Kevin Durant

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

Stephen Curry responds to Kevin Durant: We all want to iso, but I’d rather win titles

1 Comment

After the Warriors lost to the Jazz in December, Steve Kerr said his team didn’t move the ball enough. Kevin Durant said Golden State passed too much.

That public disagreement sure looks more significant now. Not only did Durant leave for the Warriors, he cited offensive style as a reason.

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“The motion offense we run in Golden State, it only works to a certain point,” he says. “We can totally rely on only our system for maybe the first two rounds. Then the next two rounds we’re going to have to mix in individual play. We’ve got to throw teams off, because they’re smarter in that round of playoffs. So now I had to dive into my bag, deep, to create stuff on my own, off the dribble, isos, pick-and-rolls, more so than let the offense create my points for me.” He wanted to go someplace where he’d be free to hone that sort of improvisational game throughout the regular season.

Stephen Curry clearly viewed things differently.

Curry, via ESPN:

“Well, I don’t really care what plays we ran,” Curry said. “We won two championships. And at the end of the day, we had a lotta talent and there was an expectation of us figuring out how to balance all that. And we talked a lot about it throughout the three-year run. It wasn’t always perfect, but I think in terms of, you know, the results and what we were able to do on the floor, that kinda speaks for itself. We all wanna play iso-ball at the end of the day in some way, shape or form. But I’d rather have some championships, too.”

There’s truth to what Durant said. Defenses tighten deep in the playoffs, both because good defensive teams are more likely to advance and scouting committed to a single opponent tends to favor the defense. At that level, elite isolation scorers like Durant are particularly valuable. They can render schemes moot.

The Warriors learned that the hard way in the 2016 NBA Finals. They lost to the Cavaliers, who turned up their defense that postseason. Golden State scored fewer points per possession in its series against Cleveland than the Pistons did in the first round against the Cavs.

Adding Durant made the Warriors’ offense nearly unstoppable in every round. They leaned on their movement-heavy system when possible then turned to Durant isolations in moments of need.

Assessing playoff output is tricky because of varying opponents. But in three years with Durant, Golden State faced nine teams that played multiple postseason series. Eight of those teams had their worst defensive series against the Warriors, each by at least 2.6 points per 100 possessions. Only the 2019 Trail Blazers fared worse defensively against another team. They allowed just 0.2 more points per 100 possessions against the Nuggets than against Golden State.

Of course, Durant missed last season’s Western Conference finals against Portland. His absence was a big reason the Warriors’ didn’t meet their usual offensive standards.

Still, Golden State’s base offense was elite. Infallible? No. But it won multiple big playoff series before Durant arrived. He just took the Warriors to an even higher level.

Though he sometimes chafed at how the Warriors played, Durant also did his part to fit with them. He played his part in running Kerr’s preferred style.

It just seems Durant no longer wanted that safety-valve role. He holds immense respect for individual scoring as a skill. He’ll have a better chance to spread his wings in Brooklyn.

Durant will have a harder time winning a title without the incredible supporting cast he left behind. Curry might have wanted to point that out.

But everyone did their part in Golden State the last few years. That’s why they won those championships.

Thunder unload stars for all the right reasons

Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
4 Comments

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

So many teams spent this summer trying to create star duos. The Lakers (LeBron James and Anthony Davis), Clippers (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), Nets (Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) and Rockets (James Harden and Russell Westbrook) certainly succeeded.

Meanwhile, the Thunder already had a star duo in place… and disassembled it.

Oklahoma City became the first team in NBA history to trade two reigning All-NBA players in a single offseason. Why did the Thunder take the unprecedented step to move Paul George and Russell Westbrook?

  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
  • 2021: Most favorable of Rockets (top-four protected), Thunder and Heat first-round picks
  • 2021: Second-most favorable of Rockets (top-four protected), Thunder and Heat first-round picks
  • 2022: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2023: Heat first-round pick (top-14 protected for three years then unprotected in 2026)
  • 2023: Swap rights with Clippers first-round pick
  • 2024: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2024: Rockets first-round pick (top-four protected)
  • 2025: Swap rights with Rockets first-round pick (top-10 protected) or Clippers first-round pick
  • 2026: Clippers first-round pick
  • 2026: Rockets first-round pick (top-four protected)

That’s an incredible collection of resources. Before anyone even knew a rebuild was underway, Oklahoma City got a huge head start toward its next era.

Not at a bad time, either.

The Thunder had stagnated post-Kevin Durant. They won in the high 40s and lost in the first round the last three years. Westbrook was aging. The supporting cast was expensive, especially considering the luxury-tax repeater bill. There was no clear way forward.

The Clippers offered a lifeboat. To entice Kawhi Leonard to sign, they traded five first-round picks and two first-round swaps for George. L.A.’s desperate was Oklahoma City’s gain. Suddenly, the Thunder had assets and a direction.

They traded Jerami Grant to the Nuggets for a top-10-protected first-rounder. Then came the dramatic, era-ending move. Oklahoma City worked with Westbrook to send him to Houston, securing another couple first-rounders and first-round swap rights.

Of course, a large part of the Thunder’s return was taking the burdensome contract of Chris Paul (three years, $124,076,442 remaining). But it’s not as if Westbrook’s contract is desirable, and his runs a year longer with a $47,063,478 salary in 2022-23.

Paul is also still a good player. So is Danilo Gallinari, whom Oklahoma City got from the Clippers to make the salary match in the George deal.

For all their effort to tear build for the future, the Thunder have a team that isn’t much worse presently. Paul, Gallinari and Steven Adams fit well together. More than a few interesting role players could fill the gaps. If everyone stays healthy and if Oklahoma City wants to compete, this group could fight for a playoff spot.

Those are big ifs, though. In their new phase, the Thunder bought out Patrick Patterson and let Alec Burks out of his deal so he could sign with the Warriors. With the same opportunity to back out, Mike Muscala (1+1 minimum) stuck with Oklahoma City. The Thunder also re-signed Nerlens Noel (one year, minimum) before pivoting, but I like that value in any situation.

If Paul and Gallinari avoid injury, Oklahoma City might stay in the race. But it’s easy to see the Thunder wanting to boost the value of their own first-round picks.

Oklahoma City did well to delay the incoming draft picks until years later, when the Clippers and Rockets might not be as good as they are now. That allows a great opportunity to rebuild on someone else’s dime while avoiding dispiriting tanking. Or the Thunder could tank themselves and really stock up on draft capital.

After years of competing, Oklahoma City was short on prime young talent. The Thunder have a few players with potential, including No. 23 pick Darius Bazley, but no real standouts beyond Gilgeous-Alexander, who came from L.A. in the George trade.

The rebuild is just beginning. A step back after a decade of stellar play will be difficult. But considering the chance of maintaining a playoff level next season while securing this influx of assets, Oklahoma City put itself in much stronger position.

Offseason grade: A

Kobe Bryant on best NBA duo: ‘I think it matters what they put around those two guys’

Getty Images
1 Comment

James Harden and Russell Westbrook. LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Eventually there will be Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, plus Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

The NBA is stacked with elite duos that are NBA contenders, and figuring out which twosome will fit best together has become part of making a prediction for who will win the NBA title.

Kobe Bryant was asked that in an interview by ESPN and he went another direction (hat tip Hoop Rumors).

“It doesn’t matter. I think it matters what they put around those two guys, and then what is the offensive and defensive system they’re going to be executing. You could have marquee names and put those marquee names together, and guess if they could play together or not, but it ultimately comes down to what system do you have them in and how does that affect the rest of the guys.”

He’s right. The Warriors had a big three but do they win without Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, solid bigs, and everyone there buying into Steve Kerr’s system? LeBron and Irving in Cleveland needed Kevin Love and J.R. Smith (pre-meltdown mistake) to win in 2016. The big three of LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh had Ray Allen and other guys to hit big shots, plus they lost before they all bought into Eric Spoelstra’s system. The Spurs won five rings with Tim Duncan/Tony Parker/Manu Ginobili but always were the ultimate system team under Gregg Popovich.

It’s why a lot of pundits lean toward the Clippers when looking at the coming season — this was a 48-win, hard-to-play-against team well coached by Doc Rivers last season before Leonard and George showed up. But, will the Clippers be the same team and play with the same passion this season? Do the Lakers have the guard play needed to contend, and can Frank Vogel get them on the same page (can he keep his job)? Do the Rockets have the depth after their starting five? Will any of those teams fully buy into the coach’s system?

What makes this NBA season so fascinating and wide open is that every team has plenty of questions, there is no juggernaut. But next June, we may be talking less about the best duo and more about what Kobe said — which supporting cast and system worked best?

Scottie Pippen doesn’t agree with Kevin Durant’s complaints about NBA (VIDEO)

6 Comments

Kevin Durant has said a lot of things this summer. The current Brooklyn Nets superstar said in a recent Wall Street Journal story that he no longer feels a connection to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and the reasons why he decided to leave the Golden State Warriors.

Included in Durant’s recent comments were those decrying the state of a basketball player’s life, saying that sometimes he, “hate(s) the circus of the NBA.”

Folks responded strongly to Durant’s comments, with many understanding the mental strain an outsized, constant media attention would put on any person.

Then again, others felt as though players had to accept that attention in exchange for the hefty salaries and sponsorship deals they gain because of it.

You can put Scottie Pippen in that second category, by the way.

Speaking on ESPN’s “The Jump”, Pippen said that Durant ultimately had to have the right perspective.

I understand what Kevin is saying, but I also want to let him know that this is a part of our business. This is why he’s making all that money. Because, we’ve been able to globalize the game through our players. Not just what they do on a basketball court, but, you know — using digital stuff of them talking, travelling abroad, to help promote our game. It’s part of our package to help promote our game, because that helps our salaries grow. So I don’t get what he’s saying, especially with a player that’s been in the league as long as he has.

That’s a pretty reasonable expectation. Every person is allowed to have their mental headspace in balance, but the undeniable context of professional sports is of imbalance.

If he’s going to cash the big checks, he’s going to have to “play the game” as it were, even if that means not playing the actual game. And of course, he’s welcome to step away. People — musicians, sports stars, actors — have decided to simply call it a day after making a certain amount. It’s other factors that keep Durant in a uniform: he certainly doesn’t need any more money.

But this is largely a thought exercise. There’s no sense admonishing Durant in any real way, and we can’t live inside his head. He’s welcome to his experience, and at the very least Durant appears like he’s trying to deal with that every day. He’s allowed to be sick of the “circus” from time-to-time.

Kevin Durant: I never fit in like other Warriors

Harry How/Getty Images
6 Comments

Kevin Durant‘s time with the Warriors was both extraordinary and extraordinarily short.

In his three years there, Golden State won two championships and made another NBA Finals. Durant made an All-NBA first team and two All-NBA second teams. Usually, when a player and team reach anywhere near that level of shared success, they stick together.

But Durant, who signed with the Nets, left the Warriors this summer.

Why?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“I came in there wanting to be part of a group, wanting to be part of a family, and definitely felt accepted,” he says. “But I’ll never be one of those guys. I didn’t get drafted there.… Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there. So me? Shit, how you going to rehabilitate me? What you going to teach me? How can you alter anything in my basketball life? I got an MVP already. I got scoring titles.”

“As time went on,” he says, “I started to realize I’m just different from the rest of the guys. It’s not a bad thing. Just my circumstances and how I came up in the league. And on top of that, the media always looked at it like KD and the Warriors. So it’s like nobody could get a full acceptance of me there.”

His tenure in the Bay Area was great, he says, but because of media speculation, fan anxiety, “it didn’t feel as great as it could have been.”

This is a sound assessment. It’s a toned-down version of the report he felt disrespected with the Warriors, but it still hits similar notes.

Durant was never going to be as beloved as his teammates who lifted the franchise from the cellar to a championship before he arrived. He just didn’t have that type of equity with the fan base.

It didn’t help that so many assumed Golden State would’ve won the 2017 and 2018 titles even without Durant. Nearly all champions are appreciated. But to many, Durant felt superfluous.

Another complication: Durant preferred a different offensive system to the one other Warriors, including coach Steve Kerr, favored. That led to analysis that naturally separated Durant from the rest of the team, which trickled into feelings of greater divide.

If Durant wanted to have a comfortable fit, he could’ve re-signed with the Thunder. He was royalty in Oklahoma City. It sounds like he doesn’t regret leaving, though.

He also could’ve been instantly beloved by signing with his hometown Wizards. He didn’t sound interested in that, either.

Maybe it’ll be different in Brooklyn. Unlike the Warriors, the Nets were only just beginning to establish their identity when he arrived.

But he still comes with baggage – the notoriety of ring chasing with the team that eliminated him the prior season, having already established his greatness elsewhere, a torn Achilles that could keep his play from meeting expectations. At minimum, Durant will never be the homegrown star in Brooklyn. At worst, he’ll never be a star at all in Brooklyn.

Most likely, he’ll find a middle ground. Will he be happy in it? I’m not sure. It at least sounds like he has learned how to handle those circumstances.