subject: ld be left with virtually nothing in return foPosted: 1:42am, Jan 21, 2014
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- At the beginning of the video the Oklahoma City Thunder play before their starting lineups are announced, theres a message on the scoreboard. RESILIENCY. IT DEFINES OUR TEAM. That was especially true during the Thunders comeback from an 18-point deficit Wednesday night to beat the San Antonio Spurs and clinch a spot in the NBA finals. But thats only the final step in a remarkable turnaround. It was only three seasons ago that Oklahoma Citys new team was 3-29 and just hoping to avoid the worst record in NBA history. "You can look at it as a negative, but I think as a group and as an organization, weve seen some light, and weve seen that one day wed be at this moment, and one day wed have an opportunity to win a championship," said Russell Westbrook, who may best personify the transformation by turning himself from a rookie struggling with turnovers into an All-Star. Back when Scott Brooks was hired as coach around Thanksgiving 2008, his first task was trying to get the team to be competitive in the fourth quarter. Now, opponents cant seem to put the Thunder away when it comes to crunch time. "Even back then, we werent losing games. I was telling the guys we were learning how to win games, and theres a big difference between that because we had guys that worked every day and it gave me hope that when we were down they were still practicing, still working hard," Brooks said. All that hard work paid off with the franchises first shot at the title since 1996 as the Seattle SuperSonics. The teams only NBA title came in 1979 back in Seattle. The Thunder will host Game 1 of the finals Tuesday night, against either Boston or Miami. "Im not as excited as I thought Id be," said Nick Collison, the only holdover who played in Seattle except for Kevin Durant. "I think we all know we have more work to do. I dont think any of us dreamt about making it to the finals. I think we all dreamt about winning it." Oklahoma City has gotten this far with a youthful core featuring homegrown first-round draft picks Durant, Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka that has blended with a trio of veterans who already have championship rings -- Kendrick Perkins, Derek Fisher and Nazr Mohammed. To get to the finals, Oklahoma City had to go through the only three teams to win the West since 1998 -- Dallas in the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers in the conference semifinals and then San Antonio. "Its almost like a Hollywood script for OKC in a sense. ... Those three teams represent 10 of the last 13 championships, and now theyre going to go to the finals and play either Boston or Miami, and thatll be 11 of the last 13 championships," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "I dont know if anybody has ever had a run or gone through a playoff playing those kinds of teams. Its just incredible, and I think its pretty cool for them." The Thunder have made a steady progression since rallying to finish 23-59 that first season in Oklahoma City. After adding Harden and Ibaka, who was kept overseas for an extra year of development, the club made the playoffs and lost in the first round to the eventual champion Lakers. Last year, the Mavericks knocked out Oklahoma City in the West finals before also going on to win it all. "Weve been through a lot, not just this year but first getting here, moving to Oklahoma City and losing and then the way we lost in the playoffs," said Durant, who has won the past three league scoring titles. "Weve been through a lot. We dont call each other family just to say it. We really believe in that." Along the way, the Thunder have never let their youth be an excuse. And all the talk about them being too young to win it all, its only driven the team to prove any doubters wrong. "I coach them hard. I dont give them the benefit of the doubt because theyre only 22 years old and 23 years old," Brooks said. "Theyve got a job to do. We all have a job to do, and you have to do it every day. "Just because youre young doesnt mean that you cant play hard, you cant practice hard, you cant have a great attitude for your teammates, and our guys have done that." Kayvon Webster Super Bowl Jersey . Led by Josh Smith, Atlanta raced to a 23-point lead in the opening quarter on the way to a 106-89 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday night, ensuring the Hawks will open the playoffs at home. Matt Prater Jersey . Milwaukee placed six players in double figures. The Bucks pulled ahead in the second quarter and led by double figures for most of the second half. C.J. Miles paced Cleveland with 18 points. . Take the Blue Jays 2011 season. From June 10-12, the Blue Jays were home to the Boston Red Sox and it was an unmitigated disaster with Boston sweeping the three-game set to run their win streak to nine games, outscoring the Jays 35-6 in the process. Quentin Jammer Jersey . This week, they discuss the journalists that covered Lance Armstrong, the World Baseball Classic, Alex Kovalev, and the NHLs attempts to apologize for the lockout. Montee Ball Super Bowl Jersey . But Raptors coach Dwane Casey cautioned the media to not read too much into what Bargnani told La Gazetta dello Sport, saying the forwards scathing criticism might have been exacerbated by a language issue.The Atlanta Braves bolstered their playoff chances by adding their second Upton of the offseason in a seven-player trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Numbers Game examines the Braves acquisition of Justin Upton. The Braves Get: RF Justin Upton and 3B Chris Johnson. Upton, 25, is getting dealt at a relative low point in his value, coming off a season in which he had 17 HR, 67 RBI, 18 SB, a .280 batting average and .785 OPS. That OPS was Uptons lowest in the majors, aside from his 43-game stint as a 19-year-old rookie in 2007. At the same time, Upton already has more than 3000 plate appearances in the major leagues, hitting 108 home runs and posting a career OPS of .832. It still feels as though hes just scratching the surface of what he might be able to accomplish as a major leaguer, but thats the point -- hes just entering years that should bring prime production. At his best, Upton has hit 30 home runs (2011), stolen 20 bases (2009, 2011), hit .300 (2009), yet he should be approaching years in which he is able to exceed those thresholds. Defensively, Upton has been above average, wiht 16 Defensive Runs Saved and a 2.3 Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games ( but figures to shift to left field in Atlanta since Jason Heyward has been exceptional in right field. Since 2008, Upton has a fWAR ( of 17.5, which ranks 17th among major league outfielders over that time, falling between Ichiro Suzuki and Jacoby Ellsbury and four spots behind brother B.J. Upton, who the Braves signed earlier in the summer and has a fWAR of 18.9 in that time. Upton is under contract for three more seasons, at a cost of $38.5-million (per A 28-year-old righthanded hitter, 3B Chris Johnson is a free swinger whose walk:strikeout ratio (0.19) is second-worst in baseball over the last three seasons (among players with at least 1000 plate appearances), ahead of only Miguel Olivo. Even with his lack of plate discipline, Johnson played a career-high 136 games with Houston and Arizona last season, hitting 15 home runs, driving in 76 and batting .321 with a .777 OPS. A concern about Johnson is whether he can maintain what appears to be an unsustainably-high batting average on balls in play. Last season, his BABIP was .354, which is very high, yet lower than his .387 BABIP in 2010. Trouble is, in 2011, his BABIP dropped to .317, which is still above average, yet he ended the 2011 season hitting .251 with a .670 OPS. Essentially, without an inflated BABIP, hes an offensive liability at a corner infield spot. There is an opening for Johnson in Atlanta. With Chipper Jones retiring and Prado going to Arizona in this trade, that leaves Juan Francisco to battle with Johnson for playing time at the hot corner. Johnson signed a one-year, $2.2875-million contract last week, avoiding arbitration, so hes a reasonably-priced option if he iis getting regular at-bats.dddddddddddd. The Diamondbacks Get: 3B Martin Prado, RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury. Prado, 29, is a utility player who has started at least 145 games at third base, second base and left field in his career but, with Johnson going to Atlanta, figures to fit at third base for the Diamondbacks. While Prado lacks home run power, hes hit 146 doubles over the last four seasons, ranking 11th in all of baseball over that time. His tremendous glove work contributed to his earning a career-high 5.9 fWAR in 2012, when he ranked sixth in baseball in contact rate (95.2%) and fifth in lowest swinging strike percentage (3.5%). For a Diamondbacks team that has been notoriously undisciplined at the plate in recent seasons, Prados approach will help and he should get on base enough (career .345 OBP) to be an asset. Prado earned $4.75-million last season and is set to go to arbitration to decide his 2013 salary. A 22-year-old righthander with strong stuff, including a fastball, curveball and change-up repertoire, Delgado still has to harness his stuff and cut down on his walks (4.08 per nine innings in 18 appearances with the Braves last season) if hes going to earn a regular turn in the Arizona rotation. In 25 career major league games (24 starts), Delgado is 5-10 with a 3.95 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Considering how young he is, those numbers are favourable indicators for future performance. If he turns into a quality starter for the Diamondbacks, that will help justify the cost of dealing a potential star in Upton. 23-year-old RHP Zeke Spruill has been reasonably effective at Double-A Mississippi, but his lack of strikeouts (5.9 per nine innings in 2012) doesnt project well to the majors. IF he makes it, Spruill will be a back-end of the rotation/fill-in starter or middle reliever. Ahmed, a 22-year-old 6-foot-3 shortstop, was a second-round pick in 2011 and he can run, stealing 40 bases in 50 attempts last season at Advanded-A Lynchburg. Rumour is that Ahmed is going to be flipped in a deal for Tigers RHP Rick Porcello, but he needs a couple years to further develop offensively before hes given a chance in the major leagues. Drury is a 20-year-old first baseman who was a 13th-round pick in 2010 and managed a .603 OPS in A-ball last season. Hes a long way from the major leagues, if that even happens to be in his future. Arizona faces real risk in this deal. If Prado doesnt stay around long-term and Delgado doesnt pan out as at least a mid-rotation starter, they could be left with virtually nothing in return for a potential superstar, a player who could hit 30 homers, steal 20 bases and provide at least five wins above replacement for multiple seasons. Scott Cullen can be reached at and followed on Twitter at For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook. ' ' '

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