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.

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.