Durant, Thunder still chasing first NBA title


Durant, Thunder still chasing first NBA title

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Basketball brought Kevin Durant a summer of extremes.

Weeks after sobbing with his parents after Miami beat Oklahoma City Thunder four straight times to win the NBA championship, Durant was celebrating a gold medal with Team USA in London.

Now comes the task of trying to make up for that championship that was lost. Durant will have to lead an even younger Thunder squad back to the finals if he wants a different ending.

``It was just so tough to lose because I really thought it was our year. I felt we had a good run. We beat Dallas, San Antonio, the Lakers,'' Durant said, listing off Oklahoma City's playoff opponents from last season and the only teams that had won the West since 1998. ``I thought it was our time, but unfortunately it wasn't. Those guys came out and beat us, and it was tough to go through that.''

Television cameras caught Durant's reaction in the moments just after he stepped off of Miami's home floor for what normally would have been a relatively private encounter with his family. Instead, the whole world was able to witness the way Durant reacted, which he said was the same as it was when he was growing up.

``When you lose a tough series, there's no question it's heartache. You feel it for many days,'' coach Scott Brooks said. ``I've been around teams when you lose, the fingers are pointed and you look for blame. The thing that I'm proud of with our guys, I never saw that. Individually, nobody was outspoken. Nobody was behind each other's back.

``We understand that we had a great year but it's time to move on. It's time to focus on this season. Last year was a great experience, but it won't guarantee us an opportunity back there. We have to work for it.''

The Thunder still have the nucleus of the team that made it to last year's finals and to the Western Conference finals two seasons ago. Three-time league scoring champion Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook will once again be joined by Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Thabo Sefolosha in the starting five with NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden coming off the bench.

Ibaka signed a four-year contract extension in the offseason, following Durant and Westbrook in committing to Oklahoma City long term but also drawing into question whether the small-market franchise would be able to afford Harden. The Thunder will need to go over the salary cap - and pay the luxury tax - to keep him unless they shed some payroll elsewhere.

Harden is at least in the mix for this year's run.

``We're young, we have all the talent in the world. The small things and attention to detail can take us even further,'' Harden said. ``I think offensively, we can score with any team in the NBA. We have just as much firepower as any team in the NBA. I think what's going to put us over to that next level is our consistent defense. We have spurts where we look very good. We have spurts where we look average. I think for championship teams, we need to be locked in every possession.''

Beyond their big six, some of the Thunder's pieces are changing. Veteran Nick Collison remains with the team and backup point guard Eric Maynor will be back after missing most of last season with a knee injury, but three locker room leaders - Derek Fisher, Nazr Mohammed and Royal Ivey - were allowed to leave in free agency.

In their places are relatively inexperienced replacements, including free agent center Hasheem Thabeet and first-round draft pick Perry Jones III from Baylor.

Fisher and Mohammed were two of the team's only three players who had won an NBA title. Perkins, who won one with Boston, is now the only one left to speak from experience about what it takes to win it all.

``I think we all understand what it takes to at least get to the finals, but I think the finals was overwhelming to a lot of us,'' Perkins said. ``I think we got caught up in just being in the finals and quit playing basketball.''

The Thunder have progressed - from out of the playoffs to a first-round exit to the West finals to the NBA Finals. Perkins said the bottom line was ``we didn't reach our goal.''

``We don't feel like we just want to be in the playoffs and win games. We feel like at the end of the day, we're going to keep it realistic: We're trying to raise a banner or a few banners here,'' he said.

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Is Adrian Peterson a good fit with the Redskins?

Is Adrian Peterson a good fit with the Redskins?

Adrian Peterson is one of the best running backs in NFL history.

But is he the best running back for the Redskins right now?

The Redskins signed Peterson, 33 years old and a 12-year NFL veteran, to a one-year contract. They have been hit with injuries at the running back position, most notably the loss of second-round pick Derrius Guice for the season with a torn ACL. They didn’t make any moves when that diagnosis was announced a week and a half ago. But they lost two more backs to short-term injuries last Thursday and they decided that now is the time to go out and get somebody.

Is the need for a running back really there? Rob Kelley was the starter for the last half of the 2016 season and for seven games last year before a variety of ailments sent him to injured reserve. Samaje Perine became the starter after that and while he struggled at time he also showed growth potential.

Kelley is 25 and Perine is 22. In the absence of Guice, they could develop and when Guice returns next year the team would have a good stable of young running backs.

But now, Peterson is in the picture. We don’t yet know what his role will be, but they did not sign him to be the back who is inactive on game days. He will get some carries and that will take work away from Perine and Kelley.

Now, if Peterson is more productive than either of the two younger backs then that is a worthwhile swap. But what does he have left in the tank at age 33?

Last year, playing for the Saints and Cardinals he gained 529 yards on 156 carries, a very pedestrian average of 3.4 years per carry. That is very similar to the production of Perine, who had 175 carries for 603 yards, a 3.4 average. In his two years in the NFL, Kelley has averaged 3.9 yards per carry.

By signing Peterson, however, the Redskins are hoping that Peterson has one more big year, or at least a medium year by his standards, left in him. After all, it was just in 2015 that he led the NFL in rushing for the third time in his career as he ran for 1,485 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. The Redskins would be delighted if he could get half of that total.

Any free agent signing can only be evaluated when the contract details are available. We only know that it’s a one-year deal and according to some reports he did not get any money guaranteed at signing. That seems to be a team friendly deal, but we will have to see what might kick in if he is on the Week 1 roster.

As with everything else, time will tell if this move works out. If the money is right, it’s a low risk transaction with some possible upside for Washington.

Back during minicamp while talking about how quickly Alex Smith would have to get up to speed with the offense, Jay Gruden said that the Redskins are not in a rebuilding mode and that they need to win now. After the trade for Smith, the Peterson signing is another indication that patience may be wearing thin.

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler

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Former MVP Adrian Peterson signing with Redskins amid mounting RB injuries

Former MVP Adrian Peterson signing with Redskins amid mounting RB injuries

The Redskins agreed to terms with free agent running back Adrian Peterson, per multiple reports and confirmed by NBC Sports Washington.

Washington added Peterson as their running back group took a number of hits this preseason. Rookie Derrius Guice was lost for the year in the preseason opener, while Byron Marshall, Martez Carter and Samaje Perine got hurt in the second preseason game against the Jets.

Peterson is a huge name. He’s likely headed for the Hall of Fame when his career ends, and he’s one of only a handful of rushers to gain more than 2,000 yards in a season.

His best seasons came with the Vikings, but Peterson hasn’t delivered top flight results since 2015.

If he’s healthy and ready to go, Peterson could be a tremendous steal for the Redskins. There is no way to know until he suits up in the preseason, which could happen as soon as this Friday night against Denver.

On the roster, Washington has Rob Kelley, Kapri Bibbs and Chris Thompson available at running back. At his best, Peterson is significantly better than that group.

Will the Redskins get Peterson at his best?

That’s the big question. And with two preseason games remaining, he will get the chance to prove it.