What the situations in Boston and Phoenix did was turn the Brooklyn Nets’ Media Day into a complete afterthought. That was supposed to be the biggest story line coming into this season.
Kevin Durant was going to explain his trade demand. Ben Simmons was going to address his mental and physical health. Kyrie Irving was going to explain his disposition after he opted into the final year of his contract after the Nets refused to offer an extension.
But with Robert Sarver getting suspended and fined and then eventually deciding to sell the Suns and then coach Ime Udoka’s banishment from the Celtics, the Nets were overshadowed.
Those three Nets opened up to the media last Monday, discussing what was a tumultuous offseason. Durant asked to be traded and then mandated the firing of general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash. He later agreed to return to the team. Simmons was supposed to play in the playoffs against the Celtics but was a scratch in Game 4 and then underwent back surgery. The Nets made it clear they were lukewarm on Irving returning after he sat out games because of his vaccination refusal. He forced their hand by opting into the final year.
Durant explained his previous desire to leave the team.
“It was a lot of uncertainty with our team last year. I’m getting older and I want to be in a place that’s stable and trying to build a championship culture.,” said Durant, who turned 34 Thursday. “In my mind, I did like what we did, what Sean put together with the team this summer. They understood where I was coming from. We had plenty of conversations. They know how much I care about the game of basketball and how much I want to win. People understand what I bring to the court.”
Durant demanded a trade but said he’s never walked into a coach’s or GM’s office to demand a roster move or call for a lineup change. He said he’s remained professional throughout the process but didn’t like how the team didn’t fight on the floor when he was injured last season. The Nets were 36-19 with Durant last season and 8-19 without him.
“A lot of people got in their mind that I control everything with the Nets,” he said. “I only control my job and my job is to be a player. I know I’m that good that you’re just not going to give me away. I decided to continue our agreement and stay here.”
Simmons said he couldn’t be concerned with the issues of Durant and Irving. He focused on playing for the first time since June 2021.
“It was a lot going on but the first thing I have got to focus on is my health, getting back on the court, that was priority,” he said. “But besides that I worry about what I can control. I’m glad I got it done, it was really needed. I don’t think people realize where I was at.”
Simmons said he woke up the morning of Game 4 and fell to the floor in pain. Back issues prevented him from even walking. He then opted for surgery.
“I’ve been working on myself this past year to get back and play at a high level,” he said. “I’m going to go out there and play and let everybody else talk. I feel everybody has dark days but when you’re able to address it and get to a place where you need to be, that’s where I am. I don’t care about narratives. I don’t care about people saying certain things.”
Irving will be playing for his career this season. His stock is at an all-time low. If he opted out of his deal, there was no way he would recoup the $36 million in a new contract. Many NBA teams consider Irving a headache, a gifted player who devises ways not to play. Last season, it was the vaccine. Two seasons ago, he took a two-week sabbatical after the Jan. 6 attacks. He has to prove available and reliable.
“It was a lot on my shoulder, knowing we got swept the way we did, it was one of the only times in my career I felt embarrassed leaving the court,” Irving said. “There was something more to strive for coming into this season. I knew I wasn’t willing to give up on something I hadn’t seen all the way through. I’m not perfect in terms of the way I handle relationships in this building, but I definitely used this summer to maximize on getting to know the people around me.”
Russell Westbrook trying to make it work with Lakers
It was unmistakably awkward for Russell Westbrook to show up to Lakers Media Day in uniform and say all the right things about this coming season. Westbrook is coming off one of the worst years of his career and appeared destined for an offseason trade.
What’s more, the Lakers have tried moving Westbrook and the final $47 million of his contract, but teams are more intrigued by two first-round picks and Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka has been unwilling to relinquish that draft capital.
Pelinka then added former Celtic Dennis Schröder to what is now a crowded backcourt, putting Westbrook’s place in the starting lineup in question. Schröder is a ball-dominant point guard who feels more comfortable starting, just as Westbrook does. So the two will have to fight it out in training camp.
What will happen to Westbrook? It’s uncertain. But he’s no longer considered a maximum-salary player and is playing this year to prove he’s worthy of another major contract.
Westbrook also broke ties with agent Thad Foucher after Westbrook wanted to accept a Lakers buyout and try free agency; Foucher suggested Westbrook return to the Lakers.
He’s still there, regardless of where management and Lakers faithful would prefer he’d play.
“The details of what happened to me don’t really matter,” Westbrook said. “I think the most important part is being healthy, looking forward to the season, and looking forward to great things. Basketball-wise, I’ll continue to do what’s best for the team, what’s asked of me.”
Westbrook said all the right things. He promises to be a team player, trying to mesh with LeBron James and Anthony Davis after last year’s disaster. Westbrook was the lone one of the trio to finish the season and has been remarkably durable throughout his career. At age 33, that may be his best asset.
“We’ve been able to talk and understand the things we want to do and how we want to do them,” Westbrook said.
When asked about the Lakers shopping him this summer and then signing his potential replacement, Westbrook was remarkably positive.
“Whether they want me here or not doesn’t really matter,” he said. “My job is to be a professional, show up to work like I’ve always done. We have jobs and sometimes people don’t want us there and, as a working man, I have to do my job and do it the best I know how.”
It is believed James signed off on Westbrook being traded. But with no deal consummated, they’ll have to make the combination work.
“Look forward to being on the part of the journey with him this year,” James said. “And it’s going to be a great year for him and we’re going to be right here with him.”
Westbrook said a series of offseason meetings with new coach Darvin Ham has made his return easier. The question is whether Westbrook will be a primary part of the Lakers’ arsenal or are his best days gone?
Stephen Curry takes the lead
The Golden State Warriors were the first team to tipoff this preseason Friday against the Washington Wizards in Japan. The defending champions are expected to get a major challenge in the Western Conference from the Clippers, Grizzlies, and Suns.
The Suns are entering this season without the presence of owner Robert Sarver, who has agreed to sell the team after being suspended for one season and fined $10 million for sexist, misogynistic, and racist actions and statements over an 18-year period.
The suspension was not met with praise from many NBA players, including Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who believed Sarver should have been forced to sell the team. Selling was Sarver’s choice.
“I think the outcome was exactly what should have happened,” Curry said. “I had conversations with Adam Silver directly and kind of got his point of view of what decisions and, I guess, mechanisms he had to intervene and bring down a punishment that was worthy of the actions that we were all responding to and representing the league as a whole and protecting the integrity of the league and the standard that we set terms of from execs, ownership, all the way down to players. There should be a standard around what’s tolerable and what’s not.”
LeBron James, Chris Paul, and the NBA Players Association each released statements admonishing Silver for the perceived light penalty against Sarver. It was one of the first major brushbacks Silver has received from the players in his eight years as commissioner.
“The outcome was exactly what it should have been,” Curry said. “Honestly, I thought with the punishment that was handed down, it would have dragged out a little longer; but I’m glad we got to a point where hopefully the team is up for sale sooner than later and can kind of move on knowing that’s where it should be.
“So for LeBron, CP, Draymond [Green], everybody using their platforms to speak on it, even Adam picking up the phone and answering calls from the top players who have vested interests in protecting the league as well, all that stuff matters, and you want to have swift responses and reactions to stuff like that.”
The Warriors want to prepare their team for another Finals run, meaning there could be plenty of rest for Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green during the regular season. There are reinforcements with the return of former No. 2 pick James Wiseman, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jordan Poole. The club has enough young talent to win games even with Curry and Thompson on the sideline.
“That championship glow is real; Obviously you enjoy the offseason and know all the work you’ve put in over the course of your career and especially the last three years,” Curry said. “To get back there was meaningful, and you embrace it and appreciate it. Appreciate the vibe you’ve built with the new-look team built on the core, the guys that have been around the block.”
At age 34, Curry enters this season an MVP candidate. He is coming off one of the better seasons of his career and has increased his strength as he has aged.
“My 14th year. I feel fresh and prime, ready to go. I feel like in my head still getting better,” he said. “Trying to feed off that. Understand it’s a long journey and we are doing some defensive strategy and stuff like that yesterday, and it kind of felt for a second we were still preparing for the Celtics and the Finals series because it didn’t feel like that long ago.
“We are on hopefully another nine-month journey starting yesterday. And it’s exciting. You’re blessed to play this game at the highest level and understand that we still have an opportunity to win a couple more championships.”
There continues to be disbelief that Curry, Thompson, and Green play at a championship level as they approach their mid-30s. Eventually they have to decline, right?
“It’d be dumb to try to naysay us and actually think people are going to take you seriously,” Curry said. “But we also know a lot goes in to winning a championship and it’s not a guarantee every year, no matter how much of a chip on our shoulder we have. You just kind of embrace the work and the motivation.
“For me, it’s the genius question about where you are in your career and really reestablishing what is it to be in your prime and maintaining that level of play for as long as you can. And as leaders of the team, we have to encourage that as much as possible and find chemistry with the new additions that we have and guys who are going to be more — have a more significant role in our rotation from jump.”
Curry, like many of his NBA brethren, felt the league’s retiring of No. 6 was long overdue. Bill Russell was not approached about a number retirement while alive.
“This is special, knowing what Bill Russell meant to the league in a very pivotal time in society and the early days of what the NBA meant in the country and the things he did on and off the court, rose above,” Curry said.
“This is a very special symbol of how far we’ve come, but also to keep his spirit alive in terms of doing the work that he made his life’s work.”
There is a concern that Lonzo Ball may not play this season for the Bulls after undergoing another knee surgery after he said he experienced pain even walking up stairs. The Bulls gave Ball an $85 million deal to be their starting point guard but he was limited to 35 games last season. Ball had season-ending surgery in January and was expected to return healthy, but the knee is continuing to cause discomfort. The Bulls won’t bring Ball back until he is completely healthy, robbing them of a skilled guard entering his prime . . . With the Celtics signing Blake Griffin to a one-year deal, it takes one of the more intriguing veterans off the market. Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Isaiah Thomas remain available. Teams are likely to see how training camp invites fare before seeking out veterans . . . The Suns and Jae Crowder have agreed that he will remain away from the team until they move the final year of his contract at $10 million. Crowder was a staple for the Suns’ run to the NBA Finals in 2021 but lost minutes last season to Cameron Johnson after a poor shooting start. Crowder shot 39.9 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from the 3-point line last season. There could be several interested suitors but again, teams will likely wait for their training camp rosters to shake out before asking about Crowder. As a proven defender with an ability to hit the 3-pointer, Crowder does have value. But the Suns are likely going to have to take back a bad or unwanted contract (or multiple contracts) to facilitate a trade.The Celtics have been mentioned as an interested team but they likely would need to include the contract of Danilo Gallinari and he can’t be traded until Dec. 15 because he just signed with Boston. The Celtics do not have a trade exception large enough to absorb Crowder’s salary. The best-case scenario for the Celtics is for Crowder to be waived and for him to sign a free agent minimum deal.