DeMarcus Cousins embracing his second chance with USA Basketball

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LAS VEGAS — DeMarcus Cousins is a participant in a USA Basketball event for the second straight summer, but after how things turned out last year, it was by no means guaranteed that he would ever be asked back.

Cousins was a member of the USA Select team that was there for the Olympic team heading to London to practice against, and for whatever reason, the way things went down didn’t sit well with USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo.

“Show respect to players, and you get respect back,” Colangelo said at the time. “He needs to mature as a person, as a player if he’s going to have an outstanding NBA career. So before there’s discussion about him being part of our program, he has a lot of building to do. He has a lot of growing up to do.”

It’s not in Cousins’ nature to let criticism against him slide, a problem he continued to show even this past season when he was suspended for confronting an opponent’s broadcaster after a game during the regular season.

But he seemed to take a professional approach last year with Colangelo.

“I actually just had a conversation with (Colangelo),” Cousins said back then. “I asked him, ‘How was I being immature?’ He never really gave me an answer. I mean, I really wanted to know. I took offense to it. … It definitely bothered me.”

Cousins is back this year because despite his attitude issues, he has the talent to compte with the game’s best. And it seems as though the initial remarks weren’t that big of a deal in either party’s eyes.

“I mean, the whole thing was blown out of proportion,” Cousins said Monday at Team USA mini-camp in Las Vegas. “What was said between us wasn’t really as bad as it was [reported], but for [Colangelo] to set it aside and give me another chance, I’m very thankful for it.”

Colangelo echoed that sentiment when asked why he felt like Cousins deserved another invitation to be a part of USA Basketball.

“Well, primarily because there was a little bit of a misunderstanding that got out of hand with the media last year over what did transpire with him,” Colangelo said. “That was unfortunate. So in an attempt to bring it to a close, I said the book is closed. Let’s move on with our lives, and why not give him a second chance? Everyone is deserving of a second chance.”

It’s early in the proceedings, but after the first day of practices, Colangelo seemed pleased with the effort that Cousins displayed.

“He’s done fine,” Colandelo said of Cousins. “We haven’t even had our first discussion, we’re going to have that when we get back to the hotel tonight with all the players. But he came in with a great attitude. He’s worked real hard, he had a great day today at practice, but a lot of people did.”

Cousins is happy to be back, and in the brief portion of the scrimmaging the media was allowed to view, he did seem to be playing hard, even diving on the floor near the end of a game to try to gain possession for his team by saving the ball from going out of bounds.

But lest you think Cousins has lost that edge, he maintained it when asked who his competition is for the best big man at this week’s camp.

“Nobody,” he said.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.

PBT Podcast: Future of Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio, also award talk with Dan Feldman

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We asked for your questions on Twitter and Facebook, and you gave myself and Dan Feldman got some fascinating discussion points:

If the Celtics land a top two pick, what does that mean for the future of Isaiah Thomas in Boston?

Is Ricky Rubio‘s run of strong play mean he remains the point guard of the future in Minnesota?

How good is Devin Booker?

We discuss all of that plus the NBA end of season awards that we are still looking at and trying to make up our minds about.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.