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DeMarcus Cousins on re-signing with Pelicans: ‘I’m very open to that’

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New Orleans Pelicans big man DeMarcus Cousins is still nursing a torn Achilles injury, the one that kept him from being part of his team’s sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the playoffs this year. But he’s getting better, and this summer should be a big one for the 27-year-old. It’s the first time Cousins will be a true free agent, having signed an extension with the Sacramento Kings back in 2013.

There have been rumblings that the Pelicans might not want or need Cousins back. They played incredible small ball against the Blazers, although they fell apart while matched up against the Golden State Warriors in the second round. Cousins, meanwhile, is one of the best centers in the NBA and should demand a sizable salary. Signing Cousins would put the Pelicans deep into the luxury tax without other moves to cut money from the books.

Then there’s the question of whether Cousins wants to be back in New Orleans. He’s said all the right things, but Cousins recently unfollowed the Pelicans on Instagram and it caused folks around the NBA to shift their biases every so slightly on his re-signing in Louisiana.

Still, Cousins says he would gladly return to New Orleans. Speaking to The Undefeated, Cousins maintained that he was going to look out for himself but that he did not hold any grudges, and he would be happy to be a Pelican.

Via The Undefeated:

Are you open to re-signing with New Orleans if the deal is right?

Oh yeah, for sure. This is my first time in free agency, but I’ve been around this business long enough. I know how things work. I’m not out here trying to hold a grudge or anything like that. I’m going to make the best decision for me, and I believe teams are going to do the same thing.

What’s your mindset, your view of how to approach free agency? Do you feel like you owe it to yourself to do your due diligence and hear what everybody has to say?

Yeah, like I said I don’t plan on rushing through this process. I’m going to make the absolute best decision for DeMarcus Cousins. We’ll see what that is. As of right now, I don’t really know. I can’t answer that. Would I like to go back to New Orleans? I’m very open to that. I love what we created. I love what was created after I went down. I would love to be part of it. But I’m going to do what’s best for me, and I feel they’ll do the same.

These are basically the things you expect to hear from a pending free agent, but the NBA is a business and obviously Cousins made reference to that several times.

The “grudge” part is the most interesting part to me. Why would Cousins hold a grudge against the Pelicans? Or is this a reference to the fact the Kings have significant cap space this summer?

I’m mostly kidding about that, but the NBA is crazy. Where Cousins ends up is anyone’s guess, and it’s hard to get true free agents to sign there, even with Anthony Davis on board. The Pelicans are in a position like many other teams in the NBA, where the harsh reality is you need to pursue the best talent you have available to you.

This summer is going to be wild, man.

James Harden, LeBron James, Anthony Davis finalists for Most Valuable Player

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James Harden will almost certainly win Most Valuable Player this season.

It doesn’t matter that LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo advocated for themselves. It doesn’t matter that Harden’s style of play grates. It doesn’t matter how he performs in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals tonight.

The Rockets superstar will likely claim the NBA’s premier regular-season award when it’s presented June 25.

Until then, we just know he’s one of three finalists:

James Harden (Rockets)

LeBron James (Cavaliers

Anthony Davis (Pelicans)

Harden scored an NBA-high 30.4 points per game, maintaining his efficiency and distributing, to lead the league’s best offense. Add improved defense in Houston’s switching scheme, and Harden was the main reason the Rockets finished with the NBA’s best record.

LeBron was mostly awesome, but his effort and focus waned in January. Davis did a great job lifting the Pelicans into the playoffs after DeMarcus Cousins got hurt.

The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is a tough exclusion. I bet LeBron, Davis and Antetokounmpo were 2-4 in varying orders on many ballots (which called for five selections).

Pelicans head into summer facing big Boogie Cousins, Rondo questions

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This Pelicans team had no quit. Not early in the season when the pieces weren’t quite fitting together, and not after most people wrote their season off when DeMarcus Cousins returned from an Achilles injury. With Anthony Davis playing like an MVP, Jrue Holiday finding his groove, and the addition of Nikola Mirotic to help space the floor, the Pelicans not only made it to the postseason, they swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

While they eventually couldn’t climb the Mt. Everest that is Golden State, the Pelicans have something real to build on.

But now they also face some tough questions in a Western Conference that has little margin for error:

• Do the Pelicans bring back DeMarcus Cousins? If so at what price and for how many years?

• Do the Pelicans bring back Rajon Rondo?

• Can the Pelicans add a scorer on the wing to balance the roster?

None of those questions have easy answers.

The Pelicans do want Cousins back — they were the No. 4 seed and playing well when he went down. Coach Alvin Gentry put it this way:

Is Cousins still a 26 and 12 guy coming off a torn Achilles? Probably not. But he still has value.

More importantly for the Pelicans, after this playoff run, the Pelicans don’t “need” Cousins back to win, and they know it. That gives the Pelicans leverage when the sides sits down. If Cousins walks they will struggle to get anyone as good in (they are capped out still), and they will have burned a good pick to get him, but this team just reached the second round of the playoffs without him.

On the other side of the table, it’s going to be hard for Cousins, who was going to get offered a five-year max contract from the Pelicans ($176 million over the course of it) before the injury. Now he’s not going to get a max starting at just north of $30 million a season, likely he lands more in the $22 million to $25 million range. However, the bigger issue being discussed around the league is the years — no team is comfortable being locked into four (or for the Pelicans five) years with him. Cousins’ best bet is two years and a player option for year three. If he wants to go that long.

Last summer, Rudy Gay was coming off a torn Achilles and got a two-year, $17.6 million contract with a player option the second year. While the money would be higher for Cousins, maybe he would bet on himself and take a one-plus-one deal knowing he could get paid next summer if he is healthy and shows he can still dominate. Or, the two sides could go with a longer deal that has some protections built in or performance goals, although that is far less likely to come together.

The advantage the Pelicans have: No other team is going to come in big now, either. Before the injury Cousins had options (just with one fewer guaranteed year and a little less money), now those teams — Lakers, Mavericks, others — will be cautious like New Orleans. There is nobody ready to throw max money cash or long contracts at Cousins.

Which is why he likely strikes a short deal with the Pelicans and tries to prove himself — and boost that value.

If Cousins remains a Pelican it limits what the team can pay Rajon Rondo.

New Orleans got him with what was a very good deal — one year at $3.3 million — for this season. Despite the flaws in his game, his price is going up, and the Pelicans want to keep him. New Orleans loves his impact on the locker room, and having Rondo at the point allows Holiday to focus more as a pure scorer sometimes working off the ball, a role he has thrived in.

Rondo is an unrestricted free agent. The most the Pelicans can offer him as a raise is $3.9 million, which will not be enough to keep him. New Orleans can use their $5.2 million taxpayer midlevel exception on him (which jumps to $8.6 if Cousins leaves because they go below the tax line). If another team comes in above $5.2 million, there is nothing the Pelicans can do.

What’s more, use that exception on Rondo and they lose an option to bring in a needed wing scorer. Mirotic helped fill that role, but the Pelicans could use some athleticism and defense on the wing to help round out an improving roster.

The Pelicans look like a team on the rise in the West, but they also could look different by the time summer is over.

 

Warriors blow past Pelicans in third, hang on to win, set up showdown with Rockets

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Since somewhere around Thanksgiving, the Warriors and Rockets have been on a collision course. They have been the two best, two most talented teams in the Western Conference — in the NBA, really — and for months now basketball fans have been impatiently awaiting this Thanos vs. Avengers-level showdown.

After the Rockets won to reach the West Finals earlier on Tuesday night, there was just one little bit of business left: The Warriors needed to close out the Pelicans.

Which was not going to be easy — Anthony Davis went off for 34 points and 19 rebounds trying to will his team to another win. However, when the Warriors get on a roll and Stephen Curry is doing things like this, there’s nothing any human can do.

The Warriors turned a three-point game at the half into a blowout with a 25-4 run to start the second half, then held on as the Pelicans raged, raged against the dying of the light. In the end, the Warriors held on to win 113-104, taking the series 4-1.

The Warriors vs. Rockets long-awaited showdown starts next Monday night in Houston.

Tuesday night was a game where the Warriors’ stars carried them, especially through a sluggish first half: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant were getting their buckets (the trio scored 48 of the Warriors’ first 59 points), while the rest of the Warriors looked off. Rajon Rondo just kept losing Thompson in the first half, and once he got rolling it was trouble all night for the Pelicans.

Then in the third, the Warriors trio scored all of the points on that decisive 25-4 run.

Stephen Curry looked the best he has since his return, scoring 28 points on 16 shots, getting out in transition and hitting threes.

That said, again Curry didn’t look like his old self when it came to lateral movement — it showed when he would try to shake a defender off the dribble and not create the space he expected. The Warriors need the full Curry in the next round.

Thompson finished with 23 points and Durant added 24. Draymond Green had 19 points and 14 rebounds.

This season was a big step forward for the Pelicans, who refused to go quietly in this game when a lot of other teams would have just folded and started talking about hotels in Cancun. Jrue Holiday had another brilliant outing — a triple-double of 27 points, 11 assists and 10 rebu0nds. Guys scrapped, they defended aw well as they could, the team showed promise. The Pelicans were just overmatched.

New Orleans took a leap forward, this playoff run was something it can build upon. This summer the question hanging over them will be what to offer free agent to be DeMarcus Cousins, who is not going to get a max five-year contract after tearing his Achilles but still has value.

For the Warriors, their next worry is James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Rockets. Starting Monday.

Report: Clippers’ Wesley Johnson opts into $6.1 million next season

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We don’t know if DeAndre Jordan is going to be back with the Clippers next season. Same with Avery Bradley. Heck, there are even questions about Doc Rivers’ return as coach.

However, we do know that Wesley Johnson will be back in Los Angeles next season, thanks to Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Wise move. In what will be a tight financial market for free agents, Johnson wasn’t going to find more money from another team.

Johnson, the former No. 4 overall pick (in front of DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George and others) was an on-and-off starter among the shifting Clippers lineups last season, averaging 5.4 points a game with a below-average 51.2 true shooting percentage and a PER of 9.8 that is the kind of number seen from guys barely hanging on in the league. He’s a streaky offensive player who plays solid defense.

That wouldn’t earn him $6.1 million on the open market, better for him to come back to the Clippers next season and improve his value before he hits the market in 2019.