Shootaround (Oct. 11): Kevin Durant on what swayed his free-agency choice
Durant says Warriors’ Finals loss helped him make choice | Wall looks solid in return | Howard out to set record straight
No. 1: Durant says Warriors’ Finals collapse helped him make decision — The 2016 NBA Finals will always be remembered for two things — the Cleveland Cavaliers winning their first NBA title and the Golden State Warriors becoming the first team to squander a 3-1 series edge in The Finals. Kevin Durant was one of many watching that series unfold from home after his Oklahoma City Thunder blew their own 3-1 series lead (in the Western Conference finals). In an interview yesterday, Durant says the Warriors’ Finals flub helped him decide to leave OKC for Golden State, writes Anthony Slater of The Mercury News:
The Warriors organization was named the 2016 ENCORE winner on Monday night. It’s a prestigious award, given by the Stanford Graduate School of Business to the entrepreneurial company of the year. Past winners include Google, Apple and Twitter. This is the first time a sports organization has won it.
The unique setting produced some candid comments, particularly surrounding Durant’s free agency decision. Here’s a rundown of the most interesting nuggets.
– If the Warriors close out the Cavs and win the Finals, does Durant really join the back-to-back champs? Before Monday night, Durant brushed off that question: “They didn’t,” he has said twice. But about 30 minutes into the panel discussion, Andre Iguodala, deep into an answer about the lingering burn of losing the Finals, said: “If we would’ve won, I don’t know if we would’ve got him,” pointing at Durant. That led the moderator, Geoff Yang, to flip that question to Durant. Perhaps it was the different setting, but KD finally chose to answer it, hinting that, no, he likely wouldn’t be in the Bay Area had the Warriors closed it out.
“Would it have made it less interesting to you?”
Durant: “I was telling one of my friends, Rich (Kleiman, his agent), who’s here, we were watching Game 7. Well, as it started to unfold, it was, ‘No question, no way could you go to this team.’ And I was just like a kid, like, in a candy shop. I’d get wide open 3s, I could just run up and down the court, get wide open layups. I was basically begging him. I was like, yo, this would be nice. So as I was thinking about my decision and who I was gonna play for, this team came to mind. You know, as they lost, it became more and more real every day. You start to think about it even more. To see if I would fit. Then once I sat down with these guys, everything that I wanted to know about them they kinda showed me. But we don’t have to talk about it though because they didn’t get the job done and they came after me and who knows what would’ve happened. But I guess you could say I’m glad that they lost.”
– The Warriors met with Durant on July 1st. By late afternoon July 3rd, he’d wrapped up his free agency meetings. There were rumblings that night that the Warriors were frontrunners. But his decision didn’t come until about noon on July 4th. On Monday, Lacob reflected on a stressful July 3rd, which included a 3-way phone call — between Lacob, Durant and Myers — where he received his first indication that Durant was leaning toward Golden State.
Joe Lacob: “So, KD, after we met with you on July 4th weekend out on the very tip of Long Island, a long way to go. We had a good meeting and we went home. Bob (Myers) and I were talking like we do all the time. On July 3rd, I was in Montana at the time, I’m on a boat. I get this call, from Bob, ‘Durant’s on the phone!’ I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if it’s gonna work, it might cut out.’ You remember this call?
Kevin Durant: “Yeah.”
Lacob: “Then we started to talk and I’m thinking: ‘He’s gonna make the decision. And he said, ‘So when I come…’ and then I don’t remember what else I said. Then there was a long pause and I was like, ‘Did…he…just…say…he…was…coming?’ Then it was, ‘Well, I gotta sleep on it tonight.’ That was hard. I just want you to know that was so hard.”
Durant: “Yeah, when I called you guys, so many emotions were going through my head. I thought I was gonna drag that decision out for a long time. But when I talked to you guys that second time, it kinda eased my mind. I felt like this was the place where I should be.”
– Later, Durant was asked for a fuller explanation on why he picked the Warriors. He called it an ‘easy choice’: “It felt like it was a perfect fit. It was something I was searching for when I sat down and talked to these guys. I wanted to see if what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen on the outside is really true. Do these guys really genuinely love each other? They work together. You hear family a lot. That’s just a word sometimes, but this is really a lifestyle here. You can feel it when you walk in the door, in the practice facility, everybody is just together. That’s something that I can appreciate as a basketball player and someone who values relationships. You can tell that that’s what they stand on, that’s what we stand on. I feel really grateful to play for a team like that and play with a bunch of players who are selfless and enjoy the game in its purest form. They make it about the players, they make it about the environment, so it was really an easy choice.”
– Iguodala’s free agency decision, made three summers earlier, has parallels with Durant’s. He was eliminated by them in the playoffs. He saw how much fun they were having on the court. He decided he wanted to be a part of it.
Kevin Durant on the free agency meeting: “I was anxious to see what they’re all about. You hear a lot of about them. They’e on SportsCenter every day. One thing stood out to me, I had a friend tell me — that never played basketball, not even athletic — the first thing she said was, ‘When I watch Steph Curry play, it makes me feel like I can play the game of basketball.’ So I asked her, ‘So how do I make you feel?’…That shows, like Andre said, when you play freely and have fun with the game, it just shows that it touches a lot of people that may not just be in that immediate circle of NBA or basketball or sports in general. So when they came into the meeting, I was really looking for that energy and I felt it from the beginning. It was just so pure. It was a feeling I couldn’t ignore. I wanted to be a part of it. No matter what happened, I wanted to be a part of it.”
No. 2: Wall looks solid in preseason return — The Washington Wizards’ grand hopes for the 2015-16 season were dashed by the start of 2016 as the team quickly fell out of playoff contention and injuries decimated the roster. All-Star guard John Wall appeared in 69 games, but was hampered by a left knee injury that required offseason surgery in May. Wall made his return to the court in Monday’s preseason game against the New York Knicks and according to Candace Buckner of The Washington Post, the game was a solid start for Wall:
Early into his first NBA minutes since April, John Wall wanted to show a bit of his old self. So, he squared up against New York Knicks point guard Brandon Jennings and easily lost him with an evasive dribble. The first move was vintage Wall — the three-time all-star who Coach Scott Brooks believes still has another notch to reach in his career.
However, while attempting his finishing move to get to the rim, Wall stumbled over his own feet. Too fast for a pair of knees that had undergone offseason knee surgery.
On Monday night, Wall tried to find his footing in the Wizards’ 90-88 loss to the New York Knicks. Wall lasted for a little more than a 15-minute run in his preseason debut.
Though at times Wall showed some rust, he also produced a few highlights after his months-long rehabilitation.
Wall finished with a solid line: eight points (4-of-9 from the fieldl), four assists and three defensive rebounds as Brooks kept him on the floor for roughly eight-minute stretches in the first and second quarters.
“I just want to go out there and play basketball,” Wall said before the game. “If I have an injury and I come back, I don’t think about it. I just go play. When you think about it, you don’t do well.”
Hours before his return, the news left Wall in a playful mood. As the team concluded the morning shootaround, Wall launched basketballs high into the Madison Square Garden seats for the rookies to retrieve, calling it “a little, fun game.” Also, he donned dark sunglasses and expressed faux astonishment about his comeback.
A joyful Wall contrasted with the caution that had surrounded him for months. Following his procedures, Wall exercised extreme patience when asked about his health, revealing little to nothing. Though the 26-year-old recently returned to full participation in the Wizards’ preseason practices and even played uninterrupted minutes of five-on-five, he would not suggest a timeline for his return. Until now.
“We had it all planned out, after five-on-five and a couple good days at practice,” Wall said. “I’ll play a couple minutes and see how it goes.”
Brooks echoed Wall’s sentiment.
“He’s been going through five-on-five and we’ve been increasing it the last week or so,” Brooks said. “He felt good. He feels good.
“We’re excited about it,” Brooks continued. “He’s been really putting in a lot of great work in and all the work that he’s put in with the staff over the summer, it’s paid off. I think he wants to get out there and play.”
Wall progressed from playing one-on-one against team staffers in the summer to competing full strength against teammates a week ago. After each practice, Wall reported the same positive news: He felt fine.
“The biggest thing I took away,” Brooks said about the practices. “(Wall) made myself and all our coaches a lot better. The guy can play.”
No. 3: Howard says perceptions about him are ‘a lie’ — When new Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard was officially introduced by his team this summer, he talked about how he was “happy to be home” and looking forward to a fresh start: Yet Howard, in the eyes of some fans and NBA types, carries baggage with him from his previous stops with the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets. In an interview with Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com, Howard tries to set the record straight about himself:
Q: When you say new beginnings, what’s that mean?
A: I changed up everything around me. I hold myself more accountable in certain situations. I try to be a better man, a better father, a better teammate. I know a lot of the stuff that’s been said about me that I can’t really control and has been false, but at the same time, I just want to show this city who I really am and show my teammates what kind of teammate I am. They’ve been great to me, and I think it’s a great situation for me to be in.
Q: You’ve been in the spotlight since you were an 18-year-old kid who was the No. 1 pick, and that spotlight has gotten brighter throughout the course of your career. You mentioned the perception of you. Why does that bother you?
A: It has bothered me because I know who I am and what kind of teammate I’ve always been. For certain things to be said, it really did bother me, but the only way to shut people up is just by winning and just playing basketball and not allowing that kind of stuff to really affect who I am away from the game.
Q: Who is Dwight Howard?
A: I’m a fun person to be around, laid back, love to have fun. I’ll joke all day, but once I get in the gym, I’m going to work hard. That’s one thing I pride myself on is working hard in the weight room, working hard in practice, trying to become a better player. I hated that perception that I didn’t work hard, that I really don’t love the game. This game has brought me a lot of joy, brought me a lot of good things. Just that side of it has really affected me. I know you can’t please everybody; you can’t make everybody happy, but just getting that perception that I don’t care about this game and what it brings is a lie.
Q: Do you feel that you feel that you’re not allowed to have fun, not allowed to smile, not allowed to be yourself?
A: Yeah, a lot of times I do feel like that. When I’m smiling, I’m supposedly not taking the game seriously. When I’m not smiling, then it’s like, “He don’t care. He’s just out there.” When I was in Orlando and everything was going well and we were winning, even in L.A. when we won those games and stuff like that, me smiling didn’t bother people. But like I said, you really can’t please people. I know everybody’s attention is on what I’m doing on the floor. My job is to be the best teammate I can be, push these guys to the limit every day, make sure that I’m being the right type of leader.
Q: You mentioned changing things this summer. What’d you change?
A: Just things off the court, a lot of the stuff that was happening around me, just personal things. I tried to change that up and just really start over, get a clean slate. No offense to the people that I had around me, but I just wanted to start over, start fresh. Like I said, it’s a new beginning, so I wanted everything to be fresh. I didn’t want to bring any old baggage or anything from my past to this organization. They believe in me, this city believes in me, so I just wanted to make sure that when I’m out there on the court that I’m free, that I can give this city and this team everything that I’ve got.
Q: This is a good situation for you. You’re home. You’re making money that 99.999999 percent of the world would …
A: [Interrupting] It’s not even just the money part, but the fact that I’m able to play at home, the fact that I’m able to play for Coach [Mike Budenholzer], who has been nothing but unbelievable. The whole staff has been great. Just the team, just the whole atmosphere is something that I’ve always prayed for and I always wanted, so I’m very grateful.
Q: Were you surprised there weren’t max offers on the table?
A: Well, I knew all the situations that was going on. I really only looked into one place and that was the Hawks. I didn’t go to other teams. As soon as free agency opened, I met with Coach Bud and [general manager Wes Wilcox]. After the meeting, I went back to my car and I was like, “Man, this is where I want to be.” I didn’t need to meet with other teams. I didn’t care about what offers were on the table. I wanted to be in Atlanta. I wanted to represent for this team.
Q: Physically, how do you feel?
A: My body feels great. I took five days off last summer and have been working out since then. I haven’t had any issues. I feel good. Playing 13 years is a long time, but I feel really good. It’s not like I’m [old]. I’m just thankful. Before the game when the announcer said, “In his 13th season …” it was kind of weird. Coming from an 18-year-old [when he was drafted], now I’m 30, it’s a great situation.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Golden State Warriors were named the 2016 Entrepreneurial Company of the Year by the from the Stanford Graduate School of Business Alumni Association … Memphis Grizzlies big man Brandan Wright (left ankle) will miss tonight’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers … LA Clippers swingman Austin Rivers is looking forward to playing some small forward this season … Take an inside look into the daily routine of Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris …