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Star wars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant moving toward NBA Finals reunion

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OAKLAND (AP) — Kevin Durant admires LeBron James from afar, marveling at how Cleveland’s main man finds ways to elevate his game at age 32 – year after year, title after title.

Kobe Bryant was much the same.

Ten years into his NBA journey, the unassuming, scoring machine everyone calls “KD”, strives to emulate those superstars. Soon, he will likely see James again in the Finals, this time in a matchup that has been talked about from the very moment Durant departed Oklahoma City to join Golden State last July.

The anticipation of this potential matchup has overshadowed other postseason series.

Durant understands that like LeBron and Bryant, it’s time to take his game to another level. They each have something Durant wants.

“It’s a mindset, when you don’t realize how old you are or how many years you’ve played or mileage or the moment,” Durant said. “You’ve just got to try to keep getting better. You have that mindset when you step on the court that you want to be the best player on the court. It may not happen every game. You may not be the best, you might not have the best game, but just having that mindset you never get satisfied with what you do.

“That’s the mindset he (James) has taken on, that’s the mindset Kobe did. There’s a lot of other players that did it. I feel like I’m on the same path as far as – I wouldn’t say I’m going to have four MVPs or three championships, I’m not guaranteeing that but I want that. On the basketball court, I want to be consistent and great every night.”

James and Durant have squared off 23 times during their NBA careers, and James has a decisive 18-5 edge, including 4-1 in the postseason and 1-0 in battles for the championship.

Now the basketball world is watching and waiting, even hoping for a Durant-James rematch. And this one could live up to the hype.

After swatting aside their opponents in the first and second rounds, the Cavaliers and Warriors stand an unblemished 16-0 combined as they await their conference finals opponents.

The 3-Match. Another must-see, best-of-seven series featuring arguably the league’s best players in James and Durant – both playing some of the best basketball of their careers – and a marquee All-Star cast that includes two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love.

It’s a showdown made in hoops heaven, but Durant is downplaying a matchup with James as anything worthy of stealing the spotlight from the others.

“If we do end up making it to the Finals and Cleveland makes it to the Finals, it’s never going to be me versus LeBron,” Durant said. “It’s going to be team versus team. It’s not an individual sport. We’re not playing 1-on-1 out there, as much as people want us to.”

They have history and a rivalry – albeit a rather one-sided one. James, then with the Miami Heat, won the first of his three NBA titles by beating Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

The pair is linked by talent, tenacity and drive. Olympic gold medal-winning teammates, they have become close friends and workout companions. They spent two summers pushing each other during training sessions in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Little did these two realize then that their stellar NBA careers would become even more intertwined when Durant bolted from OKC and faced the constant scrutiny that came with his decision.

In many ways, James actually helped show him how it’s done.

He as much as anyone understood the tornado of criticism aimed at Durant for signing onto a “super team” to chase a championship. James left home in 2010 for Miami, where he won two titles and played in four straight Finals before leading Cleveland to its first major sports championship in 52 years . Before returning to Oklahoma City – a place he still holds dear and supports – earlier this season to face fans who are still stung and feel betrayed, Durant sought James out for advice on handling the hatred.

Now they’re on a path toward Cavs-Dubs 3.0.

James has been practically unstoppable. And Durant, who missed 19 games late in the regular season with a left knee injury, has found the right balance of taking charge and sacrificing for him teammates with the Warriors.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is impressed with how Durant seamlessly blended in on Golden State, as Curry took a backseat.

“When Steph and Klay have a bad game – which is not very often – when they do, then you can give the ball to Durant and he can go get his own basket and his own shot,” Lue said. “You saw that in this Utah series where Steph and Klay struggled one game, and they just put it to Durant in the midrange area, and he went and got it. So you have that third player who is definitely one of the top three players in this league that can go get his own shot at any time and that’s what makes them more dangerous.”

Mike Brown knows both well.

Golden State’s assistant, now filling in for Warriors coach Steve Kerr, spent five seasons with James in Cleveland. He appreciates his athleticism, but is more impressed by James’ all-consuming work ethic that has allowed him to evolve every year.

He sees those same qualities in Durant, who now understands that when the stage enlarges he has to expand that 7-foot-5 wingspan even more.

“That’s what those guys do,” Brown said. “When you have superstars like that and the competition gets tougher, they usually rise to the moment or the occasion.”

 

Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Kevin Durant YouTube comment presaged Twitter/Instagram fiasco

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Kevin Durant admitted he went too far on social media, though he didn’t quite admit to the clear revelation: He has additional Twitter and Instagram accounts he used to anonymously fire back at his critics.

Who does that? More specifically, what kind of millionaire NBA-champion superstar does that?

Durant provided a glimpse into his mindset last week, when he replied to this YouTube comment about the insoles of his Finals shoes:

Who cares what people think . Just do you. Someone of stature, shouldn’t worry about stuff like that.

Durant:

of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

That Durant was interacting in YouTube comments – YouTube comments! – says plenty on its own. That’s the cesspool of internet commenting.

But the content of the reply is also illuminating. Durant is insecure. I think that’s pretty clear at this point.

There will always be people who accept nothing less than the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan from NBA stars. But maybe, once this scandal passes, some will find Durant’s vulnerability endearing.

Steve Kerr: Warriors haven’t been invited to White House, to meet on plan

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Steve Kerr reportedly stated a plan for the NBA-champion Warriors to decline an invitation to visit President Donald Trump’s White House. Then, Kerr espoused the virtues of going.

Kerr, via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

“We will meet as a team to discuss it and make a decision,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told ESPN.

“The league isn’t going to tell us what to do. They know it’s our decision and that, for me, really, it’s the players’ decision.

As yet, Kerr confirmed that no such invitation has been extended by the Trump administration.

If the Warriors commit to attending, they’d probably get invited. It seems the White House just doesn’t want egg on its face by extending an invitation that could get declined.

Regardless, Golden State almost certainly isn’t going.

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala have publicly stated their opposition. Even if there’s a player in that locker room who wants to go – and I’m not sure there is – who has the clout to stand up to those three? The tone has already been set.

Knicks say they expect Carmelo Anthony to open training camp with them

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Carmelo Anthony trade rumors have picked up steam the last couple days, the talk centered on the Knicks trading him before training camp opens Monday.

They clearly want to move on. He wants to move on – at least if he can join the Rockets. But a Houston deal appears to have dead-ended.

So…

Ian Begley of ESPN:

This is, by far, the most likely outcome.

There’s always a chance Anthony, who holds a no-trade clause, approves a trade to a team outside Houston. The Knicks might be attempting to gain leverage for that scenario. But I’m unconvinced he’s eager to leave the New York market for just anywhere, and that’d still require two teams agreeing to terms. It’s a lot to overcome.

Anthony has remained professional amid the chaos, and I expect he’ll remain so. Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said Anthony would still hold a major role on the court, even if the focus is long-term (the reason Mills gave for omitting Anthony from his offseason write-up).

It’s not ideal to have a highly paid 33-year-old who can still contribute at a high level on a rebuilding team, but that’s where Anthony and New York are – and probably will be next week.