Ray Ratto

Anthony Davis' future surpasses Kevin Durant's as NBA's biggest thing

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USATSI

Anthony Davis' future surpasses Kevin Durant's as NBA's biggest thing

 

The National Basketball Association has been slowly transitioning to a summer league over the past several seasons, given that the summer is when the player movement market transitions from discourse and rumor to money-burning fact.
 
Indeed, the dog days of December are being backed-and-filled with some discussion of what ails the Golden State Warriors, but far more where Anthony Davis’ next port of call will be.
 
Davis, the main reason the New Orleans Pelicans exist, had his name floated as the latest potential Los Angeles Laker last week, with Dave McMenamin of ESPN as the conduit by which the story lapped at LeBron James’ feet, thereby giving it chat show credence. It has since become the new topic du jour, supplanting Kevin Durant’s free agency and before that Kawhi Leonard’s post-Canadian future as the great debating points of a season that has not yet taken debating shape itself.
 
This isn’t surprising, given that Durant hasn’t played coy about his own situation in weeks now, and an untended flame tends to die out on his own. The great argument with Draymond Green seemed to sour Durant’s taste for the topic even though it ran very high for about two weeks, but it’s as if Durant’s future has been left to simmer while Davis’ is the new one on the boil.
 
It leads us to believe that the real joy in the NBA is in watching us all playing junior general manager, as though it really is the daily fantasy game that we are constantly told is the future of sports consumption in America. It is the jock world’s version of radio star Scoop Nisker’s old line, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own,” as it were.
 
That may be it, though the length of the NBA season also benefits this side market because there really are more games than people actually want to eat. Not every game can be indicative of future trends or team morbidity rates, and our hurry to get to the offseason speaks to that. Well, that and the fact that the Warriors even in current baffling state are still considered prohibitive favorites to win their third consecutive championship because, well, they’re the Warriors.
 
Maybe if Golden State was blowing through the NBA like it did in the earlier parts of the championship era rather than establishing itself as merely first among equals, there’d be more bitching about how they ruined basketball rather than how Anthony Davis could help ruin basketball in a different way. After all, nature abhors a vacuum, and if the Warriors aren’t interesting in the same way, there are always 29 other teams to chew on – or, more to the point, there is the Lakers.

[RELATED: Why you shouldn't panic about Draymond Green]
 
Los Angeles has been a poor team for more than half a decade now, and no reclamation project has invigorated the debate army quite like it. The theory has always been that the league is always better when the Lakers are good, even though the league has never been better or more lucrative than it has been in the past five years and the Lakers have barely been a part of it.
 
Put another way, you don’t hear any Anthony Davis stories that don’t have the Lakers in the lead. Even Golden State’s own curiosity about Davis, which is probably moot given its own pending decisions on Durant, Green and Klay Thompson, is judged to be irrelevant. The Warriors are being ceded the season, but they had their big offseason when they got Durant, and then doubled down with DeMarcus Cousins. They had their turn.
 
Now it is Anthony Davis’, and until the February trade deadline he will remain so. If he does get moved despite New Orleans’ insistence that he will not, the league changes. If he doesn’t, Durant will overtake him for the offseason chat league crown, because in the new NBA, the summer is when everything happens. All the 1,300 games are merely prelude to what everyone really wants.
 
The smell of burning money and the cheer of rampant speculation. Without it, we are stuck in the world of a reality we can’t tailor to our own prejudices, and who in their right mind wants that?

Why 49ers halting skid vs. Seahawks more important than NFL draft pick

Why 49ers halting skid vs. Seahawks more important than NFL draft pick

SANTA CLARA -- There is no compelling reason why the end of the Seattle Seahawks’ run of putting their feet to the San Francisco 49ers’ necks should matter so much to a staff or a roster that hasn’t been around for most of it, but sometimes something matters just because it does.
 
Even Richard Sherman, who knew all about the streak from being one of the feet rather than one of the necks, saw it.
 
“Kyle (Shanahan) made us perfectly aware of the streak,” the veteran cornerback said in the aftermath of the 49ers’ 26-23 overtime win over the Birds. “Very aware.”
 
And maybe it helped that only two weeks ago Seattle beat the 49ers as soundly as it ever has (43-16, and it wasn’t that close), because “(defensive coordinator) Robert Saleh made sure everybody remembered that game.”
 
Either way, the 49ers willingly traded three spots in the weekly NFL draft order to break one of their most embedded historical touchstones with one of their most driven performances. Not because beating Seattle meant that much to Shanahan, Saleh, Jed York, the football department as a whole or the half-a-stadium’s worth of fans, but because it mattered to the veterans who've had to endure those beatings, from Joe Staley (who is 8-17 against the ‘Hawks since 2007) to the present day. Or in Sherman’s case, because it mattered that the Seahawks decided he was finished before he was.
 
That meant more than the draft pick, as blasphemous as that might sound. It will matter less with time to Shanahan and 49ers general manager John Lynch, but for right now, it was everything, or as close to everything as a 4-10 team can manage.
 
There were plenty of turning points in their favor, going all the way back to Sebastian Janikowski’s missed extra point on Seattle’s first touchdown (a point the Seahawks never got back), or the short kickoff that helped spring Richie James to his kickoff-return TD that put the 49ers ahead 12 seconds later. There were Robbie Gould’s four field goals in this, the era of bad feeling for placekickers. There were DeForest Buckner’s two sacks of the hyper-elusive Russell Wilson. There was even Sherman at his persuasive best in talking his way out of a pass-interference call, a remarkable bit of lawyerly chat he isn’t always credited with possessing.
 
But whichever moment you choose, the effect on a team that has known so little pleasure since 2013 was evident by the wall of noise coming from the locker room even five minutes after game’s end. It was one more small victory to measure against a series of big defeats.

[RELATED: Richie James Jr. shows what he could give 49ers in the future]
 
San Francisco still is that odd team that seems to wait too long to be as good as it can be; this was the 49ers' seventh win in eight December games in the Shanalynch era, meaning they are 3-19 in the other 22 games. It speaks to their belief in the grand plan, but it also speaks to the difficulties involved in playing to the specifications of the grand plan. 
 
But therein lies the strange anomaly of their playing to kill a dragon from the past so they can all see a brighter future, yet that brighter future is at least minimally diminished by their drop in the draft order behind Arizona, Oakland Or Wherever, and the New York Jets.
 
Truth be told, though, that order means little without the expertise to nail the choice you get. If beating Seattle had dropped the 49ers from No. 1 to No. 11 (though lord only knows how that could be), then you could make a case for the win being a bad idea. Or if there was one difference-maker in the upcoming draft and everyone knew in advance who it would be, then you could make a case for the win being a dreadful idea.
 
But in most cases, a smart pick at No. 4 will be of as much use as a smart pick at No. 1, because the only thing a team needs to draft is a player that helps it. Worrying about picks 1 through 3 is pointless unless you decide you need to be one of them.
 
The 49ers collectively decided that winning Sunday mattered more, for spiritual rather than metric reasons. They needed to think there is an end to this extended run of failure, that having no quarterback at the start of last season is starting to feel like having two at the end of this one (hello, Nick Mullens’ marketability!), that the future they thought they had this year actually could end up being more endurable at this time next season.

And for the 87,811 semi-true believers who will swear they were among the 30,000-some-odd fans who actually saw the game in person, it will matter nearly as much, because history plays to fans more than it does to the actual history makers.

So the 49ers finally obtained the one pelt that always had eluded them, and with it a sense that the ghosts of the past that aren’t receding are capable of being toppled. It might not matter mathematically, metrically or even draftically, but emotionally, it’s a feeling that’s hard to top.

Breaking down 12 sports storylines you should know entering the weekend

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USATSI

Breaking down 12 sports storylines you should know entering the weekend

When things get busy, things get overlooked, underemphasized or simply missed. Like:

The narrative that Mark Davis instigated the Amari Cooper trade is a nice attempt to take some heat off the man who actually runs the Oakland Raiders, but it isn't remotely credible -- unless, of course, Jerry Jones decided to call in a favor that Davis was in no position to decline. And yet, nobody thought this was a brilliant trade for the Dallas Cowboys at the time, so let’s just say what we suspect, that the deal was conceived and supervised by, yes, you guessed it, J. David Gruden. ...

Speaking of teams the Raiders helped make great, the Chicago Bears just saw their coach, Matt Nagy, named NFL Coach of the Year by The Associated Press, because of course what do the last three games of the season matter? ...

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser tells us about one anonymous general manager who believes former A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell is having trouble finding a job with a major league team because he took a knee for the national anthem, not because he is a replacement-level platoon catcher who has an aggravated assault with a deadly weapons charge hanging over his head. I’d say this was a dangerous area to tackle, except that I get this nagging feeling that said general manager was making this his cause rather than baseball’s. ...

Nothing could be better than the concept of the Los Angeles Chargers winning the Super Bowl and then having a victory parade attended almost exclusively by angry San Diego residents. ...

And on the subject of the Chargers and their Thursday night victory in Kansas City, has there ever been a game in which more points were generated by more players with the same surname? (Williams, 36 of 59 total points). ...

If Stephen Curry got a free guided trip to NASA headquarters for jokingly questioning the moon landing, why hasn’t he gone out and said he doesn’t believe that Europe exists? Or, at the very least, Monte Carlo? ...

Small sample sizes are the best: In the first four years of the Warriors’ championship era, they lost 21 home games by an average of 10.2 points. This year, they have lost three by an average of 23.7. Somewhere there is a doomsday analysis being constructed that incorporates this. ...

Entertainment is where you find it, and when the Warriors are getting hammered at home, there is no highlight better than a courtside-Joe Lacob-with-a-case-of-the-red-mist highlight. ...

Baseball’s winter meetings are an excellent way to get media members to gather in one place and wonder why nothing is happening. ...

The belated discovery of George Kittle by the NFL intelligentsia shows us two things: The 49ers are justifiably ignored after 16 wins in almost four full seasons, and if in the modern pinball football your team’s best offensive weapon is your tight end, you will continue to be ignored. ...

ESPN’s rating of the 115 pro sports stadiums for food safety put the Coliseum venues ahead of all the other Bay Area sportatoria. In other words, if you really and truly crave an $18 beer, go to Oakland first, and have them hold the rodent. ...

And finally, my conspiratorial mind is telling me that the uncertainty surrounding where the Raiders will play in 2019 secretly might be a way to gin up what has been mostly nonexistent outrage over their actual departure in 2020. My conspiratorial mind probably is lying to me, but I wish it were so.