Getty Images

Durant still loves Oklahoma City despite fans’ frustrations

1 Comment

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — As much as it still hurts for so many Oklahomans to see Kevin Durant shine elsewhere, the Golden State star remains committed to the community he called home for nearly a decade. The place where he grew into the basketball player he is today, and the man he has become.

KD departed Oklahoma City with fanfare on the 4th of July last year to chase a championship with Stephen Curry and the star-studded Warriors.

So when he goes back Saturday night for the first time it will be far from a perfectly harmonious reunion. And that’s fine with Durant. He gets it, he understands what he meant to a city that so desperately needed the lift he provided.

“I put everything into that place, so it will be great to see some people that I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”

In December, Durant donated $57,000 to Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City elementary school for homeless children that he still cares so much about – and insists he always will, wherever he is. So far, he has honored that commitment after previously giving $35,000 to the school through his foundation.

“Well, that’s real life,” Durant said in December. “I’ve been a part of that group going on four years now. Just `cuz I left there don’t mean I’ll stop building with them. That’s totally separate from this NBA stuff. Those kids mean a lot to me, definitely want to continue to keep helping them. I’m glad I can keep helping growing the school. It’s all about the community there. That was home for me for eight years. I’ve still got love for the people there.”

But did Durant have to join the Warriors of all teams? The franchise that somehow rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Thunder in a thrilling Western Conference Finals last June.

“I do know it’ll be huge for him, and them,” teammate Draymond Green said this week. “They want him coming back in there as well. It will be a huge weekend for them also. Huge for him, and if it’s huge for him, it’s huge for us. It’s like any other time, you always have ones that you have circled on the schedule.”

Golden State has already beaten Durant’s old team handily twice this season – by 47 combined points.

Durant has been brilliant in those games: 79 points on 28-for-40 shooting.

Most recently, Durant dazzled with a season-best 40 points in a 121-100 win Jan. 18 at Oracle Arena. He hit seven 3-pointers on the way to 39 points in the first meeting, a 122-96 Warriors rout Nov. 3 also at Oracle.

There are certain to be mixed feelings when he enters Chesapeake Energy Arena again.

Boos? Cheers? Both.

So stung were some fans by his decision they burned his No. 35 jersey and turned to calling him a coward.

Facing Russell Westbrook and his old teammates twice already, Durant has kept his emotions in check and flat-out dominated.

“It’s good to see everybody but once the ball’s tipped you’re just playing, just hooping. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

There is no love lost between Durant and OKC’s current superstar. No pregame pleasantries planned.

“I don’t talk to nobody during the game,” Westbrook said, noting it’s up to the fans what kind of reception they choose for KD. “Obviously, Kevin has done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr changed teams so many times he became used to regular returns to arenas he once called home. Yet the reigning NBA Coach of the Year was a role player, a far different situation than Durant’s going back.

“It always gives you a bounce in your step when you go back to the place where you played. You get an emotional kickstart. Just walking into the building is exciting, seeing all your old friends and having all those memories,” he said. “… It’s a weird feeling but it’s nice because out of 82 games sometimes you need that emotion, and that’ll definitely do it. I can’t even imagine what it’ll feel like for KD, that’s a totally different level. It’s one thing to be a role player for a few years but to be a superstar in one town and have the whole place adore, the whole city, to go back is going be very emotional for him.”

You bet the Warriors want to win for him.

“He grew up there, pretty much, into a man,” Curry said. “That’s hard to turn off.”

Durant acknowledges that truth.

“It meant a lot,” he said of the community. “I had some great times there, man, never going to forget them.”

AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

1 Comment

One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

Getty Images
4 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

Getty Images
1 Comment

We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.