NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Curry not himself during Finals – Anyone who saw Stephen Curry during the regular season, when he won his second straight MVP (and did so unanimously), and during the last month of the playoffs knew that he wasn’t 100 percent. That’s not to offer an excuse — remember, the Cavs didn’t have Kyrie Irving for all but one game during the 2015 Finals — but it was the sad reality for the Warriors and their franchise guard. Curry says he still hasn’t gotten over Game 7, and discussed that and more with Sam Amick of USA Today:
From here until the end of his Hall of Fame-bound career, the piece of film that likely will haunt him most is the NBA Finals Game 7 loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Say what you will about all of the factors that weren’t in their favor — Curry’s right knee injury that slowed him until the end, the Andrew Bogut absence in the last two games because of a knee injury, the Draymond Green suspension in Game 5 that led to a series-turning loss — the championship was theirs for the taking again.
The fact that Curry missed 13 of 19 shots, including 10 of 14 from three-point range, when it mattered most only made the offseason worse. He finished with 17 points, two assists and four turnovers in the finale.
“I still haven’t gotten over Game 7,” Curry told USA TODAY Sports during a break in the shoot. “That’s something that will stay with me pretty much forever, for good and bad reasons. Obviously you hated the feeling, but it’s also a motivator to come back even stronger and try not to have that feeling again.
“I’m at that point now where I can try to fuel any kind of terrible nightmares or thoughts about Game 7 into motivation for how I’m going to prepare myself for this year.”
And therein lies the saving grace for Curry and the new-look Warriors: they’ll be the cause of night terrors for the rest of the NBA soon enough.
If there were a cure for this kind of hoops hangover, the arrival of Kevin Durant should have been it. Less than two weeks after the Game 7 loss, not long after Curry and a band of other Warriors players, coaches and executives recruited the former Oklahoma City Thunder star in a Hamptons mansion, the Warriors got the word that the biggest fish in the free agency was coming their way. But Curry’s recovery was far too complicated for that to be the quick fix.
Those first few days were the roughest of them all, he admits, especially for someone who has always taken such pride in not letting his work life affect him at home. The Cavs had made history at Oracle Arena, becoming the first team in league history to recover from a 3-1 Finals deficit to win it all while winning two of the final three games on the road. LeBron James, who many believed had lost his unofficial title as the game’s best player to Curry before he re-seized that status, had celebrated in their halls as if he owned the place.
Even the smiles of Curry’s two young daughters, Riley and Ryan, and the support of his wife, Ayesha, couldn’t soothe that initial sting. Ditto for the golf outings with President Obama, the late-night talk-show appearances and the annual trip to China with Under Armour that were to come.
“Starting with that night (of Game 7), it kind of was like a surreal feeling at home, kind of like, ‘What just happened?’ because we were so confident we could get it done,” Curry said. “Human nature kind of took in, where I was a little down — kind of naturally. But I was able to kind of just get away, go on vacation with the family (in Hawaii), get in front of the next generation at a couple (basketball) camps, still be around the game but not be depressed at all and understand we’re playing for the Finals and hopefully get another chance at it next year.”
In a way, it’s apropos that the Warriors lost the what-if way. A year before, it was the Cavs who were left with questions regarding injuries: What if Kyrie Irving hadn’t broken his kneecap in Game 1, or if Kevin Love’s dislocated shoulder hadn’t ended his season in the first round against the Boston Celtics? This time, it was the Warriors’ turn to wonder what might have been.
Brandon Payne, Curry’s personal trainer who is based in his hometown of Charlotte but trains with him in the San Francisco Bay Area, had a front-row seat.
“The first day I saw him after (Game 7), we both just had a moment of, ‘Well that really sucked,’ ” Payne said. “But after that, we haven’t really talked about it. We just moved forward.
“It’s one of those things where we know it happened, right? We don’t have to (watch the tape). We know what happened, and we have a pretty good handle on why it happened. We’ll just focus on getting him ready for 82 games (next season).”
But not before Curry would rest in a way that spoke volumes about his health.
No. 2: Love on being Westbrook’s college teammate — Kevin Love was the most sought-after high school player in his class and Russell Westbrook was a late-bloomer who didn’t have many scholarship offers. They both wound up at UCLA and the rest is history. Although the Bruins didn’t win a national championship with those two — how is that possible? — the experience left a big impression on Love. In a recent essay for The Players Tribune, Love spoke glowingly about his time with fabled coach John Wooden and also discussed how he and Westbrook grew close:
The first teammate I met after I got to campus was Russell Westbrook. I was on Bruin Walk. I was fresh out of high school and was rocking a new buzz-cut (the first haircut in years my mom hadn’t given me). All I knew then was basketball … which is another way of saying I didn’t have any style.
Russ, who was going into sophomore year, had both style and confidence … through the roof.
“Hey man,” he said. “Where’d you get that backpack?”
People were stopping to listen in to Russ digging into me. Russ always attracted a crowd, even then. He was smiling ear to ear. I could tell he didn’t necessarily mean it as a compliment.
Before I could say anything, Russ went on.
“Damn, how big are those Jordans?”
He was already testing me. I knew I was going to like this guy.
Russ and I ended up being roommates on the road. I think we had an immediate bond because we had common goals coming out of high school. We’d lie around our hotel room talking about making it to the NBA.
Sometimes Russ could be a stubborn roommate. We butted heads because we were competitive about everything. We competed at video games. We played hundreds of hands of a card game called “13.” (I still maintain that I’m up by one point.) We showed up to the gym early (he was somehow always there before me) to lift, study film and get in some extra shooting.
We were even competitive over the temperature of the room.
You know the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode where Vivica’s character is sick in bed and Larry keeps adjusting the thermostat? That was me and Russ.
Our thermostat battles would go something like this….
“Minimum 74,” he’d say.
I needed the room cold. Around 68 was perfect.
At night, Russ would jump up from bed and turn the dial way up — and then five minutes later I would sneak over and turn it back down.
One time I offered a compromise — “How ‘bout 71 degrees?”
“Seventy-three,” Russ replied. “Final offer.”
See what I mean? Dude is stubborn.
Over time, I got to see another side of Russ, too. Like the first time he talked to me about a girl named Nina. She was on the women’s basketball team. He would go on and on about her.
No. 3: Giannis now the cornerstone of the Bucks — As if there was any lingering doubt, the Bucks made it official the other day when they gave him a massive contract extension: Giannis Antetokounmpo is the bedrock of the franchise. Not only did the Greek Freak enhance his game last season, but he also delivered a promising stint at point guard, proof of his freakish versatility. Getting him to agree to an extension bodes well for the small-market Bucks; the goal is to keep their young core together and become a perennial playoff team in the very near future. Gianni spoke with Charles Gardner of the Milwaukee Sentinel:
Everything was new to Giannis Antetokounmpo when he arrived in Milwaukee three years ago as a rookie first-round pick from Greece.
The 6-foot-11 Antetokounmpo even had to learn to drive a car, and a somewhat nervous Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond helped out a few times from the passenger seat of a Ford Edge.
On Tuesday the Bucks player was put in another driver’s seat as he spoke with humor and candor to reporters about the four-year, $100 million contract he signed earlier in the day.
“That’s crazy,” Antetokounmpo said about his driving lessons. “No GM in the league would even do that. We almost had a car accident outside the practice facility. Thank God I was too good of a driver. I avoided it at the last minute.”
Hammond had a slightly different take on driving with Giannis.
“We had a lot of faith in Giannis as a basketball player, but early on, as a driver, we had some real concerns,” Hammond said with a laugh. “We worked on parking. Then we tried to work on parallel parking, all in preparation for his test. But he did it; he made it.”
Now the 21-year-old Antetokounmpo has made enough progress on the basketball court to be awarded the richest contract in franchise history, one that will pay him just shy of $23 million in the first year of the deal in 2017-’18.
He vowed Tuesday the big money would not change his approach to the game or the work habits that helped him get to this point. And Antetokounmpo said he never had any doubts he would stay in Milwaukee.
“I can’t imagine me being somewhere else,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t say this just for the media but from the bottom of my heart. I know after this five years, hopefully, we’ll be doing great, and I’ll be here five more years.
“As I said last summer, I want to be here for 20 years. I don’t like change, anyway.”
Antetokounmpo’s path from the second division in Greece to becoming a franchise-type NBA player is a storybook tale. Even his agent, Alex Saratsis, could not have predicted it.
“Anybody who sits here and says ‘I could see this coming’ would be lying,” Saratsis said. “He came in as a mold of clay. You have no idea.
“We still talk about it. His rookie year, if there had not been all the injuries, you never know how this turns out. Midway through the season they said, ‘This isn’t going the way we expected it to; go ahead. Give it a shot.’ I think that’s what propelled him.”
Antetokounmpo got the chance to play on the Bucks’ league-worst 15-67 team as a rookie under coach Larry Drew. Then he took a big step forward as part of a playoff team under coach Jason Kidd in the 2014-’15 season. And Kidd gave the Greek Freak a much bigger role last season when the youngster moved to the point guard spot.
“I think it was after the all-star break and we were playing in Atlanta, and Coach (Kidd) made the decision for me to be the point guard,” Antetokounmpo said. “I wasn’t expecting that. Fifteen minutes before the game, Coach was like, ‘You’re handling the ball today.’
“After that game, I was like, ‘OK, my teammates trust me with the ball in my hands. Coach trusts me.’ I might be able to take the next step right here. I think I took it. It’s not the finish line; it’s just the beginning.”
Antetokounmpo took less than the maximum contract of $106 million over four years and bypassed a possible fifth year in the deal, giving the Bucks flexibility for future negotiations. Forward Jabari Parker, also a key part of the Bucks’ young core, will be eligible for an extension next summer.
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