No real winners, no real losers. In the end, Durant, Nets reconciliation was only path.

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If we break down a big trade with winners and losers, can we do the same with a trade that never happened?

Some might argue Kevin Durant is a loser in all this. He did demand a trade, didn’t have the leverage to get to where he wanted to go, issued a “GM and the coach or me” ultimatum to try and push things along, and weeks later had to retract his demand and return to Brooklyn. Still, calling a guy about to start a $194 million contract to play for a title contender in the nation’s largest media market a “loser” stretches the definition of the word.

Were the Nets really winners? They got what they wanted in keeping Durant, but with the bad blood around the Kyrie Irving extension talks and the Durant trade demand, are the Nets better now than they were before this all started? Does anyone think the drama around this team is over for the long term? The scars from this will not heal quickly and very well may be re-opened.

Were the Heat, Suns, and Celtics winners? Are they better off for their involvement in the Durant trade talks? Boston has some relationship mending to do with one of their core players, Jaylen Brown, after his name came up in trade rumors. (Team president Brad Stevens said he has been transparent and spoken to Brown through the process, but that is likely just a start.)

There were no winners, no losers. Durant’s reconciliation with the Nets had started to look like the only wise path, but that doesn’t mean everyone will come into camp without wounds from the summer’s drama.

The key is Durant will come into the Nets’ training camp. The only other real path open to him — a holdout — was not the smart play. First, at age 34, Durant only has so many seasons left to chase another ring and only so many seasons where he will get paid nearly $43 million to play basketball. Beyond that was the potential damage to his image — holding out for a trade would have flown in the face of the “basketball is first” image of Durant. As Corey Robinson of NBC Sports noted, Durant is a guy who wants to be challenged, to push himself, wants to get better. What would holding out say about that?

Kyrie Irving and Durant pushed back against Nets ownership and management this summer, only to find they lacked leverage. The players thought they had a partnership, or to use Irving’s words, “When I say I’m here with Kev, I think that it really entails us managing this franchise together alongside Joe [Tsai, the owner] and Sean [Marks, the GM].”

But after a couple of tumultuous seasons, Marks and Tsai did not see that partnership the same way. As Marks said after the season, they wanted more commitment, particularly from Irving, “We need people here that want to be here, that are selfless that want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and there’s an objective and there’s a goal at stake here. And in order to do that, we’re gonna need availability from everybody.”

The Nets wouldn’t give Irving the long-term extension he wanted. What Irving found when he tried to find a sign-and-trade is the teams that he wanted to go to had the same commitment concerns as Brooklyn and wouldn’t go all-in on getting him (except for the Lakers, who lacked the trade pieces to make an offer the Nets would want). Irving had to reconcile. He didn’t have the leverage to get the deal he wanted (but could next summer, after a committed season playing at the level everyone knows he is capable of).

Durant — possibly because he was unhappy with how the Nets treated his good friend Irving — then tried to use his leverage to force a trade. But teams around the league were not putting their best — or, often, their second-best — player in the mix, let alone meeting the sky-high demands from Brooklyn. With four years on KD’s contract, the Nets could wait out the market, but Durant could not wait that long.

Maybe the Nets and Durant will ultimately be winners out of all this — this roster, on paper, has the talent to win the East. There are a lot of “ifs” that need to go right for that to happen — including Irving being fully committed for the season and Durant staying healthy — but this team has the talent to hang with and beat the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, and Heat.

The team has the potential to be winners in the end, but it feels like there will be a lot more drama between now and then.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.

 

Cavaliers Evan Mobley out 1-2 weeks with sprained ankle

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The Cleveland Cavaliers might have the best frontcourt in the East this season with All-Star Jarrett Allen and the emerging star Evan Mobley, but it may be a few weeks before we see them together.

Mobley is out 1-2 weeks with a sprained right ankle, the Cavaliers announced a couple of days before their preseason opener. Mobley stepped on a teammate’s foot and rolled his ankle during practice, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Mobley, who finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting, averaged 15 points and 8.3 rebounds a game in his first campaign, but his more significant impact was on the defensive end. Mobley earned All-Defensive Team consideration as a rookie — an incredibly rare feat — and with Allen formed an impressive backstop for teams trying to drive the paint.

Reports out of Cavaliers training camp rave about the improvements made in Mobley’s offensive game, but we’ll have to wait a few weeks to see that for ourselves now. Mobley, with a more consistent face-up game and jumper, has the potential to develop into a top 15, maybe even top-10 player in the league. The Cavaliers are banking on the young core of Mobley, Allen, Darius Garland and the just acquired Donovan Mitchell to be able to take the team far in the next few years, with Mobley’s improvement key to just how far they can go.

It sounds like Mobley will be good to go for the start of the season.

Karl-Anthony Towns just cleared to walk Saturday following non-COVID illness

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Karl-Anthony Towns has not been in camp with the Timberwolves, sidelined by a non-COVID illness. Beyond that, there were not a lot of details other than his girlfriend Jordyn Woods saying on social media that she had taken him to the hospital.

Towns spoke to the media for the first time this season on Monday and said he was just cleared to walk again on Saturday, but did not get into detail about whatever illness he is dealing with.

First, it is Towns’ right if and when to disclose what he went through. This is not an on-court injury leading to a loss of playing time, and it is his call to talk about.

Towns has been sidelined before by illness, including COVID. After losing his mother and other family members to the disease, he also had a long battle with it. Fortunately, this is not that virus, but whatever it was it sidelined him for a couple of weeks.

That missed training camp is a setback as the Timberwolves try to get used to a two-big lineup with KAT and Rudy Gobert, plus some other new faces. Still, Towns and Minnesota should be good to go by the start of the season, a team thinking playoffs and much more after spending big this offseason.