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49ers’ NaVorro Bowman remembers urging Kevin Durant to shoot in middle school

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Imagine Kevin Durant as a skinny, timid teen being told to shoot by his middle school point guard who saw so much potential all those years ago.

He needed a little urging back then. Much of it came from star San Francisco 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who fondly recalls his days passing to the future NBA star.

Bowman, who claims he was the superior player at Drew Freeman Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, used to encourage the lanky Durant to be aggressive, to take it to the hoop with authority. Durant already measured more than 6 feet tall at the time and would rapidly add inches in the upcoming years.

“Can you believe we had to tell him to shoot?” Bowman recalled with a grin last week at Levi’s Stadium while relaxing after football practice in Santa Clara.

“Yeah, we had to tell him to shoot. We knew that he could play the game and he would eventually get better, but how tall he was, back in the day if you were that tall you would be in the post or you would be in the paint. This guy was on the wing. You could see the talent there. Eventually, as you see now, he grew into it and became a great player.”

Durant insists all he wanted to do was create opportunities for others.

“I would just always want to please my teammates, so I would pass up a shot to get somebody else a look,” Durant said. “I always had that trait and that kind of turned into not being aggressive, if that’s what it was called. But I was more so just catering to my teammates, trying to make them feel comfortable. And at a young age, NaVorro being such a leader that he is, he knew that I had some pretty good talent at that age and he just told me, `Go out there and just play.’ As a kid, you need that, you want that validation from your teammates. Especially starting off early when I started to take basketball really, really serious, just a couple words from him meant a lot.”

They’ve since reunited in the Bay Area, Bowman cheering for KD to win his first championship with the Warriors. Bowman plans to be there in person at Oracle Arena this week. Game 1 against the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers is Thursday night.

The Maryland boys’ paths crossed before middle school, as opponents in AAU ball – Durant figures around age 11.

As each chased professional dreams over the next decade, they pushed one another from afar without even knowing it, taking great pride in their shared “DMV” – D.C., Maryland, Virginia – roots and making it big in their respective athletic pursuits.

“We really grew up together. He always played Pee Wee football and you would walk to the field and you’d see NaVorro wearing a No. 99 jersey, all black on with a visor, just bigger than everybody else,” Durant said. “You didn’t really know who he was until he took his helmet off. But you could tell that he was on another level, just his focus, just how much he wanted it, his energy as a kid and then it just continued to grow. I knew we kind of inspired and pushed each other without even having to say anything.”

From age 12 through high school, Bowman would play basketball all day at a 24-hour gym, sometimes going from 8 a.m. until midnight. Durant would join him sometimes, though he lived on the opposite side of town. They knew the same people, and where to land a competitive pickup game.

By eighth grade, scouts flocked to see KD. Bowman attracted a few, too.

Bowman was recruited by DeMatha Catholic High but didn’t want to attend an all-boys school, so he went to nearby Suitland. Durant spent one semester at Suitland, then left for Montrose Christian. That’s where his career took off.

Several prominent schools recruited Bowman for basketball, but he saw a future in football and wound up at Penn State.

“I just made a business decision, knowing that I wasn’t getting taller,” the 6-foot, four-time All-Pro said.

Now, Bowman is getting a thrill as an up-close spectator – supporting a dear friend.

He sent a text message to KD after the Warriors’ sweep of San Antonio last week.

“I had to congratulate him on his success and the choice he made. I know it was hard and challenging but it’s about winning a championship,” Bowman said of KD leaving Oklahoma City. “I think that was his choice and why he made it. I texted him, `I know you’re excited to be where you are and accomplish what you’ve accomplished, let’s go get it, let’s get it taken care of.”‘

Durant, too, is pulling for Bowman as he comes back from another injury, this time a torn Achilles.

“Once I made it, I knew that he was next up, and it’s kind of come full circle from playing eighth grade ball together to us living right down the street from each other. He comes over all the time and he comes to games,” Durant said. “It’s one of those legacy things that we’ll sit down and talk about forever, people from our area just for this to come together like this is divine and it’s special. I have a friend for life in him.”

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After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.

PBT Podcast: Breaking down the Kyrie Irving trade

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Is LeBron James more likely to stay in Cleveland now?

Are the Boston Celtics contenders? Are they better set up for the future?

There are a lot more questions that come out of the surprise Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick. It’s a deal that is a big win for Cleveland, they got more than they should have expected in return. However, this is in no way a bad deal for the Celtics.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break it all down in this latest PBT Podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Report: Clippers reach deal with Michael Winger to be new GM

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We knew this was coming, now it’s about to be official.

Former Oklahoma City Thunder assistant GM Michael Winger is about to take over as the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers. They offered him the job last week, now the sides have agreed to terms, and he will sign a deal soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Oklahoma City Thunder executive Michael Winger has reached an agreement in principle to become the general manager of the LA Clippers, league sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Doc Rivers is no longer the guy with the hammer in Los Angeles, he will just be coaching the Clippers (and still getting $10 million a year paychecks, in case you think he’ll just walk away). The power structure now has Lawrence Frank at the top as the President of Basketball Operations, with Winger doing to work under him. The Clippers are expected to hire Trent Redden, one of David Griffin’s former right hand men in Cleveland, to work under Winger as an assistant GM. The Clippers also are expected to hire another assistant GM soon.

Frank, Winger and crew take over a team in transition. Chris Paul is gone, but the Clippers locked up Blake Griffin on a max deal this summer, they got a good veteran point guard in Patrick Beverley from Houston, and they signed Danilo Gallinari. They picked up some good young players in the CP3 trade such as Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker (who they now need to develop). The Clippers should be in the mix for one of the final three playoff slots in the West next season, but that doesn’t answer the bigger picture questions. Are the Clippers a team rebuilding for the future on the fly? Are they looking to stay good and relevant until they can get their new building in Inglewood constructed? Are they a year or two away from a total rebuild?

Steve Ballmer ultimately gets to make that call. It will be up to Winger to execute it.