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NBA AM: Collison Remembers Seattle

Nick Collison is one of a few players that played in Seattle, and the only one still with the franchise.

Joel Brigham

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It’s easy to forget that the Seattle SuperSonics were a real NBA team. This season is the 10th that the Sonics have ceased to exist, and in fact, there only are four players still in the league with “Seattle” on their professional resume: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Damien Wilkins and Nick Collison.

The only one still with the franchise is Collison, who remembers his time with the Sonics like it was a lifetime ago.

“I had never been to Seattle. I didn’t know much about it at all, but I was excited about it. It was the first place I lived after college,” Collison told Basketball Insiders. Drafted 12th overall by Seattle in the 2003 NBA Draft, he never had lived outside of the Midwest and was eager to spread his wings a little bit after having spent so much of his life in just one part of the country. The Pacific Northwest was a revelation for him almost immediately.

“The first city I lived in was Iowa Falls, IA, which I love, and then Lawrence, KS, but Seattle offered me things I hadn’t experienced before. It was a bigger city, but I really just kinda came home. I lived there all year round, bought a house on the lake that I still own.

“It’s a cool city, and I made a lot of friends there.”

Some of those friends were his Seattle teammates. Collison came in just a season after Gary Payton, the franchise’s most iconic player, had left, so the revamped team was a rebuilding proposition, of which Collison knew he’d be a part.

Collison missed his entire first season in the league thanks to injuries to both of his shoulders, but he made his impact on the league from the minute he was given a role. His team even won a playoff series in 2005 before bottoming out just in time to draft Kevin Durant in 2007. Things were looking up for the organization with a brand new superstar on the roster, but Seattle basketball fans’ hope and general optimism would be, unfortunately, short-lived.

Trouble Brewing in Seattle

Most of the 2007-2008 season was spent lamenting the inability to get a new arena built, but that didn’t make it any less surprising when word started to leak that Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman that led the investment group that purchased the Sonics in 2006, was considering moving the franchise to his home state. In July 2008, Bennett and the team were granted approval to relocate.

According to Collison, the players really didn’t see it coming.

“No one really even knew that [the former ownership group led by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz] were looking to sell the team until they announced it was sold, and I remember that I was shocked,” Collison said. “The team was sold to these guys from Oklahoma, and people didn’t know what it meant. They didn’t know if we’d be leaving right away or what. And then we were there two more years.

“So for two years, we’d get asked about it,” he added. “We didn’t really know anything, and they claimed to be trying to get an arena built in Seattle. It really wasn’t the best situation to play in because so much about our futures was unknown. The city, the fans felt like we were leaving, so they didn’t come out. We weren’t a great team either, which didn’t help.

“I still felt fortunate to be in the NBA, but it was a tough situation to play in those last couple years.”

The Move to OKC

Over the summer of 2008, the Seattle SuperSonics ceased to exist, with the organization then setting up shop in Oklahoma City as the newly-christened Thunder. Following a 20-win season, the team used its draft pick to select Russell Westbrook (who wore a Sonics hat on draft night), and Collison, still hanging around, found very quickly that the new city was pretty great, too.

“When they announced the move in July, I didn’t want to leave,” Collison said. “I liked it right where I was, so I had a tough time get over that. But Oklahoma City felt familiar to me right away. I played college in Kansas. I’m from Iowa. I’m from the Midwest. We had played in Oklahoma City twice back in college and probably four times when the Hornets were there, and I knew they had a great crowd.

“You know, I was looking forward to playing in front of that crowd, and I liked being in the Midwest. I felt comfortable. I knew what to expect. And then when we got there, the fans were great. Even though we started that year 3-29, they still kept coming out, still supported us, and by the end of that year, we started playing better, started getting more positivity. It felt like we had something good there.

“The next year we made a huge jump, went to the playoffs, and it’s been really just a ton of success ever since. I was able to find a role in a really good team, and those first years in Oklahoma City were great for my career. They weren’t my best years statistically, but they were my best years. The best basketball I played in my career, for sure.”

Split Allegiances

In baseball, when a player is set to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, they have to decide which hat they’re going to wear on their plaque, which is an especially challenging discussion for those who may have had huge careers for multiple franchises.

Collison, while not a Hall-of-Famer and certainly no baseball player, has a hard time identifying himself as a Sonic or a member of the Thunder. This kid from the Midwest, who has played in Oklahoma for a decade, spent his formative years in a faraway city where he still lives in the offseason. He struggles to figure out toward which city he feels more allegiance.

“I have more memories with the Thunder for sure, but I don’t forget about that time in Seattle,” Collison said. “That’s where I started my career and established myself as a player. My rookie year, I played a lot of minutes in a playoff series. That was a huge experience for me to let me know that I could be confident and I could play.

“I’ve been with one organization this whole time, but for most guys, it’s two or three cities. Most guys bounce around and play three or four different places. Drew Gooden, a guy I played with in college, played like nine different places in eight years. That’s just the way it goes for different guys.”

Collison actually is just one of a handful of veteran players still playing for his original team. Dirk Nowitzki, Udonis Haslem, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are the only players still in the league with similar years of experience and just the lone organization on the resume.

“You know, it’s rare, franchise moves, but I’ve still had a lot of stability in my career. I’ve been very fortunate.”

Back to Seattle?

As Collison heads toward the end of his career, he soon will find himself a fan of basketball rather than an employee of the NBA. As a fan and as someone owns a home in Seattle, he hopes to see the NBA return to a city that deserves a franchise as much as any city in North America.

“I’d love to see a team back there,” he admitted. “I follow all the stuff, the arena proposals and everything. I’d love to see it happen. The hard part is someone else probably would have to move for that to happen, and I know how hard that is for a home base.

“But I’d like to see it happen. I know that it’s a good fan base, and it’s got a lot of history. It’s a great city, you know? It’s kind of hard to believe there’s not a team there already. Just with all the companies that are there, how good the economy is there. Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, Costco—there’s a lot of good stuff going on out there.

“So I’d like to see it happen. Maybe expansion then no one’s got to lose their team.”

Expansion never is completely out of the question, and if it ever does happen, it’s easy to imagine Seattle being at the top of the list of potential cities.

When Oklahoma City started the Thunder, the team history—the records, the retired numbers—stayed in Seattle. Someone really could just start the franchise right back up like nothing happened.

In retirement, it’s easy to imagine Collison courtside, rooting them on, right back where he started.

Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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NBA

NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized

Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?

Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.

“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”

Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.

“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”

Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.

“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”

Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.

For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.

By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.

Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.

“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”

Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.

“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”

With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.

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NBA

Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

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