• Let the games begin.

    The biggest free agency period since LeBron James rocked the NBA years ago — the Kevin Durant sweepstakes has flown under the radar but now that the Finals are done and the draft is done it’s going to take center stage.

    ESPN reported the first set of teams that would get an audience with Durant and that included the obvious names.  The Spurs and Warriors joined the Thunder as early entrants in that report, and then Woj would come in and clean up the situation by naming the Celtics, Heat and Clippers as potential competitors.  Woj took it a step further and said that the Nuggets, Knicks, Lakers, Rockets and Wizards are “outsiders in the process now.”

    The Nuggets never had a shot and the Knicks lost whatever chance they had (none) by picking up Derrick Rose.  The Rockets don’t get laughed out of the room in this discussion, but it’s close.  Seeing the Lakers on the outside looking in confirms everybody’s belief that mere market size and franchise lore aren’t driving the discussion, and seeing the Wizards’ inclusion there so early sends an early message that going home doesn’t matter.

    Woj writes that Durant and his reps would like to be done with his free agency decision by July 9 and his trip to the Far East.  As the first domino to fall it will be interesting to see how much a delayed decision gums up the market.

    If we’re to take the report at face value he’s going to pick with “a singular focus,” which would be the chance to win titles immediately.

    Are we to believe that this is merely a basketball decision?  That his time with the Thunder doesn’t factor in on a different, non-basketball level?

    Most believe (as I do) that he’s going to stay in Oklahoma City and part of that is the basketball equation, especially after they fleeced the Magic to acquire Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova in exchange for declining Serge Ibaka.  In fact, it’s not hard to see them beating the Warriors a few weeks ago if they had this configuration of players in the fold, essentially omitting Sabonis from the equation.

    But that’s speculation that I’m not even willing to bet significantly on and after the Cavs shocked the Warriors, each of these top-tier teams can make a solid basketball case if Durant is merely using that as criteria.

    The Spurs boast Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Gregg Popovich and the NBA’s model organization.  The Warriors are going to be back hungrier than ever and they stand a great chance of improving this offseason, especially if they move on from Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli in exchange for any number of free agents that would love to go there.

    And then the Thunder, including the most electric player in the NBA in Russell Westbrook, and their Dothraki Warrior and Big Turkey combo at center.  They will probably pass on Dion Waiters but they have Cameron Payne in the fold to play behind Oladipo.  They have Andre Roberson to develop and then they have Ilyasova and Sabonis to give minutes where the key bigs and Durant can’t.

    Whether Ibaka’s decline occurred because of knee issues or not — it wasn’t a deployment issue and he just looked like a guy that lost his fastball.  So the team that pushed the Warriors right up to the point of breaking is going to get better.

    It’s hard to believe that non-basketball decisions are going to be completely off the table here.  Staying with one team, including all the good and bad that goes into one’s time with an organization, and whatever marketing value that has to him are obvious elements for him to sort out.  Does how he gets deployed matter at all?  In other words, is he alright with taking on a decreased role or simply a different role that he doesn’t like quite as much in order to improve his odds at a championship?

    Or what about the estimated $50 million gross loss he’ll take over a five-year span with another team that includes one more year with the Thunder and four after he changes his home court.  Or the estimated $25 million loss he’d take over a four-year span with another team if he leaves this summer.  And the kicker in that scenario is that the new team has to be able to absorb him into existing cap space, whereas the Thunder can use his bird rights to help build a better team.

    Durant will be able to function in any of these environments and all three of the remaining teams in the chase are good ones.  The Celtics, Heat and Clippers each add a unique pitch to the equation, too.  The Celtics boasts a dynamic perimeter lineup and if they can land Al Horford they pass the laugh test.  The Clippers seem more likely to trade Blake Griffin in an attempt to woo Durant with the proceeds from that trade rather than create some sort of super-team, but they also pass the laugh test.  And Pat Riley can do Pat Riley things so they round out an interesting second tier of teams.

    But back to what is the salient issue — the issue of whether or not this is truly a decision about the odds of winning a championship.  The more that talk appears to be real, the more credibility we all have to give to the idea that he could leave the Thunder in a few weeks.  It’s a proposition that most of us in the media have punted on.  Most of us believe that there’s a great basketball case to be made in OKC and there are compelling non-basketball reasons that tilt the scales toward the Thunder.

    But if we’re truly talking titles only, then we have to start playing mental war games between a trio of superstar-laden teams, a strong second tier of squads.

    In the end the Thunder’s chances simply have to decrease. If anything because we’ve all more or less penciled him into the Thunder’s starting rotation next season.

    Whatever the case may be, Thunder fans better hope the issues his camp is claiming don’t matter actually do matter.  They put Oklahoma City over the top.  But set them aside and the games are only getting started.

Fantasy News

  • Jeff Hornacek - Team - Sacramento Kings

    Sam Amick of the Athletic is reporting that former Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek had an interview with the Kings for the lead assistant coach job.

    Sacramento has already hired Luke Walton to be their new coach but the news about the sexual assault allegations he faces might put his status in danger. Walton should be able to assemble his coaching staff once he is out of the woods but we should know more once the NBA concludes with their investigation of the matter.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Luke Walton - Team - Sacramento Kings

    Sam Amico of the Athletic is reporting that Luke Walton still has the Kings' support, despite the sexual assault allegations the newly-hired coach is facing.

    The Kings are working with the NBA to investigate allegations made against Walton by his former colleague at Time Warner Cable, Kelli Tennant. The report adds that the two sides are moving forward with their working relationship and there doesn't appear to be any momentum toward firing Walton, who was hired earlier this month just three days after he parted ways with the Lakers. The Kings confirmed that they were not aware of the accusations until TMZ reported the news and that they will wait for the facts before making a decision on Walton's future. The investigation has been delayed because all parties haven't been able to access Tennant's lawsuit so more information should merge soon.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Jaren Jackson Jr. - F/C - Memphis Grizzlies

    Jaren Jackson Jr. said that he wants to improve his "motor", his ball-handling skills and his shooting mechanics entering year two and he hopes to work with Kevin Garnett over the coming months.

    Jackson and Garnett spent time together last summer and again in February when Garnett visited Memphis to feature Jackson’s game for his segment on TNT. "He has a work ethic that is a throwback that I'm very appreciative of," Garnett said in the segment. "I love working with him. He is the future. I look forward to him becoming the leader of Memphis." The rookie had an impressive season before getting shut down due to a bruised thigh, averaging 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.4 blocks, 0.9 steals and 0.9 triples per contest. He has tremendous upside and owners in dynasty leagues should feel great about him.

    Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal

  • Ivan Rabb - F - Memphis Grizzlies

    Ivan Rabb plans to spend much of his offseason in the weight room as he tries to bulk up and show that he has NBA-level defense to pair with his expanding offensive game.

    For all the charm of Rabb's smooth offensive repertoire, he knows his defense needs to improve. It was especially evident in an April 3 loss at Portland when Enes Kanter torched Rabb and the Grizzlies in the post for 21 points and 15 rebounds. Rabb posted almost identical statistics this season to those he posted in 36 games as a rookie, but the second-year post player knocked down 37 percent of his 3-pointers in the G League, showing a comfort level from beyond the arc previously missing from his game. Rabb's deal is non-guaranteed, so the Grizzlies could move on from him if they want but he is only 22 years old and has shown enough potential to likely warrant another season at the relatively low price tag of $1.6 million. Keep him in your radar as he might have an important role next season in what might be a rebuilding year for the Grizzlies.

    Source: Memphis Commercial Appeal

  • Clint Capela - C - Houston Rockets

    The Rockets hope that Clint Capela has benefited from two more days of treatment for the virus that has sapped his energy through much of their first-round matchup against the Jazz.

    Since opening the series with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting, Capela has averaged just 7.3 points on 47.4 percent over the past three games. He was 1-of-6 with seven rebounds on Monday while the Rockets got outscored by 20 points when he was on the floor. "He's trying to battle through it," Mike D'Antoni said. "I think he's been great because he's been able to play. Each day that passes, the virus passes and he'll feel better. Hopefully next game, he's back to almost 100 percent.” The Rockets will try to close out the series on Wednesday night in Houston and they are going to need their starting center to show some signs of life.

    Source: Houston Chronicle

  • Jason Kidd - Team - Los Angeles Lakers

    Bill Plaschke of the LA Times is reporting that the Lakers interviewed Jason Kidd only as a favor to his agent, Jeff Schwartz, who is also the agent for Lakers forward Brandon Ingram.

    Kidd doesn’t really seem to have a chance at the gig and the fact that he lobbied for the job even while Luke Walton held it is a tremendously bad look for the former All-Star guard. Jeannie Buss looks like she has no plans, at least not yet, to support current GM Rob Pelinka with bright, young personnel as he instead is being assisted in this coaching search by Kurt Rambis. The Lakers continue to target Monty Williams, Ty Lue and Juwan Howard and the list doesn’t seem likely to expand.

    Source: LA Times

  • Enes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers

    Enes Kanter suffered a separated left shoulder in the first quarter of Game 5 on Tuesday night, but he received an injection at halftime and gutted his way through despite clearly being pain at times.

    “I just tried to play through it," Kanter said afterward. "We'll see what happens in the future." The Blazers will have at least through Saturday off as they await the winner of the Nuggets-Spurs series. Kanter’s teammates and coaches were impressed with his ability to play with pain but this looks like a serious injury and it remains to be seen if the Turkish big will be forced to miss any time.

    Source: ESPN

  • Damian Lillard - G - Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard put up an instant classic performance featuring a game-winning deep three, 10 total triples and a 50-spot in Tuesday's 118-115 closeout win over the Thunder in Portland.

    Lillard started off Game 5 with 34 first-half points while playing all 24 minutes. He finished with seven boards, six dimes, three steals and a block while shooting 17-for-33 from the field and 6-for-8 from the line. Despite a big second-half Thunder run, Lillard kept it going all the way until the buzzer as his shot from near the logo fell, giving him an even 50 and a series win as he waved goodbye to the Thunder.

  • CJ McCollum - G - Trail Blazers

    CJ McCollum put up 17 points (8-of-19 FGs), two rebounds, two assists, one triple and two blocks in 32 minutes in Tuesday's closeout win over the Thunder.

    McCollum sat a little more than usual in the first half after getting his third foul early, though he also ended with three fouls in another example of why coaches should just leave players in until they get their fourth or fifth. McCollum had been on fire in this series, averaging over 26 points per game coming into tonight's game. He and the Blazers now wait to see if they'll get the Nuggets or the Spurs in the next round.

  • Enes Kanter - C - Trail Blazers

    Enes Kanter toughed out a 13-point, 13-rebound double-double over 32 minutes in Tuesday's Game 5 victory over the Thunder.

    Kanter also had four assists and a block while shooting 6-for-9 from the floor tonight. He got pretty banged up in the first half, injuring his shoulder which was heavily wrapped after the game. Kanter averaged over 13 points and 10 rebounds in under 30 minutes for the series and he looks like one of the best mid-season signings in the league at this point.