Three Things to Know: Kevin Durant, welcome to the modern NBA

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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).

Report: NBA season could last through Oct. 12

Spurs wing DeMar DeRozan and 76ers forward Tobias Harris
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The NBA is reportedly targeting July 31 for resuming games.

Now, we also have a planned end date for the season.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The big question: What happens between July 31 and Oct. 12?

Most likely, 22 teams will return for more regular-season games, a play-in tournament then playoffs. It appears a last-ditch argument for all 30 teams continuing has stalled.

But that still leaves many questions within a 22-team structure. How many regular-season games will each team play? How many seeds will be up for grabs in the play-in tournament? How many teams will qualify for the play-in tournament. Will the the playoffs have 1-16 seeding?

And then there’s next season and beyond. The NBA will obviously delay the start of the next season. But will the league work back toward an October start for future seasons? Or will this be the beginning of regularly starting the season in December?

Still, as many questions remain unanswered, the timeline is coming into sharper focus.

Tilman Fertitta: ‘Such a disappointment’ Rockets faced trouble for Daryl Morey’s tweet

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta
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When Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong protesters (who are trying to maintain and expand their freedoms), Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta quickly distanced the organization. Though he never publicly condemned Morey, Fertitta emphasized that Morey was speaking as a private citizen and not for the organization.

But the winds have turned. The Knicks are facing criticism for not saying enough about the death of George Floyd. The Rockets – as apolitical as Fertitta says they should be – even released a statement on the death of Floyd:

How does Fertitta reconcile the different approaches?

Power Lunch:

Fertitta:

Speaking up of an issue in America and speaking up on an issue that’s somewhere else in the world are two different matters, OK? In America, we have free speech, and we can do whatever want to do and say whatever we want and not be penalize because of it. And that’s why we all love this country so much.

One hundred percent, I believe that you should not be a political organization, because we have 60 thousand employees and a hundred million customers, and we don’t always agree. It’s usually 50 percent one way and 50 percent this way.

But when it comes to an issue like this in America, you sure should speak out and say exactly what you want. And I encourage all my employees – from my basketball team to my restaurants to my hotels to my casinos – to speak out on this issue, and let’s make this world better and this country better that we live in that’s been great for so many of us.

I go back to what happened to Eric Garner in New York, which is a second home to me, and of course George Floyd, who is from Houston, Texas. And it’s inexcusable for two men to die like that, who did not appear to be putting up a fight. And I totally agree, and I understand the protests and the injustice out there.

And it’s really a shame that, because of a few bad people, that the distraction of protesting for the inequality, that we have to watch everything else. And we know this. There’s bad journalists. There’s bad CEOs. There’s a few bad cops. And there’s a few bad protesters. And it’s so disappointing, because I love that the protesting. That’s what makes America great.

And remember, we got in trouble, my team, earlier in the year because we commented about something, which was such a disapointment, because that’s what makes America great.

This is the most strongly – by far – Ferttita has supported Morey about the Hong Kong tweet. My question: Why now? When he tweeted, Morey was an American citizen who enjoyed the freedom of speech Fertitta espouses. Fertitta could have backed Morey like this at the time, even while maintaining a message that Morey didn’t speak for the organization.

Morey’s tweet cost the NBA, including the Rockets, a lot of money in China. Everyone quickly entered damage control. Fertitta appeared more focused on the financial ramifications than anything else.

Right now, it’s popular to stand for racial justice. Customers appreciate it. So, supposedly apolitical organizations like the Rockets are issuing statements on George Floyd.

That’s why I’m not looking to professional basketball teams for leadership on these issues. It’s easy when doing the right thing aligns with maximizing profits. When those things don’t align, it’s far messier.

Even in this interview, Fertitta struggled to keep his message consistent. He said both “Speaking up of an issue in America and speaking up on an issue that’s somewhere else in the world are two different matters” then later “let’s make this world better.” But after that slip into acknowledging global considerations, Fertitta jumped right back to “this country better that we live in that’s been great for so many of us.”

Some Americans focus on injustice in America. Some Americans are concerned with with injustice elsewhere. There’s not a major difference between those outlooks  – unless it screws up the money.

Brian Shaw reportedly to coach new G-League ‘Select Team’ of young stars

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The NBA’s new G-League “Select Team” has already drawn some elite talent from the 2021 NBA Draft class such as Jalen Green (currently projected as a top-three pick), Daishen Nix (lottery pick), and Isaiah Todd (late first round/second round) into its specialized training program.

Who will be running that program and coaching the team? Former Nuggets coach Brian Shaw, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Shaw had a 14-year NBA playing career, winning three rings with the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. He went on to join Phil Jackson’s coaching staff with the Lakers before getting the head job in Denver, which lasted less than two seasons. He reportedly beat out David Fizdale and Sam Mitchell for the job (although they could have roles with the team).

The Select Team roster will have some top prospects — ones who decided to get paid (Green will make a reported $500,000) and skip college — plus a handful of veteran players as mentors. The goal is to get the young players NBA-level training and games (they will play exhibitions against other G-League teams but not be part of the standings).

Knicks participate in #BlackoutTuesday on Instagram

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The Knicks decided not to release a statement on the death of George Floyd.

But an opportunity to say nothing?

They jumped at that.

Knicks:

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#BlackoutTuesday #NBATogether

A post shared by New York Knicks 🏀 (@nyknicks) on

Blackout Tuesday is a vague movement against racial injustice.

I’d like all Americans to confront the racism plaguing this country. If Knicks owner James Dolan says more, that’d be great. It’d be great if many said more on these issues.

But I’m also not turning to professional basketball teams for guidance. So many of these statements say nothing at all.

But fairly or not, when every nearly other team* releases a statement, the Knicks’ silence becomes seen as a stance in itself.

*Only New York and San Antonio have yet to release statements, according to Tom Haberstroh. The Spurs have largely gotten a pass, because Gregg Popovich has been so outspoken.

Under Dolan, the Knicks have a strong track record of hiring black executives and coaches. That matters.

If you want that supplemented by a statement in the aftermath of Floyd’s death… I guess you can decide whether this counts.