Durant's Gold Medal performance less magic, more an omen

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If you were surprised, you need to work on your predictive logic. There was nothing surprising about Kevin Durant’s 28 point barrage to keep the good ship Team USA afloat in their FIBA Championship victory over Turkey. Nor was there anything shocking about his stunning 38 point dismantling of Lithuania in the semifinals. This is who he is. If you’ve been paying attention, this should make you shake your head in appreciation of just how incredible this kid, this 21-year-old kid, is.

The moral ascertations have already started rolling in about Durant, about how he’s the anti-LeBron, the new moral compass, and how he’ll be the best player in the NBA within a handful of years. All of these are not only entirely premature, but unfathomably lacking in perspective. Instead, let’s simply examine what Durant is revealing as his identity.

Durant’s three point attack was his particular weapon of choice today, hitting 7 of 13 from the perimeter. For all the struggles Team USA had this year in the halfcourt set, they did a remarkable job in finding ways to create space for Durant on the wing, and in the corner. From there, it was a matter of Turkey’s defense sneaking in to try and cover Team USA’s athleticism on the drive, and somehow not maintaining closing space on the best player on Team USA. The guy who had torched them from start to finish.

Durant was both opportunistic and patient. When presented with an opportunity to attack, he was aggressive. When they offered him perimeter shots, he rode that hot hand all the way to 28. He added five rebounds, two coming when the team needed to buckle down, and his defense was intent and focused.

While most of America was focused on opening weekend of the NFL, Durant put on a show in keeping Team USA afloat through three quarters of terrible shooting. It was only when Turkey ran out of steam, partially seemingly due to their frustration of being unable to make a significant dent in the American lead thanks to Durant tossing daggers like a circus performer, that the rest of Team USA woke up and buried the Turkish team once and for all.

The question we have to take from his FIBA performance is “What does this mean for his season?” Durant was already the scoring leader. His defense improved, probably more than it would have in just summer workouts alone, but still in an expected manner. His passing wasn’t more on display, nor his high post work, both limited by FIBA’s style.

But there was one thing that Durant probably made a stride in.

There were times last season, both in the regular season and their series with the Lakers, when for whatever reason, Durant wasn’t forceful in taking over in big minutes. He was brilliant, no doubt, but largely within the flow of the game. And that’s better than hogging shots and disrupting your team’s chances. But there’s something to be said for that leadership, and the leadership that comes only from riding the emotions of a team and being the focal point. Durant exhibited that leadership on all fronts in FIBA play, and that could spell huge things for the Thunder this year.

He’s already proved he can score however, whenever, over whoever. Now he may have learned how to overcome the very adversity that pushed him out of the playoffs. If his tangibles keep improving, and his intangibles make that leap?

Heaven help us all. He could have more gold sooner than we think.

Gregg Popovich pins Spurs’ effort problems on players: ‘I don’t remember playing tonight’ (video)

San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich gives instructions against the Detroit Pistons in the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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The Spurs fell behind by 18 and eventually lost to the Bulls, 95-91, last night – which begged the question:

Does San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich bear any responsibility for his team’s lack of early intensity?

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Popovich:

I don’t remember playing tonight. I didn’t play. Guys get a lot of money to be ready to play. No Knute Rockne speeches. It’s your job. If you’re a plumber and you don’t do your job, you don’t get any work. I don’t think a plumber needs a pep talk. If a doctor botches operations, he’s not a doctor anymore. If you’re a basketball player, you come ready. It’s called maturity. It’s your job.

Like it or not, motivation is part of an NBA coach’s job.

But that’s also precisely what Popovich is doing.

His credentials dwarf any other coach’s. He can play to his own ego and absolve himself of responsibility – and players will seek to please him. His years of success have earned him the ability to motivate this way, a method no other coach could use without alienating his team.

Donatas Motiejunas signing four-year, $35 million contract with Rockets

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Donatas Motiejunas #20 of the Houston Rockets is helped to his feet by teammates James Harden #13 and Patrick Beverley #2 of the Houston Rockets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Once the Rockets let Donatas Motiejunas back into free agency, this was only a matter of time.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This sounds remarkably similar to the salaries and incentives set in the original offer sheet from the Nets. But remember, the Rockets didn’t match some of those bonuses that Brooklyn would have been bound to.

So, why not hold Motiejunas to what became a four-year, $31 million offer sheet once matched? Houston got something in return – a later trigger date on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ 2017-18 salary. Originally, that decision had to be made March 1 – which would’ve meant dropping Motiejunas from the team this season to prevent his salary from counting next season. Now, the Rockets can make that call in July, after this season is complete.

The following two Julys, Houston will also have a choice on guaranteeing Motiejunas’ upcoming salary or dropping him.

Essentially, Motiejunas is signing the most lucrative Hinkie Special in NBA history. If he plays well and stays healthy, the Rockets have Motiejunas at an affordable rate. If he struggles or his back injuries flare up, they can drop him with little to no penalty.

After they backed themselves into this corner, Motiejunas and his agent, B.J. Armstrong, didn’t do so bad. Considering the similarity between this contract and the Nets’ original offer sheet, it seems Houston helped Armstrong save face after a bungled free agency (which is easier to accept when you’re adding a talented reserve to a formidable team).

But for how little is guaranteed and how much control the Rockets hold over the next four years, wouldn’t Motiejunas have been better off accepting the $4,433,683 qualifying offer?

Report: Rockets return Donatas Motiejunas to restricted free agency, working on new contract with him

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Rockets had Donatas Motiejunas in a bind.

He was beholden to them on a four-year, $31 million deal and unable to sign with other teams. Motiejunas’ choices: Report for a physical or wait in limbo.

But apparently Houston has allowed him out of that constraint.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

This means Motiejunas can’t sign with the Nets, who signed him to the original offer sheet, for one year.

I bet it also means Motiejunas and Houston have agreed to a new contract. Otherwise, why release him from the offer sheet? The Rockets would be giving up a tremendous amount of leverage out of the goodness of their hearts – unless this is just a prelude to a new deal with Houston.

John Wall pushes down Jusuf Nurkic from behind in retaliation (video)

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John Wall didn’t like how Jusuf Nurkic bumped him, so Wall shoved the Nuggets center from behind and sent him to the floor.

An overreaction to the bump? Probably. Wall got hit with a technical foul.

But I’m mostly just impressed Wall was strong enough to push over Nurkic.