Durant and Calipari defect: In sports, hey, that's the norm

    Former Memphis coach returns to FedExForum as Kentucky's coach.
    BY GARY PARRISH

    CBSSports.com

    March 24, 2017

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- John Calipari was at The Peabody late Wednesday. On the top floor. Surrounded by about 100 old friends. In the Skyway that overlooks downtown Memphis -- a place where he went 137-14 in his final four years coaching the Tigers while making four consecutive Sweet 16s, three straight Elite Eights and the national title game of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.

    He was a king here once. That’s not an overstatement.

    Calipari, for years, was the most popular person in the city by a wide margin. And anybody who dared question him -- for enrolling a known gang member, for pulling a scholarship from a signed prospect, for barely suspending a player charged with domestic violence -- was labeled a “miserable.” He was the man pointing and essentially saying “fake news” before that other man started pointing and saying “fake news.” And Memphians ate it up. In Cal We Trust, the diehards insisted. Those were fun and weird times.

    But everything changed the moment Calipari changed addresses.

    When he left Memphis for Kentucky on April 1, 2009, while the NCAA was investigating Derrick Rose’s fraudulent standardized test score that ultimately caused the 2008 season to be vacated, UK fans who previously called Calipari a slimy cheater embraced him with open arms while Memphis fans who treated him like a god decided he was the devil. It’s all ridiculous, of course, because Calipari’s not much different in 2017 than he was in 2007. His zip code changed. But he didn’t. And I’ve never understood how hundreds of thousands of people, maybe even millions, can have their view of a human flip so drastically based on where that human works.

    But that’s sports, right?

    In any other world, it makes no sense for Oklahoma City fans to despise Kevin Durant for spending nine great years with the franchise and then deciding, accurately, that he would have a better chance to achieve his dreams with Golden State. But in the sports world, it feels mostly normal.

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    50 Shades of Westbrook

    (Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
    BY BILL SIMMONS
    CEO, The Ringer

    March 9, 2017

    The most exciting play in basketball somehow happens five times a game. It’s always Russell Westbrook grabbing a rebound or an outlet pass, then deciding to dribble 70–80 feet for another defiant layup. Does he care how many opponents might be in his way? Not really. Westbrook pushes the ball quickly, skipping along the court like a gymnast building momentum for a double salto with a twist. Right around midcourt, he throws on Terminator sunglasses and calculates the remaining dangers.

    Three guys left, the one nearest to the rim is tallest … hmmmm … activate warp-speed mode … split the first two … go hard at the third … veer right at the last second, avoiding the rim protector who’s a split-second late … finish hard at the backboard … don’t careen into the camera guys.

    Russ solves everything in 0.034 seconds, only as he does it, he transforms from the Terminator into a Tesla. Whooooooooosh. He always beats the first two guys because they’re backpedaling, and unlike Russ, they’re actually human beings. They never had a chance. But the third guy — he’s always taller and he’s determined to avoid ending up on YouTube or Twitter. He either wants to block the shot or plow into Russ like a strong safety. Russ isn’t making him look bad.

    One problem: Suddenly, Russ is coming right at him. At 75 miles per hour.

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    Westbrook scores 58, yet Thunder loses fourth straight

    Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman
    ESPN Stats & Information

    March 8, 2017

    Russell Westbrook scored a career-high and franchise-record 58 points, but the Thunder still lost to the Trail Blazers 126-121 on Tuesday. Looking at his performance, it's clear he had little help from teammates, who struggled to make shots when he was not involved.

    Westbrook shot 54 percent from the field (21 of 39). His teammates shot even better -- 64 percent -- off his passes. But on shots taken on plays in which he wasn't involved, the Thunder shot 44 percent (14 of 32).

    A look into Westbrook's efficiency:

    - He shot 50 percent (15 of 30) on contested shots. This was his first time in nine games he made at least half of such shots.

    - He shot 50 percent (10 of 20) on pull-up jumpers off the dribble, his first time in seven games he made at least half of such shots.

    - He scored or assisted on 82 of the Thunder's 121 points (68 percent), including 41 of their 54 second-half points (76 percent). The 82 points scored or assisted on, and the 68 percent of the team's total, are season highs for Westbrook.

    - The Thunder was outscored by 12 points with him off the court Tuesday. Thunder has been outscored with him off the court six times in its past eight games and 43 times in 64 games overall this season.

    - He had the second-highest-scoring game in the NBA this season behind Klay Thompson's 60-point game in December against the Pacers. It was Westbrook's third career 50-point game, his second this season. He and James Harden of the Houston Rockets are the only players with multiple 50-point games this season.

    - He tied the SuperSonics/Thunder franchise record for points in a game, matching Fred Brown, who scored 58 in March 1974.

    - The Thunder has lost four consecutive games in which Westbrook has scored 45 or more points. Elias Sports Bureau research shows that the most recent player to lose four games in a row when he scored 45 or more was Nate "Tiny" Archibald with the Kansas City-Omaha Kings in 1972-73.

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    Westbrook deserved a better fate, and Presti delivered with a trade

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb. 23, 2107

    As Thursday’s 2 p.m. NBA trade deadline approached, it would have understandable if OKC Thunder general manager Sam Presti had decided to stand pat and allowed the remainder of the 2016-17 season to simply stay the course.

    With the All-Star Break ending, the Thunder (32-25) held an 8-game lead for the final Western Conference playoff spot, a comfortable cushion ahead of a team that had just traded away its franchise player in DeMarcus Cousins. Just 3½ games out of the No. 4 spot with 25 regular-season games remaining, OKC also was in position to improve its first-round playoff chances considerably.

    So Presti refused to stand pat.

    Presti tried to stand pat five years ago, and with good reason. He simultaneously had three of today’s greatest players on the OKC roster in Kevin Durant (23 years old), Russell Westbrook (also 23) and James Harden (22), plus budding star Serge Ibaka (22). Presti also had an impatient bench warmer named Reggie Jackson (21).

    Fresh off making the 2011-12 NBA Finals, a spry squad that coach Scott Brooks affectionately referred to as “Thunder U” was on the verge of becoming a powerhouse with the potential to win multiple championships.

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    Durant-Westbrook feud adds to NBA All-Star drama

    Photo: Carlos Avila Gonzalez, The Chronicle
    BY ANN KILLIAN
    San Francisco Chronicle

    Feb. 16, 2017

    It’s not often that you get an All-Star Game with actual, real-life drama. Usually these exhibitions are simply back-slapping celebrity photo-ops that happen to include a ball or a puck.

    But we’ve got some actual drama on tap this weekend in New Orleans.

    It comes courtesy of the Warriors and Kevin Durant. They’ve been the biggest story of the NBA season, so why not at the All-Star Game, too?

    Durant and Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook will be reunited as teammates this weekend, both members of the Western Conference All-Star team.

    That might not be such a big deal except that the All-Star Game comes just one week after the emotional, intense night in Oklahoma City. During Durant’s first return to his former home city, the animosity between him and Westbrook seemed very real, bubbling onto the court. His coach and teammates described it as an ugly, difficult night.

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    Durant receives standing ovation at OKC restaurant after game

    J Pat Carter/Getty Images

     

    BY RAMONA SHELBURNE

    ESPN Senior Writer

    Feb. 14, 2017

     

    The Saturday night before Valentine's Day is always one of the biggest nights of the year for an upscale steakhouse like Mahogany Prime Steaks in downtown Oklahoma City. General manager Dave Osborn says couples from all over the state call weeks in advance to book a table.

    But this night in Oklahoma City wasn't about romance. It was about the love lost between a city and its once-favorite son.

    Kevin Durant arrived at Mahogany with a group of eight to 10 friends and family members shortly before midnight. The restaurant was still packed with Oklahoma City Thunder fans and players who had walked over from Chesapeake Energy Arena after Durant's first game back in town as a member of the Golden State Warriors.

    It had been an emotional night for all involved. But now it was time to unwind. So Durant went to his favorite postgame spot as a Thunder player, the restaurant owned by his former business partner, Hal Smith.

    Depending on whose version of events you believe, someone from Durant's camp might have even called a few weeks in advance to inquire about renting the place out after the game, but both the Warriors and Durant's camp disputed those claims. Nothing had been set up in advance.

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    The verdict is in -- Kevin Durant no longer is welcome in OKC

    THUNDER WARRIORS BASKETBALL
    Golden State's Kevin Durant (35) reacts after being called for his fifth foul during an NBA basketball game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Golden State Warriors at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017. Golden State won 130-114. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

     

    BY JOHN ROHDE

    Feb, 12, 2017

     

    Saturday night’s game between the OKC Thunder and Golden State Warriors was a mismatch and you can credit, or blame, Kevin Durant for this.

    With Durant’s free-agent defection on July 4 last year, the Thunder went from being an elite team (one win shy of claiming last year's Western Conference championship) to its current status as a lower-echelon playoff team (currently the conference's No. 7 seed).

    In three meetings this season, Golden State has dismantled OKC by 26 (122-96 at Oracle Arena on Nov. 3), by 21 (121-100 at Oracle on Jan. 18) and by 16 last night with a 130-114 victory at Chesapeake Energy Arena. The season's final mismatch will be March 20 in OKC.

    If Durant’s intent when he left was to humiliate teammates and fans who did everything within their power to support him as a four-time scoring champ and the league's 2013-14 Most Valuable Player, well … congrats. Mission accomplished.

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