Durant says his focus is on title but he’s not changing who he is to get it

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Last season Kevin Durant picked up 12 technical foul, which was pretty uncharacteristic of a guy cultivating an image as the nice guy around the NBA. He was yelling at teammates, referees, pretty much everyone but Rumble the Bison.

The reason was his title obsession, Durant told Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman in a very honest interview.

“Last year, I was obsessed with it,” Durant said of winning a title. “Like, I wasn’t going to sleep because I wanted to win so bad. I was screaming at my teammates, at the refs, at the coaches. I got mad because I thought ‘if we have a bad game here, we’re not going to win a championship.’”

Durant said he basically went Michael Jordan/Kobe Bryant — obsessed with winning to the exclusion of all else. “If I miss a shot, I’m going to miss this shot in Game 6 of the Finals,’” kind of attitude.

And when Durant looked in the mirror after the season, he did not like who he saw.

That’s not him. He’s competitive — you don’t get to be the second best player walking the face of the earth without some fire inside you, without incredibly long hours working on your game — but he is not built in the Kobe/Jordan mold and doesn’t want to be.

He’s looking at the world differently this season.

“So I’m not going to let that overtake my mind,” said Durant of his championship chase. “I mean, of course I want to win it, but I’m not obsessed with it. I’m going to put in the work to help my team, but I’m not going to be obsessed with it because that’s when I compromise myself, and most of the time it doesn’t work out…

“Maybe it’s not (a bad thing),” Durant said of the obsession. “But for me, it was just, like, I wasn’t enjoying it no more. It was more like a job more than just going out there having fun playing the game. I never want to lose the love. Once you lose love of something and you make it into a job then …”

It flies in the face of the myth we’ve built up around winning in a post Jordan world, but Durant is right. We in Western culture gravitate to people who are single-minded in their devotion and focus, whether it is music or sports or making sushi. We idolize people who obsess over one thing and succeed. But there has never been one road to success anywhere, including in the NBA — Shaquille O’Neal has four rings, is a lock first-ballot Hall of Famer, he played hard on the court, but would you call him obsessed?

There is no single personality that can win titles. LeBron James won the last two and before that his critics said he lacked a killer instinct (some fools still do) but because he doesn’t go Jordan doesn’t mean he lacks drive or focus.

Durant is a joy to watch because he seems to just be having fun on the court, because he has a love for the game that is genuine. It’s different than Kobe or Jordan, but so what? You can win other ways and Durant needs to find his own path there. He just turned 25, he’s got time.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.