Damian Jones sets sights on Warriors' starting center job


Damian Jones sets sights on Warriors' starting center job

OAKLAND -- Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee are employed elsewhere. Andrew Bogut is retired. DeMarcus Cousins is rehabbing. So the Warriors, for the first time in seven years, will begin training camp without a designated starting center.

Competition is open, coach Steve Kerr says, but logic dictates second-year man Jordan Bell’s 13 starts as a rookie give him an edge.

It’s conceivable that fourth-year man Kevon Looney, who made four starts last season, will emerge from the pack.

The third competitor played 174 minutes in his first two seasons and has never started an NBA game.

Damian Jones is the underdog. With the thinnest resume, he has the most ground to make up to earn Kerr’s trust. Furthermore, he’d like to persuade general manager Bob Myers to pick up the team option for 2019-20, his fourth season.

“This is a big year for me, so I’ll have to treat it as a contract year,” Jones conceded to NBC Sports Bay Area this week. “The team option is coming up (an Oct. 31 deadline). I’m going in with the mindset that I’m playing for something. Something big.”

Jones, selected in the first round (30th overall) of the 2016 draft, has spent most of his first two seasons in Santa Cruz, toiling with the G-League Warriors. The NBA Warriors could afford to be patient with the 7-footer because they had a platoon of veteran big men.

That patience is fading. It has to. The Warriors are determined to get younger, and center is the obvious place to start. But Jones has to prove he can contribute to a championship-caliber team.

In short, Jones has to prove he can contribute to a championship-caliber team.

“I want to be the starter,” he said.

“But I’m willing to do all the things that they ask me to do,” he added. “That’s what I have in mind, going to camp with a full commitment of giving my all.”

Jones’ most visible asset, aside from height, is athleticism. He can sprint the floor with any big man in the league and jump with most of them, too. The Warriors spent last season privately debating how much of a gap existed between Jones and McGee, who brought similar attributes in a veteran’s body.

If Jones, 23, is able to fill the role vacated by McGee, the Warriors will be delighted. It’s what they envision and Jones knows it’s what they want.

“They talked about me having a JaVale type role, so I’m keeping that in mind,” Jones said, recalling his exit interview in June. “That means a lot of effort plays. I’m cool with that. A lot of the things JaVale could do, I can do. I can catch lobs, like he did. All the screen-and-rolls, running the floor, blocking shots that JaVale did, I can do, too.

“He’s got height and length on me, but I feel I’m a little more explosive and a little bit quicker.”

Just as McGee had his liabilities, so does Jones. Some are the same. Neither is particularly instinctive, and neither is a natural scorer. The Warriors can live with that from Jones, as long as the effort is consistent and the All-Star teammates feel they can trust him.

Jones hasn’t gotten many chances, but he seized one last April in Oklahoma City. Having lost two of three previous games to the Thunder, the Warriors were out to make a statement against Kevin Durant’ former team despite being without Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.

In a close game before a howling and hostile crowd, Jones thrived. He played a season-high 14 minutes, finishing with eight points, two rebounds and one block. There was plenty of cheering in the locker room after the 111-107 victory.

“That was for DJ,” Kerr said after the game. “He’s been down in Santa Cruz all year. The guys down there have really developed him well.

Damian deserves a lot of credit; he’s really, really worked hard. You could see the type of physical presence he has out there. It was a fun opportunity to see what he can do.”

The Warriors want more of that. They need more of that. Until Cousins is cleared to play, it’s up to the youngsters and Jones is the one with the longest road.

“It’s a big opportunity for me,” he said. “I don’t have all the veterans ahead of me, so I just have to go out there and prove what I can do: Rebound, defend, sprint the floor. Those are the main things we really need. If I do those things, I think I’ll be solid. Everything else will fall into place.”

Kevin Durant claps back at Colin Cowherd on Instagram after criticism

Kevin Durant claps back at Colin Cowherd on Instagram after criticism

Kevin Durant didn't need a burner account this time.

With all the drama surrounding Durant and Warriors teammate Draymond Green, Colin Cowherd responded harshly on his show The Herd. As Green reportedly dared Durant to leave the Warriors in free agency, Cowherd believes Durant needs the Warriors more than the back-to-back champs need him.

To no surprise, Durant understandly didn't take the criticism too well. On his own personal Instagram account, Durant clapped back to the talk show host.

Durant says he's done talking about the feud he and Green got into during an overtime loss to the Clippers. But the more he engages on social media, the longer this story will have life.

Two positives, two negatives from Warriors' 21-point loss to Rockets

Two positives, two negatives from Warriors' 21-point loss to Rockets

HOUSTON -- Shooting poorly, committing a series of ghastly turnovers and lacking verve, the Warriors were at their worst Thursday night in Houston.

They lost big, 107-86, to the Rockets and had no immediate answers.

Here are two positives (yes, two) and two negatives culled from the defeat:


The All-Stars were woeful

With Stephen Curry out, the bulk of the production falls upon Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. All three came up short.

Durant scored 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting, 0-of-2 from deep and 8-of-8 from the line. He grabbed five rebounds, with two assists and two turnovers. He was minus-11 over 30 minutes. His defense was too often casual.

Green had played only once in 11 days and looked the part. The Rockets dared him to shoot and he was scoreless (0-of-3, 0-of-2 from deep). His five assists were more than offset by five turnovers. He said he was “horrible.” He was.

It’s a must that Thompson scores, and he managed only 10 points (5-of-16, 0-of-5 beyond the arc). He didn’t get many clean looks, so he forced a few shots. Worse, he committed three turnovers without an assist.

Explains a lot, eh?

Something in the air

The Warriors clearly weren’t locked in. It was the third game in four nights, each game in a different city, this one in a different time zone.

Those were factors, perhaps, but the joyless buzz of the week created by the Durant-Green quarrel seemed to be evident in the team’s failure to put together stretches of strong play. The Warriors looked less like a team prepared to destroy an opponent than a team trying to make it through the night.

There was the cascade of turnovers, giving the Rockets 29 points (the Warriors forced only eight, worth 7 points). There was an utter lack of rhythm, some of which can be attributed to Houston’s keyed-up defense and some of it to experimental lineups that had mixed results.

The challenge falls on coach Steve Kerr and his staff, as well as the team’s star players. It may take time. Until they get past this, the Warriors will be vulnerable.


No signs of irritation between Durant and Green

Durant still is bothered by being publically upbraided by Green. The Warriors were bothered enough by it to suspend Green for one game.

Because of that, all eyes were on them as they took the court for the first time since their late-game argument on the bench that continued in the locker room. They passed the eye test.

[POOLE: The anguish of Kevin Durant now dealing with more drama on the Warriors]

Durant’s second bucket, a dunk 68 seconds into the game, came off a feed from Green. There were moments when the two smiled in the wake of miscommunication on the court and they shared a laugh on the bench.

There was no sign of annoyance. Rather, it appeared they went out of their way to maintain a professional veneer. That’s sufficient for now.

Evans gets his first splash

Rookie guard Jacob Evans III had played a total of 10 minutes in the team’s first six games this month. He played 11 on Thursday. Maybe that, along with a stint with G-League Santa Cruz last week, helped.

The Cincinnati product made his first 3-pointer of the season, draining it from the right corner with 3:33 remaining in the second quarter. There was no celebration.

Evans had taken only two shots from deep before Thursday. He was 2-of-11 overall from the field before going 1-of-3 on Thursday.

The rookie plays solid defense. But he’ll have to make a few shots to get floor time. Maybe this will get him going.