Lakers sign Matt Barnes. While you were watching Miami, the champs got better.

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Thumbnail image for Barnes_ref.jpgThe Lakers are two time defending NBA champions. And when they tip off next season, they will have improved. Chew on that for a second, Miami.

The Lakers got better at the wing by signing Matt Barnes on Thursday night. The Lakers could offer only $1.7 million this year, next year it would be $1.9 million but Barnes will have an opt out.

Barnes turned down more money, a reported $3.5 million a year for three years from Cleveland. He certainly would have gotten more playing time. But if Barnes was not going to play for a contender, he wanted even more money.

Barnes is coming home — he went to UCLA in college, where he may have been a better wide receiver than a basketball player. Maybe not, but it was pretty close.

The Lakers will now bring Barnes off the bench on the wing, spelling Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant, giving the Lakers some toughness and defense off the bench. Barnes is not a good a defender as his reputation, he shot only 32 percent from three last season. But he plays within himself, can attack the rim, get out and run and makes good decisions.

He also fits with the Lakers theme of versatility. They like guys who can play multiple positions, allowing them to create a host of matchup problems. Barnes can play the two or the three. He is long and athletic.

If the Lakers had a weakness last season, it was that their bench was Lamar Odom and a prayer. Now Steve Blake will come in and be a step up at the one from Fisher, and Barnes can come in at the wing, while Odom will be the four. Basically, the Lakers are eight deep with really good players, plus they have Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic.

The Lakers are better. That is scary for the league.

Warriors say DeMarcus Cousins making “good progress,” will participate in part of practice soon

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Don’t confuse this with “DeMarcus Cousins is almost back on the court.” The Warriors are going to be CSPAN call-in show host patient in bringing Cousins back, and a return date is still well down the schedule. There is no official timetable.

Cousins is, however, making progress and will be part of some segments of team practice shortly, the Warriors announced Monday.

“DeMarcus continues to make good progress with his rehabilitation program. After spending the last few weeks doing various individual on-court activities and drills, he will, in the near future, be integrated into controlled aspects of team practices, although not scrimmages at this point. Additionally, he will continue with his off-court strength and conditioning program.”

The Warriors want to keep Cousins happy but also know they don’t fully need him yet — they need him in the playoffs as another option to punish switches. Golden State needs Cousins healthy, back in shape, rust off and ready to go in April, but he doesn’t need to be on the court in October, or even by Christmas, to get there. Cousins wants to play, but as a guy looking to get paid next summer, he needs to come back right and show what he can do, not come back too early and damage his stock. It’s a fine line.

The Warriors and Cousins are moving closer to that line, but there is still a long way to go.

Report: Nuggets’ starter Will Barton out 5-6 weeks with surgery to repair groin muscle

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Non-contact injuries can be the worst.

Against Phoenix over the weekend, Denver’s Will Barton went in for a relatively uncontested reverse layup, but as soon as he lands he grabs his hip and goes to the floor in obvious pain. It did not look good.

There wasn’t much in the way of information from the team.

However, a report from Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated gives us more details.

The adductor muscles are traditionally called the groin muscles. It’s a series of muscles that help the hips move and are connected to the thigh.

That’s bad news for Denver, a team off to a fast 3-0 start including a win over Golden State. Barton has averaged 16.5 points per game and five rebounds a night in 27 minutes per game through the first three, and he’s been hot from three shooting 55.6 percent. Expect the defensive-minded Torrey Craig to get the bulk of the minutes with Barton out, but both Juancho Hernangomez and Trey Lyles could see a little extra run as well.

Draymond Green on Lakers-Rockets suspensions: ‘Garbage,’ ‘A little bit of a double standard’

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Warriors star Draymond Green got suspended one game during the 2016 NBA Finals.

Brandon Ingram (four games), Rajon Rondo (three games) and Chris Paul (two games) got suspended longer for their roles in the Lakers-Rockets fight Saturday. But not long enough to appease Green.

Green, via Mark Media of The Mercury News:

“That was garbage,” Green said. “I’m never in favor of guys losing money. But I got suspended in the NBA Finals for attempting to punch somebody. Guys punching each other are getting two games or three games. I attempted to punch somebody, and not in the face, either.”

“It seems like a little bit of a double standard going around this thing,” Green told Bay Area News Group. “That’s just me, though. I could be wrong. I don’t got all the answers.”

Green received the lightest punishment of the four. The NBA agreed his offense was the least egregious. A simple ranking of each player’s conduct does nothing to prove Green’s point. This is just a matter of how to scale the differences. Even then, Green has a weak case.

Remember, Green wasn’t suspended directly due to his altercation with LeBron James. Green received a retroactive flagrant foul for the incident, and combined with his prior flagrants, that triggered an automatic suspension. If Green hadn’t already committed so many flagrant fouls in the playoffs, he wouldn’t have gotten suspended based on only the dustup with LeBron.

This really gets back to the earlier question: Why does the NBA suspend players? It’s self-sabotage for the league to keep good players off the court. Green hits on a good point about the extreme difference between suspending someone in the regular season and suspending someone in the playoffs. I’d favor enforcing (most, if not all) playoff suspensions during the following regular season. The league can still set its desired line without undermining the product on the court when it matters most.

PBT Podcast: Three key early season impressions

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The NBA has been impossible to ignore the first week of the season — and not just because players are spitting on each other and throwing punches.

Pace and scoring are way up, which has made the league even more entertaining.

A few teams — Denver, Milwaukee, even Detroit among others — have been very hot, while a couple of teams we thought would be good have stumbled.

Keith Smith from Real GM and Celtics Blog joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to talk about their early season impressions, and take questions/comments from listeners on Twitter. That means the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks even get some love. The Thunder defense… not so much.

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.