Durant will get his against Miami, can Heat limit everyone else?

21 Comments

It was a strategy that worked for a time early on in the Bulls’ Jordan era — let Michael Jordan get his; just make sure nobody else gets going. Defend him physically, but make sure the other guys don’t start racking up stats, too. Eventually that didn’t work anymore as Jordan improved his team play and got better teammates (and a better system to fit them in). That same strategy has been used at times on Kobe Bryant, and on the Suns-era Steve Nash (make him a shooter not a passer) with some success.

Should the Heat try that against Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in a showdown Wednesday night?

Durant is on an MVP caliber roll — this is not voter fatigue with LeBron James, this is Kevin Durant being just that good. It’s not just that Durant is averaging 37.5 points a game in his last 10, it’s that he’s shooting 45.8 percent from three and has a true shooting percentage of 69.8 percent in that time. He’s been ridiculously efficient. Look at his shot chart from the last 10 games.

source:

So how important is it to end Durant’s streak of 11 30+ point games, LeBron James was asked, as reported at Fox Sports Florida.

“Oh yeah, it’s a challenge. It’s not secondary it’s first-dary,” said James, adding that doing so wouldn’t be easy.

But maybe the answer isn’t spending all their energy on Durant but rather taking away everything else.

If Durant scores 50 but Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and the rest of the Oklahoma squad struggles, Miami will get its win. In this recent run every night somebody has stepped up and provided some scoring behind Durant, we just haven’t noticed as we have been dazzled by the brilliance of Durant. If Miami can crank up its pressure defense and force Jackson, Lamb and Thabo Sefolosha into turnovers that become Miami transition buckets, they can win.

For Oklahoma City, one key is to keep crashing the offensive glass — in the last 20 games OKC has grabbed the offensive board on 32.6 percent of their missed shots. That’s a lot of second chances and easy putbacks. Miami is not exactly a powerhouse team on the boards. The Thunder can exploit this.

What we all want to see Wednesday is a lot of LeBron on Durant, mono-a-mano. We likely will get some of that, you can bet LeBron will get a turn guarding Durant, especially if the game is close late.

But if the Heat let Durant make a play like an MVP shooter yet shut down everyone else, this game will end a lot like when these teams met in the 2012 NBA Finals.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

Getty Images
1 Comment

It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
1 Comment

The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
4 Comments

76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.