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Durant still loves Oklahoma City despite fans’ frustrations

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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.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.