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Saturday, June 24, 2017

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Kevin Durant wears hilarious cupcake hat

Now that he’s officially an NBA champion and a Finals MVP, Kevin Durant is letting the petty flow through this veins.

Durant attended Golden State Warriors teammate JaVale McGee’s charity softball game on Saturday wearing an apparently custom-made hat featuring a cupcake with a championship ring on top instead of a cherry.

Of course, the cupcake theme had been a major part of the anti-Durant rallying cry this past season thanks to this now-famous Instagram post from ex-Thunder teammate Russell Westbrook. The Oklahoma City fans also embraced it to the fullest when Durant returned to Chesapeake Energy Arena for the first time as a Warrior last February.

But with Durant now looking down at the rest of the basketball world from the top of Championship Mountain, it’s probably a good time to recall the old saying of “He who laughs last laughs best.”

H/T For The Win

#LeBronJamesChallenge is new viral social media craze

LeBron James bald

LeBron James didn’t wait long after the NBA Finals to get back on social media — or back in the gym. Three days after the Warriors finished off the Cavaliers in Game 5, LeBron posted an Instagram video of himself working out and celebrating his new bald head.

Bald head nut!! #IHearEmPrayingOnMyDownfall #CantStopWontStop #striveforgreatness

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

James danced and sang along to Tee Grizzley’s track, “First Day Out.” The video was funny for a number of reasons: James’ bald-headedness, his shirtless dancing and singing, and the fact that he seemed so unbothered by the Warriors’ Finals victory.

It was such an odd and hilarious video, in fact, that others weren’t content with letting it fade away. They decided to mimic it and post their own versions.

This Twitter user saw it coming:

And now the #LeBronJamesChallenge is in full swing. The Antetokounmpo brothers drew awareness to it when they posted their own video Friday.

This guy has easily the best one we’ve seen so far:

There have been more than a few entries worthy of an “honorable mention” distinction.

LeBron is probably getting a good laugh out of this, too. Judging by his frequent social media posting this offseason and his lighthearted response to Draymond Green’s “Quickie” shirt, James is having a fun offseason, despite the way the season ended.

LaVar Ball’s college coach Kelvin Sampson roasted him in 1988 newspaper article

LaVar Ball has cemented himself as a well-known figure in sports. As ESPN’s Darren Rovell pointed out, Ball and his son, Lonzo, were two of three most-tweeted-about people during Thursday night’s NBA Draft.

LaVar has made some pretty audacious claims about his playing ability. Though he was by all accounts an average college player, he talks as if he could still get buckets in the NBA today. He’s even made some ridiculous comments about what would happen if he played Michael Jordan one-on-one.

Ball averaged 2.2 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.0 assists per game in his lone year at Washington State. That season was Kelvin Sampson’s first as the Cougars’ head coach. And, according to an old newspaper excerpt that surfaced on Twitter Friday, Sampson didn’t think much of Ball’s offensive game.

“We could lock LaVar in a barn for two hours and I don’t think he’d score 20 points,” Sampson said in Jan. 1988. “His role is not to score points.”

The excerpt comes from the Lewiston Tribune, a small daily newspaper that covers Idaho and Washington.

Ball didn’t get much love from the writer of the piece, columnist Jeff Spevak.

“LaVar Ball, now there’s a prime example of a role player,” Spevak wrote.

Ball was invited after college to a football tryout, and he went on to have a brief professional football career. He made the Jets’ and Panthers’ practice squads.

Sampson, who was only 32 at the time he made the above comments, went on to become the head coach of Oklahoma and Indiana. He’s now the head coach of the Houston Cougars.

Stephen A. Smith praises LaMar Odom, says Phil Jackson was ‘target of my ire’

Stephen A Smith

Stephen A. Smith came under fire this week for taking what many considered a cheap shot at Lamar Odom, and the ESPN personality released a statement on Friday in an attempt to clarify his comments.

Earlier in the week, Smith was ranting about Phil Jackson when he noted that one of the Knicks president’s first moves with the team was to sign Lamar Odom at the end of the 2013-2014 season despite the big man being “on crack.” In a statement released to Deadspin late Friday night, Smith praised Odom and said he only intended to bash Jackson.

“Because of my personal affection for Lamar Odom — and only for that reason — I want to return to my comments about something I’ve repeated quite often over the last few days: the flagrant ineptitude that I feel has been on continual display by Knick’s President Phil Jackson.

My comments were NOT to put any more focus on Lamar Odom’s much publicized drug use and addiction. He was not the target of my ire.

The sole focus of my comments were directed at the unmitigated disaster that Phil Jackson has created since he’s arrived in New York. It my opinion, he simply couldn’t leave soon enough.

Lamar Odom is simply one of the nicest athletes any of us have encountered, and has always been a gentlemen to everyone in NBA circles — including me — which is something I’ve repeated throughout the years.

That’s why it’s worth repeating: Lamar Odom was not the focus of my ire. My comments were entirely, totally, meant for Phil Jackson. Anyone who loves the NY Knicks, who’ve witnessed what has been transpiring over the last three years, know exactly who I was directing my comments to.

And Why!”

If you notice, Smith stopped short of apologizing to Odom. An attorney who represents Odom bashed Smith in a letter Friday night, and Odom tweeted the message with some commentary of his own.

Smith is as stubborn as they come, so it’s no surprise he didn’t come out and apologize. Even if what he said about Odom’s drug use was true, dragging Lamar’s addiction into a rant about Jackson was unfair.

Ranking the toughest divisions in the NFL

An ongoing debate among NFL fans is which division has the best rivalries and the toughest schedule. And while the latter half of the argument changes on a year-to-year basis, it’s still a fun and often intense debate.

The 2016 regular season brought about a few surprises that changed the divisional power dynamic, and 2017 will likely bring about more. But for the time being — at least in this writer’s opinion — the pecking order has been established.

Similar to an NFL game, where the margin of victory tends to be razor thin, the line between the best division and the worst division is nearly nonexistent. So with that in mind, here are all eight divisions ranked from weakest to toughest.

8. NFC West
Teams: Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, San Francisco 49ers

After any other season, the argument could be made that the NFC West is among the toughest divisions in football. In 2016 and even entering 2017, that’s not the case at all.

The Rams and 49ers are knee-deep in a rebuilding mode, and each are a few years away from regaining any type of competitive form within the NFC West, let alone becoming potential playoff contenders.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals had been legitimate Super Bowl contenders for three years leading up to the 2016 season, but suffered a dramatic fall, finishing with a record of 7-8-1. And although it’s probably a safe bet that they’ll improve in 2017, it won’t be enough to change the overall complexion of their division.

The Seahawks remain the dominant team in the West, just as they have for the last five seasons, finishing with no fewer than 10 wins and finishing no lower than second place. However, their offense took a clear turn for the worst and their conference record (6-5-1) was nothing to write home about.

7. AFC East
Teams: New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets

The Patriots are the most dominant team in football, so therefore the AFC East must be the most dominant division, right? Well, anyone who pays attention knows that’s wrong.

Yes, New England is the most consistently successful team in the NFL, but they’re helped along that path by a lacking and sometimes downright terrible division. In fact, only twice since 2003 has one of their division rivals even bumped them from finishing first by seasons end.

The Dolphins carved up a relatively easy schedule in 2016, but that will not be the case in 2017. Their schedule becomes much tougher and it’s hard to imagine they’ll duplicate their 10 wins.

Finally, the Jets are clearly trending downward and are not expected to compete, while the Bills enter rebuild mode under new head coach Sean McDermott.

6. AFC South
Teams: Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars

The AFC South if full of young and exciting talent. It’s trending upwards and toward division-wide balance, but may still be a few years off from being legitimately competitive within the conference. It was also the only division in the NFL without at least one 10-game winner a season ago.

Injuries took a toll on all four teams, with superstars like J.J. Watt, Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota all being lost. That left the Titans, Texans and Colts all battling it out — finishing within one game of each other — for the division crown, and the Jaguars in the basement looking up.

The arrival of Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville, coupled with two straight years of free agency spending sprees, will soon change their fortunes. And in a division that’s already close at the top, it should make things that much closer.

Going into 2017, each team has a chance to rise above the rest, but none are likely serious contenders for a Super Bowl title as of yet. But they are inching closer.

5. NFC North
Teams: Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears

The NFC North is an old school, smash-mouth division that appears to be returning to its roots from top to bottom.

The Bears clearly reside in the basement entering 2017, but even they appear poised to finally set things right moving forward. And while it will take some time before they’re back competing with the Packers, Vikings and Lions, they should improve upon their 3-13 mark from a season ago.

At the top, Green Bay still leads the way, but their stronghold is diminishing slightly. The Lions and Vikings are both noticeably headed in the right direction, with Minnesota sporting the kind of dominant defense specifically built to compete within the division.

Similar to the AFC South, the top three teams were neck and neck for much of the season. A collapse by the Vikings left the Lions and Packers to battle it out, and 10 wins eventually got it done.

4. NFC South
Teams: Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints

The NFC South is an interesting division because you can look at all four teams and see real promise.

Yes, the Saints and Panthers left quite a bit to be desired a season ago, but any team with Drew Brees at the helm has the potential to be dangerous. Meanwhile, the Panthers should now be over their Super Bowl hangover and chomping at the bit to return to playoff contention.

Led by quarterback Jameis Winston, the Buccaneers are an up and coming team poised to compete with the high octane Falcons in 2017, who have a crushing Super Bowl collapse to overcome.

Arguably, this division could be ranked higher on this list and, in a year from, it very well may.

3. AFC North
Teams: Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns

The AFC North wasn’t as competitive as it’s known to be in 2016, but based on reputation alone, they deserve a mulligan for a down year.

In 2017, the Steelers are expected to compete for a playoff spot as they usual do, while the Ravens should improve and the Bengals are poised to bounce back after an unusually poor season. The Browns… Well, they’re the Browns.

When all is said and done, it will likely be the Steelers and Ravens — a classic football rivalry — battling it out for the division crown, but Cincinnati may find themselves back in the race as well. They did solid work during the NFL Draft and if their offensive line can find a way to improve despite its losses, the AFC North could return to a legitimate three-team race where more than 10 games are needed to take the crown.

The division would be even better if the Browns were anything to write home about, but they consistently feel like they’re years away. The good news is they have talented young players to develop and should be able to win more than one game in 2017.

2. NFC East
Teams: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins

One of the more balanced divisions in football, the NFC East has once again established itself among the toughest in the league.

On the shoulders of rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys surged to a division title in 2016, but it didn’t come easy. They were twice defeated by the Giants, who finished with an 11-5 record and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and also took a late-season loss to the Eagles.

With the Cowboys finishing at 13-3 with three division losses, it speaks to the volume of parody in the East.

The Redskins also finished with an above .500 record, while the Eagles showed glimpses of what’s to come. Carson Wentz’s late-season struggles are what kept Philadelphia from a .500 record of their own, but it’s clear they’re also on an upward trajectory.

With the additions of Brandon Marshall, Tyrelle Pryor, Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and others, the NFC East will feature more explosive offensive talent than was seen a year ago — a perfect counter-balance to some of the strong defenses (particularly the Giants).

1. AFC West
Teams: Oakland Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers

In just a matter of years, the AFC West has established itself as the toughest and most competitive division in all of football.

A year removed from the Broncos winning it all, the Raiders and Chiefs finished the 2016 season with 12 wins a piece — the first division since 2013 to produce two 12-game winners. And while the Broncos faltered a bit in the aftermath of Peyton Manning’s retirement, ultimately finishing with a 9-7 record, their defense kept them competitive.

The Chargers were the odd team out, finishing at 5-11 a season ago, but their two-year run of poor play could quickly come to an end. Philip Rivers is still a top-end quarterback and their move to Los Angeles could be rejuvenating.

Add in Marshawn Lynch and the AFC West only gets that much better in 2017. It’s going to be the division to watch all season if you truly love good, competitive football.

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Derek Carr: I’ll hand off to Marshawn Lynch, not throw at 1-yard line

Derek Carr

Derek Carr held a press conference on Friday to officially announce that he has signed a five-year extension with the Oakland Raiders, and he managed to work in a shot at the Seattle Seahawks while chatting with the media.

Carr, who is now the highest-paid player in the NFL with an average annual salary of $25 million, said he does not feel any added pressure to light up the stat sheet. As an example, he assured reporters he will be happy to hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch at the 1-yard line rather than throwing it.

“There’s no pressure. There’s no, ‘We’ll be on the 1-yard line and I won’t give it to Marshawn, I’ll throw it.’ None of that stuff,” Carr joked. “I don’t care about the stats. That’s not my No. 1 objective. I don’t care if I throw 10 touchdowns next year. If we win every game, that’s all I care about.”

That’s cold, Derek.

The Seahawks, of course, lost Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots after Malcolm Butler made one of the greatest plays in sports history (video here). The play call has been scrutinized for the better part of two years, and some players in Seattle still haven’t gotten over it.

Rest assured, the Raiders will not be making the same mistake with Beast Mode in their backfield.

Magic Johnson takes parting shot at D’Angelo Russell’s leadership qualities

Magic Johnson

Days after sending D’Angelo Russell packing, Magic Johnson continues to show him no mercy and no chill.

Addressing the media at Lonzo Ball’s introductory press conference on Friday, the Los Angeles Lakers president of basketball operations took a parting shot at Russell and his perceived lack of leadership qualities.

“D’Angelo is an excellent player,” said Johnson, per Baxter Holmes of ESPN. “He has the talent to be an All-Star. We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader. I needed somebody that can make the other players better and also [somebody] that players want to play with.”

The 21-year-old Russell was traded to the Brooklyn Nets earlier this week along with Timofey Mozgov in exchange for Brook Lopez and a first-round pick. Maturity concerns often overshadowed the former No. 2 pick’s talent during his time with the Lakers, and Johnson did indeed indicate at the time that he wanted more leadership from Russell. The Lakers are now moving on to a new No. 2 pick in Ball, and based on these comments from Johnson about him, it sounds like Ball better checks off the boxes that the team is looking for.

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