One of the league’s greatest players died yesterday. Kobe Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna Bryant and seven others, died in a tragic helicopter crash yesterday. Rest in peace, Kobe.
The Thunder issued the following statement regarding the passing of Bryant:
As mentioned above, the Black Mamba’s final road game was played in OKC, and he left a lasting memory with the Thunder, its players, and its fans.
Eric Gee (SI.com) recounts his memory of that night, April 11, 2016. “The outcome and even Westbrook triple-double were inconsequential. April 11th was Kobe’s night, and the fans let him know it. From opening introductions to every time he hit a shot (13 points in a 4 of 12 shooting), all of Bryant’s actions were met with adoration as if he were playing for the Thunder. There probably hasn’t a visiting player who never wore Thunder Blue to get that loud of an ovation in the Peake.”
Erik Horne (The Athletic) with a beautiful story about the legacy that Bryant left in OKC. “The first playoff win against Bryant and the Lakers, 101-96 in Game 3, birthed belief. Bryant was a measuring stick for so many of the Thunder’s young players, with Durant chasing Bryant to become the best scorer in the league. Westbrook and Harden, Los Angeles natives, were competing every possession against the guard who reigned over their city during their childhood.”
Jenni Carlson (The Oklahoman) recounts the penultimate trip to OKC by Kobe, one in which he didn’t play but showed his class. “Listen, I’m not here to suggest Kobe Bryant was perfect. Even on the day he died tragically, I think we can all agree he was flawed just as all of us are flawed. But Kobe Bryant was a pro. He cared about the game, about his craft, about his legacy. And yes, he cared about the fans, even the disappointed ones in Oklahoma City one December day back in 2015.”
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Deonte Burton shared their feelings on Twitter:
ICYMI: The Thunder nabbed their fourth and fifth straight wins on Friday and Saturday, and Brandon Rahbar recaps them both: a 140-111 win against the Atlanta Hawks, and a 113-104 victory in Minnesota against the Timberwolves.
The night after excelling against the Hawks, Shai struggled in Minnesota, but Nick Crain (Forbes) writes that SGA is on his way to being one of the best players from the 2018 draft class. “With a season and a half of sample size, it’s fair to say that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be one of the best players in the 2018 class, but how high? It certainly looks like he has the potential to be top-five or even top-three, which is much better than his original draft position. Only time will tell, but Oklahoma City has a versatile guard in Gilgeous-Alexander who will be exceptional for many years to come.”
Also, I was fortunate enough to be in the locker room for Chris Paul’s good-natured ribbing of Gilgeous-Alexander on Friday night. Add this to the overwhelming evidence of the chemistry and camaraderie that’s developed with this team.
Though CP3 put SGA in his place on Friday, the Thunder’s veteran leader praised Luguentz Dort after Saturday’s win in Minnesota:
Dort had a career high 10 points against the T-Wolves:
Nerlens Noel missed Saturday’s tilt against the Wolves after having surgery to repair a fracture to the zygomatic arch of his left cheek. Noel suffered the injury on Friday night.
It’s trade season, and the Thunder are on the board by trading Justin Patton and cash considerations for Isaiah Roby on Friday:
Derek Bodner (The Athletic) analyzes how Danilo Gallinari fits should the Philadelphia 76ers make a play for the Thunder forward. “As I said above, you can make a case that Gallinari’s diversified skill set fits the Sixers’ offensive needs better than either Josh Richardson or Tobias Harris, but Gallinari would also be a significant step back from either on defense. He’s also significantly older, turning 32 this summer, when he will be a free agent. Any trade involving Richardson or Harris would just further shrink a window of title contention that has already unnecessarily shrunk. There’s real danger to being wrong about a “this is the actual final piece that will make us a contender” thought process. For all of those reasons, while Gallinari would be a very intriguing offensive fit, this one seems unlikely to materialize.”
In Shams Charania’s (The Athletic) latest column, Charania details Noel’s growth in OKC. “Thunder center Nerlens Noel entered the NBA with concerns about his work habits, maturity and professionalism, but rival team executives have noticed significant growth in him during his consecutive seasons with the Thunder. Noel joined OKC in 2018, understanding he needed to mature, and his play has improved. Noel is averaging 8.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.6 blocks and 1.1 steals in 18.8 minutes per game.”