HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For years now we’ve tried to come up with an appropriate comparison for Kevin Durant, for a comparable player with a near 7-footer’s length and the skill of an elite shooting guard.
And for years, we’ve come up empty here at the hideout. There is no one that we can think of that captures exactly what Durant brings to the floor every night.
But it’s never been more obvious that he has the sort of help surrounding him that could push the Thunder into the championship realm just a few years into the glorious basketball experiment going on in Oklahoma City.
No team in the long and illustrious history of the league has had a player score 50, another score 40 and another notch a triple double, until the Thunder trio did it against the Nuggets. The last time two teammates notched a 50 and 40 point game on the same night was 1983, when Kiki Vandeweghe (51) and Alex English (47) got loose.
Durant finished with a breathtaking and career-high 51 points (on 19-for-28 shooting and including a 5-for-6 performance from beyond the 3-point line). Westbrook turned in a season-high of his own, finishing with 40 points, nine assists and four rebounds. And Ibaka topped it off with 14 points, 15 rebounds and 11 blocks.
Not one of them is over the age of 23, a mind-boggling footnote in an otherworldly performance.
That blinding light shining in your face right now is the Thunder’s future and it begins and ends with those three and James Harden at the forefront of one of the most compelling youth movements the league has seen in a while.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This is always our favorite part.
Now that you can actually back up the rumors with real, live contact with free agents, we’re going to get a chance to see exactly who is serious about taking home some prizes in this compressed NBA free agency period.
Contact between team officials and players can be made this morning, meaning we no longer have to subsist on a daily diet of unnamed sources and innuendo. With courting season tipping off, we’ll get a chance to see what teams are ready to back up the hype generated in the past week.
If you like Caron Butler or Jamal Crawford, invite them to tour your practice facility and chauffeur them around town like the blue-chip free agent many teams think they are.
If Nene or Tyson Chandler is the big man you must have, the one that will solidify your team’s frontline, now is the time to show them just how much they are needed. Someone has to give these guys a reason to sign here rather than there.
And with the finishing touches on the nuts and bolts of a new collective bargaining agreement still in the works, free agency is going to come down to the same thing it almost always does (aside from cold hard cash, of course) — which team can work it best during recruiting season.
The recruiting season does extend beyond middle, high school and college ball.
Good recruiters are just as valuable at the NBA level, because they know what buttons to push to turn the head of players being pursued from nearly every direction.
The universal opinion that this free agent crop is lacking in franchise talent, a theory that is hard to argue when comparing the 2011 crop to that star-studded 2010 bunch. But that’s what makes the right recruiting pitch even more important — there were only a handful of teams with legitimate shots to land the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Amar’e Stoudemire.
What franchise worth its private jet doesn’t think it can lure David West or Kris Humphries with the right recruiting pitch?
The Rockets’ pursuit of free-agent center Nene will move to a meeting Monday in Denver between the coveted center and Rockets coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey, a person with knowledge of the meeting said on Sunday.
Nene is considered the top free agent available and has indicated a desire to leave the Denver Nuggets after failing to reach an agreement on a contract extension before the lockout. The Rockets had tried to work a deal with the Nuggets to acquire Nene prior to last season’s trade deadline.
Morey has also been in talks with the representative of free-agent center Tyson Chandler.
The New Jersey Nets won their 10th game last night, assuring Carter and his teammates on the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers won’t have to slide over for any youngsters trying to match their league record for futility in a season.
We still don’t get why Carter and his mates are so adamant about hanging on to the mark as the team with the worst record in league history. But we are willing to try to understand where Carter is coming from:
Perhaps even more startling than the Nets avoiding history was the team they stepped on to do it.
The Spurs have been playing fantastic basketball of late. Yet they proved that old coaching axiom that, “on any given night …”
“Quick, somebody call hell – find out if it’s frozen over.
The Nets won their 10th game of the season [Monday night], and never mind that the victims — the mighty San Antonio Spurs — were missing two of their best players.
The more pertinent development was that the Nets showed more resolve in the last five minutes than they had shown in the last five months, outscoring Tim Duncan’s team 18-7 down the stretch to post a stunning 90-84 triumph before 13,053 grateful witnesses at Izod Center.
The ancillary benefit: The 1972-73 Sixers – owners of that 9-73 record – still stand alone in NBA infamy.
“It got that monkey off our back,” reserve guard Keyon Dooling said. “I mean, it’s just a relief to not have your name in the history books. When you think of Fred Carter and guys like that, that’s still on his resume. No matter how good of an analyst he is, no matter how good a player he was, that’s still a stain on his resume that you don’t want to have.”
These weren’t the Spurs that had beaten the Nets 14 straight times, of course: They are still without Tony Parker (fractured right hand) and Manu Ginobili was a midday scratch after waking up with a stiff back. It didn’t help, either, that Roger Mason was lost before halftime with a sprained pinky.
So the Nets looked at what the Spurs had left and locked them up over the last three quarters, holding them to a total of 51 points on 36 percent shooting in those 36 minutes.
Duncan? The greatest power forward in history continued to look very creaky, going 6-for-15 with four turnovers – including a crosscourt pass that sailed into the crowd with 7.9 seconds left and the Spurs trailing 87-84. That’s when Devin Harris, who played a brilliant game (17 points, nine assists) finished San Antonio off with a game-clinching foul shot.
“They worked hard for 48 minutes and deserved it,” Gregg Popovich said. “We just didn’t have anybody that could score. And if you’re not scoring, then you at least have to make free throws, which we didn’t.”
Congratulations Kiki Vandeweghe, Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez and the rest of the Nets, you have avoided infamy.
More Nets fun from our friends in the Tri-State area:
“History will reflect that the Nets of 2009-10 are bad. It will also now reflect that they are not the worst team in N.B.A. history. After serving as the league’s version of the Washington Generals much of this season, the Nets stiff-armed infamy by claiming their 10th victory in their 74th game, a 90-84 victory Monday over a depleted version of the San Antonio Spurs. “We got 10,” the public address announcer Gary Sussman said as the final buzzer sounded. “The Nets win. The Nets wiiiiiiiiiin.” Never has a 10th victory so late in the season been so sweet. The Nets’ win means that the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers will keep their distinction with nine victories in an 82-game season. This is as good as it will probably get for the Nets, who collectively breathed a sigh of relief that it did not get as bad as it could have gotten. The season started ominously. The team parted with its longtime coach Lawrence Frank, set the record for most losses to start a season with 18, and bequeathed interim coaching duties on a hesitant Kiki Vandeweghe, its general manager. Along the way, the organization pointed to hopeful bright spots ahead: a move from the Meadowlands to Newark and eventually Brooklyn, their pending sale to the Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov and the salary cap space they have cleared ahead of this summer’s potential free-agent bonanza. But the nagging issue of whether this team could separate itself from the old 76ers team remained. “You don’t have to ask me about it and you do not get to ask me about it every day,” Vandeweghe said afterward.”
“Mikhail Prokhorov certainly would have been partying Monday night. The Nets, who soon will be owned by one of the richest, most hard-partying men in the world, pulled off a stunner at the Meadowlands Monday night, beating the San Antonio Spurs, 90-84, to earn their 10th win of the season – which clears them of having anything to do with the worst record in history. With just eight games left, the Nets can now look in their rearview mirrors and see the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who remain the worst NBA team ever at 9-73. The Nets have won three of their last four to improve to 10-64. But unlike their future owner, who was shown with drink in hand, bouncing to pulsating beats while surrounded by several good-looking women at a nightclub in Moscow during a segment that aired on “60 Minutes” on Sunday, the Nets stayed modest afterward. “Hey, nobody wants to be the worst team in history so it is exciting to get 10 wins,” said Devin Harris, who had 17 points and nine assists. “But then again, it is 10 wins.” The Nets – who set a franchise-record low with just four turnovers – trailed by five when Matt Bonner hit a 3-pointer with 6:10 left, but took over the game with a 13-2 run that started when Harris hit a fadeaway jumper 21 seconds later. Between that shot and an 18-footer by Terrence Williams that capped the run, the Nets got huge buckets from Lopez and Yi Jianlian. The biggest play came with 7.9 seconds left and the Nets leading by three. After receiving an inbound pass, Duncan tried passing the ball to George Hill, but ended up tossing it out of bounds. Trying to keep Hill from getting in position to shoot a 3-pointer, Courtney Lee slipped but was still able to disrupt the play. Harris was then fouled and hit one of the free throws to give the Nets an 88-84 lead. After Jefferson (16 points) missed a 3-pointer as time expired, the crowd of 13,053 went as crazy as a crowd can go for a team with 10 wins in the final weeks of the season. “A team in a situation like that, you try to take them out of the game early and not make it a ballgame, and they have skilled ballplayers,” Duncan said. “Despite their record, they have a lot of guys who are very good, so we gave them the confidence to stay in it and they made the plays more than we did.”
NETS CHASING THE TIMBERWOLVES FOR SECOND (TO LAST)
“Watch your back, Minnesota. The Nets are gunning for you. “The way we’re playing, I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota,” Nets center Brook Lopez said with an absolute straight face. No longer are the Nets worried about being history’s worst team. They got their 10th win last night, defeating the banged-up Spurs, 90-84, to ensure the inglorious title of “Worst NBA Team Ever” will remain with the 1972-73 Sixers, who were 9-73. “It’s a big relief,” said Devin Harris (17 points, nine assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes). “Nobody wants to be the worst team in history, so it is exciting to get 10 wins. But then again, it is 10 wins.” Not nine, like those long ago peasant Sixers. And now they insist the 14-60 T-Wolves are within reach. The No. 1 pick be damned (there’s no guarantee they get it with the worst record). So they want to catch and pass Minnesota. “I would love to. If we can catch them and not finish last in the NBA, that’d be great,” said Courtney Lee (19 points). “It’s one less problem we have to deal with. You can ask anybody on the team, we don’t care about that [lottery]. We’re on the team this year. We’re trying to win as many as possible.” Hey, they’ve won 3-of-4. And last night’s was perhaps the most improbable. The Spurs were banged up going in as they were without Manu Ginobili (back) and Tony Parker (broken hand). Roger Mason Jr. (sprained pinky) joined them in the infirmary during the second quarter. But, still, they were the Spurs who had beaten the Nets 14 straight times. “Don’t get us wrong, we’re still mad about the overall season. But 10 wins. We’re not in the record book,” said Terrence Williams (11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter), who hit a huge jumper at 2:41 to put the Nets ahead, 85-79.”
“No champagne bottles were uncorked. The lockers weren’t covered to prevent damage and no one jumped on the scorer’s table with arms raised after the most important victory of the season. The Nets were happy, pumping fists and pumping each up during the game. But after the final seconds ticked down on their tenth win of the season, an unexpected 90-84 victory over San Antonio that meant the Nets would have no part of the worst NBA record of all time, they did nothing out of the ordinary. Except for maybe a group exhale and every player in the Nets’ locker room saying they want to catch Minnesota and not finish with the worst record in the league. “We’re not going to jump through the roof because we won 10 games,” said Devin Harris, who played a terrific floor game with 17 points, nine assists and zero turnovers. “We don’t want to be a part of the worst team in history. It’s exciting to get 10 wins. Then again it is 10 wins.” Ten wins means the most futile season remains in the hands of the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9-73. Ten wins also means the Nets (10-64) are just four games behind the Timberwolves, losers of 16 straight. The Nets, winners of three of their last four, have made that their new goal, finishing 29th out of 30 teams. “The way we’re playing, said Brook Lopez, the game’s high scorer with 22 points and 12 rebounds, “I think there’s a chance we can catch Minnesota.” Don’t expect the Nets to throw a party if they achieve that either. Number 10 was anything but perfect. The Nets gave up 33 first-quarter points and shot just 37.6 percent from the field. But it was the perfect storm of no summer signings because the team was being sold, early season injuries, last-second shots and a coaching change that put the Nets in position to be the worst NBA team. And the perfect storm led to this victory. For the Nets that was perfection. “It’s one less problem we have to deal with the rest of the season,” said Courtney Lee, who had 19 points. “It’s a big relief.”