That’s why you don’t trade Kevin Durant

There’s an old saw in sports: sometimes the best jobs are the ones you don’t do.

To which, given how this NBA season has gone, particularly over the past month, we must now add: Sometimes the best trade requests are the ones you don’t honor.

After Kevin Durant asked to be traded this offseason, the Nets responded with the equivalent of the “We’ll review it and get back to you” email, setting a sky-high price (which was their right!) and essentially playing four corners until reaching a co-marked truce with their star. The team then spent the early parts of the season in various modes of embarrassment over the dismissal of Steve Nash as head coach, their flirtation with the disgraced Ime Udoka as his potential replacement and, above all, the whole by Kyrie Irving. balagan. While playing basketball below .500.

Now they’re the hottest team in the NBA, and quietly – because sometimes it feels like the Nets are less relevant when they play basketball, even though they play it very well – they’re starting to look like the title contender they were rumored to be.

Kevin Durant is averaging 30 points per game with historically efficient shooting numbers.
USA TODAY Sports

The Nets have won nine straight. They’re in third place in the Eastern Conference standings (a 3-6 Metro streak against the Knicks? We can dream). They are seventh in the league in net rating, outscoring opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions, with offense No. 5 and defense No. 12. Since Jacque Vaughn took over as coach the November 1, they are third in the league in net standings. Since Irving returned on November 20 after being informed [stern voice] leave and think long and hard about what you have donethey are 15-3 and also third in the NBA in net rankings over that span.

And Durant achieves this by not sulking and playing wonderful basketball. He’s averaging 30 points and shooting a career-best 56.3% from the field, including 62.6% on 2-point attempts. He’s adding 6.6 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.5 blocks per night while playing the fourth most minutes in the NBA. At 34, with a glued Achilles. Durant’s true shooting percentage — adjusted for 3-pointers and free throws — of 67.3 is the 37th-best single-season mark in NBA history, behind a group of big men who haven’t shot (including this season’s version on Nic Claxton) and Kyle Korver’s one-off sniper-type campaigns, and is an unprecedented 30-a-night scorer. Again, he is 34 years old.

Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets considers his options while guarded by Donovan Mitchell of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Since Kyrie Irving returned from a team suspension, the Nets are third in the NBA in net rankings.
NBAE via Getty Images

Durant’s superlative play amid this rise in the rankings and the Nets’ relatively long stretch without needing to reset the day counter since the last controversy allows them to recite a heartwarming talking point about enjoying a “basketball focus”. Whose subtext is: See, our jobs are much easier without all the questions about our second-best player’s refusal to disavow anti-Semitism.

But it’s not just the Nets who have emerged the best for not giving in to Durant’s initial demand and winning a round for The Man in the fight against “player empowerment.”

The Celtics and Pelicans, two of the teams most frequently mentioned as possible destinations for Durant and therefore two teams that ultimately decided not to trade for him, are potential Finals teams with great vibes. (The less said about the Raptors and Scottie Barnes, the better.)

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) heads for the basket against the Houston Rockets during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.
Excellent play by Jayson Tatum (0) and Jaylen Brown (7) rewarded the league’s best Celtics decision not to go all-in on a Durant trade.
PA

The Celtics are the consensus best team in the NBA, with a league-leading 25-10 record and advanced metrics backing it up. Jayson Tatum is the MVP of the world in which we forget Nikola Jokic (maybe even one where we don’t), and Jaylen Brown – who would have been the centerpiece of the Nets’ comeback – scores 27 points a night as his winger .

The Pelicans are the surprise of the league, jumping one game out of first place in the Western Conference and putting together a top-six offense and defense. Zion Williamson crushes people. They’re deep, they’re young, and they’re fun. And one of the draft picks they surely should have pulled from their closet as part of a Durant deal? The Lakers’ 2023 unprotected first-round pick, who is currently ranked seventh in the lottery.

Today’s last page

The back cover of the New York Post for December 28, 2022.
New York Post

Mav-solutely crushing

We need to take 35 seconds to marvel at the Knicks, which is more time than it took them to take a nine-point lead at the end of regulation en route to a crushing 126-121 overtime loss. Tuesday night against an imperial Luka. Doncic and the Mavericks.

• Doncic finished with 60 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists, the first triple-double of this magnitude in NBA history. Give the man his recovery beer.

• The Knicks took a 112-103 lead on a pair of Miles McBride free throws with 33.9 seconds left. The Mavericks then got a 3-pointer and a setback from Doncic and -1 sandwiched around a turnover from Quentin Grimes to cut the lead to three, and the Knicks were still leading by three when they committed. a foul on Doncic with 4.2 seconds left. He converted the first free throw, missed the second on purpose, grabbed the rebound and hit a leaner on the drop to force OT. Brutal.

• Until the Knicks lost, NBA teams were 13,884-0 over the past 20 seasons when leading by at least nine points with 35 seconds or less left, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

• Tom Thibodeau said: “It’s difficult. It’s a shame not to leave here with a victory.

• Jalen Brunson missed the match – his return to his former home ground in Dallas – with hip pain he suffered on Sunday. It was the first game Brunson missed in a Knicks uniform. RJ Barrett left the game after just two minutes with a lacerated right index finger and did not return.

• The Knicks (18-17) have lost four straight since a four-game winning streak.

The journey of Kodai Senga

Steve Cohen has a good idea of ​​what he will pay for next season. The Mets’ record payroll is filled with Cy Young Award winners and All-Stars, veterans and established New York artists.

But the biggest wildcard in the Mets owner’s budget is how Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga — who signed a five-year, $75 million deal this month — will fare in his first season in the majors. Senga, who turns 30 next month, has dreamed of this opportunity. He spent several years trying to join MLB, only to be repeatedly denied permission by the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who won six championships during Senga’s decade with the team.

Kodai Senga is pictured in uniforms for Japan's SoftBank Hawks and MLB's New York Mets, with Citi Field in the background.
Post photo composition

As detailed in a new Sports+ feature released this morning, Senga was an unheralded prospect who became one of his country’s biggest stars, whose unwavering confidence drove him to pick perhaps the most crowded destination. of pressure – and potentially rewarding – in the free agent market. .

“I just told him, ‘You better do good,'” said Brooklyn-born Dennis Sarfate, a longtime teammate of Senga (2014-21), before joining the Mets. “It can be tough if you don’t play through to that signing, so you better get that $15m a year because they’ll let you know if you’re not. I thought he’d pick the west coast, being closer to Japan and with travel… But I guess he wanted the big lights.

—Howie Kussoy

On the uphill slope

Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States competes in the first round of the giant slalom of the FIS Alpine Skiing Women's World Cup in Semmering, Austria on December 27, 2022.
Mikaela Shiffrin wins her 78th career World Cup victory, four short of the women’s all-time record.
AFP via Getty Images

The last time most people read or considered “Mikaela Shiffrin” and “giant slalom” in the same sentence, if they ever did, was during the 2022 Beijing Olympics, which took place. place less than 11 months ago, according to my startling calculations. That’s when the American ski superstar endured a hell of an Olympics, crashed out of the giant slalom, slalom and alpine combined and didn’t win a medal despite being favored in several tests.

Shiffrin was the picture of disappointment. The fact that she is the best skier in the world only made her struggles more baffling to the public and made the debate about her state of mind more intense.

But let’s go back: Mikaela Shiffrin won the giant slalom World Cup on Tuesday in Semmering, Austria. It was her 78th career World Cup win, putting her four shy of the women’s record held by Lindsey Vonn. It was her fourth World Cup victory of the young season – she leads the standings – as well as her first victory in the giant slalom discipline in more than a year. She remains the best skier in the world.

Shiffrin, 27, was due to run another giant slalom on Wednesday and a slalom on Thursday at Semmering with Vonn’s mark in sight.

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