Tag:Royce Young
Posted on: February 23, 2011 11:38 pm
Edited on: February 23, 2011 11:57 pm

Game Changer: How did the Knicks do with Melo?

Posted by Royce Young


(OK, I admit, that was terrible.)

Madison Square Garden buzzed like it hasn't, well, since the last time we all said it hasn't buzzed since the last insert time period.

But New York was definitely excited. Carmelo Anthony was making his first appearance and with a heavily produced pre-game introduction that had a long welcome video and the players entering through the tunnel instead of off the bench, there certainly was another level of excitement at MSG.

The Melo trade has been almost five months in the making, but these past 24 hours feel sort of rushed. Melo was in Los Angeles yesterday finishing up All-Star Weekend duties before getting word he was dealt. He, along with teammates Chauncey Billups, Renaldo Balkman, Anthony Carter and Shelden Williams, had to rush to New York to get their physicals done as well as their introductory press conference.

And with all that hurrying, the play on the court was certainly affected. The Knicks scored their usual tilt of points beating the Bucks 114-108, but they weren't near as good offensively as their output would suggest.

Melo needed 25 shots to score 27, Amar'e Stoudemire had 19 and Billups added 21. But late in the game, with the Bucks pushing, we saw a small glimpse of how the Knicks have changed. Instead of the usual pick-and-roll butter that they usually go with, they went to Melo isolated on the block.

The first play, it's the Denver Nugget offense. Melo is posting, Billups is feeding him. Stoudemire is floating as a weapon to potentially cut, but Melo gets an isolation and uses his skill to beat Carlos Delfino for a dunk. This is an option the Knicks didn't have before the trade. If this game were last week, the Knicks would've been running pick-and-roll here with Raymond Felton and Stoudemire, with the option to kick to Danilo Gallinari. Now, they could run that pick-and-roll, or go iso on the block to Melo.

The second play, what's interesting is that Stoudemire fouled out on the previous defensive possession. so New York's prior go-to player wasn't there. Again, if this game is in January, the Knicks are kind of screwed. Now, there's really no worries. Billups and Anthony just go right back to the same post up play they used the previous possession and Carmelo beats his man for a crucial bucket.

Of course what makes any isolation play like this work is the spacing. And the Knicks spaced well. They're missing a few shooters, but with Toney Douglas on the floor who had hit a bunch of shots and had 23, the Milwaukee defense had to be aware and couldn't completely sell out to double Melo. Same thing with the option to kick to Billups, a good 3-point shooter.

Throughout the game, I wouldn't say Melo and Amar'e worked all that well together because it was a bit of the your-turn-my-turn thing. Melo wasn't shy hoisting 25 shots to Stoudemire's 13, but it seemed like Amar'e was comfortable in what Melo was doing. Stoudemire is a terrific pick-and-roll play, but Billups isn't really a pick-and-roll point guard -- at least not like Felton was.

So there will be some subtle changes to the Knick offense. Maybe Billups settles in to a bit more pick-and-roll with Stoudemire. Melo, who loves to post, only went to the block a handful of times. He mostly cut, drove and waited for kickouts.

There will certainly be a feeling out period with this team, but with talented players like Stoudemire, Melo and Billups, the Knicks can win in spite of those issues.

Opening night at MSG for Melo was definitely electric and while his 27 points are nice and the team winning is good, I wouldn't say anyone felt electrified by the Knicks performance. But it's just game one for a new team and the thing about talented basketball players is, they tend to adjust and improve. So look out.


Looking at the numbers, the Thunder did just about everything right. They killed the glass (54-37 edge), had 13 offensive rebounds to the Spurs four, held San Antonio to under 45 percent from the field, didn’t turn the ball over (10), made free throws (24-27) and played their butts off. 

But the Spurs tend to beat people in spite of statistics. It's kind of their thing.

Where OKC lost this game was in one specific area. The same area that took the Thunder down the last San Antonio game, hurt OKC again. The Spurs went 13-21 from 3, hitting 8 of 11 in the first half. Without that, the Thunder wins this game, no doubt. The lesson here is, the Spurs can shoot. Don’t leave them open.

Where I really think the Thunder lost this game though was a stretch with about four minutes left. OKC finally got over the hump taking a 98-96 lead behind James Harden’s spark from 3. And the Thunder did what they had to do: They got three straight stops.

The opportunity was there to bridge out to at least a four-point lead with about three minutes left. But OKC never capitalized. If the Thunder gets points somewhere in there, they might have a nice buffer to keep the Spurs away. But remember, the Spurs are good and you can’t ever let them hang around.

That's now 19 straight at home for San Antonio and they improve to 47-10 on the season and 26-2 at home. Yowza.


It was almost surreal watching the Jazz play without Deron Williams. They've done it before with him missing some games due to a wrist injury, but this time he was gone. It was weird.

Utah hung tough with the superior Mavericks for a time, but there clearly was a talent gap as the Jazz just lacked any kind of firepower to hang tight. Earl Watson, who started for Williams, had just seven points and five assists in 37 minutes. Al Jefferson played a pretty terrific game scoring 30 points on only 14 shots, but the Jazz just didn't have a chance.

Getting Devin Harris and Derrick Favors will help, but this team isn't going anywhere right now. They were competitive largely due to having arguably the best point guard in the league and now that that's missing, they're simply average.


Dwight Howard: 32 points and 17 rebounds for Orlando, but his Magic dropped a horrible game to the Tyreke Evans-less Kings, 111-105.

Derrick Rose: 32 points and 10 assists in a loss.

Jose Calderon:
17 assists for the Raptors in a win over the Bulls.

Greg Monroe: The Pistons rookie piled up 27 points and 12 rebounds in a close loss to Indiana.

Chase Budinger: Off the bench, he scored 30 on 9-18 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds for the Rockets in a win over the Cavs.


Joakim Noah made his triumphant return to the Bulls, finally putting them at full strength. So they'd blow past the lowly Raptors, right?

Wrong. Very wrong.

Noah did his part grabbing 16 rebounds, but the Bulls normally stellar defense slipped, the offense failed to execute and in the end, were left on the bad end of a 118-113 loss to Toronto.
Posted on: February 21, 2011 11:35 pm
Edited on: February 22, 2011 9:11 am

Melo Trade: Are the Knicks now contenders?

Posted by Royce Young

It happened.

Carmelo Anthony has been traded to the New York Knicks. Finally.

This trade finally happening is kind of like Chinese Democracy. We knew at some point it was coming but now that it is, it's kind of a letdown. Carmelo was going to be a Knickerbocker, it was just a question of what it would take to get him there.

Despite the New Jersey Nets best efforts, Melo was never going anywhere other than Manhattan. Through all the posturing, all the leveraging, all the nonsense, we finally have the resolution we knew was coming when Ken Berger reported that Melo wanted to be a Knick way back in September.

The cost of getting Melo might be that the Knicks front office has been doused in gasoline and one little spark will blow the whole thing up. The Knicks tried to say they were unified in the plan to acquire the superstar swingman, but by all accounts, James Dolan may have stepped on Donnie Walsh's face in bringing in Isiah Thomas to backdoor the deal. In fact, the deal has Isiah's stamp all over it -- overpaying as a result of knee-jerk reaction.

However, this is a deal the Knicks had to make. Whiffing on Melo simply wasn't an option. Maybe they gave up a bit much, but the Knicks are better today than they were yesterday and that's the whole point.

Whatever the case is, Carmelo will be donning the orange and blue in Madison Square Garden. Here's the framework of the deal, according to Ken Berger:
  • The Wolves will be sending Corey Brewer to the Knicks, while receiving Eddy Curry, Anthony Randolph and $3 million from New York.
The question left begging of course now is, was it worth it for New York to pounce sooner than later? The Knicks have Anthony to go with Amar'e Stoudemire, but with what they had to sacrifice to get the duo, can you really see the additions of Billups and Melo putting New York into the Eastern contender conversation? I mean, a starting five of Billups, Landry Fields, Melo, Stoudemire and (probably) Ronny Turiaf isn't all that bad, is it? Two superstars, a solid veteran point guard, a promising rookie role player and a dirty work center in Turiaf.

But remember: Carmelo Anthony isn't LeBron James. He isn't the kind of player that's automatically going to elevate the player of everyone around him. He's no doubt one of the most gifted scorers in the league and maybe the toughest player to defend in the world. In Mike D'Antoni's system, Anthony will fit better than most think, plus playing alongside Stoudemire gives the Knicks one of the absolute finest inside-out, one-two punches in the league. Still, I can't get on the contender bandwagon. Yet, that is.

We all tooted the same horn when the SuperHeat were formed. Yeah they have LeBron, Wade and Bosh. But if you're going to win, you've got to have the role players. You've got to have the depth. And that's what Pat Riley desperately built in grabbing Mike Miller, Eddie House, Erick Dampier and James Jones. It's a good-enough second unit to supplement the Heat's super trio.

The Knicks on the other hand are dropping four players, two of them young, promising talents in Chandler and Gallinari. Now the depth chart has Shelden Williams seeing big minutes with Toney Douglas, Brewer, Andy Rautins, Balkman and Shawne Williams. Not exactly a championship unit there. I guess on the positive side of things, they finally have that backup point guard they've been looking for. Too bad it's Anthony Carter though.

(An aside: I think Brewer could be an underrated steal for the Knicks. He's a good player that was just never in the right role in Minnesota. He was always pressured to be a scorer rather than playing a specific role tailored to his talents. Now in coming off the bench to spell Anthony and Fields, Brewer can try and assert himself as an athletic defensive stopper, while also finding a bunch of open outside looks in D'Antoni's system.)

I don't think there's any doubt that the Knicks have improved here. At 28-26, they're in the middle of the East. With Anthony and Billups joining Stoudemire, this team is going to battle the Magic for the four-seed the rest of the way. With 28 games remaining, it's not hard to see New York going something like 18-10 and finishing with something like 46 wins, while at the same time being a scary team to play in the postseason.

But a contender? Not yet. That was the issue at hand all along for Walsh. Giving up too much for Melo just didn't make a lot of sense when you were essentially bidding against yourself. The cost might be some tension in the front office, plus a hefty price tag of young talent shipped out to the Rockies.

With a lot of the financial flexibility Walsh fought tooth and nail over the past few years now jeopadized because of the imminent $65 million extension for Melo, how do the Knicks fill out this roster? If the plan is to wait until 2012 to add Deron Williams or Chris Paul, did they really do themselves any favors by making this move now, instead of just remaining patient and making the play for Anthony over the summer?

The Knicks didn't want to take any chances and let their opportunity to land Melo slip through the cracks the way LeBron did. They wanted to pounce now, no matter what the cost was. Yes, they're better. Yes, they're dangerous. I know I'd be nervous if my favorite team were playing them in a seven-game series. Having two top 10 offensive players makes anyone good.

But are they actually a legitimate threat to unseat the Celtics or challenge the Bulls or Heat? Hardly. Just like they were yesterday before this deal was made, they're still a year or two away.

-- For more on our coverage of the Carmelo Anthony trade to New York, check out:

Ken Berger's report on the breaking deal

Matt Moore examines the danger of giving all that power to one player.

Ben Golliver hands out trade grades and winners & losers .
Posted on: February 21, 2011 9:33 pm

Report: Celtics discussing deal to land Battier

Posted by Royce Young

According to ESPN.com, the Celtics and Rockets are discussing a deal to send Shane Battier to Boston. Not only is Battier a productive veteran with applicable tools, but he's got that always attractive expiring contract as well ($7.4 million).

This one seems unlikely and I'm only passing it on because it's out there. And because it also illustrates how hard Boston is working to find another perimeter player. With Marquis Daniels out for at least a few more weeks because of a bruised spinal cord and the unpredictable health of Delonte West, the Celtics are certainly buyers right now.

The problem for the Celtics is though that they don't really have lucrative trade pieces to interest Houston that much. I doubt Semih Erden and Avery Bradley really strike Daryl Morey's fancy all that much. And again, because of the contract situation with Battier, he's all the more attractive. Meaning other teams can call the Rockets and offer something much better than the Celtics.

The Celtics have also reportedly inquired about Cleveland's Anthony Parker, which would be a deal that's a lot more probable than landing a valued piece like Battier.
Posted on: February 21, 2011 12:21 am
Edited on: February 21, 2011 1:14 am

On the scene at the All-Star Game: Kobe's night

Posted by Royce Young

LOS ANGELES -- In Kobe's town, it was Kobe's night.

The legendary Laker piled up 37 points -- five shy of Wilt Chamberlain's all-time NBA record -- en route to his fourth All-Star Game MVP trophy (tied most all-time with Bob Pettit) leading the West to a 148-143 win over the East. On top of the 37, Kobe also pulled in 14 rebounds.

Following the game, Bryant said, "It's probably my last All-Star Game in front of my home fans, so it was special."

The game itself was pretty entertaining. While there was the usual sloppiness with 36 combined turnovers between the two teams, there were big dunks, fancy passes, a great halftime performance from Rihanna and a close finish. Pretty much everything you could ask for.

Some notes, quotes and observations from the Staples Center Sunday night:
  • Holy crap the stars were out. Pretty much every spare second the arena had it was showing someone of fame. One thing of note though: Justin Bieber had front row courtside seats while Jack Nicholson sat in the third row for some reason. The fact he was next to sports reporter Jim Gray was also weird, but the fact Nicholson wasn't in the seats that are named after him, was odd.
  • One other Bieber note and I'm moving on: The PA guy called him "Justin Berber" when telling the crowd he won the celebrity game MVP. I found that hilarious for some reason. Berber ferver!
  • Lenny Kravitz played the All-Star introductions and while we were all checking our watches to make sure it wasn't 1997, it actually was pretty solid. Probably not the perfect choice, but the NBA never whiffs on these type of things like the NFL. There's always at least a solid opening act and a good halftime act. The NBA does this stuff up right.
  • All three hometown players (Blake Griffin, Kobe and Pau Gasol) addressed the crowd before the game tipped. Griffin's speech was, uh, dull. How can you blame him though? After his weekend, he probably needed a nap. He said after the game: "I can barely move right now. I'm pretty tired."
  • All five Eastern starters did LeBron James' powder toss before the game. Nice one, LeBron.
  • My favorite moment of the game was Doc Rivers putting in all four Celtics with his first sub. The crowd totally freaked upon Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo coming in. Slick move by Rivers, who never lacks in showmanship. Rivers on the move: "I thought that was beautiful."
  • Kobe had a couple of really, REALLY nice throwback dunks in this one. Like 2001 hops. He said after the game: "If you want to know the influence of Blake, just look at the dunks I had tonight."
  • Bill Russell was recognized for winning the Medal of Freedom, awarded by the president. And the Laker (and Clipper, I guess) fans were classy, giving the legend a good, long standing ovation.
  • Be honest: You forgot Joe Johnson was an All-Star at least five times Sunday, didn't you?
  • In a new NBA "big head" ad played in the arena, Chris Bosh and KD are next to each other in a pool and Bosh says "Feeling good Kevin?" Total coincidence? Or is the NBA pulling a funny one on us all here?
  • There were two different videos of players "auditioning" for a role in a new Spike Lee movie. Not the funniest thing ever, but one of those things where you grin the entire time and say, "Not bad" after it finishes.
The weekend was done up big for L.A. and I'd say it delivered. Friday night was as fun as it could possibly be with the Rookie game. Saturday's dunk contest was a blast, even if the props kind of water things down. And Sunday's game wasn't a classic by any means, but Kobe owned the game in his town, Blake Griffin dunked, LeBron threw up a triple-double (29-12-10) and Kevin Durant dropped in 34.

All in all, well done L.A.
Posted on: February 20, 2011 10:17 am

Players weigh in on trash talk

Posted by Royce Young

LOS ANGELES -- Sometimes it's in good fun, sometimes it's to try and irk your opponent to gain an edge. Whatever the intent behind it, trash talk is just a part of sports.

Always has been, always will be.

The topic was kind of brought to the forefront earlier in the NBA season when Charlie Villanueva tweeted that Kevin Garnett told him he looked like a cancer patient during a game. Immediately we were all wondering what was fair and what was foul.

Spike Lee, who sits courtside at New York Knick games and can surely hear a good amount of on-court chatter, recently said of Garnett's trash talking tactics, "He needs to calm the (bleep) down." So it's at least a conversation worth having.

I think the whole trash talk thing is overrated," Dirk Nowitzki said. "I think no feelings will get hurt. Once the game's over, everything is forgotten. We want to win, that's how we compete and afterwards, it's done.

In terms of Garnett specifically? "I don't think it's bad. I think it's his style," Dirk said. "I've been competing against him for 13 years now, and that's how he plays. His intensity is [second to] none to any other player in the league. That's his style."

Garnett has kind of become the lightning rod for discussion about it. With Lee's comment, the Villanueva tweet and then the low-blow to Channing Frye, all of this trash talk/dirty play thing has been re-hashed all over again. Garnett has always been this way though. He's always been intense. Always been a talker. It's the way he plays. It's his game. And he's not changing it.

"I go at this a certain way. I always have, always will," Garnett said Friday in Los Angeles. "I don’t make any excuses about that or apologize for anything that I’ve done. I think I carry myself in a well-fashioned manner. I respect the game first off. I respect the players, and I’m definitely not out there trying to hurt anybody. I don’t want to be hurt ... I’m out there playing hard and playing competitive. If it comes off as something else, then that’s your problem.”

Obviously, it's clear what's fair and what's not. Garnett's line about Villanueva and cancer definitely appeared to cross some sort of trash talk line. (Though later of course Garnett said that he was actually calling Villanueva a cancer to his team. Who knows.)

But talking is fun. In most cases, that is. Players don't always do it to try and get in their opponents head. Sometimes it's just because basketball is fun, playing basketball is fun and talking trash is fun. Simple as that. Some take part, some don't.

"I enjoy myself, but I don't talk no trash," Kevin Durant said. "If guys want to talk about the game or whatever, I talk. But I just leave it at that. I don't try and get into it too much."
Posted on: February 19, 2011 11:47 pm
Edited on: February 20, 2011 12:09 am

On the scene at All-Star Saturday night

Posted by Royce Young

LOS ANGELES -- Buzz started building early Saturday afternoon around the Staples Center. Can Team Texas really defend its Shooting Stars title? They did not in fact, as Atlanta took it away. Quite a moment, I can assure.

But as the clock ticked down to the main event, word started pop up that Blake Griffin had big plans. And when a car started driving out onto the court, I guess we knew. Blake Griffin is going to jump a car? Then it got better. Baron Davis popped his head out of the sunroof.

Oh and on top of that, Griffin brought out a gospel choir to sing "I Believe I Can Fly" as he soared. Quite the production.

"It was actually my idea to use the car," Griffin said. "When they first came to me with the dunk contest idea, they said there was no rules. I was like, 'So I can jump over a car?' kind of playing around. He was like, 'Yeah.' And I was like, 'Oh, maybe I have to do it now.'"

With him soaring over an automoble, there had to be some concerns about safety though. Griffin said Clipper coach Vinny Del Negro called him into his office to talk about it, but Griffin said he played dumb, saying Del Negro already knew about the car stunt. But after a dress rehearsal Thursday, everyone was at ease.

The question was though, what if you didn't make the finals Blake? How could you know you'd be there? Griffin tried to coyly say he didn't, but we all knew otherwise. This contest was really over a month ago when the contestants were announced.

McGee on the other hand, busted out his big guns early on. Not having the idea he'd be in the finals, McGee dunked two basketballs on two different goals. It was... awesome. But for his final try to follow up Griffin's car dunk, McGee didn't really have a plan. He said after that he was planning on the free throw line dunk but Serge Ibaka did it before him and he didn't want to recycle it.

"My last dunk, the second dunk I did was actually supposed to me my last dunk, but Serge did a dunk similar to the one I was going to do," McGee said. "So I had to change it around just to get a high score. But definitely [Griffin] came prepared with the car, and nothing's going to beat the car unless I bring a plane out or something."

Some other notes, quotes and observations from All-Star Saturday:
  • The Skills Challenge was of course pretty much as lame as ever, however, Chris Paul did miss his opening layup, which was kind of funny. Stephen Curry won with an impressive 28.1-second run in the finals beating Russell Westbrook who notched a 30-second effort his first try, but finished out with a 44.1-second run.
  • During introductions for the 3-point contest, Ray Allen was cheered wildly, while Paul Pierce was booed loudly. Pierce soaked in the boos, gesturing that he wanted more. Sheryl Miller asked Pierce about it and he said, "I don't understand how they can boo me and not boo Ray." I didn't get it either Paul. 
  • Pierce however won the crowd over, hitting a buzzer-beating moneyball to top Dorell Wright to advance on to the finals of the 3-point contest. As soon as the shot dropped, Staples, well, clapped loudly. I don't want to say erupted, because for the most part the arena stayed comotose, but still, it was louder than most other moments.
  • Daniel Gibson started 0-9 before finally hitting a moneyball on the second rack. He finished the round with just seven points and left three balls on the final rack. You might be able to make the case that it was the worst effort ever in a 3-point contest. As John Hollinger tweeted, for a second, we were all worried he'd miss 26 in a row. 
  • Kevin Durant actually put up a worse score than Gibson, but at least finished. Then again, I guess that means he had a worse percentage. Gibson was 31.8 percent from 3, Durant was just 24 percent.
  • James Jones won the 3-point contest, beating out Ray Allen and Pierce. Here's where you make your joke about the Heat finally beating the Celtics.
  • Honestly, I was a bit disappointed in the crowd's reaction when Blake Griffin was introduced. I guess I just expected more from the hometown crowd. Then again, I think we all keep forgetting that Griffin actually plays for the Clippers, not L.A.'s other team.
  • Daryl Dawkins and DeMar DeRozan named their dunks. "East Bay Funk Remix" and "The Showstopper."
  • Serge Ibaka came out representing NBA Africa. And he pulled off a legit free throw line dunk. He got robbed with just a 45, because to this point, no one has ever done it. Dr. J tried, but had a foot over the line. Same with MJ. Ibaka had a full foot behind the stripe and finished it clean. The crowd didn't react well originally, but upon replay, definitely buzzed.
  • Important lesson learned that we already knew: If you miss your dunk on the first try, it really loses a lot of luster. JaVale McGee's double-dunk was awesome, no doubt, but watching him struggle to get it done was tough. It didn't affect the score because he got a 50, but the thing with these super difficult dunks is that they're hard to finish. High risk, high reward. Well, I guess McGee got the reward anyway, but still, those 90 seconds of awkwardness don't represent his score.
  • Blake Griffin suffered the same fate as McGee and DeRozan, missing on his first try. But actually, it kind of worked the other way for him. People got a taste of what he was doing and most everyone said, "No way!" The entire arena stood, cheering his next attempt. His missed, but nailed it on his third try. No doubt, it was an impressive finish.
  • On McGee's second dunk, he actually tossed in three basketballs. Which was insane. But his mother came out and wooed the judges, giving each a kiss on the cheek. Except for Dr. J who was last. For some reason, they kissed on the mouth. It was weird.
  • Griffin pulled out Vince Carter's "elbow dunk" and after seeing Griffin's arm after the game, I don't know if it was worth. Definitely bruised up pretty good.
  • Before Griffin's car dunk, Kenny Smith was trying to "hype" it, and accidentally blew the punch line. He said "We've seen teddy bears, we've seen cars, now you're going to see something else." Whoops.
The dunk contest is the prime event of All-Star Saturday and despite some awkward moments as players missed dunks, there's no denying it was entertaining. The anticipation was at an all-time high and the creativity of McGee, with the power of Griffin, plus DeRozan and Ibaka's vastly underrated finishes, it was a good night.

You can't dog on players too much for missing dunks. I mean, it can't be easy tossing a ball off a backboard, putting it between your legs and flushing it through a 10 foot goal. No matter how easy they might make it seem.
Posted on: February 19, 2011 9:43 pm

Kevin Durant stays in the dark about himself

Posted by Royce Young

Kevin Durant walks out of the locker room, head held high, and immediately starts shaking hands. His Thunder just destroyed the Sacramento Kings and Durant has completed his post-game interviews. He's the only Thunder player that speaks every night to the media and after 10 solid minutes of questioning, his night finally appears to be over.

But he comes out and starts shaking. He calls each security guard and Thunder employee by name, looks them in the eye and says thank you as they congratulate him on the win.

It's almost like a politician on the campaign trail, except there are no cameras capturing Durant's candid kindness. It's just KD being KD.

As Durant gets ready to play in his second All-Star Game and first as a starter, he's still the unassuming superstar. It’s like Brooklyn Decker looking in a mirror and saying, “What’s the big deal?” Durant’s constantly in the dark, but it’s one of the reasons it’s so easy to like him.

Just two years ago, while sitting on the All-Star bubble in his second season, Durant emphatically declared he was no star. Now, as the reigning scoring champ, the league's current leading scorer and the second leading vote getter in the West behind Kobe Bryant, it's hard to argue with that, but Durant is still trying.

“Nah, I don’t” Durant said with a small grin when I asked him if he feels like a star yet. “When I go to the other arenas and they call my name I kind of listen to the crowd. They don’t roar as much as they do for a Kobe or LeBron or Dwyane Wade or Carmelo. I’m not there. I’m happy with the progress I’m making as a player, I wouldn’t say I’m a star but I’m growing, I can tell you that.”

Durant’s personality gets almost as much pub as his game. Easy to understand why too. I mean, just read that quote again. We’re talking about the league’s leading scorer and someone that brought in more than 1.7 million All-Star votes. And yet he’s still no star in his own mind. Talk about not getting it.

In fact, while I was asking him the question about his own profile, I said, “Let’s face it it though, you’re an awesome basketball player.” Durant stopped me mid-sentence and sincerely said, “Thank you,” as if it was the first time someone had told him that. You see, this is the stuff I’m driving at.

More than just humble quotes   and ah-shucks attitude though, Durant has inadvertently endeared himself to fans with his simple nature. There was the announcement of his extension over the summer with a simple tweet that became the beacon of hope as LeBron James held a one-hour special. There are things like Durant requesting that little-known teammates Nenad Krstic and Thabo Sefolosha join him on a Sports Illustrated cover because Durant doesn’t feel like they get enough attention. And then there are stories like the one I told to start this thing off.   They’re almost endless honestly.

They’re stories, however, that Durant actually gets a bit tired of people (like me) repeating every time they talk or write about him.

“Yeah man, sometimes it gets a little annoying,” he said. “People make too much of a big deal out of it. Because other guys probably have done the same thing. I’m not the first guy to do things like that. But I’m just being myself.”

He’s right: It is a little odd how much appreciation there is for Durant’s humble attitude and “normal guy” routine. I don’t know if it’s because it’s so refreshing and different than what we’ve seen in other high profile stars, but when people speak of Durant, it’s almost always about what a player he is plus about what a great young man he is. And not always in that order.

But don’t think for a second though that Durant’s putting on an act. Don’t think that his team first talk and low-key demeanor are for show or some clever backwards marketing plan. Because he doesn’t want to hear that.

“I think the thing that really upsets me is a lot of people in talking about it too much try to say it was fake,” he said. “That’s something that I think is BS because I’m just being myself. I’m just doing the things I was taught basically. It is what it is. I’ve just got to continue to be me and not let anybody change me.”

So what’s it like being him? Pretty easy, he says. He talks incessantly about the dream he’s living and how he never imagined even being in the NBA, much less an All-Star starter in just his fourth season.  Maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand his own starpower – because he’s waiting for someone to pinch him.

Durant acknowledged that one of the ways he keeps his head straight is by always realizing there’s room to improve and by listening to his critics. Somehow, Durant’s 2010-11 campaign has disappointed some. He sizzled in Turkey, scoring nearly a point a minute for Team USA en route to gold an the tournament’s MVP. Most figured that he’d build on that momentum and last season’s stellar 30.1 point per game effort and roll out something like 32.5 ppg on 50-40-90 percentages and win an MVP. But he’s not. He’s averaging just 28.9 ppg, is shooting only 47 percent and his team is better than last year.

Expectations are a pain and if you had them too high for Durant before the season, that’s your problem, not his. If you’re worrying that he’s already touched his ceiling, chill. Remember, he’s just 22.

And he’s not done working. In the 10 minutes I talked to him, he mentioned working hard three times. It’s the first thing he said on draft night when he was taken second overall. He’s committed to his craft and even after 14-18 performance for 46 points, he says he’s goes to bed thinking about those four missed shots.

“I’m always thinking bigger,” Durant said. “Of course I’m happy with the progress I’m making. Sometimes I get a little too excited at times but then I need to calm down, but I’m always looking to get better and get bigger, so I can never really get too complacent.”

That’s who KD is. He’s an obsessive compulsive basketballer. Nothing is ever good enough for him. If you set expectations for Durant through the roof, I can promise you, he has them higher for himself. Every shot he misses you can tell, he’s just disgusted with himself. That’s why we probably haven’t even seen what Durant can truly offer yet. Because he doesn’t even know. And maybe that’s why he doesn’t give credence to the superstar tag.

While I was talking to him, I couldn’t help but wonder if there’d ever be a point things could change his own opinion of himself. Right now if you ask him who the league’s best scorer is, he’d tell you LeBron or Melo. If you ask him who’s a better scorer, him or Jimmer Fredette, he takes Jimmer. But what would it take for him to finally join in with the rest of the world and acknowledge that he’s awesome?

“I guess I just got to win a championship, I don’t know.” What about an MVP? Maybe 10 straight scoring titles?

“I guess then you could say that, but right now, I haven’t really done too much.”

Yeah, he's right. He's just 22. There's still a lot of time left.

Posted on: February 18, 2011 10:38 pm
Edited on: February 19, 2011 1:46 pm

Video: John Wall bounce pass oop to Blake Griffin

Posted by Royce Young

LOS ANGELES -- For the most part, the Rookie Challenge was what we expected. The worst defense in the history of everything, lots of dunking, some dumb turnovers and mostly, boring.

But this John Wall bounce pass alley-oop to Blake Griffin made it all worth it. Oh my goodness, did it make it all worth it.

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