LeBron James was allowed to bask in the spotlight for one day before his thunder was stolen by an all too familiar source. James' decision to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers was hardly a stunner, but it was viewed as a move that would change the landscape of the NBA. Yet the dust on his move had barely settled when the Golden State Warriors offered James what will be an irritating reminder that, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Warriors thrown down the guantlet
The Warriors delivered the shocker an extremely intriguing free agency period was perhaps lacking on Monday, sending the basketball world into disbelief by signing All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to a reported one-year $5.3million deal.
By using their mid-level exception, which teams can utilise once a year to sign a player to a contract for a specified maximum amount, on Cousins, the Warriors have sent a message to James and the rest of the NBA. Nothing is changing, certainly not the destination of the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Golden State will keep winning, and they will keep finding ways to get better, and the rest of the league will scratch their heads wondering how they keep managing to do it.
Cousins, whose arrival has not yet been made official but who has said he made the "smartest move ever" by joining Golden State, should take the Warriors, who own the regular-season wins record and have lost six of their last 38 playoff games, to yet another level.
He fills a need at a position that has long since been their biggest weakness, bringing a skill set most centers can only dream of having and giving the Warriors - providing he can quickly recapture his best form following Achilles surgery - a big man who can make plays as a ball handler and off the dribble from the three-point line. Yes, the Warriors, a team boasting a pair of guards known as the Splash Brothers and one of the best scorers of all time in Kevin Durant, now have a center who just happens to excel beyond the arc, offering them the flexibility to deviate from their small-ball line-up but still carry the same level of shooting threat.
The fact the Warriors were able to pull this deal off will continue to astound for some time, and it is a testament to the franchise's ruthless attitude to challenges to their superiority. The humiliating nature of Golden State's 2016 Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers would have been enough to crush the confidence of some franchises. The Warriors' response was to sign Durant and crush any hope Cleveland had of adding to their sole title.
Just as Durant's arrival was the result of a lengthy recruitment effort, the Cousins deal did not happen overnight, but the timing, a day after James had made his decision to confront the Warriors head on in their own conference and build a contender of his own out west, is fitting.
Title chances take a knock
Regardless of what team James hopes can be put together in Los Angeles, his hopes of winning the title next season could be considered decimated just 24 hours into his career as a Laker, with the Warriors, once Cousins returns to fitness, able to put out a starting five comprised entirely of All-Stars.
As a team and an organisation, the Warriors don't just respond to tests of their dominance, they swat them aside with a brutality that surely leads the rest of the league to question the point of trying to keep pace with them in the first place.
To the CITY and FANS of Nola, Thank you! pic.twitter.com/qZhVBHAth4— DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) July 3, 2018
Lakers missed out on Cousins
But in this case their rivals aided Golden State's cause. The Lakers reportedly had the chance to sign Cousins, who is said to have turned down a two-year $40m offer to stay with the New Orleans Pelicans, for a similar deal to the one the Warriors inked him to. Still, Golden State, who drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green seventh, 11th and 35th respectively, deserve continued praise for capitalising on the slip-ups of their foes.
The latest league-wide miscue pounced on by the Warriors is unlikely to have long-term implications. Providing Cousins' impresses on the way to a title, he will be able to command a maximum contract the Warriors will be unable to give him. Yet, if their increasingly impressive history is any guide, by that point Golden State will have figured out a way to replace him and improve further as they look to maintain their dynasty by the Bay.