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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.”

Report: Brooklyn near deal with Lance Thomas for restart

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Still rounding out their roster for the NBA restart in Orlando, the Brooklyn Nets have reached out to bring back veteran forward Lance Thomas.

Thomas, who went through training camp with Brooklyn but was cut right before the season, will sign as a substitute player for Brooklyn, reports Alex Smith with SNY.TV.

Thomas is an eight-year NBA veteran who spent the last four of that with the Knicks. He can play the three or a floor-spacing small four, with New York using him more as a power forward in recent years. He’s averaged 5.2 points per game in his career and is known more as a good player to have in the locker room and guy who can soak up 15-20 minutes a night and not hurt a team. Brooklyn had Thomas in at training camp and liked his fit, but they didn’t have a roster spot for him.

They do now. Three Nets players — Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince — tested positive for the coronavirus and will not be at the Orlando restart. Wilson Chandler opted out of playing. All four of them can be replaced by substitute players for the remainder of this season, so the Nets signed Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley, and Donta Hall. Thomas rounds becomes the fourth member of that group. (Note: The Nets cannot sign players to substitute for Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant because they are out due to injury; substitute players are only for players missing due to coronavirus issues.)

Thomas will be a free agent this offseason.

Lance Thomas and Brooklyn enter the bubble in Orlando as the seven seed in the East.

Like LeBron, Anthony Davis also to wear own last name on jersey in Orlando

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Anthony Davis will wear his own name on the back of his jersey when the Los Angeles Lakers return to action.

Davis confirmed his decision Sunday in a conference call from Orlando, where the Western Conference-leading Lakers are beginning team workouts.

Davis and LeBron James both declined to choose a social justice message to replace their names on the back of their jerseys during the NBA restart.

Davis, a seven-time NBA All-Star, said he was “torn between” choosing from among the 29 approved messages and sticking with his name.

“For me, I think the name ‘Davis’ is something I try to represent every time I step on the floor,” he said. “I just think my last name is something that’s very important to me, and also social justice as well. But (I’m) just holding my family name and representing the name on the back to go through this process … and people who have been with me through my entire career to help me get to this point, while still kind of bringing up things that we can do for social injustice.”

James said he decided to forgo a social justice message because the available options didn’t “resonate” for him or his particular feelings about the movement. James would have liked to choose his own slogan, but wasn’t angry that it wasn’t allowed.

Both James and Davis have been outspoken about social justice causes in the past, although the younger Davis is less vocal than James.

The Lakers open play in Orlando on July 30 against the Clippers.

 

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo fractures thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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The Lakers guard depth is getting hit hard. First, Avery Bradley chose to stay home from the NBA restart in Orlando for family reasons. Now this:

Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb during practice on Saturday and will need surgery that will sideline him 6-8 weeks, the team announced.

On the optimistic side, that timeline should have Rondo back for most or all of the conference finals and NBA Finals. Rondo has a history of hand injuries.

The Lakers cannot sign a substitute player to replace Rondo (that is only for players with COVID-19 related absences, or who opted out, but not injuries).

Rondo came off the bench for the Lakers this season, averaging 7.1 points and five assists a game. More importantly, he was the guy running the offense when LeBron James was off the court, something that will be difficult to replace. He is not the defender and player he once was, but he fit with the Lakers.

Alex Caruso and Quinn Cook will get some extra run, plus it opens up room for veterans Dion Waiters and J.R. Smith.

The Rondo injury is not going to put the Lakers in danger in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but if he is not back and 100% in the conference finals (very possibly against a deep Clippers team) and the Finals, this will be a blow to L.A.

Stephen Curry, Charles Barkley join “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” on NBC family

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In the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, and the protests that followed, citizens of the United States have started to have a long-overdue and challenging discussion of race and systemic racism in America. Black celebrities — guys such as Stephen Curry and Charles Barkley, plus other NBA stars — have stepped into the middle of that conversation and are using their voices.

That discussion, along with Barkley and Curry, comes to the NBC Sports family of networks Monday in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations.” The roundtable discussion show airs at 8 p.m. ET simultaneously on NBCSN, the Golf Channel, the Olympic Channel, and every member of the NBC Sports regional broadcast network.

The wide-ranging conversation (recorded in Lake Tahoe) included discussion both of the recent protests that swept the nation and the calls for police reform — Barkley said he wants to see that.

“The first thing we need, listen, we need police reform.  We need to, listen, I got in trouble for defending cops.  And I’m always going to defend cops.  I don’t want them out there killing unarmed Black men, but we need cops…” Barkley said. “But we need good cops.  We need to hold cops accountable.  If they do something wrong — the way the system is set up now, if cops do something wrong, other cops judge them.  That’s not fair in any aspect of life.  If you are a cop and you saw what happened to Mr. Floyd and you think that was all right, you shouldn’t be a cop.”

Curry spun the discussion of police reform into the need for people to vote for change — particularly at the local and state level.

“Same concept around reforming police, getting the bad ones out, is in every form of leadership in government in terms of how important voting is.  Not just at the national presidential level, but in our local, city, state elections…” Curry said.

“That’s where the real change happens.  So when it comes to voter suppression which we’ve seen since George Floyd’s passing in Georgia, we’ve seen long lines; people have been standing there for 12, 13 hours trying to vote.

“And that’s where a local election, as we look forward from a year from now and beyond, every single cycle, how do we continue to let our voices be heard, not just what we’re saying and crying for and asking for help, but how can we actually use our given right to go vote, to go put people in positions of power that they’re going to look out for us in a very meaningful way that’s going to make a true difference.”

Beyond the two NBA stars, Kyle Rudolph, Anthony Lynn, Troy Mullins, James Blake, Jimmy Rollins, and Ozzie Smith take part in the discussion.

Tune in Monday night across the NBC Sports family of networks for a can’t miss discussion of race and sports in America.