DeMarcus Cousins in unusual position as he enters first, likely last, season with Warriors

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr said not to compare his team to the 1997-98 “last dance” Bulls – and he’s right.

Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are locked up beyond next season. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins can become free agents, and though Durant is a wildcard, Thompson has been consistent in his plan to return to Golden State.

In 1997, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Chicago coach Phil Jackson were on expiring contracts. Before the season, Bulls general manager Jerry Krause said, “Beyond this contract, Phil agrees it’s better we part company. At the end of next season, there will be a new coach here.” And Jordan  had already said, “Phil should be the head coach, and I shouldn’t have to make the decision to play for another coach other than Phil. Simple as that. Sad as it may be, I will not choose to play for another coach.” So, you do the math.

But that was maybe the last time a star entered a season as likely to leave his team afterward as Cousins with the Warriors.

At least if Cousins is still a star.

Cousins is recovering from a torn Achilles suffered last January. It’s far from certain how the 6-foot-11, 270-pound 28-year-old will play once he gets back on the court. This is a serious enough setback to at least consider Cousins is done as a star.

But if all goes well, his immense talent will shine again. He’ll help the Warriors win their third straight championship and fourth in five years. Along the way, he’ll pick up good habits as he adjusts to Golden State’s system.

And he’ll almost certainly leave in free agency next summer.

The highest starting salary the Warriors can give Cousins next year is $6,404,400 unless they clear more cap space. After a successful season, Cousins should command far more in free agency.

If this season doesn’t go to plan, it’s hard to see Golden State welcoming back Cousins. The Warriors were elite without him and probably wouldn’t hesitate to move on if this experiment fails.

So, either way, he appears to be a one-year rental.

How will it go?

Will Cousins put aside individual concerns, knowing this will be the only year he’ll be in this position? Or will he feel the need to prove himself in the short time before free agency?

Will the Warriors have time to fully welcome him into their culture? Will they care if he fully acclimates, considering it seems he’s just passing through anyway?

If Cousins flourishes with Golden State, will other teams improve offers to Cousins in free agency? Or will they just assign his success to the Warriors’ culture and continue to fret about his leg and attitude?

There is a remote possibility he stays in Golden State beyond this season. Maybe he signs a one-year contract to establish Early Bird Rights, which would allow the Warriors to pay him up to $11,207,700 in 2020, though he could get that much only by signing for at least two years at that point. He could even work toward spending three years with Golden State, which would give him Full Bird Rights and the ability to re-sign for up to the max. Or maybe Durant leaves in free agency next summer, and Thompson is willing to take a massive discount. Then maybe the Warriors could carve out enough cap space to re-sign Cousins to a larger contract.

But that all seems farfetched.

Cousins isn’t entering the ring-chasing phase of his career. He has gotten one big contract, but he signed that before the new national TV contracts lifted player salaries into the stratosphere. It’s hard to see him not caring about getting one monster deal. His season will be building toward that goal.

It’ll also be about the Warriors pursuing another championship, of course. A lot of forces are coinciding in Golden State in a short time, which leads to mounting pressure.

That drove the 1997-98 Bulls to greatness. They won a third straight title before Jordan (retirement), Pippen (Rockets), Rodman (Lakers) and Jackson (retirement) all moved on.

The final-song sentiment isn’t as wide with the Warriors, but it will be worth watching Cousins in his one-man “last dance.”

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.