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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

Lakers ace offseason by signing LeBron James

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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 Lakers signed LeBron James.

Offseason grade: A+

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK, you want more?

The Lakers followed the summer’s biggest coup – not just signing LeBron, but locking him in for three years – with a dispiriting (or, depending on your perspective, comical) set of transactions.

Los Angeles didn’t lure Paul George or trade for Kawhi Leonard. Instead, the Lakers valued playmakers as if the best course isn’t giving LeBron the ball, talked about defense as if anyone who was once a good defender or has the physical tools will defend well and treated shooting as if floor spacing barely matters.

The good news: The Lakers are penciled into this plan for only one year.

The bad news: It’s a year of 33-year-old LeBron’s eventually ending prime.

The Lakers have essentially assembled three contingents:

They’ll have a chance to prove me wrong, but I have little faith in those veterans complementing LeBron well. And most of them didn’t come cheap – Caldwell-Pope ($12 million), Rondo ($9 million), Stephenson (room exception), Beasley ($3.5 million). If anything, Caldwell-Pope – whose shared agent with LeBron, Rich Paul, might have forced the Lakers’ hand with re-signing him to a generous salary – is probably the best fit.

That puts a lot of pressure on Lakers president Magic Johnson to assess the young players. Which will become capable of contributing to winning at the highest level before LeBron’s prime ends? Which should be traded for veterans? These are not easy questions, but it’s a much more enjoyable challenge than the one Los Angeles would have faced if LeBron didn’t come.

The Lakers went 35-47 last season, their best record in a half decade. LeBron changes everything.

But there might be a ceiling on the Lakers’ progress next season. Don’t ignore the departures of Julius Randle (to Pelicans) and Brook Lopez (to Bucks). Even Larry Nance Jr. helped the Lakers build credibility before getting shipped to the Cavaliers in a midseason trade that helped open cap space for LeBron.

This isn’t the end of the road, though. After convincing Luol Deng to relinquish $7,455,933 in a buyout, the Lakers are in line for about max cap space next summer. They also still have all those valuable young players to develop or trade. The cupboard is full of ingredients around LeBron.

Now, the Lakers must just find a winning recipe.

I don’t think this year’s plan is it, but whatever missteps the Lakers made this summer, landing LeBron overshadows everything else.

Offseason grade: A+

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.

Gilbert Arenas details Bourré trash-talk that preceded gun standoff in Wizards’ locker room

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Gilbert Arenas and Javaris Crittenton shook the NBA when they brought guns into the Wizards’ locker room in 2009. Both received lengthy suspensions. Arenas, hit hard by injuries, washed out of the league a couple years later and has repeatedly made a fool of himself in retirement. Crittenton never played in the NBA again and is serving a 23-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

How did it get to this point?

Because of the second-most-popular game in the NBA, slightly behind basketball – Bourré. Bourré is a card game featuring high-stakes betting, and Arenas, Crittenton and JaVale McGee were playing it on a team flight.

Jon Gold of The Action Network (warning: language):

Then Arenas put his famous mouth to work.

“I’m talking my good old shit. ‘Ooooh yeah baby, don’t fall asleep now.’ When anyone was getting killed, I’d hit the stewardess button. ‘Oh no, we have a jumper. Tell the pilot! We have a jumper, people!’ And Javaris is 1,000 degrees hot. But everyone knows my style. I’m gonna keep poking. I want you fucked up. I flip over a 10 (of spades, establishing the trump card). Oh shit, we live baby! Ain’t no deuces over here!”

Then Arenas notices JaVale McGee flash Earl Boykins a look.

McGee hinted to Boykins that he had a dominant hand — “the shit,” as Arenas called it, “the ace, king and queen!” all in the trump suit — and Boykins folded.

McGee screamed, “I don’t need none” — as in, no new cards — and then Arenas looked at Crittenton, who’s next.

“Javaris has a look like he needs a full five,” Arenas said, laughing. “He’s motherfucking me, motherfucking the game. He screams out ‘Five!’”

Crittenton’s hand was so bad he would need five entirely new cards.

Arenas continues: “I scream, ‘Oh shit, I think he’s going to choke himself with the seat belt. This is about to be a boo record, people!’”

This only a small excerpt of Gold’s excellent article. I highly recommend reading it in full. He explains the rules of Bourré, details more of Bourré-fueled NBA conflict (including the Tony Allen-O.J. Mayo fight) and writes about a $1.4 million hand.

LeBron James on joining Lakers: “I love the challenge”

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LeBron James did something far more important than basketball on Monday — he opened a school in Akron to help the disadvantaged youth of his hometown. He relates to those kids, in a “there but for the grace of my basketball gifts go I” kind of way.

This undertaking was a massive challenge for LeBron and his non-profit, but it wasn’t the only challenge he talked about on Monday. When talking to the assembled basketball media, he discussed the challenge of lifting the Lakers back up to the status that franchise expects (and has been nowhere near in recent years). Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN, from LeBron’s interview with Rachel Nichols of the same network.

“I like the challenge of being able to help a team get to places that they haven’t been in quite a while,” James said. “And obviously the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers organization and historical franchise matches up there with all the greats. You can look at the Cowboys and you can look at the Patriots, you can look at Manchester United, the Boston Celtics — these are like historical franchises. And for me to be a part of that, I think it’s a great move not only for me but for my family and for the history of basketball in general.”

As for the team assembled by Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka — a interesting young Lakers’ core with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma, now surrounded by some of the more interesting personalities of the league such as Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley, Rajon Rondo, and JaVale McGee — LeBron has high expectations.

“We just got guys that love to play basketball,” James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols as part of a wide-ranging sit-down interview Monday at the opening of his I Promise School. “At the end of the day, guys that love to play ball, and that’s what they do every single day, I love that. I love that, and I think [Rob] Pelinka and Magic [Johnson] love that as well, and that’s why they made the signings. And bringing Lance and JaVale and Beas and Rondo, they’re guys that every day that they wake up they think about the game of basketball. And everything else is secondary.”

LeBron is 33, will turn 34 next season, and while he hasn’t slowed down much yet (he just picks his spots more), does he feel the pressure to win another title in LA sooner rather than later?

“I don’t even look at it like that because I don’t feel like this is going to be one of the last years of my prime,” James said. “That’s another statistic number, and I’ve always been a part of beating the odds in life. So being around my kids a lot, it gives me even more and more time in my youth.”

LeBron also said he gave serious consideration to both Houston and Philadelphia, before choosing to move his family to Los Angeles.