NBA

DeMarcus Cousins can improve the Golden State Warriors by only so much

Jay Asser 5/07/2018
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DeMarcus Cousins will join Kevin Durant and the rest of the Warriors.

If you thought the Golden State Warriors were hated before, their signing of DeMarcus Cousins has taken the vitriol and feeling of existential dread to another level.

After LeBron James made the Earth-shattering decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors wasted little time in stealing back headlines by snagging Cousins on a one-year, $5.3 million deal.

Even during the summer and in the middle of free agency, when hope springs eternal for teams around the league, Golden State had to ruin the fun and remind everyone of their place atop the hierarchy. It wasn’t enough that they had two former MVPs and four All-Stars, they just had to go out and get a fifth to round out a lineup with seemingly no holes.

You can be mad at the Warriors, but you can’t blame them for improving their team. What were they supposed to do, turn down one of the best centres in the league on principle? Similarly for Cousins, you can give him the Kevin Durant treatment and call him a coward, but ultimately you can’t stop a player from signing where he wants. It’s called free agency for a reason.

So we have no choice but to accept the fact that Cousins is now a Warrior and a team that could have already been considered the best ever just got better.

How much better though? That’s where there may be a disconnect between the reaction the Cousins news drew and what the actual impact could be.

Let’s preface this by saying there is absolutely no downside for the Warriors in adding Cousins. It’s only a one-year deal – there’s almost no chance Cousins is still on the team next year due to Golden State’s cap situation, as well as his own earning potential after returning from an Achilles injury – at a low annual figure, which means even if Cousins become a locker-room problem, they can cut him at minimal cost.

The biggest question mark with Cousins revolves around his injury and whether or not he can return to being the player he was before tearing his Achilles. If he can’t, it’s not like the Warriors are leaning on him anyways.

If he can, or at least come close to having the same effectiveness, the fit on the court isn’t seamless. This isn’t a case of Golden State adding a player like Al Horford, who would amplify everything they already do well at a position that hasn’t had that type of impact for them.

Cousins is a plodding, high-usage big who commands the ball on post-ups and often lacks effort on defence. In many ways, his playing style is the antithesis of what the Warriors strive to do.

So while he’ll start, it’s unlikely Cousins will be in Golden State’s closing lineup, which should remain the Hamptons Five. That unit is what gives them their identity and what truly allows them to be an all-conquering death machine on both ends of the court.

The real benefit of Cousins will be in those second-unit lineups when he can pick on back-ups by doing what he does best. Those will be the minutes when the Warriors get their money’s worth and then some.

It makes Golden State even harder to beat, but there’s only so much better a team at their level can get. Eventually, you reach a tipping point where the collective level of talent on the floor doesn’t result in the kind of production you would get from that talent being in isolation elsewhere. It’s insane Golden State may be reaching that point, but it’s not out of the question.

Outside of Houston and Boston, no team was going to have a legitimate shot at beating the Warriors next season anyways. And you can make a case that the versatility and style the Rockets and Celtics employ could allow them to deal with Cousins better than anyone else.

The gap between the Warriors and the rest of the league has undoubtedly widened, but it’s been by inches, not feet.

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NBA

How Jaren Jackson Jr, Trae Young and Marvin Bagley have looked so far in summer league action

Jay Asser 4/07/2018
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Jaren Jackson Jr has showed an all-around game.

Three of the top five picks in last month’s NBA draft have been on display at summer leagues in Utah and Sacramento so far.

While even more rookies will show off their skills in the Las Vegas Summer League beginning on Friday, Jaren Jackson Jr, Trae Young and Marvin Bagley III have already gotten two games under their belt up to this point and had varying levels of success.

Here are early impressions of the trio.

Jaren Jackson Jr

It’s hard not to be impressed with Jackson and excited for what he could become.

The fourth overall pick has shined for the Memphis Grizzlies in Utah, doing it all on both ends of the court to show off his vast potential.

Jackson is considered a big man, but he’s proven he can be a threat on the perimeter by knocking down 10-of-17 triples, including a jaw-dropping 8-of-13 in his debut. They’ve not been simple catch-and-shoot opportunities either as he’s come off screens and legitimately looked like a shooter.

Add in his ability to score from inside the arc, his rebounding (11) and rim protection (four blocks), and Jackson couldn’t be off to a better start.

Trae Young

Young is a fascinating prospect to watch because he plays with such freedom and confidence, the kind that might make even Stephen Curry blush at times.

The Atlanta Hawks guard has so far taken shots like Curry, but has been way off the mark, hitting just 9-of-36 from the field, including 2-of-16 from long range.

His shooting efficiency can only improve going forward, but what he has shown is his playmaking and ability to set up his teammates.

Good or bad, Young is definitely entertaining.

Marvin Bagley III

Unsurprisingly, Bagley has produced some highlight plays already, including a ferocious dunk in his debut.

After going 6-of-11 for 18 points in his first game though, the Sacramento Kings forward struggled with a 3-of-16 outing.

It will be interesting to see how Bagley’s athletic advantage being curtailed in the NBA affects his effectiveness.

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NBA

LeBron James playing the long game with move to Los Angeles Lakers

Jay Asser 2/07/2018
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LeBron James is switching teams for the third time in his career.

The first two occasions when LeBron James switched teams, he did so with the pieces either already in place or on the way to create a title contender.

This time is different.

In making his decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency, James showed he’s willing to take the long view – something that has gone against his win-now ethos during the prime of his career.

LeBron is no closer to beating the Golden State Warriors today than he was last month after the Cleveland Cavaliers were swept in the NBA Finals. He isn’t coming into a team with star talent already on the roster, nor does he appear to be bringing along anyone of his ilk to offer him support.

By and large, what James has around him is a bunch of young, inexperienced players and spare, discarded parts. He just barely carried a similar cast of characters through a weak Eastern Conference field before being dismantled in the Finals, and better weather, a new time zone and the Lakers mystique isn’t magically changing that outcome now.

James knows this. A man who wears a hat with the words ‘There is No Magic Pill’ doesn’t suffer from delusions of grandeur.

The Lakers are not yet a finished product and they might not be for another year at least. But that’s where the appeal of Magic Johnson likely drew James. The same legendary vision LeBron and Magic share as players will benefit them as team-builders with this DIY project.

Ball

It’s certainly a project, but the tools are there: a young core that can either continue to be developed or used in a trade for another star, significant cap space on the horizon and the lure of Lakers exceptionalism, which James just added extra juice to.

It wasn’t enough to land Paul George, who despite being a Southern California native and having already expressed a desire to don purple and gold, chose to stay in the friendly confines of Oklahoma City and re-up with the Thunder.

But Kawhi Leonard remains very much in play, whether the Lakers want to push their chips into the middle now and trade for the San Antonio Spurs star, or opt for the more prudent route and wait until he hits free agency next summer.

And regardless of Leonard’s fate, a loaded 2019 free agency class – potentially featuring game-changers like Kevin Durant, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson – means the Lakers can throw multiple darts at the board and hope one or more stick.

Maybe LeBron’s sidekicks arrive through free agency or perhaps they come via trades, but either way the Lakers have flexibility that James doesn’t appear to want to compromise. It’s why he surprisingly agreed to a four-year deal with a player option for the third season – an eternity in LeBron’s timeline.

After inking one-plus-one or two-plus-one deals during his second stay with the Cavaliers, James is affording the Lakers a luxury that Cleveland’s front office never were. Whereas the Cavaliers were forced to exhaust their assets in the name of winning now, the Lakers can take their time in forming a championship contender that is built to last.

None of this is a foregone conclusion though. There will be a honeymoon stage in which James puts on a brave face and endures a relatively mediocre campaign, but at 33, he doesn’t have throwaway seasons at his disposal, even if he remains close to his peak.

At some point, the Lakers will have to deliver a team LeBron can compete with, while he’ll have to deliver a ring.

That’s just the level of expectation when you get a marriage of arguably the best player ever and arguably the most iconic franchise in all of teams sports.

The stopwatch has been replaced with an hourglass, but the sands of time continue to fall.

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