The new ESPN NBA Countdown crew — comprised of Jalen Rose, Bill Simmons, Doug Collins and host Sage Steele — debuted on Friday night.
And for an entire segment in their initial show, the foursome had an extended discussion about the state of the Oklahoma City Thunder franchise, centering (surprise!!) on the James Harden trade.
If you can sift through some of the rehashed talking points, it was actually a somewhat interesting back-and-forth. Here’s the transcript:
Jalen Rose: “I know a lot of people are overlooking this team, but when you look at the teams on paper, I’m just going to close my eyes and pick OKC to come out of the West. But they better do it fast because four years left on Russell Westbrook’s (contract), three years left on KD’s. I think if they don’t make a big move, they’re going to lose both of those players. I really do. They have to make a blockbuster move. When you lose James Harden, when you lose Jeff Green, you have to make a move to keep those guys in OKC.”
Sage Steele: “So you’re picking them to come out of the West if they make a big move?”
Simmons: “Hold on. Because Westbrook’s coming back quicker than they thought. I’m pig-piling on (Rose’s) point. I think there is now a clock on this Durant-Westbrook situation in Oklahoma City. We have never seen a team not pay the tax and win the title. You have to do it. Those are how you get the extra two good guys on your team and what they did with that Harden trade, I think it was the worst trade in this century in basketball because they gave away somebody who was the best 2-guard in the league for a couple spare parts. And not just that, but now if I’m Durant and Westbrook, why am I going to stay here? I have all these other teams who will do anything they can to pay $90 or $100 million dollars. Look at what the Nets are doing. If you’re Durant, you’re going to stay here in this mom and pop organization? I don’t see it. I think he’s going to leave in three years. I do.
—Extended Doug Collins’ comment, which I placed at the bottom of the post because it had little to do with the conversation thread—
Steele, redirecting a question toward Bill Simmons: The Thunder are a year removed basically from being the Western Conference Champions. I want to ask you, you called this franchise a mom and pop organization. That’s a big insult, right? Why do you think they’re mom and pop?
Simmons: Because they’re terrified to pay the luxury tax. Which I get. But we’re in a situation where the league is doing so much better than it was a couple years ago. The franchise values have gone through the roof. Sacramento just got $100 million dollars more than Golden State did. Golden State, I think paid $450 and now it’s valued at $800. If you have Durant and Westbrook on your team, your goal can’t be, ‘Oh, we got to turn a profit.’ It’s got to be, ‘Oh, I want to win titles with these guys.’ Because if you’re the owner who doesn’t want to win titles with those guys, then sell the team to a billionaire who does. And that’s the part that bothers me. I want to see those guys be in the Finals six, seven, eight times. It makes me mad that they split them up.
Rose: And they’re a terrific tandem. You would love to see Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant get that other player that is now going to help them get over the top. That other creator. And I think they will look to do a blockbuster move.
Simmons: And they have cap assets, they have some draft picks. They’re a candidate to (make a move).
Rose: But you got to give (Sam) Presti credit, all the great players he drafted. He drafted Jeff Green, drafted James Harden, drafted Ibaka.
Simmons: He did. Great job. I don’t blame Presti for this because I think they told him, ‘You have to trade James Harden.’ So that’s what he had to do.
Collins: Is this not the new collective bargaining kicking in, where you can have two max star players, but can you have three? And if you’re going to have three Bill, it’s what you talked about, it’s going to cost you a lot of money in the luxury tax. You do everything right, you build a team and now you have to break it up because you can’t pay the tax. It’s a tough thing.
Simmons: And the irony is the whole reason they created that new CBA was to take care of people like Oklahoma City, but instead it made it harder for them to win the title. It’s too bad.
Two other highlights from the segment:
Doug Collins comparing the plight of a young MJ to KD’s current situation… ”I had the good fortune of coaching Michael Jordan when he was a young player. And the talent level on that team did not meet what Isaiah Thomas’ was, what Larry Bird’s was, what Magic Johnson’s was. All Michael ever heard was he didn’t make anyone better. It was the Michael show and no one else. I remember going to Michael and saying we’re going to need to develop some of these other guys to develop some trust. And I threw out there to him, great players love challenges. I said ‘Michael, how about scoring a little less and throwing up some triple-doubles’. Well, that registers with him. All of a sudden, some triple-doubles. I think where Durant is right now, with no Westbrook, the loss of Harden and Kevin Martin, who they rented for a year, he has to make Serge Ibaka a consistent third scorer this year. That team needs a consistent third scorer. This is a very good defensive team. Remember we said last week, we got together and Scotty Brooks talked about him being more of a facilitator. I looked at the box score the other day, he had a tremendous game, scored 42 points, but one assist. And to me, Jeremy Lamb, the reason I say that is you have to find out who these guys are. What will sustain (Oklahoma) City this year, they are very good defensively. When they get Westbrook back, if they can get that consistent third scorer, Durant is a closer.”
Bill Simmons actually giving the Thunder some credit, before reversing course to his favorite subject… “Durant and Westbrook are two of the best 10 players in the league. So I’m not saying they’re done this year. I think they’re one of the contenders, I think it’s either them or San Antonio coming out of the West. The point is they gave those guys a degree of difficulty. They didn’t have to. They could have kept Harden for one more year and then figured it out and then they didn’t.”