The Washington Wizards (and many other teams) are hoping they'll have a shot at landing Kevin Durant in the summer of 2016.
POSTED: Jan 28, 2015 1:14 PM ET
A potential John Wall-Kevin Durant partnership in Washington has some big hurdles to clear.
In This Week's Morning Tip
It is the question everyone in Washington, D.C. wants to ask Kevin Durant. So, last Wednesday, I asked for them.
What did he think of the Heat's alternate uniforms?
"I loved them, man. They was cool," Durant said with a laugh.
Wait ... was there another question?
In a city in which secrets are the currency of the federal and local government, among the worst-kept ones is that the Wizards want Kevin Durant in 2016, when he becomes a free agent.
Thunder vs. Wizards
Kevin Durant scores 34 points and grabs seven rebounds as OKC beats the Wizards in overtime.
He grew up in nearby Seat Pleasant, Md. He played high school at Montrose Christian in Rockville, Maryland. His immediate family still lives in the area, including his mother. He comes back most every summer to play at least a couple of games in the Goodman League in Southeast D.C.
And, he's either the best or second-best basketball player currently on Earth.
Durant knows all of this. It is in the background of his life, every day, day after day. It is why he had to get 100 tickets for friends and family a year ago when he came to town, and 91 this year (asked about the nine people who are no longer on the favored list, Durant quipped, "I think I'm gonna keep that internal.")
He knows about the organic #KD2DC2016 Twitter movement in town, with the photo illustrations of him in a Wizards uniform. He surely heard about the local angst that played out on D.C.'s sports radio stations as the Thunder came to town: should fans boo? Cheer? Just cheer him in introductions? Ignore him? What will make Kevin sign here?
Durant in a Washington uni has probably been a local fantasy ever since he dropped 60 or so on then-Wizard Antwan Jamison a few years ago playing in a pickup game as a teenager. "Nobody knew who he was," a witness recalled. "He just sat outside shooting threes."
Durant's Powerful Slam
Kevin Durant drives to the basket and finishes with a wonderful slam.
Washington is prepared to make a pitch. The Wizards have an outstanding young backcourt in All-Star John Wall and Bradley Beal, and a solid big man in Marcin Gortat, all under contract for 2016, as well as Kris Humphries and Otto Porter Jr. They will shed roughly $18 million in cap space in 2016 when Nene and Paul Pierce come off the books, and could find another $7.8 million by not picking up their options on Martell Webster and DeJuan Blair.
But Oklahoma City shouldn't be quaking in its boots just yet. The Thunder have any number of factors on its side of the ledger: familiarity, loyalty, Russell Westbrook, Durant's restaurant (KD's, and it's pretty good eating) -- which is just a few clicks from both Chesapeake Energy Arena and his new house -- and Sam Presti's brain, not necessarily in that order.
Presti, the Thunder's GM, hasn't exactly been sitting idly by waiting for the calendar to turn, either.
OKC has even more talent on line for '16 than Washington. Westbrook and Serge Ibaka are already under contract that season, and the Thunder control the 2016 rights, in one fashion or another, to Steven Adams, Anthony Morrow, Dion Waiters, Mitch McGary, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson and Perry Jones. Basically, OKC can bring back the same team it has now, or mix and match as circumstance dictates.
The Thunder have stuck with Scott Brooks as coach through sometimes harsh criticism of his Xs and Os. Durant and Westbrook have made no secret of their affection for Brooks, who grew up as an assistant in the Thunder/Sonics organization before getting the coaching spot in 2008. They stuck with him as he got off to a 3-29 start, then helped mold the Thunder into a championship contender. The Wizards are much improved, but they have only won a single playoff series.
Oklahoma City is a tailor-made city for the very shy Durant. He is beloved there, but not suffocated. Fans give him his space. There are sellouts every night at Chesapeake Energy Arena, with loud and raucous supporters. The organization, from top to bottom, is first rate.
Durant's loyalty to the 405 runs deep, and rightly so.
"I love playing for Oklahoma City, man," Durant said last week. "There's just a certain level of pride that I have when I play with that Oklahoma City on my chest. That's the only thing I focus on. Everybody knows I represent where I come from, no matter where I play at, no matter what arena. But I just focus on playing with Oklahoma City. It feels like home to me now. So that's where I am."
But this is the first time that the Wizards have a team that is actually good enough to be able to make an offer to Durant without he and his reps laughing them out of the office. It is still a longshot, but it is no longer a pipe dream.
Of course, the Wizards, like every other team, can't talk about Durant or any other player publicly, unless they want to contribute to Adam Silver's Rockin' New Year's Eve Party Fund. And, we're 17 months away from Durant's free agency, during which time a thousand different things will happen that will impact his thought process when he begins mulling his future.
There's just a certain level of pride that I have when I play with that Oklahoma City on my chest. That's the only thing I focus on.
– Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant
By July of 2016, he'll be nearing his 28th birthday. With the Collective Bargaining Agreement limiting contracts to five years for players with their current teams and four years for players going to other teams, Durant won't be making his last deal. But it will be the last one in his prime as a player, at the height of his abilities.
Still, it's so far away. So many things will factor in between now and then. Including:
• The D.C. Tax Code: There was a bigger story in D.C. last week than Durant's annual visit: the signing of pitcher Max Scherzer by the Washington Nationals to an enormous $210 million deal that will stretch out over 14 years. And Scherzer's deal has implications for the Wizards in their pursuit of Durant.
The Nationals and Scherzer's representatives worked out a unique plan that takes advantage of District tax laws and will likely save Scherzer millions of dollars over the life of the deal.
Scherzer is only under contract to the Nationals for seven years. After that, he will be paid for another seven years with deferred money. That allowed the Nationals to stretch out the payments more evenly over a longer period of time to not get hit with a huge number in any one season. So, Scherzer will basically get $15 million a year for 14 years.
But, D.C.'s Home Rule Act exempts people who work in the city, as Scherzer will from April through September or October every year, as he will, from having to pay D.C. income taxes if they reside outside the city. The Act was implemented to encourage non-residents to work in the city (and buy things, which are subject to local sales taxes).
"Any non-resident of D.C. is not taxed by D.C., including the visiting players who go in there," said Mark Goldstick, CFO of Priority Sports, the Chicago-based agency that represents numerous NBA and NFL players, including the Wizards' Bradley Beal. "They are taxed by the resident state. Other states tax visiting players when they go in. D.C. does not -- at least for now."
Also, Scherzer's primary residence is in Florida, which has no state income tax. If he were to retire after the seven-year playing deal ends, and continue living there, he wouldn't pay any income tax in Florida on the deferred money he'll get after he stops playing. So, he saves money coming and going, which will add tens of millions of dollars of value to the contract.
"The player certainly wouldn't want to buy a house in D.C., because they'd be paying some of the highest tax rates," said Sean Packard, the tax director for Octagon Financial Services Wealth, the financial arm of the sports agency that represents NBA players like Stephen Curry, Wesley Matthews, David West and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Scherzer will still have to pay taxes on income he makes when the Nationals play in cities and states with so-called "jock taxes," which numerous jurisdictions have implemented in recent years on athletes, entertainers and other workers who frequently travel for their businesses. Those taxes are collected based on the number of days an athlete works, from the beginning of his or her preseason through the competition of their team's season.
So Washington could make a tax argument to Durant similar to those made over the years to prospective free agents by teams in tax-free states like Florida and Texas. But, it is only similar, not exact.
"The difference is the guys in Texas don't pay tax on any games," Goldstick said. "It is a certain advantage, but it's not as huge an advantage. If you can establish residency in another state, you're better. It's easy to establish residency in Texas if you're playing for the Rockets or the Mavericks or the Spurs. It's harder to do if you're playing in D.C."
Still, given Oklahoma's state tax rate of 5.5 percent, if Durant established permanent residence in a non-income tax state like Florida, and played for the Wizards, he could potentially save more than $700,000 a year in taxes -- or more than $2.8 million on a four-year deal.
"He's still paying Oklahoma tax on games in Oklahoma City," Packard said.
There isn't quite an apples to apples comparison between Durant and Scherzer, however, because of the NBA's salary cap. Scherzer is reportedly getting bonuses in the $50 million range as part of his deal, something that's not possible under the NBA's cap.
• Practice Makes Perfect: Washington is still in the early stages of creating a stand-alone practice facility, the new team plane/locker room status of NBA teams. The Wizards have yet to pick a site for their practice spot, and certainly won't have one on line by July, 2016.
Wizards owner Ted Leonsis wrote on his blog in November that he wants a facility for the Wizards that has the impact that his other team, the NHL's Washington Capitals, had on the local community when it built the Kettler Capitals Iceplex in nearby Arlington, Virginia, in 2006. That venue hosts numerous local, national and international skating and hockey events every year and is also available for public use when not being used by the Capitals.
Real Training Camp: Ted Leonsis
Ted Leonsis joins David and Dennis during Monday's practice.
"So we would like to replicate this success for the Wizards," Leonsis wrote in November. "A practice facility and front office space where players and staff will spend a vast majority of their time, but a location and community has yet to be identified. We do want to build a best-in-class facility...We have advised government officials in D.C. and Virginia of our interest, had discussions with developers who own land and want to see if we could partner with them and we have visited potential sites to get a sense of location and suitability. But we are not yet to the point of finalizing locations, budgets, designs or possible business deals.
"We have seen sketches of what a building might look like, but they are not advanced plans and just very rough renderings. We are at the beginning stages, and we have a lot of work to do before any decision could be made. After a decision is made, it might take 18 to 24 months to build the facility.
"Ultimately, however, we believe such a facility would be an important upgrade for your team and players, a destination for basketball fans, another way to encourage the growth of youth programs and a location for a variety of amateur tournaments, all in addition to being a terrific community resource."
By contrast, OKC's $14 million practice facility, funded by a one-cent sales tax, opened two years ago about 10 minutes outside of town. It is a palace, a 55,000-square foot gem on 6.3 acres of land, two full courts, a theatre room, and massive weight room and training room facilities. There is a barber and a heated lap pool on site, and a car detailer if your whip needs a touch-up as well as your hair. The Thunder have perfected the melding of the basketball and business sides of the organization.
• There are other teams out there, too: The Wizards aren't operating in a vacuum. The whole league is planning for 2016, which will not only feature Durant in free agency, but a list including, but not limited to, the following: Al Horford, Joe Johnson, Joakim Noah, Chandler Parsons (player option), David Lee, Dwight Howard (player option), Mike Conley, Ryan Anderson, Nicolas Batum and the aforementioned Nene.
In addition, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Thaddeus Young, Goran Dragic and DeMar DeRozan each have player options for 2015-16. If they exercise them and remain with their current teams next season, they'll also all be free agents in 2016. They probably all won't, but it gives you an idea of how ludicrously talented the 2016 free agent class could be.
With the salary cap likely to go north in 2016-17, as the new money from the new television deals begin to kick in, the potential for many teams to be able to sign at least two (and maybe three) max players means the Wizards aren't going to be alone bidding for Durant. You can write in New York, Brooklyn, Boston, Miami, the Lakers, Phoenix and Dallas for starters. Portland could, depending on what it does next summer with free agents LaMarcus Aldridge and Wes Matthews. San Antonio might, if it doesn't make a free agent score this coming summer. Toronto and Orlando will be in prime position as well, if they choose.
And, again, OKC can be just as active as anyone.
[The Wizards] are a really a good team, don't get me wrong. I don't take anything away from them. But I don't sit there and dissect every team, unless we play them. They're a good team. But, we'll see.
– Kevin Durant
Being in the better-than-before-but-still-not-as-good-as-the-West Eastern Conference has advantages for Washington. The Wizards have rocketed to the top of the conference this season, and currently have a five-game cushion on Cleveland, the fifth-place team in the East. It would take a monumental second-half collapse for the Wizards not to make the playoffs.
Oklahoma City, of course, has no such padding in the West. Every good win, such as a thrashing of the league-best Warriors a week ago, seems to get cancelled out by every tough loss, as OKC suffered in losses this weekend at Atlanta and Cleveland.
But Durant lives for this kind of competition. He has never taken the easy way out. He's not going to abandon Oklahoma City just because it's hard to win a title out West. Never mistake his kindness for lack of will. It will take something very, very special for him to leave.
But, I asked him to take himself out of it for a second, and answer this, at least: have the Wizards had crossed a threshold among players around the league? Are they viewed as a legitimate team now, a team that has a chance to win a championship soon?
"I'm not one of those guys that watches everybody," Durant said. "You obviously look at the standings and see how well they're doing. I don't really, unless we're playing them, I don't really watch basketball. They're really a good team, don't get me wrong. I don't take anything away from them. But I don't sit there and dissect every team, unless we play them. They're a good team. But, we'll see."
D.C., indeed, will see.
(Last week's record in parentheses; last week's ranking in brackets)
Timberwolves vs. Hawks
Paul Millsap scores 20 as the Hawks beat the Timberwolves, extending their winning streak to 16 games.
1) Atlanta (4-0) : Hawks won 38 games all of last season. They're 37-8 this morning. As my man Goldberg would say, who's next?
2) Golden State (4-0) : Mauling continues at Oracle Arena: Nineteen straight home wins after dispatching the Celtics on Sunday. Average margin of victory during the home streak: 18 points per game.
4) Houston (3-1) : Rockets are 0-4 against the Warriors this season, 19-6 against everyone else in the Western Conference.
5) Portland (2-2) : Blazers not likely to make a deal just to bring in another big body, with LaMarcus Aldridge (thumb) hurting and Robin Lopez (hand) still out. They already have 15 guaranteed contracts on the roster and are loathe to get rid of one unless the new player is an absolute fit.
Nets vs. Clippers
Blake Griffin scores 24 points and grabs 6 rebounds as the Clippers blowout the Nets 123-84.
6) L.A. Clippers (3-0) : DeAndre Jordan's shooting 39 percent from the foul line. And, he leads the league in rebounding and is second in blocked shots. What would you pay a guy with those numbers in free agency?
7) Washington (2-2) : Paul Pierce becomes just the fourth player in league history to make 2,000 or more 3-pointers, joining Ray Allen (2,973), Reggie Miller (2,560) and Jason Terry (2,023 through play Saturday).
8) Dallas (2-2) : Rick Carlisle sits Rajon Rondo down the stretch of Friday's loss to Chicago.
Bucks vs. Spurs
Tim Duncan & Kawhi Leonard both get double doubles as the Spurs top the Bucks.
9) San Antonio (3-1) : Spurs seem to be winning a lot of those close games they lost earlier in the season now that Kawhi Leonard is back.
10) Toronto (3-1) : Raps getting their defensive groove back: 91.8 allowed per game this week after hemorrhaging points through much of December.
11) Chicago (2-2) : Get Joakim Noah back, but Jekyll and Hyde performances continue as Bulls get dominated on Sunday by the Heat in Luol Deng's return.
12) Phoenix (2-2) : Lead over surging Pelicans for the last playoff spot down to two games, but Suns have held both New Orleans and Oklahoma City off for a month already.
Mavericks vs. Pelicans
Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans each record a double-double, Ryan Anderson adds 18 points as the Pelicans defeat the Mavericks.
13) New Orleans (3-1) : Eric Gordon started slowly after coming back from a shoulder injury early this month. But his last four games: 16.5 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting.
14) Cleveland (4-0) [NR]: Cavs can really get something going now, on a six-game winning streak with the next five eminently winnable: at Detroit, home against Portland, home against Sacramento, at Minnesota, home against Philly.
15) Oklahoma City (2-2) : No shame in losing to the Hawks and Cavaliers, but the Thunder nonetheless lost another week to the calendar in its bid to catch Phoenix or San Antonio.
Dropped out: Milwaukee 
Cleveland (4-0): All of a sudden, scored 100 or more in seven straight games (six straight wins), and closed within 3 ½ of Chicago in the Central -- and, home court in the first round. But spare me the "this is just like LeBron's first year in Miami" business. If GM David Griffin hadn't made those two trades with New York and Denver, the Cavs were dead in the water. But, he did, and they are not any more.
Denver (0-4): Started the week with a horrific 43-point loss to the Warriors. Got progressively better as the week went on, losing by 10, by one, and then in overtime Sunday to the Wizards, after Kenneth Faried missed two free throws with a second left in regulation and with the score tied. A really disappointing season continues.
Who should coaches name as All-Star reserves?
Inside The NBA: Talking East
Kenny, Shaq, Ernie, and Chuck talk about the Eastern Conference All-Star selections.
The fans voted in John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Pau Gasol in the Eastern Conference, and Stephen Curry, Kobe Bryant, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol in the Western Conference. Bryant will not play after suffering a torn rotator cuff last week, and is likely out for the season, leaving West Coach Steve Kerr to name his replacement.
There was the annual caterwauling about how Bryant and Anthony didn't deserve to be on their respective All-Star teams, given their respective real teams' records, as if they were going to be taking part in one of those high school academic quiz shows.
Again: this is an exhibition game. It is not the seventh game of The Finals. It is a game for the fans, who want to see the players they want to see. And fans love Kobe and Carmelo. I'm fine with that. Did you think they were actually going to have an All-Star Game in New York and not have a Noo Yawka on the roster?
And, let's get one thing clear: the NBA does not care in the least that fans get angry when other players are left out. The NBA likes when fans get angry. That keeps talk radio full of NBA-related calls, and keeps the Four-Letter Network full of lighter-than-air segments about who got "snubbed" and who didn't. If the NBA cared, it would simply expand its All-Star rosters to 15 players, as some of us have been arguing it should do for the last two decades. You'd solve just about every argument that way.
Inside The NBA: Talking West
Kenny, Shaq, Ernie, and Chuck talk about the Western Conference All-Star selections.
Nor should Click Bait Mark Cuban have his way and change the voting process. We're not picking the president, here (or something really important, like "American Idol"); we're picking players for two hours of full-court H-O-R-S-E. It's okay if we don't have tens of millions of Americans interrupting their daily lives, with bills and children and illness and folly, to cast a ballot for Derrick Rose. Really.
First, though, let's get the replacement for Kobe out of the way.
DA'S INJURY REPLACEMENT: James Harden, Houston Rockets.
This isn't hard, with all apologies to Klay (Machine Gun) Thompson. Harden is on the short, short list for league MVP this season, and his numbers across the board make this a quick call. Yes, Thompson is a better defensive player. I do not recall the All-Star Game being an exhibition of stifling defensive play. Kerr doesn't need the headache of supposedly "disrespecting" Harden by naming Thompson to play alongside Steph Curry. Just give Harden the nod and sleep soundly.
Now, onto the reserves.
DA's EASTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES
Arena Link: Jeff Teague
Hawks star Jeff Teague talks with the guys following Atlanta's big win over Memphis Wednesday night.
Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks: Easy call. Teague leads the team with the best record in the conference, and which has steamrolled opponents for six weeks, averaging a career-best 17.2 ppg on 47 percent shooting, and the 12th-best PER in the league. He's been unguardable most of the season and he's gotten the better of Wall in the teams' two matchups so far.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls: Breakthrough season for Butler, averaging better than 20 ppg for the Bulls, with career highs across the board. He carried Chicago while Derrick Rose got his sea legs back and Joakim Noah (still) struggles to find his form.
Dwyane Wade, Miami Heat: Flip a coin between him and Chris Bosh; their numbers are virtually the same in scoring. Wade averages more assists; Bosh, more rebounds. You can't have two players from a sub-.500 team in the East, though. I'll take Wade. You could take Bosh and I wouldn't argue.
Millsap in the ATL
Paul Millsap of the red hot Atlanta Hawks takes us through his workout and spends a little time with us at his home.
Paul Millsap, Hawks: Been a rock all season, strong PER, leading the team in rebounding, and has a higher 3-point percentage (35.5 percent) than Teague (33.3 percent). He's been an outstanding two-way player, and is a clear choice for his second All-Star appearance.
Fan Night: Al Horford
Al Horford joins Fan Night to talk about the growth of his red-hot first place Atlanta Hawks.
Al Horford, Hawks: His return from a torn pectoral muscle last season restored the Hawks' rim presence, while presenting defenses with an awful nightly choice. There aren't many bigs with Horford's skill set in just about every halfcourt look imaginable. Since mid-December, he has a +11.4 plus/minus average, is shooting 57 percent from the floor and has twice been named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. And, the Hawks are 18-1 during that stretch.
Kyrie Irving's Top 10
NBA.com gives viewers Kyrie Irving's top 10 from 2014.
Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers: He hasn't been as spectacular this season, obviously, with James around. But he's still been an often-electric player who is simply unstoppable when he's on. He leads all Eastern point guards in scoring and is second to Milwaukee's Brandon Knight in 3-point percentage among East point guards with four or more 3-point attempts per game.
Arena Link: Kyle Korver
Kyle Korver joins GameTime via Arena Link after a 24-point outing in a victory over the Bulls.
Kyle Korver, Hawks: Yes, four Hawks is a lot. But, they've been that good. And Korver has earned his way onto this team with one of the great first halves of shooting in the history of the game. To wit: through Saturday, Korver's True Shooting Percentage, which weighs 3-pointers and free throws as well as twos, is 73.8. He's more than halfway to becoming the first member of the 190 Club -- 50 percent shooting from the field, 50 percent on threes, 90 percent from the line. He has been outstanding at both ends, averaging as many Defensive Win Shares as Russell Westbrook, according to basketball-reference.com. A worthy guy.
LEFT OUT: Chris Bosh, Heat; Marcin Gortat, Wizards; Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks
DA's WESTERN CONFERENCE RESERVES
Arena Link: Klay Thompson
Klay Thompson joins GameTime via Arena Link after scoring a career-high 52 points with a historic NBA record 37 points in the third quarter.
Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors: See above. Could easily be the replacement starter for Kobe, based on his status as the best two-way two guard in the game today. (Yes, James Harden is dramatically better on defense this season. He's not as good a defender as Thompson. Sorry.) Shooting an insane 46 percent on 3-pointes.
A Disccusion of Damian
Damian LIllard is used to being overlooked, but the Portland guard is making his case for an All-Star nod, as Vince Cellini explains.
Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers: No way I'm leaving Dame off, with his numbers and the way he's been carrying the Blazers with Cousin LaMarcus sidelined for stretches this season. Just outside the top 10 in scoring (11th, 22.0 ppg), and he's fifth among point guards in PER. Plus -- personal preference -- love watching him play.
Nightly Notable: LaMarcus Aldridge
Highlights from LaMarcus Aldridge as he scores 26 points and grabs 9 rebounds in the Blazers win.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Trail Blazers: The business half of the Blazers' one-two punch, he's been even better than Lillard, who's been terrific. Sixth in the league in scoring, ahead of Pau Gasol, Nowitzki, Zach Randolph and Duncan in PER, grabbing 10 boards a game -- and he's become a consistent 3-point shooter for the first time in his career. Showing real guts playing with that torn ligament in his thumb, too. Everybody's proud of you, Cuz -- Pookie and Ray Ray and Auntie Gee and all them.
Nightly Notable: Russell Westbrook
Russell Westbrook records 19 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 steals to lead the Thunder over the Heat.
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder: A borderline call just because of injury; he missed 14 games at the start of the season with that broken hand. But when Westbrook returned, he was otherworldly in trying to carry the Thunder without Kevin Durant, averaging 30.2 per game while Durant missed six games with a sprained ankle. He's been in attack mode all season, and there's nobody more lethal.
Chris Paul, Los Angeles Clippers: He has been so good for so long that it seems people are starting to take him for granted in favor of the new shiny baubles. But CP3 is still devastating to opponents and more than worthy to make his eighth All-Star team. Third in the league in assists, tied for 10th in double-doubles, shooting almost 40 percent on 3-pointers. As smooth and deadly as ever.
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings: It is not Cousins' fault that Kings management and ownership suffered a severe brain cramp and fired Mike Malone in November, wrecking what had been a promising start. Boogie has matured as a person while continuing to wreak havoc as a player. How can you keep a dude who's third in the league in scoring and rebounding, and is eighth overall in PER (ahead of Paul, Griffin, Thompson, Teague, both Gasols, etc.), off of the All-Star team? Yes, somebody has to score and rebound on bad teams, too. But the Kings weren't a bad team when their owner fired their head coach. They have been since. Cousins shouldn't be penalized for that.
Tim Duncan, San Antonio Spurs: We do this knowing full well that Timmeh would rather eat a soap sandwich than spend three days in New York talking to reporters before playing five minutes in a game in which he has absolutely no interest. Well, Big Fundamental, sorry. You need to stop playing so efficiently (17th in the league, per NBA.com stats). You need to not be ahead of Damian Lillard, Dirk Nowitzki, John Wall and numerous others in PER. You need to not be eighth in the league in blocked shots. You need to not be averaging a double-double, and not have done all that while logging many more minutes the first half this season than you have in several years. And, you need to not be doing all that at age 38. It's on you, big guy.
LEFT OUT: Monta Ellis, Dallas; Dwight Howard, Houston; Zach Randolph, Memphis; Draymond Green, Golden State.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Duncan was not included in the original version of this story, and was added after a clarification that Western Conference coaches would select seven reserves before NBA Commissioner Adam Silver selects an injury replacement for Bryant.)
You will notice that Kevin Durant is not one of my reserves. There is a reason for that. He hasn't, in my view, played enough games this season. Durant has missed more than half (23) of OKC's games while recovering from offseason foot surgery and a sprained ankle. It would not be fair to give him an All-Star berth ahead of other players who've been on the floor all season. Of course Durant would be an All-Star in a normal season in which he played in most of the Thunder's games; he probably would have been voted in by the fans. Of course Durant is one of the two or three best players in the world. But he just hasn't played enough the first half of the season, this season, to warrant the trip to New York.
Send your hate mail to email@example.com/edu.
When having Boardwalk and Park Place isn't enough. From Jamey Burke:
What in the hell is Danny Ainge going to do with all these Draft picks? As a "draft-tortured" Celtics fan, I know we will simply never have any luck with the ping-pong balls. Can Ainge somehow finagle his way into one of this summer's top 3 picks with all or some of his assets? Or is he more likely to use them to go after say ... DeAndre Jordan?
GameTime: Green to Memphis
Brent and Dennis discuss the three-team trade between the Celtics, Pelicans and Grizzlies with Jeff Green headed to Memphis.
No one knows -- not even Danny at this point, I'd think. But, he's got the flexibility to go in a dozen different directions. He can use a couple the way Cleveland did to get a piece like Timofey Mozgov. He can package a couple with a young player the way the Nets did to get Deron Williams. He can control the Draft by moving up, down and around like the New England Patriots do in football. Just think what kind of trade the Philadelphia 76ers and Celtics could put together if, say, Philly got the first pick in the Draft and Boston was third. He could make a heck of an offer to Minnesota for, say, Andrew Wiggins, or to Orlando for Nic Vucevic or Aaron Gordon.
They Go Together, like rama lamma lamma ka dinga da dinga dong. From Julia Morgan:
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick; Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich; Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson. Are these once-in-a-lifetime partnerships and what are the components needed? I can't think of many other partnerships with such a winning ratio, maybe Schumacher and Ferrari, in any other sports can you? However it is the first two that stand out to me as the period covered is huge 14 years for Brady and Belichick and Duncan and Popovich I am not sure.
They are indeed special relationships, Julia. Superstar players are very hard to please. It takes a special coach to have both the trust of the star and the willingness of the star to allow the coach to challenge him, whether in front of the team, through the media or by other means. The player has to be secure enough in his own skin to be disciplined by and yelled at by the coach from time to time; the coach has to have significant intelligence and a willingness to make the relationship a true partnership -- as well as the full backing of management. (Often, the coach [ital.]is[endital] management, of course.) Popovich and Duncan have been together since the 1997-98 season, and each trusts the other implicitly. Michael came to trust Phil, though he was always skeptical of the triangle offense. I think Michael liked Phil constantly pitting the Bulls' management against the players, always finding an "us versus them" thing to bond together about.
Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's ... wait ... what the hell is that? From Troy Johnson, Jr.:
My question is: If you could wake up tomorrow in the body of an NBA player, who would you pick and what would you do?
Now, this is a good question, Troy! Thanks for sending this in. There's so many directions in which you could go. Of course you could go for LeBron, but what if you wanted to be a lanky, wiry guy like Tayshaun Prince? Would you want to be a legit 7-footer like Tyson Chandler, or Omer Asik? Or a "regular" sized guy like, say, Eric Bledsoe? Would I want to be small but fast like Monta Ellis or Isaiah Thomas, or a hulk like Brook Lopez? This is tough. But I think I'll go with my old standby ... Pat Riley! (Career playing stats here //www.basketball-reference.com/players/r/rileypa01.html). No man has ever looked better in a suit than Riles back in the day.
Send your questions, comments, criticisms and your promise that we will never, ever go anywhere near where this fish swims to firstname.lastname@example.org. If your e-mail is sufficiently funny, thought-provoking, well-written or snarky, we just might publish it!
(Weekly averages in parentheses)
Taco Bell Buzzer Beater
James Harden goes off the dribble and sticks the step back jumper to beat the Phoenix Suns.
1) James Harden (37 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 7 apg, .541 FG, .879 FT): Decent week: 45 against Indy, 33 in a loss to Golden State, the game-winner at Phoenix and 37 more in L.A. Sunday night.
2) Stephen Curry (18.5 ppg, 2 rpg, 10 apg, .442 FG, .952 FT): Overtook LeBron James in the final days of fan voting for the All-Star Game to finish with 1,513,324 votes, the most of any player this year. James finished with 1,470,483 votes.
3) Marc Gasol (18.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, .529 FG, .826 FT): Becomes first brother duo to be voted in as an All-Star starter by fans, with Chicago's Pau getting in as an Eastern Conference starter.
4) Anthony Davis (26 ppg, 10 rpg, 2 bpg, .475 FG, .876 FT): Big plays down the stretch Sunday gave the Pelicans their first win over the Mavericks in more than two years (nine straight wins by Dallas).
5) LeBron James (27.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 6.8 apg, .506 FG, .750 FT): Didn't want to talk about his injuries last week, but he looks like he's been shot out of a cannon since his fortnight off to rest his knee and back.
$2.6 billion -- Value of the Lakers, the highest of all 30 NBA teams, according to Forbes' annual valuations. Forbes now estimates that 11 teams are worth at least $1 billion: the Lakers, the Knicks ($2.5B), the Bulls ($2B), the Celtics ($1.7B), the Clippers ($1.6B), the Nets ($1.5B), Golden State ($1.3B), the Rockets ($1.25B), the Heat ($1.175B), the Mavericks ($1.15B) and the Spurs ($1B). Forbes rates the Bucks, who sold for $550 million in 2014, as the lowest-valued NBA team, at $600 million.
38 -- Consecutive games missed by the Minnesota Timberwolves' Ricky Rubio, whose high ankle sprain may keep him out even longer than previously thought. Man, he was really fun to watch before he was injured.
24 -- Consecutive road games the Celtics had lost to Western Conference opponents before defeating Portland at Moda Center Thursday. Boston's last win in the West was an overtime victory at Utah in February, 2013.
Thompson's Historic Quarter
Klay Thompson hits 13-of -13 shots with 9 3s to notch a NBA-record 37 points in the third quarter.
1) Those were 12 incredible minutes last Friday, Klay Thompson. It's still hard to fathom that one guy could be that hot for a whole quarter. (And, we officially give, Mark Jackson. You were right. It's the best shooting backcourt in NBA history.)
2) Remember, Jeremy Lin also once flashed for three weeks. But he wasn't seven feet tall. If Hassan Whiteside has truly figured things out, in an organization that works as hard as Miami in developing players, with its championship culture...well, Riles will be smiling a broad and great smile this morning.
3) Congrats to Mike Krzyzewski on 1,000 wins as a coach, becoming the first Division I coach to reach that mark. He has meant so much to basketball, at all levels, and he has done so with class and integrity. A Hall of Famer in every sense of the term.
5) My natural cynicism is tested by this, but in the end, I buy in. Very cool.
1) Father Time, the baddest heavyweight of them all, remains unbeaten. Latest victim: former undisputed champ K.B. Bryant (19th round TKO), which followed a KO earlier this year of S.J. Nash (19th round). Mr. Time's next bout is yet to be determined, though several contenders, including T.T. Duncan of San Antonio, Texas, continue ducking him.
2) The Benson Family, along with a judge, has to decide how it will divide the estate of Tom Benson when he dies. My only hope is that the probate process isn't drawn out so long that it impacts the Pelicans' ability to make moves going forward, starting with the trading deadline next month. As the Times Picayune's Jimmy Smith pointed out last week, the franchise was just down this road.
3) Bummed beyond words about Brandon Jennings. He had had stretches before this season when he'd scored in bunches, but he'd never been as good a point guard as he was for Detroit over the last month. He was sensational.
Jennings Gets Injured
Brandon Jennings injures his left leg without any contact, falling to the ground in pain Jennings would leave the game.
4) No doubt Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls' front office have knocked heads over the years. But I don't think you want to get into a tough-guy match with John Paxson.
5) RIP, Mr. Cub. If there ever was a bad word written or spoken about Ernie Banks, don't send me a link. If he ever said no to you for an autograph, which I doubt, don't Tweet about it. Some of us still need role models and heroes, and although I never saw Ernie Banks play a single inning of baseball live, he's a hero of mine. This is one man who lived up to his reputation, and we were all the better for it.
We've all been there. Your buddy has a new girlfriend, or your best girlfriend has a new boyfriend. And they're ... oh, God, it's like you can see the train wreck before the Acela leaves the station. There is no chance that relationship is going to work. The fortunate thing about J.R. Smith and the triangle offense is that they hadn't moved in together. There was no common-law property.
Smith had been in New York three-plus seasons, but it was clear after three months of his trying to pick up the triple-post offense that first-year Coach Derek Fisher was implementing -- and team president Phil Jackson has championed for two decades -- that the 29-year-old Smith would never be comfortable with all the adjustments the system requires. Smith was born to catch the ball and, ultimately, shoot it.
So the Knicks sought to move him, and -- fortunately for Smith -- the Cavaliers were desperate to shake up their roster. Cleveland wanted Iman Shumpert, and was willing to take on Smith's salary in order to do so. But for Smith, it's a chance to get back to what he likes doing, for a team that can live with the way he does it. It's quite similar to Smith's early incarnations in Denver as a sixth-man/no-conscience gunner, which drove George Karl crazy but also won the Nuggets a few games. But, Smith has a decade's worth of bad habits to give up, from breaking off plays to tying opponent's shoelaces on the free throw line. You never know. Sometimes, the Girlfirend/Boyfriend from Hell straightens up and makes something of themselves. Sometimes.
Assist of the Night: J.R. Smith
Off the Hornets turnover J.R. Smith tosses the half court pass to LeBron James for the alley-oop dunk.
Me: I always wonder how guys pick up new verbiage when they are traded. I know a screen-roll is a screen-roll, but they call it something different here than they did in New York.
J.R. Smith: I think that's the biggest -- not the biggest, but the toughest part, is picking up the terminology. Playing against certain teams, you hear the call, and you know the plays. But being with a new coach...you've got different calls for different things. Fortunately, I've got some great vets who help me out, on the court as well as off the court.
Me: What do you do with your whip and all your other rides? What are you riding now?
JRS: Fortunately, Jersey isn't too far from here; it's a seven-hour drive. So one of my friends, and my brother, drove my truck up. Everything else gets kind of shipped. I had to put my clothes in there and ship them out, too.
Me: Is it hard to get comfortable when you're living out of a suitcase, or in an apartment?
Play of the Day - Cleveland Cavaliers
Kyrie Irving makes the steal, J.R. Smith makes the acrobatic save and Irving tosses the lob to Kevin Love for the jam.
JRS: Yeah, it's definitely harder for me right now. I'm in the hotel, still. I found a spot yesterday, and just the whole process of going out, meeting people, the realtors, people from the organization that help you look for places, stuff like that. Furniture and all that. It gets tedious after a while, but at the same time it's part of the business. That's why I've got my mom here, so she can deal with all that.
Me: Is she gonna be with you the rest of the season?
JRS: Nah, she's not gonna stay the rest of the season. She's gonna be in and out.
Me: I saw Carmelo a couple of weeks ago. I had forgotten y'all played together in Denver as well as New York. So what is it like when you've been with a guy for so many years, and you get close, and then it's just over.
JRS: That was the toughest part about the trade. We played together nine years. The bond, the camaraderie, the brotherhood that we gained, it's, I wouldn't say over, it's just discontinued. When you're playing with a person like 'Melo, you depend on him a lot, from on the court and off the court. I can always go to him for advice, just everyday life things, as well as stuff on the court. So I think that's the toughest part. But fortunately, coming to a team like this, I've also got him in a different person, between him and LeBron. It's pretty much the same concepts and stuff like that; it's just coming from a different voice.
J.R. Jams It
LeBron James rebounds and fires the outlet pass ahead to J.R. Smith for the dunk on the break.
Me: How well did you know LeBron before coming here?
JRS: We go back to high school. Just the AAU camps and tournaments and stuff like that, seeing each other, just talking to each other. Going into my rookie year, I came out here and stayed with him for like a week or so, did his foundation stuff. So I've known him for a while.
Me: Are there similarities both on the court and in terms of leadership between he and Carmelo?
JRS: Yeah. I think he's more of a vocal leader than 'Melo is. 'Melo's more of a I'm gonna show what to do, and if you follow suit, that's what it is. 'Bron is more of an 'alright, this is what's gonna happen; you're gonna do this, this, this and this,' or you're gonna receive this. He's more of a vocal person than 'Melo is. 'Melo is more behind the scenes, still gets his work in and everything in, you just don't see as much. 'Bron is more, you see it. I don't think it's a right or wrong way; (but) it's definitely a different in the culture between the two.
Me: I have to ask you what those two months of losing in New York was like for you and the team, and how you tried to get through it.
Arena Link: J.R. Smith
J.R. Smith joins Game Time to discuss his new role in Cleveland with the Cavaliers.
JRS: It was extremely difficult. From a competitive standpoint, and wanting to win, and doing it at any cost, then being hurt for a while so you couldn't help the team but from afar, it was probably one of the most difficult things in my life. My rookie year, we won 18 games in New Orleans. To be in that same boat 10 years later, and to be a veteran as opposed to being a younger guy, when you don't really understand and you're still in your first year, trying to get your feet wet, for somebody who's won 50-plus games for six, seven years in a row, and then come to a situation like that, it's totally mind blowing. It can break you down. I think the one great thing about it was we had a great core of guys. No matter what was going on -- winning, losing -- we all kept each other up. 'Cause we were in it together.
Me: Was it hard to go out, have dinner, see people?
JRS: Yeah, just out and about, going shopping, going out to eat, especially in New York. You know fans are so passionate. They won't sugarcoat it. They'll tell you how they feel, 'cause they might not see you again. They let you know, listen, y'all gotta pick it up, or y'all are terrible, what are you doing, whatever. Which is also good, 'cause you see how passionate they are about their teams. They want you to do well.
Me: But when you knew Cleveland wanted you, what did that say to you?
Highlights from J.R. Smith as he scores 27 points and grabs 5 rebounds in the Cavs loss.
JRS: When I first heard about the trade and the possibilities, it was kind of mixed feelings. It was like, this could be a blessing in disguise. But I don't want to leave 'Melo by himself. Because just being in this situation, it's tough. Being in this situation alone is worse. So that bothered me a lot. And then I kind of got selfish with it. This is the best situation for me as a person. And make the best out of any situation. And I think I am right now. All the players seem to be responding to me very well, and the coaches love me. So I have no complaints.
Me: But you ain't sad to leave that triangle, though.
JRS: I am, in the sense that I wanted to make it work. I wanted to be one of the players that understood it, that got it. The two greatest players in the world at my position played in it, and thrived in it, got all the accolades and championships and whatever else came with it. I wanted to be a part of that significant group. Not that I think I'm like those two guys in any way, but to be a part of the building process that that's the base of, and go from there. But they made the right decision. You have to take the car apart in order for it to be what you want it to be.
Me: What has Coach Blatt and the staff said about their expectations of you here?
JRS: They just expect me to be me. Don't second-guess anything. If you feel like you're open, shoot the ball. If you feel like you need to pass, make the pass. Don't overthink anything. Play your game. The biggest advice I got when I first got here, the first game I played, I was kind of tentative, because I don't know how the guys will respond to me if I shoot this shot, or what's going to go on. I talked to 'Bron and he was like, 'we got you because of who you are. Play your game. You don't have to fit in. You already fit. So don't try and fit in.' And after that, it was pretty much just go play and be me.
Me: What do you have to work on to fit here?
Smith From Deep
J.R. Smith takes the pass and buries a three from the wing.
JRS: Being more consistent. Consistency has been something that...I wouldn't say lacked, but it's just been stints where I get hot, and then you go cold for two, three games, whatever the case may be. Just staying consistent, and that involves staying in the gym. So for me, I got my brother here with me, so we're in the gym every night, playing one-on-one, or whatever the case may be, as well as me getting my rest. I think this is the best situation for me, 'cause there's nothing but basketball. There's nothing you expect but basketball. There's nothing, there's no going out, there's no late nights. There's video games, basketball and basketball. So it's a great thing, 'cause I go back to where I came from. When I grew up, I never, I wasn't allowed to go out. I missed my prom because I went to an AAU tournament, and all that stuff. For me, it was basketball, basketball, basketball. And then when I got in the situation where I was at an early age, it was more, alright, let me see what this life is about, as opposed to just keep going. So now, I get the chance to get back to my roots.
Me: Did you find that exploring that life, because you could, wasn't all it was cracked up to be? I can spend whatever I want, and at the end of the day, it really doesn't mean anything?
JRS: Especially from the standpoint of making me better. I always made myself better by staying in the gym. When you replace that with stuff off the court, then you're taking away from what made you who you are, or what got you to a certain point. It was kind of pulling me down in a sense, of not getting enough rest, not doing things you're supposed to be doing, things you're used to doing. So when you start missing those shots you're supposed to make, especially wide-open shots, it was like, alright, what's going on, what's going on? Instead of looking at what it is, you're reverting to that even more, instead of going back to the basics. So I think that's the greatest part about being here.
Me: I know you've just been here a short time, but how important do you think that west coast trip was, with Love playing hurt and LeBron looking more like himself?
JRS: I mean, it's a relief for me. Since the game before beating the Lakers, that was the first time Shump and I won in a month. We went from December 11, and it blossomed. For us, it was like, oh, my goodness, we won. We're going to start winning. Since we've been here, we lost three or four games in a row. But we already knew that once we got our whole team together, it's going to be trouble. After that first game, and then beating a great team like the Clippers, it set it in stone in our heads that we're a part of something great, we're a part of something that can really be something. We've got to give it everything we've got, no matter what.
Me: I wonder if you and Shump view it as, we've got another shot here. We could go from worst to first in one season.
JRS: Yeah. I mean, I definitely look at it like that. I think it was harder for Shump because it was his first trade. New York was his first team. He had so many, at the point in time when we got traded, that was all he knew as a player his first three, four years. It's tough because, other than that one year when we got the second seed, he's never won consistently at this level. So it's tougher for him than it was for me...right now, I think we're definitely -- I know he is, because he's pressing to come back from the injury -- but we're locking in as a unit more than anything. We came into the situation like, alright, man, it's just me and you until we see what the other guys are like. It's just us. And then meeting everybody, it was like, okay, it's all of us.
-- Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow), Tuesday, 11:58 p.m., after the disclosure that there were 11 deflated footballs used during the Patriots-Colts AFC Championship Game last Sunday.
"Thank you for allowing me to cry in front of you."
--Michael Jordan, who broke down while accepting the Charlotte Business Journal's Business Person of the Year award last week.
"If I took Kenneth out of the starting lineup, I'd probably get egged by all the fans around here because everybody is a big Manimal fan."
-- Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw, asked by local reporters if he'd consider putting forward Darrell Arthur in the starting lineup -- which would necessitate taking someone else out, lest Denver try to play with two undersized forwards.
"I was afraid of rebuilding. I've done it. I've been through it, and it's hard. People think rebuilding is easy, and I don't think they understand how hard it is on a coach. You're losing games, and any coach that I know -- and I know Brad well enough -- every game you go into, you convince yourself you're going to win that night. And you don't, and then you're down, and then you build yourself up for the next game, and then you don't (win). It's hard. It's emotionally hard."
-- Doc Rivers, acknowledging to the Boston Herald last week that he didn't have the stomach to go through a second rebuild in Boston, and wanted out to go to the star-laden Clippers. The Celtics worked out a deal with Los Angeles to let Rivers go west, and hired Brad Stevens.
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