Stephen Curry on Kevin Durant: “We’re obviously just getting started”

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OAKLAND — The early betting odds are already out for the 2018 NBA season, and the Golden State Warriors are already heavy favorites — less than even money. Here is what online gambling site Bovada.lv has for the top five:

Golden State Warriors 2/3
Cleveland Cavaliers 3/1
Boston Celtics 12/1
San Antonio Spurs 12/1
Houston Rockets 20/1

When talking about Finals MVP Kevin Durant after the game, Stephen Curry said one title was not the number the pair were thinking about.

“We’re obviously just getting started, this is something that we want to continue to do,” Curry said. “But for us to have these conversations that we had almost a year ago and now being in this position, worth every shot we took in practice, fighting through injuries that he had this year, and it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m happy for him.

“You got to call Kevin Durant a champ now. He’s put the time in and I’m just so happy for him to be able to realize his goal and be my teammate.”

It wasn’t always smooth, but Durant and Curry figured out how to work as teammates.

“Steph definitely took a back seat to the start the season until he realized we didn’t need him to take a back seat,” Draymond Green said. “We need you to be aggressive as you’re going to be. And when Steph turned that corner, I think it was after Christmas Day, when he turned that corner, we became almost unbeatable. That’s what we needed. So that was this whole thing, who is going to take less shots? Is it going to be Steph, K.D., Klay? None of them. The ball’s going to find who it needs to find at the end of the day, and that’s those three guys.”

That synergy is what fuels concern around the league — how can this team be beaten?

Cleveland is a very good, championship level team that ran through the East without a blip, then lost to these Warriors five games. For the first two games of the Finals, Cleveland was flat-footed, trying to adjust to playing at the pace and level of the Warriors, but the final three games LeBron James and company stood toe-to-toe with the Warriors — and still lost two-of-three of them.

Around the league, teams on the rise in both conferences are thinking a few years down the line with their rebuild, feeling they don’t want to give up quality assets to try to challenge the Warriors (or even LeBron’s Cavaliers) next season. After the Warriors re-sign Curry and Durant this summer, the core of this team will all be under 30 and locked up for two more years. (Things get tricky for the Warriors with Klay Thompson up for a new deal in 2019, then Draymond Green the following year.)  Remember what Lakers’ coach Luke Walton say on Bleacher Report’s “The Full 48” podcast:

“I said ‘if there’s a time to be rebuilding, this is the time to do it.’ The Warriors don’t look like they’re going anywhere for a while. They’re pretty darn good right now….

“My only caution would be let’s not give up too much of our young core for one superstar because, like we just talked about before, let’s not forget that those Golden State Warriors are just a little bit north of us and it’s going to take a lot more than one superstar to dethrone them from the West.”

For a handful of team that are close to the top, such as Houston or San Antonio, teams with elite players in their prime, they need to be thinking about winning right now. They will make moves, get better as fast as they can, and hope a break or two falls their way. One sprained ankle can change a series — just ask Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs.

However, for much of the league, Curry’s sentiment is right — the Warriors are getting started. If you’re a team with one star player, do you really want to sell out a lot of assets to make it two star players without much around them? Where does that put you in the NBA landscape right now?

These Warriors are likely going to win multiple titles with Durant and Curry paired for the next five years through their primes. They are just getting started, and they don’t really care what the rest of the league thinks about it.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Brooklyn’s D’Angelo Russell both make return from injury tonight

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Let’s try something different: How about some good injury news for a change?

Going through the roughest part of their schedule without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, the Utah Jazz have fallen out of the playoff picture in the West. The good news is Gobert is back starting Friday night.

The Brooklyn Nets took on a lot of salary (hello Timofey Mozgov) to get ahold of and see if they could develop D'Angelo Russell into their point guard of the future. However, he has been out since Nov. 12 and had to get his knee scoped to solve some issues. Now he is back as of Friday against Miami, and the Nets will again be able to get a look at him (as he heads into restricted free agency).

Neither of these returns are turning these teams into playoff teams, but they do help.

Brooklyn is not about the playoffs this season, but their gritty performances this season have picked up enough wins to frustrate Cavaliers fans (the Cavs have their pick in this draft). The Jazz are not completely out of the playoffs, but they are five games back in a deep Western conference and that will be hard to make up without some help. Getting Gobert back at least gives the Jazz a chance, and it’s an opportunity for Gobert and rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell to start to develop some chemistry.

Report: Cavaliers interested in George Hill trade with Kings

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When the Sacramento Kings made the much-maligned move to sign three veterans this summer to healthy contracts — George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter — there were three reasons for it. Two the Kings were very public about: They wanted mentors for the 10 young players on their roster, and they had to get up to the salary floor anyway.

The third, less discussed reason is those guys might make decent trade chips. Especially as the Kings move toward playing their youth more (as they should).

Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are stumbling through the East right now and have reached out to the Kings about a potential trade for Hill, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

In an effort to bolster their backcourt situation, the Cleveland Cavaliers are expressing interest in a trade for Sacramento Kings guard George Hill, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Cleveland has emerged as an interested suitor, with the Cavaliers pursuing Hill to potentially slide into a dual-guard role, starting at either backcourt position or playing as a reserve, league sources said.

The Cavaliers are starting Isaiah Thomas at the point, with the assumption that he will find his groove as his conditioning improves and he gets used to playing next to LeBron James, however, they have had issues at the two spot. J.R. Smith starts there now with Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver (both really more threes) behind him, but with Iman Shumpert out due to a foot injury the Cavaliers could use backcourt depth.

George Hill appears to have taken a step back this season, but he is still a solid guard who can shoot the three (45 percent this season) and be a good floor general. He could be a better backup point guard than Derrick Rose. Hill is not a season changer for Cleveland, but he would give them some solid depth and versatility.

The problem is money — Hill signed a three-year, $57 million deal with the Kings. The Kings might be open to a Hill for Tristan Thompson and a second rounder deal (no way Hill earns a first, even a Cavs late one).

Consider it something to watch. The Cavaliers have to get better at the trade deadline, although they have no plans to move the Brooklyn Nets pick. The Kings are open to the idea of a trade. It’s a first step.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.