The countdown for Kevin Durant’s homecoming has begun

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KevinDurantBy DERON SNYDER

Did you hear the news?

Kevin Durant is coming home!

Two years from now!

Maybe.

Unless the rampant speculation and search for clues kills us first.

Durant, a four-time NBA scoring champ and D.C. native, made waves Tuesday at Team USA’s training camp in Las Vegas. All it took was speaking openly and honestly about perhaps joining the Wizards as a free agent in 2016.

“Kevin Durant feels tug to return home to Washington after LeBron James’ decision,” read a headline on Yahoo Sports.

USA Today wondered, “Could Kevin Durant be the next NBA star to head home?”

ESPN noted what Wizards fans hope is a telltale sentiment: “Kevin Durant: LeBron move ‘classy.’”

Bleacher Report put it all together: “Stay or go? Two years out, Kevin Durant is already weighing his options.”

Can we survive 24 months of this? Just another dozen would be excruciating. And we have the easy part here in D.C.; imagine Oklahoma City’s rising angst.

Such conjecture is unavoidable in today’s micro-instant environment. The continuous news cycle demands to be fed and it’s hardly a picky eater.

Junk food is just fine.

It’s not Durant’s fault that folks in D.C. and OKC are getting worked up about something that might or might not happen two summers from now. It’s not his fault that he’s asked to predict his feelings and thoughts in 2016, with no knowledge of events that will transpire before then.

And you can’t blame him for speaking on the unknown. Keeping his mouth shut wouldn’t quell the fire because everyone else is fanning the flames.

“It’s being talked about,” Durant told reporters Tuesday after Team USA’s practice. “Everybody is asking me about it every time I go on Instagram or Twitter. All my friends ask me about it. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m naïve to the fact that people think about that stuff.”

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Steroid Era feats still warrant Hall of Fame consideration

BarryBondsBy DERON SNYDER

There is no magic eraser.

Though we’d love to blot out certain actions and periods from our past, history is written in indelible ink. Pretending that something never happened, or ignoring its existence, doesn’t lead to progress.

Changed behavior and better decisions lead to progress.

Baseball today isn’t the same sport I covered fulltime from 1991-2000. Neither slugging statistics nor sluggers’ bodies are as big. It took an act of Congress and a rare concession from the players union, but the industry has moved beyond the Steroid Era.

However, our recollections remain. Not to mention the records.

Barry Bonds’ 73 homers. Roger Clemens’ last four Cy Young awards. The 136 round-trippers between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa in the Great Home Run Race of 1998.

Some fans sneer at the mention of those names – Bonds, Clemens, McGwire and Sosa – the era’s Four Horsemen. They’re the players who ruined baseball while simultaneously making it more popular, the cheaters who disgraced the game while making everyone involved richer.

But their feats will never go away and we’ll never forget, no matter how hard baseball wishes. We can’t look back on the sport and don a blindfold from the late ‘80s to the late 2000s. That period is as much a part of baseball as the Deadball Era and Segregation Era.

If Bonds and Clemens don’t belong in the Hall of Fame (maybe McGwire, too), we’re fooling ourselves in attempting to punish them.

“Treat them all the same,” former manager Tony La Russa told ESPN last week, prior to his induction Sunday. “If you were a Hall of Famer during that period as far as your pitching and playing, I would create some kind of asterisk, where everybody understands that, ‘Look, we have some questions, but you were still the dominant pitchers and players of your time.’

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Like most of us, Tony Dungy stays in the pack

TonyDungyBy DERON SNYDER

Not everyone is cut out to be a pioneer.

Thankfully, the role doesn’t require a horde of people.

Being at the forefront of unprecedented developments can be uncomfortable. The level of attention and scrutiny spikes like temperatures in July. Everywhere you go, the environment changes as soon as you arrive. Normalcy warps and cracks and becomes a distant memory.

After a while, though, firsts aren’t such a big deal.

Sure, they’re always honored for their roles. Their names are etched in stone and the history books. They are recognized for their feat as long as they live.

But as more folks follow suit, what once was considered bold, daring and shocking becomes the new norm.

By then, when the magnifying glass goes away and the spotlight goes out, it’s easier for the masses to join in and do the right thing, too.

So we shouldn’t be overly harsh in judging Tony Dungy’s comments that he “wouldn’t want to deal with all of it,” and therefore wouldn’t have drafted openly gay NFL player Michael Sam.

It turns out that Dungy’s heart really is in the right place.

He simply isn’t pioneer material.

“… I felt drafting him would bring much distraction to the team,” Dungy said in a statement released Tuesday, attempting to quell the firestorm he ignited by earlier remarks to the Tampa Tribune.

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Let the honeymoon begin for RG3 and Jay Gruden

RG3GrudenBy DERON SNYDER

Year 1 of the Robert Griffin III-Jay Gruden Era is upon us. And like most newlywed couples, they look wonderful together.

Griffin is fully recovered from the knee injury that severely hampered his performance last season. He seems happier and more relaxed, partially due to the absence of a knee brace and partially due to the absence of coach Mike Shanahan.

Gruden is eager, energetic and enthusiastic, raring to start his first training camp as an NFL head coach. Son of a football lifer, brother of a Super Bowl-winning  coach, Gruden is anxious to make his own mark under the family name.

Griffin and Gruden seem perfect for each other at this stage of their respective careers. They’re prime candidates to grow old and gray together – which is about 10 years for such duos – poised to join the ranks of Tom Brady-Bill Belichick, Eli Manning-Tom Coughlin, Drew Brees-Sean Payton and Ben Roethlisberger-Mike Tomlin.

Many thought Griffin and Shanahan were in it for the long haul, too, thought they could re-create the synergy that existed in Denver when the coach and John Elway won back-to-back Super Bowls together. Shanny was the old-school pro who would develop the budding star in RG3.

But Shanahan didn’t shape and mold the young QB.

He bent and nearly broke him instead. Shanahan might as well have been another defender delivering crushing blows as Griffin failed to slide.

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Nationals flush with possibilities as second half kicks in

NatsFlushWithPossibiitiesBy DERON SNYDER

This is more like it. This is what we expected from the Washington Nationals all along, winning a pair here and three-of-a-kind there, settling in at the table with one of baseball’s best hands.

They misplayed their cards last year and have spent most of this season with less than a full deck. But they’re beginning to roll now, picking up in the second half where they left off at the All-Star break.

The Nationals embarked on a nine-game road trip following Sunday’s thrilling, walk-off victory against Milwaukee. They opened the second half by taking two-of-three from the Brewers and improved to 26-15 since June 1, 18-11 since June 15.

We haven’t seen that sort of sustained success since the tail end of last season, when they mounted a too-little-too-late push and failed to reach the playoffs. The Nats had set us up with their “World-Series-or-bust” attitude and everyone was crushed at the end.

The crash – along with the Washington Wizards’ playoff run and the huge interest in World Cup soccer – might explain the Nats’ precipitous dip in local TV viewership. According to Sports Business Journal, ratings in the D.C. market through the first week of July were down 34 percent from the same point last season. Only the Dodgers and Rangers had bigger drops.

Last year, fans were still heady off the 2012 joy ride, anticipating a much better ending than Game 5 of the Division Series against St. Louis. Washington was a near-consensus pick to win the pennant in 2013 and former manager Davey Johnson seconded that notion whenever asked about it – if he didn’t bring it up on his own.

Rookie manager Matt Williams is much more low-key, just like in his playing days, when he circled the bases with his head down after homering, as if embarrassed for the pitcher.

This skipper is less colorful but the Nats arguably are more compelling. Their enhanced competitiveness should result in more victories as well as viewers down the stretch. Considering that they reached first place in the NL East despite having their Opening Day roster intact for less than one month, they should pull ahead if health doesn’t derail them.

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Skipping school another step toward college hoops’ sea change

EmmanuelMudiayBy DERON SNYDER

Emmanuel Mudiay was projected to be a diaper dandy, one of those freshman phenoms who shine in college hoops’ spotlight momentarily before cashing out as a lottery pick.

Widely considered the nation’s top guard entering next season, Mudiay first sent shockwaves by choosing SMU over bluebloods Kentucky and Kansas. It was a tremendous coup for coach Larry Brown and positioned the Mustangs as a Top 10 preseason team.

But now, Brown joins John Calipari and Bill Self in lamenting the 6-foot-5 point guard as another who got away.

“Emmanuel Mudiay has decided to pursue professional basketball opportunities,” Brown said Monday in a statement. “This is not an academic issue, since he has been admitted to SMU, but rather a hardship issue.”

Mudiay assuredly isn’t the only top-rated recruit facing economic “hardship.”

The Supreme Court used that term while ruling in Spencer Haywood’s favor and allowing underclassmen to turn pro in 1971. Five years later, the NBA decided anyone was eligible for “early entry,” regardless of financial status, before the league instituted its current policy in 2001 and mandated that players be at least 19 and one year out of high school.

Your family has trouble staying above water and making ends meet? Too bad. NBA teams will pay you millions to begin a pro career right away? Tough. You have absolutely no interest in college and won’t take it seriously if you attend? Fake it.

Or go directly from high school to the NBA D-League and pull down a cool $18,000-$30,000.

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All-Star Game an All-Jeter affair this year

JeterBy DERON SNYDER

If you’re irritated by the Derek Jeter Farewell Tour, weary of the accolades and tired of all the gift-giving, then you shouldn’t watch the All-Star Game. It might be downright sickening.

Then again, something’s wrong with you anyway if you begrudge these tributes for an all-time great player and ambassador.

We don’t know how, we don’t know who and we don’t know when. But the New York Yankees shortstop will be honored Tuesday night in his final All-Star Game. The players just have to think of something different than last year, when former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera wound up taking the field by himself and basking in a long round of applause.

Whatever recognition is bestowed on Jeter for his remarkable career, he certainly has earned it.

Time is catching up to the 40-year-old, who no longer resembles the tremendous player he’s been for two decades, but time can’t erase his five World Series championships, .311 career batting average and 3,407 hits. Selection to his 14th All-Star Game is based on lifetime achievement, not his pedestrian last go-round (.271 average).

Tuesday night will be the last chance for goodbyes on a national stage if the Yankees miss the playoffs again. There might not be another occasion to celebrate Jeter until his Hall of Fame election in 2020.

Hating the Yankees is a fulltime job for some fans, and this lovefest can’t be easy for them. They argue that Jeter’s legend is inflated due to his New York address. They contend that the fistful of World Series rings is due to the late George Steinbrenner’s checkbook. They insist that Jeter can’t be as angelic as the media portrays him.

There are grains of truth in those stances, but they’re washed away by a sea of evidence to the contrary.

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Baylor tribute to RG3 honors his past, not his future

RG3statueBy DERON SNYDER

I’m neither a Baylor University alum nor a fan of the Baylor Bears. But I know what I’d say to outsiders who oppose Robert Griffin III’s upcoming statue outside the school’s new stadium:

Mind your business.

This isn’t just college football we’re talking about. It’s college football in Texas, a state with 12 FBS schools spread across five conferences. If their babies can’t grow up to be Cowboys, parents cross their fingers and hope for Longhorns, Red Raiders, Horned Frogs, or Aggies at the very least.

Only recently have Bears cracked the wish list and they’re rising quickly. The $260 million, 45,000-seat McLane Stadium will help.

So will the 9.5-foot bronze sculpture of RG3, whose role in Baylor’s resurgence is bigger than anyone not named Art Briles.

RG3’s immortalization doesn’t have a thing to do with his nascent NFL career. He has played only 28 games for the Washington Redskins. His record as a starting quarterback is 12-16. He ended last season on the bench after his team lost five straight games.

Folks in Waco reply: So what?

Griffin’s accomplishments at Baylor are substantial and permanent. There’s nothing he can do to tarnish his legacy or diminish his role in reviving a moribund program. Even if he goes from NFL Rookie of the Year and NFC East division champ to injury-plagued bust and perennial loser, it won’t change a thing on campus.

Baylor is preparing to play its 109th season of intercollegiate football. It had won 10 games in a season only once before RG3 led the Bears to a 10-3 record in 2011, including an Alamo Bowl victory.

He lifted the program while improving his completion percentage each season and helped put butts in seats. Home attendance increased in each of his four seasons, rising from 34,124 per game to 41,368 in his final year.

Critics say that’s well and good, but it doesn’t necessarily warrant a statue.

They’re absolutely right.

So here’s the trump card, the fact that should end any debate and shut-up every detractor:

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Human element here to stay, replay or no replay

Melky Cabrera says he's safe (and appeared to be safe) but was called out and the call stood.

Melky Cabrera says he’s safe (and appeared to be safe) but was called out.

By DERON SNYDER

Upon further review – and we knew this beforehand – we’ll never totally eliminate “the human element” that baseball loves and used as a defense in resisting instant replay all these years.

Cutting-edge technology at every conceivable angle still can’t overcome the old-fashioned synapses found in baseball umpires and MLB’s New York-based replay officials.

No matter how many bad calls are made right, the resentment is palpable when incorrect rulings are allowed to stand. Such was the case with Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista, who ripped the system Saturday after a 5-1 loss against Oakland.

Bautista couldn’t believe that umpires upheld a call in which Melky Cabrera was called out on a close play at home, although one replay during the two-and-a-half minute delay showed Oakland catcher Derek Norris missing Cabrera’s back with a swipe tag.

“I don’t really know which replay they were looking at, but clearly they must have had a different video feed than the one we had,” Bautista told reporters. “… This whole replay thing has become a joke in my eyes. I think they should just ban it, they should just get rid of it. I don’t really understand the purpose of it, but getting the right call on the field is not the purpose. That’s pretty obvious and evident.”

Bautista’s emotions got the better of him, partially because the Blue Jays have initiated so many replay challenges at crucial, game-turning junctures and been on the wrong end so often.

According to baseballsavant.com,  Toronto and Tampa Bay tied for the most challenges through Sunday at 29 apiece. In MLB this season, the first in which the system has been used, 48 percent of calls have been overturned. The Blue Jays’ success rate is 31 percent; only the St. Louis Cardinals (15 percent) are worse. Miami (81 percent) leads all of baseball.

Delays can be maddening when umpires linger while TV viewers see clear-cut looks that should make for quick and easy decisions. All of us have experienced Bautista’s incredulity when officials take all that time and then refuse to reverse obvious bad calls.

Nonetheless, growing pains and all, baseball is better off for entering the 21st century and taking advantage of replay technology. A measure of protection from egregious gaffes, such as Dan Denkinger’s infamous blown call in the 1985 World Series, is worth the accompanying interruptions.

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Maybe Tim Howard can save Bryce Harper from himself

rockies-nationals-bas_lanc4_s640x450By DERON SNYDER

Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:

*Why Bryce Harper thinks he’s entitled to manage.

Full-blown jerkdom is ahead for the Nationals’ wunderkind unless he changes course. Coming off the disabled list (again) and offering unsolicited lineup advice is wrong for established vets, let alone 21-year-olds in their third season. Defending Harper’s excesses will always be easier in Washington – or wherever he plays – but it will be harder to like him if this behavior continues.

Memo to Harper: Matt Williams has a job; focus on your own.

*How goalie Tim Howard didn’t feel all alone.

During Howard’s incredible performance against Belgium, LeBron James had flashbacks to Cleveland. Someone on Twitter wondered if Howard can save their marriage. Another person suggested the GOP should recruit Howard and bring him to Washington to help with blocking. He set a World Cup record with 16 saves, many in spectacularly awesome fashion.

His teammates didn’t leave him on an island; they put him in solitary confinement.

*Why the Milwaukee Bucks trust new coach Jason Kidd.

As a freshman in 1994, Kidd led a successful revolt against Cal coach Lou Campanelli. As a rookie coach last season, Kidd made Lawrence Frank the league’s highest-paid assistant but quickly banished him to a desk job. Now, Kidd just lost a power play in Brooklyn, stabbed Larry Drew in the back and is measuring GM John Hammond’s office.

Milwaukee’s new owners deserve to make their own hire and they’ll get what they deserve.

*How Trevor Ariza can pass on the Wizards.

Playing for six teams over 10 seasons can make you long for stability. That – plus a plethora of open looks thanks to John Wall – is what Washington offers its free agent. The Los Angeles native will receive strong interest from a number of teams, including the Lakers. But he has a good thing going in D.C.

With Martin Gortat re-signed, Ariza is the last piece on a strong starting five he can call his own.

*Why Luis Suarez’s penalty should be reduced.

The Uruguay striker keeps his hands to himself better than his teeth. He has finally apologized to Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, days after chomping his shoulder and receiving a nine-game suspension and four-month ban from FIFA. Previously, he gnawed an opponent’s neck and munched another opponent’s chest, yet Suarez says the sanction is too stiff.

Let’s sign along: “ … For it’s one, two, three bites, you’re out at the old ball match.”

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