Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Kevin Durant pushes back on media narrative about him and the Knicks, but that’s the modern NBA. Ever since the New York Knicks traded Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas, opening up two max salary slots this summer for the Knicks, the rumors around the NBA have run rampant — Durant had already signaled the Knicks he was coming. More specifically, he and Kyrie Irving were both coming. That’s not media speculation, that’s plugged-in team executives/agents talking.
Since the day of that trade, and through all the speculation around it, Durant himself did not speak to the media. The internet (and sports talk radio/televised talking head shows) abhor a vacuum, so speculation off those KD rumors filled the space.
Kevin Durant didn’t like that and lashed out at the media on Thursday night from the postgame podium at Oracle Arena.
All I can say is: Kevin Durant, welcome to the modern NBA.
KD, you don’t have to like it, but player movement — and discussion of it — is what has helped fuel the spike in popularity of the NBA (and with that drove up players salaries). It’s the new reality. When one of the handful of best players walking the face of the earth — Durant, Anthony Davis — comes upon a crossroads and could change teams, that talk grows deafeningly loud.
Durant wants to blame the “media” — a popular move for everyone from the White House on down who don’t like the coverage about them — but here’s the reality: the press doesn’t drive this, fans do.
The “media” gives the people what they want — and they want trade talk and rumors about player movement. Durant wants more talk about “the game” and I’m with him. In an ideal world, I would love to write more game stories and breakdowns, discuss why fake dribble handoffs are a hot trend around the NBA, and analyze why Portland is an entirely different team on the road than at home. The reality is those kinds of stories draw far less of an audience than a sourced report that Durant is staying/going/is still unsure about his future plans. Or that Kemba Walker could be the other star in New York. Or whatever rumor you want.
Put simply: Even during the playoffs and NBA Finals, when we will do a lot more game stories/analysis, a report about a non-Finals team’s major player planning to bolt to the Knicks/Lakers/wherever in free agency will get more traffic here at NBC. It’s the same at ESPN, Bleacher Report, independent blogs, and wherever else you get your NBA news. (And remember, the media is a for-profit business. We’re not here just to make people eat their vegetables, if they want rumors they will get them, we just try to keep them reliable.)
That’s the reality of the fishbowl Kevin Durant lives in. Again, he’s welcome not to like it — we know he hates being psychoanalyzed, nor does he like the infamy that followed his decision to go to the Warriors — but he’s paid handsomely for what he does, and the speculation about him and his future is part of that package. It’s why so many players have learned from the PR pros and give bland non-answers about these kinds of things. Durant could say “I am not worrying about free agency until July 1, I’m focused on this team getting a three-peat and that’s all I’m discussing right now” and it would help. Personally, I prefer his honesty, I like that he’s a bit raw on these topics. But the speculation would not go away no matter what he said or didn’t say.
That’s the modern NBA. Like it or not.
2) The trade deadline has reshaped the race for the final playoff spot (or spots) in the West. The Sacramento Kings are going for it. They entered this season with the longest playoff drought in the league, 12 seasons, and it was expected to extend to 13. But a funny thing happened on the way to sending their lottery pick to the Celtics — they became a pretty good team. A fun one to watch. The Kings found their identity in pace, De'Aaron Fox made a huge leap forward, Buddy Hield thrived, and the Kings have hung around .500 and hung around the playoff race in the West.
That race changed a lot in the past few days — and the Kings have gone all-in.
Right now the Clippers are the eight seed in the West, but with their trade of Tobias Harris to the Sixers (another team going all-in) Steve Ballmer and company have set themselves up for a big summer push. The Clippers have been all but stalking Kawhi Leonard and also have been linked to Kevin Durant (whether he likes it or not). The Clippers won’t quit, but without their best player this season (and with Danilo Gallinari out injured) it’s difficult to picture them holding on to that final slot.
That should open the door for the Lakers, who have gotten LeBron James back and looked pretty good before his injury set them back. However, the drama around them — with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and every player not named LeBron being mentioned in Anthony Davis trade rumors — hit their psyche hard, as evidenced by an ugly loss in Indiana (and the Pacers were without Victor Oladipo). The Lakers also are entering a brutal stretch of their schedule, and 1-2 so far on their Grammy road trip. The Lakers are 2.5 games back of the Clippers and are they ready to make a push up the standings?
That opened the door for the Kings and they have decided to go all-in and bust through that door. They traded for the kind of big wing/four they wanted in Harrison Barnes of Dallas. We can debate the series of moves that essentially swapped out Iman Shumpert — who had a bounce-back season in Sacramento and will help the Rockets — for Barnes, but it’s a sign that the Kings — the current ninth seed in the West, 1.5 games back of the Clippers — are making a push to end that playoff drought. They are all in for this year. In an NBA where tanking isn’t a dirty word, this is good to see.
(If you believe in them, you can say Minnesota could get back in this race with a run, they are four games back of the Clippers. I just don’t believe in them this season.)
Can the Kings pass the Clippers and hold off the Lakers? Not sure I’d make that bet, but it’s going to be fun to watch.
3) They still play NBA games during the trade deadline: James Harden extended his streak, Luka Doncic had a triple-double. Let’s make Durant happy and talk about the games for a bit. There were no shocking results on Wednesday night — feisty Brooklyn at home beating Denver was as close to an upset as it got, and that’s not a huge one — but there were some impressive performances.
James Harden’s 30+ point streak extended to 28 games when he dropped 36 on the Kings in a Rockets’ win (not helping that Sactown playoff push).
Luka Doncic doesn’t have his new running mate in Porzingis yet, but the guy the fans wanted in the All-Star game did have a triple-double in Dallas’ win over Charlotte (a team that could use to make a trade for Marc Gasol).