Kemba Walker is one of the most popular players in the NBA. I didn’t know that until after the Celtics traded Walker and a first-round draft pick to the Thunder last week for Al Horford.
Funny the things you learn when you dig deeper into a player you’ve only watched a few times a year and glanced at numbers on basketball-reference.com.
But when Walker was added to the Thunder roster, you want to know more. And there’s more to know about the all-time leading scorer in Charlotte’s NBA history, be it with the Hornets/Pelicans or the Bobcats/Hornets, two separate franchises.
The Tuesday ScissorTales rank the Pac-12 non-conference schedules, discuss the 1978 OU football team and offer a primer on how to watch the NBA Draft lottery. But we start with the Thunder’s Kemba Walker, acquired last week in a trade with Boston.
Walker apparently is one of the most-liked players in the NBA. He’s a two-time winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award, as voted on by the players.
That doesn’t make Walker any better of a fit with the Thunder on the court, but it’s quite interesting when considering Walker’s future.
Walker’s contract will be difficult to move: two years left, $73 million, some injury questions. But Walker’s character is an easy sell to any prospective trade partner or even the Thunder, should the all-star point guard stay with OKC for awhile.
“This was really hard,” said Celtics president Brad Stevens, who ascended to that job a few weeks ago, from head coach, after Boston was eliminated in the Eastern Conference playoffs. “This was not the ideal first few weeks on the job move because of the kind of person that Kemba is and the kind of professional he is and how good of a player he is. A lot of hard (phone) calls.”
The NBA Sportsmanship Award has thrice been won by Grant Hill. Mike Conley has won it twice. Jrue Holiday won it in 2021. Hill, Conley and Holiday are three of the most-respected people in 21st-century basketball. High character, quality leaders, exemplary teammates.
And Walker is in their company.
Stevens addressed the trade Monday and talked not just about Horford’s potential value, but Walker’s.
“It is difficult because, for instance, I just really liked Kemba, period, end of story,” Stevens said. “He is a super-likable person. Again, the deal was made, we had to look at with the idea of moving that first-round pick, it gave us an opportunity to look at a road ahead with a few more options from a financial flexibility standpoint. And it was the best deal that we thought with regard to returning players … the opportunity to add Al, who makes significantly less money but is a really good player but has knowledge of this environment and (we) gain financial flexibility moving forward.”
Don’t get the wrong idea. Walker’s time as a Celtic didn’t go well. He didn’t seem to mesh with young Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the knee injury didn’t help, and the 31-year-old Walker’s value was dropping.
The Athletic reported that Walker’s relationship with Stevens was “tension-filled” this season, though “there was mutual respect.”
Walker’s numbers of 19.3 points and 42 percent shooting were his worst since 2014-15.
Still, Walker is a professional scorer and a team leader. The Thunder values veteran leadership; its current roster is void of anyone in their 30s. Mike Muscala, who is a free agent, turns 30 on July 1.
Kenrich Williams is a heck of a leader and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a natural leader at age 22. But Walker seems like a Horford type. An aging but quality player whose intangibles resonate.
That could make Walker easier to trade. And easier to accept if he stays on the roster.
Ranking the Pac-12 non-conference schedules
When you need your faith in college football restored, there are places you go.
To the Southeastern Conference for zeal. To the Big 12 for offense. To the Big Ten for massive fan bases.
And to the Pac-12 for scheduling. The Pac-12 is some ways is old-fashioned football. Lots of quality games. Relatively few automatic victories.
The likes of Southern Cal and Stanford annually are among the nation’s best non-conference schedules, and this year is no different.
More:Tramel’s ScissorTales: OU football’s non-conference schedule ranks near bottom of Big 12
Here’s how I rank the Pac-12 non-conference schedules, based on toughness and attractiveness.
1. Stanford: Kansas State, at Vanderbilt, Notre Dame. Wow. No mid-majors. That’s revolutionary in 2021.
2. Colorado: Northern Colorado, Texas A&M in Denver, Minnesota. Excellent schedule for the Buffaloes. Two Power 5 Conference opponents, including an old Big 12 matchup in A&M.
3. Southern Cal: San Jose State, at Notre Dame, Brigham Young. Super schedule. Most teams, San Jose State would be the second-toughest opponent of three. BYU would be first. But that’s not the Trojans’ way.
4. Oregon: Fresno State, at Ohio State, Stony Brook. Hard to find a knock against a schedule that includes a trip to the Horseshoe.
5. Washington: Montana, at Michigan, Arkansas State. Hard to find a knock against a schedule that includes a trip to the Big House.
6. UCLA: Hawaii, Louisiana State, Fresno State. Like usual, the Bruins don’t play a Division I-AA opponent. LSU and two decent mid-majors.
7. Utah: Weber State, at Brigham Young, at San Diego State. Gutsy move by the Utes, making road trips to both Provo and San Diego. Come out unscathed, and that’s impressive.
8. Arizona: Brigham Young, San Diego State, Northern Arizona. Same general schedule as Utah, but ‘Zona gets BYU and San Diego State in Tucson.
9. California: Nevada, at Texas Christian, Sacramento State. TCU is a fun game; Berkeley goes to Cowtown. But a rather pedestrian schedule.
10. Washington State: Utah State, Portland State, Brigham Young. Not terrible. Not all that good.
11. Arizona State: Southern Utah, Nevada-Las Vegas, at Brigham Young. Hard to forge a schedule using only Nevada and Utah teams, but ASU did it. The Sun Devils rarely are on the cutting edge of scheduling.
12. Oregon State: at Purdue, Hawaii, Idaho. The Beavers in West Lafayette is at least interesting.
Power 5 opponents: 11 of 36 games (.305; the Big 12 is .267).
Power 5/quality mid-majors: 18 of 36 (.500; the Big 12 is .467).
Road games: 9 of 36 (.250; the Big 12 is .333).
I-AA opponents: 9 of 36 (.250; the Big 12 is .300).
Mailbag: 1978 Sooners
Readers responded to my item last week on the best OU football teams that didn’t win a national title.
Allen: “Great article, bad memories. The 1978 team was the best in college football that year. Ranked No. 1 going into the Nebraska game and were a fumble away from winning. Bama and USC split the AP/UPI polls. OU avenged its only loss in a convincing way in the Orange Bowl and should have at least split with Bama and eliminated USC.”
Tramel: Allen, you’re not the only one who brought up the ‘78 Sooners. Al Eschbach, who has been covering OU since the mid-1960s in one form or another, also mentioned the ‘78 Sooners.
And during that season, which was my senior year of high school, my sense was that Barry Switzer’s team was his best ever. But there’s only one thing I can’t get past. A 17-16 victory at Kansas.
In fairness, OU played without quarterback Thomas Lott. But J.C. Watts was a third-year sophomore, not an inexperienced optioneer.
And the Jayhawks were not a good team. That KU team finished 1-10, 0-7 in the Big Eight. Those Jayhawks lost 37-10 to Texas A&M, 31-2 to Washington, 38-6 to Miami, 63-21 to Nebraska and 48-0 to Missouri. KU finished its season with a 36-20 loss to Kansas State, which finished 4-7.
More:Tramel’s ScissorTales: Why OU football has one of the NFL Draft’s most impressive résumés
But in October, OU survived at Kansas 17-16, winning in the craziest way. Jayhawk quarterback Harry Sydney threw a five-yard touchdown pass with 15 seconds left, getting KU within a point.
KU was planning a game-winning, two-point conversion play, but the Jayhawks took too long to snap the ball and was penalized for delay of game. So KU was willing to settle for a tie. But a wild center snap prevented the extra-point kick. Alas, OU had jumped offsides, the ball was again spotted at the 3-yard line, and the Jayhawk offense returned to the field. Sydney dropped back to pass, was pressured and overthrew Kevin Murphy in the back of the end zone.
I’ve never reconciled those Sooners. They seemed a fantastic team, beaten only 17-14 at Nebraska, with five lost fumbles dooming OU. The Sooners avenged that loss with a 31-24 Orange Bowl victory. But how could a great team almost lose to 1-10 Kansas?
How to watch the lottery
If you’re interested in the NBA Lottery – and if you’re interested in the Thunder, you should be interested in the lottery – but don’t know exactly how to follow the (non-)action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on ESPN, here’s a primer:
^ The reveal will start with the 14th pick. The Thunder wants to see Golden State’s name at No. 14. Then Indiana’s at 13, San Antonio at 12, Charlotte at 11, New Orleans 10, Sacramento nine, Chicago eight, Toronto seven and Minnesota six.
For example, if we get to 12, and the Spurs don’t show up, that means they’ve risen into the top four, which means one of the top four (Houston, Detroit, Orlando, OKC) has fallen out.
However, don’t be too distraught if some of the top-four picks are accounted for. That means Houston could be the franchise falling, and the Rockets can’t go lower than fifth. If Houston has the fifth pick, the Thunder gets it. If not, the Thunder settles for Miami’s pick at 18.
More:‘You have no control over it’: Length of Thunder rebuild up to luck of NBA Draft Lottery
^ The Thunder has an 11.5 percent chance at the overall No. 1 pick. But if the Thunder’s name hasn’t been revealed through eight picks, OKC’s chances at No. 1 go up to 18 percent.
^ The Thunder is ranked No. 1 in tankathon.com’s draft capital rankings. Including the lottery odds, the Thunder is at 4-16-18-35-36-55 with picks. Surely the Thunder will trade some of those – it’s hard to have three or four rookies on a team, much less six.
Next on the list is Orlando (3-8-33) and Houston (1-23-24).
More:‘I’m blessed, good and lucky’: Nazr Mohammed to represent Thunder at NBA Draft Lottery
So the Thunder has two mechanisms for moving up in the draft. The lottery could improve that 4-16-18 trio. And the Thunder’s abundant draft picks could give Sam Presti ammunition to make a trade.
Remember that as the lottery unfurls. The lottery matters. A ton. But lottery luck is not the only way to have great draft positioning.
Good eats: Legend’s
Legend’s is not only Norman’s best restaurant; it might have the best dining story.
Legend’s opened in 1967 on the old South Base, what now is OU’s south campus, as a pizza delivery service. It moved a year later into a new building on Lindsey Street, where Legend’s still resides. Originally, the restaurant had a Gay ‘90s theme, with telephones at each table by which customers ordered or talked to fellow diners.
In 1972, the pizza and phones were bye-bye, the décor became more contemporary and Legend’s evolved into the casual-elegant place we have today.
Joe Sparks was an early investor and eventually became full owner. He hired an executive chef who came aboard in 1979. In 1995, that chef became his wife.
So Legend’s goes back more than 50 years, with consistent ownership and quality food from Joe and Rebecca Sparks dating back at least 40 years.
The restaurant is intimate, casually upscale and an absolute jewel. We’ve been going for special occasions for years. The prices are not crazy expensive – my favorite dish, tilapia topped with crab cakes, is $25 – and desserts are legendary, particularly the lemon cake.
The atmosphere is fabulous, usually with live piano music. Old friends, new romances; new friends, old romances, doesn’t matter. Legend’s will suit you.
I wrote a little about Legend’s years ago. Al Herzberger, a friend of mine who became an assistant sports editor at The Oklahoman and eventually managing editor of newsok.com, told me stories of Howard Schnellenberger’s visits to Legend’s, when Al worked in the kitchen as a student.
Legend’s has been recognized by Bon Appetit Magazine and Southern Living. Even better, it’s been recognized for a half century as Norman’s best restaurant.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.