Game of the Night: Bulls get reminder Kevin Durant and friends are good

4 Comments

Damn. This was so much more fun to watch than the slog that was Miami and Boston the night before. Wednesday night in Oklahoma City wasn’t perfect — it looked like an opener with some poor decisions because players are not used to the speed of the game — but it was exciting and athletic.

And by the way, the Thunder are really good. That’s why they won 106-95.

This game was fast — 11 more possessions per team than last night’s big dirge in Boston — and that means we had athletes in the open court. That is fun. It also was one of the problems Chicago faced on the night — they needed to run and get some easy transition offense with Boozer out, but they don’t really have the horses to run with the Thunder.

You can bet Tom Thibodeau will bring up the words “transition defense” in the next film session. And likely not in a nurturing and caring way. But it’s not that simple — did you see the late game break by the Thunder where three quick touch passes led to a Westbrook dunk-and-one? Few teams can do that. Fewer still can defend it.

That Westbrook flush was part of the last five minutes of a game where the Thunder just found another gear the Bulls did not have and went on a 9-0 run to pull away.

That last sentence — about the other gear in the closing minutes — is the kind of thing people have said about the Lakers for years. And the Celtics. And the Spurs. And all the great teams dating back to Magic and Bird, and probably before them. That closing kick, that’s what great teams have. That the Thunder broke it out opening night is a good sign of things to come. A very good sign.

The other thing the Thunder did right was attack the basket. Oklahoma City shot 25 more free throws on the night. (Somewhere in Chicago a fan is complaining about the call disparity, but this wasn’t the refs it was about who attacked and who tried to draw contact, and who shied away from it for the most part.) Foul shots were key to how Durant had 30 points and Westbrook added 28 (combined they shot 32 free throws on the night).

Chicago, looked good, but without Carlos Boozer in the lineup they have nobody who can create offense outside Derrick Rose. So the Bulls would run some flex action or whatever the offensive set called for was, then eventually Rose would call out a high pick and then off of it he’d attack. He had to create and score because nobody else on the team did it consistently.

Rose started 6-of-8 from the floor, but then hit 6 of his next 23. The Thunder are and active and long defensive team, they do that to a lot of people. You sense Rose will be able to do more once he has Boozer in the lineup — Noah and Deng are nice players, but they are not the roll men that Boozer is. Taj Gibson is quality but his midrange game is not.

Chicago is going to get better. They are going to get used to Thibodeau’s defense, they will get used to the pace. They will get Boozer back. If they can hold it until then they will be good.

The Thunder are already there. And they have the closing kick to do it.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

Ronald Cortes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.

Report: Spurs wouldn’t trade Kawhi Leonard to 76ers unless they included Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid

AP Photo/Darren Abate
5 Comments

The 76ers reportedly refused to include Markelle Fultz in trade offers for Kawhi Leonard, which seems misguided to me. Leonard carries major questions about his future, but after his rookie year, so does Fultz! At least Leonard has proven he can reach an elite level. That’s not to say Philadelphia should have definitely dealt Fultz for Leonard. The 76ers definitely have a better understanding of Fultz’s behind-the-scenes progress, and they might have more information on Leonard’s health and willingness to stay long-term. I just wouldn’t have made Fultz a deal-breaker in negotiations.

But it seems the Spurs placed a far more unreasonable restriction on Philadelphia, though.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Spurs made it clear any deal with Philly would require Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid (likely Simmons), and the Sixers weren’t going anywhere near that, league sources say.

Given their age and contract status – and, in Simmons’ case, health – Simmons and Embiid are each way more valuable than Leonard. There’s no way the 76ers would have dealt either of those two for Leonard.

Which apparently took a still-viable suitor off the table for San Antonio.

Between Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Zhaire Smith, the Heat’s 2021 first-rounder and Philadelphia’s own picks, the 76ers could have assembled a better package than the Raptors sent the Spurs for Leonard. Maybe the 76ers wouldn’t have. But it would have been worth at least exploring.

It seems San Antonio placed too much on remaining competitive, which led to a deal revolving around DeMar DeRozan. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy per se, but it gets more difficult to defend when the Spurs got so little. In this Western Conference, they could slip out of the playoffs, even with DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. A long-term approach should have at least been considered.

To be fair, I’d also caution against taking this report at face value with no skepticism. Today, 28 teams – especially those, like Philadelphia, linked to Leonard – are trying to explain why they didn’t get the star. This could easily be the 76ers’ spin and not an accurate reflection of the Spurs’ stance.

But Lowe is a great reporter, and I tend to trust this – which raises red flags about San Antonio.

NBA players bothered by Raptors trading DeMar DeRozan

Jason Miller/Getty Images
5 Comments

DeMar DeRozan is clearly upset with the Raptors for trading him (for Kawhi Leonard).

Is DeRozan’s frustration justified?

To a certain extent, he’s entitled to feel however he wants. I would never tell him his reaction is “wrong.”

But that’s not the same as endorsing his outlook. Should we rally behind him and hold Toronto accountable for mistreating him? Answering that question relies on so much hearsay, I’m not sure it’s possible to answer fairly.

In what I find a telling illustration of the situation, ESPN has updated its story on the trade multiple times today. In an early version:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto brass in Las Vegas during summer league and was told he would not be traded.

That got changed to:

Sources close to DeRozan told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that DeRozan met with Toronto officials in Las Vegas during summer league and believed that he would not be traded.

That’s a subtle, but meaningful, distinction.

Did the Raptors tell DeRozan he wouldn’t be traded? Different people involved in the conversation would probably give different answers.

Did DeRozan take away that Toronto wouldn’t trade him? It seems so, and maybe it’s because team officials told him that directly. But it’s also possible he misinterpreted team officials. Not that he’s willing to grant that possibility.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Without being privy to the exact wording, I don’t know where to side.

Unsurprisingly, other players are backing DeRozan – some publicly and quite strongly, others anonymously.

Lou Williams:

Isaiah Thomas:

Damian Lillard:

Anthony Morrow:

Enes Kanter:

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

DeRozan meant a lot to the Raptors, and he deserves a proper sendoff. But some of this strikes me as an overreaction.

The Spurs didn’t thank Leonard in their press release, either. Both teams posted cursory messages of gratitude on social media to their outgoing players. Gregg Popovich held a press conference today and said many kind things about Leonard, though. The main difference appears to be Masai Ujiri just hasn’t happened to hold his press conference yet. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t effusively praise DeRozan in it.

And to Kanter’s claim the Raptors gave away DeRozan for nothing? They got Kawhi freaking Leonard.

For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t rule the possibility of the spotlight-seeking Kanter just saying something outlandish to draw attention.

Even if that were Kanter’s intent, that just feeds into this spiraling into a bigger deal than it probably should be.

If the Raptors told DeRozan they wouldn’t trade him, they shouldn’t have done that. If they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him while they were secretly putting the final touches on this deal, they shouldn’t have done that.

But if they told DeRozan they didn’t plan to trade him and truly didn’t at that moment, I wouldn’t blame them. Plans can change, and it would have done them no good to warn DeRozan of that possibility. If he expected more loyalty, that’s on him.

Ujiri will get a chance to explain himself. So will DeRozan – though his narrative is already gaining significant traction, especially among his peers. Maybe we’ll actually become positioned to make an outside judgment.

Most likely, this will remain a he-said, he-said situation that wanes in significance. DeRozan will probably play hard in San Antonio and grow to enjoy it there. Players – even, I bet, including DeRozan – will forgive the Raptors in time. As much furor as these things evoke in the moment, players rarely hold a grudge to the point of avoiding franchises.

But for now, Toronto is dealing with a perception hit right as it begins its courtship of one of the NBA’s top players, Leonard.

PBT Extra: Breaking down Kawhi Leonard to Raptors trade

Leave a comment

While the rumors of Raptors interest in trading for Kawhi Leonard had been around the league for weeks, the thought they would land him always seemed far fetched — Leonard clearly didn’t want to go there, so would GM Masai Ujiri really put one of his big name players in the mix to get a trade done.

Yes. Yes he would.

Leonard is headed to Toronto in a trade package centered around DeMar DeRozan.

I break down what that means for everyone involved in this latest PBT Extra. For the Spurs, they stay relevant and postpone the rebuild for the final few years of Gregg Popovich’s tenure as coach. For the Raptors, they are contenders for a year — and they can take a longshot attempt to win Leonard over.