Kevin Durant, Nicolas Batum

Kevin Durant dislikes dark ‘Slim Reaper’ nickname

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To compete at the highest levels, Michael Jordan channeled something inside himself, something dark and menacing.

Sometimes, it made him really unlikable, even to his teammates. But it also separated him from several similarly talented players to the point there’s little debate about the greatest player of all time.

Jordan’s mean streak both helped him win six championships and embarrass himself during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He couldn’t turn it off. There was nothing phony about it.

Because Jordan has become the standard for any wing superstar that has followed him, several members of the current generation have tried to emulate Jordan’s competitive nature – not only in intensity, but style too. Kobe Bryant flashes a similar rage at times, and after resisting for a while, so has LeBron James.

Kevin Durant, though, has been different.

His on-court persona ranges from calmly focused to jubilant. He never really seemed to be playing from a place of hate – at least until Russell Westbrook’s latest injury.

Since then, Durant’s in-game demeanor has seemed a little more angered, a little more cold. Maybe he’s mad about having to carry the load himself. Maybe he’s mad about critics too quickly writing off the Thunder. Maybe he’s mad about something else in his life we know nothing about.

But he has looked at least a little different, and that’s coincided with him playing the best basketball of his career.

During this stretch, he’s gotten a new nickname – “Slim Reaper.” (Personally, I wasn’t ready for Durant to outgrow “Durantula.” He’s so long, and he’s so skilled, it sometimes seems as if he’s working with more arms than the rest of us.)

He’s also thin and slays opponents, though, so “Slim Reaper” fits the Durant we’ve seen lately. But is this who Durant has become on the court? If so, the nickname should stick. But if he reverts to his previous demeanor once Westbrook returns, it probably won’t fit that well anymore.

If Durant had his druthers, the nickname would change before that.

Durant, via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“I’m here to shine a bright light,” Durant said. “I’m not here to be a guy of, I guess, death. I just like KD better.”

“That name is what it is,” Durant said. “It’s cool to have a nickname somebody else gave to you. It’s kind of weird if you make your own nickname up. But to have that out there, I guess, is cool…Everybody’s been loving the name. I think I’m the only one that really doesn’t like it too much.”

Good luck, Durant. I’m not sure there’s an NBA player who’s expressed more dislike for his nickname than Andre Iguodala, and nearly nobody has stopped calling him “Iggy.”

But if Durant wants any chance of dumping his new nickname, he must return to playing with a little more outward joy in his game, because the Durant we’ve seen lately definitely seems like a Slim Reaper.

Watch Nerlens Noel say goodbye to Joel Embiid after learning of trade

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Nerlens Noel had a plane to catch — he is headed to Minneapolis because that is where his new team the Dallas Mavericks are right now (Dallas faces Minnesota on Friday night).

But first, Noel wanted to say goodbye to his buddy Joel Embiid.

Noel was traded to the Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut (who will be traded again by the deadline or waived by Philly after), and a protected first-round pick in the 2017 draft that will almost certainly convert to two second-round picks (2017 and 2018). It’s a great landing spot for Noel, Dallas will re-sign him this summer and see him as the future of the franchise at the five.

What we as fans tend to focus on is things like that last paragraph — who “won” or who “lost” the trade, how it fits on the court — and we can forget these are human beings. They are leaving their home, their friends, and in many cases asking family to pack up and move with them. There is a human side, a human cost to these trades, which we can’t overlook.

Report: Boston finally willing to put Nets pick in Paul George trade talks, still may not be enough

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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They are the two biggest pieces on the trade deadline day chess board: Boston has the rights to swap picks with Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season (and the Nets will finish with the worst record in the league), and then Boston owns the Brooklyn pick outright next season.

So far, Boston hasn’t been willing to put those pieces into play, even for an elite player such as Jimmy Butler or Paul George. The thinking in Boston has been very logical: Cleveland is in the middle of its title window, Toronto also is a win-now team (hence the Serge Ibaka trade), and Washington is in the same boat. However, with those Brooklyn picks the Celtics are not going to peak until three years or so from now, right as those other teams fade. Boston could be patient because they have next.

But that attitude seems to be shifting a little — Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports one of the Nets picks may be in play for George.

We don’t know which pick (17 or 18) nor do we know what other pieces are involved. There’s a lot of variables and more than likely this deal doesn’t happen.

This seems to signal a shift in Boston’s thinking — they may be sliding into a win-now space. It means they see the Cavaliers as vulnerable (maybe due to the rash of injuries and the heavy minutes for LeBron James) and they want to pounce now rather than wait.

Report: Sixers trade Nerlens Noel to Mavericks for Bogut, Anderson, first-round pick

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Philadephia has been trying to unclog its frontcourt logjam for a while, but finding little out there in a market with a glut of big men — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Gregg Monroe, and so on. They have not found a deal they like for Jahlil Okafor despite months of trying.

However, they now have found one for Nerlens Noel.

Dallas has been looking for the big man of their future and has jumped on landing the former Kentucky star, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein and Zach Lowe of ESPN added these crucial details.

Those protections make it almost certain Dallas keeps its first round pick this year, so the Sixers get a couple of seconds.

I love this trade for Dallas, but they have to re-sign Noel this summer as a restricted free agent. Dallas has chased the right big man for a while (remember DeAndre Jordan?), and Noel fits what they want at the five — he can protect the rim, he has hops, and he can finish around the rim (63.4 percent of his shots come in the restricted area, and he shoots 72 percent on those). He gets most of his offense off cuts or being the roll man — get him the rock near the basket and he’ll do the rest, but he’s not going to create or step out. Noel provides rim protection in the paint on defense, but if you have a big that can pull him out of the paint it gives him trouble. He’s also young and his game can develop.

Noel can be a piece along with Harrison Barnes in the post-Dirk era coming to Dallas.

I’ve been told (as have other reporters) to expect the Sixers to buy out Bogut, which will make him a very sought after free agent by contenders in a few days (Cleveland? He is not allowed by rule to return to Warriors this season). Unless they can flip him again before the deadline.

What Philly gets out of this of value is not only the pick (eventually) but also Justin Anderson, who shows promise as a “3&D” wing. He’s still got to work on the three part of that, he’s hitting just 30.3 percent from three this season, but he’s a strong defender already able to cover twos, threes, and small fours. Good rebounder as well for his position. You could see him growing into Brett Brown’s rotation.

Reports: Minnesota working hard to trade Ricky Rubio by deadline; Knicks swap for Rose possible

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves brings the ball down court against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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On paper, Ricky Rubio seemed a good fit for the Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves: He’s a gifted passer and strong defender who knows how to run a team. In practice, his lack of shooting on a team of slashers and a big man inside — Karl-Anthony Towns — allowed teams to clog the lane.

So the Timberwolves are working hard to find a landing spot for him before the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern, according to multiple reports.

This has led to talks with the Knicks of a Ricky Rubio for Derrick Rose swap, and there is more than just smoke with this. Although, if there is enough fire to get a deal done is another question entirely.

A Rose/Rubio swap is a small win for the Knicks — Rubio would find a way to get the ball to Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, plus he improves their defense. Also, it means they don’t have to overpay Rose or another point guard this summer as Rubio is under contract for next season.

For the Timberwolves, they get a guy who will get them some buckets on the drive but who also takes opportunities out of the hands of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and everyone else. Plus Minnesota’s defense gets worse. I’m not sure how that gets them to the playoffs.