What’s better than having four all-stars in your starting lineup? How about five?
Such is the state of the Golden State Warriors after center DeMarcus Cousins agreed Monday evening to sign a one-year deal worth $5.3 million. The deal, which takes up all of Golden State’s taxpayer’s mid-level exception, gives the Warriors five of the 24 players initially selected to last year’s All-Star Game.
What remains to be seen is which version of Cousins the Warriors get, and when they’ll get him on the court.
One of the most versatile and skilled offensive centers in the NBA, Cousins was in the midst of possibly the best season of his career for the New Orleans Pelicans when he tore his Achilles’ against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 26, ending his season. ESPN reported Monday night that Cousins is expected to be out until at least December or January; earlier Monday, an executive from another team said it seemed realistic Cousins could be out until at least February.
An Achilles’ tear is perhaps the most brutal injury a basketball player can go through, and it isn’t clear whether Cousins will be able to come back as anything close to the force he was before the injury. Still, if there was any team in the NBA that could afford to take a chance on Cousins and give him the time he needs to get back to full health, it’s the Warriors, who already were the overwhelming favorites to win another title next season. At some point next season, they’re in line to have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Cousins available to start. The Warriors have gone from the Death Lineup to the Hamptons 5 to, with this quintet, the Death Star Lineup.
Until Cousins comes back, the combination of Jordan Bell and Damian Jones — possibly along with Kevon Looney, a free agent whom the Warriors would like to retain if he doesn’t get an offer bigger than the $2.2 million they can match — will man the fort.
Cousins joining the Warriors capped an odd merry-go-round of signings on the second day of the NBA’s free agency period. It began with the Los Angeles Lakers renouncing big man Julius Randle, and his $13 million salary cap hold, to give former Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo a one-year, $9 million deal.
The Pelicans responded by adding Randle on a two-year, $18 million deal, with a player option for a second year, giving New Orleans an intriguing front-line rotation of Anthony Davis, Nikola Mirotic and Randle — three young, athletic players who complement one another perfectly. The move all but guaranteed Cousins would not return.
At that point, the only realistic offers on the table for Cousins were going to be of the mid-level variety, hence a move to Golden State for a shot at a ring and a chance to get healthy and rehab his value before there is far more cap space available next summer.
Rondo’s arrival in Los Angeles was the latest in a series of odd transactions the Lakers have made since getting LeBron James to commit Sunday night, following signing Lance Stephenson for the room exception and JaVale McGee for the minimum. All three have a history with James, and it will make for interesting theater, at least — if not necessarily brilliant results on the court.
As it stands, it’s hard to argue that the team James left behind in Cleveland doesn’t have more talent than the one he has inherited in Southern California. Then again, this was never a basketball-first move to begin with.
Elsewhere Monday, JJ Redick agreed to a one-year deal for about $13 million to remain with the Philadelphia 76ers, essentially taking half of Philadelphia’s remaining cap space. The Sixers now can pursue depth pieces to fill out their roster, presumably including another shooter on the wing, perhaps another wing defender and a backup center to fill in minutes behind star Joel Embiid.
The Utah Jazz agreed to a two-year, $36 million deal with forward Derrick Favors, with a fully non-guaranteed second season. The move allows Utah, which has a strong belief in its internal development (supported by the stunning growth of rookie Donovan Mitchell last season), to keep its starting five together while maintaining flexibility for next summer, when the Jazz hope to make a big splash in free agency. Utah’s focus will turn to restricted free agent point guard Dante Exum, whom the Jazz have also signaled they want to keep around for the long term.
Finally, the Oklahoma City Thunder agreed to a one-year deal with a player option for a second with free agent center Nerlens Noel. The deal, which is for the minimum, is a far, far cry from the four-year, $70 million deal that Noel turned down with the Dallas Mavericks last summer as a restricted free agent, before accepting a qualifying offer to become an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Oklahoma City, though, is excited about the prospect of having Noel in its system, and hopes to use his athleticism in pick-and-roll combinations with Russell Westbrook as Steven Adams and, previously, Enes Kanter have done so successfully. For a team that didn’t have much behind Adams last season, Noel should get plenty of opportunities to play and prove himself — which, in turn, would allow him to test free agency again next summer, when the market should be more favorable.
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