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Morning Coffee: Durant's Thunder Rolling, Spring Football Wrap, and Brandon Belt

Horns_bullet_mediumKD Thunder Up. Over at BC, Scipio has a nice post about the surging Oklahoma City Thunder, who Sunday night closed out the Lakers on a 17-2 run to pull within a single game of both Los Angeles and Dallas in the loss column. The Thunder currently hold the No. 4 spot in the West but could finish as high as second, and Scipio's right: no one wants to play them. I have to admit I would have been too slow to pull the trigger on a Jeff Green trade because of my bias towards him as a college player (he was absolutely marvelous), but the Perkins trade looked good for OKC at the time and it looks better and better by the day. Kevin Durant and the Thunder are legitimate contenders for the NBA Title. (Further proof that Rick Barnes is teh suxorz!!1)

Remaining schedules: Oklahoma City closes the season out at Sacramento Monday night and then versus Milwaukee. Dallas is in Houston Monday night, then finishes with New Orleans at home. The Lakers host the Spurs and Kings to close out the year. (Update: Dallas beat the Rockets Monday night, while Oklahoma City knocked out the Kings.)

Horns_bullet_mediumThe Brand is still strong... for now. This Ivan Maisel spring football wrap got some love in the FanShots, but it's worth highlighting here briefly, as well. There's a delicate narrative that the Texas is program is navigating right now, one that should benefit The Brand going forward, but isn't guaranteed to do so. As of now, last year's collapse is widely viewed as a kind of random, perfect storm of fail that was, really, just an outlier.  But Texas fans paying close attention know that explanation is too simple -- last year's failures reflected systemic weaknesses that were bound to emerge without transcendent talent at quarterback.

Mack Brown did what absolutely had to be done in overhauling the staff, and if now the team appears to make  progress in year one of this new era, the narrative of "one year aberration" will continue, The Brand will remain strong as ever, and Texas will continue to be widely admired, by pundits, fans, and recruits.

It's a little bit delicate, however, because the program did not need superficial change. It needed a meaningful overhaul. The temptation for Mack Brown will be to see the job as done, to think that things are fine -- to ease up. And to that point I was a little concerned by the way that the quarterbacks were handled in the spring game, when there was no meaningful competition amongst all the candidates. The reasoning for the rotation may be benign in origin, but it's something to keep an eye on as this program tries to reboot.

Horns_bullet_mediumBrandon Belt is in the Show. Many of you know that I'm a diehard Giants fan, so no surprise that I was doubly excited when San Francisco announced that former Longhorn standout Brandon Belt would open the year as the team's starting first baseman. Belt's meteoric rise through the minors to the 2011 opening day roster was unexpected, not only because he left college with a long, loopy swing that scouts saw plenty of holes in and didn't project to produce big league power, but because, well, he was drafted in 2009.

But Belt absolutely obliterated both High-A and AA, then capped his year by posting a 956 OPS at AAA, before getting the nod this spring as the starting first baseman for the defending World Champs. Belt has gotten off to a slow start through 9 games, collecting just 5 hits in 31 at bats (1 homer) to post a .161/.257/.290 line. The sample size is small, but especially with Aubrey Huff looking like a blind baboon in right field, it's increasingly looking like Belt may get sent down to Fresno when playoff hero Cody Ross returns from the disabled list. That's probably not the worst thing in the world for Belt, who will remain a key piece of the Giants future and have his opportunity to return soon enough.