Kurt Helin

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 30:  Anthony Morrow #2 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder react in the final seconds of their 106-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on November 30, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Thunder’s Anthony Morrow: “I didn’t feel betrayed” by Durant decision

5 Comments

Oklahoma City Thunder fans feel betrayed.

They thought Kevin Durant was their guy, that he wanted to stay and try to win in Oklahoma City, that he wanted to see through what he had built with this franchise from the day it moved to the Midwest from Seattle. Instead, he chose to help form a superteam in Golden State (a team that was already fairly super and had a ring).

Players tend not to see it that way — they see the NBA as a business. So when Thunder sharpshooter Anthony Morrow was on SiriusXM NBA radio recently, he said he was shocked by where Durant chose to go, but he did not feel betrayed. Via Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

You can be sure when Durant and the Warriors first come to Oklahoma City in February, the fans there will let him know they do feel betrayed.

How Durant deals with being seen as a villain — not just in OKC but around the nation — is one of the storylines to watch this season.

USA Basketball keeps winning in Rio, but Gold will require more of a team effort

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Kyrie Irving #10 and Paul George #13 of United States lead waves to the crowd after their win in Men's Preliminary Round between the United States and Venezuela on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Carioca Arena 1 on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
1 Comment

“Us just coming together as a team (is the biggest challenge). A lot of other teams, other countries, have been playing together since however long. For us, we all have our seasons of 82 games, then of course the playoffs, and after that we go straight into (Team USA camp). So we have to come together a lot quicker than other teams.”

That was Kyrie Irving during the start of Team USA’s back in Las Vegas last month.

Four games into the Rio Olympics, and just days away from the knockout stage, the USA has yet to come together as Irving envisioned.

Things are not dire: Team USA is 4-0, they will finish atop Group A regardless of what happens against France Sunday. Plus this American squad has built great off-the-court camaraderie.

However, on the court they have been a great collection of talent but not a unified team — and certainly not the intimidating, clear best-in-the-world team the USA had been in some years past. Lowly Venezuela was tied with the Americans after one quarter, and the USA beat both Australia and Serbia by single digits.

Any air of invincibility around Team USA is gone — the rest of the world knows they can be beaten. Nobody is showing up just to take pictures and get autographs from the great Americans anymore; the USA is going to have to earn gold.

The USA’s success is predicated on defense — using their superior athleticism to pressure the ball, force turnovers, then get out and run. Make no mistake, when this team gets out in transition they are devastatingly good. But Serbia and Australia slowed the game down and forced the USA to play good defense in the half court deep into the 24-second shot clock — and the USA’s switches and decisions too often fall apart in those situations. There is a lack of communication and cohesion. Despite loads of defensive talent (Paul George, Jimmy Butler, DeAndre Jordan and the list goes on) USA players tend to lose track of guys who make good back-door cuts or just work hard off the ball.

Teams also have had success being physical inside, the Americans have not adjusted to the often inconsistent officiating of FIBA ball. DeMarcus Cousins has been the poster boy for the USA’s foul trouble, but DeAndre Jordan and everyone inside has struggled with it. Teams feel they can push this USA squad around a little.

On offense, when forced into half court play the result is often isolation ball.

“We’ve just got to start getting some movement,” Paul George said after the Serbia game. “We’ve been relying on our natural talent so much, it’s so easy to guard us. Teams are just loading up watching us play one-one-one.”

The USA also has not hit its threes consistently — Klay Thompson is in a slump, shooting just 18 percent from three. Draymond Green is hitting just 18 percent (he hit 39 percent last NBA season) and Jimmy Butler is at 28 percent from beyond the arc.

Kevin Durant is putting up numbers when he gets touches, but the USA seems to go away from him in key moments. Kyrie Irving has the ball in his hands, and while he has averaged 4.5 assists per game he remains a shoot first kind of guard.

All this is to say, this version of Team USA remains a fantastic collection of talent, but it has yet to mold into a true team.

That talent may be enough — Durant is averaging 16.8 points per game on 53 percent shooting, Carmelo Anthony may be the USA’s best player so far and is averaging 16.5. No country can match the USA’s talent level or depth.

The USA remains the gold medal favorite, and if they go on to win it (by winning all three games in the knockout stage that starts next week) these close games will be looked back on as the fires that forged them into a team.

But if the USA doesn’t start to play more as a team — communicating better and being more cohesive on defense, running more offensive sets (and not just “floppy,” as they tend to fall back on) those fires may yet burn them.

Brandon Ingram on Rookie of the Year award: “That’s something that drives me”

Los Angeles Lakers' Brandon Ingram shoots against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half of an NBA summer league basketball game, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
4 Comments

There’s  formula for guys that are going to win Rookie of the Year, one that’s tried and true from Karl-Anthony Towns last season back to Shaquille O’Neal and beyond. The player needs to be talented, but he also needs to be on a team where he will get a lot of touches and minutes as a rookie — he’s got to put up numbers.

Brandon Ingram fits that formula and he could be the first Los Angeles Laker ever to win the award (Elgin Baylor won in back when the team was in Minneapolis). Speaking to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, Ingram said it’s a goal.

“That’s something that is on my mind,” Ingram said in a phone interview with Southern California News Group. “All rookies want to win Rookie of the Year. That’s something that drives me.”

Ingram looked solid but like a rookie who has a lot of work to do at Summer League. He needs to add weight and strength not to get pushed around by the men in the NBA (a process that takes time to do right). He’s also got to be a more consistent shooter, he averaged 12.2 points a game on 41.2 percent shooting in Las Vegas.

What Lakers fans should like about Ingram is that he gets there is a lot of work to do, and he is putting in the time. He’s got a maturity about him. And, he understands where this young Lakers team is on the learning curve.

“We know we’re not going to go out and win 50 games this year and develop that chemistry right away,” Ingram said. “We know it’s a process. We have a new coach. We’ll have to continue to work hard each and every day. Hard work, developing chemistry, having good teammates and a good locker room, I think that’s what a successful season is.”

In handicapping the Rookie of the Year race, Ingram is right at the top, along with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons of the Sixers (who also will have a lot of minutes and touches). Other guys to keep an eye on are Kris Dunn in Minnesota, Buddy Hield in New Orleans, and Jaylen Brown in Boston (if he gets the run). Other guys farther down the draft board may surprise if they get the run, like Denzel Valentine in Chicago or Jamal Murray in Denver.

Rookie of the Year is not the award Lakers’ fans are used to their stars winning, but welcome to the new NBA. It’s a rebuild and it’s going to take time — years — to get back near the top. But a ROY would be a sign they are on the right path.

Lakers center Timofey Mozgov injures groin in international game

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22: Timofey Mozgov #20 of the Cleveland Cavaliers speaks onstage during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
Getty Images
7 Comments

The Lakers agreed to pay center Timofey Mozgov $64 million, their first and biggest free agent deal of the summer. That remains a very strange sentence to type.

And things are not off to an ideal start, about six weeks before the opening of training camp. From Mike Bresnahan of the Lakers’ cable channel TWC Sportsnet (he just left the LA Times as their Laker beat guy).

We don’t know how serious this is, but it might be wise for Mozgov to shut things down for a while. Groin injuries tend to be slow to heal and easy to reinjure. There is plenty of time to get right before camp opens (unless the MRI shows something much worse than expected), but it takes time.

The injury-free Mozgov of two seasons ago was a much better player than the one last season nagged by injuries and seeing decreasing minutes in Cleveland. The Lakers have bet big on the former Mozgov returning. That means focusing on getting and keeping him healthy. This is less than an ideal start to that.

Watch highlights of USA’s nail-biting win over Serbia

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12:  Kevin Durant #5 of United States goes to the basket against Nikola Jokic #14 of Serbia in the Men's Preliminary Round Group A match on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
4 Comments

After the first two games in Rio, there was an air of invincibility around Team USA.

Two games later the Americans are 4-0 and have clinched the top spot in Group A, but the invincibility is long gone.

The USA escaped with a 94-91 win against Serbia Sunday — a game where the Serbians had a clean look to tie the game at the end, it just rimmed out. Check out some highlights — and a lot of DeAndre Jordan dunks — from the game.

The play of the game may have been Milos Teodosic’s ballsy pass late in the contest (Serbia didn’t lose for lack of clean looks).