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Kevin Durant's MVP trophy validates reasons for joining Golden State to win NBA title

Kevin Durant's MVP trophy validates reasons for joining Golden State to win NBA title

The NBA Finals are over and Kevin Durant, who took a moment to give a shout out to his hometown of Washington D.C. after winning his first championship, took the MVP trophy with him. 

The Golden State Warriors routed the Cleveland Cavaliers, taking them down in five games of a 129-120 victory on Monday.

Durant had 39 points in the series clincher but because he went to a team that won 73 games a year ago and already had won a title two years ago, it was assumed that he was just chasing a ring. When he left the Oklahoma City Thunder in free agency last summer, he joined the team that had come back to beat him in the conference finals. 

How dare he? The Warriors already had two-time MVP Steph Curry, one the league's best two-way players in Klay Thompson and a defensive player of the year caliber big in Draymond Green.

While the prospects of winning factored into his decision, Durant clearly felt suffocated by the bigger, more dominant personality of Russell Westbrook. Getting away from that was more important than anything and the Warriors are 180 degrees different.

Durant says it -- without directly saying it.

"I hear all the narratives throughout the season that I was hopping on bandwagons, that I was letting everybody else do the work," Durant said. "That was far from the truth. I came in and tried to help my team, try to be myself, be aggressive and sacrifice as well. There was some games I might not get as many shots as I'm used to getting. There are some games where Steph is going to go off and hit 13 threes or Klay might hit 60 or Draymond might get a triple-double with no points. But nobody cared. As long as he won. Andre Igoudala, who is right there, continued to preach that every single day. It's all about the group. If your intentions are good then that means as a team that we're moving in the right direction."

This season was all about Westbrook's quest to break Oscar Robertson's triple-double record (he did) and averaging one (and he did). It also turned into a referendum on Durant's departure from Oklahoma City, with Westbrook intent on showing he didn't need him.

With complicity from his teammates, Westbrook chased stats to create the groundswell that he should be the MVP. They boxed out the opposing team at the foul line and allowed Westbrook to swoop in to grab uncontested rebounds to pad those numbers. 

He dominated the ball like no one else in league history. While the talent surrounding him isn't great, Victor Oladipo, Taj Gibson, and Steven Adams are solid role pieces, he doesn't exactly make those players better.

What Westbrook did was special in its own way but it only benefitted the individual. Durant wanted to play in a system that is more about the collective and next to a point guard like Curry who'd gladly sacrifice for him. Durant benefitted the team but when it was time to get his own shot in an isolation in the fourth quarter he did it.

The ultimate irony, of course, is if Westbrook wins the regular-season MVP in a few weeks, Durant will have already one-upped him.

He wasn't a passenger on Golden State's championship team. He was the engine. He had the ball in the fourth quarter. The Warriors might not have won the crown without him. Durant was the antidote for LeBron James, who averaged a triple-double in the Finals.

Who remembers or even cares now that at the rookie combine Durant was ridiculed for not being able to bench press 135 pounds?

He can lift his trophies, and no one for Golden State is going to overshadow him.

MORE NBA: The Warriors didn't blow a 3-1 lead this year

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Markieff Morris

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Markieff Morris' season...

Player: Markieff Morris

Position: Power forward

Age: 28

2017-18 salary: $8 million

2017-18 stats: 73 G, 27.0 mpg, 11.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg, 48.0 FG%, 36.7 3P%, 82.0 FT%, 53.6 eFG%, 116 ORtg, 112 DRtg

Best game: 12/1 vs. Pistons - 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, zero turnovers, 10-for-16 FG, 2-for-3 3PT

Season review: It took quite a while for Markieff Morris to get healthy in the 2017-18 season. He was sidelined to begin last offseason with the ankle injury he suffered against the Celtics in the playoffs, then in September had surgery on both his abdomen and groin. The sports hernia surgery was known, while the groin procedure was revealed once the season was over.

Morris only missed nine games in the entire season, but took time to find his rhythm early. He averaged just 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds in 14 games in the month of November. He picked it up after that, though he never quite reached the level we saw from him in 2016-17 in terms of volume production.

Morris played less minutes, took less shots, scored fewer points and grabbed less rebounds than the season before. On the other hand, he was more efficient than ever. Morris shot 48 percent from the field, his best since 2013-14, and posted career-highs in three-point percentage (36.7) and effective field-goal percentage (53.6). 

The Wizards could use more scoring from Morris moving forward, especially at times when one of their primary options is injured, as was the case in 2017-18 when John Wall missed 41 games. An active and engaged Morris changes everything for the Wizards. 

When Morris scored 15 points or more this season, the Wizards went 15-8. The season before, they went 22-9 when he got to the 15-point mark. 

It's a bit difficult to project Morris' role for the 2018-19 season at this point, given the fact he's entering a contract year and the most logical area for the Wizards to make significant changes (if they choose to) is in their frontcourt. Also, as Morris discussed in his exit interview, he knows more time at center in small-ball sets could be in his future.

Regardless of what happens with the team, it's a huge summer for Morris individually. If he sets himself up well for a big year in 2018-19, he could earn a nice payday in what might be his last long-term contract given his age.

Potential to improve: Rebounding, screens, scoring

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

Marcin Gortat, C

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2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

2017-18 Wizards roster review: Marcin Gortat

To wrap up the 2017-18 season, we are looking at each player on the Wizards' roster. Today, we evaluate Marcin Gortat's season...

Player: Marcin Gortat

Position: Center

Age: 34

2017-18 salary: $12.8 million

2017-18 stats: 82 G, 25.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.7 bpg, 51.8 FG%, 67.5 FT%, 51.8 eFG%, 112 ORtg, 107 DRtg

Best game: 10/18 vs. Sixers - 16 points, 17 rebounds, 3 blocks, assist, 7-for-12 FG

Season review: Marcin Gortat is self-aware enough to know that what happened to him in 2017-18 was inevitable in many ways. He even publicly called it before the season.

He was one year older, with Ian Mahinmi healthy and in the rotation, and with the NBA continuing to move towards small-ball and big men who can play on the perimeter. As a result, Gortat saw his role in the Wizards rotation pared down noticeably.

Though he still started all 82 games, his minutes went down from 31.2 per game the year before the 25.3. Kelly Oubre, Jr., who played the majority of the season coming off the bench, logged more minutes than Gortat, though he was a starter.

Gortat's minutes were his fewest since the 2009-10 season, when he was a 25-year-old bench player for the Orlando Magic. His numbers this season followed suit. Gortat's points and rebounds per game were both the lowest since that 2009-10 campaign.

Gortat averaged a career-best 10.4 rebounds per game in 2016-17, but the minutes had a direct effect on his volume of boards. He pulled in 2.4 less per game this season despite his rebound percentage (17.0) being close to his career average (17.5). That career average, by the way, is 30th-best all-time an eighth among active players.

Not getting the same opportunities he had in years past, plus public misunderstandings with teammates, combined to make for a frustrating year for Gortat. He said on the Wizards Tipoff podcast midseason it was the worst year of his career. Gortat, though, did continue to make an impact setting screens for the Wizards and he rallied to finish relatively strong.

He had several solid outings in the playoffs, including his 16 points in Game 3 and his 12 rebounds in Game 5. The question is whether that is the last time we will see Gortat in a Wizards uniform.

Washington has played with the idea of trading Gortat for a while now. He popped up in rumors around the trade deadline in February, but remained on the roster. Now he has an expiring contract working in his favor, making it a bit more likely he gets dealt.

Gortat knows his future in Washington is uncertain, though he said following the season he would like to stay. It would not be surprising to him or anyone if he were traded this summer. If not, he's got one year left with the Wizards and could very well have his role decreased even more.

Potential to improve: Rim protection, midrange shooting, free throw percentage

More player season reviews:

John Wall, PG

Bradley Beal, SG

Otto Porter, SF

Kelly Oubre, Jr., SF

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