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.

Magic Johnson: Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps leaked Anthony Davis trade-talk details

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The Pelicans reportedly blame the Lakers for details of Anthony Davis trade negotiations leaking.

Former Lakers president Magic Johnson blames former Pelicans general manager Dell Demps.

Johnson on ESPN:

I told Dell Demps, “Let’s just do it in private. What we offer, let’s keep it between us.” Well, Dell didn’t do that. So, that’s how it got out.”

The Lakers have intriguing assets – Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, the No. 4 pick, all their own future first-round picks. Los Angeles will likely try again to land Davis.

Johnson and Demps are out. So, maybe these sour grapes don’t matter.

But enough people remain in each organization – including Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, whom Johnson blasted today – from those winter trade talks. Whether or not there’s an edict in New Orleans forbidding new lead executive David Griffin from sending Davis to the Lakers, there’s clearly mistrust between these franchises. That makes it harder to reach a deal.

Lakers haven for failed coaches

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In the last two decades, 16 teams changed coaches, gave a majority of their minutes to returning players the following season and won 15 more games than the year prior (or equivalent in lockout-shortened season).

Only one of those 16 deposed coaches has gotten another non-interim NBA head-coaching job.

The Lakers will introduce him today.

His lead assistant is also one of the 16. Another member of the 16 was instrumental in hiring them.

Frank Vogel, Jason Kidd and Kurt Rambis make quite a trio.

The Lakers’ new head coach, Vogel is only one year removed from guiding Orlando to a 25-57 record. The Magic’s roster seemed to be the main culprit when they fired him, but Steve Clifford led a similar roster to a 42-40 record. That certainly didn’t reflect well on Vogel.

Ditto how the Bucks responded to Kidd’s departure. After going 44-38 and losing in the first round last season, Milwaukee ascended to 60-22 and is leading the Eastern Conference finals this season under Mike Budenholzer. Yet, Kidd – who’ll assist Vogel – was clearly a priority for the Lakers.

In 2011, the Timberwolves finished 17-65 and fired Rambis. Minnesota went 26-40 the following year under Rick Adelman. After bouncing around other jobs, Rambis is now playing a leading role in Rob Pelinka’s front office.

Every team changes between seasons. Players come and go. Those who stay get older and develop. Injuries happen inconsistently. The NBA hardly runs controlled experiments on coaches.

But these situations don’t instill confidence in Vogel, Kidd and Rambis. That they’re all working together now is remarkable.

Vogel has the most prominent role. Fortunately for the Lakers, he’s also the one least likely to be defined by his fixed-after-he-left tenure. Before Orlando, Vogel had plenty of success with the Pacers.

Kidd also did some positive things with the Bucks. Rambis…

People can learn from their mistakes. Second chances are sometimes warranted.

But the Lakers have LeBron James, whose prime years are dwindling. They’re a prestigious franchise in a premier market. High-end coaches and executives are particularly important and attainable.

The Lakers have given power to this group – maybe for good reason, maybe not.

I hope they explain why today, though there are several other issues they’ll have to address, too.

Magic Johnson on Lakers GM Rob Pelinka: ‘If you’re going to talk betrayal, it’s only with Rob’

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Around the time Magic Johnson stunningly resigned as Lakers president, rumors swirled about his poor work ethic. The source of that rumor was suspected to be Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka. Johnson acknowledged an internal problem the night he quit, citing “backstabbing” and “whispering.”

“If you’re going to talk betrayal,” Johnson said in an incredibly candid interview on ESPN today, “it’s only with Rob.”

Johnson admitted to spending only limited time on the Lakers. But he said Lakers owner Jeanie Buss approved that plan when hiring him.

“I told her, I said listen, ‘I can’t give up all my businesses. I make more money doing that than becoming president of the Lakers. So, you know that I’m going to be in and out. Is that OK with you?’ She said yes,” Johnson said. “I said, ‘Do I have the power to make decisions?’ Because that was important for me to take the job, as well. She said you have the power to make the decisions. So, I said, ‘OK, let’s go do it.’ She said, ‘I’m going to put you with Rob Pelinka,’ because I didn’t know Rob.

“And then I started hearing, ‘Magic, you’re not working hard enough. Magic’s not in the office.’ So, people around the Lakers office was telling me Rob was saying things – Rob Pelinka – and I didn’t like those things being said behind my back, that I wasn’t in the office and so on and on. So, I started getting calls from my friends outside of basketball, saying those things now were said to them outside of basketball. Now, not just in the Lakers office anymore. Now, it’s in the media and so on.

“Just Rob. Other people didn’t bother me. It’s really funny, as I sit here. I don’t worry about those type of things. I’m not a guy who is like, oh man, he said this about and I worry about it. What happened was I wasn’t having fun coming to work anymore – especially when I’ve got to work beside you knowing you want my position. And I’m OK with that. Because this is what happened, Stephen A. I told him in year two, I’m only going to be here three years. So, my job is, Rob, to get you ready for this position. So, I was going to help elevate him to the president’s position. And so, when all this was coming back to me and guys calling me saying, ‘You better watch out for him’ – and then what crazy was, when I took the job, you know how many agents called me and said, ‘You’ve got to watch out for him.’ And I said, ‘Eh, I’ve got to give the guy a fair chance.’ I can’t listen to people. But he was a hard-worker, smart guy. But now you have that position, so I’m good with that.”

Though he said the backstabbing came from only Pelinka, Johnson clearly had friction with other members of the organization.

Johnson described mentoring Joey Buss (Vice President, Research & Development) and Jesse Buss (Assistant GM / Director, Scouting). Johnson made clear he had no problem doing so and liked those Buss brothers. But he also indicated he saw ambition that created complications.

“They felt they should have been in powerful positions, whether that’s the general manager or the president,” Johnson said.

And there’s Tim Harris President (Business Operations, Chief Operating Officer).

“The straw that broke the camel’s back was, I wanted to fire Luke Walton,” Johnson said. “And we had, Max, three meetings. I showed her the things he did well and the things he didn’t do well. And I said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to get a better coach. I like him. He’s great. Former Laker, the whole thing.’ The first day, ‘Well, let’s think about it.’ Second day, ‘OK, you can fire him.’ Then, the next day, ‘No, we should try to work it out.’ So, when we went back and forth like that and then she brought Tim Harris into the meeting with some of the guys. And Tim wanted me to – he wanted to keep him, because he was friends with Luke. Luke’s a great guy. He’s a great guy. So, when I looked up and said wait a minute, I only really answer to Jeannie Buss. Now, I’ve got Tim involved. And I said it’s time for me to go.”

Walton, since hired by the Kings, has been accused of sexual assault.

There’s a ton to digest here, but I can’t escape two ironies:

Johnson – who had never worked in a front office before, didn’t work hard enough running the Lakers, felt his power wasn’t concentrated enough, didn’t build a winner – said people should ascend in the organization only  “once you show that you can drive excellence.”

Johnson – who described the Lakers as a mess, called their general manager a backstabber, said their owner is failing to define clear roles – plans to help them recruit free agents this summer.

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.