Willie Cauley-Stein

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Until they show otherwise, it’s too early to write off the Golden State Warriors

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

The Golden State Warriors will be without Klay Thompson to start the 2019-20 NBA season. They will also be without Kevin Durant in perpetuity. Which will be a bigger issue is cause for much debate.

Indeed, the Warriors won a record 73 regular season games before Durant arrived in 2016. Golden State was a budding dynasty before Durant arrived, and was thought to be a lock for the best team of all-time once he did.

Now things have changed.

Thompson, who tore his ACL in the 2019 NBA Finals, will not be with the team until 2020. He’s taking it slow, and he knows how important that is for his longevity. Meanwhile, there was some debate about Golden State’s fate without Thompson and without Durant. Will they be able to survive with just Curry? What is the athletic status of Draymond Green? And can a stable of below replacement-level players keep the Warriors in the championship hunt in 2020?

For starters, this team has proven time and time again they are not to be trifled with. Organizationally, the Warriors are the class of the league. Much like the San Antonio Spurs, it’s only smart to write them off once they actually miss the playoffs. We’ve been waiting for that from the Spurs since 1997; the Warriors since 2012.

And so here we are, with many hoping that Golden State’s maladies will prove fruitful for their teams in the Western Conference. That, dear reader, may very well be wise. While the road to the Finals may not be settled thanks to the Warriors’ injuries, the road to the playoffs looks much different.

Golden State will win less games this year than perhaps they ever have under Steve Kerr’s guidance. Westgate’s current win total for Golden State is set at 48.5. That would have been good enough to battle for the 8th seed out West last season. This year, without a singularly dominant team, it’s more reasonable for wins to be spread around. It’s also possible that the bottom of the playoff bracket in the Western Conference dips a bit, too.

So when we talk about writing off the Warriors, we have to talk about what “writing off” really means. The NBA is a league where narratives and motivation matters. The Warriors, banged up as they are, are a team that wants to prove that they can still win the way they did before, and without Durant.

Green will be leading that charge, but there will also be a strong push from Curry. Offensively, D’Angelo Russell should slot right into what they need. You should still expect to see those third quarter offensive onslaughts in 2019-20.

The only problem is that Golden State is working with a rotation that is also perhaps thinner than it’s ever been. The Warriors will be relying on guys like Willie Cauley-Stein, Alec Burks, Alfonzo McKinnie, and Glenn Robinson III.

That presents a real problem defensively, where the Warriors have shined. Yes, they returned players like Kevon Looney, and it’s really a system that works off of what green brings to the table. But there is an asymptote, we think, that Golden State will reach when it comes to plugging in just any old player. The Warriors won’t be as dominant on defense this season, and so scores may not be so disperate.

The system in San Francisco works. The culture works. And, let’s be honest, the veteran buyout market works. The talent on the Golden State Warriors is still largely made up of Hall of Famers. Those Hall of Famers are in their primes, and until we see them falter — or until some horror ethic injury befalls them — it’s unreasonable to write them off entirely.

Health, by the way, is a funny thing. We don’t know when this Golden State roster will have it. It’s almost guaranteed that Green will need to come in to the season in October in the kind of shape he left it in June. He can’t drag himself up and down the floor 25 pounds overweight the way he did all last year.

But if the Warriors have a modicum of good luck when it comes to the training room, they should be able to keep their heads above water. The rest of the NBA out West still has a lot of question marks. There are no guarantees for teams like the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, or Utah Jazz. That works to the Warriors’ advantage in the absence of both Thompson and Durant.

For now, in September, it’s much too early to write off Golden State. They may not be who they were in the past, but until they show us otherwise, they’re still the Warriors.

Stephen Curry on idea Warriors are not title contenders: ‘I just laugh at it’

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The Golden State Warriors won a title — and had a 73-win regular season — before Kevin Durant walked through that door.

Now that Durant has walked (well, limped) out that door, combined with the facts this is an older and thinner Warriors roster, a lot of people are counting them out of the title chase. Klay Thompson already said do so at your own peril because the dynasty can continue, and the team re-signed Daymond Green to keep the core intact for a few more years.

Stephen Curry‘s reaction to the doubts about this team? Laughter. Via Logan Murdock of NBC Sports Bay Area.

“I just laugh at it,” Curry said during his second annual Warriors All-Girls basketball camp in Oakland on Monday afternoon. “Anybody can say anything about anything nowadays and it can pick up steam. So we’ve had lots of support. We’ve had a lot of criticism on the way that doesn’t change now. Just what they’re saying is different so doesn’t change how we go about our business.”

It’s not just that Durant is gone, but so are trusted role players such as Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston. Curry understands they have to build this thing back up.

“It’s just a matter of really trying to get guys comfortable with the system, be able to highlight the different skill sets that we have and different strengths and the chemistry,” Curry said. “It will take a little bit of time and a lot of hard work, but like I said, we have a lot of high IQ guys from our core and a lot of leadership and commitment to what we do, so starting in the training camp and beyond, you have to have a mindset that you will continue to get better as the season goes on.”

The last three seasons the Warriors started off with a massive margin for error and they went on to win two titles (and it took an avalanche of injuries to stop a three-peat). This year that is gone. This season the Warriors are going to be good, but they are just one of five or six teams in the West that enter the season with legitimate reasons to believe they can come out of it all and take a title.

For the Warriors, everything has to go right. Curry and Green have to stay healthy, Thompson has to return and be close to his elite self on both ends (he likely is not back until after the All-Star break), D'Angelo Russell needs to fit in next to Curry (or be traded for a player/players who do), big men Kevon Looney and Willie Cauley-Stein need to form a strong front line, and role players such as Alfonzo McKinnie and Alec Burks have to thrive in their roles.

It’s a lot of things that have to go right in Golden State next season.

It also all could happen, and we know how good the Curry/Thompson/Green combo can be when they are clicking.

DeMarcus Cousins is still available, switches agents in effort to get signed

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The center position is one NBA teams believe they can fill without spending too much money now. Sure, if you have a Joel Embiid or Rudy Gobert or Nikola Jokic at the five teams will back up the Brinks truck, but the Warriors brought back Kevon Looney at $5 million a season, and more and more it’s a position where teams are reluctant to pay big money without knowing they have an elite player at the position.

DeMarcus Cousins was once that elite player. However, after an Achilles tear that seemed to slow him when he did return last season, then a quad tear during the playoffs, not to mention some teams being scared off by his reputation as a locker room challenge (fair or not), there has not been much of a market for Cousins. Players such as Dewayne Dedmon (two years, $25 million) and Robin Lopez ($4.8 million) have found homes, and Cousins still waits.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN put it this way on the network’s air Tuesday:

“There’s not a market for him. I think he hoped that some big market teams would strikeout, they’d have cap space and he could get a one-year, $12 (million), $15 (million), $18 (million), $20 million deal. That’s not happening. The mid-level exception he got in Golden State last year? I don’t think that’s there.”

Trying to shake things up, Cousins is switching agents, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Once the Kawhi Leonard decision comes down there will be teams with some cap space to spend, but that may not help Cousins market much.

The Warriors brought back Looney and then signed Willie Cauley-Stein on Tuesday, ending the idea Cousins could return to the Bay Area. Celtics’ and Knicks’ rumors floated around, but neither team has yet made a move.

Cousins averaged 16.3 points and 8.4 rebounds a game for Warriors in the 30 games he played last season after coming back from his Achilles tear. He did so playing with good offensive efficiency, but he did not move terribly well (to be expected, considering the injury) and struggled when teams forced him to defend in space.

Cousins could be forced to take a minimum contract somewhere, or maybe a little more at best (there are rumors he would consider that with the Lakers if Kawhi Leonard goes there). If that happens, he will do it on a one-year contract hoping to find more suitors next summer in what will be more of a down free agent class.

Report: Willie Cauley-Stein agrees to contract with Golden State

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Willie Cauley-Stein wanted out of Sacramento so he could prove he was more than a rim runner, that he could pop out and shoot (a skill he did not show with the Kings), taking what the defense gives him. He wants to prove he’s a center that fits in the modern NBA.

Golden State is going to give him that chance.

Cauley-Stein is headed to the Warriors according to multiple reports, with Marcus Thompson of The Athletic being first.

Cauley-Stein will back up Kevon Looney at center in Golden State, when they don’t play small and put Draymond Green at the five.

Cauley-Stein averaged 11.9 points and 8.4 rebounds a game last season for the Kings, shooting 55.6 percent overall but no better than 35 percent from the floor anywhere outside the restricted area. He wanted a chance in a new environment, now we’ll see what they athletic center out of Kentucky can do with that opportunity.

Report: Kings signing Harrison Barnes (four years, $85M), Dewayne Dedmon (three years, $40M)

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The Kings will re-sign Harrison Barnes to a huge contract… and still have enough money left to get a starting center in Dewayne Dedmon.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

That’s a lot for Barnes, but at least the Kings did it in a smart way – spending more now, when their money doesn’t go as far. This franchise is only beginning to shed its reputation as “basketball hell.” Free agents frequently spurn Sacramento. As De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Marvin Bagley III and Bogdan Bogdanovic lead the next era, the Kings could become far more appealing down the road. And because of Barnes’ contract structure, they’ll have more flexibility then.

If Barnes’ deal is as frontloaded as possible

  • 2019-20: $24,147,727
  • 2020-21: $22,215,909
  • 2021-22: $20,284,091
  • 2022-23: $18,352,273

That’s also a lot of money for Dedmon. But the fit looks strong, and again, I’m not sure the Kings had a better way to use their cap space.

The 29-year-old Dedmon should provide an immediate upgrade at center. If his young teammates are ready to take the next step, he could make the difference between making the playoffs and not. Dedmon is a good defender who shoots 3s and just generally plays hard.

This makes it more likely incumbent starting center Willie Cauley-Stein will get his wish with Sacramento pulling his qualifying offer and making him an unrestricted free agent. But the Kings have enough cap room to sign Barnes and Demon and keep Cauley-Stein restricted.