Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while being mesmerized by head-banging Taylor Swift…
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. At this point, I’m beginning to question if Durant is human. Maybe a Terminator sent back from the future to take over the NBA? Maybe an X-Men style mutant? Whatever he is, I really enjoy watching him play basketball. He dropped 41 on the Hawks — and that includes the game winner. It was a tie game with 22.5 seconds left, OKC was going to go for the final shot and everyone in the building — heck everyone not in the building, too — knew the ball would end up in Durant’s hands. When it did the Hawks sent an immediate double team, Durant drove right to find a little space and a third defender showed up. None of it matters. Durant drilled the game winner. Seriously, I’m beginning to question if he’s human.
Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. Minnesota has crawled up to .500 once again, and they did it with 31 points from Kevin Love, who was efficient with just 17 shots. He got some of those points late when Chicago had pulled within five — he made 31 on 17 shots from the field, and making some big plays including a strong move underneath and later knocking down a couple free throws. Another game like this from Love on Wednesday against the Pelicans and the Timberwolves could finally break .500.
Brooklyn Nets in the final seconds. This is a punch to the gut the Nets need to absorb and move past. Brooklyn was up one with :12 seconds left in the game and had the ball — all they have to do is inbound the ball, hit their free throws then defend the arc and this win is theirs. Instead they end up turning the ball over on an ill-advised inbound pass by Deron Williams into the backcourt, which set up a Patrick Patterson game winner (as Williams bought a little fake and slid right past him). The Raptors closed this game out on an 8-3 run — Brooklyn blew it. They would have been half a game behind Toronto for the Atlantic Division lead, now they are 2.5 back and have a lot more ground to make up.
Gerald Green, Phoenix Suns. The Suns picked up another win on the road out East and Green was a main reason, scoring 30 points on 10-of-12 shooting. He had a dozen points in the first quarter when the Suns pulled away, then he had 11 in the fourth quarter holding off some Sixers runs. He’s always been athletic but he is showing a more rounded game this season in the Valley of the Sun.
When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.
That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.
Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:
I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.
Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.
Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.
It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.
But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.
Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):
I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.
We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.
The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.
The big question: What does Toronto do about that?
It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.
The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.
Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.
For the first time in NBA history, the NBA Finals will feature the same matchup for three straight years.
Among those responsible: Kevin Durant, who sunk the title-contending Thunder and gave the Warriors an even stronger grip on the Western Conference.
But don’t blame him for a lack of parity league-wide.
Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today:
“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs). I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”
Some teams will always be better than others. The Magic, Nets and more were mis-managed before Durant left Oklahoma City.
But I’m not even sure this is the right debate.
Does the NBA even have a parity problem to blame on Durant?
Cleveland and Golden State aren’t traditional powers. Before 2015, the Warriors hadn’t won a title since 1975 and the Cavaliers had never won one. Their ascension is proof of parity – that sound management and a little luck can lift teams from the basement.
Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?
The Clippers aren’t joining you.
Marc Stein of ESPN:
The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)
About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.
The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.
The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.
So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.