Kevin Durant, flawed and perfect

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kevin_durant_team_usa.jpgKevin Durant has yet to disappoint. He had a fantastic rookie year, has grown in each of his three seasons in the NBA, and emerged as one of the top players in the game. KD’s also riding a hell of a PR typhoon after the tectonic shift known as The Decision changed, well, everything. LeBron James’ hubris has cut him down from favored status, and in his place now stands Durant, the do-no-wrong king of the upstart Thunder and most recently, medaled national hero.

Not that KD has surpassed LeBron on the court. Whether that’s even a possibility is still to be determined, but at present, no NBAer’s star is more likely to supernova. Durant is that good, and right now he’s sitting on top of the basketball universe.

Unfortunately, that leaves Durant with an awfully long way to fall.

Even if KD’s game is only getting better and better, it’s possible that this is the best it gets for Durant’s image. He’ll win some, he’ll lose some. He’ll fall short of some expectations and shatter others. Yet the longer Durant stays in the NBA, the more time the now-adoring public will have to pick him apart. Even the great ones have their flaws, and in case those flaws aren’t flammable enough on their own, the sports sphere is never short on gasoline.

Durant is the type of talent and person that should be enjoyed. He deserves to be praised, and it’s not surprising that NBA fans have latched on to him as they have. He’s also exactly what he’s pegged as being: just a normal guy.

KD isn’t a megalomaniac, but he’s also mortal, even if his game hints otherwise. The limits and quirks that make Durant so endearing are the same ones that will eventually tarnish him, just as they did with LeBron, and for that matter, with just about every other prominent star that ever laced ’em up. We love NBA players for their flaws, even if with Durant, we haven’t quite realized it yet.

His range is unbelievable, but sometimes he leans too heavily on his jumper as a result. He’s confident in his own abilities, but sometimes tries to do just a bit too much. He’s neck-deep in the game he loves, but maybe that makes him just a bit detached.

Can KD drop 40 with a flick of his wrist? Surely. Is his work ethic so intense that he refuses a proper vacation? Certainly. That doesn’t mean we haven’t been down this road before, with other remarkable men and remarkable athletes. The lesson in all of this isn’t that Durant is spectacularly flawed, even if he ends up being so. It’s not even that the ever-present disconnect between fan and athlete (or media and athlete, for that matter) precludes us from ever really knowing players like Durant.

The takeaway is that the fall is a part of the game (not the game, but the game), and the flaws spotlighted in the process are typically par for the professional athlete course — bloated egos, the obsessive need to control, etc. However, when the beams dim a bit and the glare disappears, we find comfort in those same traits under gentler light. If I can shift metaphors from the stage to the screen: those flaws that endure, through the ups and the downs, put the stars of the NBA in vivid technicolor.

Durant is brilliant, but only because his flaws make him so. Perfection is boring. Limits are everything, even if they exist solely to be bent and broken, set and reset.

Lakers headed to second straight Summer League title game

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Josh Hart scored 37 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Los Angeles Lakers to a 112-109 double-overtime victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday in the semifinals of the NBA Summer League.

Los Angeles advanced to the championship game for a second straight year after winning the 2017 title behind game MVP Kyle Kuzma and league MVP Lonzo Ball.

The Lakers will play Portland, which knocked off Memphis in the other semi-final.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes made the play of the game when he snatched a loose ball and fed Jeff Ayres with a pretty touch pass under the basket with 45 seconds left in the second overtime. Rathan-Mayes followed Ayres’ lay-in with a slashing lay-up to put the Lakers up 110-106 with 22 seconds left.

Cleveland’s Billy Preston missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Svi Mykhailiuk scored 31 points for the Lakers (6-0), while Ayres added 20.

Collin Sexton led the Cavaliers with 27 points, while Jamel Artis and John Holland each scored 17.

Trailing 105-102 in the first overtime after Sexton made a short jumper, Rathan-Mayes buried a 3-pointer to tie the score. Hart made it 106-105 by hitting the second of two free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining. Sexton did the same at the other end, splitting two free throws and tying it at 106 with 3.3 seconds left.

The Cavaliers (5-2) erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the score at 95, when Vladimir Brodziansky buried a 3-pointer with 2:00 left in regulation.

After Mykhailiuk made one of two free throws to give the Lakers a 96-95 lead with a little more than a minute left, Hart grabbed a defensive rebound and at the other end dished to Mykhailiuk, who hit a running jumper just above the free throw line to push the lead to 98-95.

But Sexton answered with a 3-pointer to tie the score with 26 seconds left. Hart missed a 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds left, and Sexton missed one from long range at the buzzer.

The Lakers went on an 18-2 run to take a 28-17 lead led by Mykhailiuk, who was 4-for-4 from long-range in the first quarter. Los Angeles shot 50 percent (9 of 18) in the opening period and was 5 for 9 (55 percent) from beyond the 3-point line.

Hart took over in the second quarter, scoring 10 of his 14 first-half points to help the Lakers take a 50-47 lead at halftime.

USA Basketball to host World Cup qualifier vs. Uruguay on Sept. 14 in Las Vegas

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) — USA Basketball’s quest to qualify for next year’s FIBA World Cup will resume Sept. 14 in Las Vegas, where the Americans will face Uruguay.

That will be the first U.S. game in the second qualifying round for next year’s world championships in China.

Like the first round, the U.S. will continue being coached by Jeff Van Gundy and will have a roster made up primarily of G League players. The Americans went 5-1 in the first round.

The U.S. and Uruguay are among 12 teams from the Americas zone vying for seven World Cup spots. The others are Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Canada, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The United States is a heavy favorite to qualify, then will send NBA players to China for the World Championships (there is a workout for some of those players coming up in Las Vegas in a week).

Second-round qualifying ends in late February. The World Cup begins in August 2019.

Mavericks sign second-round pick Jalen Brunson to first-rounder style contract

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Dallas is excited about the potential of Jalen Brunson.

The point guard who led Villanova to a national championship last April fell to the 33rd pick in the draft last June, high in the second round, and Dallas traded up a spot to get him from Atlanta. The Mavericks were ecstatic, and to the surprise of nobody they have reached terms on a contract with him.

What is a bit of a surprise is the Mavericks gave him a first-rounder style contract — four years with some guaranteed money for the first three of them — reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At Summer League in Las Vegas Brunson showed the qualities that Dallas liked in him — he’s a high IQ player with polish, and he’s a pass-first floor general — but his weaknesses were also exposed. He has to shoot better (23 percent in Summer League) and his defense needs to improve.

Both of those can happen, Summer League is more of a chance for teams to benchmark players than make decisions about them. Brunson reportedly has a great work ethic, he can figure the NBA game out.

Dallas is betting that he will.

Kemba Walker: “As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it”

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Kemba Walker is an All-Star level point guard who is heading into a contract season — he is a free agent in 2019. Walker is also a New York native, born in the Bronx he attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Combine all that with the fact both the Knicks and Nets will have enough cap space for a max (or more than one max) contract next summer, and you’ve got yourself a rumor.

One Walker shot down talking to Michael Scotto of The Athletic.

“As far as seeing me in New York, I doubt it,” Walker replied. “I’m a Hornet, and I’m planning on being a Hornet for a long time, so, yeah, I’m not sure about that (New York).”

Walker has said many times he wants to stay in Charlotte (providing they pay the market rate and are trying to compete).

That said, this is the NBA, so never say never.

A lot of NBA teams have been poised, waiting to see if new Hornets’ GM Mitch Kupchak — with the approval of Michael Jordan — decided to go full rebuild and trade Walker this summer. He has not, talking only about keeping this squad together. The Hornets are a solid team with Walker and Nicolas Batum leading the way, one that could make the playoffs in the East if things break right for new coach James Borrego. However, they will not be anywhere near contenders and if things don’t fall their way they may well miss the playoffs next season. Again. The Hornets also are not a bad team, meaning they are not going to get a high pick (without some lottery luck). They are stuck in the NBA’s middle ground, a place most GMs want to avoid.

Trading Walker could jump-start the rebuild in Charlotte, but the Hornets don’t seem to be going that direction. Yet. This summer they signed Tony Parker, Malik Monk looked good in Summer League, and they got Dwight Howard out of the locker room. They say they are a team poised to make a playoff push.

If that push falls apart early in Charlotte, watch and see if their plans change. And what that could mean for Walker. And the Knicks.

However, as of now, Walker wants to remain a Hornet, and they want to keep him. Which crowds New York out of the picture.