Kevin Durant gives US men’s hoop team needed jolt in Rio Games

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — The words, scrawled in marker on the tops of his sneakers, remind Kevin Durant why he started playing basketball in the first place.

Even in the Olympics, it’s just a game.

On his left sneaker, Durant scribbled, “Have Fun.” On the right one, “Smile.”

“I forgot to write it last night,” Durant said grinning on Thursday.

That’s about the only thing he didn’t do. Durant scored 27 points with seven rebounds and six assists in a quarterfinal blowout of Argentina. He also executed a two-crossover, Euro-step, one-legged fadeaway in the lane, a sequence of intricate basketball moves that might make an Olympic gymnast envious.

With the U.S. team needing a lift, something to shake it from this South American slumber and re-direct the angst aimed at the 2016 collection of NBA All-Stars after three lackluster victories, Durant delivered.

“This is the stage he thrives on,” said U.S. point guard Kyrie Irving. “You can count on KD being KD in the biggest moments, which we have all come to respect and kind of rely on.”

Durant’s performance against Argentina pushed the U.S. a step closer to its third straight gold medal and set up a semifinal showdown on Friday with Spain, the two-time defending silver medalist hoping a third time is championship charmed against the Americans.

After deferring to his teammates and taking just 10 shots in the previous two games, Durant was in attack mode from the outset against the Argentines, who jumped out to a 19-9 lead before the U.S. erupted on a 27-2 run and into Rio’s semis with a 105-78 win.

This was the Durant everyone had been waiting for, the one who shot the U.S. to a 2010 world championship in Turkey, scored 30 in the gold-medal game in 2012 and has reached double digits in all 14 Olympic games he’s played.

Durant had not been himself earlier in the tournament, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that the U.S. team had not played up to expectations – as unrealistic as that sometimes seem – while squirming through pool play undefeated.

But when the stakes got higher, Durant again raised his game and perhaps motivated his teammates. He’s averaging 18.5 points and shooting 66 percent (18 of 27) on 3-pointers.

“I don’t think I inspired them just because I scored points,” he said following practice at the Flamengo Club, a short drive from scenic Leblon Beach. “I just think my energy, my aggressiveness and just being excited to play, I think that rubbed off on everybody and I just try to display that every time I play.

“I got away from that the last couple of games, but I just always try to stay conscious of just smiling out there, having fun. My smile is contagious and my energy and enthusiasm for the game is contagious and I try to spread that to my teammates.”

That smile disappeared for a short time earlier this summer.

Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City as a free agent and sign with Golden State, forming a super team with Stephen Curry and U.S teammates Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, brought criticism and questions about him for the first time in his career.

Durant was branded a quitter, unable to win a championship without help. He was called soft, overrated, insecure and worse. The noise was deafening, and Durant found the only way to drown it was to ignore it.

“It took me some time to get used to everything on the outside of a game, whether it was media or fans and their points of view,” he said. “What I had to learn over the last few years was just to relax, don’t care if I missed a shot or if I turned the ball over or if I don’t box out and someone scores on me. I can’t worry about that stuff and that just keeps me calm in those moments.”

When the U.S. team convened for training camp in Las Vegas, center DeAndre Jordan offered Durant some advice.

“I told him, `You gotta worry about you,”‘ said Jordan, who had his own free agency fiasco in 2015. “‘You can’t worry about what other people say. They don’t have to play in that city or play for that team. It’s ultimately what’s best for Kevin.’ And once I told him that, he kind of relaxed a little bit. I’m happy for him.”

Durant seems at ease, finally at peace with his decision. He’s enjoyed his time with Thompson and Green, and believes their Olympic chemistry will carry over once they’re with Curry.

For now, though, Durant is focused solely on this team, which is taking its cues from a player who once he steps onto the floor morphs from laid-back to into an offensive juggernaut.

“When he’s attacking, it sends a lightning bolt through the team,” Jordan said.

The Americans were looking for direction, and Durant is showing them the way.

Smiling every step.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.