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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

Jeff Bzdelik, assistant coach in charge of Rockets’ defense, retires

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Last season, the Houston Rocket’s defense surprised everyone and almost got them to the NBA Finals. They switched every pick — on and off the ball — all season long, both as a philosophy that most teams could not exploit it, and in preparation for playing Golden State in the playoffs. It almost worked. The Warriors struggled for a while before adjusting (and leaning on Kevin Durant), and the Rockets were up double-digits in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at home. While their James Harden/Chris Paul led offense was their biggest strength, the Rockets became the sixth best defensive team in the NBA last season.

Jeff Bzdelik, Mike D’Antoni’s right-hand man, deserves a lot of credit for that.

And now Bzdelik has decided he is going to step away from it all. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Bzdelik has been a coach at the college and NBA level for 40 years, he has earned the retirement and chance to relax a little. Like players, sometimes coaches getting ready for the season realize they just do not want to do this anymore.

Matt Brase also likely will have a few more things on his plate.

While the defensive foundation is there in Houston, it will be harder to execute without Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, both of whom left via free agency and both of whom can guard multiple positions, making switching more effective.

 

Listen to LeBron James, Kevin Durant on song they recorded together

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LeBron James and Kevin Durant teaming up?

The Lakers are at least positioning themselves to sign the Warriors star next summer.

But LeBron and Durant have already collaborated – on a song during the 2011 lockout.

Now, you can listen to a clean version of the rap, called “It Ain’t Easy”:

My favorite lyric remains Durant’s: “Every hater all the same, I’m feeling the world is Skip Bayless and I’m LeBron James” But we already heard that one.

My favorite new line also comes from Durant: “Pacing on your [a—?] like Jamaal Tinsley.”

Enes Kanter says Kevin Durant should come to Knicks “to build a brand all over again”

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The smart money is on Kevin Durant re-signing with the Golden State Warriors next summer, keeping together a team for the ages that is racking up rings and having fun doing it.

However, other teams sense that the first of the “big four” in Golden State to bolt will be Durant, that he will want his own team, and so they are prepping for the possibility. Teams are making sure they have the cap space next summer, and they will have their pitches ready if Durant decides to test the waters.

And players are going to recruit him. That includes his former Thunder teammate Enes Kanter, who was on SiriusXM NBA Radio with hosts Eddie Johnson and Justin Termine Wednesday and said he would recruit Durant, who should come to the Knicks for the chance “to build a brand all over again.”

“It is New York. If you are with New York, you’re king of America and king of the world,” Kanter said…

“We are New York. He’s a free agent. We need to use that. We are the best city in the world. That could draw a lot of attention for free agents. I would love for him to be my teammate again. When he was my teammate he was an amazing teammate, amazing character, scorer and basketball player on court and off the court, too. I would love to see him be my teammate again.”

Kanter trash talked Durant and his decision to leave OKC from the day it happened — at points from the bench of the opposing team — so maybe he’s not going to be the face of New York’s recruitment.

No doubt the Knicks would love to land Durant and if given the chance to make a pitch it would sound a lot like “you could be king of America and king of the world” if you play here. Paired with a (hopefully healthy by then) Kristaps Porzingis and a young core, there would be real potential there.

However, so many questions have to be answered before then. It starts with will Durant actually leave the Warriors? That’s far from a given. Then there are the Knicks finances, they should have max cap space after they waive and stretch Joakim Noah (like what the Lakers recently did with Luol Deng, although don’t expect a discount from Noah), but they also have to reach terms on a max contract extension for Porzingis. There’s some financial juggling that needs to go on in NYC.

Among those financial questions, what to do with Kanter? He is a free agent next summer, coming off a season where he will make $18.6 million. The Knicks may want to bring him back, but not at near that price and likely not until Durant or another free agent signs with the team because the Knicks will need that cap space.

Kanter told Johnson and Termine he wants to stay a Knick, that he loves the city and the team. He’s told the Knicks’ that too and made no secret of it, but whether that will be enough remains to be seen. However, if he can help recruit Durant it will help his cause.

Raptors assistant Phil Handy says Kawhi Leonard has looked good, healthy in workouts

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A couple weeks ago, a picture surfaced of Kawhi Leonard — and his massive hands — at the UCLA run with Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and of course Cedi Osman.

That run is organized by Phil Handy, who is now an assistant coach with the Raptors. Handy went on the Toronto Talks Sports podcast and had this to say about Leonard. (Hat tip Amico Sports.)

“He’s doing great. He’s in great shape. His body looks good. He’s feeling good. He’s moving well, so I don’t anticipate any issues or problems.”

Maybe so, but this should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s no different than all the players who say “I lost 15 pounds this summer and am in the best shape of my career” or something similar. Sounds great, we need to see it on the court.

Two other notes here. First, Handy is a Raptors coach, so what exactly do you expect him to say? Second, looking great in a summer run — even one as stacked as the UCLA run — and being sharp in an NBA game are different animals. The UCLA run is pickup ball, granted high-level pickup ball, but all the caveats about reading too much into a pickup game still apply. Leonard may be back to his MVP-level self, for the good of the game (and him personally) I hope he is, but we need to see it in games that matter first.