NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: LeBron not listening to oddsmakers’ predictions for Finals— In Cleveland, the Cavaliers have been in wait-and-see mode ever since they wrapped up the Eastern Conference title on May 27 with a Game 6 rout of the Toronto Raptors. In Oakland, the Golden State Warriors’ win in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals clinched a return trip to The Finals and another date with the Cavs. In Las Vegas, the sports books have taken this and other data into consideration and declared the Warriors the heavy favorites in the series. As Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com writes, though, the odds mean little to Cavs star LeBron James at this point:
According to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, Golden State is a 5.5-point favorite to win Thursday’s Game 1 (9 p.m. ET, ABC) and approximately a 2-to-1 favorite to capture the championship.
“Not my concern,” James said Tuesday, speaking to the media for the first time since the Cavs’ Finals rematch with Golden State was set. “I don’t get involved in all of that — underdog, overdog, whatever the case may be. It’s stupidity.”
James was confident in the Cavs’ chances compared to last June when Cleveland lost Games 4, 5 and 6 and the series after being up 2-1, but he framed that confidence as nothing that warrants special attention.
“We’re better built to start the Finals than we were last year,” James said. “Doesn’t matter who it’s against. I mean, that’s not a headline. It’s obvious.”
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue downplayed the significance of the Warriors’ success against the Cavs in the past as a factor for the Finals.
“I wouldn’t say revenge,” Lue said. “I just think both teams are happy and excited to make it to the Finals. It’s a big thing, and I just think that we have a different team than we had last year. Organization-wise, it’s the same two teams, but playing-wise and players-wise, we’re a different team. Kevin [Love]and Kyrie [Irving] are both healthy, the addition of Channing Frye, we’re a completely different team than we were last year.”
And based on Irving’s response when asked about the Warriors’ 34-point drubbing of his team in Cleveland on Jan. 22, the Cavs believe they are a completely different team than they were several months ago, too.
“In January?” Irving said Tuesday. “I don’t remember it.”
Irving said that the memory of going out with a fractured kneecap in Game 1 of last year’s Finals isn’t giving him any extra motivation for him this time around.
“No, the Finals are the Finals,” Irving said. “Just happy that we’re back here again.”
No. 2: Barnes unsure if he or Iguodala will start in Game 1 — The Golden State Warriors have gotten valuable contributions all season long from their small forward tandem of Harrison Barnes and veteran Andre Iguodala. However, both stepped up in the playoffs to fuel the Warriors’ run to The Finals with Barnes doing some fantastic work on offense and Iguodala providing his trademark stifling defense. As Game 1 of The Finals nears, though, it’s unclear whether Iguodala (who started Game 7 of the Western Conference finals) or Barnes (the usual starter) will get the nod in Game 1, writes Diamond Lieung of the San Jose Mercury News:
Warriors forward Harrison Barnes told radio station 95.7 The Game he had “no idea” if he would start in Game 1 of the Finals after coming off the bench in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.
“I’m going to be ready to play Game 1 of the Finals whether I play 20 minutes off the bench, whether I start and play 35,” Barnes said. “Whatever it is, I’m going to do my job because there is no better feeling than hoisting that championship trophy.”
Barnes said Kerr discussed the lineup change with him regarding starting Andre Iguodala on the eve of Game 7 and added, “I don’t think anyone had any issues with it.”
Iguodala played 43 minutes while Barnes played 22 minutes.
“Everyone has had to sacrifice, not only this year but last year during our championship run, and whether that means you’re giving up a starting spot, whether that means you’re giving up minutes, shots, whatever it may be, that’s what you have to do to win,” Barnes told “The Jim Rome Show.”
“There’s no greater feeling than being able to advance to the Finals and to be able to play for another championship.” Barnes said. “So being able to sacrifice like that, you don’t take it as a personal shot to your game or your confidence or anything like that. You take it more as you need to do whatever you need to do to get this win.”
No. 3: Durant returns to OKC; Has started pondering free agency — If you look past the Oklahoma City Thunder giving up a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference finals, this season was a success in several ways. First, they knocked off their longtime rivals, the San Antonio Spurs, in the Western Conference semifinals, notching two wins in the series in San Antonio. Second, they gave the defending-champion Golden State Warriors all they could handle in the Western Conference finals. And third, they got a full season from Kevin Durant after injuries sapped him of that in 2014-15. As the offseason begins in OKC, there’s little indication what Durant, a free agent, will do this offseason. But to Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman, there’s no reason to fret yet, either:
Kevin Durant strode toward the sleek, white Mercedes-Benz parked on the airport tarmac, glanced at Serge Ibaka putting luggage in the vehicle, then issued a directive.
“C’mon,” Durant said.
Even though 24 hours had yet to pass since Golden State triumphed in the Western Conference finals and delivered another painful blow to Oklahoma City, the love was strong.
Before every player finished walking along the fence offering high-fives and thank yous, Durant had grabbed a microphone and a seat on a temporary stage. Nothing had been planned. Nothing had been scripted.
But he had something to say.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Durant said eventually. “Thank you, guys. I know this is not the ending that we all wanted, but your support … ”
Cheers drowned him out for a few seconds.
“The support that you guys showed night in and night out,” Durant continued, “we really appreciate it. Every one of these guys wanted to come out and play as hard as we can for you guys every single night. Just being here is amazing. Just seeing you guys right now is amazing.
“Thank you so much for a great year.”
No, Durant didn’t say anything about his pending free agency. There was no pledge to stay in Oklahoma City. There was no promise to be back next season. But despite that, those few minutes at Will Rogers World Airport on Tuesday afternoon were a reminder of something important.
This is KD’s team.
That’s no small thing.
Thunder fans find themselves at the beginning of a month or so that will be torture. The free-agency period doesn’t start until July 1, but from now until whenever Durant makes his decision, rumors will swirl and speculation will abound. Information will be scarce, but that won’t stop the churn.
Far be it from me to try and tell you what will happen. I’m not in Durant’s inner circle, so I’m not going to pretend I know what he will choose.
But here’s what I do know — Durant is an alpha, and with the Thunder, he is the leader of a very strong pack.
That wouldn’t necessarily be the case if he went to play for another title contender.
And, according to a report filed on ESPN.com, Durant has started pondering his free agency. Anything close to a move or decision for him, though, remains very far off:
One day after the Oklahoma City Thunder’s season ended, forward Kevin Durant said he has started to think about his pending free agency.
Durant told ESPN’s Chris Broussard on Tuesday morning that he has several decisions to make and will sit down with those close to him to decide what he wants to do.
Durant told Broussard that he has thought about being a free agent since Monday night’s Game 7 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals. Durant said he recognizes that this summer will be different from any other in his career.
Durant told Broussard that it’s difficult to imagine where he’ll end up because he doesn’t know much about potential suitors at this point.
After last night’s game, Durant told ESPN’s Marc J. Spears that he will huddle with his inner circle to discuss his next step.
“We will figure it out,” Durant told Spears. “I will talk to my agent, my best friend and my dad, just talk to those three guys and get some advice from other people. But for the most part, I will talk to them in the next couple of weeks. I don’t even know where my mind is right now. I can’t think about what is going to happen in a month. I’m just thinking about what we’ve all been through as a team and embrace my brothers right now.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Has Kevin Durant told the Celtics the players he’d want to join him in Boston if he were to sign there? (Isaiah Thomas might already be recruiting him, BTW) … Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid is ready to recruit Kevin Durant … Sacramento Kings backup guard Darren Collison was arrested on a domestic violence charge …