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NBA schedule reduces back-to-backs, provides some mid-season homecomings

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For a couple of seasons now, under Commissioner Adam Silver’s direction, the NBA has looked for ways to improve the regular-season product. The playoffs work, they have plenty of drama, but the marathon of an 82-game regular season can lead to some tired players and flat play.

Once again the NBA is trying to adjust to that, something evidenced by the drop of the full NBA season schedule on Friday. Here are a few notes along those lines:

• No team has a four-games-in-five-nights stretch.

• Teams will averaged just 1.2 five-games-in-seven-nights stretch (something most teams had three of just a few years back).

• No team has eight-games-in-12-nights for the first time in NBA history.

• Back-to-backs are reduced to an average of 13.3 per team (meaning just under one-third of most team’s games are on one of a back-to-back). For comparison, that was at 14.4 last season, and four seasons ago a lot of teams had 20 back-to-backs (nearly half the schedule).

That’s all good. Coaches are still going to rest players and give them nights off, but that will happen less often now. Also, the league is pressuring teams not to rest players in big nationally televised games (and most of the time, when a team plays on TNT Thursday or an ABC weekend game, they will be coming off a day or two of rest). This is good for the longevity of players, and just for the level of play.

While we already knew about the opening week of the season and Christmas Day, there also were some new homecoming dates dropped with the full schedule release — we are going to have some fun midseason matchups:

• On Nov. 21 LeBron James returns to Cleveland wearing a Laker uniform. Don’t expect him to get booed like his return with the Heat, LeBron will get a warm welcome from the Cavaliers faithful — he brought them a title as promised.

• On Jan. 3 2019, Kawhi Leonard returns to San Antonio in a Toronto Raptors uniform, that will not be a warm welcome.

• On Jan. 14, 2019, Tony Parker will make his return to San Antonio wearing Charlotte Hornets’ teal.

• On Feb. 2, 2019, Blake Griffin returns to play the Clippers for the first time. He was traded away at the deadline last February, but by that point the Pistons had made their West Coast swing. This will be the first time Griffin takes on the shell of what was his former team.

• On Feb. 22, 2019, DeMar DeRozan returns to Toronto with the San Antonio Spurs. He will be greeted like a conquering hero, fans there love him.

Bob Myers says he initially told DeMarcus Cousins’ agent Warriors couldn’t afford center

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If the Warriors signed someone to a salary greater than the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception or acquired someone in a sign-and-trade, they would have been hard-capped at $129,817,000 this season.

That was obviously untenable for Golden State with its star-studded roster.

So, the idea of the Warriors adding DeMarcus Cousins seemed far-fetched – even to Golden State general manager Bob Myers.

Myers, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“It was early in the morning — I spoke to his agent. We had been preserving our taxpayer mid-level exception for somebody that might fall through the cracks and not get paid in a very tight free agency market,” Myers explained to Greg Papa and Bonta Hill on 95.7 The Game. “But mostly we were thinking wings. I figured if something like that were to happen it would happen July 8th, 9th, 10th.

“But we got the call and I just said, ‘Look. We don’t have anything more,’ because we’ve talked about other high-level free agents and the thought from their agent was, ‘Can you do a sign-and-trade? Can you get to a bigger number?’ And I kind of said, ‘Look, our roster is what it is. To move that many pieces around, to create $10 million in room, or $15 (million), it’s just prohibitive, I don’t want to waste your time.’

“So I thought that’s where the conversation was going … and I said to him, ‘We don’t have the money that you’re probably commanding out there.’ And this is the moment it became real — he said, ‘We understand what you have.’ And I said, ‘Well we only have the taxpayer mid-level.’ And then when he said, ‘I know,’ that’s when I knew it was real.

“They were very serious about it and they never really wavered.”

We’ve seen free agency from Cousins’ perspective. It’s interesting to blend Golden State’s into the story.

The Warriors are always eying stars. Their ambition might be unmatched. That not even they forecasted the possibility of signing Cousins – who accepted the taxpayer mid-level exception – speaks to just how much colder than expected his market was.

DeAndre Ayton draws himself dunking on Joel Embiid on trading card (photo)

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Joel Embiid issued a warning to pundits after the Suns drafted Deandre Ayton No. 1 overall: “Don’t compare Ayton to me either… I play DEFENSE.”

Ayton envisioned a response to the 76ers star while drawing on a trading card:

Embiid:

I’m impressed with Ayton’s artistic skills.

I’d be even more impressed if he dunks on Embiid, who does play quality defense – so far a hole in Ayton’s game.

Dwight Howard’s trainer: ‘He wants to evolve into Anthony Davis, into Kevin Durant, but his own version of that’

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In 2015, Dwight Howard said he wanted to play 20 seasons in the NBA. He also later admitted he considered retiring the same year.

After that career crossroads, Howard is back on the longevity track.

Entering his 15th season, the 32-year-old Wizards center is focused on getting into shape and developing his game.

Justin Zormelo, via Candace Buckner of The Washington Post:

“He wants to evolve into Anthony Davis, into Kevin Durant,” Zormelo says, “but his own version of that.”

This sounds silly at first. Durant and Davis are far more skilled than Howard. But those superstars provide reasonable goals for Howard.

Durant – who has expanded his game the other way, going outside to inside – shows how to blend playing different styles. Davis provides an example of how to work off the ball as a modern big man.

Howard shouldn’t want to lose his strengths as an elite rebounder and interior defender, but he can move in the direction of Durant and Davis.

After getting pretty big with the Hawks, Howard slimmed down with the Hornets and excelled in transition. He also improved significantly as a ball-handler, allowing him to put even more pressure on the defense in advantage situations and attack with face-ups.

Howard hasn’t shown proficiency as an outside shooter, but that could be his next step. The concern: Howard falls in love with shooting the way he did with post-ups, and he takes too many inefficient shots.

But there’s still something encouraging about someone working so hard to improve this far into his career.

Of course, on-court improvement won’t be enough for Howard. He has quietly produced or near star level in Atlanta and Charlotte. The problems came in the locker room. Howard’s attitude must improve, too.

Maybe it’ll all come together for him, and he’ll thrive through the rest of his 30s. He’s saying all the right things.

But we’ve also been here before.

Carmelo Anthony writes thank-you note to Oklahoma City: ‘I wanted nothing more than to make it work here’

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After last season, Carmelo Anthony summed up his time with the Thunder: “It wasn’t no strategy to me being here.” He waived his no-trade clause to facilitate a trade to and buyout from the Hawks, allowing him to join the Rockets – his preferred destination ever since his time with the Knicks was ending.

But he’s leaving Oklahoma City emphasizing the positive.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

This is a nice letter, especially for someone who was there only one year. Thunder fans are extremely supportive, and I believe Anthony truly wanted it to work in Oklahoma City. He changed his game plenty to complement Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

It just wasn’t enough.

Of course, there’s more to the story. That’s self-evident in Anthony choosing to leave the Thunder rather than trying to solve their problems next season in a less-rushed situation.

But this isn’t an analysis of Anthony’s Oklahoma City tenure. It’s a thank-you note that seems pretty genuine and heartfelt – right until it’s signed “STAYME7o,” which is par for the course for Anthony.