Shootaround (Feb. 12): Kevin Durant navigates raoucous return to Oklahoma City
Plus the Sixers reportedly near a trade, LeBron welcomes a new teammate, and much more
No. 1: KD back to OKC? More A-OK than S.O.S. — “Primal scream therapy” was what our man Fran Blinebury labeled it, and he was spot on his report on Kevin Durant’s return to Oklahoma City to face the Thunder Saturday night. The only thing missing from the highly anticipated, heavily chronicled evening was a game that actually was close, but that didn’t undermine the sideshow atmosphere. From the boos and cheers of the fans at Chesapeake Energy Arena who felt jilted when Durant signed with Golden State as a free agent last summer to the “cupcake” imagery hurled at Durant but eventually co-opted by some Warriors teammates, Blinebury was on hand for it all:
The fans came early and full-throated and got in their digs at every opportunity. They said he was weak and that he was a traitor. They shouted that he was a choker in big games and that he betrayed what they believed was the loyalty they should have earned from him over the previous eight seasons.
Of course, citizens of Oklahoma City never seem to share that compassion for the good folks of Seattle, whose team and star player they did steal away after Durant’s rookie season. But that’s a story for another night
This was a tale of cupcakes that had been baking since Durant made his decision to leave way back on the Fourth of July. That is when former running mate Russell Westbrook responded to the news by tweeting a photo of several plates full of the little delectables.
The background is that when Kendrick Perkins used to play in OKC, he often called anyone that he perceived as being soft “a cupcake.” Durant and Westbrook embraced that label and did carry on the tradition.
So there were hand-drawn signs and cut-out photos of cupcakes in virtually every section of Chesapeake Energy Arena. One young girl made her way through the aisles dressed up as a cupcake with legs.
“Cupcake! Cupcake! Cupcake!” they derisively chanted at Durant all throughout the game.
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No. 2: Mom says ‘whoa,’ steakhouse says ‘no’ — Forty-eight minutes of basketball, even with the cacophonous pregame warm-ups and snarky postgame interviews attached, wasn’t going to be able to contain everything that happened at and around Durant’s return game. Wanda Durant, the All-Star player’s mother, told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com that she didn’t appreciate all the vitriol being heaped on her son by the OKC fans. Then it was Royce Young of the same Web site talking to the proprietor of one of that city’s trendiest restaurants for the story of Golden State’s attempted postgame takeover. First, here’s Mrs. Durant’s take on the evening:
Kevin Durant’s mother said she was deeply hurt by the treatment she and her son received in his return to the city he played his first eight seasons with Saturday night.
“The most vicious things you could say, they said about my son tonight. It’s hurtful,” Wanda Durant told ESPN after the Golden State Warriors 130-114 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“We poured our heart into this place. Not just him. Our family. This is basketball. This is not whether or not you’re going to make it into heaven.”
Wanda Durant sat in the stands behind the Warriors bench for the game. She said several fans approached her and said obscene things about her son, to her.
“They called him a snake, a sellout, a b—-h,” she said. “It’s just a sad day. I understand that they loved him. I do understand it. But the name calling. The people with the cupcakes on their backs … It didn’t have to be like this.”
After the game, she had tears in her eyes after hugging her son outside the Warriors locker room.
“This is not the first time I’ve been back since Kevin left,” she said. “This is maybe my fourth or fifth time. Every time that I’ve been back, people seem like they are afraid to say something nice to me. People will whisper, “There’s his mom. Ooooooh!”
There are people who tell me they still love him. But then you have the people who shot his jersey up. My son poured his heart and soul into this place for eight years and for them to treat him like this because he decided to go someplace else to play is really tough.”
Later it was Dave Osborn of the Mahogany Prime Steakhouse explaining why the restaurant declined the Warriors’ request to book the entire joint for a postgame dinner, with the Thunder players and OKC residents in mind:
Kevin Durant and several members of the Golden State Warriors had dinner at the Oklahoma City restaurant whose manager said he’d turned down a request from Durant’s representatives to rent it out following the team’s win Saturday night over the Thunder.
Russell Westbrook was also dinning at the Popular Oklahoma City restaurant Mahogany Prime Steakhouse on Saturday night, but was seated in a different area. He didn’t interact with Durant.
The restaurant had originally turned down a request to rent out the entire place, according to proprietor Dave Osborn
Osborn, who oversees Mahogany’s downtown location, said Durant’s reps called “three or four weeks ago” to rent out the restaurant for the Warriors organization after the game.
According to Osborn, the haul would have been between $30,000 to $35,000.
“I thought about it but I said, no I can’t do that, because I have Thunder players that come in after games,” Osborn said. “Thunder players come in, fans come in, so I just said, ‘I can’t do that to them.’ It wouldn’t be fair.
Mahogany is one of Westbrook’s favorite postgame spots in Oklahoma City.
“He comes in a lot after home games and he’s got his own room, and it’s always open,” Osborn said. “And I’ve told him that: This room is always open after every single home game.”
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No. 3: Sixers sitting centers — Injuries are the most common reason. Then there is rest, climbing fast on the list of explanations why an NBA player might sit out a given game. Another one of those reared its head for Philadelphia earlier this season when Nerlens Noel was held out just to ease the logjam in the middle with fellow big men Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor. And then there was Saturday, when Okafor got a DNP because he has become the subject of trade talks. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Sixers have had contact with New Orleans, Chicago, Portland and Denver about Okafor, with the Feb. 23 trade deadline fast approaching. Here is some of Stein’s report:
The Pelicans and Sixers have been engaged in serious trade talks centered around Okafor all week, but Philadelphia is believed to be talking to other teams, as well, reportedly including the Trail Blazers and Bulls.
“As the All-Star break gets closer, possible deals have more of a chance,” [coach Brett] Brown said. “Although speculation is rampant all throughout stuff, you learn as the deadline gets closer, the reality that something could happen goes to a higher level.”
Asked if he would continue to sit Okafor while rumors swirl, Brown said, “It’s still fluid but if you see me not play him, that’s probably the reason.”
Okafor, the second-year center out of Duke, is averaging 11.6 points and 4.8 rebounds this season.
Brown said Okafor handled the decision well, but the coach admitted the unique situation is difficult to deal with emotionally.
“You feel conflicted, tremendously conflicted because you’ve spent a lot of time with these guys and they’re very young,” Brown said, according to CSNPhilly.com. “I hope that when they seek guidance, I give them good advice. Trying to coach them and educate them and make them aware that this will always be a part of your NBA life and it’s at many times no reflection of the individual. It’s part of just the normal drumbeat of an NBA season and you’re not going to find many people that stay with one team their whole career.”
Meanwhile, Philadelphia GM Bryan Colangelo explained to reporters that Embiid, who hasn’t played since Jan. 27, has more than just the bone bruise initially diagnosed in his left knee. He also has a tear in small tear in the cartilage in that knee, according to reports:
General manager Bryan Colangelo said Saturday that Joel Embiid has a “very minor meniscal tear” in his left knee, but he noted that it is not the source of the pain that has kept the star rookie out nine straight games.
Speaking to reporters Saturday night before the team’s 119-107 win over the Miami Heat, Colangelo said the MRI taken on Embiid’s knee after a Jan. 20 game against Portland revealed both the small tear and bruise.
“On the MRI that was conducted shortly after the injury vs. Portland, the MRI revealed obviously what we thought it to be: a bone bruise,” Colangelo said.
“There was also the recognition that there was a very minor meniscal tear. But it was not thought to be acute, and it was not thought to be the source of the pain, inflammation or symptoms. That is the case.”
Colangelo said Embiid, a leading candidate for Rookie of the Year, is unlikely to play in the Rising Stars game during the All-Star break next week in New Orleans.
“This is not thought to be a serious injury but a complicated injury,” Colangelo said.
After sitting out his first two seasons with a foot injury, Embiid injured his knee Jan. 20 in a 93-92 home victory over Portland and hasn’t played since Jan. 27, when he had 32 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a nationally televised 123-118 home loss to James Harden and the Houston Rockets.
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No. 4: LeBron makes Williams welcome — It really is only fair, that Cleveland’s LeBron James serve as leader of the Cavaliers’ “welcome wagon” for new guy Derrick Williams. It was James, after all, who spoke out publicly about the team’s need for roster help. And even if Williams isn’t exactly the playmaker James specified in his request/demand, the former No. 2 pick in the Draft still has talent, regardless of the knockaround start he’s had since being picked one spot after Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving and two spots ahead of new teammate Tristan Thompson in 2011. Here’s Dave McMenamin of ESPN on Williams’ reception:
“We hope that this is a long-term thing,” James said of Williams after the Cavs’ 125-109 win over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. “Obviously, we know that he’s on a 10-day contract, but we believe it’s going to be long-term.”
Williams had seven points in 21 minutes against the Nuggets and played the entire second quarter when Cleveland outscored Denver 31-22.
The Cavaliers are the fifth team the six-year veteran has played for since he was selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft.
“He’s been in some difficult situations, first of all, and we hope that this is a place that can help him grow and make that next step,” James continued. “He’s 25 years old. It doesn’t seem like it because we’ve been hearing his name for so long. But he’s 25. He hasn’t even gotten to his potential, to his prime yet, so hopefully this group, this locker room, myself, my leadership [helps him]. Just want to see him grow every day, and it’s a good place for him.”
For Williams, who is averaging 9.5 points on 83.3 percent shooting in his first two games with the Cavs, playing in front of a sell-out crowd at Quicken Loans Arena was a revelation.
“Atmosphere was great, man,” Williams said. “I hadn’t experienced anything like that since I’ve been in the NBA. Just taking it all in. Just trying to help this team win. That’s what I’m here for. Just play with energy, play with effort, play with efficiency and try to get a win. That’s why I’m here.”
Williams has shown some versatility thus far, guarding opposing point guards and even taking the ball up to get the Cavs into their offense. He was part of a plus-sized Cleveland lineup with James, Kyle Korver,
Channing Frye and Richard Jefferson in the second quarter — all measured 6-foot-7 or taller.
While it appears he has already acquitted himself well, there was sizable risk involved to coming to Cleveland on a non-guaranteed deal with a team that has been open about its search for an additional point guard or rim protector.
“I kind of put myself in this predicament,” Williams said. “I asked for the release from the last team, and I put myself in a 10-day. So I’m not worried about anything after that. I just want to take every day at a time and put myself in a position I’ve never been in, and that’s what I want to do, and that’s why I chose to come here.”
Based on the way James has rolled out the welcome mat already, Williams shouldn’t have much to worry about.
“We’re happy to have him,” James said. “It’s not many places you’re going to find a 6-[foot]-8 wing with athleticism like that at 25. So we’re lucky to have him.”
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Some Milwaukee Bucks had fun at former Pacers star Reggie Miller in Indianapolis Saturday.
When you beat the Pacers on Reggie Miller bobblehead night pic.twitter.com/VRK1BSAMEh
— Frank Madden (@fmaddenNBA) February 12, 2017
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Now New York Knicks alum – and current employee – Larry Johnson has angst over the team’s treatment of former teammate Charles Oakley. … Fab Melo, a first-round pick by Boston in 2012, was found dead in his native Brazil and his college coach, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, was rattled by the sad news. … Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic called the team’s 32-point drubbing by Dallas “embarrassing” and said the Magic should be ashamed. So how does he feel about the 16 defeats in the team’s previous 21 games or 36 losses in 56 tries overall this season? … Charlotte coach Steve Clifford doesn’t think All-Star point guard Kemba Walker is logging too much playing time and he has an owner who likely would scoff at the suggestion. … Yes, James Harden scored 40 points to lift Houston to its 40th victory. But can we stop saying he did it “on only 17 shots?” He took a few more shots, obviously, to get to the foul line for 16 free throws.
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RIP to my guy man. Was a great dude and a great teammate!! Way too soon pic.twitter.com/TmDLhDeMCc
— Jared Sullinger Sr. (@Jared_Sully0) February 12, 2017