The NBA returned to our lives with Monday’s media day, and we couldn’t resist collecting some highlights. Here’s a look back at who won and who lost during the NBA’s first full day back in the spotlight.
Kevin Durant and Pablo Escobar
Andrew Sharp: The most anticipated return in the NBA this year is not Steph Curry, LeBron James, Paul George, or anyone in the world but Kevin Durant. His game is deadlier than ever, he’s grown into his personality over the past few years, and last season’s NBA wasn’t quite the same without him or the full-strength Thunder. He could have said almost anything yesterday and Thunder media day would have been a success. It’s just good to remember that soon enough, KD will be back on a basketball court.
So, he gave the obligatory health update:
He joked about Texas football:
He complimented Billy Donovan:
He discussed the potential of fans in Oklahoma City lobbying for him to return next summer, saying, “I just enjoy playing the game of basketball and I enjoy these wonderful fans here and I just want to give them the best version of me I can. That’s all I can do. I can’t control everything else.”
Very diplomatic, saying the right things, etc. Then a reporter asked about his trip to Spain this summer. Did he learn any Spanish?
That’s when things got interesting.
Durant went on to say he kind of hated himself for enjoying that show as much as he did, but he doesn’t care. Sometimes it’s refreshing to watch a show that doesn’t ask you to think very much. It kept him busy throughout most of Labor Day weekend. When pressed for more, he admitted that, yes, he does sometimes find himself looking at Russell Westbrook as his very own Gustavo. But he added that he actually sees a lot more Westbrook in Gacha, and really, their roles can change, and the only thing 100 percent certain in this world is that the Spurs are the dumbass FBI agents. He finished the press conference telling reporters that he’s all out of plata, and the whole league is getting nothing but plomo this year. This was all live on SportsCenter, too. Wow. KD is back.
Jahlil Okafor and the Naïveté of Youth
Jason Concepcion: Nobel Prize–winning playwright, Oscar-winning screenwriter, fervent socialist, and all-around white-haired Irish crank George Bernard Shaw once remarked, “Youth is a wonderful thing. What a crime to waste it on children.” Not to disagree with such an eminent dude of letters, but what is youth if not an energetic wastefulness made possible only because the young don’t know how precious life is?
Case in point: Sixers lottery pick Jahlil Okafor, who said, “We all want to try to make the playoffs.” This is not new, of course; he’s been saying variations of this since he was picked by Philly. I imagine the reporters thinking to themselves Who is “we?” and glancing over at general manager Sam Hinkie as he pursed his lips, narrowed his beady eyes, and ever so slightly shook his head “no.” To quote Marlo Stanfield, Okafor wants it to be one way, but it’s the other way. He just doesn’t realize it’s that particular way yet. That seems like a wonderful place to be.
Andrea Bargnani and Madame Tussauds
Concepcion: One of the great joys of this past offseason was watching Nets fans react to the news that their team had signed ex-Knick Andrea Bargnani. After three solid years of treating the Italian as the sports-discourse version of a gas station bathroom where hobos shoot smack, a not insignificant number of Nets fans deftly spun on their heels and began talking themselves into him. That’s what fans do. If the Knicks signed the Zodiac Killer, I’d probably look up his on-off numbers before deciding if it was a bad deal.
So, I come not to bury Bargs, but to praise him. Or, at least, to praise this picture, which I think is one of the greatest pictures ever taken. Bargnani appears startlingly thin but is wearing the same impenetrable duh mask that Raps and Knicks fans know so well. He looks like a wax museum statue from a knockoff Madame Tussauds that specializes in forgettable New York City pros.
Playing Stretch 4
Sharp: Media day update: Every player in the NBA who’s not a point guard is going to play a little bit of stretch 4 this season.
Are you reading this article? Are you 6-foot-5 or taller? Have you spent the summer bulking up and/or adding a 3-point shot? Good. We might see a little bit of you at the stretch 4 this season, just to help with spacing.
Tony Allen and the PhunkeeDuck
Sharp: It turns out that initial dreams/worries of an NBA media day conducted entirely on PhunkeeDucks were misplaced. You’ll remember the PhunkeeDuck as that hover scooter thing that J.R. Smith used to enter (and exit) last year’s NBA Finals, and it quickly became the hottest accessory in the NBA over the summer. You laugh at this, but look deep in your heart and admit it: a $1,500 hovering scooter would be a lot of fun to screw around with for at least two weeks.
Alas, after some investigation, the PhunkeeDucks were notably absent from NBA media day. Reggie Jackson had one in Detroit, DeJuan Blair hovered around on one in Washington, and Thaddeus Young threatened to commute to Nets games via PhunkeeDuck. Otherwise, it was a quiet day, until I found out that Tony Allen calls his a “hoover board,” like a skateboard that is also a vacuum that is also a midlife crisis. That made the entire PhunkeeDuck inquiry worth it. Go Grizzlies.
Billy King and the American Dream
Concepcion: Watch Billy King take us through the stages of being a GM.
Shock when you realize you have dealt away all your team’s draft picks.
Hope when you remember that you play in the East.
Relief that you still have a job.
D’Angelo Russell and Kobe Bryant
Russell Westbrook and Paris
Sharp: Russ, explaining his summer: “Paris was great, fashion week was great, did a great job of just going out there and networking …”
When he said that, I remembered how funny it is that this man somehow wound up living in Oklahoma, and then I blacked out for the rest of his answer. Do not pity Westbrook. Life in OKC is great, because it means he’s in the NBA. If an NFL quarterback ever returned to training camp talking about all the networking he did at Paris Fashion Week, there would be a five-week nationwide referendum to determine whether he gets it. In OKC, everyone shrugs like, “Cool, Russ is back.”
The Rest of the NBA
Sharp: There will be plenty of drama for the next nine months, but let’s all keep in mind that it’s probably going to be Warriors-Cavs again in June.
Sharp: Poor Frank Vogel. This was for a team calendar in which players pose as superheroes, and he got stuck with Hawkeye — the most useless superhero in the Marvel Universe. Then again, he’s leaning into the role, and that makes him more fun than almost any other coach in the league. Maybe he belongs in the winners section.
Sharp: George Hill was going to be in the winners section, because keeping promises is important.
But keeping promises is not that important.
Celeste Ballou/NBAE via Getty Images
That is the cover of the shittiest R&B record in human history.
Concepcion: It feels wrong to speak ill of a dude coming off a mysterious surgery, who will miss the start of camp, and who may or may not be available at the start of the season. But here we are. Parsons and the Mavs spent this past spring playing coy about exactly what procedure was performed on his incredibly handsome knee. “I don’t think they want me to answer if it was or not,” replied Chandy when asked, straight-up, whether he had undergone the dreaded microfracture surgery. Which is weird, yeah, but also understandable in that Mark Cuban had recently signed Parsons to a three-year, $46 million deal. Having Chandler linked to a surgery that Amar’e Stoudemire recently said he “would never have gotten” had he realized how arduous the rehab was is a pretty bad look, even if it’s the authentic look.
Fast-forward nearly five months and, according to sources, the procedure that Parsons had back in May was a “minor hybrid” microfracture that makes it sound like Chandy had some kind of benign Pokemon removed from his leg.
Then, on media day, to add actual insult to legitimate injury, this happened:
Sharp: You think you’re opposed to biological testing for pro athletes, but then you consider the prospect of Zach Randolph’s test results one day becoming public record. We wouldn’t even need a name, really. “One player has 38 percent body fat, he runs the mile in 13 minutes and six seconds, his heart is the size of a small horse’s, and his blood type is macaroni and cheese.” And he’s the best player. Go Grizzlies.
Concepcion: Melo is 31, heading into the second year of his five-year, $124 million contract. By all the lights of logic and reason and our innate understanding of the aging process, it is probably fair to characterize Melo’s title window as technically open but steadily closing. So, when rumors surfaced after the draft that Anthony was unhappy with the Knicks selecting Latvian stretch big Kristaps Porzingis instead of a more “NBA ready” player, they had a certain ring of truthiness to them. Surely, this line of thinking goes, Melo will demand to be traded and Phil Jackson will gleefully acquiesce to the demand.
Since then, though, Anthony has been on a charm offensive, straight out of the lyrics to “Everything Is Awesome.” Melo now says he wants to mentor Porzingis and act as his “big brother.” Everything is cool when you’re part of a team, apparently, even if that team just picked a prospect who might not be ready to effectively contribute for the next few seasons. Meanwhile, Phil has brought in better pieces, even if they don’t quite fit together. Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez are clear upgrades and solid pros. I am a Kyle O’Quinn fan. Sasha “the Machine” Vujacic is a person who can ostensibly still hit 3s and annoy opponents, especially Goran Dragic.
All of which is to say — 37 wins seems like a fair best-case scenario. No matter what Melo says now and throughout the season about fraternity and team and sticking out the rebuild, I feel as if the collective response of Knicks fans, and NBA watchers in general, will be something like this.
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