Prince Fielder Might Be Done

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Prince Fielder underwent neck surgery on July 29 for the second time since 2014.  According to Ken Rosenthal, the 32-year-old slugger isn’t technically retiring.  Instead, Rosenthal reported, “He is medically disabled and doctors will not clear him to play.”

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That’s an important distinction in the semantic/contractual world.  It means Fielder will receive the $96 million remaining on his contract, which runs through 2020.  The Detroit Tigers are on the hook for $6 million per year.  The Rangers, meanwhile, have an insurance policy that will pay 50 percent of their $18 million annual commitment, per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News.

The real number that is staggering in the story of Prince Fielder is 319.  That’s the total number of homeruns in his 12 year career.  It’s also the EXACT same number his father, Cecil, hit in 13 MLB campaigns.  Read that again….both Cecil and Prince Fielder hit 319 homeruns a piece.  What!?!?!

To say that’s a numerical anomaly would be an incredible understatement of Seinfeldian dry sarcasm.  How does that happen?!?!?  The number 319 is the baseball cosmic equivalent of deja’ vu or kismet when it comes to the Fielder family.  If this is indeed Prince’s last hooray, what a weird stat-nerd way to go out.  Baseball is all about numbers and statistical analysis, and this one can’t be explained by any earthly science, it;s truly baseball gods at work.

The Bennett Brothers Destroy The Rest Of The NFL

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Brothers, professionals, teammates and hosts of the NFL’s version of the Haters’ Ball, Michael and Martellus Bennett have been profiled by ESPN’s Mina Kimes……and it’s hilarious.

The brothers Bennett let loose on several former teammates and whoever the hell else they felt like talking about in the league they call home:

How do the brothers feel about Jay Cutler?

“Worst quarterback in the NFL,” [Michael] says.

“I’d be open and he’d throw into double coverage,” says Martellus, who spent the past three seasons as Cutler’s teammate in Chicago.

How about Roger Goodell?

Michael: “A—hole. Nah, I’m just joking — you can’t say that. Overpaid.”

Sam Bradford?

(Both smirk like a cheshire cat.)

Michael: “The greatest quarterback in the NFL.”

Martellus: “Vicious. Competitive.”

Michael: “A real Joe Montana.”

Do Eli Manning next!

Martellus: “Eli? He’s cool. He’s like a normal white guy you see at the park trying to teach his kids how to play soccer and you know he can’t really play soccer himself.”

But what about J.J. Watt?:

Michael: “Dominant player.”

Martellus: “Corny. Half of the NFL is corny, though.”

Michael: “People love J.J. Watt, but they don’t really like J.J. Watt, know what I’m saying?”

The rest of the interview is well worth reading, make sure you check the rest out as the brothers discuss race, money and behind-the-scenes in the NFL.

 

Somebody Needs To Help Gilbert Arenas Find A Better Hobby

Remember Gilbert Arenas?  Agent Zero?

WAHINGTON - DECEMBER 15: Gilbert Arenas #0 of the Washington Wizards questions a call with the ref as they host the Miami Heat during NBA action on December 15, 2004 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Between 2004 and 2007, Agent Zero was a an All-NBA selection and an All-Star all three seasons.  He averaged 27.7 ppg, 5.4 apg and 1.8 spg during that three year span, he also signed a contract for $111 million which now has been deemed as one of the worst all-time deals EVER in the NBA.  He was waived by Orlando in 2012, but somehow was still making $20 million a year through 2014…….READ THAT AGAIN.  Can anyone say, Bobby Bonilla?????

To say Gilbert was a polarizing character on and off the floor would be an understatement of AL Pacino-overacting proportions.

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So what’s Arenas up to now you may ask?


originally posted on deadspin.com

Gilbert Arenas Goes To Nick Young’s House And Acts Like An Asshole

Former NBA player Gilbert Arenas, who at this point will do anything for attention, showed up at Lakers guard Nick Young’s house last night and documented his visit on Snapchat.

“Why you cheating on Iggy all the time?” Arenas asked Young. (Young and Iggy Azalea recently split after she discovered that he was cheating on her.) “Where the bitches at?”

Another snippet showed the former Washington Wizards teammates sitting on a couch. “I heard you got a problem with your baby moms, man,” Arenas said. “You know I’m the new O.J. I’ll take care of her for the low, low price.”

Arenas was also mean to Young’s son. He tossed the kid’s toys around and laughed when the kid started crying.

It must really suck to be friends with Gilbert Arenas.

The NBA Woke Up Today With A SERIOUS Hangover

While most of us were swilling BUD HEAVY and eating grilled animal flesh of some sort over the holiday weekend, the NBA was all a flutter with player movement and drama that only a single and ready -to-mingle Kardashian could keep up with.

NBA teams shotgun-chugged multi-year contracts like a freshman pledge class at “Delta Tau Chi” during a toga party.  “Was it over when Durant announced he’s destroying OKC’s chances of ever winning a championship?  HELL NO…..and it ain’t over now.”     

Durant made the announcement official early Monday morning, the Golden State Warriors had just walked away with the prettiest girl at the NBA Free Agency’s version of The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.   Kevin Durant did what most thought had very little chance of happening, leave OKC for greener pastures out west and thus crushing the Thunder’s hopes of EVER winning an NBA championship. With Durant gone, you can set your watch to the fact that Russell Westbrook is sure to follow somewhere new.

The possible landing spots for Westbrook are as endless as The Game Of Thrones non-talking scenes between C-level characters  (seriously, the show will go for 20+ years and we’ll never really know what’s going on).  Westbrook is a free agent after next season, ergo: (fancy words)….if OKC wants anything for him, they need to trade him as soon as possible, the barometer points towards Russell leaving at the end of next season anyway, thus leaving OKC high and dry like a pot-head drinking good chardonnay.

I HATE RIMS!

I HATE RIMS!

Possible landing spots for Westbrook:

  • Los Angeles Lakers:PG: Russell Westbrook SG: Jordan Clarkson SF: Luol Deng PF: Julius Randle C: Timofey Mozgov  —  I mean, Westbrook’s an LA guy but this team would AT BEST creep around the 5-6th playoff spot in the west right?  Brandon Ingram and D’Angelo (his nickname should be “Can You Hear Me Now?”) Russell off the bench?  Westbrook could average a triple-double, but the west is still as tough a conference as we’ve ever seen.  And if we’re talking about a trade, I seriously doubt OKC would pull the trigger just to basically make a conference competitor instantly BETTER?
  • Miami Heat:  Dwayne Wade wants out (**update: and now he’s gone), but I have a feeling Pat Riley will make the money right to keep him in South Beach.  Westbrook combined with D-Wade, Chris Bosh (healthy?), Hassan Whiteside and Goran Dragic would yield some wins in the eastern conference, could they be better than Cleveland?  One thing for sure, they’d be fun as hell to watch play, even D-Wade may have yet another rebirth.
  • Houston Rockets:  Two seasons ago the Rockets were in the Western Conference Finals!  Two seasons ago!!!  Now they’re a shell of a roster, PG: Patrick Beverly SG: James Harden SF: Trevor Ariza PF: Montrez Harrell C: Clint Capela………WOW.  With Dwight Howard gone, the locker room cancer has been diminished, but who the hell are the Rockets anymore?  Harden and Westbrook reunited!?!?  And it feeeeels so goooood.

Over the last week, NBA teams have spent more money on undeserving 3rd and 4th tier place-holders than CBS does in their “Comedy Line-up”. 

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These most obvious boner moves of the off-season will make you quit your job, stand out in front of the closest NBA front office and demand a try-out immediately.

  • Ryan Anderson 4 years $80 million with the Houston Rockets.  $20 million a year for a bench/role player/occasional starter who averages 13.6 ppg and 5.4 rpg for his career.
  • Harrison Barnes 4 years $94 million with the Dallas Mavericks.  We all knew Barnes would get a decent deal and have to leave Golden State, but did you see him in the playoffs this season? Is that worth $23.5 million a year for a 4th option scorer that disappears in the playoffs?
  • Nicolas Batum (I’m gonna soil myself) 5 years $120 million to STAY in Charlotte with the Hornets!  $24 million per year for 5 years on a guy who will NEVER be an all-star?  Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 5.50.30 PM
  • Bradley Beal 5 years $130 million to stay in Washington with the Wizards.  I mean, sure……Beal is a decent scorer and a good shooter.  He’s a legit starting 2-guard in the NBA.  Probably not an all-star any time soon, and probably won’t play more than 3/4 of the season?  He’s missed 81 regular season games in his career due to injuries, that’s almost 25% for you math-a-letes out there.
  • Mike Conley 5 years $153 million to stay in Memphis with the Grizzlies.  Mike Conley may be the most underrated PG in the league, but NOT ANYMORE.  I’d say he’s about $153 million – rated now!  WOW.
  • Mathew Dellavedova 4 years $38 million with the Milwaukee Bucks.  “Milwaukee: The Better Cleveland?”
  • Evan Fournier 5 years $85 million to stay in Orlando.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?  At this point you may be asking yourself, “who the hell is Evan Fournier?”.  My answer to you would be, “EXACTLY.” 
    THIS fuckin guy? $85 million?

    THIS fuckin guy? $85 million?

     

  • Timofey Mozgof 4 years $64 million with the Los Angeles Lakers.  I’m getting close to stopping, I just can’t go on anymore.  My eyes are starting to cross and I’m about to lose control of the voices in my head.
  • Chandler Parsons 4 years $98 million with the Memphis Grizzlies.  OK, I can’t do it anymore.  I’m done, seriously, I’m done.    Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 6.07.29 PM
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I’ll give him $98 million to NEVER do this again.

I hope the NBA is feeling better today, pop some Advil, drink some Pedilyte and scarf down a breakfast burrito cause there’s NBA summer league to watch.  I’ll be hungover for the next 4 months trying to forget about these ridiculous contracts and overpaid role players.  But I regret nothing………..oh, and congrats to the city of Cleveland.  You guys aren’t worse than Milwaukee anymore.

 

A Note To Every Basketball Player On Earth

As I’m still composing my “I’m sorry for doubting you Cleveland” article, I came across the most accurately written discussion piece about pick-up basketball that I’ve seen since I read the “White Men Can’t Jump” script.  PLEASE read this article:

How To Play Pickup Basketball Without Being A Pain In The Ass

Illustration by Sam Woolley.

For most of my adult life, I have managed to play basketball two or three times a week. I do this because it is significantly more fun than, say, spending a joyless half-hour on a worn treadmill in some windowless YMCA basement, and at 29, my knee still has yet to explode like poor Shaun Livingston’s. But like every Millennial with an overpriced graduate degree, I have also moved around plenty, logging stints in five major cities (or four, depending on how you feel about Boston) over the past ten years. This means that I am very familiar with the feeling of showing up to a court full of total strangers, high tops in hand, and hoping for the best.

Joining an informal pickup game, by definition, should not be complicated. Yet doing so is often much more difficult than any social interaction should be among purportedly functional adults. At every new spot, one must figure out the pecking order and learn to take in stride the deafening screams of the token player-coach who, for some reason, really wants his team to switch to zone. The dynamic is not much different from being the new kid in school, but with more testosterone-laden shouting matches and wily, older gentlemen who set screens with their astonishingly bony elbows sticking straight out.

If this happens to you, fear not. (Finding a new game, I mean. You should be afraid of geriatric elbows.) Here are some simple DOs and DON’Ts to help you navigate court politics without having everyone hate you and openly refer to you as “Fuckin’ New Guy” until you sigh resignedly and decide to give squash a try after all.

DO interact like a normal human being. Day one. You stride into the gym, purposefully meeting every wayward glance with a hard-eyed stare. Time to show what I’m about, you mutter under Gatorade-laced breath, cranking up the volume on your earbuds and sticking out your jaw because it looks intimidating when Kobe does it. It’s about to go down, you vow as you start shadow-boxing in the far corner of the gym and occasionally rapping along to the most violent lines from “Hit ‘Em Up.”

Yes, even well past the age at which it is acceptable to treat Ball As Life, some bros still feel that their on-court interactions are one continuous referendum on whether they possess the killer instinct. Do not be one of those people. Pretend you are at Thanksgiving dinner with your significant other’s family, but with less nervous sweating. Smile. Use full sentences, and consider (gasp) introducing yourself. As in any other social situation, first impressions are everything. Don’t let Kobe Face ruin yours.

DON’T talk shit. If you insist on doing so in an unfamiliar setting, I personally guarantee that one of three things will happen:

  1. The target of your barbs turns out to be really, really good, and vows to make you look really, really bad, now and forevermore, amen.
  2. You unwittingly pick someone that all the regulars like. They telepathically unite against you, and ten minutes later the meatiest one lays you out with a moving screen that would make Kevin Garnett wince.
  3. Your nemesis turns out to be your direct supervisor at the new office, and you start desperately filling out a Peace Corps application that same day.

Friendly reminder that you are an adult. You have a family (possibly), a job (hopefully), and student loans to pay (definitely, until you are dead). You are not playing for a title, a contract, or anything else that could possibly justify deciding to tell a stranger, to his face, that he is a weak, soft [insert deeply offensive noun of your choice]. Don’t do it.

DO ask for a rules primer. Find out how the game is scored, which lines are out-of-bounds, how jump balls work, and the like. Someone on your team will probably fill you in, in part to make you feel welcome but mostly to ensure that you don’t turn the ball over because you forgot which lines to mind. But if no one speaks up, ask. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to err on the side of caution, jogging up and down the middle of the court between the three-point arcs like Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace. Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace was fun, but not good. Don’t be Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace.

DON’T call a bunch of fouls. Look, if someone Draymonds you, say something, assuming you’re physically able to make sounds other than a low, inhuman moan. But otherwise, smile, resolve to finish next time, and keep running. People will note and appreciate that you do not feel a compulsive need to stop the game with every bump, real or imagined. Plus, once they like playing with you, they won’t get nearly as upset when you’re tired and jog up and down the court like Celtics-era Rasheed Wallace.

DO guard who you’re told to guard. Did your teammates match you up with some dude wearing New Balances and cargo shorts? Are they flagrantly disrespecting your ability check anyone, anytime? Before you start angrily mouthing 2Pac lyrics again, remember that no one here knows you from Anthony Bennett, so no one expects anything of you, either. This is not disrespect. It’s insurance against you being, well, Anthony Bennett.

Taking this personally and insisting on guarding whoever you think you should guard is a very bad plan. At best, you’ll do fine, but because your teammates tried to help and you angrily waved them off, you’re a dick. Worst case, they know something you don’t, New Balances Guy torches you all afternoon, and you’re still a dick. So take it easy. If you indeed go all Kawhi on this chump, you’ll be shuffled to a better matchup soon enough, and before long it will be you telling the new people what to do.

DON’T lose perspective. Here is a true story. After months of trying, I finally scored an invite to a certain pickup game—shoutout YMCA National Capital, rest in peace—which its members quietly organized by email and zealously guarded to keep numbers low and headcases out. They scored by twos and threes (the correct way) to thirty, so with the day’s last game tied at 27, both teams naturally forgot that two-point shots existed. Finally, a guy on the other team launched the game-winner, but while squaring up he put his foot on the line. As the shot floated in mid-air, I called it—“Two!”—like an idiot. The ball sailed through the hoop, both teams began exchanging high-fives and, horrified, I tried to melt silently into the hardwood.

This plan did not work. “SOMEONE SAID ‘TWO.’ NEW GUY?” Dammit. The result of this game did not matter one bit, to me or to anyone else. But once pointed out, I couldn’t disavow the call, or I was a liar, which is the only thing worse than a toe-watcher. So I meekly copped to it and hoped that the universe would correct my mistake. Alas, my teammate promptly hit the actual game-winner. (His feet were well behind the arc.) We won, but EVERYONE was mad at me: the other team, because I took away their game, and my team, because they had to play with Dumbass New Guy Who Messed Up The Run. You won’t believe this, but I was not added to the listserv that morning.

Vince Lombardi (among others) famously observed that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. But Lombardi probably said this because if he didn’t win, he would get fired. No matter what happens, you still have to go to your office and file TPS reports when the game is over. So give the benefit of the doubt to hustle plays, ignore the occasional foot shuffle, and don’t wipe out a cool, fun sequence because you were so carefully scrutinizing toe placement. Everyone will have a better time if you let stuff go.

DO go beyond basketball. Assuming no one acts like a sociopath, on-court chemistry leads to off-court friendships, too. At each game of which I’ve been a part, the regulars do things like get together for drinks, look after each other’s kids, help with job searches, and go in on a thoughtful gift each time another player gets married. At this VERY post-Hoop Dreams stage of your basketball career, this is what actually matters.

So yes, the politics can be hilarious and inane. But navigating them is just a silly hoop (sorry) through which you have to jump, and becoming part of a genuinely meaningful community on the other side is well worth it. Good luck out there, don’t sleep on New Balances Guy, and save me a spot for next.

Cleveland Will NEVER Win The NBA Championship

This post began with a serious and plentiful NBA Finals plot, well researched statistical analysis and most importantly the athletic prose that only Hunter S. Thompson would appreciate while all professional talking heads would lament.

In true Nascar-race fashion, everything turned left viciously when I realized that there is no way Cleveland can win an NBA championship this season, next season or any other season in the coherent future.  And thus spawned this David Letterman-esque list that surely will cause you to wonder why you spent 5-10 minutes reading my obnoxious know-it-all witty basketball banter.  You’ll never get this time back.

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Top Reasons Cleveland Won’t Win An NBA Championship

  1.  Lebron is in year-two of his 5 year down-slope that will eventually end his career.  In addition to the obvious eye-test that no one wants to pay attention to apparently, it’s very obvious the best of Lebron is behind us.  He doesn’t have the jump-off-two-feet explosion that he had when he was in Miami, proof is in the amount of times in the playoffs that you’ve seen him drive the lane, get to the rim with two defenders on his hip and pass the ball out to an open (insert bad shooter here) three point attempt that clanks harder than Zoolander 2.0.  It used to be that he would only do that at the end of games when he wasn’t confident to take the last shot.  Now it seems to happen over and over again.  ANYONE who has played ball knows that when you’re tired or worn out or just plain getting old, driving the basketball and finishing at the rim, similar to going to the strip club after taking your marriage vows, is always the first thing to go away.
    Amber-Rose-600x337

    You Can’t Have This

    Want stats?  Ok, since returning to Cleveland Lebron’s points per game average has gone down slightly from 27.1 ppg to 25.3ppg.  Small declines lead to bigger falls from grace, in addition, Lebron’s fouls per game and turnovers per game have both gone up, fouls up almost 1/2 per game and turnovers almost 1 per game.  Lebron’s PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has steadily decreased since leaving Miami two years ago, from 29.4 to 26.01 and slightly back up to 27.64 this season.  Don’t get me wrong, these aren’t huge declines yet, but when you watch him play and think on these stats, the writing is on the wall.  Lebron is 31 years old, been in the league 12 years and has reached the playoffs for 11 straight seasons.  LOTS of tread on those tires.

  2. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving DO NOT WORK with Lebron.  Kevin Love is the most overrated $100 million player in recent history of all sports.  His Nick Nolte/Tom Sizemore-over-bloated numbers while in Minnesota were obviously fools gold wrapped in bacon and dipped in poison.  I don’t even blame Kevin Love.  He’s ALWAYS been this player, he was the best option on a terrible rec-league team in Minnesota, now playing with the big boys in the big bright lights, he’s a poor man’s Jack Sikma (burn).  Juxtapositionally (a word?) Kyrie Irving IS in fact the real deal, he’s an all-star caliber guard with more shake than a cheese-whiz can.  BUT, he doesn’t work with Lebron and he definitely doesn’t work with K-Love.  Kyrie looks unsure of how to play with others the same way that A.I. looked in Philly for his whole career.  An incredible talent and an unbelievable ability to score the ball which causes him to go into eff-it mode and puts defenders on ice skates ignoring the rest of the team.  The problem is, in the playoffs you can’t win a series that way, but I bet Kyrie will have a great Drew League game this summer to make up for it.
  3.   Seriously, Cleveland?  I mean the reality is that you were handed a once-in-a-lifetime athlete (Lebron) and unfortunately it’s just not gonna happen in this particular lifetime.  His best years were spent in Miami, his declining years are right around the corner and for whatever reason, it is impossible to surround him with the right players in the “Land” as we’re now calling it.  You missed your window, especially considering the amount of talent in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.
  4. The OKC Thunder would beat Cleveland in the NBA Finals this season 4 games to 2…….and they can’t even get out of the Western Conference!!  When the second-best team in the West looks better than any team in the Eastern Conference, there’s not much hope for Lebron and company.
  5.   BLASPHEMY ALERT coming……..I pose the question, Does Lebron truly make his teammates better?  Or do players and coaches just have to adjust to the way he dominates the ball, the coaching staff/philosophy and the entire atmosphere surrounding him?  Lebron is an amazing talent, and is a Hall Of Famer no doubt…..but did he make Dwayne Wade Better?  Did he make Chris Bosh better?  Did he make Kevin Love better?  Has he made Kyrie better?  When Lebron was in Miami, it feels more like the opposite, Wade and Pat Riley made Lebron better.  His only two championships were due to Wade’s behind the scene leadership, defense and scoring option while Bosh provided a tough matchup for any other team’s big men.  Pat Riley MADE Lebron a champion…….while Miami somehow managed to surround themselves with tough, veteran, specific-role players (Ray Allen, Shane Battier, James Jones, Udonis Haslem, the best versions of Mario Chalmers and Chris Anderson).  Did Lebron make ALL of them better or did he just add to a great situation?  I really don’t know the answer, but it’s an interesting question.
  6. Specific to this season: In NBA Finals history, a team has taken a 2-0 lead 31 times. Twenty-eight of those times, that team has gone on to win the Finals.   
  7. Also, cause it’s Cleveland:

     

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Finals Game 3 “A Must Win” For Cleveland (no kidding)

click here for the full story.


LeBron James says Game 3 is ‘do or die’ for Cavaliers

CLEVELAND — Trailing the Golden State Warriors 2-0 in the NBA Finals and dealing with uncertainty regarding Kevin Love‘s playing status, LeBron James projected an aura of urgency when he spoke to the media Tuesday.

“It’s going to be the next man up,” James said in advance of Wednesday’s Game 3. “We’re down 0-2, and we can’t afford to look and say, ‘Wow, Kev’s not playing. What are we going to do?’ It’s next man up, because it’s a must-win for us.”

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was noncommittal about Love’s status, sharing only that the star forward was “feeling better” after suffering a concussion in Game 2. Lue said the Cavaliers wouldn’t know whether Love could play until Wednesday…………click here for more.

Blame Billy Donovan For OKC’s Success (Said a Warriors Fan)

–originally posted on espn:


Billy Donovan’s leadership earning Thunder players’ respect

May 22, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY — Billy Donovan has a line he likes to repeat when he’s talking about his philosophy with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

How can I bring value?

Donovan said that line a number of times in his introductory news conference last summer and has dropped it periodically throughout his first season as Thunder coach. His focus from the moment he was hired until now — three victories from an NBA Finals appearance heading into Sunday’s Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors — hasn’t been in how he could overhaul the Thunder to fit his style. He wanted to refine them, to elevate them to a higher level of basketball. He has hammered home offensive concepts of ball movement and spacing. He has talked incessantly to players about discipline and composure. And he has been a keen observer and listener, soliciting the constant advice of his stars while flexing on defensive schemes, verbiage and rotation patterns.

There were plenty of question marks — NBA inexperience being the biggest one — when general manager Sam Presti made the decision to fire Scott Brooks and hire Donovan, who spent the previous 19 seasons at the University of Florida. He was thrust into an ideal, but difficult, situation from the start. A ready-made title contender with superstar talent, but with inclusion of win-now pressure.

And on top of it, Donovan started in Kevin Durant‘s free-agency season, in which every move and decision would be critiqued and catalogued for possible future reference. To help with that, Donovan rounded out his staff last summer with plenty of NBA experience, adding Monty Williams and Maurice Cheeks as his top two assistants. Williams hasn’t been with the team since February, when his wife, Ingrid, died tragically in a car accident. And Cheeks was away from the bench for six weeks late in the season due to hip-replacement surgery.

During the time when both were away, the Thunder hit their low point of the season, losing eight of 12 games following the All-Star break, a stretch which featured back-breaking lost leads. (As well as the deaths of minority owner Aubrey McClendon and the brother of Thunder guard Dion Waiters.) With Donovan’s top two assistants away, it was all on the first-year NBA coach to guide the Thunder as they tried to navigate a rocky time. Players have since lauded Donovan for his leadership during those weeks, noting his poise and focus helped keep the team from teetering.

“He’s gotten better,” Durant said. “He’s definitely gotten better.”

The question, though: Has Donovan actually made the Thunder better? Or has he just picked up the baton from Brooks and carried it on? Brooks took the Thunder to three Western Conference finals in his five seasons, the two he missed coming after Russell Westbrook‘s knee injury in 2013 and Durant’s foot injury last season. Donovan has the Thunder back, but Westbrook and Durant are back, too.

You can’t deny Donovan this: He has beaten maybe the two most well-respected coaches in the league this postseason in Rick Carlisle and Gregg Popovich. Against the San Antonio Spurs, Donovan deployed a super-big lineup that swung the series. He has acquitted himself and won respect along the way, primarily from the Thunder’s superstars.

“It’s not about that for him, it’s about how we’re going to grow together as a team,” Durant said about Donovan getting credit. “Everybody is loving you when you win a game, but as soon as you lose a game, he doesn’t belong here. So it’s up and down on the outside how people feel about him, but we know throughout the whole season he’s poised and definitely giving us that confidence that we can play well every single night. He’s been a great motivator for us.”

With Donovan coming from college, there was the assumption he was going to have to earn the trust of his players, especially Durant and Westbrook.

“It shouldn’t even be that way. It’s vice-versa,” Durant said of that line of thinking. “He’s the coach, he’s the leader. He’s going to be here. So we’ve got to prove to him that we’re going to go out there and follow the game plan from training camp. From Day 1, we’re going to follow what he wants us to do. That’s how he weeds out the players who doesn’t. In this league, we tend to think of it as the coach has to earn the players’ respect, but really the players have to earn the coach’s respect when you’ve got to go out there and play for him. Professional sports are a little different, but growing up as a kid, it was all about following the leader, and that’s the coach.”

 Film sessions have been different under Donovan. Brooks didn’t let players slide in the film room, necessarily, but there was a lack of application. Donovan is much more intentional with accountability, according to players. Problems and issues are being directly addressed; the process was inconsistent before.

Durant values coaching, telling those around him last summer he thinks it makes a significant difference. When Donovan was hired, Durant spent time researching his new coach, talking to former Florida players and reading articles about him. Durant came away impressed and excited to start work. And through a regular season and now deep into the playoffs, Durant has some firsthand evidence.

Boston’s Brad Stevens is hailed as the principal college-to-NBA success story, but he also had the advantage of not being in a high-profile situation his first season with the Celtics. Donovan has stepped into a team that was featured on national television close to 30 times in the regular season and now has the burning interrogation lamp of the Western Conference finals on him. He has already won seven more playoff games and two more playoff series than Stevens. He has had his struggles, from timeout management to questionable roster choices (benching rookie Cameron Payne during the regular season, then playing him randomly against the Spurs) to overcomplicating the defensive scheme earlier in the season.

But Donovan has reacted, adapted and adjusted well, improving throughout the season and really finding a voice in the playoffs. He has his work cut out for him in trying to level the playing field against the 73-win Warriors, but with a road victory already, the Thunder are positioned well. Not only in the series, though, because Donovan’s development serves as yet another piece in the recruiting cupboard the Thunder will throw at Durant this summer. That would be some real value.

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