Warriors

DeMarcus Cousins will force Warriors to make drastic changes on defense

boogiedrayus.jpg
USATSI

DeMarcus Cousins will force Warriors to make drastic changes on defense

OAKLAND – When describing the role and expectations for DeMarcus Cousins as a Warrior, Steve Kerr chooses his words carefully, not so much about Cousins on offense but certainly in regards to the big man’s defensive responsibilities.

“We’ll be much better suited to guard some of the big, huge centers,” the coach says. “Guys like (Oklahoma City center) Steven Adams and (Utah’s) Rudy Gobert, (Portland’s Jusuf) Nurkic. We’ve been pretty small against those guys and that pose a big threat.

“The flip side of that is (Cousins has to) guard the perimeter. We’ll have to play around defensively to figure out how we want to guard the pick-and-roll.”

The term “play around” is, in this instance, a euphemism for “make adjustments.” It’s something the Warriors must do. And those adjustments will have to be substantial.

In winning back-to-back championships, the Warriors utilized a switch-heavy defense, with defenders relying less on fighting through picks and more on simply attaching themselves to whomever comes their way. It has been tremendously successful largely because their roster has been versatile enough to make it work.

The ability to switch and do a decent job defending the perimeter has inflated the value of Kevon Looney. It was a contributing factor in Kerr’s decision to bump up Jordan Bell’s playing time in the last two series of the 2018 postseason.

It’s why JaVale McGee played a total of three minutes in the Western Conference Finals, which went seven games, why David West’s minutes were reduced by half in the final two rounds last postseason and why Zaza Pachulia played a total of 25 minutes in 21 postseason games.

Can’t switch, can’t play.

At 6-foot-11, 270 pounds, Cousins’ physical profile is more West-Pachulia than Looney-Bell-McGee. Though Boogie possesses fabulous offensive gifts, pretty much the full package, asking him and his surgically repaired Achilles’ tendon to switch onto James Harden 30 feet from the basket invites foul trouble or getting cooked.

“He’s not a runner. He’s not a sprinter,” Kerr said of Cousins. “So that will be a little different. We’ve played at a pretty high pace here over the years. I imagine he’ll be in a trail position on the break at times, which could be pretty good, especially considering the shooter that he is from the top of the key area.”

[ASK KERITH: How DeMarcus Cousins might fill Warriors' center need]

So there is roughly zero chance Cousins will be put in such a compromising position on defense. The Warriors, no matter what Kerr says or how he says it, won’t do it.

Listening to the whispers around the Warriors the past two weeks, the suspicion is that Cousins’ dramatic improvement in recent scrimmages was mostly because he increased his defensive intensity.

“Steve was looking for a certain thing, on the coach’s side of things,” Cousins says. “But for me, it was kind of the same thing every day. So it was hard to find that point where I could just break through and actually do what he was looking for. That’s more on the coaching side of things.”

When Cousins signed with the Warriors last summer, he aligned himself with a coaching staff unafraid to demand effort on defense. Moreover, any lack of effort will be called out by his new teammates. Though Cousins is good friends with Draymond Green, don’t think Draymond won’t blister him for loafing on defense. Loafing is not how the Warriors have won championships.

[RELATED: How DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors' lineup will affect Draymond Green's game]

So how do the Warriors play it with Cousins on defense? They’ll have to turn back the clock to Kerr’s first two seasons, when Andrew Bogut was in the middle. Though Bogut earned his money on defense and Cousins earns his mostly on offense, the physical profiles are similar.

As good as Bogut was on defense, he had no business trying to defend a guard on the perimeter. So he hung back as a rim protector while his teammates either switched or dropped.

“We’ve always had a format here, although we changed a little bit after Andrew Bogut left,” Kerr says. “We had a different philosophy the first couple years.

“But the last couple years, we’ve been a switch team and we have to figure out, ‘Is that the way to go?’ Or do we employ different schemes? And we’ve talked about that. We’ll work on everything and come up with the best plan.”:

Switching is ideal with the “Death Lineup,” which features three players are similar length. Though Green is the center in that lineup, it’s the guard or wing that is in trouble when he switches out to the perimeter.

Switching is not ideal with the Boogie Lineup. The Warriors know that. Cousins knows. His teammates know. So look for a more conventional defense. It’s the surest way for Cousins to stay on the floor in the postseason.

If the Warriors want Boogie’s offense, they’ll have to accept his defense. They’ll have to adjust. I suspect they already are.

Bob Myers explains what attracted Warriors to D'Angelo Russell trade

Bob Myers explains what attracted Warriors to D'Angelo Russell trade

The Warriors were about to lose Kevin Durant for nothing in free agency this summer. Then general manager Bob Myers pivoted and pulled out a sign-and-trade to acquire All-Star point guard D'Angelo Russell from the Brooklyn Nets for Durant.

The move caught many by surprise and led to speculation that the Warriors only acquired Russell with the intention of flipping him for other assets.

Myers recently rejected the idea that the Warriors took Russell just to trade him, and this week, he talked to The Athletic's Tim Kawakami about going into his free agency meeting with Durant, and his mindset once KD told him he was leaving Golden State.

"From that point on, the motivation going in and leaving, obviously leaving, I left with a certainty that [Durant] wasn't coming back," Myers said on The TK Show. "Going in, my job, our job as a front office, is to prepare for what if Kevin does come back and what if Kevin doesn't come back. It wasn't necessarily an immediate pivot to D'Angelo.

"It was, 'These are our options if Kevin doesn't come back. What can we do?' And for the people listening, it was simple. Either we do something like we did, which was more aggressive, whether it would have been that or something else, or another formulation of a sign-and-trade or using a huge trade exception, or we stand pat and signing a taxpayer mid-level. Those were the two pivot points. We obviously went the way we did."

Russell isn't the game-changing, Hall of Fame talent that Durant is, but he’s coming off his first NBA All-Star Game appearance, and set career highs in points per game, assists per game, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage last season.

For Myers and the Warriors, there are things to like about what Russell brings to the team.

"The attraction for us was, what's very hard in our business and in any sport is, how do you get a talented, young player?" Myers said. "It's very difficult. How do you do it in my job or the front office? Usually it's through the draft or a trade. And most times you try to trade for a guy that's young and good, you have to give up something that's easier, either a guaranteed high pick or a lottery guaranteed pick, or a good player or a combination of players. It's hard to do.

"We saw an opportunity to do it. That's why we did it. And that's the direction we went in. The other direction would have been not to do that and stay the course and see where that went. But we chose the path, and we're pretty happy with it."

Despite losing Durant, the Warriors were able to replace him with an All-Star-caliber player who’s just 23 years old.

[RELATED: Russell working with Steve Nash]

Russell, Steph Curry and Draymond Green will have to hold down the fort in the Bay until Klay Thompson recovers from his torn ACL. Once the five-time All-Star returns, the Warriors will possess one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA.

That's something Myers and Co. definitely have to feel good about.

How Warriors' Bob Myers found positive in final Kevin Durant meeting

How Warriors' Bob Myers found positive in final Kevin Durant meeting

When Kevin Durant elected to leave the Warriors for the Brooklyn Nets when free agency opened June 30, many criticized the way in which the two-time NBA Finals MVP handled his move from coast to coast. 

Prior to his announcement to join the Nets, Durant had Warriors general manager Bob Myers fly out to New York so he could inform him of his decision in person, He did not, however, wait for Steph Curry's plane to land before word of his move to Brooklyn had leaked out. 

While some have been critical of Durant having a face-to-face with Myers just to tell him he would not be choosing to stay with the Warriors, Myers is glad the meeting/goodbye took place.

"Here's what I wanted," Myers told The Athletic's Tim Kawakami on "The TK Show" podcast. "Some people I had seen write that he made me fly all the way out there. I enjoy sitting and looking at you. We had a relationship. I like hearing news. I don't think we do enough of this in life. Look at me and tell me what you're thinking. Good, bad, whatever. Let's do it that way.

"I think our relationship had earned that. So for me, even hearing that he wasn't coming back in person, I'd rather have that all day long. And I appreciated that. Some people will say 'Well, you flew to New York to hear he wasn't coming back?' Absolutely. I'd fly to China to talk to him about what he wants to do. He earned that. He deserves that. I wanted that. It also gave me some closure, as far as to hear somebody, to see their body language and hear their conviction and hear all of it, was better for me than what, a text message or an Instagram announcement or a phone call. I don't want that. So I didn't know it until then."

Myers was grateful Durant wanted to talk with him face-to-face and was fully open about his decision to end his chapter with the Warriors.

"He told me to my face, which I appreciated," Myers continued. "I didn't know before then. I had a sense that it might go the other way. But part of me wanted to allow him ... this was a time, as it is with all the players, they don't owe us anything. This is their moment to be a free agent. He doesn't have to tell me. He didn't even have to say anything then. He could have said 'Tune in, I'll let you know' or he could have done whatever he wanted to do. He's earned that.

"So for me, I was hopeful that I'd get an answer and I did. And that's when he chose to give it, which was his prerogative. So when I got there, we talked about a ton of different things, but obviously, it got to that point and he said he wasn't coming back and I asked him for his thoughts and he told me what they were."

Durant's exit from the Bay closed one of the most historic runs in sports.

Since the 2014 NBA MVP arrived in Oakland, the Warriors nearly were unbeatable, winning two NBA championships before losing a third after Durant ruptured his Achilles and Klay Thompson tore his ACL. At full strength with Durant, Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green, the Warriors were the greatest collection of talent in NBA history. A runaway freight train that couldn't be stopped once it went into high gear. A unit that had no problem toying with opponents for long stretches due to sheer boredom before turning it on and blowing the other team away.

[RELATED: Check out Chase Center's progress ahead of Warriors' opener]

Durant will spend the next year rehabbing his Achilles, hoping to make his return to the court in the 2020-21 season, while the Warriors enter the next season unsure of what the future holds. Can Curry, Green and new-addition D'Angelo Russell keep the Warriors alive until Thompson returns from his ACL rehab near the end of the season?

It's a new day in the NBA, but the Warriors and Durant always will have those three historic years.