking/neighborhood development; guide and oversee goal and strategy development; and serve as a liaison between parties to facilitate alignment and coordination of efforts. The committee would also evaluate proposals and make funding recommendations.

Finally—and as called for in the Oklahoma Regional Innovation District Project Plan—district leaders need to establish a new type of governance entity that gives voice to the district’s narrative, defines what the district should aspire to become, and works with other area stakeholders to determine what innovation, place, and inclusion strategies it needs to employ as a unified place so as to have maximum collective impact on the city and region.

Whether Oklahoma stakeholders decide to create a new organization or repurpose an existing one, they have a chance to be trailblazers in establishing an entity that has a singular focus on the district and undertakes all the responsibilities that task entails. Such an entity does not need an army of dedicated staff, but it must have:

  • an executive director who understands the innovation ecosystem and has the ability to coordinate actors both within and outside of the district around defined goals and strategies;
  • a leadership structure (a board or steering committee) with the influence and authority to rally critical stakeholders and guide district efforts;
  • discrete committees (e.g., on diversity and inclusion) and/or standalone initiatives (e.g., the Oklahoma Center for Energy and Health Collaboration) that will develop and drive key strategies;
  • the staff capacity needed to support and coordinate the board, committees, and initiatives; interact with district and non-district stakeholders (including regional industry leaders, local government, the Urban Renewal Authority, neighborhood organizations, etc.); develop, implement, and align district-wide programs, land use planning, and placemaking activities; and raise funds.

Most importantly, this entity requires a strong innovation team (or at minimum a high-level leader) that sits between institutions and can catalyze a shared vision that holds a strong value proposition for each individual actor. Fulfilling this role will require a scientific understanding of the research portfolio and the ability to identify external partners, market opportunities, and funding opportunities.

Oklahoma City is poised to organize itself to be a fierce competitor in the innovation economy and to build a stronger regional economy as a result—if it has the vision and will to do so. The city has demonstrated its capacity to coalesce around bold ambitions before, rallying to build the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, investing in its downtown, and passing multiple rounds of the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) initiative to finance major redevelopment, infrastructure, and school improvements. It is again time to channel that collective spirit to grow a more inventive, entrepreneurial, and inclusive Oklahoma City economy.

Report cover of Positioning for growth: Advancing the Oklahoma City innovation districtf