NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Health, experience at center of these Finals— The Cleveland Cavaliers rolled into The 2015 NBA Finals without power forward Kevin Love (shoulder) and only had star guard Kyrie Irving for one game before he suffered a series-ending knee injury. The Golden State Warriors entered The 2015 NBA Finals healthy, but green in terms of experience on the big stage. Oh, but how those storylines have changed as Game 1 of The 2016 NBA Finals (9 p.m. ET, ABC) looms. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle details how wellness and familiarity will be key in this Finals rematch:
“We’re a better team than we were last year, based on experience and what we’ve been through,” Stephen Curry said. “We’re better equipped to handle the scene of the Finals — all of that is kind of thrown at you when you get to the Finals the first time. Obviously, they have some guys healthy, and they’re playing really good basketball, rolling through the Eastern Conference.”
On the periphery, this looks like a rematch of last year’s Finals, which the Warriors won in six games to bring home a title for the first time in 40 years. But the Warriors and Cavaliers are far different teams than the ones that arrived at Oracle Arena a year ago.
The Warriors are champions, a team that felt that target on its back all season and extraordinarily dodged the arrows to complete the best regular season in NBA history.
They went into last season’s NBA Finals with no players who had been there and only one who had advanced as far as the conference finals. This season, they have 13 men with rings.
“I think we’re much better,” Klay Thompson said. “I think we know what to expect on this stage. I don’t think anyone is going to be nervous, like we were last year. Now, we know to expect that shots can be a little harder to come by and fouls can be a little harder.”
The Cavaliers are healthy again.
Point guard Kyrie Irving, who left Game 1 of last year’s Finals with a fractured kneecap, has been unstoppable at getting to the rim this postseason. Kevin Love, who was lost early in last year’s playoffs to a dislocated shoulder, has nine postseason double-doubles this year.
Cleveland made an under-the-radar acquisition of Channing Frye near the trade deadline, and the 6-foot-11 center has a playoff-best 82.1 true-shooting percentage — a number that includes free-throw shooting and both three-point and two-point field-goal shooting.
“I think they’re dramatically different,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of the Cavs. “Obviously, they’re healthy, but not only are they healthy, they also changed their style. They tried to grind us to pulp last year, playing big. They were slowing the ball and the pace down. This year, they’ve added Channing Frye, and they’re not playing Timofey Mozgov. They’ve got shooting all over the place, so it’s a much different team.”
The Warriors are going to have to adjust, but Kerr wasn’t ready to reveal his plan just yet: “I won’t tell you what I’m going to do.”
Cleveland (12-2 this postseason) has outscored its opponents by 177 points in the first three rounds and opened by winning its first 10 games, the first East team to accomplish the feat.
That should be the narrative of the Finals, but this is a player-driven league, so it’ll come down to Stephen Curry against LeBron James — players who rarely will guard each other.
“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who’s what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day, it’s about winning. The fact that we won the championship last year and were the last team standing obviously is what was most important to me. Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously story lines that the basketball fans will think are pretty cool.”
No. 2: Curry annoyed by ‘face of the NBA’ talk — In this space and in countless others across the NBA internet, Stephen Curry has been a darling of writers and fans for two seasons running now. Winning two Kia MVPs, an NBA championship and providing countless how-did-he-do-that? plays will do that for a person. But during yesterday’s media availability before Game 1 of The Finals, Curry chimed in on the notion that he is the “face of the NBA”, writes Ethan Sherwood Struass of ESPN.com:
Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is the reigning two-time MVP and a reigning NBA champion, but he has no interest in whether he or Cleveland’s LeBron James is considered the “face of the NBA.”
“It’s really annoying for me,” Curry said Wednesday. “That’s not what I’m playing for, to be the face of the NBA or to be this or that or to take LeBron’s throne or whatever. You know, I’m trying to chase rings, and that’s all I’m about. So that’s where the conversation stops for me.”
With Game 1 of the NBA Finals a day away, Curry further emphasized that his goal is not to surpass James individually.
“I’m not in the business of ranking or debating who is what,” Curry said. “At the end of the day it’s about winning, and the fact that we won a championship last year and were the last team standing, obviously, is what was most important to me.”
Curry said he has just one preference, and that’s to win his second title.
“Us being back here against the Cavs again, there are obviously storylines and whatnot that as a basketball fan are pretty cool when you have two teams fighting for the same trophy once again and trying to play at a very high level to help our team get there,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s all I’m worried about.”
No. 3: Report: Knicks reach deal with Hornacek — Back in early February, the New York Knicks fired coach Derek Fisher after just 1 1/2 seasons on the job. They bumped assistant coach Kurt Rambis over into an interim coaching role and there was discussion that Rambis was one of, if not the, odds-on favorites to snag the job permanently. Then Knicks president threw everyone for a loop and hired former Phoenix Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, who will be announced as coach on Friday, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Jeff Hornacek and the Knicks have finally reached an agreement on a three-year contract worth approximately $15 million, according to a league source.
The club is expected to hold a news conference on Friday to introduce their fourth head coach in three years.
The Vertical first reported that the two sides finalized a deal, thus officially ending a bizarre coaching search that began a few days after Knicks president Phil Jackson conducted a two-day triangle seminar in April with 10 current Knicks.
Jackson indicated in March that he was hopeful incumbent Kurt Rambis would keep the job. But there was strong backlash from the players, media and fans opposed to making Rambis the permanent coach.
There are conflicting reports about whether Hornacek will run the triangle. Several players, who did not want to be identified, said they were encouraged by the hiring because Hornacek will be given the freedom to install his own system.
In his 2-plus seasons as the Phoenix Suns head coach, Hornacek did not run the triangle.
Jackson was upset that former Knick coach Derek Fisher was slowly moving away from running the triangle. Fisher was fired in February.
One week earlier Hornacek was fired by Phoenix. He went 101-112 and did not make the playoffs despite winning in 48 games in 2013-14.
No. 4: OKC players await Durant’s decision — After their loss in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder returned home Tuesday and addressed the media yesterday. The focus, of course, was on Kevin Durant‘s free agency and whether or not he will stay in OKC or move on for another team. Durant kept with his official line of not saying much about his status, but his teammates — like OKC’s fans — are waiting and hoping for the best. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more:
Will Kevin Durant stick around?
There will be no answer to that in June. The next 30 days will be filled with unending angst for a city, a fan base and, particularly, a group of players who were designed to fit around this franchise’s 7-foot superstar backbone.
“We all know it starts with Kev,” Randy Foye said. “I just read somewhere that Nick (Collison) said Kevin is everything to this place. So it starts with him and the dominoes fall into place after that.”
Free agency arrives at midnight on July 1. Durant said he doesn’t want the recruitment to become a spectacle. “I’m not that kind of guy,” he said on Wednesday. But drama defines the NBA’s open market, where anonymously sourced breadcrumbs trickle out on a near constant basis.
So, like the rest of the basketball world, Durant’s teammates will be following along. But they also have an informational advantage — his phone number and his ear.
“Just flip him a text (message), see what he’s going to do,” Steven Adams said. “We just support him. We understand this is his decision. I ain’t trying to pressure him.”
Maybe no pressure. But at least a recruiting pitch?
“There’s no real selling,” Nick Collison said. “I think there’s nothing he doesn’t know about this place and what we’re about, and I think it’s just letting him know how important he is to us and being there if he wants to talk. Then realizing that he’s going to make his own decision and that’s it.”
“I’m confident (he’ll stay). Yeah,” Serge Ibaka said. “Where’s he gonna go? Tell me. After what we did this year in the playoffs, where?”
Durant has a month to clear his mind and weigh all factors before the heat really turns up. Discussions will likely be had with all involved parties, including teammates. But he has repeated that the two most trusted voices will be his agent, Rich Kleiman, and his manager, Charlie Bell — guys with no direct affiliation with the Thunder.
“It’s kind of hard to talk to one of my teammates,” Durant said. “It’s one of these things where I just — I got to just hear from me and hear what I want and talk to myself about what I need and how I can make this thing work for myself and just try to be a little selfish a bit.”
It would seem wise, though, to reach out to his co-star. Russell Westbrook is a free agent next summer. His long-term professional plans likely affect Durant’s — and vice versa.
“I’m sure at some point me and Russell will sit down and talk,” Durant said. “But he’s putting no pressure on me. He’s been just great in this whole thing and just being my friend.”
Said Westbrook: “He has to make a decision that’s best for him and what best fits him. But Kevin has always been like a brother to me, so regardless of what happens, we’re always going to be friends.”
June is here. July is coming. The waiting game begins.
“I wouldn’t say they should be worried,” Mohammed said. “I mean, sit back, relax and see what happens.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers’ Austin Rivers and Wesley Johnson have both opted out of their contracts and will be free agents … Yes, Stephen Curry uses Uber to get around the Bay Area … Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban could make some serious money if the San Jose Sharks in the NHL and Warriors in the NBA both win the title this season …