Tag:Kevin Durant
Posted on: July 7, 2010 1:43 pm

Durant agrees to five-year extension

In stark contrast to the free-agent diva fest that has taken over the NBA, Kevin Durant -- the league's next big superstar -- quietly committed to the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday with an extension totaling five years and $85 million, a person with knowledge of the agreement confirmed to CBSSports.com.

Durant, whose humble commitment to the small-market Thunder has him toiling at the Orlando Summer League and encouraging his teammates from the bench, agreed to a deal that does not include a player option or early-termination option, the person familiar with it said. It's the strongest sign yet of Durant's belief that he can win a championship in Oklahoma City.

"His stature has been elevated in the eyes of the NBA and the sports world," said the person with knowledge of the agreement, who has close ties to Durant. "He said, 'This is where I want to be. Let's get this done. I don't want any fanfare.' He's not your average superstar, and it's all real, too. It's all real."

Durant, the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft, became eligible for an extension of his rookie contract at 12:01 ET last Thursday. Thunder GM Sam Presti visited Durant in person at the first moment he was permitted by league rules to begin negotiations. Beyond that, Durant's negotiation has been crowded out by all the noise surrounding the free-agent decisions of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Wade and Bosh announced their intentions to sign with the Heat in a national television interview Wednesday, while James will announce his plans in a one-hour TV special Thursday at p 9.m. ET.

The Thunder, entering the uncertainty of a possible lockout after next season or a new collective bargaining agreement that is expected to slash the top salaries in the NBA, could have waited until next summer and saved millions. But owner Clay Bennett, wanting to reciprocate the loyalty Durant has shown Oklahoma City, decided to make the commitment now and offered Durant the most he could offer under the current collective bargaining agreement.

"If you were playing GM 101, you could really wait and save a lot of money," the person familiar with the extension said. "This was a big statement on [Bennett's] part. He said, 'This is what you want, here it is. You've got it.'"

Posted on: April 27, 2010 4:49 pm

Lakers need more than Kobe

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – If you ask Phil Jackson – and we did – nothing has changed for the Lakers as they face a must-win Game 5 Tuesday night against a team that has run them ragged and put the defending champs in a precarious 2-2 tie in their first-round series. 

“Same old basketball team,” Jackson said on the Lakers’ practice court Tuesday. “Same old group of guys.” 

Well, not really. The last guy on the court shooting jumpers, Ron Artest, had notably shaved his head. No more Dennis Rodman lookalike routine. 

“Just a new look,” said the Lakers’ defensive specialist, who along with his teammates needed a change of scenery – among other things – after going oh-for-Oklahoma City. 

The Lakers are facing the same situation – tied 2-2, with Game 5 at home – that was in front of them when they eventually beat the Rockets and Nuggets on their way to the Finals a year ago. But with Kobe Bryant’s sore knee, arthritic finger, and assorted other ailments – not to mention the Thunder’s speed and fast-breaking dominance in the past two games – there’s a sense that the Lakers are in more trouble now than they were in either of those aforementioned series. 

“I think you just have to go with what’s here,” Jackson said, downplaying the notion that anything useful can be drawn from those experiences. “The guys that have been here know that they can do it and they know what it’s like and what it takes. … It’s a veteran team that knows how to play in the playoffs.” 

Not in the past two games, it hasn’t. 

Defensively, the Lakers haven’t been able to slow down Russell Westbrook, who has consistently gotten the Lakers out of sorts with dribble-penetration. Offensively, the Lakers are settling for too many jump shots, failing to take advantage of the prominent size advantage owned by Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Bad, long shots lead to long rebounds, which have only accelerated the Thunder’s fast-breaking tendencies. Oklahoma City owned a 47-9 advantage in fastbreak points in Games 3 and 4. 

Jackson has been preaching better shot selection, more persistent inside play, and better floor balance as the elixirs for slowing Westbrook’s thundering herd. After shootaround Tuesday, he revealed two more factors that he believes will be crucial in keeping this series from slipping away. 

It went like this: I asked Jackson, “You wouldn’t consider any lineup or rotation changes at this point, would you?” And he replied, “Yes, I would.” 

Such as? 

“Try and get Lamar involved,” Jackson said. “He’s got to get involved in the game. If he plays well, we usually play well.” 

Jackson said he’s not contemplating any changes to the starting lineup for Game 5. But he would like to see some changes from Artest besides a haircut. 

Though Artest has done a good job holding Kevin Durant to 38 percent shooting in the series, his own poor shot selection and inability to take advantage of his post-up advantage against Durant on the other end of the floor has been one of many trouble spots for L.A. Though Durant would be no match for Artest in the post, Artest has hoisted 23 attempts from 3-point range in the series, making only three. 

“He does have real post-up skills,” Jackson said. “He’s got to get inside instead of standing on the outside. The post is a real free-for-all situation on our team. He’s gone in there a couple of times and has chosen not to stay in there. The last game we posted him up a couple of times in the second half to start with just to get him back in there.” 

And Kobe? Jackson wouldn’t say whether he expected a more aggressive approach from Bryant in Game 5. That sort of goes without saying after Bryant managed only 12 points on 10 shots in Game 4. But only to a point, if the Lakers know what is good for them. 

There are those who think everything the Lakers do has to be about Bryant all the time. Not in this case; it’s too early in the postseason for Bryant to carry the load by himself. 

There’s no question Bryant will be more aggressive, and will be more of a factor than he was in Game 4. But if the rest of the Lakers stand around and wait for him to take them to Oklahoma City up 3-2, they will be in very real danger of losing this game – and thus, the series. Instead of Kobe shooting all night, what the Lakers need is more assertiveness from Odom, more dominance from Gasol and Bynum, and smarter play from Artest – and yes, that includes backing the rail-thin Durant into the paint and beating him up. Artest needs to recognize that such a strategy would make his job of defending him on the other end infinitely easier. 

If the Lakers don’t do these things Tuesday night, they could be spending a long, miserable summer beating themselves up. 

For what it’s worth, I asked Artest what needed to change for the Lakers to regain control of this series. Take his response with a grain of salt, because one of the beauties of Artest is that he talks first and thinks later. But the words that followed my question shouldn’t exactly inspire confidence for Lakers fans. 

“Play the same way,” he said. 

Which is exactly what the Lakers can’t afford to do.
Posted on: April 25, 2010 1:36 am

Next step for Thunder: Win in L.A.

When the Thunder blew out the Lakers in a meaningless regular season game in March, it was easy to chalk it up to your garden variety Laker boredom and malaise. The indignity of the defending champs losing by 16 points to the youngest team in the NBA, and the team with the lowest effective payroll, surely was an aberration -- something that certainly wouldn't be replicated in the playoffs.

As it turns out, it wasn't. What happened to the Lakers Saturday night at the raucous Ford Center was worse.

Much worse.

A 110-89 loss to the Thunder in Game 4 of their first-round series should send the Lakers back to L.A. with more than a 2-2 series on their hands. It should send them back with some doubts.

Yes, we've seen this from the Lakers before. They toyed around with the Rockets and needed seven games to beat them last postseason -- a team they should've beaten in five. But remember, that wasn't the first round, where L.A. strolled past the Jazz in five games. If you've got designs on playing deep into June and cradling the championship trophy when it's over, you don't want to be pushed to the limit in the first round.

This is also different than the Houston series in that the Lakers were never outmatched by the Rockets; they merely were bored with them and didn't beat them fast enough. After two convincing wins on their home floor, the Thunder are starting to look like a bad matchup for L.A. -- much the way the Hawks were a tough matchup for the Celtics when Boston needed seven games to get past Atlanta in the first round two years ago. The Celtics, of course, went on to win the title.

"We have a team that's playing extremely well right now that we have to deal with," said Kobe Bryant, who was in facilitator mode again and had only 12 points -- his lowest output in a playoff game since the 2004 NBA Finals. "It's not something that we lost swagger. They defended their home court, and now it's our turn."

And that is the question: Are the Thunder good enough and mentally tough enough to take the next step and win a game in Staples Center?

Bryant, who didn't score a point until the second quarter Saturday night, doesn't seem concerned. The Lakers have been here before. The Thunder have not.

"We didn't need this for this team to get our attention," Bryant said. "They have our attention. They just beat us. ... We wanted to win both of these games and be done with it. It's not the reality of the situation. We've got a tough fight and it should be fun."

As nonplused as Bryant was with the developments, Kevin Durant must've been reading from the same playbook. Asked in the sideline interview why he didn't seem overly impressed with the Thunder's handiwork, Durant said, "It's a seven-game series."

It is; a series that the Lakers remain the overwhelming favorites to win.

But as much as we must take into consideration the Lakers' experience, their home-court advantage, and Bryant's ruthlessness, we also have to acknowledge that the Thunder have been ahead of schedule before. They won 23 games a year ago and weren't supposed to blossom into a playoff team until next season. Yet they're here. They won't get to the free-throw line 48 times in Game 5 -- a 20-attempt advantage over the passive Lakers. But some of their advantages -- speed, quickness, and rebounding -- translate to winning on the road. So does Russell Westbrook, who is shooting 55 percent and averaging 21.8 points per game in the first four games of the series with a grand total of six turnovers. Durant is the superstar, but the Lakers' problems begin and end with Westbrook.

Do I think the Thunder can stun the Lakers at Staples and turn this series into a potential knockout blow to the defending champs? No, not really. But they've shown me enough so I won't be surprised if they do.

"We said at the beginning of the series that this wasn't going to be easy," Bryant said. "This is going to be a long series. It's going to be a dogfight."

Already is.


Posted on: April 23, 2010 10:03 am

Durant steps up to Kobe challenge

When I spent a few minutes after shoot-around last month with NBA coach of the year Scott Brooks – hours before his upstart Thunder would blow out the Lakers in Oklahoma City – Brooks showered appropriate helpings of praise on his franchise player, Kevin Durant. One statement, however, had me walking off the Thunder’s practice court scratching my head. 

“He wants the challenge of guarding the best players on the teams that we play,” Brooks was saying that day. “I haven’t given him a lot of opportunities there. But he’s always tapping me on my shoulder: ‘I want this guy, I want that guy.’ He’s as good of a defender we have.” 

As good a defender as we have? The same player whose defense was a well-publicized liability for an Oklahoma City team that won 23 games the year before? 

Easy for Brooks to say, was my reaction. Another matter entirely to put those words into action. 

On Thursday night, with his team facing a 3-0 deficit at home against the defending champs, Brooks put his confidence where his mouth was. He didn’t just give Durant an opportunity; he gave him the opportunity. He put Durant on the ultimate closer, the most feared player in the league with the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter or overtime. And Durant responded, using his length and vastly improved confidence on the defensive end to hold Bryant to 2-for-10 shooting in the fourth quarter of Oklahoma City’s 101-96 victory. 

“He wanted to guard Kobe. I wanted him to guard Kobe,” Brooks said at the interview podium afterward. “It was a group effort on that decision.” 

Typically, defending Bryant in the fourth quarter of a playoff game is a group effort. Brooks, showing the instincts that garnered him coach-of-the-year honors earlier in the day, knew it was Durant’s time. • It was a bold move, one that paid off in a game the Thunder badly needed if they hoped to make this first-round series more than a mere stepping stone in the Lakers’ bid to repeat as champions. 

Did Brooks find a secret weapon, one that will give his team a chance to hold serve at home and put the pressure squarely on the Lakers when the series returns to L.A. for Game 5 on Tuesday? Well, it’s no secret anymore. Bryant, already chafed by the second-fiddle status he’s been assigned by the pundits who inexplicably view the 21-year-old Durant as his equal, will simply view this as another challenge to his alpha male status. 

Bryant’s predictable response to falling short in the fourth against Durant notwithstanding, Brooks deserves all the credit he’s received for molding his superstar into more than a one-dimensional scorer. 

“He has all the physical tools, but he had to get stronger and he did get stronger over the summer,” Brooks said. “But mentally, he just had to make sure that he was ready to take that challenge every night. It’s hard to be a two-way player. We demand a lot out of him and we need a lot out of him on the offensive end, and he’s becoming a better playmaker there. But we need him to be the defender that he has become, and it still has to get better. 

“When you’re that gifted as a player, there’s not a lot of focus on the defensive end as a young player,” Brooks said. “But he’s committed. You can’t have a player on your team who’s not committed on the defensive end if your philosophy is about defense.” 

When Durant’s shots weren’t falling Thursday night, he did what great players do – he found ways to exert his influence in other areas. He had 19 rebounds to go with his 29 points, then took the biggest challenge any defender can accepts in the playoffs. 

“A lot of guys underestimate my strength,” Durant said. “If you watch the games, I get to the free-throw line, I play in the post, I get guys on my hip and back them down. So it’s not like I’m getting pushed around all the time. I go down there and try to get rebounds, so I try to mix it up down low. A lot of people don’t notice that; I guess because from the outside looking in, I’m a skinny guy. I just try my hardest to go down there and play with the big guys.” 

He played with the biggest of them all Thursday night and came out on top. It was only one step for the Next Great Player. How big? We'll find out.
Posted on: March 27, 2010 12:18 am
Edited on: March 27, 2010 12:21 am

Speed kills the Lakers again

OKLAHOMA CITY – With a signature win for a franchise on the rise, the Oklahoma City Thunder forced the defending champs to look into the future and cringe. 

The Lakers won’t know for a couple more weeks who they’ll be facing in the first round when they begin their title defense. If it’s the Thunder, who ran them out of the gym Friday night in a 91-75 rout, things could get a little uncomfortable. 

“It’s disappointing we didn’t respond to the challenge,” said Kobe Bryant, who had 11 points and nine turnovers before sitting the entire fourth quarter with fellow starters Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher. “That being said, when the playoffs start, it’s a different situation.” 

Probably so. But the Lakers were reminded Friday night of a weakness that was exposed in the conference semifinals last spring against the Rockets: Quick teams and quick guards cause them problems. 

A year ago, Ron Artest was playing for the Rockets and Aaron Brooks was forcing Lakers coach Phil Jackson to protect Derek Fisher in that matchup by putting quicker guards Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar on Brooks for long stretches. 

“The death knell was ringing for us last year in the Houston series when Brooks was lighting us up, and we actually had to make a change a little bit in our rotation,” Jackson said. “In fact, Derek helped us out by getting suspended a game, otherwise I would’ve stuck with him. But we started playing a little different, with speed on speed in that situation. Before you know it, Fish is right back in the lineup and contributing the rest of the playoffs, and I anticipate that’s going to be his role.” 

But on Friday night, it was Russell Westbrook playing the role of Aaron Brooks, and Jackson was never able to find an answer for his speed. Westbrook had 23 points and six assists on 10-for-13 shooting with only two turnovers – despite leaving the court briefly in the second quarter with what appeared to be a badly turned ankle that caused him to miss only three minutes. 

“I tried everybody but Sasha [Vujacic] in the backcourt on him,” Jackson said. “We tried to match him and see what we could get done. And he got in a zone there in that lane, and that’s his strength.” 

Kevin Durant, who had 28 points, called Westbrook “one of the toughest players I have ever played with. … He won the game for us. He was incredible.” Oklahoma City snapped a 12-game losing streak against the Lakers -- a streak that dates to the franchise's final days in Seattle.

These are problems the Lakers could very well have to contend with again in a month or so. The Thunder (44-27), currently in the sixth playoff spot, are only 1 1-2 games ahead of eighth-place Portland. San Antonio and Phoenix are in that mix, too. But until now, the Thunder were the biggest unknown – a team the Lakers hadn’t played since November, when L.A. handled them easily. 

This time, Oklahoma City built as much as a 33-point lead against a Lakers team that offered little resistance. What was billed as a marquee matchup of Kobe vs. Durant wound up being a layup drill with D.J. Mbenga getting posterized by Jeff Green and Durant on consecutive trips in the fourth quarter. 

“We know what San Antonio is; we know what they’re going to come out and do,” Jackson said. “We sort of have a dance that we do between us. This team is a young team with a lot energy, somebody we’re not aware of – we haven’t seen them in four months – and those things change up how you play.” 

Pau Gasol took issue with Jackson’s assessment that he played soft, but didn’t have much more to say. He discouraged the traveling analysts from reading too much into this one. 

“You don’t want to search too deeply into it,” Gasol said. “There’s nothing to search for.” 

Nor was Bryant in an inquisitive mood. Asked by a nemesis in the L.A. media if he got caught up in the competitive challenge of playing against Durant, Bryant shot him a puzzled look and said, “That’s a silly question.” 

Earlier, he was asked the same questions he’s asked every time the Lakers serve up a clunker like this: Do you have a feel for your team? Do you know what you have? 

“I will when the playoffs come around,” he said.
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