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Joel Embiid on DeAndre Ayton: ‘He’s about to get his ass kicked this year’

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At some point in the future — maybe not as far in the future as he thinks — a lot of NBA fans are going to turn on Joel Embiid and his unfiltered trash talk and social media presence. (Which, oddly, is very different from how teammates describe him, this seems to be more of a public persona.) It’s the nature of fame, we love the rogues and rebels until we don’t.

For now, Embiid is a lot of fun.

He went on the set of ESPN’s “The Jump” with Rachel Nichols on Friday (at Sixers media day) and when the picture of Deandre Ayton came up, well…

“He’s about to get his ass kicked this year.”

Embiid isn’t wrong.

Ayton is going to have a good rookie year, maybe very good (although the lack of a quality point guard to feed him the rock in spots he can do damage will hurt him), and at Summer League Ayton was a bit of a man-child against other rookies and young players. However, he showed flaws — his hands, for one, need to get better — and nightly in the NBA teams will roll out men who can match him and push back on him. It’s going to be harder than he realizes, and not just with Embiid or Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or Marcin Gortat and the other guys who can match up physically with him, but with the skill guys as well. Ayton isn’t going to push around Draymond Green easily. Al Horford is going to school him with skills.

Ayton is going to be on a learning curve this season, a steep one at times. All rookies get that. What matters is how he responds and how he develops. Expectations are rightfully high, but he’s got some learning to do.

Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins not even best development of their summer

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Rockets downgraded. LeBron James didn’t form a super team anywhere. Only the Raptors emerged as a new contender, and that’s only if Kawhi Leonard is healthy.

The Warriors’ path to another championship looks even clearer now than it did at the beginning of the summer.

Oh, and they signed DeMarcus Cousins.

Of course Golden State isn’t assured a third straight title and fourth in five years. I’ve been banging the drum against the inevitability of a Warriors championship during this entire run, and I’m sure not stopping now. There are too many variables just to assume one team will cruise against a field of 29 others. But few teams have ever looked so well-positioned entering the season.

Golden State returns its entire elite core. Kevin Durant re-signed, though on just another 1+1 deal. Uncertainty seems unavoidable with him.

At least he’ll be a known factor next season. The same can’t be said of Cousins.

Cousins’ Achilles tear makes it unclear when he’ll play, let alone when he’ll play at a high level. Even once he gets healthy and on track individually, there are real questions about how he’ll fit with the Warriors. Cousins won’t necessarily be the dominant force that stacks the deck insurmountably in Golden State’s favor.

There was also a real opportunity cost to signing him. The Warriors needed more wings rather than another center, and they used their biggest tool to upgrade – the mid-level exception – on Cousins. And they’ll almost certainly get him for only one year. The largest starting salary they can effectively offer him next summer is just $6,404,400. If Cousins can’t command far more than that on the open market, he probably wouldn’t be welcomed back, anyway.

All that said, Golden State had to sign him when he agreed to play for so little. He’s so darned talented. It’s worth the risk. If everything pans out, he could help the 2018-19 Warriors stake a claim as the greatest team of all time.

Otherwise, the Warriors were pretty conservative this summer.

They drafted Jacob Evans No. 28 and signed Kevon Looney and Jonas Jerebko to minimum contracts. Patrick McCaw will probably accept his qualifying offer.

David West retired. JaVale McGee signed with the Lakers. Zaza Pachulia signed with the Pistons. Nick Young remains unsigned.

On a team with Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, those players just don’t move the needle much. Golden State was mostly locked into a static summer by virtue of the team’s incredible standing already.

So, it was shocking the Warriors added a potential gamechanger in Cousins. But the biggest moves for Golden State were the ones that didn’t happen elsewhere to threaten its supremacy.

 

Offseason grade: A

While league goes small, Grizzlies focus on style where ‘size, physicality, toughness prevails’

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There’s something to be said for zigging when the league zags, to not following every trend. Everyone talks about playing more like the Warriors, but unless you have Stephen Curry to set the offensive tone and the insane versatility of Draymond Green on defense, it doesn’t work quite the same way. Coaches need to play to the talent on the roster.

Enter the Memphis Grizzlies.

One of the league’s worst three-point shooting teams and built on an old-school style, they pushed coach David Fizdale out the door and this summer doubled-down on a variation of the “grit n’ grind” era. Here is what coach J.B. Bickerstaff told Mark Giannotto of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“We’ve been preaching playing a unique style of basketball. Obviously, not reinventing the wheel but playing a game where size, physicality and toughness prevails. I think we’re fortunate that we have some big guys, some long guys, that are very skilled as well, so that they can do both. You can be physical. You can defend. You can protect the paint. You can challenge shots.”

The Grizzlies’ owner Robert Pera thinks this could be a 50-win team, which nobody else sees, but they can be a potential playoff team if everything breaks their way. That means staying healthy, for one, so that their added depth — Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, just drafted Jaren Jackson — can play smaller roles to their strengths rather than having to stretch out. Bickerstaff sees the team’s other big strength is a lot of smart veterans on the roster who play a high IQ game.

“We got a bunch of guys that know how to think the game and if you can think the game, you can make up for some of the things that we lack,” Bickerstaff added. “If you look at our team, and I hope this doesn’t offend any of our guys, we’re not the fastest of teams. But we have to be able to use our brains to put us in spots so that we can defend well and score the ball because we’re always one or two steps ahead of our opponent.”

Is that going to work with the rest of the league shooting threes over the top of them? If it doesn’t, will the rebuild finally begin? We’re going to learn a lot about these Grizzlies in the first couple months of the season.

David West retires

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David West changed the NBA forever.

His own career was impressive enough. He made two All-Star appearances with the New Orleans Hornets, played a big role on really good Pacers teams and won titles the last two years with the Warriors.

But those accomplishments, though absolutely commendable, don’t loom over the league.

West’s 2015 decision to leave more than $10 million on the table to leave Indiana for San Antonio did – because Kevin Durant took notice.

Durant, of course, left Oklahoma City for Golden State the following year. His reasons weren’t precisely the same as those of West, who voiced displeasure with how the Pacers treated Roy Hibbert. But the blueprint – sacrificing to join a better team – was similar.

That should be West’s legacy as he exits the NBA at age 38.

West:

West influencing Durant should be no surprise, because West is so respected around the league. West is tough, wise, proud, socially conscious and just real.

He’ll definitely be missed in Golden State’s locker room.

On the court, it’s more complicated. He played limited minutes. He was exposed in certain matchups. But West was darn effective in his role off the bench last season.

The Warriors just want to move onto a less center-centric roster. DeMarcus Cousins, Jordan Bell, Damian Jones, Kevon Looney and Draymond Green can handle minutes at center. West’s roster spot will go to a wing.

It’s hard to imagine a career more fulfilling than West’s. And because Durant followed in his footsteps, West will see his impact on the game last far longer.

Did Kevin Durant choose Warriors within day of Thunder losing to them in 2016?

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The Warriors eliminated the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals on May 30. On the following July 4, Durant announced he’d leave Oklahoma City for Golden State.

But when did Durant actually decide on signing with the Warriors?

Durant, Rich Kleiman (Durant’s business partner) and Rudy Cline-Thomas (Andre Iguodala‘s business partner) sat on a panel at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit.

Cline-Thomas, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Remember 2017, you just lost to the Warriors — no 2016, you had just lost the Warriors, May — you and I get together after the game. I thought I was just gonna focus on not talking about basketball, and you wanted to focus on talking about Silicon Valley — asking me how it was out here.

“You had been following what Andre and I were doing, how it was being surrounded by all these CEOs, innovators and entrepreneurs. And I was like, ‘Wow. First and foremost, like yo — this dude just told me he’s about to sign with the Warriors, right (laughter). So, I was like I’m not gonna tell anybody, didn’t tell anybody whatsoever, didn’t want any rumors to get started…”

Durant on when he began thinking differently about business opportunities, via Shiller:

“Probably about 2015, I had got hurt. Basketball had always been my world … it stopped, and I had to think about other parts of my life and what I was interested in … it was rough because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I liked or what type of person I wanted to be … I started to hear about Andre and more guys around the NBA — especially that play for the Warriors — that took advantage of the opportunities of being in the Bay Area.

“So throughout that whole year, me and Rich were talking about investing in companies and what I like to do outside of ball. Then I (saw) you and just all those questions came out at once and I was basically telling you I was coming to the Warriors (laughter).”

Kleiman, via Shiller:

“Well I just learned that he told you in May, before free agency — which is hardly factual, which we’ll have to clear up with Marc Spears and everybody here (laughter) — no way did that happen, but cool… (laughter).”

Did Durant really tell Cline-Thomas in May of a plan to sign with the Warriors? Did Durant know his intentions and inadvertently show his hand while talking to Cline-Thomas? Did Durant not consciously know where he’d sign but reveal clues to Cline-Thomas during their conversation? Were Durant and Cline-Thomas just joking?

Was Kleiman trying to set the record straight? Was he just trying to cover for Durant?

Durant was back in Oklahoma City for a press conference June 1, 2016. So, when Cline-Thomas says “after the game,” it sounds as if he meant the night of Game 7.

Of course, that will raise all kinds of questions about Durant’s competitiveness in the 2016 Western Conference finals. If he had one foot out the door to join the Warriors, how motivated was he to beat them? But Durant was awesome throughout that series. Golden State was just a great team. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he compartmentalized his feelings on the Warriors while facing them.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided on Golden State shortly after the series. Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout that season. The Warriors’ desire to add Durant and their high level of appeal was well-established. Even without tampering, they didn’t have to wait until free agency officially began to become Durant’s choice. The NBA can control timing of permissible contact – not Durant’s mind.

It’s just tough to tell exactly what to take from Durant’s, Cline-Thomas’ and Kleiman’s comments – even with context of video: