Kurt Helin

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Kevin Durant calls free agency “a basketball decision”

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Kevin Durant is too smart and too polished a speaker to tip what direction he is leaning in free agency at his own PR event to kick off the new KD9 line from Nike.

He did confirm that he will play in the Rio Olympics, which had been expected. He will be the leader of that team (assuming LeBron James bows out).

But all he said about his free agency plans are a theme we’ve heard before from him: “I’m worried about basketball. That’s what it is for me. It’s a basketball decision. I’m looking forward to the future.” Via Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman.

The majority opinion around the league is still that he signs a two-year deal with the Thunder, with an opt-out after one season, and he and Russell Westbrook (and Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka) can make one more run at a ring.

If this is a “basketball decision” then where is he going to go that puts him closer to a title than OKC? That team was on the cusp of making the Finals and would have had a deep series against the Cavs. And don’t say “he’s better off in the East” because: 1) You will just turn around and slam him for “taking the easy road”; 2) If he goes to Miami or Washington or Atlanta or whatever Eastern team he gets a team to the conference finals and then he runs into a deeper Cleveland team, and even if he gets by them this team would be nowhere near ready for the top of the West. He’d be on a worse team.

But it’s his call, and we’ll find out in a few weeks.

Game 7 draws top NBA Finals rating since Jordan’s last title

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NEW YORK (AP) Game 7 between the Cavaliers and Warriors drew the highest television rating for the NBA Finals since Michael Jordan’s last championship.

Cleveland’s tense 93-89 win Sunday night to capture the city’s first title in more than a half-century averaged a 15.7 rating and nearly 30.8 million viewers on ABC. Both numbers are the best since Game 6 of the 1998 NBA Finals, when Jordan’s Bulls clinched their sixth ring, ESPN said Monday. That game set an NBA record with a 22.3 rating on NBC.

An additional 598,000 viewers streamed Sunday’s game on WatchESPN.

A string of lopsided scores through the first six games had lowered ratings from last year’s matchup between the same teams. But Game 7 was tight throughout, with LeBron James trying to lead the Cavs to a historic triumph.

Game 6 of the 2015 finals, when Golden State clinched its title, averaged almost 23.3 million viewers.

Viewership peaked Sunday with more than 44.5 million viewers and a 22.5 rating as Cleveland wrapped up the championship.

Ratings represent the percentage of U.S. homes with televisions tuned to a program. The game earned a 46.3 rating in the Cleveland area.

Report: Milwaukee shopping Greg Monroe around “hard”

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Two years ago, the Milwaukee Bucks backed into the playoffs with a young roster full of long, athletic defenders that showed promise for the future.

Last summer, they signed Greg Monroe to a surprise contract, the young center choosing Jason Kidd and the Bucks over much larger and more glamorous markets. Then last season the Bucks struggled — certainly not completely because of Monroe, there were injuries and other issues that set the Bucks back, but Monroe and Jabari Parker did not form what felt like the front line of the future in Milwaukee.

One year in, the Bucks are apparently looking to move on, according to Michael Scotto of the Associated Press.

Monroe had some people his first season with the Bucks was an outright disaster, but those people expected him to be something he’s not — Monroe was last season exactly who has been for several seasons now. He is a strong offensive player in the post who will get a team 15 points and 9-10 rebounds a night and do it efficiently — 56.2 true shooting percentage and a 21.8 PER last season. He’s a good passer for a center. He’s not terribly athletic, which hurts his defense, especially if you can pull him away from the paint.

Monroe is a good basketball player, the problem is more fit in Milwaukee than anything else. He’s not going to space the floor on offense, he’s going to be near the paint and his defender can help protect the rim. He’s not going to lock down guys defensively. That didn’t fit with the flow the Bucks had created a year before.

I get why they are trying to move him, but he would need to go to a team with a strong rim-protecting four who can also space the floor. You need a point guard who can get him the rock. How many teams are looking for a traditional center during a small-ball era, and how much would any team give up to get him? The Bucks may not find him easy to move.

LeBron answers critics with Instagram post and Kermit sipping tea

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“It’s none of my business.”

That Kermit the Frog sipping tea meme isn’t quite “crying Jordan” in the basketball world, but LeBron upped it a level when he wore a hat of the meme to his press conference the day before Game 7.

Then back home Monday in Akron — celebrating a championship and his Finals MVP award with the people of Cleveland — LeBron went to Kermit again in a post firing back at the critics who said he had lost a step.

Like many of the greats before him, LeBron uses what critics say of him as fuel.

I’ve been among those critics at times, saying that on the upper side of 30 he had to hold a little back in the regular season so he could go all out in the playoffs, and that his jumper was no longer the same weapon. On the biggest stage in basketball, LeBron was nothing short of brilliant. If there’s crow to eat, I’ll grill it up this summer. He deserves all the praise coming his way.

With NBA Finals in the balance, Warriors shooting didn’t cover up mistakes. For once.

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OAKLAND — Throughout the course of the 73-win season there was a little-discussed thing around the Warriors:

They had been bailed out a lot by Stephen Curry’s ridiculous shooting.

Yes, they beat most teams handily thanks to an efficient motion offense and elite defense, but on the nights nothing else seemed to work Curry — or sometimes Klay Thompson — would just get incandescently hot and cover up the flaws with highlight reel deep threes. There were times they needed that, such Game 6 against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, when Thompson saved the Warriors season with bad-shot threes he couldn’t miss. But other times it was the crutch of a team with a few bad habits.

With the NBA Finals on the line, nobody bailed out the Warriors. In the final 4:39 of the game Golden State went scoreless and took nine shots, seven of which were threes.

They didn’t adapt and try to get to the rim, they didn’t take what the defense gave them, they went for the kill shot. The Warriors don’t just want to win, they want to win with flair and style — like draining a deep three. Curry was swinging for the home run when a few singles strung together might well have won the game.

“At home in the fourth quarter, I felt like we could go for that dagger punch and didn’t really put any pressure on the defense getting to the paint and trying to force the issue that way, and really just kind of settled too much,” Stephen Curry said. “That’s something that is tough to kind of swallow with the opportunity we had in front of us.”

No play epitomized that more than when Curry tried to equalize Kyrie Irving’s late three — Curry hunted for a three of his own against Kevin Love, and when it wasn’t there he hunted for it more rather than making the smart basketball play — get two and make it a one-point game with 35-40 seconds left, then if they get a stop they would get the ball back with a chance to win it.

“I was searching for a three and rushed and didn’t take what was there, which was probably better to go around him and try to get into the paint,” Curry admitted. “That’s basically it.”

You can say “but that’s what the Warriors did all season and it worked,” which is true. But it hadn’t worked this series. And it isn’t what the Warriors do offensively.

“I feel like we play all five guys on the court and everyone has their role and that’s how we maximize our talent…” Andre Iguodala said before Game 6. “End of the day you’re taking whatever the defense gives you. It sounds very simple, but there’s a lot that goes into it. You’re in this world of basketball with endorsements, social media, and branding, and guys have a tendency to think ‘me.’ It becomes a me game, and this is a team sport.”

With the season on the line, the Warriors were not five guys, they were one guy isolated — one great player, and that had worked before. But when it didn’t there was no other plan to fall back upon. There was no taking what the defense gave.

For once, the Warriors weren’t the high IQ versatile team. And they paid the price for it.