No questioning Kevin Durant’s decision now as Warriors near title

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CLEVELAND (AP) Kevin Durant never demanded he’d get to take the biggest shot of the NBA Finals.

The Golden State Warriors made no promises and he knew there were no guarantees. When they met last summer in New York to discuss the biggest decision of his career, neither side even focused on winning titles.

They talked about having fun, and now Durant is on the verge of having the time of his basketball life.

One win from his first championship and probably the NBA Finals MVP award along with it, Durant is the perfect player in the perfect place.

“I think I said it last night, it just looks like he understands this is his moment, this is his time,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Thursday. “He’s earned it. He’s been in this league for a long time, and he’s, I think, at the top of his game at the biggest time.”

Durant was widely criticized last year when he left Oklahoma City for Golden State, chided for trying to take the easiest route to a title by joining what was already a stacked team.

But that wasn’t the way he looked at it. Durant wasn’t thinking about lifting trophies or being fitted for championship rings. He loves to play basketball, and loved the way the Warriors play it.

“I didn’t envision anything but just being around good people and getting better every single day. That’s exactly what happened throughout the season,” Durant said. “I didn’t talk to these guys when I made my decision and say we better make it to the Finals and be up in the series around this time, this exact date, or I’m not coming. I mean, it was just, `Let’s just have some fun playing ball, let’s just all get better and let’s see what happens.”‘

What’s happened is probably beyond what either even imagined.

The Warriors had the league’s best record even while losing Durant late in the season to a knee injury, and really turned it on in the playoffs. They are 15-0 and will trying to finish the NBA’s first perfect postseason with a victory over Cleveland on Friday in Game 4.

Durant’s 3-pointer over LeBron James with 45 seconds left in Game 3 gave the Warriors the lead for good in a 118-113 victory, providing him a lasting highlight that will be the signature play of this series and perhaps his career.

In his postgame interview, he used the word “liberating” to describe the shot, the moment.

James has changed teams twice and needed two seasons to win a title both times, so he knows how long it can take for everything to come together. Their situations are different – James never joined a team as strong as these Warriors – but he said he’s proud of Durant’s success and understands why moving to a team like the Warriors was so attractive.

“Their team was already kind of put together, and you just implement a guy that’s ready to sacrifice, a great talent, a guy that’s willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win,” James said. “But that team, they knew what they were about. He just had to come in and just do what he had to do. And that’s what he’s been doing.”

Durant is averaging 34 points, 10 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the Finals, joining Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal as the only players with at least 25 points in their first eight Finals games.

He fell well short in his first shot at the title, when James’ Miami team beat Oklahoma City in five games in 2012. He never got back to the Finals with the Thunder, and when he was finally ready to consider looking elsewhere, the Warriors offered him exactly what he wanted to hear when they sat down in the Hamptons and talked about where the former scoring champion fit in a lineup with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.

“I think the whole thing was how fun it would be, because of the style of play, because of the individual talents,” Kerr said. “None of these guys are ball-dominant players. They all love playing off the ball, cutting, moving, passing. And it fits. They fit like a hand in a glove.”

A hand that will soon have a championship ring. Even those who hated Durant’s decision can’t question how it has worked out for him when watching how well he and the Warriors have meshed.

“It took a while for it to kind of reveal itself consistently as the regular season went on, but once it clicked and the habits started to become second nature, it was kind of beautiful to watch and an amazing kind of style to play and watch unfold,” Curry said. “So it’s been fun.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.

 

Warriors GM Myers reiterates he would like to extend Green, Poole, Wiggins

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Andrew Wiggins is entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors want to extend him. Jordan Poole is up for a contract extension and if it isn’t worked out by the start of the season he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. Draymond Green is eligible — and wants — a four years, $138.4 million extension (the max they can give him).

Bob Myers said again this week that he wants to keep all three of those players — all critical parts of the Warriors run to a title last season — but financial reality could intrude upon that dream. Here’s what Myers said Thursday, via Kendra Andrews of ESPN:

“We want all of those guys,” Warriors general manager Bob Myers said at a news conference Thursday. “Can we get all of them? I don’t know.

“It depends on what the money ends up being. What the ask is what we can end up doing. We’re not at a point to make those decisions yet. Some of these decisions may be made in the next two weeks, some might be made in the next seven, eight months.”

The Warriors turned heads around the league paying more than $350 million in player salaries and luxury tax last season — and this season they will be in the same ballpark. Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has said even with the cash cow that is the new Chase Center, this is not a team that can spend $400 million. Some expenses are locked in, such as Stephen Curry and his $215.4 max contract extension. Klay Thompson is at the max for a couple of more years.

Poole is part of the future in Golden State — along with Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody, and maybe Jonathan Wiseman — and they can’t let him go. Wiggins was the Warriors’ second-best player in the postseason last year. That has led to some speculation Green could be the odd man out — something Myers has denied. Green will make $25.8 million this season but is  expected to opt out of the $27.6 million player option he has next season. It leaves the Warriors and Green with a choice.

Something’s got to give, but the Myers and the Warriors seem ready to kick that financial can down the road until next summer, and for this season get the band back together and chase another ring.

Poole would be the first up (there is an Oct. 17 deadline to extend him). Whatever happens, this will be an undercurrent of a story all season long in the Bay Area.

C.J. McCollum inks two-year, $64 million extension with Pelicans

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After helping New Orleans return to the playoffs for the first time since Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers, C.J. McCollum earned a two-year, $64 million extension with the Pelicans. He will remain under contract with the team through the 2025-26 season, and there isn’t a player or team option in the deal. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news Saturday afternoon.

New Orleans traded Josh Hart, Tomas Satoransky, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Didi Louzada, a 2022 protected first-round pick (turns into 2025 first-round pick that is top-4 protected), and two future second-round picks for McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., and Tony Snell.

New Orleans now has their core of McCollum, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram under contract for the next three seasons.

The expectations will be high for the Pelicans for the next few years. After starting last season 1-12, first-year head coach Willie Green helped turn the team around, and they finished 36-46 before beating the Spurs and Clippers in the play-in tournament. Their season ended after losing to the Suns 4-2 in the first round of the playoffs.

McCollum averaged 24.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.3 steals, and 2.7 triples per game after the trade to New Orleans.

The return of Zion this season, along with the success of last year’s team, has the team expecting a return to the playoffs. Locking up their star guard in McCollum emphasizes that their rebuild is over. After missing the playoffs during their first three seasons in the post-AD era, they don’t expect to return to the lottery for a long time. The big question surrounding their potential success will be Zion’s health.