Kevin Durant on his fiancée, loneliness and loyalty

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The countdown to Kevin Durant’s free agency in 2016 begun long ago, the Thunder and Wizards clearly occupying the role of frontrunners.

Where will he sign?

These excerpts from Zach Baron of GQ clearly show why Durant will stay with the Thunder:

Take the conversation we’re having right now. Two guys on stools in a coffee shop talking about girls. His heart still not quite right after hurting someone he loved. “I had a fiancée, but…I really didn’t know how to, like, love her, you know what I’m saying? We just went our separate ways.” Monica Wright, WNBA player, something like a high school sweetheart. One night Kevin got so full of feelings he just up and proposed to her. “We was just hanging out, chilling. And I felt the energy. I felt, I need to do this right now. And I just did it. I was like…We’re engaged right now? We’re about to get married? So I was just like, cool! I love this girl. But I didn’t love her the right way.”

Outside this coffee shop, there are multiple millions of people representing multiple millions of dollars—shoe companies, league executives, agents, little kids with big KD posters on their walls—with opinions on what he should and should not be saying at this particular moment. A whole universe bending to be like: Talk about your will to succeed. Your work in the community. How you know what it takes to win.

But what he wants to say right now is this: “I go to sleep at night, like, ‘Am I gonna be alone forever?’ ” A whole ocean of regret. His life too hectic, and too surrounded by money, to trust, let alone love, the next person who comes through that door.

“Am I gonna be alone forever? Am I gonna have kids?”

And why would D.C. be the promised land, anyway? He was so lonely there. Mom just 21 when she had Kevin. Dad lived in the neighborhood but not there. “I remember we were driving home one day, and I look over out the backseat, and I see him in a car with his homeboys at the light. I wanted to be like, ‘Ma, that’s Dad, right?’ ” But he didn’t say anything. Mom didn’t want to talk about it. Her son tall, shy, good at ball but lost away from the court. “I had no friends at 12 years old, 13 years old.”

Except these excerpts from Baron clearly show why Durant will sign with the Wizards:

He heard the Sterling tapes like everyone else. “When that came out, we was just like, ‘Oh, so that’s how they feel about us?’ ” All this rhetoric about team, about loyalty. And then guys like Sterling basically acting in private like their players are property. “When players do stuff that benefits them, they’re looked at as unloyal, selfish,” Durant says. “But when a team decides to go the other way and cut a player, or not bring him back or not re-sign him, it’s what’s best for the team, and that’s cool. But what we do is frowned upon, you know?”

Don’t forget, Kevin Durant was not selfish: He signed a full extension in 2010, no opt-outs. He remembers that, even if no one else does, even as he anticipates the lurking storm of recrimination that awaits him if he doesn’t re-up again. “I was loyal. If it comes down to that, I mean: I was. My deal’s up in 2016. I’ll have been here nine years. I could have easily wanted out. I could have easily not signed the extension after my rookie contract. I could have not played as hard every night. But people tend to forget.”

Has the team ever really given Durant what he needs to win? Durant has been asked this question so many times he may not realize that he’s begun answering it honestly. “Players are paid to do their jobs, no matter who’s on the court. And as superstars, you gotta lead what you have. You gotta make them better. Some players might be better than others. Some teams might be better than others. You gotta do your job, and you gotta trust that the front office is going to do their job. It’s hard, though. You know what I’m saying? Because it’s like, shit, I want win. Obviously our players aren’t as good as, you know, than they were before. But you have to figure it out.”

They’re part of a longer article about Durant coming into his own in front of our eyes. It’s well worth a read.

In the piece, Durant expresses some frustration about how we view him – frustration that came out in his recent bashing of the media. One example: Durant didn’t appreciate his genuine “You the real MVP” moment with his mother being turned into a silly meme.

And I get that. I’m sure that’s not pleasant for Durant.

But outsiders see him as a basketball player first and a human-being second, if at all. That’s why I can’t help but look for fee-agency tea leaves while the article.

Durant is a human being, though. This article is a decent look into his humanity and a good reminder it even exists.

Re-read those excerpts above – not with an eye on free agency, but thinking of Durant as a person. Jump right back to commodifying him afterward if you wish, but at least you’ll have a little more perspective before you do.

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.

LeBron livid over no foul call at end of regulation, Lakers fall to Celtics in OT

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“The best player on earth can’t get a call. It’s amazing.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham made that comment out of frustration after another game where the Lakers felt robbed at the end. He wasn’t the only Laker.

LeBron James was once again brilliant — 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists — but with the game tied against the Celtics and 4.1 seconds on the clock, he drove the lane and didn’t get the foul call when it clearly looked like Jayson Tatum hit him on the arm as he shot.

After the game, referee crew chief Eric Lewis admitted the officials missed the call:

There was contact. At the time, during the game, we did not see a foul. The crew missed the play.”

Patrick Beverley picked up a technical foul for bringing a photographer’s camera over to the referee to show evidence of the foul.

These losses are a punch to the gut for a Laker team with little margin for error and trying to make up ground in the West (at 23-27 they sit 13th in the conference). But LeBron sees a pattern — he is scoring 30.2 points per game (sixth in the league) but is getting to the line just 4.9 times per game, fewer than anyone else in the top nine in the league in scoring.

“I don’t get it. I’m attacking the paint, just as much as any of the guys in this league that’s shooting double-digit free throws a night, and I don’t get it. I don’t understand it,” James said postgame in Boston.

The other Lakers were a little more direct.

Boston pulled away in overtime to get the 125-121 win, snapping their own three-game losing streak.

LeBron finished with 41, Anthony Davis 16 (on 6-of-15 shooting off the bench) and Beverley had 15 including a key putback dunk. Jaylen Brown scored 37 for Boston, Tatum 30 and Malcolm Brogdon had 26 off the bench.

There are no moral victories for these Lakers more than halfway into the season, playing the team with the best record in the NBA close and almost winning does not count. Time is running out on LeBron and his team, they need to string together some wins. They felt they should have gotten the chance to win this one.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

Technically Turner can still be traded at the Feb. 9 deadline, but the Pacers have no intention of doing so (as this signing signals). There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).