Draymond Green: Kevin Durant’s discontent with Warriors stems from LeBron praise, not our incident

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr endorsed the idea that Kevin Durant became restless because he didn’t get enough credit for besting LeBron James in the 2017 NBA Finals.

Draymond Green also subscribes to that theory.

Which, to Green, means too much stock is put into his infamous blowup at Durant nearly a year-and-a-half later. (You’re a b—, and you know you’re a b—. We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.) Durant said the incident contributed to him leaving Golden State for the Nets last summer.

Green gave his fascinating perspective on “All The Smoke” (video warning: profanity).

Durant joined the Warriors in 2016, forming a rare MVP tandem with Stephen Curry. Initially, each superstar overly deferred to the other, throwing off Golden State’s rhythm. Durant told Curry to take the lead, and the Warriors surged. In Golden State’s victory over LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the 2017 NBA Finals, Durant asserted himself and won Finals MVP.

Green:

Kevin is happy as hell, not complaining about nothing, just enjoy playing good basketball.

You turn on the TV the next day, and the f—ing headline is “LeBron James still the best player in the world, question mark.” You’ve got Stephen A. You’ve got all these people debating it. And everybody still said LeBron James is the best player in the world. That’s when I kind of felt like it took a turn. And then we came back 2017-2018 season, and Kevin just wasn’t as happy.

Durant has given contradictory statements about his happiness in the aftermath of his first title. But he did say he felt LeBron passed the torch to him in 2017.

Green said Durant complained more about shot distribution between himself, Curry and Klay Thompson. Durant expressing misgivings about the Warriors’ offense would become a running theme

Green:

It wasn’t a problem in 2017. But now in 2018, it’s always an issue. And so that was a challenge, just trying to figure out, how is Kevin going to react to certain s— that would happen with the team or that Steve Kerr would do. Steve Kerr would call a play for him, and he’d be like, “I don’t f—ing want you to call a play. I want you to f—ing make them play the right way.” And it’s like, yo, what are you talking about? You you say you need the ball, and you want the ball. But then when I call the play for you. It ain’t that. So what is it? It’s obviously a much bigger problem than just you getting the ball.

I’m talking to Bob Myers. I’m like, “Yo, I don’t think Kevin coming back here.” And, you know, Kevin has said to me once before like, “They keep this bulls— up, I’ll get out of here.” And me and K was real close. So, I’m always in between everybody talking him off the ledge, f—ing telling Steph like, “Yo, we need to get K a touch.”

Remember David West’s cryptic comments about about how much Golden State went through internally en route to the 2018 championship? Green said it referred to this drama with Durant (not just a meningitis scare).

Green even thought Durant might leave during the 2018 offseason. But Green believes the lure of a three-peat brought Durant back. Green later said he wanted Durant to declare his plan – leave or stay in 2019 – before the season.

Green:

His heart wasn’t here no more. He was kind of one foot in and one foot out from the very beginning of the season.

But the one thing about Kevin is he loves the game of basketball. And he’s going to give it 100 percent every f—ing time he step on the floor. I don’t give a f— if it’s a game, if it’s a workout.

If you watch this dude work out, every rep he do, it’s f—ing game speed.

To watch him f—ing work out is like mesmerizing. Like the f—ing heart.

To go every rep game speed in a f—ing workout, it’s just not realistic. It’s not realistic. But he does.

The one thing you could always depend on is, no matter what, once he stepped on the court he’s going bust his ass, because that’s just who he is, that he worked his ass off.

But it was kind of always commotion all year. And so beginning of the year, I told Bob and Steve, I’m like, “Yo, I’m struggling with Kevin right now. He kind of not here. I need some help. I’m trying, and it’s frustrating. I need some help.” And everybody’s like, “Yeah, OK. We understand. We get it. Alright, cool.” But nobody did s—. And so I’m kind of stuck in this position.

Was Durant fully committed to the Warriors last season? Probably not.

But, as Green said, that didn’t affect Durant’s effort level. Durant played hard and played well. He even rushed back from injury – and suffered a ruptured Achilles – to help Golden State in the NBA Finals.

The issues came primarily with team chemistry. Especially in hindsight, Myers and Kerr should have heeded Green’s plea for help. But Green is the Warriors’ emotional leader. He embraces that responsibility.

And he made the situation even worse.

Green berated Durant before overtime of a game against the Clippers in November 2018. At the end of the fourth quarter, Green grabbed a defensive rebound, dribbled up court and then committed a turnover. Durant said he was stunned Green didn’t pass to him.

Green:

When I get the rebound, what do I do? I get the rebound. I push the ball. I find one of them. So, I get the rebound. I take off. He clapped loudest s—. I’m like, “Yo, come on.” I’m taking off. I’m going. I start to cross over and go across court. And in my mind, I’m already thinking like, “Oh, he trailing. I’m about to cross over and take this guy standing here, and I’m going to just flip it back. He going to step into a 3. He step into a 3, it’s game over, and we out of here.

He stood back there clapping and kind of moseying up. So, when I go across, I’m waiting to flip. He kind of not there, and I turned it over.

It’s amazing how both big and small this argument was.

Durant wanted the ball in the backcourt. Green wanted to pass it to Durant in the frontcourt. That’s such a tiny dispute! It’s the type of thing to discuss briefly and get on the same page the next time. Green is a willing passer, and Durant is a lethal scorer. Both know their roles. It’s an issue of only when to throw the pass.

But it was also so much more. Durant’s looming free agency was always going to cause tension. It was unavoidable. The question was whether the Warriors could properly manage it. This incident revealed a clear no.

Afterward, Green met with Myers and Kerr.

Green:

They’re pretty much telling me, “You were wrong. You apologize.” And my thing for them was, “I told y’all this. So, yeah, it boiled over. But this shouldn’t be no surprise to nobody. I told y’all what it was, and nobody did nothing. I told y’all this was coming.” And so when that happened, they kept telling me like, “Yo, you need to apologize.” And I’m like, “I’m not f—ing apologizing. He one foot in and one foot out. I meant what I said. I’m not f—ing apologizing for something I meant to say. I’m not apologizing.”

After an hour and 45 minutes, they’re like, “You go home. You meet us in the morning. You sleep on it, and maybe you feel different.”

And we meet and they’re like, “So are you going to apologize?” I’m like, “I’m not apologizing!”

Myers told Green he’d be suspended one game.

Green:

I started laughing. And he’s like, “Well, that’s not the response I expected you to have.” I’m like, “Well, I feel like you’re suspending me to try to save Kevin, to try to make him feel good. Because that’s bulls—. I never seen no player get suspended for arguing with another player. So, you’re really trying to save him. It is funny to me.”

On this, Green and Durant agree: The Warriors mishandled the aftermath of the incident.

Green:

At this point, it just had gone from bad to worse. But we were so talented, that the outside world couldn’t tell that there was problems.

Durant said he decided midway through last season to leave Golden State. Durant said the argument with Green contributed to his decision, though Durant never pinned his exit solely on that.

Green:

You ain’t leave because of me. You’re f—ing Kevin Durant. You wanted to be here? I would have been out if I was the issue. I would have been long gone. And guess who would’ve understood that? I understand that. I understand the business of basketball. I understand how this s— works. If Kevin Durant wants to be somewhere and he don’t want me here, I’m out.

He was one foot in and one foot out. And he left because he wanted to leave. Because he wanted to be here and me being here was an issue, I would have been out. And that’s just the real.

Yes, Golden State would’ve traded Green if that meant Durant would’ve returned. But that’s an oversimplification.

Durant joined the Warriors in the first place because he liked their ball movement. Green was a big part of that.

On the other hand, Durant also chafed at Golden State’s offensive scheme. It’s difficult to tell what he really wanted. I’m not sure even he knew other than he wasn’t finding it with the Warriors.

Again, Durant never said Green was the sole reason for leaving. There were clearly other issues, too. Durant merely said Green’s blowup contributed. Even if Durant planned to leave, he still had time to change his mind. In fact, there’s evidence Durant’s opinion of the Warriors turned more favorable as they advanced through the playoffs.

But they had more ground to make up because of Green. Green has owned that.

Green also owns this:

I still love KD. His feelings about me may not be the same. But I’ll ride for him for the rest of my life. I got that type of love for that brother.

I obviously don’t agree with every way Green framed Durant’s experience with Golden State. But I appreciate Green’s ability to explore the nuance of a complex situation. That advanced understanding of interpersonal dynamics gives Green even more credibility. I highly value his perspective here and am glad he provided it.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.

LeBron James admits he’s still adjusting to playing without fans

LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.

Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…

“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”

LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.

LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.

The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.

“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”

Someday we all hope for that.

In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.

 

Three Things to Know: Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans

Pelicans out of playoffs
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans…

Phoenix, on the other hand, is still trying to crash that party.

Which is not how anyone saw this going (except maybe Monty Williams). Before players flew to Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart project, it seemed the dream of hoop fans everywhere (not to mention television executives) was LeBron James vs. Zion Williamson in the first round of the playoffs.

That dream is dead. Turn out the lights on the LeBron/Zion party.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings were casualties over the weekend in the West playoff chase — or, more accurately, the race to get into the play-in series to earn the eighth seed and a shot at the Lakers. Both were mathematically eliminated Sunday.

LeBron will still be there in that first round. However, Zion and the Pelicans’ chances of meeting him were essentially done after they lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113. Maybe they were done when Zion had to leave the bubble for family reasons. The Pelicans got good play from J.J. Redick (31 points Sunday), who saw his 13-season playoff streak end, but overall the offense struggled and was inconsistent. New Orleans will play out the string of two more games in the bubble then spend an offseason wondering how to make a talented roster fit together better — and how to keep Zion on the court.

There will be a play-in series in the West, and it’s likely between Portland and Memphis.

Phoenix, however, has become the darling of the bubble having gone 5-0 and they want to crash that party. Whether they get in the door or not will be decided in the next two days. Monday the Suns take on the dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder and Chris Paul, then on Tuesday they face the shorthanded 76ers. For Phoenix, despite the 5-0 start, those are virtually must-win games. As well as they played, they have to make up for an unimpressive first 65 games and they have a lot of work to do.

The playoff party out West is just getting started. Zion Williamson just didn’t get an invite.

2) Joel Embiid‘s ankle injury leaves 76ers with more questions than answers

When Ben Simmons had to leave the bubble for knee surgery, it meant Joel Embiid had even more weight to carry for Philadelphia.

Now he appears to be joining Simmons in watching Sixers games on television — Embiid left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and did not return.

There are no details as of this writing on Embiid’s condition and his potential return. Philadelphia has two more seeding games left — their next one is Tuesday against the red-hot Suns — before the playoffs start next week.

Should Philly sit Embiid until the playoffs start next week? The condition of Embiid’s ankle plays the biggest role in that answer, but a Sixers team that has not been able to get healthy may put the focus on that rather than trying to pass the Pacers or Heat in the standings.

This is a Philadelphia team that coach Brett Brown said preseason he thought could get the No. 1 seed in the East. Instead — in part due to injuries but maybe in larger part due to a flawed roster construction by GM Elton Brand that focused on size and defense over shooting — they likely enter the postseason as a stumbling sixth seed. A dangerous team on paper that never came together on the court.

How to correct that for next season, and how to get healthy and keep their stars on the court, are looming big questions for Philly.

For now, the question is, “when does Embiid return?

3) How’s that for a bounce-back game: Damian Lillard drops 51

Portland needed a win to keep itself in the driver’s seat to make the play-in series in the West. Damian Lillard needed a bounce-back game after a rough outing against the Clippers the day before.

How about 51 points from Lillard? That should cover it.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” Lillard told reporters after the game. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.'”

It didn’t happen. Portland sits as the nine seed in the West with games against Dallas and Brooklyn left on the schedule. For Lillard and company it’s simple — win those and they are in the play-in series, and from there they have a good shot at making the playoffs. Lose a game and it opens the door for the Spurs or Suns.

Lillard doesn’t sound like a guy who is going to let that happen.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”