The NBA season ends suddenly, unless you’re in Philadelphia or Milwaukee or some place that never sniffs basketball in May. Ends suddenly, as it did Saturday night for the Thunder, and then within 38 hours you’ve talked to every Thunder player in a series of exit interviews.
The wounds are fresh. The stings still sore. Sometimes, you learn stuff. Here are 10 things I learned about your favorite squad.
1. Thabo Sefolosha’s not coming back.
It’s not official, of course, but hearing Thabo talk, I just don’t see his return. His offensive game disintegrated, and his defense wasn’t stellar in the playoffs. Scotty Brooks twice benched Sefolosha – the final two games of the Memphis series, the final four games of the San Antonio – and basically didn’t use him even off the bench. It’s hard to go from starting to not starting. But going from starting to not playing? That seems a clear message.
Thabo, whose four-year contract expires this summer, said he had “no clue” on whether he’d be back. But the Thunder is competing in high-stakes basketball. It needs a big-time defender on the wing. It’s no high crime if Thabo no longer fits the bill.
2. Russell Westbrook gets it.
Westbrook has the means to be a world-class defender. When he put his mind to it, like the last few games against Tony Parker and Game 6 against Manu Ginobili, Westbrook can put foes on lockdown. And Westbrook admitted that he has to play with defensive zeal every night, every minute.
“I’m definitely going to make more of an effort starting next year to do it throughout the season,” Westbrook said.
3. Reggie Jackson’s signing won’t be as easy as I thought.
The Thunder brass loves Jackson and wants to sign him to an extension this summer. But Jackson likes to 1) start and 2) play point guard, he told us. The first option is dicey and the second is impossible.
“It’s tough,” Jackson said. “I’m really a control freak. I like to be in control. That’s kind of how I am. That’s how point guards tend to be.”
4. Andre Roberson’s shot is under construction.
The rookie from Colorado showed signs of being a defensive whiz and is a rebounding demon. But Roberson couldn’t win a game of H-O-R-S-E even if his opponent was drop-kicking the ball.
The Thunder has changed his shot, ala a golf swing. Roberson had a tendency to let his non-shooting thumb slide into the way. “Can’t change it overnight,” Roberson said. “So just gotta get better in that aspect.”
Become a decent shooter on open jumpers, and Roberson will play a long time in the league.
5. Steven Adams is the funniest person I’ve come across in OKC’s eight NBA seasons.
Adams has natural charm and comedic timing. I’m serious. He could do a stage act. If his game progresses the way it did his rookie season, Adams will be the biggest thing to come out of New Zealand since Edmund Hillary climbed a certain mountain.
6. Kevin Durant stands by his man.
Talk of a coaching change seems a little silly. The Thunder’s not making a change without the OK of Kevin Durant, and everything Durant says is supportive of Scotty Brooks.
During his MVP speech, Durant praised Brooks’ unselfishness. Sunday, Durant used other language. “That’s our guy,” Durant said. “I’m riding with him.”
Everything the Thunder does is built toward making Durant want to sign a new Thunder contract two summers from now. Durant continually goes above and beyond in his praise of Brooks. That’s pretty good job security.
7. Perry Jones is confused.
In the wake of Durant and Jackson separately proclaiming Jones the best athlete in the NBA, Jones talked repeatedly of learning how to play with that athletic ability.
“Definitely have to do the best I can to learn how to play with my athleticism and make that work in my favor,” Jones said.
Huh? Jones hasn’t been playing with his athletic ability? It’s not like he’s talking about harnessing that talent, the way Westbrook sometimes has to. Jones is talking about using his athletic ability. What’s he been doing lo these many years?
8. Kendrick Perkins knows he’s slipped.
Perk is a prideful man. So it’s no small thing when he says, “I know this off-season is going be the biggest off-season of my career,” Perkins said. “It’s my first time ever going be approaching a time when I’m going to be an unrestricted free agent. So definitely got to come back in better shape and try to get back to the basketball that I played in Boston.”
I’m a charter member of the Gran Torino Fan Club. But Perkins isn’t getting back to his Boston days, when he would average a double-double in a playoff series. NBA players don’t improve at age 30. The best Perkins can hope for is holding his 2014 playoff pace, which wasn’t bad.
9. Caron Butler is gone.
Butler and Grant Jerrett were the only Thunder players who didn’t address the media. Jerrett has yet to play. I think Butler has played his final game. Butler actually started two games in the Memphis playoff series but didn’t play at all in Game 6 against the Spurs. Butler will be 35 in the 2015 playoffs.
If Butler was coming back or wanted to, he’d have poked his head in the media room.
10. Derek Fisher likes us.
Us being the media. In what amounted to a farewell speech, Fisher eloquently thanked even the media, for shining a light on him and keeping him honest. Fisher easily kept his composure, but a couple of press-row regulars found a tear on their laptops.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at . He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.