Sports

NBA chatter gets caught looking past the present of playoffs

NBAColumnSportsPro BasketballBasketballKevin DurantRussell Westbrook
Possibilities of who might go where in the #NBA gets the attention even with conference finals in full swing

Hey, quiet out there, we're trying to play the NBA conference finals!

All this breathless chatter about whether Miami's three stars will opt out of their contracts next month and where Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant might go in the summer of 2016 is obscuring a few more salient talking points happening … right ... now.

Indiana's Lance Stephenson and San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard continue to emerge as stars. Thunder rookie Steven Adams has become a recognized name inside and outside of his native New Zealand. The Spurs' Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are showing why they may deserve to be labeled the greatest trio in NBA history.

Of course, you might not know any of that if you only tuned into sports talk radio, logged onto fan message boards or turned on what's become an endless array of ESPN channels, where next trumps now, the possibilities more enticing than anything that's actually happening.

The guesswork surrounding LeBron James' future started anew this week after Cleveland somehow bucked (or Bucked, if you happen to be from Milwaukee) the odds and won the NBA draft lottery.

Would the league's most coveted player consider returning to the franchise he famously spurned during his regrettable "The Decision"?

The sad-sack Cavaliers were suddenly contenders for the Miami star, the theory went, because they could pair the No. 1 draft pick with star point guard Kyrie Irving to give James the kind of young, dynamic core that the Heat presumably could not match over the next few years.

There has been a growing sentiment that James, who turns 30 in December, is unwilling to put himself through another wringer of a season like the one he just completed, putting the onus on the Heat — three-peat or no three-peat — to make significant roster changes with $61 million already committed to James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for the 2014-15 season.

Wade and Bosh also have the right to opt out of their contracts this summer, which would present Miami with an entirely different dilemma.

Too bad the Samsung LeBron App, which provides his breakfast choices, clothing picks and family photos, doesn't also spit out daily updates on what he's really thinking about his future.

Seemingly no one is ready to concede these are unanswerable questions better left for another day, with the Heat having at least three and as many as 12 games left to play this season.

Oklahoma City can sadly relate when it comes to premature speculation.

Is Coach Scott Brooks' job safe if he doesn't make it back to the Finals? Should the Thunder trade Russell Westbrook to bring better balance to a top-heavy team? Will Durant feel the need to head elsewhere if he hasn't won his first title by next summer?

So many questions, so few responses that aren't purely conjecture.

It is true the combustible Durant-Westbrook pairing was broiling again Wednesday during Game 2 after a defensive breakdown by Durant late in the first half led to a three-pointer by the Spurs' Danny Green.

Westbrook repeatedly pointed to his temples as the teammates walked off the floor during a timeout before some back-and-forth yelling ensued, an ugly prelude to an uglier 35-point defeat.

The question isn't whether Durant and Westbrook can coexist but whether their shot-hoarding approach is capable of winning a title. In the first two games of the conference finals, the Thunder duo has taken 80 shots. That's more than four times the total taken by their fellow starters, who have combined for only 19 shots.

Thunder center Kendrick Perkins acknowledged during the conference semifinals against the Clippers he had challenged Westbrook to be more team-oriented during the first round of the playoffs.

"I told him in order for him to take his game from being good to being great," Perkins said, "is when he can get his 20 points and get guys around him points."

Message received? Thunder starters not named Durant or Westbrook have combined for nine points in the first two games of the conference finals, a ridiculously low sum even with Serge Ibaka sidelined.

Then again, maybe it's too early for snarky condemnation.

Oklahoma City may trail San Antonio, two games to none, but no one has scheduled exit interviews.

It's not over until it's over. That is, unless you're listening to the chatter, where the end is always nigh.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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NBAColumnSportsPro BasketballBasketballKevin DurantRussell Westbrook
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