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.

Stan Van Gundy to Reggie Jackson: “We’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio”

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It was rumored this week that the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves were mulling a trade that would send Ricky Rubio to Michigan and Reggie Jackson to Minnesota. Now, Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy says that isn’t happening.

Nor was it a real offer that was even on the table.

In a video posted to the Detroit Free Press, Van Gundy went off on one of his classic fireside chats — the kind that involves profanity — on how he sees the NBA as it works.

Warning: NSFW language ahead.

While the whole thing is worth watching for the Van Gundyness of it all, here’s the meat you’re looking for:

All these rumors and stuff look I mean know it’s fun for everybody and you’ve got some source somewhere and it’s also all bullshit. Im not denying that discussion — they take place all the time – -that’s a lot different than considerations. Somebody says ‘Hey would you consider Ricky Rubio for Reggie Jackson that discussion might have taken pace. And clearly we didn’t make that move. We wanted to see if they’d go [Michael] Gbinije for LeBron.

Van Gundy said he didn’t know if the specific Jackson-for-Rubio discussion even happened, saying that Pistons president Jeff Bower only brings him trades they are actively considering.

Meanwhile, Van Gundy confirmed that he did text Jackson after his agent made contact with Bower.

“This is the crazy season. We’re not trading you for Ricky Rubio,” said Van Gundy about his text to Jackson.

Report: After fining Wizards, league issues memo warning teams on bench etiquette

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The NBA league office fined Washington Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe $5,000 — and the team an additional $15,000 — for his role in distracting a New York Knicks shooter during a game this last week.

Now, the league has issued a warning to teams: make sure you’re practicing good bench etiquette, or we’re coming for your wallets.

According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the NBA sent a memo to all 30 teams on Saturday reminding them to remain on their own bench in accordance with league rules. Obviously that means no stepping onto active basketball courts:

So what are coaches needing to confine themselves to?

Official NBA rules state simply:

The coach’s position may be on or off the bench from the substitution box line (closest to the coach’s bench) to the baseline. A coach is not permitted to cross the midcourt line and violators will be assessed an unsportsmanlike technical foul immediately. All assistants and trainers must remain on the bench. Coaches and trainers are not permitted to go to the scorer’s table, for any reason, except during a dead ball.

Like we see with preseason points of emphasis, it’s possible we see additional fines in the weeks to come. Several coaches enjoy toeing the line (literally) to see what they can get away with and how far out on the court they can stand. Tom Thibodeau immediately springs to mind.

Or, it could go the other direction. Perhaps we see more coaches sitting back, respecting their distance?

Hopefully we just don’t see any more of them trying to close out on opposing shooters.

Joel Embiid wants the center position to return to the NBA All-Star ballot

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The NBA got rid of the center position on the All-Star ballot starting in 2013, thanks in part to some positional confusion around former San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. But just a handful of years later, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid says it should make a comeback.

Embiid — who finished third in the Eastern Conference for forwards in All-Star fan voting — told CSN Philly that due to the plethora of talented big men in the NBA, the position should return.

Via CSN Philly:

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

There has been a resurgence of talented and burgeoning centers that have entered the league and are performing at a high level. Embiid is one of them, and so too is DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Jokic, Hassan Whiteside, Clint Capela, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, Steven Adams, and Jahlil Okafor.

Adding the center position back might be a tough sell as having it doesn’t reduce eliminations from the roster. It’s much more free-flowing now, and there’s nothing keeping great centers off the All-Star team.

It would also be a little strange if center was added back but there wasn’t a point guard spot, too. ESPN’s Zach Lowe has suggested three categories for the roster in point guard, wing, and frontcourt. That idea is as good as adding the center position, perhaps moreso to many folks in the NBA.

I don’t think adding the center position will make a comeback any time soon. Meanwhile, we’re all just waiting to see if Embiid makes the All-Star reserves.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies for reverse alley-oop jam (VIDEO)

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Is Aaron Gordon a three or a four?

That’s a debate for another day. What we all know he can do is leap out of the building, and he showed off how that can be useful during a game Friday night — Jabari Parker actually defends this fairly well, Gordon can just go over the top of him and get it. With that, we get a highlight.

The Magic upset the Bucks 112-96, behind 20 from a resurgent Elfrid Payton. Parker had 25 for the Bucks.