Salah Mejri

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Now what for Lakers after DeMarcus Cousins injury?

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“He was going to be a big part of what we’re going to do.”

Laker forward Kyle Kuzma summed it up well when asked about DeMarcus Cousins tearing his ACL during an off-season workout in Las Vegas this week. The Lakers were counting on a bounce-back season from Cousins — for him to play more like the guy from Game 2 of the NBA Finals against Toronto when he was vital to a Warriors win — because it would take some of the burden off of just-acquired Anthony Davis.

Make no mistake, Davis is the best center the Lakers have — he is arguably the best center in the game  (two seasons ago he was the First Team All-NBA center). However, Davis is not built like Joel Embiid and does not want to bang in the post for 30 minutes a night, he wants to play more at the four, face-up, run and space the floor, and play next to a traditional center (then slide to the five in certain situations/lineups, not unlike how the Warriors use Draymond Green at the five).

Cousins was to be that traditional center, and he already had chemistry with Davis from the time they played together in New Orleans.

Now, considering all his body has been through, it’s almost certain Cousins will miss the entire upcoming NBA season.

“I’m devastated for DeMarcus…” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “Injuries are a part of the game, but you are talking about a player who has now dealt with the two most feared injuries for NBA players — the Achilles and ACL — each knocking you out for an entire season… It’s unheard of.”

For Cousins, it means another year of hard-work rehab. It’s a grind that will understandably wear on him.

For the Lakers… the options are not pretty.

There is nobody readily available who can provide near the level of production they hoped to get from Cousins.

The Lakers are not going to make Davis play the five more — he does not want to, and while it’s a longshot he leaves as a free agent next summer he still has that leverage and the Lakers want and need to keep him happy.

So who are the Lakers best options? Right now they have JaVale McGee as a traditional center and that’s it. Remember, they also only have a minimum contract to offer.

The name that bounced around as speculation at the Lakers practice facility (where Team USA practiced this week) was Joakim Noah. The veteran played solidly last season in Memphis after New York wanted him out, and with the Grizzlies he played respectable defense while scoring 7.1 points a game on 51.6 percent shooting. Noah also is a good passer and smart player. He would fit with their veteran mindset, if LeBron James signed off on bringing Noah in.

Nene also is available as a free agent, but at age 37 he showed considerable decline the past couple of seasons in Houston. Marcin Gortat is another option here, he showed a decline at age 35 last season, but at this point the Lakers can’t be too picky. If the Lakers want a good pick-and-roll big, Salah Mejri has been that for Dallas in recent years.

The best available free agent is the Manimal, Kenneth Faried. He is 29 years old, always plays hard, and averaged 12.9 points per game on 58.7 percent shooting in 25 games for the Rockets last season after joining them mid-January. He picked up the slack until Clint Capela returned from injury, but once that happened Faried fell out of the rotation. The main reason for that, and for his limited playoff role, is that Faried is not much of a defender anymore. But he can get buckets.

Another name — one that sends shivers down the spines of Lakers fans — is Dwight Howard. He was traded to Memphis this summer for C.J. Miles and is expected to be bought out. If/when that happens, he has played solidly in recent years. When healthy. And that’s the bigger concern, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season. On a team where both LeBron and Davis are going to get a lot of nights off, the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes, and Howard is just not that guy.

The Lakers could look to the trade market — guys such as Nerlens Noel could eventually become available, Detroit may listen to offers for Christian Wood — however, Los Angeles does not have a lot to give up in a deal.

Bottom line, the options for the Lakers are not good. While the loss of Cousins does not take them out of contender status, it makes reaching their potential that much harder. The margin for error has shrunk again.

They will need to add someone at center, but at this point it’s a case of holding their nose and taking whatever they see as the best fit.

Report: Rockets trade Chinanu Onuaku, cash to Mavericks for second-round swap

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The Rockets have been active in trade talks.

Unloading Chinanu Onuaku – who’s guaranteed $1,544,951 – could help Houston facilitate a deal.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Well over the luxury tax, Houston is probably covering most, if not all, of Onuaku’s salary. By trading him rather than waiving him, the Rockets avoid paying luxury tax on his salary.

This doesn’t mean the Rockets will make another trade. They could just want to add another minimum-salary player (beyond Carmelo Anthony, who’s so Houston-bound, he’s already accounted for).

Or the Rockets could just leave the roster spot open, saving money.

Houston already has a strong starting center in Clint Capela, and Nene is a capable backup. Ryan Anderson will also play center in some matchups. Isaiah Hartenstein and Zhou Qi are projects at the position.

Onuaku got squeezed out. Best known for shooting free throws underhanded, the 21-year-old Onuaku was the No. 37 pick in the 2016 draft. He has spent most of his career in the NBA’s minor league – rebounding, protecting the rim, finishing inside, being way too sloppy with the ball and once pushing a referee.

The Mavericks now have 16 players – one more than the regular-season standard-roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. There’s no guarantee Onuaku sticks, but he’s worth taking a flier on – especially with Houston covering most, if not all, the cost. Dallas has more room for center depth, behind DeAndre Jordan and Salah Mejri.

Salah Mejri kicks at Patty Mills as Mavericks and Spurs leave court for halftime (video)

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Mavericks center Salah Mejri has a history of agitating, including against the Spurs.

Two years ago, Mejri dunked while Dallas got blown out by San Antonio and yapped at the Spurs bench – drawing laughter from Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Last season, Mejri had Trevor Ariza and other Rockets trying to confront him after reportedly saying something about Ariza’s family.

In the Mavericks’ win over the Spurs on Tuesday, Mejri got into it with Patty Mills.

Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Mejri and Rudy Gay received double technical fouls, and Mejri went to the bench. Everything could have cooled down at halftime, but Mejri escalated tension

Watch the full sequence above, but the key moment:

giphy (2)

That’ll probably draw a fine.

Nerlens Noel hanging on thread of Mavericks rotation

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Nerlens Noel‘s last four games:

  • Six minutes
  • DNP-CD
  • Two minutes
  • Five minutes

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“Look, minutes have to be earned,” Carlisle said. “At this point, if it’s between him and Salah, Salah has earned the minutes. There’s no doghouse here. There just isn’t. It’s pretty simple: You compete, and if you earn minutes, you get minutes. And you’ve got to compete to keep them, because it’s a competitive situation.”

Noel, via MacMahon:

“I’m good, I’m good,” Noel said. “I’m a very self-confident player. I know I can go in there and change games. When my number is called, I’ll do just that and help some winning efforts. That’s all my play style is about, is just winning. When I’m called on, I’ll bring my winning effort.”

The Mavericks reportedly thought Noel was worth $17.5 million annually last summer. Now, he can barely get playing time on a 2-13 team?

This is why players who sign the qualifying offer, like Noel did last summer, rarely re-sign the following offseason.

Noel makes a lot of plays defensively – some good, some bad. He needs playing time to refine his impressive tools. If they had him locked up long-term, the Mavericks probably would have more interest in developing him. As is, they could be leery of helping him just so another team reaps the rewards next season.

Though he’s saying all the right things, Noel would rightfully be frustrated by this situation. He has only one year to prove himself before unrestricted free agency, and he’s mostly stuck to the bench. The team with his Bird Rights, intentionally or not, is suppressing his value.

Dallas has a surplus of centers: Noel, Dirk Nowitzki, Salah Mejri, Dwight Powell and Jeff Withey. Mejri is playing very well right now, and Nowitzki is grandfathered minutes.

Noel will eventually get more playing time. Perhaps, this tough love benefits him long-term.

But this isn’t pretty right now.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.