PBT Extra: DeMarcus Cousins’ return will be big boost for Warriors. Maybe.

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The Golden State Warriors — the two-time defending NBA champs, the team on top of the Western Conference with the best offense in the NBA — are about to get a whole lot better.

Maybe.

Nobody really knows.

What we know is DeMarcus Cousins is scheduled to make his return to the court on Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Cousins missed the end of last season and all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

As NBC’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury does not bode well for Cousins. On the other side, Cousins was so skilled, if the Warriors can get 75 percent of the old Cousins it will be an upgrade over Kevon Looney and give Golden State a guy who can exploit mismatches.

On paper, the Warriors should get better with Cousins in the lineup. But nobody really knows.

Robin Lopez may be biggest name on buyout market, Warriors reportedly interested

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The NBA’s trade deadline may be a bit of a bust this year (or, more accurately, again) but the buyout market is expected to be robust. Zach Randolph, Kenneth Faried, J.R. Smith (unless he is traded) are just a few of the names.

But the biggest and best may be Robin Lopez of the Bulls.

And the Warriors are eyeing him as someone to platoon with DeMarcus Cousins, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

One name to file away here: Chicago’s Robin Lopez. The Bulls have made Lopez available via trade along with the former No. 2 overall draft pick Jabari Parker, according to league sources, but moving the experienced center isn’t so simple given his $14.4 million salary.

There will be little need for the Bulls to keep Lopez, 30, beyond Feb. 7 if they don’t find a workable trade for him, which may set up the former Knick to emerge as one of most coveted buyout candidates. Golden State’s positional needs also could certainly change between now and then, but Kevon Looney is the closest thing to a proven center currently available to Coach Steve Kerr.

DeMarcus Cousins likely will hit the court before that point — the buzz around the league is a January return, he did scrimmage on Wednesday, but there is no timetable yet — and the Warriors will have an idea of how that is going to work out. Even if Cousins is playing well, if the Warriors can get a solid defensive-minded rotational big in Lopez to add to the mix, it would help.

It’s not even close to a done deal, but it’s something to watch. Lopez likely will get bought out and once he does there will be more than one interested team, but if the Warriors come calling that will be tempting.

James Harden scores 27 as Rockets rout Warriors 107-86

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HOUSTON (AP) James Harden scored 27 points and the Houston Rockets routed the Golden State Warriors 107-86 on Thursday night in a rematch of last season’s Western Conference finals.

The Rockets (7-7), who announced before the game that they were “parting ways” with 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, have won three straight and six of their last eight games after starting 1-5 to reach .500 for the first time since they were 1-1.

The Warriors, who were without Stephen Curry for the fourth straight game, have lost two of their last three. Curry has already been ruled out for Golden State’s next two games because of a groin injury.

Houston had a 13-point lead at the end of the third and opened the fourth quarter with a 12-2 run to make it 88-65 and spur Golden State coach Steve Kerr to call a timeout. The Warriors had two shots blocked and committed two loose ball fouls in that span to help Houston pad the lead. The Rockets got 3-pointers from James Ennis and Isaiah Hartenstein to cap the run.

The Rockets then scored the first nine points after the timeout, with six from Ennis, to make it 97-65 midway through the quarter and put the game out of reach. Both teams cleared their benches a couple of minutes after that.

Kevin Durant had 20 points for the Warriors on a night they were just 4 of 18 on 3-pointers.

Draymond Green had five rebounds and five assists in his return after serving a one-game team-imposed suspension for a dustup with Durant in Monday night’s overtime loss to the Clippers. Green addressed the situation for the first time after shootaround but did not apologize for his actions in the heated exchange.

He said he and Durant had spoken and that they were “moving forward.”

“I think there’s no secret that I am an emotional player,” he said. “I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I play with that same emotion. Sometimes they get the best of me. And (if) it doesn’t work to my favor I’m going to live with that.”

While the Warriors dealt with the drama between Green and Durant, the Rockets were left to answer questions about the decision to move on from Anthony.

Anthony played just 10 games for the Rockets after signing a one-year, $2.4 million deal during the offseason.

“In the summer we tried to hit a home run and it didn’t work out,” coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He tried everything he could. He was great while he was here. It just didn’t work out for whatever reason. I just thank him for his professionalism. It was good. He tried everything he could to make it work and it just didn’t work out.”

The Rockets led by six at halftime and opened the third quarter with a 7-2 run to stretch the lead to 54-43.

Harden scored five straight points to make it 63-47 after his 3-pointer with about 5 1/2 minutes left in the quarter.

Golden State got going on offense after that, using an 8-2 spurt to get within 65-55 a couple of minutes later.

Gary Clark ended the run with a 3-pointer, and two more 3s by him within a minute of each other late in the third extended the lead to 76-59. It was 76-63 headed to the fourth.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Curry was with the Warriors on the trip but it’s unclear when he’ll return. “We’re going to be very, very careful, and obviously he’s going to need plenty of court time before he returns,” coach Steve Kerr said. “When I say court time, I mean live action. He hasn’t had that.”… Kevon Looney scored a season-high 12 points.

Rockets: Gerald Green returned after missing the last two games with a sprained ankle. … Ennis finished with 19 points and Eric Gordon had 17 off the bench. … Houston made 16 of 47 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Visit Dallas on Saturday night.

Rockets: Host Sacramento on Saturday night.

Warriors get rings, still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and that’s too much for OKC

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For Oklahoma City, this game was encouraging. Paul George had 27 points and five assists, pushing the Thunder in the second half, but that was almost expected with Russell Westbrook out (still recovering from off-season knee surgery). What was more encouraging was Dennis Schroder‘s 21 points, 9 rebounds, and six assists, he is going to be a valuable shot creator for this team off the bench. It was encouraging to see Steven Adams looking solid with 17 points and 11 boards. It was encouraging to see a couple of threes from Alex Abrines off the bench. The Thunder put up a fight.

However, there are no moral victories.

The Warriors won on opening night in Oakland and it didn’t even feel like they had to break a sweat.

Stephen Curry dropped 32 points, reminded everyone he is a master of getting space for his shot off the pick-and-roll, and he hit five threes. Kevin Durant had 27 points and was the guy who took on the defensive responsibility for George much of the night (and did an okay job, but struggled following him on off-ball picks). And the new center combination of Damian Jones (12 points on 6-of-7 shooting, three blocked shots) and Kevon Looney (10 points, good game on both ends and was +22) held down the center spot reasonably well.

It was a good night for the Warriors. First they got their championship rings.

Then started out the season with a 108-100 win.

The one concern for the Warriors was Andre Iguodala leaving the game in the second quarter with what was described as a tight left calf, and he did not return.

Mostly though, the Warriors won this game the way they will win a lot more this season — because they have more talent than the team they are playing and can overwhelm them. Klay Thompson was cold (1-of-8 from three, but it doesn’t matter if one of the scorers goes cold because another one will step up. That was Curry.

The game was a bit sloppy, as first games of the season tend to be. But for both teams, there were good takeaways, positives they can build on as they go through the remaining 81 games.

It’s just the Warriors have a lot more talent on the roster, so they start 1-0.

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