Draymond Green: Warriors wouldn’t have beaten Cavaliers in 2017, 2018 without Kevin Durant

Draymond Green and Kevin Durant at 2018 NBA Finals - Game Three
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The Warriors won the 2015 championship without Kevin Durant. They were again the NBA’s best team in 2016 without Durant (taking nothing away from the Cavaliers, who beat Golden State in the 2016 NBA Finals and deserve all the credit for it). The Warriors just won the 2022 title without Durant.

Golden State’s excellence both preceding and succeeding Durant’s tenure led J.J. Redick to suggest Durant doesn’t get enough credit for helping the Warriors win championships in 2017 and 2018.

Warriors forward Draymond Green on Redick’s “The Old Man & the Three” podcast:

I don’t think the outside world gave Kevin enough credit. I think if you came within our organization, Kevin was given all the credit.

I think, for us, within the organization, we did everything we could to make Kevin comfortable. We did everything we could to let him know, “Just like this is our home, this your home, too, brother.” But the outside world didn’t. The outside world, “He’s joining a team that won 73 games. He’s joining a team that already won a championship and blah, blah, blah.

But the reality is, I don’t think that team wins another championship if Kevin doesn’t come. Now, you may say, “Oh, yeah, but y’all won the fourth one without Kevin.” But there’s a gap in there where teams started to figure us out.

We would not have beat the Cavs coming back around without Kevin. And here’s why: Teams had figured us out. And I personally don’t think at that point Steph Curry had figured out, “I’m going to get a bucket whenever I want to.” I don’t think he was capable of that yet. I think he was still growing into that.

We got to a point where we needed to be able to give someone the ball that can just go get a bucket. And Kevin was already there. I don’t think Steph was there yet. So, it gets us through those two years. We get those two championships. But while we’re doing that, Steph is continuing to work and evolve and then – most importantly – becoming the strongest dude on our team. And to this day, he’s the strongest guy on the team. And that allowed him to scored whenever he wanted, because you can no longer bump him off his path.

The Warriors gave Durant a lot of credit. Definitely more than the public, which reviled him for taking a shortcut to a ring. Stephen Curry particularly went out of his way to make Durant feel comfortable.

But Golden State wasn’t as warm and welcoming to Durant as Green says.

Even after Durant pledged to re-sign in 2018, some Warriors employees doubted his sincerity. At the 2018 championship parade, Golden State general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and broadcaster Bob Fitzgerald joked about Durant not being as entrenched as other Warriors – a sensitive subject. Some Golden State players expressed frustration an injured Durant didn’t return sooner during the 2019 playoffs (just before he returned and suffered a catastrophic injury).

And most infamously, Green told Durant during their final season together, roughly: We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.

Durant did leave, for the Nets. Green said he wanted to prove the Warriors could win another championship without Durant, which they accomplished this year.

So, why is Green emphasizing how much Durant meant to Golden State rather than taking a victory lap on behalf of himself, Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Kerr – i.e., the people who could actually argue they were essential to all four of Golden State’s recent titles? I see a few, potentially overlapping possibilities:

  • Green fancies himself as a bold truthteller. This might be how he actually feels.
  • Green spent a lot of time recruiting Durant to Golden State. Green probably doesn’t want that effort to have been unnecessary.
  • Green doesn’t want to be known for his infamous blowup at Durant. Anything to distance himself from the message he delivered that night (Again: We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.)
  • Green and Durant reconciled last year. Green made a couple comments this month that were construed, fairly or not, as critical of Durant (including one that generated a response from Durant). Green could be using flattery to get/stay on good terms with Durant.

But let’s take Green’s assessment at face value and address the underlying question:

Would Golden State have beaten Cleveland in the 2017 and 2018 Finals without Durant?

Green is right: Durant’s isolation scoring gave the Warriors an extremely helpful counter as opponents adjusted to Kerr’s motion offense. Curry hadn’t yet grown into the player who won 2022 NBA Finals MVP.

But the Warriors dominated in the 2017 playoffs and were pretty darned good in 2018, too. They didn’t have to be as good as they were to win championships. They had margin for error.

Winning titles obviously would’ve been harder without Durant, an all-time great player near the peak of his powers. But Golden State might have done it – or might have fallen short. I definitely don’t share Green’s certainty about how it would’ve played out.

Of course, the Cavs weren’t the Warriors’ only competition those years.

In 2018, the Rockets were way better than the Cavaliers. Houston pushed Golden State to Game 7 in the Western Conference finals. With a weak supporting cast around LeBron James, Cleveland got swept by the Warriors in the 2018 NBA Finals.

Would Golden State have topped the Rockets without Durant those years?

Green:

Yeah. We was beating them for sure. That team was never going to beat us. It just was not going to happen.”

Green will say the Warriors wouldn’t have won titles without Durant. That’s an implicit compliment to LeBron, which Green doesn’t mind giving.

But Green giving an inch to loathed Houston? No way.

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.

Report: Trail Blazers trying to extend Grant (with no luck), open to trade of Hart, Nurkic

Portland Trail Blazers v San Antonio Spurs
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The Trail Blazers maxed out Damian Lillard last summer and promised to try and build a contender in the West around him. It hasn’t worked out that way, the Trail Blazers are 23-25 and sitting 12th in the West with a bottom-10 defense.

Which has pushed them to be possible sellers at the trade deadline — but not with Jerami Grant, who they are trying to extend, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports. Grant, however, can get more from Portland as a free agent.

Jerami Grant became eligible for a contract extension with the Trail Blazers earlier this month, and Portland has offered the athletic forward his maximum possible deal of four years, $112 million, league sources told Yahoo Sports. Grant has not accepted the offer, sources said, largely because the Blazers can extend him a larger contract with an additional fifth year once free agency begins June 30.

While Fischer notes that this summer the Trail Blazers could max out Grant (five years, $233 million) he’s not getting that contract either. Maybe the middle ground is in the five-year, $160 million range, but whatever the number is Grant isn’t looking to bolt the Pacific Northwest. Look what he told Jason Quick of The Athletic:

“I definitely like it here; love it here,’’ Grant said. “The guys have been very welcoming, it’s definitely a family environment, everybody is super cool, got good guys on the team, great organization — Joe, Chauncey, everything. I’m definitely enjoying it here…

“I ain’t really plan on leaving,” he said.

Two players who could be leaving — via trade — are Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic. They are drawing interest as Portland considers shaking things up, Fischer reports.

Portland has given rival teams the impression that it is open to discussing the majority of its players, particularly Josh Hart and Jusuf Nurkic, sources said, as the franchise remains committed to building a playoff contender around Lillard. Portland has engaged teams with an eye toward size with athleticism, plus wing-shooting defenders, sources said. Hart has become one of the buzzier names among league executives this week, as he’s expected to decline a $12.9 million player option for the 2023-24 season.

Hart is a front-office favorite around the league — at least on his old contract — and is seen as a versatile role player who has become a plus defender, can hit some 3s (33% from deep this season but 37.3% last season), and can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He could fit in a lot of teams’ rotation, there will be interest, but with him on an expiring contract, the offers will not be high.

Nurkic, who signed a four-year $70 million contract last summer, is averaging 14.1 points per game, is shooting 38.5% from 3 and is grabbing 9.7 boards a night. He’s also averaging a career-high 2.6 turnovers a night (one of the culprits of the Blazers’ sometimes sloppy play), and while not a negative defender has not been the kind of anchor the Blazers hoped for this season.

Portland needs to do something. Lillard has returned from injury to play at an All-NBA level — even dropping a 60-spot the other night — but even after all their summer moves this is the same old Portland team with not enough around Lillard to threaten the top teams in the West.