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NBA Daily: DeMarcus Cousins’ Toughness the Spark the Clippers Needed

The veteran center and former All-Star has had unfortunate luck with injuries, but is playing a crucial role with the Clippers in the playoffs.

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There was a time when it was unclear if DeMarcus Cousins would ever play basketball again.

During the 2017-18 season, Cousins was on his way to vaulting the New Orleans Pelicans into one of the NBA’s elite teams alongside Anthony Davis when he suffered a season-ending Achilles injury. The injury cost him a potential max contract, and he signed with the Golden State Warriors that offseason on a minimum deal.

His lone season with the Warriors in 2018-19 was derailed by a quad injury and the following year with the Los Angeles Lakers, an ACL tear in training camp kept him out the entire year. It was just brutal luck for a player who was once an All-Star and franchise talent.

The Houston Rockets gave Cousins a shot at the beginning of this season and he actually looked like he could still be a productive NBA player, putting up 9.6 points and 7.6 rebounds in 20.2 minutes per game. But the Rockets ended up cutting him right before the trade deadline.

He was out of the league for a couple of months before the Los Angeles Clippers came calling with a 10-day contract. Serge Ibaka was out of the lineup with a back injury, but even then, the Clippers had nothing to promise him in terms of what his role would be.

“We just told him that right now we don’t know what the situation is going to be, but just be ready to play if your name is called,” Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue told media after the team’s Game 5 win over the Phoenix Suns. “He worked every day, five-on-five with the young guys, played, kept himself ready. I just told him, I never know, I can’t tell you if we’re going to play small or big. Just be ready and before the game starts, the night before, I’ll try to let you know whether we’re going to play you or not. And he’s been great.”

Coming into the playoffs, Cousins’ role has fluctuated depending on the matchups. He didn’t play against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, and he played the first two games against the Utah Jazz before Lue opted to go with smaller lineups and Nicolas Batum at center as he decided to do against Dallas.

But here in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Cousins might end up being the reason the shorthanded Clippers resilient postseason continues. Already without Kawhi Leonard and Ibaka, the Clippers found out they would be without the services of Ivica Zubac who suffered an MCL sprain in Game 4.

Lue opted to go small again with Marcus Morris as the starting center, but it was Cousins who provided a much-needed spark. His intensity and his mindset were exactly what the Clippers needed as they managed to hold off elimination for at least one more night.

“It’s always just being ready to go. I realize the situation in the end. All I can do is be ready when my name is called, so control what I can control,” Cousins said. “I’m not going to change, my mindset don’t change. When I step on the floor, I feel like I’m the best one on the floor regardless of who is in front of me. And I know for a fact can’t nobody guard me one-on-one. So my mindset doesn’t change, I just wait for my opportunity.”

In Game 5, Cousins brought a physical presence in the paint and he took full advantage against Phoenix’s smaller second unit. He finished with 15 points, routinely scoring around the basket. He also dished out three assists, showing flashes of the once-great all-around versatile big man he used to be.

If the Clippers want to continue to extend this series and perhaps even win it, they’re going to need more performances like this from Cousins. While his mobility is clearly not what it used to be, his skill is still there and he can still be effective in limited minutes especially when going against Dario Saric who has assumed the role of backup center for the Suns.

“He slows the game up for us which is a good thing because he’s still a dominant big and demands a double team. I think it’s a great breakup for us when we’re playing the spread and fast pace to have Cuz slow the game down in moments where we can dump it down there and get production,” Paul George told media after Game 5. “He brings the toughness. That’s what this team is prided on. We’ve got toughness from top to bottom and Cuz just adds to that.”

While injuries and team direction have played a big role in Cousins’ role in his previous stops after New Orleans, he credits the Clippers culture and organization as a whole for allowing him to be so comfortable and for accepting that what is asked of him might change on a game to game basis.

“I think it’s a good fit, the culture is a good fit for my personality. I think everybody in the locker room, coaching staff, front office, I think we all have something in common. We’re very familiar with one another,” Cousins said. “I think it’s just a good culture fit. We understand each other, everyone respects one another, respects each other’s opinion, each other’s space. It’s just a smooth organization.”

For a Clippers team that is banged up, short-handed and has played almost every other day since the beginning of the month, Cousins’ performance was able to get them some much-needed rest for some of the starters. He kind of spear-headed the offense a bit and the team didn’t miss a beat while George, Morris and Reggie Jackson got a breather on the bench.

Back when the Clippers had the opportunity to bring Cousins in towards the end of the regular season, it was precisely for this reason that Lue felt like signing him, despite the potential injury concerns, was an absolute no-brainer.

“He went through some injuries which is unfortunate, but guys forget he was a max player before he went through all those injuries,” Lue said. “Just having the post presence on the floor, he’s a great passer when he catches it down low. He’s tough to handle down there.”

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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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