Durant didn’t chase ring with Warriors, Warriors needed MVP Durant to chase down Cavs

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OAKLAND — The narratives were everywhere, and every sports fan heard them. Including Kevin Durant.

“Yeah, I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was joining, I was hopping on bandwagons, I was letting everybody else do the work,” Durant said. “But then that was far from the truth.”

The truth was actually the opposite — the Warriors needed Durant to get a title. Cleveland had the best player in a generation in LeBron James at the peak of his skills, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars and a quality, deep supporting cast around them. Those Cavaliers had made history coming back to beat the Warriors in the Finals a year ago.

Golden State needed Durant to change that dynamic — and he did.

Durant scored at least 30 in every Finals game, more importantly on the other end he was Golden State’s best defender on LeBron. Without Durant, these Finals likely end like the way the last one did. That’s why Durant was the unanimous Finals MVP, why he now has a ring.

“We all carry weight,” Warriors’ GM Bob Myers said. “He hears what people say, but you know he just wants to play basketball. I’m happy for him. Life doesn’t usually work out. Most times, it doesn’t. Tonight, it did for him.”

“I’m just so happy for Kevin…” Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr said. “Kevin has a very unique story, you just mentioned that. I’m just happy for him. He’s had an amazing career, but he just took it to the next level. He was incredible all season long. He had an amazing series, just dominated.”

There has been an assumption by some fans that Durant came to the Warriors because it was his easiest path to a ring. That wasn’t the case — it was Golden State’s camaraderie, their style of play, and mostly the joy that they clearly played with that were the bigger draws.

“I found that at the beginning of the year when we first went to Vancouver in the first pre-season game, just the camaraderie, just the togetherness of the whole organization,” Durant said. “That’s what it was about. We just kept — I kept building on that from day one. So that’s what I found when I came here, and I definitely appreciate just the type of people we have here from the top to bottom. So a championship is just a cherry on top.”

That joy and team atmosphere starts with the other MVP on the roster, Stephen Curry.

“And the one thing that it was a constant with us was the joy that we have for the game of basketball,” Durant said of himself and Curry. “I learned — I got a lot from him from that. He enjoys playing basketball. And his energy — I told him, his energy, we feed off of him. He’s our leader. He’s our vocal leader. He talks up — like I said, 15 free throws. He missed three free throws tonight I was pissed about, but 15 free throws and in a closeout game in The Finals, he’s a big dog.”

Durant was the big dog, the Warriors’ best player in the Finals, but he said at the start of this season his goal was to fit in, make his teammates better, and find his place in this system — and while it went as smoothly as could be expected, it wasn’t always easy.

“I remember the first day of camp and I walk into camp, and I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know what these guys were like on the court and how they came in and worked, “Durant said. “I didn’t know anything about the team. I just wanted to come in there and just be me.

“And I did that from day one, and I just tried to stay with that. I had my lows in the season where I was beating myself up, where I was struggling throughout the year, but the great part about it is I’ll get a tap on the head from Steph or a Draymond or — I can remember when we were in Sacramento and we just lost to Memphis, we gave up the lead, we were up 20 — I’m sure you guys remember — Draymond pulled me aside, we were having dinner the next night in Sacramento, and he told me to be myself. Don’t worry about anything, just be you, keep working, everything’s going to come around. And I was struggling at that point. And to have teammates that encourage you, that lift you up, that’s what we all need in life. And it was amazing to just see that all year, and right now just to be here with these guys, it’s amazing.”

Durant missed 19 games at the end of the season with a knee injury that had the potential to derail what the Warriors were building. Instead, it allowed Curry to fully find his groove, and helped turn them into the two-headed monster they wanted to be and the league feared.

When they reached the Finals, the Warriors were unleashed. And the rest of the league is right to be worried.

The way that he embraced the opportunity in The Finals, it was unbelievable,” Curry said. “It’s kind of crazy to think about the conversations we had this summer and going into the year about how we can both mesh and do what we do and be the players that we are and see it come to life in this series, it was unbelievable.

“So we’re obviously just getting started, this is something that we want to continue to do, but for us to have these conversations that we had almost a year go and now being in this position, worth every shot we took in practice, fighting through injuries that he had this year, and it’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m happy for him.

“You got to call Kevin Durant a champ now.”

Wes Unseld Jr., Kenny Atkinson reportedly top list for next Chicago coach

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Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley, the two guys at the top of Chicago Bulls basketball operations, fired a coach in Jim Boylen that the team owner liked. Which means they have to nail the next hire.

Chicago in on to the second round of interviews and four names stand out, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Bulls are narrowing to finalists for their head coaching job and expect to conduct final interviews soon, sources said. Denver assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Philadelphia assistant Ime Udoka, Milwaukee assistant Darvin Ham and former Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson are among the coaches who have had strong interviews so far.

Atkinson has a more proven resume after what he did in Brooklyn, but the other three are top assistants who have earned their shot in the big chair. Unseld Jr. is a hot name right now because his team is still in the bubble and playing well — he’s Mike Malone’s lead assistant on the Denver Nuggets — but every name on this list is qualified.

Whoever lands the job will head a team with plenty of potential but also plenty of questions. The Bulls have quality young talent on the roster — Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter — but do they are fit together? How good Chicago is next season may depend more on the growth of White and the health of Markkanen than it does on who gets selected as coach.

Expect Karnisovas to spend a year putting his stamp on this roster and moving players around. First, however, he’s got to find his coach.

Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin form NASCAR racing team with Bubba Wallace driving

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Michael Jordan is getting into the NASCAR game.

The North Carolina native has teamed up with three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin to form a new NASCAR Cup Series race team — and they’ve signed Bubba Wallace to drive.

Wallace is the only Black man driving full-time in NASCAR’s top series (the previous three seasons he raced for Richard Petty Motorsports). Wallace has been at the forefront of bringing social changes to NASCARincluding the banning of the Confederate flags at NASCAR events and tracks.

“Growing up in North Carolina, my parents would take my brothers, sisters and me to races, and I’ve been a NASCAR fan my whole life,” Jordan said in a statement. “The opportunity to own my own racing team in partnership with my friend, Denny Hamlin, and to have Bubba Wallace driving for us, is very exciting for me.

“Historically, NASCAR has struggled with diversity and there have been few Black owners. The timing seemed perfect as NASCAR is evolving and embracing social change more and more. In addition to the recent commitment and donations I have made to combat systemic racism, I see this as a chance to educate a new audience and open more opportunities for Black people in racing.”

Michael Jordan becomes the first Black owner of a full-time race team in NASCAR top series since NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in the 1960s and early 1970s (he owned the team and drove the car). Bubba Wallace is the first Black full-time driver in the top NASCAR series since Scott.

Hamlin will be a minority partner in the new team and continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career,” said Wallace in a statement. “Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

The car manufacturer, number, sponsors and more will be announced at a later date.

Jordan is the primary owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets.

NBA executives pick Luka Doncic as best player under 25 to build around

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Luka Doncic, in his second season, made the leap into the NBA’s elite — fourth in MVP voting and First Team All-NBA. All at age 21.

Not surprisingly, he’s the player under 21 NBA teams would want to build around.

Michael Scotto of Hoopshype polled 15 league executives (including four general managers) and players under 25 they want to build around and Doncic was the unanimous choice.

“To me, Luka is the clear No. 1,” one scout told HoopsHype. “He’s a guy who can be a lead ballhandler. He’s good enough to score and create at a high level, has the right mental makeup and is incredibly smart. He’s been a winner everywhere and will probably be a winner in the league.”

It’s hard to argue when Luka Doncic is already doing this in the playoffs:

Boston’s Jayson Tatum came in second, Phoenix Devin Booker was third, followed by Ja Morant (Memphis) fourth and a tie at fifth between Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Bam Adebayo (Miami).

An interesting note about that top five: None of them was a No. 1 pick.

Zion Williamson had been on top of this poll a year ago, but after a season where he played just 19 games then looked a step slow in the bubble there are concerns about his long-term health.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive told HoopsHype. “Offensively, he can finish at an elite rate. He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

One healthy dominant season from Williamson and those opinions could shift, but even then Doncic will be an MVP level player the Mavericks can build a contender around. He’s the guy under 25.

Report: Raptors coach Nick Nurse earning $8M salary on extension

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich reportedly had an $11 million salary in 2015 then signed a contract extension in 2019 that keeps him the NBA’s highest-paid coach. Doc Rivers was earning $10 million annually with the Clippers before his latest extension. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra also signed extensions in recent years.

What about Nick Nurse, who just signed an extension with the Raptors?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Raptors coach Nick Nurse signed a new multiyear contract extension on Tuesday — a deal that pays him around $8 million per year, sources say.

That’s a lot for a coach, especially in these times.

But Nurse has proven his value. He might even be the NBA’s best coach right now. He checks so many key boxes.

He has shown the ability to prepare his team for the playoffs then adapt through a long playoff run. His players have developed under his watch. He has dealt with roster upheaval and kept everything humming.

After just two seasons as head coach, Nurse still must prove himself in more situations, especially as opposing teams become more familiar with his strategies. But Toronto should want to keep him.

Credit Raptors ownership for paying to make it happen.

Now onto Raptors president Masai Ujiri