Community Shootaround: DeMarcus Cousins’ Return

DeMarcus Cousins is on track to play his first game as a member of the Warriors on Friday against the Clippers, assuming all goes well during his final evaluation on Thursday, writes Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Within his story on Cousins’ impending return, Haynes notes that the former All-Star will actually make his debut several weeks later than he had hoped.

According to Haynes, Cousins wanted to speed up his timeline, and attempted to get cleared to play a few weeks ago, but the Warriors would have imposed a restriction of 10 minutes per game in that scenario. Rather than settling for such limited playing time, Cousins opted to continue his rehab process, improving his conditioning and preparing for a more significant role.

While Cousins will still likely be on some sort of minutes restriction as the club looks to ease him back into action, head coach Steve Kerr has yet to offer any specifics.

“We’ve got some ideas of how we are going to use him,” Kerr said, “but there is not a substitute for actual game experience. So, we’ll put him out there and see how it goes.”

With Cousins’ Warriors debut imminent, it will be fascinating to see how he fits in with Golden State’s other All-Stars and whether he looks at all like his old self after a long, challenging rehabilitation from a major Achilles injury. NBA players who have suffered Achilles tears often don’t make it all the way back, and for those that do, the process often takes two or three years. Still, speaking to ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, Cousins sounds very confident in his abilities.

“I won’t be the same player. I’ve gotten better,” he said with a laugh. “So you know, a lot of things have changed in my game. You start to tune up other areas of your game: jump shooting, skill work. I think everything has just increased and gotten better.”

The idea of slotting Cousins into a lineup that also features Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green is tantalizing — on paper, it’s the sort of five-man unit that makes Golden State a lock for a third straight championship. But there’s no guarantee it’ll actually be a success on the court. The Warriors’ stars have typically done a great job of buying into the system and playing their roles, but as we’ve seen in Boston this season, things don’t always run smoothly when a team has “too much” talent.

In advance of Cousins’ first game, we want to hear your thoughts on the situation in Golden State. Will Cousins make a great team even better, ensuring that the Warriors are holding up the Larry O’Brien trophy again this June? Will there be some growing pains before Cousins and the Warriors hit their stride down the stretch? Or do you think Cousins might ultimately be a non-factor for Golden State as he continues to recover from a significant injury?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Heat Notes: Waiters, Haslem, Ellington

The Heat have hit Dion Waiters with a fine after he publicly griped about his playing time earlier in the week, suggesting he was tired of being “patient” as he waited for an increased role. Miami didn’t disclose how much the fine for Waiters was worth, but said it was for conduct detrimental to the team, as David Furones of The South Florida Sun Sentinel tweets.

Head coach Erik Spoelstra addressed the issue today, telling reporters that dropping expletives and complaining to the media about his playing time won’t earn Waiters more minutes (Twitter link via Furones).

“I think it’s important for him to realize: Our team is much different than when he left last year, and while his teammates are really here to support him, nobody is volunteering their rotation minutes to him. It’ll have to be earned just like everybody else,” Spoelstra said, per Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. “These concepts of patience and surrendering to the team, whether we want to put expletives in front of it or behind it, those are going to be very important concepts for him to embrace, and I think he will.”

Here’s more on Waiters and the Heat:

  • According to Jackson, Waiters said today that he’s glad he let his frustration out, but he should have expressed it differently. “I was frustrated,” Waiters said. “I want to play. I want to speed this process up a little bit. I don’t mean no harm to nobody. I’m not perfect nor do I try to be. I just want to play the game I love that I missed for a year.” Waiters added that he “absolutely” wants to remain with the Heat.
  • Multiple teammates, including Udonis Haslem, spoke to Waiters – both privately and during a team meeting on Wednesday – about channeling his frustration in more productive ways, writes Jackson. “We don’t have any bad apples on our team,” Haslem said. “We understand Dion’s comments, while not the right thing to do, are coming from a good place.”
  • Waiters isn’t the only Heat player frustrated by his role. In a separate article for The Miami Herald, Jackson reports that Wayne Ellington’s agent has had conversations with Heat officials about his client’s limited role and his future with the club. According to Jackson, the team stressed that it values Ellington and is aware he’d like to play more, but no promises were made.

Mavs Hope To Reconcile With Dennis Smith Jr.

2:51pm: The trade issue is being pushed from Smith’s side rather than the Mavs’ side, multiple sources tell Townsend, who confirms (via Twitter) that DSJ isn’t thrilled by the change in his role this season.

2:36pm: After reports earlier this week suggested that the Mavericks were ramping up their efforts to trade Dennis Smith Jr., the team is now hoping to reconcile with its frustrated second-year guard and move forward with Smith on its roster, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com.

As MacMahon details, the Mavs have explored the trade market for Smith for much of the season, and still sound open to making a move if they get good value for him. However, the team believes the 2017 lottery pick can develop into a star and won’t move him without getting a significant return, sources tell MacMahon.

“Plan A is still to fix this,” one Mavs source told ESPN.

Those reports from earlier in the week indicated that Smith’s uncertain fit alongside Luka Doncic and his relationship with head coach Rick Carlisle were among the reasons why the Mavericks were pursuing a trade. In his latest report, MacMahon confirms that both of those issues have been frustrating for Smith, who has “recently expressed that he hopes to be traded.”

Multiple team sources downplayed the friction between Smith and Carlisle, according to MacMahon, who writes that the club chalks it up to typical growing pains for a young player. Carlisle would welcome the opportunity to continue coaching the 21-year-old, MacMahon adds. Still, Tim Cato of The Athletic notes (via Twitter) that the Mavs want to retain Smith on their own terms, playing the role Carlisle envisions for him.

If Smith’s camp isn’t on board with that plan or if the Mavs receive a favorable offer, the trade chatter surrounding the guard could increase once again. In fact, one league source suggests to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) that the club isn’t necessarily convinced that fences can be mended with Smith.

Nonetheless, the Mavs don’t want to be forced into a bad deal, so for now it looks like the franchise will try its best to make things work with one of its top young prospects.

NBA To Televise All-Star Draft On February 7

February 7 is shaping up to be an eventful day on the NBA calendar this season. Already the date of the 2018/19 trade deadline (at 2:00pm central time), Thursday, February 7 will also be the day on which the NBA televises an All-Star draft for the first time.

The league confirmed today in a press release that the 2019 All-Star draft will air on TNT on February 7, starting at 6:00pm CT. As was the case last season, the top vote-getter in each conference will be an All-Star captain, and will draft a squad of four starters from a pool of eight players selected by fans, players, and media members. The captains will subsequently select seven players apiece from a 14-player pool of All-Stars named by NBA coaches.

This year’s All-Star starters will be announced on January 24, with the remaining All-Stars revealed on January 31. Based on the latest voting results, released today by the NBA, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo project to be the All-Star captains this season — LeBron (3,770,807 votes) is ahead of Luka Doncic by about 469,000 votes in the West, while Giannis (3,626,909 votes) leads Kyrie Irving in the East by approximately 440,000 votes.

This is the second time the NBA has used this All-Star format. James and Stephen Curry were captains last season, but the draft was conducted privately. After talking things over with the players, the NBA has decided to make that event public this time around, which should make for an entertaining broadcast.

Wizards’ Owner: “We Will Never, Ever Tank”

With his Wizards set to face the Knicks today in London, owner Ted Leonsis told reporters, including Candace Buckner of The Washington Post (Twitter link), that the plan is for the club to continue contending for the postseason, despite the season-ending injury to star point guard John Wall.

“We will never, ever tank,” Leonsis said, per Buckner.

Since Wall went down, the Wizards have held their own, winning five of nine games, including victories over Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee. Bradley Beal has taken his game to another level during that stretch, averaging 30.2 PPG on .472/.413/.804 shooting as Washington’s go-to offensive option. And, according to Leonsis, Beal believes that the Wizards still have enough talent on their roster to earn a playoff spot.

“Bradley Beal has told me, ‘We have enough. … We’re not going to let you down,'” Leonsis said today to reporters (Twitter link via Hoop District). “We’re not letting anybody off the hook — we’ve got to make the playoffs.”

While the Wizards are still just 18-26, their path to a postseason berth isn’t as challenging in the Eastern Conference as it would be out West. Currently, the eighth-seeded Hornets have a 20-23 mark, putting them just 2.5 games ahead of Washington. The Pistons (19-24) and Magic (19-25) are also in the mix for that No. 8 seed.

If the Wizards are all-in on making a playoff push, as Leonsis states, it will likely eliminate a couple significant in-season trade chips from the market. Beal and Otto Porter have been at the center of a number of trade rumors this season, since they’d be excellent fits for teams in need of an offensive play-maker or a three-and-D wing, respectively — plus, moving one or both could help Washington clear up its long-term salary cap outlook. But the Wizards figure to hang onto both players, as they’ll be critical parts of any second-half run.

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, D. Green, Raptors, Brand

The Celtics have had more ups and downs this season than their primary Eastern Conference competitors, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge reiterated over the weekend that he’s not feeling any pressure to shake up his roster by making trades in the next three weeks, as Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe relays.

“It just depends,” Ainge said on Saturday. “I don’t feel a need to have to do something. I like every guy on our team. I like our roster. There will be [trade] conversations, obviously. Every year it happens with every team. But we’ll only do something that makes sense.”

A more pressing issue in Boston may be making sure that all the Celtics’ current players are on the same page, after a series of incidents that included a Jaylen Brown/Marcus Morris on-court confrontation, Kyrie Irving expressing frustration with an end-of-game play call and with his young teammates, and Brown publicly firing back at Irving. However, making his weekly appearance on Toucher & Rich today, Ainge said he doesn’t view any of those incidents as worrisome.

“To me, these aren’t stories,” Ainge said, per Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. “They’re not a big deal. I mean, yes, Kyrie could have done better. Yes, Jaylen could have done better. But these are people. These are kids. These are guys playing with emotion in a glass house. They’re real people with real emotions; they’re not perfect and I don’t ever expect them to be.

“We live in a real sensitive society now,” Ainge added. “And all these things that we’re talking about: ‘Oh, you mean a veteran player called out the young guys? Oh wait, a young guy stood up for himself?’ I mean, where is the drama? I don’t understand it. Quit being sensitive. That’s the story. That’s my story.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Danny Green‘s free agency decision won’t alter the direction of the Raptors in the same way that Kawhi Leonard‘s will, but Green has been a crucial piece in Toronto this season and is also on an expiring contract. As James Herbert of CBSSports.com writes, Green is enjoying his time with the Raptors and wouldn’t mind staying with the club beyond this season — alongside Leonard. “I hope he sticks around as long as I’m here,” Green said of Kawhi. “And I hope to stick around.”
  • Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is doing some in-person scouting in Lithuania, according to Donatas Urbonas, who tweets that Ujiri watched top prospect Deividas Sirvydis this week (hat tip to Sportando). ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had the Lithuanian forward ranked at No. 31 in his most recent mock draft.
  • In an in-depth profile on new Sixers general manager Elton Brand, Michael Lee of The Athletic looks at Brand’s path from No. 1 pick to an NBA front office, and his first big swing after landing the job — the acquisition of Jimmy Butler.

Gregg Popovich Unsure If He’ll Coach Spurs Beyond 2018/19

Longtime Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich remains undecided about his future beyond the 2018/19 season, writes Marc Stein of The New York Times. Popovich is in the final season of his current contract, and while the team would be happy to extend him for as long as he wants, he’s unsure whether he’ll continue his coaching career next season.

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his coaching future.

According to Stein, Popovich – the NBA’s longest-tenured head coach by 12 years – said that he and general manager R.C. Buford have “periodically” discussed the Spurs’ options beyond this season. Buford notes that Popovich will remain on San Antonio’s bench for “as long as he wants to coach.”

NBA observers have speculated that Popovich would coach the Spurs for one more season after 2018/19, then retire after working with Team USA in the 2020 Olympics. However, while Popovich remains on track to coach the U.S. basketball squad in Tokyo in the summer of 2020, there’s no guarantee he’ll still coach the Spurs leading up to that event.

As Stein observes, Popovich will also coach Team USA during this year’s World Cup, which takes place in September, just two weeks before NBA training camps get underway. With international competitions bookending the ’19/20 season, Popovich may prefer to focus on those Team USA responsibilities.

Stein also points out that Popovich will turn 70 years old later this month. Only three other head coaches in NBA history have worked into their 70s, per Stein — Bill Bertka (71), Hubie Brown (71) and Larry Brown (70).

Popovich currently has the third-most wins of any coach in league history, with 1,223, and also ranks fifth in all-time winning percentage (.686) among coaches who have been on the sidelines for at least 100 games.

Paul Zipser To Play In Spain

Former Bulls forward Paul Zipser has found a new home for the rest of the 2018/19 season, having joined Spanish team San Pablo Burgos, according to a tweet from Spain’s Liga ACB (hat tip to Sportando).

Zipser, a second-round pick in the 2016 draft, had a decent rookie year in 2016/17, but averaged just 4.0 PPG and 2.4 RPG in 54 games (15.3 MPG) for the Bulls in 2017/18. The 24-year-old German was waived by Chicago last July in order to create the cap room necessary to finalize the signing of Jabari Parker.

A new NBA opportunity appeared to open up for Zipser earlier this month, with the Nets seemingly on the verge of signing him to a two-way contract. However, Alan Williams – who had left Brooklyn in the hopes of signing a deal with a Chinese team – ultimately remained stateside and returned to the Nets, occupying the two-way slot that Zipser would have taken.

As a result, he’ll resume his professional career overseas, playing for a European team for the first time since 2016. Zipser began his career with USC Heidelberg in Germany in 2010 and spent several seasons with Bayern Munich from 2013-16.

Quincy Acy Signs Second 10-Day Deal With Suns

JANUARY 17: The Suns have made it official, announcing in a press release that they’ve re-signed Acy to a second 10-day contract.

JANUARY 16: Veteran forward Quincy Acy is signing a second 10-day contract with the Suns, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Acy agreed to the first 10-day deal of the 2018/19 season back on January 5, but didn’t make it official until January 7, so his first contract is set to expire tonight. His new deal, if signed tomorrow, will run through January 26, covering the Suns’ next six games.

Once the second deal expires, the team will have to decide whether to re-sign Acy to a rest-of-season deal or let him walk, as NBA rules don’t allow a team to sign a player to more than two 10-day contracts in a single season.

Acy, a 2012 second-round pick, has appeared in four games with the Suns in his first 10-day go-round. He has averaged less than one point and one rebound in 8.8 minutes per game, but the club apparently saw something it liked.

Like Acy’s first 10-day contract, this deal will have a cap hit of $85,468, increasing his total cost for the Suns to $170,936.

Kyrie Irving Called LeBron James To Apologize

Following the Celtics‘ big Wednesday night win over Toronto, Kyrie Irving told reporters, including Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com, that he recently called former teammate LeBron James to apologize for resisting criticism and not fully appreciating his leadership during their time in Cleveland.

“Obviously, this was a big deal for me, because I had to call ‘Bron and tell him I apologized for being that young player that wanted everything at his fingertips, and I wanted everything at my threshold,” Irving said, per Bontemps. “I wanted to be the guy that led us to a championship. I wanted to be the leader. I wanted to be all that, and the responsibility of being the best in the world and leading your team is something that is not meant for many people.

“[LeBron] was one of those guys who came to Cleveland and tried to show us how to win a championship, and it was hard for him, and sometimes getting the most out of the group is not the easiest thing in the world,” Irving added.

Irving’s comments came just a few days after he publicly expressed frustration with some of his younger teammates during the Celtics’ three-game losing streak. As a veteran in Boston, Kyrie has essentially assumed the sort of leadership role that LeBron had in Cleveland, and acknowledged that he made a mistake by calling out his teammates in the press.

“I did a poor job of setting an example for these guys of what it’s like to get something out of your teammates,” Irving said. “You go and you say something publicly and it ends up received in so many different ways and you never know how fragile or what guys are going through when you say things like that. You’re expecting results, but at the same time, I should’ve kept it in-house. Going forward, I want to test these young guys, but I can’t be a bully like that.”

In a fascinating twist, Joe Vardon of The Athletic reports that James was actually having dinner with the other member of the Cavaliers‘ old Big Three – Kevin Love – when Irving called him to apologize. While LeBron missed Kyrie’s call at the time, he returned it privately later, according to Vardon, who hears from a source that James was “very appreciative” that Irving reached out to him.

As Vardon observes, Irving’s admission is a “pretty big deal” to anyone involved with Cleveland’s four-year run of NBA Finals appearances. The trade that sent the star point guard to Boston was essentially the beginning of the end of that mini-dynasty, so hearing Irving confess that he didn’t handle the situation as well as he could have creates some tantalizing “what-if” scenarios.

Still, Irving didn’t go so far as to say he regretted forcing his way out of Cleveland — he welcomes the challenge of leading the Celtics to a title of their own. He also believes he has a better idea now of what it takes to assume that sort of leadership role and wants to share his perspective with the younger C’s.

“Now I’m in this position; I asked for this and I want this. I want the responsibility. And I take it on full force,” Irving said, according to Bontemps. “But it’s also good to reach out for help and really take responsibility for what you’ve done in your career. It takes a real man to go back, call somebody and be like, ‘Hey, man, I was young. I made some mistakes, I wasn’t seeing the big picture like you were. I didn’t have the end of the season in mind.’ I just wanted to get my stats and make All-Star Games, which in his career means like this much at that point. So it was just good, and it gave me a peace of mind to go about what I’ve gotta go do.”