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Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 245) Featuring Michael Lee

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Kevin Durant called it therapy, his time this summer with the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team at the Rio Olympics.

We couldn’t agree more. Durant needed something to free his spirit after what turned out to be a tumultuous free agent summer that saw him leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the rival Golden State Warriors.

Durant will have to deal with more drama when the NBA season begins and the furor over his summer decision cranks up again. But winning that gold medal certainly helped ease Durant’s mood, something The Vertical‘s Michael Lee captured in the aftermath of the Olympic team’s domination of Serbia in the gold medal game.

Lee got off of his flight home from Rio and immediately jumped on with us on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast to discuss Durant and his wild summer, gave us some inside scoop on his experiences both covering Team USA and attending other events while in Rio. He highlighted his surprise performer (DeAndre Jordan) from the Olympics and gave us his take on the John Wall-Bradley Beal dynamic in Washington.

Lee, a longtime friend of the program, also provided us with a superb dinner recommendation, should you decide to head to Rio anytime soon, while also reminding us that there will be a positive (MVP-level perhaps) bump for someone who suited up for Team USA this summer.

You get all of that and more on Episode 245 of The Hang Time Podcast … Featuring Michael Lee of the The Vertical.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant: Olympics were ‘therapy for me’ | Colangelo challenges other countries to step up their game | Robinson says Warriors have ‘short window’ as contenders

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.”

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Blogtable: Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?

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: FIBA rule you’d like to see in NBA? | Should teams pursue Ray Allen? |
Thoughts on Kevin Durant as a villain?


> Steve Kerr said it’s “absurd” to label Kevin Durant a villain just because he opted to sign with another team. Agree? Disagree?

David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Completely agree. I understand Oklahoma City fans, perhaps, feeling that way, but no one without a dog in the hunt should categorize KD that way because he made a decision about where he wanted to work. And, really, that’s all he did. He didn’t do anything to you or me. He decided he wanted to work in Oakland instead of OKC. People do that every day of their lives. No one is considered villainous for doing so.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Of course, agree. It’s silly to think otherwise. He changed teams, didn’t rob a bank.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Agree, agree, agree with Steve Kerr. First of all, who gets to determine who’s a “villain?” Jealous couch potatoes? Bored and lazy media types? Durant owes nobody anything. He gave 9 of the best years of his career to OKC. He helped the community. He raised the profile of the franchise (and the value). Why have free agency if certain players — superstars — aren’t “allowed” to be free agents according to the public? Or that there are certain teams (contenders) they aren’t allowed to join? Durant is getting more grief than athletes who, you know, commit actual crimes. Felt the same way about the over-the-top treatment of LeBron for a silly TV show.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I agree and I don’t see him as one. But others will and if they enjoy watching the Warriors in that way, that’s their right. I guess it might be too much to ask for them to just keep it civil on Twitter, though.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I want to agree with Kerr on this one, on principle alone, but I know better than to think Durant or any star of his ilk could make a move like this and not instantly become the villain to a large segment of the sports-loving public. Like it or not, wearing the villain tag after you bolt Oklahoma City for Oakland the way Durant did and you have to own the foolishness that comes with that move. I agree, Durant has not done anything to be labeled a “villain” in the darkest sense of the word. He did what was in his heart. I’ll never condemn someone for doing that. But he also crossed that imaginary line that revisionist historians love to cite as the point of no return for superstar athletes where loyalty is concerned. Free agency provides a freedom of choice for the player, it does not guarantee that he’ll be free of the consequences of his choice, intended or otherwise.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Agreed. This is not going to be a simple transition for him and his teammates. Durant is going to have to earn his success by adapting his style to fit with the Warriors, and every setback along the way will be exaggerated and celebrated. Accusations of his villainy are based on the premise that Durant has taken the easy path to the championship. And so fans by the millions are going to make sure that it won’t be easy for him, in the same way that they made it difficult on LeBron James when he moved to the Miami Heat. By next June everyone is going to be reminded that winning the NBA championship is almost never easy. Someday we’ll look back and recognize that Durant was no villain based on the hard decision he made.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogIf we’re really going to parse it, my favorite part of Kerr’s quote was how he tried to stretch it to apply to any person on the Warriors, along with Durant: “To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd.” Any of our guys? Hey, you know who probably doesn’t think terming Kevin Durant a villain is all that absurd? How about a kid in Oklahoma City who had a Durant jersey and poster and was a huge Thunder fan? Or how about a fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team the Warriors were doing their best to eliminate in the NBA Finals? Look, I fully support KD’s ability to choose his own adventure. But there are consequences to our decisions and choices. And to be honest, all in all, enduring a few boos might be worth getting a ring.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 8

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” | Gores: Pistons are in a good place | Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run | Ray Allen may not be finished yet

No. 1: Kerr: Don’t call Durant “villain” The Golden State Warriors clearly hit the jackpot in free agency this summer, bringing in Kevin Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder in a move that not only made the Warriors stronger but also weakened the rival Thunder. But according to Warriors coach Steve Kerr, in an appearance on ESPN Radio, calling Durant (or any of the Warriors, for that matter) villains would be “absurd.”:

“To think of Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or any of our guys as villains, it’s kind of absurd. Especially Kevin,” Kerr said Sunday in an interview on ESPN Radio’s TMI with Michelle Beadle and Ramona Shelburne. “This is one of the most likeable people in this league. He’s just an awesome human being. What he did in Oklahoma City was just amazing for that community.

Kerr added: “Circumstances kind of dictate, I guess, that some people are going to see him as a villain. But it’s only because he decided to go elsewhere to play. He wanted to change his scenery, he wanted a new challenge. More than anything he wanted to play with our guys. He loves Draymond [Green] and Steph and Klay [Thompson] and Andre [Iguodala]. Seeing those guys in New York, he loved seeing the chemistry that exists and he wanted to be a part of it.”

Durant said last month that he didn’t leave the house he’d rented in the Hamptons for 48 hours after he announced his decision because he knew how strongly fans would react to him leaving.

“For a few days after, I didn’t leave my bed, because I was like, ‘If I walk outside somebody might just hit me with their car, or say anything negative to me,'” Durant said last month at Team USA training camp in Las Vegas.

“I mean, I’ve been somewhere for so long, and then to make a change like that, [which] nobody knew was coming, that nobody didn’t think I would do, of course I didn’t know how it would be received afterward. But at some point, I just said, ‘Look, man, life goes on. Life moves on, and I can’t hide forever,’ so I just had to face it.”

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No. 2: Gores: Pistons are in a good place The Detroit Pistons won an NBA title in 2004, but rebuilding following that title run proved to be a tough task. But since becoming owner of the Pistons in 2011, Tom Gores has presided over a building project that finally has the Pistons a perennial postseason contender, with aspirations of much more. As Vince Ellis from the Detroit Free Press discovered in a wide-ranging Q&A with Gores, despite the solid foundation finally in place, Gores isn’t satisfied with just being a playoff team and talks about that, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope‘s future and more:

Q: The Pistons appear to be on the rise. With downtown Detroit becoming more of a destination, it appears the time could be ripe for a move. You’ve never closed the door, but can you quantify the importance of the next year for the franchise?

Gores: “I think last year was the beginning of the important years. I think we began to set the course last year. We proved a point. We got into the playoffs. I really like the way we finished with the roster with (forward Tobias Harris) coming in. This year, everybody’s a year older, we’ve got the core set with our folks, so it’s an important year that we prove that we are making progress. I’ve always said patience with progress, so this is an important year because they really just jelled last year, if you think about it. Tobias was new, what a steal with (forward Marcus Morris), (point guard Reggie Jackson) as a true starter in his first year. (Shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope) is still a young man. (Forward Stanley Johnson) just turned 20. This a very young team and very, very talented. … It’s an important year for everybody to keep developing, and that’s what Stan’s been focused on, not sitting still to make sure everybody’s got a place to improve. … We have a very focused group. There’s nobody in the locker room that’s a problem for us. These are good guys.”

Q: What can you say right now on the potential to move downtown?

Gores: “We’ve always been open-minded. I’ve always respected (Mike and Marian Ilitch) in terms of what they’re doing. We do have an understanding of some of the things they’re developing down there. There’s a lot going on downtown. …”

Q: Dan Gilbert is doing a lot of business there.

Gores: “Dan (Gilbert), as well. Dan and I have been talking about the soccer team. Whatever we do, I’d like to be that third piece of the triangle between Dan and the Ilitches and then myself to really finish bringing the city together. I think we can do that. I think we have a lot of value to add. Not just the basketball team, but our business expertise. There’s a ton going on and Detroit is getting close to being in the red zone. I don’t know if we’re there quite yet, in terms of the city coming back, but we’re not on the other 20. (Detroit is) getting close, and I think I can be helpful there. We’re staying open-minded and I’ve always said in terms of the Ilitches and what they’ve meant to the city, I think definitely we could be good partners for each other. So we’re evaluating everything and I think we should. I’ve been paying attention to a lot going on in downtown Detroit.”

Q: With a possible KCP extension, you could threaten the luxury tax line (an NBA mechanism to curtail teams’ spending). Thoughts on being a luxury taxpayer?

Gores: “Look, if we weren’t building a core, there’s really no point in paying the luxury tax. Because we are building a core, would I do it? Yeah, absolutely. This is a tremendous team. If you go down the line, player by player, and especially our young folks, these are real players. You look at KCP as a very diverse player. He keeps working at his game and you look at his improvement and just like anybody else, he will improve in other areas. Part of Stan [Van Gundy]’s coaching philosophy obviously is defense. So you say go into the luxury tax for nothing, then that would be silly because then we’re putting the franchise behind. But given that we have such a good core, if that’s what it took, and we feel we’ve made such progress this year, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it because we want to keep getting better.”

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No. 3: Cuban behind Bogut’s Olympic run Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has historically been critical of NBA players playing in the Olympics, rightfully reasoning that NBA teams have huge financial investments with little upside from Olympic success. But in the case of newly signed Mavs center Andrew Bogut, Cuban signed off on Bogut’s appearance with the Australian National Team, telling the AP that they view Bogut’s Olympic appearance as an important part of his comeback from the injury he suffered in the 2016 Finals:

Mark Cuban has been opposed to NBA players competing in the Olympics, but the Dallas Mavericks owner gave Andrew Bogut the clearance he needed to play for Australia after injuring his left knee in the NBA Finals.

And Cuban is pulling for his new center, who scored 18 points to lead the Aussies to an 87-66 victory over France on Saturday in the opening game of the tournament.

“We obviously were nervous and I’m still not a fan of NBA players in the Olympics, but Andrew was going to have to go through a process to get back on the court anyway,” Cuban wrote Sunday in an email to The Associated Press. “Our staff has communicated with him and we knew he would be cautious in his approach to returning.”

Bogut suffered bone bruises in Game 5 while playing for Golden State. Players need a release from their NBA teams to compete internationally if they have a pre-existing injury, and Bogut said he was a little worried he might not get it from the Mavs, who acquired him last month in a trade.

“They were very, very nervous obviously because my prognosis was six to eight weeks and this is right on six weeks right now, but I was open with them and honest,” Bogut said. “I said, ‘Look, if I know I’m not ready and the knee’s swelling up, I’m pulling the pin.’ And they said fine, we trust you.”

Bogut said he even received an email from Cuban before the Olympic opener.

“I told him make sure he has his green-and-gold jersey on watching the game, and he threw a couple of other words I can’t repeat and said let’s go,” Bogut said. “So it’s been a good relationship by email so far.”

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No. 4: Ray Allen may not be finished yet — Sharpshooting guard Ray Allen hasn’t played in the NBA since the Miami Heat lost to the Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. But speaking to the Hartford Courant at a basketball camp this weekend, Allen said he may still be interested in playing if the situation was right:

“I worked out the other day in New York with a friend of mine,” Allen said Saturday, during a break from his annual instructional camp at East Granby High. “I was shooting, I was going through my routine just like I’d always done. Yeah, I was a little winded, but I was able to go through my routine like I’d always gone though my routine and I didn’t feel like I’d missed any time in doing what I was doing. For me, it’s not ‘Can I do it anymore?’ It’s how I feel after I do it. And yesterday, I felt great.

“I could not have learned all that I’ve learned in 20 years of my life, dealing with coach [Jim] Calhoun, and how to sleep right, eat right, and then go to the NBA and do what I’ve done there and then afterwards just drop the ball and let everything go. I still weigh the same I weighed in college.”

Allen, 41, the former UConn star who won two championships and was a 10-time NBA All-Star, is gearing up or a comeback after two seasons out of the league. While he is not certain he will suit up again, he made it clear that this is not just idle chatter.

“My decision is predicated on what is available,” he said. “I said that I was interested because I never retired for a reason. I’ve been watching, seeing what teams have been doing and I’ve been waiting to see if the opportunity presented itself where I think I could fit.”

It has been assumed that Allen, who last played for the Heat in 2014, would be most likely to join the champion Cavaliers, reuniting in Cleveland with LeBron James, or the runner-up Warriors, who have added Kevin Durant to the team that went 73-9 in the regular season.

The Spurs and Clippers have been mentioned, also, but Allen said he has spoken with the Celtics, with whom he won a championship in 2008, and the Bucks, his first NBA stop.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen said, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who lives much of the time in Miami, has opened a restaurant called Grown, said he is not yet sure what direction the Heat are taking. How about the Knicks? “Spike Lee has been trying to recruit me,” Allen said. “We’ve been texting.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is trying to set up a meeting with the French gymnast who suffered a broken leg in the opening days of Rio 2016 … Nick Anderson made it out of the violence in Chicago, and wants to help bring it to an endJoel Embiid was excited by the game-sealing block in Croatia’s win over Spain from his potential 76ers teammate Dario Saric

Morning shootaround — Aug. 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Why Westbrook re-upped with OKC | Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure | Wade’s wife excited about move to Chicago

No. 1: Inside why Westbrook re-upped with Oklahoma City — The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a major victory of sorts yesterday when All-Star guard Russell Westbrook put pen to paper and signed a contract extension. His new deal keeps him in town for as long as three more seasons and saves face for the Thunder after they watched former MVP Kevin Durant bolt for the Golden State Warriors this summer. So why did Westbrook avoid his chance a free-agency riches next summer and stick with OKC? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, who first reported Westbrook’s deal, has the details:

When Russell Westbrook traveled to Oklahoma City to meet with general manager Sam Presti in the aftermath of the franchise’s lost weekend in the Hamptons, Westbrook held no interest for a post-mortem on Kevin Durant. For a front office still mired in angst and anger, Westbrook delivered a sobering splash of ice water: What’s next?

No nostalgia, no reflection and no regret: In Westbrook’s world, Durant had been deleted like his old teammate’s text message saying goodbye on the way to Golden State.

So, what’s next?

Westbrook’s free agency loomed in the summer of 2017. The Thunder couldn’t afford to lose two All-NBA players for nothing in consecutive years. If Westbrook had left an impression that the loss of Durant left him unenthusiastic about the franchise’s future – never mind unwilling – sources say the next step would’ve come swiftly: Westbrook would have been moved into the marketplace, traded for a package of young players and draft picks.

And yet as the rest of the NBA expected Westbrook to begin executing his exit strategy – perhaps to the Los Angeles Lakers or the New York Knicks – his own mind kept returning to Oklahoma City. Westbrook felt invested in the franchise, reveled in the role of a young core’s leader and became intrigued with the challenge of persuading a co-star to join him in free agency.

“The idea of running out to find a super team, that isn’t who he is,” one source close to Westbrook told The Vertical. “He thought, ‘These are my guys here,’ and he wanted to go to battle with them.”

As much as Durant had people of influence coming and going in his life – a revolving door of agents and spiritual gurus, personal trainers and various hangers-on – Westbrook’s inner circle never changed. His parents, his wife and his agent. With Durant, there was perpetual calculation of who had his ear and who had nudged his way into prominence. This was important information for those recruiting him to stay, and those recruiting him to leave.

Trading for Westbrook was an immense risk, because there’s no penetrating his world. Rival players couldn’t recruit him as Draymond Green and the Warriors did with Durant, because Westbrook has never shown an inclination to become buddies with his competitors. He wants to destroy them. Durant’s best relationships were outside the team, but Westbrook counts Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Nick Collison among his closest friends in the league. He invited Victor Oladipo to train with him in Los Angeles, the Thunder’s new backcourt bonding over the sweat inside a Santa Monica gymnasium.

People always had it right with Durant: He was a community treasure, a gentleman who forever took time for those big and small within his orbit. Only, it happened that Westbrook’s fierce on-court disposition – and his sometimes brusque demeanor with the media – caused the outside to mistake his core.

If his fashion forays took him to runways in Paris and New York, he was still mostly comfortable tooling around Oklahoma City, delivering free Jordan Brand gear to lower-level team employees, bringing donuts to blue-collar workers and answering his front door to come out and play with the neighborhood kids.

For everyone waiting on Westbrook to unload on Durant, they could be disappointed. Yes, he has his thoughts and opinions on Durant’s move, but it is unlikely that he’ll be moved to share them in dramatic detail. What’s more, there’s a significant chance it could be years before Westbrook and Durant ever engage in a meaningful conversation again. Westbrook doesn’t do nostalgia, nor disregard slights – real or perceived.

Durant is deleted. Done and gone and no longer part of his world. “What’s next?” he asked – and the Thunder connected with Westbrook on a plan to construct their next act. Once, it was James Harden and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Now, it’s a superstar solo act – with an eye upon Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin in 2017 free agency. Griffin is an Oklahoma kid gone Hollywood, a star who has his own tensions with Chris Paul on the Clippers.

For now, this is Westbrook’s chance to become a recruiter, a gatherer, and bringing back Griffin could make these Thunder a legitimate threat to Golden State in the Western Conference. Between now and then, Westbrook walks back into the Thunder’s downtown arena on Thursday, takes his seat on the podium and the image will be unmistakable: His franchise, his city.

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No. 2: Westbrook opens up on Durant’s departure — In eight seasons together, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook took the Oklahoma City Thunder to The Finals and both players accomplished more than a few personal accolades. Yet that duo is no more, what with Durant now on the Warriors and Westbrook staying put in OKC. So how did Westbrook learn of Durant’s exit? What is the status of their friendship now? Westbrook addressed those queries and more in his news conference Thursday, writes Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman:

Their paths, now different, still likely end in the same place: the Hall of Fame. Around OKC, the sting of Durant’s departure will slowly subside. Time will create perspective. The past eight years will eventually be remembered as a golden age in Thunder hoops.

But when it’s discussed, the relationship between Russ and KD will dominate the conversation, just like it has become Shaq, Kobe and not much else when you bring up the early 2000s Lakers.

The partnership was fruitful, the highlights electric, the friendship, for the most part, genuine. But the ending, well, has been surprisingly sour, adding another layer to a relationship that’ll long be remembered and debated.

Those around Westbrook say he fumed about it for a couple weeks, particularly how KD handled the exit and how little communication Durant maintained with him at the end.

“(I found out) like y’all found out,” Westbrook said. “On the news, on the cellphones, the social media. I talked to Kevin early on in the process. But nothing after. Just a text message from him, that’s about it.”

From their late teens to their late 20s, the two, together in a city random and new to both, built up a relocated franchise into their identity. Those around the team tell legends of their early-morning combo workouts, racing each other to the gym hours before practice and bonding in a quiet facility. Durant has talked about how both Westbrook and Kendrick Perkins were there for him a few years ago when he was going through some family issues. Durant attended Westbrook’s wedding last summer.

“Some people handle things differently than others,” Westbrook said. “That’s the way he wanted to handle it and it’s fine. My job now is to see what’s ahead of me.”

Durant’s landing spot, of course, added an extra dagger. He didn’t bolt for a random team in the East. He went to a rival. The team Westbrook and Durant had just battled in a 7-game bloodbath a month earlier. Did that make it sting more?

“Sting for who?” Westbrook said. “Listen, I understand free agency. I understand having the opportunity to go where we need to go. But once that happened, I told Sam (Presti): ‘What’s next?’”

Durant is currently in Brazil preparing for the upcoming Olympics. On Thursday, he was asked if he reached out to Westbrook to congratulate him on the extension.

“Nah, that’s a touchy subject, I’ll see once everything dies down,” he told reporters, before saying he was happy for him. “It’s good for him, man. It’s good for his family. It’s good for the people in Oklahoma City.”

A couple weeks ago, out at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas, Durant was pretty candid on a number of subjects about his departure. But when questions about Westbrook arose, he got visibly uncomfortable. It’s clearly a sore subject KD has little interest in speaking about. Durant was recently quoted as saying he was unsure if their relationship would ever be the same.

On Thursday afternoon, Westbrook was asked if it would be.

“We’ve been together eight years,” Westbrook said. “You don’t throw that away. Obviously he’s now with a new team. But we definitely will talk. Eventually. But, obviously, now we haven’t.”

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No. 3: Union says Wade, family excited about move to Chicago — When a free agent makes a decision to switch teams in the offseason, his choice affects not only the team he’s leaving and the team he’s going to. The player’s family, friends and his life and general feel the aftershocks of the choice, too. Such is true for Dwyane Wade, his wife, Gabrielle Union, and his children after he moved from the Miami Heat to the Chicago Bulls. In an interview with BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy, Union talks about the move to Chicago and what she sees next for Wade:

Kennedy: Dwyane obviously surprised people this offseason by joining the Bulls. How much are you looking forward to the move to Chicago and the new opportunity for Dwyane and the family?

Union: “It was shocking. There’s no way around that word. It takes some getting used to. We had just built our dream home in Miami and everyone sort of had their life in Miami so it’s big move for everyone. We all love Miami so much and Miami will still be one of our homes. For Chicago, I think the biggest thing for everyone was winter. There was the fear of winter. It was like Game of Thrones, ‘WINTER IS COMING!’ (laughs) Once we moved on from that, we just found our home and we got the boys in school, it was good. We were afraid because we were thinking, ‘Oh, the boys are about to start high school and how is that going to work?’ And they were, by far, the most eager [to move]. They’re like, ‘Ah! Cool, let’s go!’ As long as they got to keep their South Florida AAU team, they were cool with it. Everyone is just kind of jumping in. We can either dip our toe into the pool or cannon-ball and we’re cannon-balling. I think they like that they got to practice at the Bulls’ facility too. They love it, they’re excited. The first month was cool; hit me back later and we’ll see if they still love it (laughs). No, we’re all really excited.”

Kennedy: You mentioned the dream home in Miami and Dwyane obviously had a ton of history there. When did you start to realize that Dwyane leaving Miami was a possibility?

Union: “Even when we were on vacation, I think me and everyone just kind of assumed [we’d be back]. Like, ‘It looks kind of bleak right now, but they’ll work it out. They always work it out! They’ll work it out.’ It probably wasn’t until Denver’s offer came in that I realized. That offer was… a lot. Then there was another offer and another offer and another offer. And it was like, ‘Oh wait, hold on. Are you thinking about this?’ I mean, how can you not? When there’s an offer on the table that is, what, $13-15 million more than to stay home, it’s like, ‘Wow. Okay. Wow.’ But even still I thought, ‘I’m sure they’ll figure it out. They’ll figure it out!’ Really, even down to the hour that he made his decision, I just thought they’d work it out – like everyone else thought. But Chicago made the moves necessary to make his offer work. He didn’t go with the most money. Some people are saying it was just about money, but he would’ve taken Denver’s offer if that was the case. Denver’s offer was a lot, a lot – considerably more than even Chicago’s offer. It was just about finding a place where he’s comfortable, and he’s comfortable at home. Then, the rest of us had to get comfortable with it (laughs). It just seemed like after the season he had and then the postseason, he was just so excited – more so about his body and his health and that he was able to take his game to a different gear. Moving was the last thing on his mind, but yeah…”

Kennedy: You know Dwyane better than anyone. How determined is he to make this work in Chicago and silence his critics who are doubting him and the team?

Union: “I think more than making it work to silence the critics, he wants to put himself in a position physically, health-wise, to continue playing at a high level. That’s very important. Getting to know Jimmy [Butler] and [Rajon] Rondo is very important. But they haven’t even played together yet, so I don’t know where the criticism is coming from. You have Jimmy, who is an up-and-coming star and on the Olympic team. You have Rondo, who led the league in assists. I don’t know how a guy leads the league in assists and is an assist machine, but somehow gets no credit. You have my husband, who is already top five in shooting guards in the last two years in the NBA, but if you factor in what he accomplished and the amount of minutes he played, he’s one of the most efficient players in the league. What is there to criticize? But I get it. Everyone needs page views and things like that, and criticism does a lot better than raving endorsements so I get the business of criticism. But it’s kind of absurd. Now, if a few months in around the All-Star break it looks nuts, then, by all means, criticize! (laughs) But to criticize how it’ll work when these guys haven’t played together is just insane, in the same way that anointing the Warriors champions for adding KD. It’s like when the Big Three came together in Miami. Everyone was like, ‘Ugh, they’re going to win it all. Change the rules! We have to stopppp thissss!’ Cut to different teams winning championships. I mean, the Warriors have to get used to this because they haven’t all played together. Even in the Olympics, where you have three of them, it’s still not the whole team. They need time to get to know each other, to gel, to figure out the system and how it works with all of these moving parts.

“It’s all exciting though. I think the Warriors are exciting. Just like I think the trio of Jimmy, Rondo and D is exciting. I think Carmelo [Anthony] D-Rose, Joakim [Noah] and Kristaps [Porzingis] in New York is exciting. Seeing how the Spurs will do without Timmy [Duncan] is exciting. There are a lot of great storylines. To critique now is the lowest-hanging fruit. I’d rather err on the side of excitement.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: DeMarcus Cousins is messing with reporters’ minds in Rio … Fantastic read on the origins of Hall of Famer and NBA legend Spencer Haywood … In honor of Russell Westbrook‘s deal yesterday, Oklahoma City’s mayor made Aug. 4 “Russell Westbrook Day” … Things have come full circle for Jim O’Brien in Philadelphia … Here are six key questions to ponder about the Oklahoma City Thunder … New Washington Wizards coach Scott Brooks thinks Bradley Beal and John Wall could comprise NBA’s best ‘two-way backcourt’ … Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker will miss  having Jeremy Lin on the team, but is happy for him, too … Why the Thunder may hold off on contract extensions for Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams

Blogtable: What grade do you give OKC’s offseason?

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: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?


> Overall, how would you grade the Thunder’s 2016 offseason?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: B-. Can’t give the Thunder an A; that would have required Durant to re-up. But I’ll go as far as the B- even though they lost a proven MVP still in his prime. The Westbrook extension allows the franchise and the city, as well as the remaining players, to breathe. And swapping out Serge Ibaka (and unofficially Dion Waiters) for Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova is a strong now-secondary move. Ibaka’s impact was in decline, and with Steven Adams on the rise, the rotation up front is more streamlined now. The team still could use help on the wing, but that seems like a quibble in the wake of Westbrook’s re-upping.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWhen you lose one of the top three players in the league the report card takes a hit. But keeping Westbrook saves the Thunder from flunking summer school. Getting it done before the start of training camp to remove the uncertainty from the 2016-17 gets extra credit points. OKC is no longer among the elite, but I’m giving the Thunder a C+, which includes an A for effort.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comBad. You want a letter grade? Let’s say D. The Russell Westbrook deal is big and adding Victor Oladipo could make for a very nice backcourt, but there is no way getting around the bottom line that losing one of the best players in the world, Kevin Durant, without getting anything in return is a crushing setback. The team that could have been a title contender isn’t any more. That’s the bottom line.

Shaun Powell, NBA.comI’ll give them a B. They lost Durant, but the Westbrook deal and getting Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis in the Serge Ibaka trade made the most of a tough situation.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey lost one of the three best players in the world and two of their three most important defenders. Adding some depth and tacking another year onto Westbrook’s deal turns an F into a D.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I think a B-minus is more than fair. Since I don’t grade on a curve, the Thunder didn’t make the honor roll. You just can’t when you lose an iconic player like Kevin Durant in free agency. But they salvaged their grade by convincing Westbrook to stick around. We don’t know what the loss of Serge Ibaka will do to this team, if anything at all. If GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan are certain that they have a legitimate top-five center in Steven Adams and a potential star in Victor Oladipo, then they could be in line for a grade change.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: It’s a disappointment — with a huge asterisk. They lost Durant and there is no replacing him. His loss removes them from championship contention next season. But they avoided another potential free agent departure by moving Serge Ibaka while they could for three players who will help immediately, including Victor Oladipo, whose rights will be restricted. Based on the events that they could control, they did as well as they could to come out of this summer with a like-minded roster and some level of contractual certainty for the next several seasons.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI liked trading Serge Ibaka for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and Domantas Sabonis, although I would have liked it much more if Durant was on the roster. Re-signing Westbrook is better than seeing him leave. But then, even while considering the good things the Thunder did, it is impossible to ignore that the Thunder also lost one of the best players in not only the NBA today, but in NBA history. And they got nothing in return. And he went to one of their most bitter rivals. So if I had to assign a grade, I’d say D+. A nice trade, a good extension, but to me they are further away from their goal of a championship than they were three months ago.

Blogtable: Where do Thunder rank in West now?

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: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?


> In the loaded Western Conference, where do the Thunder rank going into this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Second-tier playoff team. I think the Clippers and the Trail Blazers bump up into the Nos. 3 and 4 spots in the West, with OKC now in the mix with the likes of Memphis, Utah, Houston and Minnesota for the remaining four spots. Not only has Westbrook been a terrific catalyst when playing without Durant, averaging about 30 points, nine assists and eight rebounds over the past two years in such games, but GM Sam Presti, coach Billy Donovan and the rest will be extra-motivated to demonstrate how good the Thunder still are and how well they can remodel a legit contender around Westbrook. They dare not slip into lottery land, at this point.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comWestbrook has already proven that he can anchor the team and lead it to a winning record (45-37) two seasons ago when Durant missed 55 games due to injury. While the Thunder are no longer a championship contender, they battle the Portland Trail Blazers for first place in the Northwest Division. If all goes very well, they’re fighting for the No. 4-5 spots in the Western Conference. If not, OKC is scrambling for the No. 7 or 8 holes. Either way, this is still a playoff team, though the young Minnesota Timberwolves under Tom Thibodeau are coming up fast. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI always dislike August predictions, knowing rosters can still change before the opening of camp, but since you asked: They could still be a playoff team. Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Andre Roberson’s defense, Enes Kanter’s offense and rebounding — there are big holes at both forward spots, but that’s also a respectable starting point. To try and pinpoint it, I’ll say OKC is in the 8-9 conversation. I think they’re going to be very motivated and focused. They are not going away quietly, that’s for sure. Getting a boost from a second-year player (Cameron Payne) or rookie (Domantas Sabonis, Alex Abrines) would be a big help, especially since Sabonis can play power forward and Abrines small forward. It’s just tough to count on dependable play from newcomers, though.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Top 5. Russell Westbrook will have an MVP type season and he and Victor Oladipo will mesh in the backcourt.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comThey still a good amount of talent, but their defense is going to take a big step backward with the departures of Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. I would put them behind Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and Memphis, in the mix for lower seed with Portland, Dallas, Utah, and Minnesota.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The top six is a realistic starting point. Scanning the list of contenders in a top-heavy Western Conference we have to start with that new-look crew at Golden State, followed by the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Memphis Grizzlies and then the Thunder. I’m not sure what to make of the Dallas Mavericks and their revamped roster. And the Houston Rockets still have James Harden to lean on. The Thunder are in that same mix with the Mavericks and Rockets, without the benefit of knowing how all of the new pieces will fit on each of those teams.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: The sure thing — health permitting — is that they’re going to make the playoffs. The top three contenders are going to be the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which leaves the No. 4 spot wide open. Who’s to say that the Thunder won’t be able to grab it — with the promise of a delicious Western Conference semifinals rematch vs. Golden State in which virtually everyone outside the Bay Area will be rooting for OKC.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogLet’s do this by process of elimination. Eliminating health concerns, I’d say as presently constructed, the very best teams in the Western Conference are the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers. I would place the Thunder within the next tier of teams, which includes (in no particular order) the Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, and maybe Minnesota Timberwolves. Can the Thunder make the playoffs? Even if everyone stays healthy, I think it may require Russ averaging 30 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. I don’t know if he can do that over an entire season, but it sure should be fun to watch.

Blogtable: How important was it for Thunder to keep Westbrook?

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: Importance of keeping Westbrook? | What grade do you give OKC’s offseason? |
Where do Thunder rank in Western Conference now?


> After losing Kevin Durant to the rival Golden State Warriors, how important was it for the Thunder to lock up Russell Westbrook to a long-term deal?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Only as important as it was for those frontier towns that got lucky 150 years ago when the transcontinental railroad got built through their neck o’ the woods. Losing Westbrook on the heels of Kevin Durant‘s departure – and let’s face it, GM Sam Presti would have had to deal Westbrook between now and the February trade deadline – would have positioned OKC as a tumbleweeds franchise as far as future NBA free agency. I write that with full compassion for the Thunder and their fans – I spent 20 years covering Minnesota, one of those markets that basically teeters on a two-legged stool (draft, trades) of player procurement because the third leg (free agents) isn’t realistically available to them. Such teams occasionally lure someone by overpaying but then, that’s what they wind up with – overpaid, underperforming salary-cap ballast. Westbrook helps himself – bigger paydays now, bigger contract next time – and has a sound supporting cast to now thrive as his team’s alpha dog. OKC avoids a plummet in the short term and has the chance to keep its title hopes afloat while courting Russ 24/7 for at least the next two years.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Absolutely critical, though it’s not exactly a long-term deal. He can become a free agent in 2018. The notion of Russell Westbrook walking out the door right behind Kevin Durant would have been a message that doomed OKC to second-class status, perhaps permanently. His decision to stay gives GM Sam Presti a foundation to build upon and keeps a team in place that can still be a part of the Western Conference playoff picture.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The importance cannot be overstated. Locking up Westbrook is that big of a deal for the Thunder. (And, really, Oklahoma City as a whole.) Even if Westbrook would have stayed in the long run, with a new deal after becoming a free agent in summer 2017, this eliminates a storyline that could have dominated the Thunder’s season — “Durant just left, and now Westbrook could be next.” Now the Thunder can deal with certainties more than what-ifs. This only pushes Westbrook’s possible free agency out one more season, but it takes his departure off the table for the foreseeable future. That’s huge.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: They bought him for an extra year. That’s all. There’s no big commitment from Westbrook. This isn’t the same as James Harden‘s extension with the Houston Rockets. Mark it down as a half-vote of confidence from Russ when OKC needed a full vote.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: It’s important, because talent acquisition and retention is the most critical thing in the NBA. If the Thunder were forced to trade Westbrook, there’s no telling when they’d get another player who’s just as good. But essentially (since Westbrook will have a player option in 2018), it adds only one year to his deal. So the positive of this summer are still far outweighed by the negative (Kevin Durant‘s departure) in Oklahoma City.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Getting Westbrook to stick around Oklahoma City for the foreseeable future is colossal victory for Sam Presti and the Thunder, given the way free agency began for them this summer. Two more seasons with Westbrook as the head of the snake keeps the Thunder relevant. Whether or not they will be among the playoff elite in the Western Conference remains to be seen. Westbrook’s supporting cast has to remain healthy and performs to its potential and beyond in order for them to compete in that realm. You can craft a playoff team around Westbrook, we know this much. Whether or not they are a true contender in the Western Conference depends on the continued improvement of guys like Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and others.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: This is a coup for a small-market team to defy trends and convince a star like Westbrook to not only take less money but to not return home to play for the Lakers in 2017, as has been rumored for the last year. It speaks to the program that has been built in Oklahoma City, regardless of Durant’s departure.

Their talent has been diminished by Durant’s move, absolutely, and yet the identity of the Thunder is stronger than ever. The old stylistic tension of Durant vs. Westbrook is no more. They are now indisputably a hard-driving defensive-minded team based on the tireless personality of Westbrook and his leading teammates, and the way they play will serve as a reflection of their community. The fans in Oklahoma City are invested in their team more so than any other fan-base in the NBA, and Westbrook has shown that he is invested too.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: It was either crucial or it was just ok, and I’m not sure which it was just yet. Crucial because after losing Durant, the Thunder clearly needed to keep Westbrook around to have a shot at even remaining competitive next season. And by keeping Westbrook under contract for the next few seasons, the Thunder have a solidified foundation upon which to build. Then again, it may be just OK because we still don’t know if Westbrook is the kind of player you can build an NBA championship team around as the main player. They’ve secured his services long-term, but can he lead a team to a title?

 

All-Star Westbrook signs contract extension with Thunder

From NBA.com staff reports

The Oklahoma City Thunder and their superstar point guard, Russell Westbrook, will be together for a few more seasons.

Westbrook has signed a contract extension with the Thunder that will reportedly keep him in Oklahoma City for up to three more seasons.

“I am grateful to extend my contract with the Thunder and continue to play with the only organization that I have played for and have loved being a part of since I was drafted into the NBA,” Westbrook said in a statement released by the team. “I’m really excited about moving forward with this group of guys and continuing to play in front of the best fans in the world.”

“Russell has been an outstanding leader of this team since he was drafted by our organization eight years ago. His competitiveness, character, and unique athletic ability have propelled him to the forefront of the game,” said Thunder GM Sam Presti. “Russell personifies many of the traits that are synonymous with Oklahoma and Oklahomans. We are excited that Russell has chosen to continue to build the legacy of the Thunder with us as we move forward together.”

According to The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first broke the news overnight, Westbrook and OKC agreed on a 3-year, $85 million deal that will keep the All-Star guard from becoming an unrestricted free agent next summer. According to the report, Westbrook will hold a player option for the 2018-19 season.

Oklahoma City has undergone a series of roster changes since it lost in the Western Conference finals, starting with it trading Serge Ibaka to the Orlando Magic on Draft night (for Victor Oladipo and others) to seeing former NBA MVP Kevin Durant leave via free agency for the Golden State Warriors.

Wojnarowski has more on Westbrook’s new deal:

Oklahoma City Thunder star guard Russell Westbrook has agreed to a three-year, $85 million-plus maximum contract renegotiation, league sources told The Vertical.

Westbrook, a five-time All-Star, and his agent, Thad Foucher of Wasserman Media Group, are planning to fly to Oklahoma City on Thursday morning, sign the deal and likely hold a news conference with Thunder ownership and executives, league sources told The Vertical.

For the Thunder, the Westbrook commitment is a significant statement in the wake of star Kevin Durant’s departure for the Golden State Warriors. Westbrook is no longer a free agent in the summer of 2017, and Thunder GM Sam Presti and coach Billy Donovan have a longer window to continue improving the Thunder roster around Westbrook without the fear of losing him in free agency.

Westbrook will be under contract for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons and will hold a player option for the 2018-19 season, league sources said.

In the most likely scenario, Westbrook will become an unrestricted free agent in 2018 again.

In the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook new deal could be instrumental in recruiting another elite free agent to the Thunder’s talented core next summer. Oklahoma native Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers will be a serious target for the Thunder, league sources told The Vertical.

Westbrook is already fond of the returning core of talent in Oklahoma City, including center Steven Adams, guard Victor Oladipo and center Enes Kanter. Westbrook has been working out for the past several days in Los Angeles with Oladipo, with Donovan in the gymnasium, league sources said.

ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Ramona Shelburne also reported on the deal between Westbrook and the Thunder:

All-Star guard Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder have reached agreement in principle on a new three-year contract worth $85.7 million, league sources told ESPN.

Westbrook, 27, will sign the contract on Thursday in Oklahoma City, sources said.

Talks between the sides centered on the addition of two more years to Westbrook’s current deal, which expires after the 2016-17 season. The new deal calls for an $8.7 million increase in Westbrook’s salary for this season, from $17.8 million to the maximum $26.5 million. He would then earn the max the next two seasons.

Only one of those two seasons is guaranteed, though.

In the wake of former MVP Kevin Durant signing with the Golden State Warriors, the Thunder made locking up Westbrook to a long-term deal their primary offseason objective. Oklahoma City removed its qualifying offer to restricted free agent Dion Waiters to free up cap space to offer Westbrook a max extension. Waiters agreed to a deal with the Miami Heat last month.

Westbrook averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season and finished fourth in the MVP voting.

The 27-year-old Westbrook is one of the top stars in the NBA and piled up 18 triple-doubles last season, tying Magic Johnson for the most in the last 30 years. He also notched seven triple-doubles in March, the most by an NBA player in a calendar month since Michael Jordan in April of 1989.

“On behalf of the Thunder organization and the entire State of Oklahoma I want to congratulate Russ and offer my sincere appreciation for not only his profound presence and skill as a player, but for his high character, personal integrity and extraordinary leadership,” said Clayton I. Bennett, Thunder chairman. “We are thrilled he will continue with us and we look forward to exciting days ahead for the Oklahoma City Thunder.”

The five-time All-Star averaged 23.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 10.4 assists last season as the Thunder reached the Western Conference finals, in which they lost in seven games to the Golden State Warriors after jumping to a 3-1 series lead.

For his entire career, Westbrook had been paired with a fellow superstar in Durant and together they turned Oklahoma City into a perennial NBA title contender. The Thunder have reached the conference finals in four of the past six seasons, but advanced to the NBA Finals only once, falling to the Miami Heat in 2012.

Even without Durant, the Thunder is hardly bereft of talent to go with Westbrook. Steven Adams showed during the playoffs that he rapidly is moving up the ranks of NBA centers, and another post player, Enes Kanter, finished third in voting for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award last season.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant says Harden underappreciated | Team USA understands the gold standard | The return of Amar’e?

No. 1: Durant says Harden underappreciated — There are few NBA players who probably have as much appreciation for James Harden as Kevin Durant. They may be on different coasts and different teams these days, of course, but a few years back they played together on the Oklahoma City Thunder and made a run to the 2012 NBA Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. Harden was traded soon after, and Durant left Oklahoma this summer in Free agency, but as a former teammate, Durant has a unique perspective on what it’s like to play alongside Harden. And with Team USA in Houston for tonight’s final exhibition (8:00 p.m. ET) before the Olympics, as Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle writes, Durant spoke about how he feels Harden can be underappreciated…

Kevin Durant and James Harden, former Oklahoma City teammates, opted against becoming teammates again this summer when the Rockets star chose not to play in the Olympics and Durant did not consider signing with Harden’s Rockets as a free agent. But before the USA Basketball practice at Toyota Center on Sunday, Durant argued that Harden is greatly underappreciated for his play in that arena.

“Nobody really appreciates what he does except for the players in our league,” Durant said. “Everybody on the outside doesn’t really appreciate what he brings. Anybody that can put up 29 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and not make the All-NBA team, that’s like a sin to even think about not putting a guy like that on the All-NBA team.

“As a player and someone that played with him and a fan of the game I was (angry) because somebody is right here in front of you and you can’t appreciate him. If he were to retire tomorrow, we would have so many stories and videos about how great he is, but he’s here right now doing it. Appreciate what he brings.”

***

No. 2: Team USA understands the gold standard With Team USA ready to head south to Brazil, where they are the favorites to win gold, it’s clear that the expectations haven’t changed through the years: Gold, or bust. But as our own Fran Blinebury writes, Team USA is playing to reach a standard that may be impossibly high…

It is the bar that was set impossibly high by the original Dream Team of 1992 that featured all-time greats Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, to name a few. They not only swept through the Olympic tournament in Barcelona winning by an average of 44 points per game and never once requiring coach Chuck Daly to call a timeout, but they left a mark on the wall that successive American teams will always be measured against.

“Definitely,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “You don’t want to disappoint. Since ’06, Team USA hasn’t lost a game. Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski) has only lost one game his whole coaching career with Team USA. We really don’t want to be that team that lets him down or the country down. People expect a lot out of us as they should.

“I think the world has gotten better since the Dream Team. You see it now in the NBA game. There’s so many international guys on every team. I think we had 100 last year. So I think the world influence is a little bigger than it was back then. Nobody’s gonna remember the score as long as we come along with the gold. But, yeah, living up to the reputation is always in the back of your head.”

Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony has become the de facto leader of the 2016 team, now playing in his fourth Olympics, a career that began with the desultory 2004 performance in Athens when Team USA limped home with a bronze medal that led to the revamping of the entire program.

“We try to keep that edge to know that if we do what we have to do it’s a very high chance that we could win games by 30 or more points every game,” Anthony said. “But if we come out and be too complacent and just think we got it from the jump, it won’t happen.”

It is both the driving force that pushes them on and a burden that each member of every new edition of Team USA must carry as they pick up the torch for the Olympics and World Cup.

“I know that’s out there,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “I don’t really try to think about it in terms of how much we’re beating people by or stuff like that. I think more about the tradition of how we do things. It’s doing things the right way, doing things as classy as possible and represent our country that way. That’s what we’re expected to do. It’s not about blowing guys out by 30.”

***

No. 3: The return of Amar’e? — Just days after announcing his retirement from the NBA, will Amar’e Stoudemire announce his return today? Apparently so, although it won’t be a return to the NBA. According to report from ESPN.com, Amar’e will return to play this season in Israel with Hapoel Jerusalem, a team he partially owns…

Sources told ESPN.com that basketball officials in Israel say Stoudemire’s move to join Hapoel Jerusalem as an active player is now a mere formality.

A report earlier Sunday from international ‎basketball reporter David Pick says the deal is done for Stoudemire to play for Hapoel Jerusalem in 2016-17 after he announced his NBA retirement last week.

Stoudemire is scheduled to travel to Israel next week as part of an NBA Cares initiative organized by the first Israeli to ever play in the NBA — Sacramento’s Omri Casspi — and has taken a great interest in the country over the past few years since revealing that he has Jewish roots on his mother’s side. He has held an ownership stake in Hapoel Jerusalem since the summer of 2013 after Israeli tech magnate Ori Allon became the club’s majority owner.

On Tuesday, Stoudemire signed a contract with the New York Knicks and was immediately waived in a move designed to allow him to retire as a Knick.

“I came to New York in 2010 to help revitalize this franchise and we did just that,” Stoudemire said Tuesday in a statement. “Carmelo [Anthony], Phil [Jackson] and Steve [Mills] have continued this quest, and with this year’s acquisitions, the team looks playoff-bound once again. Although my career has taken me to other places around the country, my heart had always remained in the Big Apple. Once a Knick, always a Knick.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: After his injury in the Finals, Andrew Bogut made his return to action with Australia … The Heat are looking at Dion Waiters as a presumptive starter at shooting guard … Former NBA forward Josh Howard has reportedly been hired as a college coach … Take a trip down memory lane with Richard JeffersonDirk Nowitzki wished Mark Cuban a happy birthday, although his math seems a little fuzzy


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