The Lakers had approximately 23 hours to gloat about their signing of LeBron James before the Warriors locked up DeMarcus Cousins to a discount deal, adding another All-Star to their super team.
How did the Cousins signing happen? There were several factors.
The 28-year-old tore his Achilles’ in February and is not expected to return to basketball activities until early next season.
If healthy, Cousins likely would have signed a max contract extension with the Pelicans. But damaged, and never a player who has been in premium shape, Cousins’s market value plummeted.
According to Cousins, he did not receive one concrete contract offer, and the Pelicans, who apparently were spurned by Cousins on extension talks after the injury, decided to jump on renounced forward Julius Randle on a two-year deal.
With no offers, Cousins reached out to the Warriors, who had only their $5.3 million tax-level exception to offer.
Cousins could have signed a $200 million extension if he had remained with the Kings, his original team, and could have signed for $30 million per season with the Pelicans, but the injury ended those chances.
So with no deal, Cousins looked for one, and the Warriors had just lost big man JaVale McGee to the Lakers.
Golden State got a major upgrade. The Warriors don’t need Cousins to come back before he’s absolutely ready. They can plug in third-year center Kevin Looney, who was re-signed after showing promise in the playoffs. If Cousins returns in February or March and gets 25-30 games to blend with his All-Star teammates, then the Warriors will be perhaps at their peak with a productive, skilled center for the playoffs.
There have been many complaints from fellow NBA players that the Cousins signing represents the rich getting richer.
The Celtics also were apparently on Cousins’s list, but by the time there was contact, Cousins had agreed to terms with the Warriors. Other teams with cap space could have offered Cousins a contract but didn’t.
The Warriors won Cousins because of their recent winning tradition, which is common in the NBA as contenders are often more attractive to veterans who are willing to accept less money for a shot at a ring.
For example, the 2007-08 Celtics signed players such as Sam Cassell, P.J. Brown, and Scot Pollard, who took lesser deals for the opportunity to play for a championship team.
The 2010-11 Heat, after adding James, also signed Eddie House, Juwan Howard, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and James Jones to discounted contracts, each player wanting to chase a ring.
This is nothing new. Cousins is just the most recent example of a player chasing a title and taking less money to do so. Why was Cousins still unsigned a few days into free agency? It wasn’t just the injury. Cousins has a reputation for overcomplaining about calls, not getting back on defense, and not staying in top shape.
The Celtics were rumored to be interested in Cousins a few years ago, but team officials considered him harmful to their program. Many teams still feel that way, although his reputation may be unwarranted. Cousins desperately wanted to play for Team USA to help change his perception, and it worked.
His teammates warmed to him during the 2016 Rio Olympics. He was a model teammate. He played his role to perfection under coach Mike Krzyzewski and walked away with a gold medal.
But once back in the NBA, things remained the same.
The Kings shipped him to the Pelicans before having to give him a five-year, $219 million super-max contract.
And just when Cousins thought New Orleans may be home, maybe a franchise that truly appreciated his talents, the Pelicans didn’t make him a serious offer in free agency.
So Cousins went searching for an employer and found one, and pundits want to call foul. What kind of impact will Cousins have on the Warriors? It depends on how healthy he is late in the season.
If Cousins gets close to 100 percent, Golden State will be an even more formidable opponent.
Lawrence wanted to meet Tatum
Jayson Tatum enjoyed a rookie season beyond anyone’s expectations, including his own. His exploits were certainly noticed, and he recently posted a picture on his Instagram page of him with comedian Martin Lawrence.
Tatum went to Duke with Lawrence’s daughter, Jasmin, who is two years older. He once mentioned to her that if there was ever an opportunity to meet her famous father, he would jump at it. Well, she called Tatum last month when he was in Los Angeles and said her father would like to meet him.
So, the two connected and talked, and the photo was taken. Lawrence’s popular sitcom, “Martin,” went off the air in 1997, a year before Tatum was born. But that didn’t stop Tatum from becoming a fan.
When asked how many episodes of “Martin” he had seen, Tatum said, “All of them. It comes on every night. I’ve watched every episode, every movie.”
Tatum said he was flattered when Lawrence said he is a fan of the Celtics forward, and Tatum is still trying to comprehend how quickly his career has skyrocketed.
“It was [one of my bigger thrills],” Tatum said of meeting Lawrence. “Just being there and getting to talk about different scenes and different movies, and I just asked a bunch of questions. It was fun. That’s probably the coolest part, somebody I always looked up to, watched his movies and shows, and to know he knew who I was and he was a fan of me. That was really cool.”
Wanamaker felt the time was right
Like many American players who head overseas and carve out successful careers, new Celtic Brad Wanamaker had to determine the right time to make the jump to the NBA. With the handsome salaries and larger roles many Americans are offered in Europe and Asia, it’s difficult to relinquish that status for what could be a reduced role or even just a training camp invite with an NBA team.
Wanamaker was a solid but unspectacular guard at the University of Pittsburgh, going undrafted after four years with the Panthers. He played for three teams in Italy, and also teams in France and Germany, before finding a home in Turkey, where he played a season with Darussafaka, and last season with Fenerbahce.
Fenerbahce is one of the top teams in the Turkish league, and it got the better of the Celtics in an exhibition game six years ago. Wanamaker led Fenerbahce to the EuroLeague Final Four by averaging 11.3 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He then decided it was time to head to the jump.
Wanamaker had played in NBA summer leagues before, and he had a stint with the Austin Toros of the G-League, but this is the first time he truly feels ready to make the jump.
“Europe, there are a lot of great players over there,” he said. “There are a lot of ex-NBA players over there, as well. It’s just staying confident that I can play on the top level and my family and friends just pushing me every day.”
In many cases, American players overseas receive more appreciation and accolades, making the transition back to the States, where they aren’t promised star power or even a job, more difficult.
“I had opportunities in the past, but this situation seemed like the perfect time for me,” said the 28-year-old Wanamaker. “Over the years you get calls from teams, you come out in the summer, you put on a private workout for teams, they’re telling you, ‘Give us a few days, we’re going to send you a contract. You’re high on our radar.’ This time [with the Celtics] it was real. They were consistent with it going back and forth, and Austin [Ainge, the Celtics’ director of player personnel] called me on draft night and said, ‘We’ve got a spot for you.’ So then I knew it was real.”
Despite salaries that often exceed what they would make in the NBA, many Americans playing overseas would love to return. Wanamaker had been gone for nearly eight years.
“I enjoyed my time in Europe, exploring and seeing the way that other people live and adjusting to different cultures,” he said. “To be back home in America is great. Over the past couple of years I thought I was ready to make the jump but the opportunity wasn’t there. Obviously you leave a lot of money on the table coming here, but I’m back in America and it’s a dream come true.”
End of an era in San Antonio
One of the overshadowed players in the first week of free agency was Spurs guard Tony Parker, perhaps because of the assumption he would re-sign in San Antonio to back up Dejounte Murray.
But Parker was never re-signed, and then he stunned the NBA by signing with the Hornets, whose new coach, James Borrego, was previously a Spurs assistant.
At 36, Parker will not push starter Kemba Walker for minutes, but instead serve as a backup. Last season, the Hornets struggled badly with Walker off the floor, with Hamilton native Michael Carter-Williams a backup but also missing 29 games because of a knee injury.
Parker in a Hornets uniform will be similar to Hakeem Olajuwon in a Raptors uniform or Patrick Ewing ending his career in Seattle and Orlando. Usually Spurs greats retire as Spurs. David Robinson did. Tim Duncan did.
But it seems traditions are changing in San Antonio. Kawhi Leonard wants out after he felt disrespected when the team challenged the severity of his quadriceps injury this past season. Parker then said his torn quadriceps was “100 times worse” than Leonard’s, words that apparently cut deep in Leonard’s camp.
How hard did the Spurs push to keep Parker? Apparently not hard enough. They are planning for the future, trying to get younger, and 2017 first-round pick Derrick White should get an expanded role next season.
Coach Gregg Popovich released a statement regarding Parker, and it seems he was resigned to his longtime point guard departing.
“It’s difficult to put into words how important Tony Parker has been to the Spurs franchise over the past two decades,” the statement read. “From his first game in 2001 at age 19, T.P. has impressed and inspired us — day after day, game after game, season after season — with his passion, dedication, and desire. We are grateful to Tony for 17 years of truly amazing memories. While the four championships, six All-Star appearances, and four All-NBA selections highlight his résumé, the biggest joy for me has been to have the pleasure of watching T.P. grow up before our eyes. All of us in the Spurs organization will miss having Tony in our program and wish him and his family the best as he continues his remarkable career in Charlotte.”
This is the toughest part of free agency, seeing players leave the teams that define them because they don’t necessarily want to retire. Parker is coming off the worst statistical season of his career. If he’s not done, he may be close. Or perhaps Charlotte will revive him.
It will be strange to see him in that teal uniform, looking for one last flash of glory for a team in rebuilding mode.
The NBA is year-round with all 30 teams participating in the Las Vegas summer league for the first time. There are some familiar names on the rosters for Vegas, as well as this year’s lottery picks. Some players to watch for: Bruce Brown (Wakefield native), Pistons; R.J. Hunter (former Celtic), Rockets; Jerome Robinson (ex-Boston College standout), Clippers; Wayne Selden (Roxbury native), Grizzlies; Perry Ellis (ex-Kansas star), Bucks; Perry Jones (former Celtic), Timberwolves; Juwan Howard Jr. (son of former NBA player Juwan Howard), Knicks; Phil Pressey (former Celtic), Thunder; Byron Mullens (former first-round pick) Magic; Demetrius Jackson (former Celtic), 76ers; Jake Layman (Wrentham native), Trail Blazers; Zach Auguste (Marlborough native), Kings; Raphiael Putney (former UMass standout), Spurs; Olivier Hanlan (ex-BC star), Spurs; Marquis Teague (former first-round pick), Raptors; Sam Cassell Jr. (son of former NBA player Sam Cassell), Wizards; Georges Niang (Methuen native), Jazz . . . Many teams are inking their rookies to contracts, and first-rounders can’t be traded for another 30 days. That’s key for the Lakers, who signed first-round pick Moritz Wagner to a contact and are involved in trade talks with the Spurs for Leonard . . . The Celtics are over the $101 million salary cap, which was announced last week after the television revenues were determined, but still $8 million short of the luxury tax. That makes an extension for Marcus Smart tricky. If the Celtics sign Smart to a multiyear extension as a restricted free agent, the price is likely to be in the $10 million-a-year range, which would put them over the luxury tax. That means the Celtics would be limited to offering free agents their tax exception of $5.3 million, the same amount DeMarcus Cousins accepted from the Warriors. As of now, the Celtics could offer a free agent the $8.8 million non-tax exception, but that would affect how much they could offer Smart. So despite the fact the Celtics have that non-tax exception to offer, it’s highly unlikely they would use it. They would be more likely to use the $5.3 million slot.