Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Morning shootaround — Oct. 8


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Cuban offers up cautions about ending max deals | Harden to one day help recruit Durant? | Monroe starts preseason in reserve role | Pacers hoping for more aggressive Hill

No. 1: Cuban: Ending max deals creates new issue — Now that the NBA has secured its new media-rights deals, superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant are among the players to chime in on how said deal will affect future Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations. Those two basically share the mindset that the new media-rights deal means the current CBA should be torn up, with Durant going as far as to say max deals shouldn’t exist anymore. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban explained before last night’s Rockets-Mavs game how making such a move could have far-reaching repercussions, writes our Jeff Caplan:

“If you give up guarantees,” Cuban said. “It’s a trade-off.”

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant suggested there should no longer be a restriction on how much the league’s top talent can earn because those players generate significant revenue and can’t be paid what they’re worth under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Durant, who can become a free agent in 2016, made the suggestion to do away with max deals in the wake of the NBA announcing a nine-year TV and digital rights extension that the New York Times reported is worth $2.66 billion annually.

Cuban said owners discussed doing away with max contracts during labor negotiations in 2011 and would be willing to do so again, but players would have to be willing to give up fully guaranteed contracts. When an NBA player signs their contract, he is guaranteed the full amount even if he is eventually cut by the team or injured.

Doing away with guaranteed contracts would move the NBA to more of an NFL model where guaranteed money is only a portion of the total stated value of the contract.

“It was discussed during the lockout time among owners, but never got anywhere. So it was just one of those trial balloons,” Cuban said. “I’m not offering this as a negotiation, I’m not suggesting it, all I’m saying is that was something we discussed before, and max contracts are always big question, guarantees are always a big question. But we have two years before that’s even an issue, so no point discussing it now.”

Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have been quick to point to the new TV deal, plus unprecedented sale prices of several franchises including the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, as further evidence that team owners can no longer claim they’re losing money.

During the last negotiations, the league said 22 of the 30 teams were operating at a loss. The players eventually agreed to a CBA in which their take of the league’s annual basketball-related income (BRI) was cut from 57 percent to 50 percent.

Cuban, however, essentially told the players to slow down.

“It’ll be the first time our TV money comes in above our ticket revenue,” Cuban said of the new deal. “It’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, and I’m grateful, but it’s not going to create so much incremental revenue after you pay out the percentages to the players that it’s going to be a shocking windfall. It’ll be good, but not shocking.”

The new TV deal virtually triples the $930 million per year the league takes in from its current TV deal. It takes effect for the 2016-17 season, and the salary cap is expected to rise with it to unprecedented levels, which will also raise player salaries across the board.

“Our net effect of impact per team is significant, but it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re just going to be making $50 million apiece,” Cuban said. “We haven’t gotten NFL money.”

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Cuban: Ending max contracts would come with a price

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Mark Cuban says if players want to nix max deals, they're going to have to give up guaranteed contracts.

Mark Cuban says if players want to nix max deals, they’re going to have to give up guaranteed contracts.

DALLAS – Could the days of the max contract be coming to an end? Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said he and the league would be willing to listen, but it would come with a price.

“If you give up guarantees,” Cuban said. “It’s a trade-off.”

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant suggested there should no longer be a restriction on how much the league’s top talent can earn because those players generate significant revenue and can’t be paid what they’re worth under the current collective bargaining agreement.

Durant, who can become a free agent in 2016, made the suggestion to do away with max deals in the wake of the NBA announcing a nine-year TV and digital rights extension that the New York Times reported is worth $2.66 billion annually.

Cuban said owners discussed doing away with max contracts during labor negotiations in 2011 and would be willing to do so again, but players would have to be willing to give up fully guaranteed contracts. When an NBA player signs their contract, he is guaranteed the full amount even if he is eventually cut by the team or injured.

Doing away with guaranteed contracts would move the NBA to more of an NFL model where guaranteed money is only a portion of the total stated value of the contract.

“It was discussed during the lockout time among owners, but never got anywhere. So it was just one of those trial balloons,” Cuban said. “I’m not offering this as a negotiation, I’m not suggesting it, all I’m saying is that was something we discussed before, and max contracts are always big question, guarantees are always a big question. But we have two years before that’s even an issue, so no point discussing it now.”

Players, however, are talking about what they don’t want to hear from owners when the two sides approach the next labor negotiation which can come as soon as the end of the 2016-17 season when both sides can opt out of the current deal.

Durant, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant have been quick to point to the new TV deal, plus unprecedented sale prices of several franchises including the Los Angeles Clippers for $2 billion, as further evidence that team owners can no longer claim they’re losing money.

During the last negotiations, the league said 22 of the 30 teams were operating at a loss. The players eventually agreed to a CBA in which their take of the league’s annual basketball-related income (BRI) was cut from 57 percent to 50 percent.

Cuban, however, essentially told the players to slow down.

“It’ll be the first time our TV money comes in above our ticket revenue,” Cuban said of the new deal. “It’s a lot of money, don’t get me wrong, and I’m grateful, but it’s not going to create so much incremental revenue after you pay out the percentages to the players that it’s going to be a shocking windfall. It’ll be good, but not shocking.”

The new TV deal virtually triples the $930 million per year the league takes in from its current TV deal. It takes effect for the 2016-17 season, and the salary cap is expected to rise with it to unprecedented levels, which will also raise player salaries across the board.

“Our net effect of impact per team is significant, but it’s not like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re just going to be making $50 million apiece,” Cuban said. “We haven’t gotten NFL money.”

Cuban wouldn’t discuss how the new TV deal might affect the next round of negotiations and if it could steer the league clear of another work stoppage.

“I have no idea, it’s too early,” Cuban sad. “Who knows? Things change so rapidly in business that you can’t predict two years from now.”

As for owners crying poverty, Cuban, a willing luxury-tax payer during his entire ownership under the previous CBA, said he’s never cried poor, even when “I was losing $40 million. I’m not going to cry poor now.”

As for the owners who did, Cuban said “most of those guys are gone.”

Asked if he expects players entering free agency next summer to seek one-year deals so they can become free agents in the summer of 2016 when the salary cap is expected to go way up, Cuban said, “That would be suggesting they don’t like guarantees in contracts and they’d be willing to do year-to-year.

“Maybe that happens with a couple guys, but I don’t see it.”

After 50 Greatest: The Next 10


VIDEO: Shaq breaks out his list for the Next 10

It’s been more than 17 years since the NBA named its 50 Greatest Players in History as part of the annual All-Star weekend in Cleveland. Almost from the moment the list was revealed, the debate began.

How could the legendary Dominique Wilkins be left off? How could a 24-year-old Shaquille O’Neal, who was in just his fifth pro season, be included?

I was privileged to be among the 50 players, coaches, league executives and media members that made up the selection panel. Yes, I voted for Dominique. Not for Shaq. I thought it was too soon, his resume still incomplete, though he did, of course, become a no-brainer. The others I voted for that missed were: Bob McAdoo, Slater Martin, Dennis Johnson and Mo Cheeks.

As the 2014-15 season approaches, the gang at NBA TV’s Open Court decided it would be a time to expand the list of the 50 Greatest and choose The Next 10. The panel of O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith, Chris Webber, Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Chauncey Billups and Ernie Johnson had a lively discussion. You can see their picks on Tuesday night’s season-opening edition of Open Court (NBA TV, 6:30 ET, replay at 1:00 ET on Wednesday morning).

That got me to compiling my own Next 10 list. My parameters were not to re-legislate the past, so I’ve made my picks based only on players that played the majority of their careers after the original list in 1997:

Tim Duncan, with coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

Tim Duncan, with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich (Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE)

1 — Tim Duncan — It’s quite fitting that the Spurs made him the No. 1 pick in the Draft just months after the celebration of the 50 Greatest. He’s the perfect torch bearer at the perfect time to lead into the next generation. Five-time NBA champ, two-time MVP, three-time Finals MVP, 14-time All-Star, the Big Fundamental has been able to do it all for the past 17 seasons, staking his claim as the greatest power forward in history.

2 — Kobe Bryant – How many other 36-year-olds could enter a 19th NBA season coming off Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery and still defiantly believe that he’ll be able to dominate games and make his team contender? And you give him the benefit of the doubt? Currently fourth on the all-time scoring list, Kobe is poised to pass Michael Jordan this season. Call him ego-driven, a lightning rod or whatever you want, but since 1996, after winning five titles, an MVP award and two Finals MVPs, you have to call him elite.

3 — LeBron James — Not since Wilt Chamberlain has a player come into the league with such fantastic, over-the-top hype. Jealous criticisms aside, all he’s done is live up to it. The perfect combination of size, strength, speed, smarts and unselfishness. He’s just 29 years old with  four MVP awards, two championships, two Finals MVPs and 10 straight All-Star appearances already. And now he’s going back to Cleveland to keep writing the tale. As the late Howard Cosell once said, his critics might as well be shooting “spitballs at a battleship.” Clearly the best all-around player of his generation. He ranks only third here out of respect to his elders.

4 — Dirk Nowitzki — Did the Milwaukee Bucks know what they were trading away when they made him the ninth pick in the 1998 Draft and shipped him to Dallas for Robert “Tractor” Traylor? Did the basketball world remotely expect that a raw, gangly 7-footer from Wurzburg, Germany could grow into probably the best shooting big man in history? MVP, Finals MVP, champion, 12-time All-Star, he’s one of the Mt. Rushmore faces of international players that changed the NBA.

5 — Kevin Garnett — From those early days as a raw 19-year-old who became the first high schooler in nearly two decades to jump straight to the NBA, his calling card has been intensity. Of course, K.G. also has a bundle of talent at both ends of the court. NBA champion, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, 15-time All-Star. If you needed somebody to play in a game with your life on the line, you’d want Garnett on the floor.

6 — Allen Iverson – You can keep Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. When it’s the toughest, most resilient pound-for-pound fighter we’re talking about, The Answer is the answer. The little guy was bruised, beaten, body slammed on a nightly basis and just kept popping back up to fire off another dozen or so shots. MVP, 11 All-Star appearances, four-time scoring champ and three-time steals leader. Watching him drag that 2001 Sixers team to The Finals was a joy.

7 — Dwyane Wade – It’s convenient in some corners to say that he’s been the ultimate ride-along partner to O’Neal and James in winning three championships. That corner of the world evidently didn’t have a TV to watch the NBA Finals in 2006 when he brought Miami out of an 0-2 hole against Dallas with games of 42, 36, 43 and 36 points. Explosive, acrobatic and willing to make his game fit in with LeBron for two more titles in the Big Three Era, Wade’s crowd-pleasing, no-holds-barred style has taken a toll on his body. But he never stops. Scoring champ, Finals MVP, 10 All-Star Games and the all-time leader in blocked shots for players 6-foot-4 and under.

8 — Jason Kidd – He began his career in Dallas in 1994 as a point guard that could beat you down the floor on the break or break down your set defense. By the time he returned to Dallas to win a championship with the Mavs, he was a slow 3-point specialist. In between Kidd was one of the smartest and best all-around players in the NBA, third on the all-time triple-doubles list and the only player in history with 15,000 points, 10,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.

9 — Chris Webber — The critics will point to a resume that doesn’t have a championship or even a trip to The Finals. But they would be missing the forest for the trees. From the time he was the No. 1 pick in the 1993 Draft through the next decade, until he needed micro fracture knee surgery, Webber was as good a do-everything forward as there was in the game. He turned lowly teams at Golden State, Washington and Sacramento into winners by averaging 20-10 and being a slick, willing passer.

10 — Kevin Durant — At just 26, with the meat of his career still ahead, there is the temptation to put him in the Shaq category with the original 50 and say let him marinate a while longer. But with four scoring titles, five All-NBA first team selections and the 2014 MVP award under his belt, who needs to wait? He can get off a shot any time from anywhere on the court and never look like he’s straining. A pure scoring machine who makes it all look too, too easy.

Blogtable: Finding Westbrook’s place

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook remain one of the most formidable 1-2 punches in the league.

> Scott Brooks says Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the NBA. We’re wondering if Westbrook should play 2 guard instead. What’s your thinking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: If Scott Brooks, former professional point guard by trade, considers Russell Westbrook to be a point guard, that’s good enough for me. What’s in a name, The Bard asked. That which we call a Rose (Derrick) by any other name would smell as sweet (if healthy). Same goes for Westbrook. No need to get hung up on position designation. The key is for Westbrook to complement Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup and for Brooks to build his backcourt to complement his irrepressibly athletic ball dominator. Time to move on from the John Stockton archetype, at least in this guy’s case.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: With all of the great point guards currently in the NBA, who is the best is a classic barstool question that can have many different and valid answers. Russell Westbrook, with all of his flaws, is the correct one on any given night. No, he’ll never be linked with John Stockton as a classic set-up man or Chris Paul as an overall floor general, but the Thunder have been one of the league’s elite teams with him at the point. It seems to me that if you moved him to the 2 spot, you’d actually be turning him loose to shoot even more and eliminating a raw, physical mismatch that he has over most other point guards. I’m also wondering why anyone wants to change one of the two main cogs on a Thunder team that has a .688 winning percentage over the past five seasons?

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Why would you play the, ahem, best point guard in the league at shooting guard? No. I’m leaving Westbrook right where he is. Westbrook is an All-Star, the guy does things no one else can do. OK, so some of what he does also makes you want to pull your hair out. He mentioned Monday that incorporating more player and ball movement into the offense is a high priority and suggested we might see something new from the Thunder in that regard. So we’ll see. But starting Reggie Jackson at the point and Westbrook at the 2 doesn’t make this team better. Westbrook averaged 21.8 ppg and 6.9 apg after all those surgeries last year. In the playoffs he averaged 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. Anyone else does that and we’re calling him the best point guard in the league.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: His career best for 3-point percentage is 33 percent and he’s been better than 44 percent overall twice in six seasons. So there’s that. Plus, he is uniquely effective because he is a PG with superior athleticism and better size than most on the other side of the matchup. Move Westbrook to the other backcourt spot and suddenly the Thunder have a small backdoor, a shooting guard who can’t spot up and concerns about not maximizing your second-best player. The only reason it should be discussed is if OKC wants to play Westbrook and Reggie Jackson. Otherwise, no go.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He’s certainly the most talented point guard in the league and one of the league’s most dangerous offensive players, period. Westbrook without the ball in his hands is not the same Westbrook. There are possessions — sometimes when the game is on the line — when he needs to be more of a true point guard, but if you live by the Russ, you have to sometimes die by the Russ. It’s not like you can flip a switch in his head.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Of course, Scott Brooks is campaigning for Russ Westbrook, as any coach worth his whistle should. And he can make a great argument for the force of nature that Westbrook has become, warts and all. He doesn’t own the No. 1 spot on my list. That spot still belongs to Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers. But Westbrook is easily in my top five. My bigger issue is  with this mysterious “we” who are contemplating whether or not Westbrook should play the 2? That’s like playing a high-risk, high-reward dual threat NFL quarterback at wide receiver. Makes no sense to me!

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Russell Westbrook might be the most *talented* point guard in the NBA. I mean, his athleticism at the position is really unparalleled, both in the NBA today and historically. His combination of size and speed and explosiveness render him almost unstoppable in the open court. But that incredible package of skills also seems to dazzle Westbrook at times, and he doesn’t fully know how to consistently utilize those gifts in such a way as to lead the Thunder to titles. Westbrook is an amazing talent, but that doesn’t make him the best point guard in the NBA. Because that person’s name is Chris Paul.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: I think Westbrook stays where he is. Look at Kevin Durant’s numbers — the current league MVP has four scoring titles, with Westbrook playing point-guard. Also, consider this, Westbrook averaged 8.1 apg in the 2014 postseason, only behind Chris Paul and Stephen Curry, both of whose teams did not proceed beyond the second round. How much better can Westbrook or anyone else at point-guard do? Moreover, with Westbrook playing the 2-spot, how often is he going to get the ball, with Durant definitely being OKC’s number one offensive option. OKC’s problems against the NBA’s best remains an overdependence on Durant and Westbrook for their scoring. They need to address that rather than tinker with Westbrook’s position.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: When it comes to ranking point guards, Chris Paul is 1A and Russell is 1B in my book. I think playing him at the 2 is nonsense. Even if you add a another point guard, that’s just gonna cut into the touches and times he and Durant get to bring the ball upcourt. I do like two point guard sets and think Russ could excel in them, but only if you don’t have a point-forward type player like KD. Free Westbrook!

Marcelo Nogueira, NBA Argentina: These days there’s not a huge difference between a point guard and a shooting guard. It depends on the opponent and certain moments during the game, but Russell can play either position.

Ball movement high on Westbrook’s list

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook at the Thunder’s media day

OKLAHOMA CITY – Visions of Pau Gasol, back to the basket, effortlessly tossing passes to cutters and slashers and 3-point shooters as if directing a choreographed ballet certainly danced through the minds of the Thunder, whose ambitions to increase ball movement in their potent, but heavily star-driven offense seem to have only intensified.

“Well, yeah, we had obviously a chance,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday of OKC’s summer dalliance with Gasol, a terrific low-post passer who chose to leave the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls. “One thing I look at is I love the team I have. I wished him the best. I had a great meeting with him. But it’s not something I even think about now.”

Brooks does love his team, and he’ll never miss an opportunity to let everybody know it. In fact on Monday he announced, without provocation, that Russell Westbrook is the best point guard in the game.

And Westbrook promptly agreed.

“I feel like I’m the best player on the floor every time I step on the floor. That’s just my mindset,” Westbrook said during an exceedingly short and curt media session, perhaps the most telling sign that he’s back to 100 percent from the knee injury that robbed him of the 2013 playoffs and half of last season. “It’s not just this year, not just last year. It’s just how I think when I get on the basketball floor.”

If that’s the case then the Thunder’s desire to move the ball around more, to involve more players not named Westbrook, Kevin Durant or pick-and-pop maestro Serge Ibaka should not be the excruciating exercise it has been, particularly during out-of-timeout or late-game situations when execution is paramount.

But this is also a tricky area because Brooks must also allow his two supremely gifted stars to exploit their own unique skills to create for themselves and score. An over-reliance, however, can lead to over-dribbling, teammates standing around and ultimately either Westbrook or Durant forcing low-percentage attempts late in the shot clock. Memphis, a quality defensive team, has flustered Durant and the Thunder in each of the last two postseasons, winning in five games in 2013 without Westbrook, and forcing a seven-game series last year.

When Westbrook was sidelined during the 2013 playoffs, he watched the games from the suite level and said it helped him see the game differently. He vowed to return a smarter player. He missed half of the regular season and then was sensational in the postseason, averaging 26.7 ppg, 8.1 apg and 7.3 rpg. But he also attempted nearly 21 shots a game and made only 42 percent overall and 28 percent from beyond the arc.

This summer the Thunder added 3-point specialist Anthony Morrow, the type of consistently lethal perimeter shooter they’ve lacked, and emerging second-year center Steven Adams has shown the ability to catch-and-finish in the paint. Westbrook said moving the ball isn’t just more talk, even suggesting we will take notice.

“I think that’s key. Moving the ball is definitely a big part of our improvement as a team,” Westbrook said. “It’s something that we made a conscious effort to be able to go into this year trying to do. There should be something that you see new from us.”

The Thunder have incrementally increased their assist totals over the last three years. In 2011-12, they ranked last in the league in assist ratio (14.7), the number of assists a team averages per 100 possessions. That also happened to the be the lone season OKC advanced to the NBA Finals. That season it also had Sixth Man of the Year James Harden, another rare player capable of getting to the rim almost at will.

The trade of Harden to Houston just prior to the 2012-13 season naturally forced changes that seemed unnatural for a team that had grown together the previous three seasons. In 2012-13, OKC ranked 23rd (16.7) and last year they ranked 15th, although their assist ratio didn’t change (Westbrook’s absence obviously also has to be figured into that). For reference, the Spurs led the league at 19.2 assists per 100 possessions.

“We know what it takes to win games. We know what it takes to get to the top, but we don’t know what it feels like to win a championship,” Westbrook said. “There’s steps we have to make as a unit, and I’m pretty sure we’re going to make those.”

Morning shootaround — Sept. 30


VIDEO: GameTime’s crew reveals their early power rankings for 2014-15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics | Rose confident Bulls will soon have title run | Wistful KG appreciates his 20th season | Business already good for Cavs | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play this season

No. 1: Report: Durant plans to play in 2016 Olympics — Team USA secured gold at the 2014 FIBA World Cup despite not having LeBron James, Kevin Durant and several other household names on the roster. While James is still on the fence about playing in the 2016 Olympics, Durant is hoping he’ll get to be back on the squad. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Durant says in an upcoming interview how he is ready to get back on the court with Team USA and also talks about his future with the Thunder:

Durant withdrew from national-team duty in August shortly before the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain.

“Hopefully I’ll be there. It’s whoever Mr. [Jerry] Colangelo and Coach K [Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski] pick,” Durant said in‎ an interview on his 26th birthday scheduled to air later this week on SportsCenter. “I would love to have the chance to play in another Olympics.”

Durant said again Monday that fatigue was his motivation for leaving Team USA before the World Cup, insisting that neither his summerlong shoe-contract negotiations with Nike and Under Armour nor the season-ending compound leg fracture suffered Aug. 1 by Indiana Pacers star Paul George prompted his withdrawal.

“I was tired,” Durant said. “I just wanted to have some time to just enjoy my summer and continue to work on my game but just enjoy my summer. Coach K and Mr. Colangelo understood and they made this whole thing easy for me.

“The thing I didn’t want to happen was for it to overshadow what those guys were doing because they deserved to be in their moment. I was so excited for them, especially the newer guys that hadn’t played in international competition before. It felt like four years ago when we were playing in 2010 and had all the young guys. That’s what their team looked like, so I was excited they got the W [in the tournament in Spain].”

For Durant, the summer of 2016 also happens to be his free-agent summer, which he also addresses in the SportsCenter sitdown, acknowledging the fact that his future — much like James’ this past season — is already generating plenty of discussion.

Even though Durant is two summers away from free agency, teams such as the New York Knicks, Los Angeles Lakers and the Washington Wizards are among those that have already been strongly linked to him.

“You know they’re going to come, [so] just answer them and let people know I really enjoy being in Oklahoma City and I’m just trying to focus on the season,” said Durant, who grew up a Wizards fan as a Maryland native, of the inevitable questions about his future looming this season. “But I know those questions are going to come and I’m not going to lie about them. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about it. But also just know, my main focus is trying to be the best player I can be and the best leader I can be for Oklahoma City and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.‎”

In the interview, Durant also discusses Oklahoma City’s free-agent pursuit of Pau Gasol at length for the first time. Despite repeated personal pleas in July from Durant and fellow Thunder star Russell Westbrook, Gasol elected to sign with the Chicago Bulls as a free agent.

“Sometimes that stuff don’t work out for you, but as long as you can say you put a full-court press on, that’s cool, no matter what,” Durant said. “That was a fun process, so I was excited to be a part of something like that for once. … Never [recruited] before to that extent. I may have texted guys, but no one as big as Pau Gasol. We put all our effort into it. It didn’t work out for us, but sometimes that’s how the game goes.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook chat during OKC’s media day

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Thunder happy to have fresh KD


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook talk about coming into the season well-rested

OKLAHOMA CITY – Kevin Durant turned 26 on Monday. Not exactly old age, but he’s also no longer the kid leader of the 25-and-under Oklahoma City Thunder fun bunch climbing the rungs of the NBA ladder.

He is on the climb to 30 now and things have become a bit more serious as titles have become more elusive. Human frailty has twice sabotaged potential championship runs in successive seasons and Durant’s upcoming eighth season in the league — and who knows, perhaps his penultimate season in OKC — presents another excellent opportunity to finish first. So with age comes a sharpened perspective, a narrowing of time and thus, a wisdom to make different decisions than one might have made previously.

Durant made one such decision in early August and not everybody appreciated it. After committing to play for Team USA and participating in its July training camp in Las Vegas, Durant exited it conflicted. He wanted to uphold his commitment, but his fatigued body was pushing him the other way and his head was telling him training camps would open two short weeks after the six-week World Cup odyssey with Team USA.

“He had actually texted me before he actually made it public that he was going to take a step back from it,” Thunder teammate Kendrick Perkins, a Durant confidant, said Monday. “He asked me what I thought about it. I said it’s what’s best for you. KD did a lot. He carried the load when Russell [Westbrook] was out, he was averaging a lot of minutes, played a lot of time on the court. Going through the season he kept it going to win his MVP and he played at a high level. And we’ve been playing damn near to June every year since I’ve been here. So it’s well-deserved.”

Durant’s decision to leave Team USA three weeks before the start of the FIBA World Cup in Spain came as a surprise to everybody, including chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Durant had made a well-intentioned commitment to play even when many of the NBA’s other superstars had not. The 2010 world championship MVP and 2012 Olympic gold medalist put his employer and Thunder teammates ahead of country this one time. He’s been clear he plans to play for Team USA in Brazil 1n 2016.

Yet when Durant offered a well-reasoned explanation for leaving the team on short notice, some called him a quitter, suggested he was being selfish during a summer in which he reaped millions in endorsement deals and said he unfairly left the team in a lurch. The next day, Rudy Gay happily accepted an invitation to replace Durant and the U.S. cruised undefeated to another gold medal, without even having to face Durant’s Thunder teammate Serge Ibaka and might Spain, thought to be Team USA’s toughest foe.  The Americans won their semifinal and championship games by a combined 65 points.

If only they had KD.

“I think it was more so that I didn’t want to be in full-season mode in August or July,” Durant said during the Thunder’s media day on Monday when asked about his decision not to play. “I just wanted that time to just free my body and my mind of it all and just go out there and workout and work on my game and just enjoy the rest of the summer. Because I know how long the season is, and I just wanted to be fully prepared for that.”

Durant has led the Thunder to at least the Western Conference finals in three of the last four years. No player logged more minutes than he did last season and his workload over the last five seasons is beyond reproach.

“I’d rather have a guy tell the powers-to-be, ‘you know what, I can’t give you my 100 precent effort both mentally and physically,’ because if you don’t you’re not going to help your team,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I have a lot of respect for Kevin stepping up. That was not an easy decision, but he stepped up and said, ‘I wasn’t mentally and physically ready to compete with the 12 guys we had.’ He played a lot of basketball. He’s entitled to have a summer off, right?”

Westbrook also pulled out of Team USA to properly rest a right knee that had been operated on three times in the span of eight months and sidelined him for half of last season. Both players had as restful a summer as they’ve had in years. Ibaka is back at full strength from the calf injury that forced him out of the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. There is a lot of optimism entering camp that OKC is equipped to get back to the NBA Finals.

“I was glad to see him make a decision he felt like he needed to do,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate since his rookie season in Seattle. “He felt that he needed to step away and I was glad he was able to make that decision because I know that was a tough decision. So, yeah, for our team, for us, I think it’s a positive that those guys [Durant and Westbrook] are coming in fresh.”

Morning shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: Nets’ expectations for 2015

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘This is Kyrie’s show’ | Kupchak still talking titles in LA | Hollins installing new system one step at a time | Vogel still believes in Pacers

No. 1: LeBron: This is Kyrie’s show — The new look comes with a new outlook for LeBron James, whose return to Cleveland puts him in a position where he has to adjust his game significantly for the second time in four years. He had to make adjustments to the way he played when he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 to play alongside fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and will have to do so again now that he’s back home in Northeast Ohio playing alongside fellow All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  While it’s clearly LeBron’s house, the world’s best player makes it clear that it’s Kyrie’s show now. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

With two championships under his belt and the storybook factor of coming back home on his side, the presumption was that LeBron James would be the unequivocal top dog of Cleveland’s new-look Big Three.

Instead, it turns out James is more than willing to share the spotlight, as well as when it comes time to decide which player will have the ball in his hands for the majority of the Cavaliers’ possessions.

“I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but this is Kyrie [Irving's] show,” James said Saturday following the team’s first practice of training camp. “He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general, and we need him to put us in position to succeed offensively. He has to demand that and command that from us with him handling the ball.”

James split ballhandling duties with Dwyane Wade most of the time during his four years with the Miami Heat, causing Mario Chalmers often to play off the ball on offense even though he defended the opposing team’s point guard on the other end.

Now, James will have another ball-dominant guard in Irving to play with, and not only is it something that he accepted in his return to Cleveland, it actually played a role in selling him on the move from Miami.

“Coming back, my [Sports Illustrated] letter kind of spoke for it, what this city and Northeast Ohio, what I mean to it. That had a lot to do with it, probably 95 percent of it. And the fact that Kyrie was here as well. That’s a huge part,” James said. “I’ve never played with a point guard like Kyrie Irving, a guy that can kind of take over a game for himself. We need it. So, that was a huge thing and that was way before we even got [Kevin] Love and signed Mike Miller and Trix (Shawn Marion) and the rest of the guys. That was very intriguing.”

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A dozen stories to open training camps

Little has changed with the ageless Spurs since the confetti rained down on the champs, but much is now different with the rest of the NBA. So as the first handful of training camps open this week, here are a dozen storylines that will require immediate attention:

LeBron rocks, Cleveland rolls

LeBron James, 2007 (Gregory Shamus/Getty)

(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty)

Is it really as simple as putting the giant sign of LeBron James back up in downtown Cleveland and turning the clock back to the days of the Cavs as contenders for them to win it all? With Kyrie Irving‘s continued growth, his performance at the FIBA World Cup fresh in our minds, with the arrival of Kevin Love to be the third leg of the stool, it only seems a matter of time before the Cavs are on the main stage in June. Let’s remember that Irving and Love have never even been to the playoffs, let alone made a deep run. But let’s also remember that this is the Eastern Conference and that means the door is open.

Kobe vs. The World

Let’s face it. Nobody — not LeBron, not Carmelo Anthony, not Kevin Durant, not anybody — will have every step he takes on the court scrutinized and analyzed more than Kobe Bryant as he battles the calendar and what would seem to be common sense as he tries to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a knee fracture at age 36. He’ll be determined, defiant, maybe even destructive to his own well-being. More than anything, you have to hope he can stay healthy all the way through the long grind of the season, if for no other reason than to see how he drives and browbeats a ragtag collection of post-Pau Gasol era Lakers in a quixotic quest.

Big Man in the Big Easy

They’ve changed owners, changed their team name and solidified the face of the franchise for the first time since New Orleans was last in the playoffs. Now it’s time to see if Anthony Davis can build on his big dog experience with Team USA in the World Cup and put some bite into the Pelicans. Davis averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds and made his first All-Star Game appearance last season. But based on the way he played in Spain, that might have only been scratching the surface. There are some ready to jump Davis over reigning MVP Durant as the next “best player in the game.” He’ll get up front support this season from Omer Asik, and if Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Tyreke Evans can stay healthy, this could be the beginning of a whole new era.

Stuck on the launch pad

Until LeBron went back home to Cleveland, it was hard to top the last two offseason jackpots hit by the Rockets — landing James Harden and Dwight Howard. But that streak hit a wall when the Rockets went all-in to bring Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh to Houston. It was a bold and grand gamble that required trading away Omer Asik (to the Pelicans) and Jeremy Lin (to the Lakers) to create salary cap space. It also led to allowing Chandler Parsons to become a free agent and sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Now with neither prize free agent, the Rockets are a team that won 54 games a year ago, lost in the first round of the playoffs and have the depth of a one-night pickup at a singles bar. How much can they get from Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan? What does Jason Terry have left? How much of the weight can Harden and Howard realistically carry?

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First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)