Kevin Durant on Thunder: ‘I was tired of having to be the only guy that can make 3s’

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Kevin Durant fortified a super team and torpedoed his own reputation in one fell swoop.

Why did he leave the Thunder for the Warriors, who had just beaten Oklahoma City in the 2016 playoffs?

Durant on All The Smoke:

The Warriors were so intriguing, because I always – with OKC, I played with a lot of athletes. I didn’t play with a lot of skill guys, not like shooters, ball-handlers. So, after a while, my game started to grow. I was like, I need a change. This was before the season even started. You know what I mean? It was like, I’m going to play out my last season as hard as I can. And I’m not telling anybody I want to leave. I’m not packing in. I’m trying to win as much as we can and try to end this out right. That was my thinking going in before the year.

And obviously I had a few teams, but the Warriors was a team I wanted to play for, because the movement they had, the passing. They led the league in assists. When Scott Brooks was my coach, that’s all we talked about, is wanting to lead the league in assists. And so playing with that team, that’s what I was thinking about.

So, when we got to the playoffs, it was just like, let’s see what happens.

Then, we get to the Warriors. It’s just a whole different series. You know they’re going to sell out to stop me. I mean, they’re going to leave Andre Roberson.

He was great for our team in that series, because he can guard. But he knew that he wasn’t going to help us shoot 3s. And everybody in the world knew that. And it’s easy for a team to guard us when we’ve got guys that they’re not going to respect you from 3. Know what I’m saying?

So, I was tired of playing in that system. I was tired of having to be the only guy that can make 3s, make jump shots, consistently make them.

So, my mind was already thinking about, how can I develop my game? More so than Warriors vs. Thunder, that rivalry. Even if that was a rivalry, I didn’t give a f—. I just wanted to keep developing my game. And on top of that, we only played them one time in the playoffs. So, I didn’t really feel like a genuine deep hatred for the Warriors. You know what I’m saying? It was just like they’re a new fresh team. They’re on the rise. I f— with them. And I’m going to play hard against them. I know some of their players. It is what it is.

The Warriors, they was just like another team to me. So, me going there and playing for them, it didn’t matter if we would’ve won or lost the series. I wanted to play there and live in the Bay.

Durant is right. For a championship contender, the Thunder were short on other players who shot dependably from the perimeter. Russell Westbrook in particular received blame for hogging the ball and clogging spacing.

But the situation was more complex.

Durant was skilled enough to shoot efficiently against even elite defenses. Westbrook had the supreme athleticism to attack through even tight spaces. (Durant absolved Westbrook in third-person tweets that Durant said were sent deliberately.)

The individual capabilities of those two superstars allowed Oklahoma City to surround them with role players who’d do dirty work like defending, rebounding and screening. The result: An elite team.

The Thunder pushed Golden State harder than anyone had all season. Even the Cavaliers, who won the championship, didn’t outscore the Warriors by as much in the NBA Finals as Oklahoma City outscored the Warriors by in the Western Conference finals.

Except, it was apparently even more complex, because Durant didn’t like the Thunder’s style of play. That matters, too. It’s important to keep a superstar happy entering free agency.

Durant said he wouldn’t have signed with the Warriors if they won the 2016 title. This doesn’t directly contradict that. But Durant is now insinuating postseason results didn’t affect his thinking.

I believe Durant wanted to win with Oklahoma City. But given… Durant now admits he began considering leaving before his final season there… Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout the season (bothering Thunder players)… Durant later revealed he decided to leave Golden State midway through his final season there… it’s fair to question Durant’s commitment to the 2015-16 Thunder. I don’t blame him for considering a life-altering move in advance. That’s totally natural. But compartmentalizing, staying focused on winning amid a wandering eye, can be difficult.

Durant got what he thought he wanted with the Warriors, winning two championships and playing on a team that emphasized ball and player movement.

But as Golden State coach Steve Kerr said, Durant got restless. Durant, who has always revered high-level individual scoring, wanted to isolate more. So, he left the Warriors for the Nets.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.

NBA referee Brent Barnaky explains standing for the national anthem

NBA referee Brent Barnaky
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Magic forward Jonathan Isaac, Heat big Meyers Leonard and Spurs coaches Gregg Popovich and Becky Hammon drew plenty of attention for standing during the national anthem while nearly all NBA players, coaches and referees kneeled.

Referee Brent Barnaky also stood.

Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

This isn’t much of an explanation. Nor does it need to be. Barnaky explained that he wasn’t countering the message of kneeling players (opposing racism, particularly through police brutality). That’s sufficient for Barnaky to maintain his neutral positioning – important for an official.

For decades, nearly everyone stood for the national anthem. For many people, that was just about following norms. Even NBA players espousing social-justice messaging previously stood for the national anthem.

But Colin Kaepernick’s brave defiance caused some people to thoughtfully consider their national-anthem posture. So, while many people continued to stand for the national anthem because that’s just was done, some made deliberate choices based on their own values. Sometimes, that led to kneeling. Sometimes, that led to standing.

The thoughtful standers blended into the crowd… until kneeling became widespread in the NBA. Now, they’re the noticeable outliers within the league.

It can take courage to go against the grain. I commend Barnaky for that – and for voicing his support for social justice and peaceful protest.

Barnaky made a personal choice that can stand alone. It doesn’t undermine what anyone else is doing.

Bucks’ Mike Budenholzer and Thunder’s Billy Donovan win Coach of Year from peers

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer and Thunder coach Billy Donovan
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The Bucks (high) and Thunder (low) entered the season on near-opposite ends of the pressure spectrum. Despite their radically different situations, both teams have experienced success this season for a common reason:

They were well-coached.

National Basketball Coaches Association release:

Milwaukee Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and Oklahoma City Thunder Head Coach Billy Donovan are the 2020 recipients of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award, the National Basketball Coaches Association announced today.

The Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award recognizes the dedication, commitment and hard work of NBA Head Coaches and is presented annually to a Head Coach who helps guide his players to a higher level of performance on the court and shows outstanding service and dedication to the community off the court. It honors the spirit of Michael H. Goldberg, the esteemed long-time Executive Director of the NBCA, who set the standard for loyalty, integrity, love of the game, passionate representation and tireless promotion of NBA coaching. It is unique in that it is the only award voted upon by the winners’ peers, the Head Coaches of all 30 NBA teams. This year’s voting was based on games played from the start of the 2019-20 regular season through games played on March 11.

The depth of coaching excellence in the NBA is reflected in this year’s voting as 8 Head Coaches received votes. In addition to Budenholzer and Donovan, the following Coaches also received votes: Taylor Jenkins, Nate McMillan, Nick Nurse, Erik Spoelstra, Brad Stevens and Frank Vogel.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was third in the race — and just one vote away from creating a three-way tie, sources said.

This is not the main Coach of the Year. That’s voted on by media and will be announced later. This in a new award created by coaches a few years ago.

Nurse remains favorite for the NBA’s recognized Coach of the Year. (He was our unanimous choice.) It’s surprising he didn’t win this award. But it’s also easy to see how fellow coaches would be reluctant to honor an up-and-comer who supplanted Dwane Casey, a coach beloved by his peers and who won this award while getting fired by the Raptors in 2018.

That shouldn’t take away from Budenholzer and Donovan, though. Both had strong seasons.

After turning the Bucks into an elite team last season – winning this award and the NBA’s official Coach of the Year – Budenholzer has Milwaukee looking even stronger this season. The Bucks’ defense is historically dominant, and their role players fit so well around Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Donovan got dealt a tricky hand – an all-time great point guard in Chris Paul who’s past his peak but still in his prime and a point guard of the future in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Donovan made it work while squeezing in another point guard in Dennis Schroder. Donovan’s versatility remains an asset for Oklahoma City.