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The Starting 5: They Call Him Mr. Thunder

The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet 

1. Kevin Durant calls Nick Collison Mr.Thunder for a reason – R.K. Anthony, Welcome To Loud City

Only six players played in both the last Sonics season and the first Thunder season. Of those six, two are still on the roster. One of them is Kevin Durant, six-time NBA All-Star, four-time league scoring champion and 2014 NBA MVP. The other is Nick Collison, a multifaceted big man who has never averaged double-figure points or rebounds in his 11-year NBA career. From a raw numerical standpoint, it seems crazy to extend a 34-year-old forward who’s never sniffed All-Star-level production a two-year, $7.5 million contract extension

As Anthony’s piece explains, the value of Collison has always exceeded his on-court production. His consistency and role made him sixth in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat when it was introduced, and his leadership continues to shape the team. Anthony spends most of his article on Collison’s relationship with young center Steven Adams, highlighting the burgeoning friendship between the two big men and the hard-nosed style they share, but Mr. Thunder’s influence should extend to all the team’s young players, just as it has since the team moved to Oklahoma. There’s a reason Scott Brooks thinks Collison is “going to go down as one of the best teammates of all time.”

2. John Henson extension is the latest example of shifting player valuations – Bryan Toporek, Hardwood Paroxsym

John Henson signed a four-year, $44 million contract extension to come off the bench for the Bucks. As the piece points out, that’s the same contract Milwaukee gave Larry Sanders back in 2013. At first glance, it seems like an obvious example of the booming salary cap inflating player salaries, which is probably fair. But it’s also fair to wonder if some other team would have given Henson a similar contract in free agency, even two years ago. Zach Lowe went long on his potential as a Tyson Chandler-style rim protector/pick-and-roll diver back in January, and as Toporek points out, the young big man was averaging four blocks per 36 minutes last season. He’s also charismatic and funny, as evidenced by his turn as host during the Bucks takeover of the Majestic Theater in Brookfield, WI. That’s probably worth $11 million a year.

3. The Golden 1 Center; An Opportunity Fit For Kings – Stephen Rubalcaba, A Royal Pain

Everyone knows taxpayer funded sports arenas are a scam, one of those gross redistributions of wealth back to the wealthy that make American capitalism so reprehensible. The unfortunate side effect of this knowledge is that the disdain can halo back onto the arenas themselves that, Barclays Center aside, they don’t really deserve. As Rubalcaba makes clear, the opening of a new arena really means something to the city of Sacramento, a city who almost lost their team to a combination of incompetent ownership and the heartbroken fans in Seattle. While Sacramento never should have been forced to pay for a new arena to keep their team, it did keep basketball in the city. The fans that get to see the team they love start a new chapter of their history at the Golden 1 Center are surely grateful.

4. Paul George Scores 18 Points In Loss To New Orleans Pelicans – Ben Gibson, 8 Points 9 Seconds

The era of Paul George: Power Forward got off to a rough start in the Pacers’ 110-105 preseason loss to the Pelicans. Gibson lays out the issues in his piece, most notably his inexperience rebounding at the 4, and the trouble he had guarding Anthony Davis. Of course, considering Anthony Davis is about the toughest defensive assignment you can draw as a power forward, it’s not time to throw the whole experiment out the window quite yet. The bigger worry than George’s performance at this point is his attitude; his post-game comments make it clear that he isn’t thrilled about the changes to his role and the team’s construction. Even as he cautions his reader not to read too much into a preseason game, Gibson expresses concern about the lack of a unified message from the three leaders of the franchise in Larry Bird, Frank Vogel and George.

5. Lakers Lose Preseason Opener to Jazz 90-71 – Darius Soriano, Forum Blue and Gold

The Lakers/Jazz game last night was as close to highly anticipated as a preseason NBA game can be on a Sunday in football season. The combination of Kobe coming back, the youth movement of D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson taking the floor, and excitement about the Jazz potentially taking a leap this year made for a lively Twitter feed during the game. If you missed the game, or only saw the Kobe Vine, Soriano does a characteristically great job here of filling in the blanks and breaking down what he saw. The recounting of wonderful reads made by Russell that didn’t lead to assists should be particularly encouraging to Lakers fans.

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