Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

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Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, they were leading the NBA Finals. And now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading home for the summer to ruminate over lessons doled out by the Miami Heat. Favorites coming into the series, the Thunder fell in Game 5 of the finals Thursday night, as Miami finished off its run to a championship by beating the Thunder 121-106. Oklahoma City's 11-point win in Game 1 is long forgotten and irrelevant now, considering that for the first time in more than three years, the Thunder have lost four straight games. At the absolute worst time, on the absolute biggest stage, no less. "When you play against the best, you learn," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook finished with 19 points for the Thunder, though Westbrook's night -- one game removed from a 20-for-32 performance from the field -- came on a night where he shot 4 for 20. They came out with 4:44 left, the outcome long decided, the Heat fans going delirious. "We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there," Durant said. "Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough. It's tough, man. That's the only way I can explain it. But as a whole, I'm proud of the guys on how we fought all season." James Harden scored 19 points and Derek Fisher added 11 for the Thunder. Down 10 at the half, the Thunder cut the deficit in half by the time the third quarter was a minute old. It was the last gasp of the season -- Miami put the game, and the title, away with a 34-13 burst that pushed the lead to 93-67 on a three-point play by Dwyane Wade with 1:23 left in that pivotal quarter. Mike Miller connected on his sixth 3-pointer of the night, and Miami's 13th, on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Miller would soon add another, for good measure. From that point, the clock wasn't ticking down time left in the game. It was ticking down the time left in Oklahoma City's season. "We know what this feeling feels like," Westbrook said. "We'll remember this feeling, and that will push everybody in the summer, just try to keep everybody going and keep everybody's heads up." The Thunder came in saying they had to have that proverbial Game 7 -- win or else -- mentality. Apparently, they chose else. "You hate to go home and not win the whole thing. ... We lost to a team that played better than us in four of the five games," Brooks said. Even though it was a five-point game after one quarter, a 10-point game at the half and still a two-possession game early in the third quarter, the Thunder simply did not have enough answers for the barrage that came from Miami. Forget Miami's Big Three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It was more like a Big Six for the Heat on this night. Two years of work, and a year of frustration after falling to Dallas in the title round a year ago, came pouring out of the Heat. By the time the third quarter was over, Miami had six players in double figures. Oklahoma City? Just two. And that was largely the downfall of Oklahoma City in this series. Durant was consistently great. Westbrook had more good moments than bad, by far. But the third option simply wasn't there, or at least, wasn't there often enough. "The best two teams were in the finals," James said. This Thunder team is built to contend for this title for a long time to come. Durant and Westbrook are already exceptional, and likely nowhere near their prime. Harden was the best sixth man in the league all season, though he struggled big-time in this series. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the league. The general manager, Sam Presti, is extremely well thought of in just about every league circle. And Oklahoma City has proven itself to be a city that loves its team. More good things for the franchise are certain. But a title -- that wasn't happening, not yet anyway, not against a Heat team that spent a year preparing for this stage. Now, it's Oklahoma City's turn to take a finals loss and use it as motivation. "You get here because you're good. You get here because you're committed to each other," Brooks said. "We definitely have room to improve. That's what the summers are for." Durant spent part of this past summer working out with James in the finals MVP's hometown of Akron, Ohio. He vowed to work even harder this time around. "I'm going to find the positives and the negatives," Durant said. "It was tough losing the finals. We got to the finals, had a tough road to get here. But we've just got to move past it, I guess, man. It's going to hurt for a little bit. We've got to move past it."

49ers, Raiders fans ready to accept Tom Brady as best QB ever?

49ers, Raiders fans ready to accept Tom Brady as best QB ever?

The Super Bowl is designed ostensibly to be a massive trade show with a football game stuck on the end of it, with the idea that the teams and their fan bases who don’t have a dog in the Sunday fight can still amuse themselves by making their own news – as long as it’s very low level and doesn’t steal thunder away from the real reason for the season.

The accumulation of money.

So it is that we must find reasons to care about a game between a team 2,473 miles away and a team 3,099 miles away. After all, what else is a Super Bowl party for?

Well, let’s ignore the obvious Bay Area topics like “Any news on the Raiders moving?” or “What will Kyle Shanahan say about the soul-eviscerating task he is about to undertake?” Instead, let’s ask a third.

Is the Bay Area’s football base ready to face the very real possibility that Tom Brady could become the area’s best-ever quarterback? Yes, better than Joe Montana and his four rings, and yes, better than Ken Stabler and his willingness to fight the power, and yes, better than Aaron Rodgers and Jim Plunkett and . . . well, fill in your favorite blank.

This one is hard for many folks to swallow because, other than the Switzerland of San Mateo (starting at Serra High School and radiating out to Highways 82, 101, 280 and Crystal Springs Road), Brady doesn't resonate here the way a normal favorite son would. He would have been a perfect Raider or 49er. He also would have been a perfect Cardinal or Golden Bear. He would have been part of something that was, for lack of a better term, ours.

Instead, he did his work for geographically evil empires far to the east, and did it obnoxiously well. He went where he was wanted (Michigan) and where he was drafted (New England), grafted onto a coach (Bill Belichick) who could find the best outlets for his gifts as Montana and Stabler and Plunkett and Rodgers did, and has helped construct a ring factory to rival Montana’s and Terry Bradshaw's and dwarf everyone else’s.

And if he can guide these Patriots to a victory in 13 days over the Atlanta Falcons, he will have more rings than any other quarterback ever, and will almost surely reduce the best-ever debate to ash.

Argue all you want, you amateur Spicers, but facts sometimes beat sentiment, prejudice or child-based idolatry, and there is no objective argument a person can make to claim that Brady is merely equal, let alone inferior, to any of the others we have mentioned.

That is, if you’re trying to stack his baggage as a fort against the data.

His detractors will link him to the evils of the Patriot empire (commanding technology, skullduggery and the very air we use to breathe to circumvent the natural order of fair play, honor and dignity, or some equivalent nonsense), or dismiss him, Montana-style, as merely the product of the greatest coach of the age (well, name a great quarterback who didn’t have a great coach, or vice versa). You could even hold his choice of wives against him (which seems even pettier than normal fandom) or his choice of candidates against him (so far, it’s hard to see a countervailing argument here, though it’s only been four days out of an expected 1,461).

But the numbers and jewelry and the raw football data argue more convincingly for Brady than for anyone else – if you’re interested in settling rather than prolonging an argument.

That last part is the key, though, because once engaged, arguments are hard to kill. The development of the alternative-facts movement renders data and logic less important than the depressingly more fashionable “Well I say it’s this instead of that, I’m not changing my mind no matter what you say and I’d rather remain ignorant than consider another idea. Ya wanna fight?”

Now all this becomes moot if Atlanta wins, mostly because nobody is going to advance the idea that Matt Ryan is the best quarterback of all time. Then the arguments remain sprightly and energetic and “my facts v. your facts,” and everyone goes home drunk and satisfied that you didn't annoy the hell out of the other patrons.

But if Brady wins, the argument becomes sullen and angry and unpleasant and “Well I say it’s this instead of that, I’m not changing my mind no matter what you say and I’d rather remain ignorant than consider another idea. Ya wanna fight?” Just to name one.

And frankly, we're already getting a gutload of that as it is.

Separating fact from fiction as Raiders prepare for relocation vote

Separating fact from fiction as Raiders prepare for relocation vote

Last week was a sports business headline grabber in the Bay Area. On Tuesday the Golden State Warriors went all Cirque Du Soleil for a groundbreaking ceremony for Chase Center in Mission Bay. Then, the Oakland Raiders filed their relocation papers on Thursday, making a pair of gut punches for Oakland sports fans.

It’s time to separate the fact from fiction and examie what comes next...

FACT

- The Warriors will be playing in the Chase Center in San Francisco for the 2019-20 NBA season.

- The Raiders officially filed relocation papers on Thursday, Jan. 19 with the NFL for permission to relocate to Las Vegas.

- The Raiders have raised season ticket prices across the board for the 2017 season in Oakland.

- Nevada has $750 million dollars in public money approved for the construction of a $1.9 billion, 65,000-seat domed Raiders stadium in Las Vegas.

- If the relocation is approved, the new home of the Las Vegas Raiders would become the largest taxpayer-subsidized stadium deal in NFL history, more than the $600 million in public money used to build the Atlanta Falcons’ $1.5 billion stadium and $500 million the public is picking up for U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the Vikings.

- Sand’s Casino Chairman Sheldon Adelson has pledged $650 million dollars of his own money to help build the Las Vegas stadium. Negotiations with Mark Davis on the details of his investment are ongoing. The Raiders have a deal with global investment bank Goldman Sachs to assist in financing the Las Vegas stadium deal.

- The Raiders plan to be playing in their new Las Vegas stadium by the 2020 NFL season. The Raiders have lease options to continue playing at the Oakland Coliseum in 2017 and 2018. 

- The cost of the Raiders' one-year lease extensions at the Oakland Coliseum is in the area of $3 million a year.

- Oakland and Alameda County still owe a large chunk of the $95 million dollars of debt for the Oakland Coliseum retrofit that brought the Raiders back from Los Angeles.

- NFL owners will next meet in Arizona from March 26 to 29. A vote on the Raiders relocation may take place at that time, or it may be postponed. Davis needs 24 "yes" votes to approve a relocation.

- Rams owner Stan Kroenke paid $550 million dollars to the NFL to relocate from St. Louis to Inglewood.

- The San Diego Chargers will be moving to the new shared stadium in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2019. In the interim they will play in the StubHub Center in Carson. It will be the smallest capacity stadium in the NFL at 27,000 seats.

- Relocation fees for the Raiders and Chargers have not been publicly released.

- The A's continue to review sites in the Oakland area for the building of a new ballpark.

- The Oakland Alameda County Coliseum is the only location in North America that has a MLB and NFL team playing in the same facility.
       
- Las Vegas will have its first NHL team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, skating next season in the new T-Mobile arena in Paradise. 

FICTION

- The Raiders' request for a relocation vote has been officially added to the NFL owners meetings scheduled in Arizona from March 26-29. 

- The exact location of the Las Vegas domed stadium has been selected.

- Mark Davis has $500 million dollars to put into the Las Vegas stadium deal. 

- Las Vegas is a stronger economic market than Oakland.

- The Raiders have a lease to play in Sam Boyd Stadium, home of UNLV football. 

- The Raiders have announced they will be selling seat licenses for their Las Vegas stadium.

- The Raiders are interested in exploring a remodel of the Coliseum as a football-only facility.

- The A’s are interested in exploring a remodel of the Coliseum as a baseball-only stadium.

- The A’s will move quickly on announcing new stadium plans based on the four-year minimization of MLB revenue sharing money, which begins this season.

- The A’s have selected Howard Terminal as the site of their new ballpark.

- Mark Davis has an interest in selling a major stake in the Raiders to Sheldon Adelson or any other interested billionaire to help him build a new stadium in the Bay Area or Las Vegas.

WHO KNOWS?

- What will happen with the Ronnie Lott/Fortress investment group that is negotiating with Oakland and Alameda County? 

They have no agreement of any kind with the Raiders to play in their proposed $1.25-billion, 55,000-seat stadium.

Three previous third-party investor-backed deals to finance and construct new sports venues in Oakland have failed. Floyd Kephart, Forest City and Colony Capital all struck out.

- What will the NFL charge the Raiders for relocation to Las Vegas and where will that money come from? 

The NFL is a proponent of two teams playing in one stadium in major metro areas, as we have seen work with the Jets and Giants at Met Life and with the Rams and Chargers in Inglewood.

The Raiders have adamantly opposed sharing Levi’s Stadium with the 49ers.

- What legal or business actions will the Oakland authorities pursue against the Raiders and NFL if the team receives approval for a Las Vegas move? 

- Will the Warriors and Raiders pay back tens of millions owed the city and county for the improvements of the Coliseum and Oracle.

- How will the A's use the incredible leverage they will have if they wait until the Warriors and Raiders leave town?

Former A’s partner Lew Wolff said that the A’s won’t require a penny of public money to build a new stadium. Wolff is now out and A’s owner John Fisher could easily change that position.

PLACE YOUR BETS 
 
Oakland has been dealt a bad hand and it doesn’t look like it will get any help from the house. But I do not believe the Raiders will receive relocation approval at the NFL owners meeting in March.

Remember, the momentum was behind the Raiders and Chargers to get a "yes" vote on their proposed move to Carson in January of 2016. Owners instead voted 30-2 to approve the Rams' move to Inglewood. 

If the Raiders do get approval, the A’s and Major League Baseball could have a big surprise for Oakland. As the last team/league standing, they could ask for hundreds of millions in public money to support stadium construction. They could ask for control of all the land around the Coliseum at pennies on the dollar. They could threaten to move to another city with MLB approval.

This sports saga reads like War and Peace, but it's light on the peace and we're only getting started...