NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Durant calls Team USA experience ‘therapy for me’ — The Golden State Warriors officially signed Kevin Durant on July 8, but the news of his move from the Oklahoma City Thunder to Oakland came out before then. Durant anticipated some backlash from fans for his decision and even said he stayed out of the public spotlight for a few days after his decision. Shortly after his move came training camp for USA Basketball and the 2016 Olympics, two events which helped Durant deal with his move to Golden State. Michael Lee of The Vertical caught up with Durant in Rio, who had plenty to say about his free-agency decision:
During an emotional summer in which he left behind his first professional franchise, was (mis)cast as a villain for siding with a former enemy and found himself having to defend his character, Team USA provided a much-needed sanctuary. For nearly a month, Durant got to play the game he loves, bond with some new and old friends – and win – without sweating any manufactured controversies or external second-guessing.
“It was therapy for me after making a big change in my life,” Durant told The Vertical in the bowels of Carioca Arena 1 about an hour after scoring 30 points in Sunday’s 96-66 victory. “It made my life easier … I knew [a backlash] was coming. It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn’t care about anything except being my buddy, that’s what I needed.”
Wanting to “impose my will on the team,” Durant scored 71 points in the final three games, with his teammates hopping from their seats to celebrate whenever he squared up to shoot. USA Basketball managed to win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain without Durant, who surprisingly pulled out of his commitment after realizing his heart wasn’t in it. Krzyzewski and Team USA chairman Jerry Colangelo accepted his decision and welcomed back Durant this summer, when the team was unlikely to escape this tournament unscathed without at least one superstar takeover.
“You see guys who like to play, he loves to play,” Colangelo said of Durant. “Kevin Durant is one of the great players that we’ve ever had in USA Basketball, that’s for sure, and certainly in the NBA. I’m so happy for him to have broken the stigma of the media taking issue with him going to Golden State. This was good for him, for his psyche.”
Durant doesn’t like to admit it, but he is sensitive to negative perceptions, and has had to adjust to criticism from fans in Oklahoma City who once cheered him and others who were disappointed that he decided to form a super team with players who eliminated him from the postseason in a heated seven-game series.
“I can’t let anybody steal my joy,” Durant said while crediting the presence of Team USA and former Oklahoma City assistant Monty Williams with developing that approach. “Monty Williams used to tell me that every day: don’t let anybody steal my joy. I get joy when I’m out there playing and it went to another level just playing alongside these great players and playing under Coach K and his staff. I focused on that. All that noise around me kind of quieted down.”
After each of the past five international competitions, a participant in USA Basketball went on to win the league’s MVP. From the players on the latest gold-medal-winning roster, Durant is probably the favorite to claim the honor as the league’s best player next season. In a few weeks, Durant will shift his focus to the one glaring omission on his resumé – a ring. But for now, Durant will cherish a fulfilling gold-medal pursuit that was fruitful because of the process that yielded the positive outcome.
“I worked on my game everyday with the greatest players in the world, you can’t beat that. So winning a gold medal was an amazing cherry on top,” Durant told The Vertical. “It’s something nobody will ever take away. This experience will be embedded in my brain forever. This gold medal is going to sit in my house, in my trophy case, forever. Got two of them now. It’s amazing. For a kid from Seat Pleasant, Maryland, to make it on an international stage, it’s a dream come true.”
No. 2: Colangelo challenges other countries to step up their game — The 2016 Olympics ended with Team USA racking up its third straight gold medal after it dominated Serbia 96-66 in the championship game. Although the U.S. national team’s path to the gold was a little tougher than it had been in years past, overall the squad had few problems in accomplishing its goal. After the gold medal-clinching win, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo had strong words for his opponents:
Speaking after the U.S. men’s basketball team won a third straight gold medal with a rout of Serbia, USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said other countries need to find a way to be more competitive.
“I’m all for raising the bar for global basketball,” Colangelo told reporters Sunday. “The more interest in basketball on all levels, I’m for. I’m a lifer in the game. I love the game. Basketball is the No. 2 sport in the world, [but] we just need to see these other countries get their acts together and become more competitive.”
The Americans went undefeated throughout the Olympic tournament, but several games were closer than expected, including a six-point win over Spain in the semifinals and three-point victories over France and Serbia in pool play.
There was no such trouble against Serbia in Sunday’s final, as Kevin Durant led the United States with 30 points during a 96-66 win.
“I’m not going to be making excuses for anyone about our [dominance],” Colangelo said. “Someone said to me [after the game], one of the officials said to me, ‘You know next time you play, you ought to play with four.’ And I said, ‘No, maybe the other teams better get their act together and compete.'”
The U.S. team will now begin a period of transition, as three-time gold medalist Carmelo Anthony retires from international play and Mike Krzyzewski steps down as coach after 76 straight international wins and an 88-1 record.
But on Sunday, Colangelo seemed more concerned with the competition catching up to the Americans.
“Some of the programs are going up, some are going down, but the healthiest thing for the game of basketball is to have competition around the world that makes it even more intriguing,” he said. “But we’re just going to continue to do everything that we do to stay on top.”
No. 3: Robinson: Warriors have ‘short window’ as title favorites — Hall of Famer and former San Antonio Spurs legend David Robinson reached two NBA Finals (winning both times), lost in two Western Conference finals and had several other playoff trips end well before those stages over the course of his 13 seasons. In short, he knows a thing or two about what the window for a contender looks like and addressed the Golden State Warriors’ future with their new-look roster in an interview with Complex.com’s Zach Frydenlund:
Hall of Famer David Robinson, who won gold in 1992 and 1996, spoke to Complex during an event at the NBA Store in New York before the game and shared his thoughts on the team. Robinson, Grant Hill, Lenny Wilkens, and Teresa Edwards were on hand at the store for a special viewing of the gold medal game where they interacted with fans and comment on the action.
“You can criticize whatever you want, but I think they’re doing a good job given their short time together,” Robinson said. “You give a team a month—three weeks—to get together and you’re going to make mistakes, you’re just not going to be as sharp. So yeah, they haven’t been as sharp as they could [be], but they’re certainly getting the job done, and with the increase in talent worldwide there are no guarantees.”
Robinson noted that the talent gap between the US and the rest of the world has gotten considerably smaller over the years, which naturally makes for better competition overall, but a tougher road for Team USA. “It’s not like it used to be, where we just had an overwhelming talent advantage. That advantage has slipped somewhat,” he said. “So it’s fair, you can criticize all you want, but if they get the job done there’s nothing anyone can say.” Grant Hill, who won gold on the 1996 team, echoed many of the same sentiments concerning Team USA’s lack of continuity and the growth of talent throughout the rest of the world. “A lot of these international teams have been playing together for a long time and having brought tremendous pride to that level for five, 10, 15, sometimes 20 years together is hard to beat,” he said.
Aside from discussing the Olympics, Robinson also touched on the San Antonio Spurs’ summer and the retirement of his good friend, Tim Duncan. “End of an era and obviously, he’s like a little brother to me so I just enjoyed watching him, growing up with him,” Robinson said. “What’s great is what Coach Popovich and R.C. Buford and the whole family have done a great job in continuing to build the franchise and still be very, very competitive. I think we’ll have a chance to win the championship this year.”
Of course, with the Golden State Warriors signing Kevin Durant in July, the team in Oakland will be heavy favorites to come out of the West, but that’s not stopping “The Admiral” from believing in the team that he won two titles with. “It takes time, you look at what happened with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh. It took them a year or two to get their legs underneath them and figure things out and even then that run was relatively short,” he mentioned. “So if you’re able to put together a team like this, you’re generally going to have a short window because you can’t pay all those guys to keep them together. There’s the short window that’s going to end relatively quickly and it’s not as easy as going out to play.”
In particular, Robinson brought up the Warriors losing a few key role players this summer in the pursuit of Durant, which might mess with chemistry early on. “It’s not that easy and people can say what they want to say, but it’s still up in the air,” he said. “Nobody thought Cleveland would win the championship this year. There were four teams in the West they said they couldn’t beat and they were down 3-1 and they came back and won so you just never know. You can’t write the script.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The city of Los Angeles has officially declared Aug. 24 “Kobe Bryant Day” … ICYMI, here’s the new trailer for NBA 2K17 … Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is unsure if the team will be able to keep Aron Baynes come next summer … Former No. 1 overall pick Kwame Brown is trying to make an NBA comeback … Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio is more than willing to help lottery pick Kris Dunn figure out the NBA game … Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Klay Thompson is already sick of questions about next season’s squad … The Milwaukee Bucks made it official and signed Jason Terry yesterday …