Kevin Durant: Preordained


It was always going to be like this.

Build your skill set in the comfort of a rebuilding team with low expectations. Take the next step as an exciting bad team in a new environment with a surprisingly rabid crowd. Make the jump to the playoffs and put a shock on the champs, showing that you’re coming. Learn what disappointment is in a Conference finals loss to a stellar team that would go on to win the NBA championship. Come back stronger. Smarter. Better. Win your division. Beat the team who beat you last season. Beat the team who beat you the year before. Beat the standard bearer in the West.

Advance to the NBA finals with a rousing 107-99 comeback victory.

Take your place.

This is Kevin Durant, and he was always destined for this.

From the moment he stepped onto the scene, from D.C. to Austin, Texas to Oklahoma City, this was coming. He even came with the big debate about him or another player who wound up star-crossed. This is how legends are built in the NBA, and now it’s Durant’s time for ascension.

There will be no questions about Kevin Durant going without a field goal in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Because Wednesday night was not about one game. It was about five years of building, five years of development, five years of smart drafting and player development by Thunder general manager Sam Presti, five years of a small city buying in, five years of Durant game-winners, big shots, and prolific performances.

There will be comparisons to Michael Jordan in 1991, to the greats in this game over time. There will be questions of whether he’s ready to win the NBA finals, or whether this team can really get it done.

But do not be confused. What has happened in the middle of the okra fields in Oklahoma is not some smoke-and-mirrors job. It’s not about a falsehood built on a dream. This is reality. It’s been coming for years.

Durant’s game is a force of its own now. It’s not just the swift shooting, the range, the quick release. He has added so many weapons. He’s able to make the smart play. He’s able to slip the screen. He finishes with authority, he presses when he senses vulnerability and he hesitates when the defense adjusts. And he defends. Tenaciously, using those long arms and quick feet. He’s no longer the skinny-waist kid throwing up threes. He’s the skinny-waist man playing a complete game. This is the nexus of Kevin Durant and it’s a sight to behold.

When the Thunder faced a double-digit deficit at halftime on Wednesday and it appeared the Spurs would push the series back to San Antonio and a miserable Game 7, Durant set the tone. Immediately in the third, he sparked the team. He finished with 14 points in the quarter, missing two shots and a field goal on 11 total attempts from the field and stripe.

Durant can do all those other things now, that’s why he’s a different player. But he’s also the same. He’s a scorer. That’s his core.  And these playoffs have been about huge shots from Durant, his range burying the opponent, his length rattling them. Durant is the best offensive weapon in the league, and that’s why the Thunder are moving on.

Who’s to say the Thunder won’t get beaten in the finals, another step that Durant and company have to live through in his career? What if the Thunder’s good fortune runs out? No one remembers teams that make the finals and lose. Durant could fall by the wayside, could become just another team that reached the gates but couldn’t get through — another almost st0ry.

But somehow, this feels different, this year or next, the year after or the year after. This is all part of the plan. This is the story of Kevin Durant.

And it was always going to be this way.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.

Rumor: Magic expected to fire Frank Vogel

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Magic president Jeff Weltman inherited an expensive and bad roster, limiting his options to shape it.

He also inherited coach Frank Vogel, and maybe there’s something Weltman will do about that.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Orlando’s ongoing malaise, especially after the promise of an unexpected 8-4 start, make it a widely held assumption in coaching circles that Vogel will be dismissed after the franchise’s sixth successive season out of the playoffs.

Perhaps, these people in coaching circles are doing nothing more than connecting dots. Many coaches with poor records – only the Suns and Nets have been worse during Vogel’s two-year tenure – inherited by a new front office get fired.

Or it could be something more concrete, like Orlando putting out feelers for potential replacements. That possibility gives juice to this report.

Vogel has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Will ownership pay to oust Vogel? That seems likely. The alternative is paying Weltman to sit on his hands.

This would be a tough break for Vogel, who coached well with the Pacers. The Magic’s roster is just so lacking. Vogel hasn’t impressed in Orlando, but his opportunity to do so has been narrow.

At least it’d be more understandable if he got fired by a losing team. Last time, he got fired by a winning team.

Rumor: Bucks, Jabari Parker could part after season

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Jabari Parker is a confounding fit on the Bucks now and in the future.

Could he and Milwaukee part ways this summer, when he’ll be a restricted free agent?

Gery Woelfel on 105.7 The Fan:

At this very moment, I’d say the odds are slim to none it’s going to happen … that he’ll be on this team next year.

I just don’t see a good fit there. I didn’t bring this up, and I’ve been meaning to do so, but I haven’t. He came very, very close to being traded at the deadline. And I think that spoke volumes of they think of Jabari Parker and whether he’s a part of their future plans.

Bucks executive Alex Lasry denied it:

So did general manager Jon Horst. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Horst made it clear both on the radio and in a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the Bucks never had any intention of trading Parker

Teams often discuss trading players then deny it to avoid offending the player. Whether or not they nearly traded Parker, the Bucks would probably respond now similarly.

As far as Parker’s future in Milwaukee, it’s unclear where the well-connected Woelfel’s reporting ends and his analysis begins. There’s a huge difference between trading Parker for value and letting him walk for nothing. Just because the Bucks came close to trading Parker wouldn’t mean they won’t re-sign him.

Shedding Parker would not open cap space without additional moves. It would probably allow Milwaukee to use the full mid-level exception and stay beneath the luxury-tax line. But that’s unlikely to land a player who combines Parker’s age and talent.

Because Parker will be a restricted free agent, the Bucks hold the cards. If he’s upset about trade talks or anything else, he can’t unilaterally leave.

Milwaukee must determine how much to pay Parker and how to utilize him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are hard questions. But the Bucks throwing up their hands and letting Parker walk in free agency isn’t the answer.

Tony Parker: My quad injury 100 times worse than Kawhi Leonard’s

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Tony Parker reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs implored Kawhi Leonard to return.

Leonard injured his quad last season, has played just nine games this season and remains sidelined. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him, but he got second opinions and is waiting for his medical team to clear him.

Parker injured his quad last May then returned in November – and said at the time Leonard would return in 2-3 weeks.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s not hard to read between these lines.

Though some Spurs reportedly told Leonard to return only once he feels ready, Parker is clearly applying pressure. It’s not working, but he’s apparently not stopping.

These comments don’t befit a healthy organization, which is just so stunning for the Spurs, whose excellent culture has been exalted for year.

Maybe Parker will get his wish, and a shamed-into-playing Leonard will lead San Antonio deep into the playoffs. But it seems more likely these quotes will just increase tension.