Kevin Love

MediaNews Group/Bay Area News via Getty Images

Kevin Durant says Thunder blowing 3-1 lead to Warriors doesn’t rank in top five of career losses

7 Comments

How could Kevin Durant leave the Thunder for the Warriors, who had just beaten Oklahoma City in the playoffs?

Maybe because he never believed the Thunder held more than a puncher’s chance that postseason.

Golden State won an NBA-record 73 games in 2015-16. The Spurs had an even better than net rating than the Warriors that season. And the eventual-champion Cavaliers loomed with LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Oklahoma City beat San Antonio in the second round then blew a 3-1 lead to Golden State in the Western Conference finals. (The Warriors then blew their own 3-1 lead to Cleveland in the NBA Finals.)

Where does that loss to the Warriors rank among the hardest to deal with in Durant’s career?

Durant on Hot 97:

It doesn’t rank in the top five.

We lost Game 2 at home in 2012 to Miami. That was a tough loss. We lost Game 5 against Memphis at home. It was a 2-2 series. They went up 3-2. Those are tough losses to me. I really, really, really felt like we had an opportunity. We had some momentum.

We’re playing against 73-win team in the Warriors and the Spurs, who were a 67-win team that year. And then the Cavs were the best team in the league, most-talented team. So, I’m like, “We’ve got an uphill climb. Let’s just see what we can do.”

But these other seasons, I felt like…

“You actually had it?” a host asked.

Durant:

Yeah.

Durant named two other losses, not five. Not top-five might have been hyperbole.

But he’s clearly downplaying the significance of the Golden State loss to him.

Maybe that’s how he feels. I can’t know exactly how he feels, and I certainly wouldn’t tell him how should feel. He has indicated how much faith he was losing in the Thunder. Maybe he truly didn’t get his hopes up high enough in 2016 to feel burned by blowing that lead.

This seems dubious, though.

The young Thunder might have believed they would win the 2012 NBA Finals against the Heat, but Oklahoma City still appeared destined for a dynasty after that loss.

Yes, the Thunder lost Game 5 to the Grizzlies in the 2014 first round. But Oklahoma City rallied to win the series in seven. How badly could that loss have stung? Not enough to undermine a comeback.

The 2016 Thunder reached an incredibly high level against Golden State. Their length and athleticism tormented the Warriors, and Oklahoma City also brought plenty of skill. Golden State really had to elevate its own play to win three straight. Those Thunder looked like a championship-caliber team to me – though maybe not to Durant.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Durant is retconning an explanation for his 2016 free agency. He received immense criticism for leaving for the team that just beat him. Downplaying the personal significance of that series could be an attempt to change the narrative.

So, maybe this explains why Durant signed with the Warriors.

Or maybe it shows more about how Durant wants to frame that decision after the fact.

Kevin Love on Cleveland: ‘I do want to be here. I always have.’

Alex Nahorniak-Svenski/NBAE via Getty Images
6 Comments

Kevin Love should be near the top of any “players likely to be traded this season” list.

As we move closer to Christmas and beyond, and the trade deadline looms, his name will be popping up in rumors from Portland to Miami. It’s because he is on a Cleveland team that is tearing down and rebuilding, so if they can get good picks and/or young players for Love, they will listen. Also, Love is still a high-quality stretch four in a league where a number of potential contenders need someone to fill that role. Someone is going to step up and chase him, even with three-years, $91.5 million on the books AFTER this season.

Love, for his part, doesn’t want to go anywhere.

Look at what he told Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“I do want to be here. I always have,” Love told cleveland.com in an exclusive one-on-one interview. “I say that knowing it’s the NBA and it’s a business. I think especially after seeing last year, the summer leading up to last year and this summer, the changeover is like unprecedented so you don’t know what is going to happen.

“If they decide to go completely young … and that could be the case, but it’s funny, my agent didn’t call me one time this summer to say, ‘Hey, you’re getting traded, there’s talks that this is happening.’ Of course, somehow it’s still out there and people are talking about, ‘Oh, Kevin would be great here or great there.’ I just keep it moving and try to do right by these guys because we have a good group.”

This is what nearly every player about to be traded says, but it doesn’t make it less true for Love. He likely wants to stay with this young Cavs team and be a leader. He’s also a veteran very good at tuning out the noise, the rumors are not going to slow him.

Those rumors will not stop. As time moves on and the additional years a team must take on gets shorter (plus he has a declining contract), other teams become more interested in Love. Plus, there’s the simple fact that before Christmas some teams in the deep and brutal West will realize they are stuck in the middle and will start looking at players who can help them break out — and there will be Love.

The concern is health. Love averaged 17 points and 10.9 rebounds a game, shooting 36 percent from three last season — but he played in just 22 games due to a toe injury that required surgery. Love has missed at least 22 games each of the previous three seasons. Love needs to stay on this court if he wants to be a leader for these young Cavaliers.

But if he stays on the court, the trade rumors will just grow louder.

Ranking all 30 NBA teams by pressure entering this season

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
6 Comments

This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis will be a free agent next summer. LeBron James will be a year older. This is the time for the Lakers to capitalize on their championship promise. Consider the internal combustibility of the coaching staff and a massive fan base with high expectations, and pressure comes from every direction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are good enough to win a title this season, and that always carries pressure. Adding to it: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension next offseason. If Milwaukee doesn’t impress him enough to stay, this contender could fall apart quickly. With a successful season, the Bucks can depend on Antetokounmpo for another half decade. The stakes are incredibly high.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are openly acknowledging their situation: Their championship window is open but will close soon. Houston pushed further in for the present by trading lightly protected distant future first-rounders for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets better quickly optimize the remaining primes of James Harden and Westbrook – two stars who don’t simply mesh. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni’s lame-duck status could add stress on the whole team.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers remade their starting lineup after winning 51 games and pushing the eventual-champion Raptors to seven games in the second round. Philadelphia is not content with merely good accomplishments. The 76ers are going for great. And with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, why not? Still, plenty of potential pitfalls loom – luxury tax, Embiid’s health, Al Horford‘s aging and Brett Brown’s job security. A strong season could go a long way toward fending off storms.

5. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers opened a two-year window by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. But pressure always comes with championship expectations, and no teams has better title odds than the Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors open a new arena this year, and they’ve bragged about how much revenue it will produce. But will those dollars still come if Golden State falls too far from its dynastic status and fun style? With Kevin Durant gone, Klay Thompson injured and D'Angelo Russell causing fit concerns, expectations have dropped for next season. Still, the Warriors must maintain a certain level of entertainment (of which winning is the most important component) to appease their deep-pocketed fans.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are only on the fringe of the championship discussion, but they’re still in it. After getting swept the previous two first rounds, Portland redeemed itself with a run to the Western Conference finals last season. Damian Lillard (four years, super max) and C.J. McCollum (three years, $100 million) were rewarded with large contract extensions. It’s important to maintain the good feelings.

8. Miami Heat

In the five years since LeBron James left, the Heat have made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once. So, they paid substantial costs to get Jimmy Butler. The only way to maintain a winning culture is to win, and Butler can help with that. But for how long? He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has heavy mileage. Still, if he helps enough, Miami could make a splash in 2021 free agency.

9. Orlando Magic

A middling Eastern Conference playoff team doesn’t generate national buzz. But the Magic were so proud of their last season – their best in seven years – they spent big to keep their core intact. That pays off only if the winning continues.

10. Utah Jazz

By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz showed they’re serious about winning now. Those veterans could have a limited shelf life. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert offer a longer window, but again, there’s more pressure on good teams.

11. Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ championship hopes likely left with Kyrie Irving. But next season is a great opportunity to pin their problems on him. If young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown suddenly get right back on track, that’d reflect poorly on Irving (perhaps somewhat unfairly). With Kemba Walker, Boston could be quite good – just probably with a lower ceiling.

12. Phoenix Suns

Few outsiders expect much from the Suns, but that’s rarely the case inside Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. The Suns messed around in the draft, but credible point guard Ricky Rubio fills a massive hole, and other veterans are also incoming. Expect Phoenix to improve. Enough to satisfy everyone there? Who knows?

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards kept Bradley Beal despite a ton of outside trade interest. He sounds happy in Washington for now, but his 2021 unrestricted free agency is rapidly approaching. The Wizards appear headed toward a lousy season. Will they do enough to keep Beal happy? This year could define the next era of Washington basketball.

14. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are the best team this low on the list. But they’re so young, and their core is locked in. It’s always important for good teams to win, but next season is far from make-or-break for Denver.

15. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets’ window opens next year, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. In the meantime, Brooklyn would like to celebrate its coup in free agency with improvement next season. That especially shines the spotlight on Kyrie Irving, who gets another crack at leading a young supporting cast. If he fails again, that could expose the Nets to real cultural concerns before they even get rolling.

16. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers got younger and probably slightly worse this summer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff, one that comes with reduced expectations for next season. However, if Indiana falls further than expected, that could create real problems for the people responsible for the disapointment.

17. Detroit Pistons

Ho hum. They’ll likely be mediocre – maybe good enough to make the playoffs, maybe not. Same as always. A looming potential shakeup adds some pressure.

18. Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ breakthrough season prompted them to fill holes with savvy veterans. The hope is everyone coalesces into a winner. But even if Sacramento regresses, most of those new contracts look reasonable. More importantly, the young core still provides long-term hope.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has its top tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But both are young, and Porzingis is just coming off injury. There will be patience. The deep Mavericks could play well enough for pressure to build throughout the season.

20. New York Knicks

After striking out in free agency this summer, the Knicks left themselves the ability to open major cap space in 2020 or 2021. For now, the roster is full of spare parts unlikely to win much. The large New York fan base won’t quietly accept yet another losing season. Knicks owner James Dolan, who has frequently shifted between plans, is the big wildcard in the franchise’s overall patience level.

21. Charlotte Hornets

They stink. Their future looks dim. Everyone knows this. Still, losing stresses everyone involved.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

After Anthony Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans got a new lease on life with No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. New lead executive David Griffin adds credibility, and he has already added significant talent around Williamson. If this year goes well, great. If not, that’d be disappointing, but New Orleans still has time to establish a winning identity.

23. Chicago Bulls

Maybe the Bulls are good now. Maybe they’ll be better later. Maybe neither. But there enough avenues for Chicago to show progress that this season doesn’t present much stress. The Bulls could make the playoffs, have their young players show progress and/or tank to add another blue-chipper. It’s unlikely they miss on all three.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Near rock bottom, the Cavaliers just want to boost the value of a few key players. Cleveland’s top two young prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – are both point guards, and that could create complications. Kevin Love is on an expensive contract, and more injuries/aging could sink him as a trade chip. As far as winning, that’s barely a consideration.

25. San Antonio Spurs

The Tim Duncan era was so long and the handover to Kawhi Leonard so seamless, the Spurs still feel like they’re in the honeymoon of their five championships in 16 years (1999-2014). It’d be nice to break the consecutive-playoff-season record. But it’s just hard to get too worked up about this late-stage Gregg Popovich season that holds only modest expectations.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

New team president Gersson Rosas inherited an inflexible, losing – but talented – team and did little with it. That means little expectation of a quick breakthrough, but a path toward overachieving exists. Well-liked Ryan Saunders getting his interim tag removed is just another reason to view this as a reset year.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in the thick of rebuilding. It’s too soon to expect much from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

28. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have such a deep young base – Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish plus a couple extra future first-round picks. Atlanta can patiently let this group grow together without even moderate expectations yet.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City willingly entered rebuilding by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook for a whole bunch of other teams’ picks. Though tanking themselves could help their long-term outlook, the Thunder can do whatever they want and let those picks roll in from the Clippers (including potentially lucrative ones originally belonging to the Heat) and Rockets. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams even give Oklahoma City a chance to overachieve.

30. Toronto Raptors

Toronto can happily enjoy its championship – no matter what happens this season. Kawhi Leonard’s exit ended any expectations of a repeat. The Raptors should still be solid, but even if they’re not, that banner will hang forever.

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?

PBT Podcast: USA bounced from World Cup, what went wrong?

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
4 Comments

Despite the fact that some America’s top players chose to sit out this World Cup — Anthony Davis, James Harden, Damian Lillard — and so did the next tier of guys (Bradley Beal, Kevin Love, etc.), this was still a talented USA Basketball roster that was the tournament favorite.

Then they got bounced by the French in the quarterfinals — Team USA will not even medal.

What went wrong? Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports and Real GM (and CelticsBlog) joins me to talk about everything from why players chose not to show up, how FIBA made things difficult for the USA and hurt the quality of the tournament overall, and what were the bright spots for the USA (such as qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics). There are no easy answers to any of it, but we get into what needs to change.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.