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Durant’s Game 1 ejection latest evidence of recent heel turn

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OAKLAND, Calif. — He stood over the fallen foe and sneered at him, daring him to get up, all that testosterone and chest sticking out to invite a conflict and send a buzz through the crowd.

But this wasn’t Ali looking down at Sonny Liston and providing a photo op that became legendary. This was Kevin Durant giving the business to Patrick Beverley in the final minutes of a playoff game. For a mouthy Clippers guard and physical defender who lives to irritate, this was nothing unusual for Beverley to be in such a situation.

As for Durant, this is becoming familiar for the Warriors All-Star, and no one is sure whether that’s a good thing.

Durant has never been known for being quick-tempered and easily aggravated throughout much of his career, until recently. As solid as this year has gone for Durant, still established as among the game’s top five players and on track for another championship, it’s been a perplexing one because of his demeanor.

Durant has clashed with referees, had an in-game dust-up with teammate Draymond Green, racked up technical fouls at an unprecedented pace (for him), cursed the media multiple times  for having the audacity to wonder where he’ll play next season and just conducted a game-long trash-talking session with Beverley in which Steve Kerr admitted Durant “took the bait.”

And so this is a reasonable question: What’s eating Kevin Durant?

 

Kevin Durant and Patrick Veverley are ejected from Game 1.

Asked this Sunday on the eve of Game 2, Kerr, a perceptive coach who has an answer or theory for almost everything, took a pass.

Is Durant feeling angst regarding his free agency this summer? If anything, that should be embraced; Durant will be in high demand and will command a maximum contract that will pay upwards of $200 million. He can stay with the Warriors and flanked by All-Stars and play in a new arena in San Francisco, or move to a place — New York, perhaps — he can call his own. Where’s the annoyance in that?

On the surface, Durant seemingly has a charmed life, someone who has it all: Unfathomable riches, good health, maybe a third championship soon, adoring fans, the perks that come with being famous, high respect in the basketball world for his skills and a case for being among the greatest players of all time.

But there’s obviously something we don’t see or understand that’s causing Durant to become moody.

He wasn’t always this way. This was a transformation to a degree. Durant is worshipped at the University of Texas even though he only stayed one season on campus; folks there speak glowingly of his character and especially his generosity by returning and funding athletic programs.

In Seattle, his first NBA stop, Durant was an affable young player who showed maturity beyond his years, a trait that followed him to Oklahoma City after the franchise relocated. When a deadly and destructive tornado caused lives to unravel in central Oklahoma several years ago, Durant was a soothing presence who came with his time and money to help the recovery efforts.

And he teared up at his MVP ceremony in 2014, thanking his mother and also saluting teammate Russell Westbrook, a relationship that became fractured and combative after Durant defected to Golden State.

The first time his personality shift took place publicly came during his exit strategy from OKC to the Warriors during free agency. He was caught off guard by the not-so-favorable reaction, heightened by the presence of social media. Durant’s response was to return fire rather than ignore the noise and clumsily created a burner account to go on the attack.

It was astonishing to see: A celebrated and accomplished athlete with global fame trading shots with Bob from Wisconsin.

 

The Warriors face little Clippers resistance in a resounding Game 1 victory.

This only fed the perception of Durant being hypersensitive and thin-skinned, caring too much about what others think of him.

He took his battles to the media, throwing all reporters (even those who don’t handicap his upcoming free-agent choices) on the firing line, often peppering his scolding with expletives. Other times, Durant became curt and short with his answers during interview sessions, whereas before, he was expansive and thoughtful and engaging and unfailingly friendly.

All that matters is what happens between the lines on the court, and yet: Durant had 15 technical fouls this season, one shy of tying Green for league-high and only because one was rescinded by the league office.

His barking at Beverley wasn’t a crime in and of itself; for the most part, Durant had a smile on his face, has known Beverley for years, and the chatter between them Saturday didn’t appear to cross the line or lead to a physical confrontation. (Beverley never gets into fights, anyway.)

But by getting two technicals with his ejection, Durant can only get four more throughout the playoffs before each subsequent technical results in a one-game suspension. Beverley will likely not have a long postseason; Durant certainly will. Therefore, advantage, Beverley.

Will this prove costly for Durant and the Warriors in, say, late May or June, if and when they’re chasing champagne?

“I’m in control,” Durant said, dismissing that chance.

 

Kevin Durant throws down the monster slam in Game 1.

But at this point, given his pattern of late, nothing is for certain. Kerr discussed the importance of keeping cool in the presence of Beverley and anyone else, for that matter.

“That’s two technicals,” Kerr said. “You get seven technicals, your seventh one is a suspension in the playoffs, whether you play four playoff games or 24, seven is the magic number. So, he’s got four to play with after one game. And that’s what Beverley does.

“We talked about it the last couple days. He’s a hell of a defender who plays hard. We have a lot of respect for him. But you cannot take the bait because that’s a bad trade for us. You just can’t do it. The Clippers have made a lot of good trades this year, and that was maybe their best.”

Yes, because although the victory was already in hand for the Warriors, a seed was planted by Beverley.

Neither Kerr or Durant believe Beverley will get under the skin of the two-time Finals MVP again. The bigger picture lies with the games beyond the first round, assuming the Warriors move forward.

The Durant we see before us today is edgier, saltier, more willing to express himself in ways that aren’t always productive. Durant has gone hardcore, and it certainly makes him more interesting, though to what end?

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 



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Report: Chris Paul wants out of Houston

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The Houston Rockets have major decisions to make this offseason, especially if the latest reports from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports are true. 

According to Goodwill, the dynamic between Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul has become “unsalvageable” after a difficult season in Houston.

The relationship has reportedly reached the point where Paul demanded a trade and Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.

Here’s more from Goodwill on the reported problems in Houston:

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.

Harden hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this offseason, sources said, after a year in which the pair repeatedly got under each other’s skin with petty acts in practices and games.

[…]

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Paul’s injury-related absences and grating personality have annoyed Harden, sources said.

[…]

Harden’s ball-dominant style and unwillingness to give others like Paul space to operate have grated on Paul, leading to the nine-time All-Star issuing his trade demand to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey after the season.

Sources said Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni about the offense bogging down after Harden would ask to come into the game to join the second unit, with Paul heading to the bench.

“It can’t be fixed,” another league source told Yahoo Sports about the Harden-Paul partnership.

If the Rockets do decide to trade Paul, they may have a difficult time finding a trade partner. The 34-year old guard reportedly is due to make $38.5 million, $41.3 million and $44.2 million over the next three seasons, which would be a lot of salary for another team to absorb in a trade. 

Paul — who missed 24 regular season games due to injury — finished the 2018-19 season with averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals.



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Lawyer: Deputy in clash with Ujiri has concussion

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP)  — A deputy suffered a concussion and is on medical leave after an altercation with the president of the Toronto Raptors as he tried to join his team on the court to celebrate their NBA championship, a lawyer said Tuesday.

The 20-year-veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also has a serious jaw injury and is considering filing a lawsuit against Raptors President Masai Ujiri, attorney David Mastagni said.

“The officer is off work, disabled and wants to go back to work,” Mastagni said. The name of the deputy has not been released.

The clash between the deputy and Ujiri happened as the deputy checked court-access credentials after the game Thursday in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.

Authorities say Ujiri tried to walk past the deputy but the deputy stopped him because he didn’t see Ujiri’s on-court credentials.

Ujiri pushed the deputy, who pushed him back before Ujiri “made a second, more significant shove and during that shove his arm struck our deputy in the side of the head,” sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. He said Ujiri also shouted obscenities.

Several bystanders intervened and Ujiri got onto the court without displaying any credentials, Kelly said.

Investigators were questioning witnesses and the office hopes to file a report to prosecutors this week recommending a misdemeanor battery charge against Ujiri, Kelly said.

They are also reviewing footage from body cameras worn by the deputy along with footage from the arena surveillance system and cellphones.

The office does not plan to release the deputy’s body camera footage to the public during the investigation, Kelly said.

Kelly confirmed the officer is on medical leave.

The Raptors said last week the team was cooperating with the investigation and gathering information on its own. It had no further comment Tuesday.

Warriors fan Greg Wiener, who witnessed the altercation, said last week the incident began when the deputy put his hand on Ujiri’s chest and pushed him. Ujiri shoved him back before bystanders intervened, Wiener said.

He also said then that there was no conversation between the deputy and Ujiri. But on Tuesday, he said he remembered the officer shouting, “No one gets on the court without credentials.”

Wiener said he recalled the detail “after thinking about it all weekend.”

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Study: NBA, WNBA earn high grades in diversity hiring

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP)  —  A diversity report shows the NBA still leads men’s professional sports leagues in racial and gender hiring practices.

The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Tuesday indicated almost identical scores from last year. The grade for racial hiring was an A-plus with an unchanged 98.7 score. The grade for gender hiring was a B, but slid slightly to 80.9.

The overall grade was an A at 89.8. That was better than Major League Soccer’s B-plus, the NFL with a B and Major League Baseball with a B-minus. The NHL doesn’t participate in the study.

The only professional league with a higher grade from the past year was the WNBA, with an overall A-plus and 97.6 score.

Richard Lapchick, the TIDES director and lead report author, said the NBA has “always had a leadership position” regarding diversity initiatives. The study’s release comes less than a week after the Cleveland Cavaliers hired California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb from the college level as an assistant coach, making her the seventh woman serving as an assistant coach or player development staffer.

“We always look forward to this report in particular because we know we’re going to see encouraging things,” Lapchick said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The study examined the racial and gender breakdowns in numerous areas, such as players, coaches, trainers, front-office staffers at the team level and positions at the NBA headquarters. It reviewed data from the 2018-19 season.

The report was particularly good for the NBA league office. It earned an A-plus for racial hiring with 37.6% of professional staff positions filled by people of color, the highest percentage recorded in the study. Women made up 39.7% of those positions for a gender grade of B-plus.

Those were both better than scores for the team level, where people of color made up 31.6% of team management positions (still an A-plus) and women filled 30.9% of those positions for a gender grade of a C.

The league also had 10 head coaches of color among the 30 franchises to start the season and earned an A-plus for its initiatives to promote diversity. Lapchick pointed to an emphasis starting under former commissioner David Stern in the 1980s.

“The NBA is the only league that didn’t have to enact a Rooney rule,” said Lapchick, referring to the NFL’s rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a head coach.

“They’ve just been hiring the best candidates and bringing in a diverse pool of candidates since David took over. And then he pushed that to the team level, where they don’t have control but they do have a lot of influence.”

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