From Comcast SportsNetEDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- Playing in the season opener has been at the forefront of Adrian Peterson's mind almost since he went down with a torn left ACL in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season.How long it has taken other running backs to return from the injury doesn't concern Peterson. The Minnesota Vikings' star running back has always seen himself as different from everyone else, and he has made it abundantly clear that he expects to play against Jacksonville on Sunday.He has one more week to make his case to Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and his staff.Frazier said on Monday that the Vikings would not make a decision on Peterson's status until game day, and he cautioned that even if Peterson does return, he shouldn't expect the workload he carried before he was injured just yet."We recognize if he's able to get in this first ballgame, it'll be with limited exposure," Frazier said. "We'll talk about it as the week goes on and see how he's doing and if it's even a viable option to let him play."That means fewer carries than Peterson is used to getting as the workhorse and focal point of the Vikings' offense, and likely more work for backup Toby Gerhart.Perhaps the biggest obstacle the Vikings have in handling the situation is Peterson's state of mind. He has worked tirelessly to get himself prepared to help his team, throwing himself into the rehab process from the moment he came out of surgery. With his team coming off a disastrous 3-13 season, Peterson knows they need him in the backfield to have any chance, and the coaches know it, too."You really have to take the emotion out of it," Frazier said. "You have to really hone in on what's best for him, what's best for our team. Adrian is not just another guy on our team. He is in so many ways the face of what we try to do. We have to be able to see the big picture when it comes to him and that's the way we'll approach it."On a rebuilding team coming off of a last-place finish in one of the strongest divisions in the league, the Vikings may not need to rush him back. He felt like he was ready to play in the preseason, but coaches and the team's training staff preferred to take a more gradual approach."I'd love to have him out there, that goes without saying for our entire team," center John Sullivan said. "But at the same time it's out of our hands. I hope he is. But if not, we've got to go forward with the guys that are ready to go."Peterson wasn't available for comment Monday, but he did participate in practice. Coaches will be especially interested to see how he handles himself in Thursday's padded practice."We have to see him get through some things and see how he handles certain things from a mental and physical standpoint," Frazier said. "It's different when there is no endpoint, in his case he knew a few weeks ago he wasn't going to play in the preseason. Now the mindset changes a little bit and we have to see how he handles that."Gerhart emerged as a capable fill-in for Peterson after the injury, the kind of physical runner who gets better as the game goes on and the carries increase. Gerhart had just 24 carries in the first 10 games last season, but his work load increased over the final six games as the Vikings faded from contention.As the carries increased, Gerhart's production did as well. He rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries and caught eight passes for another 42 yards against Denver on Dec. 4, then picked up another 90 yards on 19 carries the following week against Detroit.Peterson went down two weeks later in Washington and Gerhart came through with 11 carries for 109 yards, the first time he's topped 100 yards in a game in his two NFL seasons, and showed that he is up to the task in the NFL."With Toby we can run our offense even if Adrian isn't in there," Frazier said. "We feel like we don't have to change any of our plays. We're very confident and comfortable with Toby being our lead back if that's the case. The same runs that Adrian would have would be the same runs that Toby would have."NOTES:CB Josh Robinson (concussion) and S Mistral Raymond (back) returned to practice after missing the preseason finale. Frazier said they should be ready to play on Sunday. The only player whose chances are questionable right now appears to be backup LB Marvin Mitchell, who has a high ankle sprain. ... The Vikings signed OL Kevin Murphy, DL Ernest Owusu, WR Tori Gurley and WR Chris Summers to the practice squad.
That headline isn't clickbait. Anyone who hopes Kevin Durant one day plays for the Wizards -- and that seems like everybody in these parts -- should root for a Thunder win Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals. Then hope Oklahoma City defeats the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals and for reasons other than #NeverLeBron.
If the idea of playing for his hometown team appeals to the kid from Seat Pleasant even a little, then the scoring savant getting a ring is the best hope.
Anytime the idea of KD2DC comes up for discussion on Twitter, talk radio or wherever such talks take place, skeptics state unequivocally Durant won't come to the Wizards because you can't win a title with this organization.
Some note Washington last reached the finals in 1979, the same season it last won at least 50 games. Others mention that even though John Wall and Bradley Beal form a dynamic backcourt, that wasn't enough to make the playoffs this season. Another faction simply views LeBron James as the ultimate roadblock.
It's quite possible none of that matters in the summer of 2017 -- yes, 2017 -- especially if Durant already does what Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing never could: Win a ring.
The odds of Durant joining the Wizards or any team whose nickname isn't typically paired with lightning are perhaps only somewhat better than getting hit by actual lightning. We're discussing the best path to raise those odds.
Let's say Durant gets it done with the Thunder now, meaning an epic Game 7 road win over the defending NBA champs coming off a 73-win regular season and then defeats the LeBron's. His drive for greatness won't change, but he can breathe easier on the legacy front.
He can then think about different legacy: Leading his hometown team to its first title since 1978 and perhaps helm the first championship among Washington's four major pro sports franchises since 1992.
If Durant banked a title, if he doesn't loathe the idea of dealing with any hassle that comes with a return home, if the West remains the more top-heavy of the conferences, tell me why he would rule out playing for the Wizards.
Realize that adding Durant to Washington or any of the nine teams that finished directly behind Cleveland in the Eastern Conference standings right now would mean instant contender. Yet only of those nine cities has Durant ever called home.
Let's back up and talk timeline. The recent spike in Durant 2016 free agency talk is premature based on current facts.
MORE BASKETBALL: A CAUTIONARY TALE ABOUT ANDREW BYNUM (AND POSSIBLY HASSAN WHITESIDE)
Though Durant's contract ends this summer, many NBA observers have believed he will actually re-up with Oklahoma City with a player option after the 2016-17 season. That means taking advantage of significant salary cap rises over the next two years and perhaps netting an additional $40 million.
That 2017 scenario also matches up with the contract for his fellow Thunder headliner, Russell Westbrook.
If the Thunder win Monday's Game of the Century and subsequently the 2016 NBA Finals, we can safely assume Durant is staying in OKC for at least another year for a chance to repeat plus the financial reasons plus Westbrook.
If money is everything, Durant likely stays in Oklahoma throughout his prime years. Based on the NBA's salary structure, nobody can pay him as much as the Thunder.
If Westbrook signs a long-term extension, good chance Durant does as well barring some falling out between the friends. It would be hard finding a more talented tag-team partner.
If the miser gene doesn't dominate Durant's thinking or Westbrook says he wants out after the 2016-17 season for say a return to his native Los Angeles, the door opens.
If that door opens, Washington, you want an NBA title on Durant's résumé.
Fair or not, all-time players are judged on whether they've won a title. Winning six like Michael Jordan sounds like heaven. For the likes of Barkley, Malone and Ewing, just one would scratch that status itch.
If no championship this year or next, Durant enters 2017 free agency a soon-to-be 30-year-old wondering if he'll ever taste the ultimate on-court triumph. He then might look for a super friend's scenario similar to when James famously decided to take his talents to South Beach.
Who knows what the NBA world will look like by then. Maybe Wall and Beal are ready for real. Maybe Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are still splashing past the competition. Maybe James reaches his seventh straight finals -- or maybe Father Time starts giving him a true fight.
Should Durant join the Wizards in 2017, the year James turns 33, he might be the East's best player. If he's already won a title for Oklahoma City, why not consider trying to turn his hometown's sporting frowns upside-down with the Wizards as a sincere title-contending conduit. Talk about a legacy.
Such talk becomes easier if Durant already won a precious ring.
MORE BASKETBALL: BEST DRESSED: SAGER, KD'S MOM, WESTBROOK OR KD?
With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 19 Nicklas Backstrom
Age: 28 (turns 29 on Nov. 23)
Penalty minutes: 36
Time on ice: 19:10
Playoff stats: 12 games, 2 goals, 9 assists, plus-3, 8 PIM, 20:02
Contract status: Four years remaining on 10-year, $67 million contract ($6.7 million cap hit, $7 million salary)
Following the Capitals’ fifth second-round playoff exit in nine years, Capitals alternate captain Nicklas Backstrom did something very few professional athletes are brave enough to do.
At the very end of his post-season interview with reporters, Backstrom was asked if there is anything he would like to say to Capitals fans who have waited 42 years for their team to win its first Stanley Cup.
“I love them,” Backstrom said. “I love Washington fans. They’re absolutely the best fans in the world. Even if we disappoint them, hopefully they have faith in us. I know we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna do it one day. I promise them.”
Once described as “the heartbeat of our team” by goaltender Braden Holtby, Backstrom was quietly one of the most consistently productive players for the Capitals this season, noteworthy because he underwent reconstructive hip surgery last summer.
During his nine-year NHL career in Washington, Backstrom has averaged .98 points per game in the regular season and .75 points per game in the playoffs.
This season he averaged .93 points and .92 points, respectively. He also hit the 20-goal mark for just the third time in his career and for the first time since 2010 when he set career highs with 33 goals and 101 points. Backstrom credited his decision to undergo offseason hip surgery and the dedication of the Capitals’ training staff to allow him to play in all but seven games this season (he missed the first three games of the season and four of the final five).
“I was feeling good all year,” he said. “Obviously, when you do a big surgery like that, you’re going to feel it a little bit. But it’s all about treatment and how you handle it. I feel like all the trainers have been doing a good job with that, helping me.”
Because of his consistency, and perhaps the campaigning of head coach Barry Trotz, Backstrom was voted into his first NHL All-Star Game. But that wasn’t enough to soothe the open wounds of another premature playoff exit.
“Really disappointing, to be honest with you,” Backstrom said when asked to evaluate his own play. “Honestly, I don’t care about anything else than going further in the playoffs. It’s disappointing. It doesn’t matter I went to Nashville. Yeah, it was fun, but I don’t really care about that right now.”
In the playoffs, Backstrom was quietly dominant, recording two goals and five assists in six games against the Flyers and no goals and four assists in six games against the Penguins – all while holding Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux to one assist (minus-2) in six games, and Sidney Crosby to two assists (minus-3) in six games.
“Every time you go against a player like (Crosby), I feel like you have to be good,” Backstrom said. “He’s a talented guy. I think if you look at it now, what did he have, two assists? If you look at it afterwards, you think when he has two assists, you feel like, ‘Yeah, we should’ve won that.’ But there was a lot of other guys on their team that really stepped up and had a big series.”
Guys like Nick Bonino (2 goals, 3 assists), Carl Hagelin (3 goals, 4 assists) and Phil Kessel (2 goals, 4 assists).
Backstrom has been through four head coaches and five No. 1 goalies in his nine seasons with the Caps but has failed to see the Capitals play in a conference final.
“Obviously, it’s getting old,” Backstrom said. “The same meetings every year.”
With four years remaining on a contract that continues to escalate in value – he’ll earn $7 million next season, $7.5 million in each of the following two seasons, and $8 million in 2019-20, Backstrom was asked if he’s ever wondered how long the Caps will remain patient with him and Alex Ovechkin in their quest to win a championship.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “It’s out of our hands, I think. Even if we have long contracts, it’s up to the GM and the owners to evaluate everybody and how they want to go forward here, which players they want to have here and stuff like that. But, yeah, it absolutely crosses your mind. But at the same time, you’re hockey players. We want to move forward, and we want to succeed and we want to compete and that’s what drives us.”
On the ice, it will be interesting to see which direction the Capitals will go with Backstrom next season. Evgeny Kuznetsov (77 points) became the first player not named Ovechkin or Backstrom to lead the Caps in scoring during the Ovechkin era and he could begin next season as the Caps’ top-line center.
How that potential switch could affect Backstrom’s ice time and offensive totals next season remains to be seen, but Backstrom seems convinced that with 17 players under contract for next season, the Capitals have the personnel to make another run at a championship.
“If you compare this to my first couple years, I feel like even if we lost, it’s a special group,” he said. “I feel like we’ve got something special, and we just need to execute. We need to win games when we need to. At the end of the day it’s all about winning. We need to get over the hump that we can’t get over. That’s what I feel like. Every time when it ends, it’s so quick and so frustrating.
“I feel like we need to be better as a group when it counts, everybody. It’s just not one or two players, it’s everybody. We need to be better.”
MORE CAPITALS: 2015-16 CAPITALS IN REVIEW: JUSTIN WILLIAMS
Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?
Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.
Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.
“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”
The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.
Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.