Jason Witten shows he’s all in, once again, with latest extension

FRISCO, Texas — Almost every time Dallas Cowboys coach Jason Garrett talks about tight end Jason Witten, the message is the same.

“He’s as professional a person, as professional a player as I’ve ever been around,” Garrett said last season. “His commitment to doing things the right way, his commitment to excellence is unmatched. Again, it’s beyond just a day, it’s everything he does within that day.”

With Witten signing a four-year extension through 2021, according to league sources, he is again showing what he is about.

This deal doesn’t add any guaranteed money to his pockets. As the franchise leader in receptions and just 17 yards away from being the leader in yards, he could have waited on a new deal with more guaranteed money in the future. He could have waited to test the market in 2018, even as a 15-year veteran, to potentially chase a Super Bowl ring with another team.

With his résumé, he could have demanded more than he received.

But Witten’s intention is clear. If he is going to win a Super Bowl, it will be with the Cowboys. He is doing what Garrett says he does — pouring his heart into this team.

Witten is the soul of these Cowboys. Going into the last year of his deal, it would have been difficult for him to lead the way he has without the security of added years, if not added money. He did not want teammates to wonder where he would be after the 2017 season. He did not want to incessantly answer questions as to whether this will be his final year with the Cowboys.

He took care of that by taking care of the Cowboys.

The Cowboys have the right to restructure his $7.4 million base salary this year to create nearly $4 million in room. The money can come in handy if the Cowboys have the opportunity to acquire a difference-maker in a trade later this offseason or even during the season.

Witten’s cap numbers in the future are manageable and will allow the Cowboys to keep their younger talent when they come up on contract years.

As much as this can help the Cowboys’ salary cap in 2017 and beyond, it’s more than that.

Witten arrived in Dallas as a 21-year-old kid full of optimism. He is now a 34-year-old father of four. He has become the franchise leader in a number of categories and will add more in 2017, but he is also the conscience of the locker room.

Last season, he perfectly handled the personal disappointment of seeing Tony Romo get injured — and ultimately lose his job — while also supporting Dak Prescott. Witten has the gravitas to handle any situation in the locker room, on either side of the ball, with veteran players and younger players.

A little more than a dozen players were part of the council that created the much-lauded players’ creed last season, but Witten led the discussions. If players become upset with different situations, Witten can calm the waters. He bridges the concerns of players to coaches and coaches to players.

As he stood in the locker room after the loss to the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round, Witten was emotional as he answered questions. He realized his chances to get to that Super Bowl were dwindling. Retirement became a real option for the first time.

Now, that will have to wait.

As the informal captains practices go on at The Star, the Cowboys’ training facility, Witten is there every morning, running and lifting and serving as the example for every other Cowboy to follow.

Once again, he’s all in.

Russell Westbrook first to be perfect on FGs, FTs in triple-double

OKLAHOMA CITY — In a season full of history, Russell Westbrook made a little more Wednesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers, becoming the first player to record a triple-double while going perfect from the floor and the free throw line.

“Just play, honestly,” Westbrook said of his efficient night in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 122-97 win. “Just trying to take my time. [I] watched some film and just trying to pick my spots better. Find ways to get my teammates involved throughout the game. Just happy to win.”

Westbrook shot 6-of-6 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the free throw line, finishing with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists in 28 minutes.

“He really did a good job,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You look at the stat line and it is an interesting stat line, isn’t it? It was eye-popping, but he just doesn’t go away.”

It’s the first game Westbrook ever has been perfect from the field, and it’s the first time in 83 games that he didn’t attempt a 3-pointer. The six shot attempts also tied a career low in games in which he played more than 20 minutes.

“He’s always trying to figure out what the game calls for, and he tries to go in there and do the very best job he can in leading, incorporating everybody else and finding his teammates,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “He’s surveying what’s going on and what our team needs.”

In the third quarter, Westbrook actively turned down a couple of open looks from 3 to work the ball into the post.

“Just making sure I’m on balance before I shoot,” he said of the somewhat unusual shot discipline. “Sometimes I rush ‘em, but trying to prepare myself and make sure I’m taking on-balance shots.”

The 76ers struggled containing Westbrook in transition, where he would rebound misses and instantly turn them into fast-break opportunities for the Thunder. Of his career 72 triple-doubles, five have come against the Sixers, the most he has had against any one team.

“It’s not a one-person job [to guard him]. It’s an entire team,” Sixers guard T.J. McConnell said. “We just have to clog his driving lanes, and he’s going to get his. He averages a triple-double, for Chrissake, so it’s tough for us to stop him.”

Westbrook recorded his 35th triple-double of 2016-17 and 13th this season in three quarters or less. With 11 games to go, he is six away from tying Oscar Robertson for the most triple-doubles in a season. Westbrook is averaging 31.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game and is on pace to become the first player since Robertson in 1961-62 to average a triple-double on the season.

Steve Kerr, Stephen Curry deny Warriors upset with how OKC handled Kevin Durant’s Feb. 11 return

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Warriors’ Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry have disputed an ESPN report that Golden State was furious about the inactivity from Thunder leadership leading up to Kevin Durant’s first return visit to Oklahoma City on Feb. 11.

Sources told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that the Warriors were of the mindset that someone from ownership or management should have addressed the media on Durant’s behalf to help ease the tension upon his return.

“I don’t agree,” Kerr said. “[Thunder general manager] Sam Presti’s a friend of mine. I know [Thunder chairman] Clay Bennett, it’s a class organization all the way. So I don’t really pay any attention to a story like that unless there’s an actual name that’s put on, so, I assume it’s just sources? Sources? So I don’t know who that is. It’s nobody with the Warriors. So, we have great respect for the Thunder. Sam’s been a friend of mine forever. They’re first class, so I don’t know where that comes from.”

In February, Warriors assistant coach Bruce Fraser told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that he thought the emotion was high because “Kevin is so connected to people on an emotional level.”

“So I get that they were hurt, but why all the hate? From what I understand, he’s given a lot back to this community … It’s fair to boo him and to cheer for your team by making the environment tough. If he’s a bad guy or he came out and said he didn’t like the place, I could see hate. But KD at his core is an unbelievable human,” Fraser said.

Kerr said “emotional returns or farewells” in the NBA have become “routine” because “guys get traded, they get cut, they sign elsewhere as free agents.”

“It’s kind of what makes the whole thing work, it’s the connection from the fans, the emotional connection. So that will lead to some tears, some cheers, some boos. A little bit of everything. It’s all just part of the game.”

Curry also dismissed the report.

“This league is a very interesting place all the way through. Certain stories that don’t need to see the light of day, don’t need to have any kind of life breathed into them, are somehow the most popular. It’s kind of how it goes,” he said. “To me it’s kind of comical. Just what can be put on a spotlight during an 82-game year, and at the end of the day we’re all just trying to win games and enjoy what we do for a living, and that’s it.”

Curry said he wasn’t surprised by the story.

“I actually look forward to waking up and seeing what ridiculousness is posted,” he said.

The jets may increase the cornerback Morris Claiborne to secondary

Free-agent cornerback Morris Claiborne is expected to sign with the New York Jets, a league source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Claiborne would become the second cornerback to leave the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. Brandon Carr reached agreement on a four-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday.

Dallas lost two other members of its secondary last week when safeties Barry Church (Jacksonville) and J.J. Wilcox (Tampa Bay) signed elsewhere.

The Jets released cornerback Darrelle Revis last week and need secondary help after they struggled in pass coverage last season.

Claiborne, who turned 27 in February, was off to the best start of his career in 2016 after re-signing with the team on a one-year deal, but he suffered a groin injury on Oct. 30 that sidelined him for nine games. He returned for the playoffs and suffered a hip injury in a loss to Green Bay.

For the season, he finished with 26 tackles, an interception, a fumble return and five pass deflections in seven games.

Injuries have plagued Claiborne’s career since the Cowboys traded up to get him with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 draft.

He had wrist surgery before the draft that limited his offseason work as a rookie, but he managed to start 15 games and finished with 55 tackles and one interception. From 2013 to ’16, he managed to play more than 10 games in a season just once (11 in 2015). He tore his patellar tendon in 2014 and missed the final 12 games of the season. He made a solid recovery in 2015 but missed five games with hamstring and ankle injuries.

For his career, he has just four interceptions and has never had more than one in a season. He also has four fumble recoveries and 151 tackles.

The Jets also re-signed defensive tackle Mike Pennel, his agent announced on Twitter. They claimed him on waivers in January, but declined to tender him as a restricted free agent. They brought him back on a one-year contract.

Pennel (6-foot-5, 360 pounds) spent his first three seasons with Green Bay, showing promise at times, but he was suspended twice last season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He will provide interior depth along the Jets’ defensive line.

Andre Ellington returned to the Cardinals for a year

The Arizona Cardinals re-signed running back Andre Ellington to a one-year deal, the team announced Monday.

Terms were not disclosed.

Ellington, who turned 28 in February, has had an underachieving four years with the Cardinals, capped last season by a career-low 46 touches accounting for 181 total yards.

Known for his speed and quickness, Ellington was Arizona’s feature back as a rookie in 2013 and again in 2014. However, injuries prevented him from maximizing his potential as he suffered a hip pointer, hip flexor, turf toe, a torn foot tendon and a PCL injury during his time in Arizona.

Ellington may have been the most impacted by David Johnson’s arrival to the Cardinals in 2015, as his touches dropped significantly the last two seasons from 247 in 2014 to 60 in 2015.

Smith returns to the new face of the Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — J.R. Smith will play Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons for the first time since fracturing his thumb on his right shooting hand in December, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said before the game.

“It’s going to take him some time, we know that,” Lue said. “But he brings defense. Can guard 1s, 2s and 3s and also the ability to knock down shots — timely shots at that. So, having him on the floor will be a big momentum boost for us.”

Smith will come off the bench and be under an undisclosed minute restriction, according to Lue.

“He hasn’t played in two months, two-and-a-half months,” Lue explained. “Then also with the minute restriction, it would be tough to try to start him.”

Smith suffered his injury Dec. 20 and missed 35 games following surgery. His initial timeline for return was set at 12-14 weeks. He beat the estimate by about a week.

This will be Smith’s 145th game with the Cavs after being acquired from the New York Knicks in the 2014-15 season, but just the second time he has come off the bench. Lue said it is possible Smith will resume his starting place at some point.

“I think so,” Lue said. “But we’ll see. We’ll see how the team is functioning and how we’re playing.”

Smith signed a four-year, $57 million extension with Cleveland in the offseason and is averaging 8.6 points on 33.7 percent shooting, 2.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 21 games played this season.

“Toughness,” said LeBron James when asked what Smith’s return will mean for the team. “He brings a lot of toughness on the perimeter. He’s a smart player with championship DNA. That helps.”

James said he has already prepped Smith to be patient as he reacclimatizes himself to a team that now features three rotation players — Derrick Williams, Deron Williams and Kyle Korver — who were not in Cleveland the last time he played.

“You can’t fast-track it when you’ve been out so long,” James said. “You can’t get frustrated with the process. That’s what it’s all about. And as great as J.R. has been for us, he can’t automatically think that he’s going to be exactly where he was when he went out. It will take some time and as a team we have to understand that as well. So that’s the main thing.”

While the Cavs welcome the returns of Smith and Lue, who missed the past three days with a bout of vertigo, they will miss the presence of Korver, who is ruled out with a strained tendon in his left foot.

“You get one back and you lose one but thankfully Korver’s is not as serious,” Lue said. “He should be back in due time.”

Pat Riley said LeBron James decided to leave the heat “the most shocking” thing

Miami Heat president Pat Riley told the Vertical in a recent interview that LeBron James’ decision to leave Miami after the 2013-14 season and return to Cleveland was “the most shocking” thing that has happened during his tenure with the team.

“Since I came here, we’ve had the same owner, same president, two coaches, same support staff. We’ve got a bunch of guys working for us who played for us,” Riley told the Vertical. “Players come and go, great players. When LeBron left, that was the most shocking thing to me — not to say he was right or wrong — and the most shocking thing to the franchise.

“But our culture is the same. You have your up years and your down years, but what can’t change is the way you do things.”

The Heat visit the Cavaliers on Monday in the third meeting this season between the teams.

The Heat defeated the Cavs on Saturday night in Miami, but James and fellow Cleveland star Kyrie Irving were both held out of the game to rest.

Bone bruises, MCL spikes make Kevin Durant out indefinitely

Warriors star Kevin Durant will miss at least four weeks after Golden State diagnosed him with a sprained MCL and a bone bruise on his left leg, the team announced Wednesday.

The Warriors announced that Durant is out indefinitely and would be re-evaluated in four weeks.

Golden State said Durant could play again in the regular season. The Warriors’ final regular-season game is scheduled for six weeks from Wednesday’s announcement.

“At this time it’s just speculation to guess when that is,” general manager Bob Myers said in a conference call. “He’ll heal as his body heals. And when he’s healed and our doctors clear him and we feel like it’s safe, he’ll play. I want to know as much as you guys, but at this point the plan is just to re-evaluate him and see where he’s at in four weeks.”

Myers acknowledged a 10- to 15-minute window in which the Warriors thought Durant’s injury was season-ending.

“There was a moment where there was a potential different diagnosis,” Myers said, “but that didn’t last too long and most of it was let’s get another image to make sure we have a clear look at this, and that’s what determined the final diagnosis as I was told.”

Warriors forward Draymond Green told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears in a text that he is “relieved” by the diagnosis.

“I’m definitely relieved. I thought it would be way worse,” Green wrote. “Being away weeks sucks, but we will take that over what was initially thought.”

Durant suffered the injury in the first quarter of Tuesday night’s 112-108 loss to the Washington Wizards. The injury occurred during a loose-ball situation in which Wizards center Marcin Gortat fouled Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who then fell backward into Durant’s leg. Durant jumped away from Pachulia’s contact, hopping while holding his left leg.

He proceeded to play the next two possessions before asking Warriors coach Steve Kerr to call timeout with 10:26 remaining in the quarter. After meeting with trainers, Durant, who was grimacing and holding his left leg, headed to the locker room and did not return.

Durant underwent an MRI on Tuesday night that revealed a Grade 2, or moderate, sprain in the knee and a bruised tibia.

Durant is in “good spirits” given the initial fears about the severity of the situation, league sources told ESPN’s Marc Stein.

Sources told Stein and ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that Durant, who will soon return to the Bay Area to begin treatment and recovery, was initially told he had suffered a fractured tibia as opposed to a bruised tibia, which would have been season-ending.

Nobody on the Warriors felt any concern that the play was intentional, Myers said.

“These things happen in sports,” he said. “Nobody’s raised that question on our side. I don’t know if it’s being raised outside of us. I spoke to Kevin a couple times. Other than just being disappointed that he’s injured, nobody’s mentioned anything like that.”

Wednesday’s injury news could challenge the Warriors (50-10) in their effort to clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the third straight season. They lead the San Antonio Spurs (45-13) by four games for the West’s top spot.

The Warriors remain the outright favorite to win the NBA title at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, with oddsmakers dropping Golden State slightly from minus-220 to minus-200 to win their second title in three years after Durant’s injury status was announced.

In the wake of Durant’s injury, the Warriors agreed to a deal with veteran swingman Matt Barnes, he confirmed to ESPN. The Sacramento Kings waived Barnes on Feb. 20 because they needed a roster spot to accommodate the players they received in their DeMarcus Cousins trade with the New Orleans Pelicans.