DeMarcus Cousins touchdown spots: Lakers reportedly considering reunion, however they will have some competitors
DeMarcus Cousins was one of the worst players in the NBA, at least at the beginning of his tenure with the Houston Rockets. In 11 games he scored an average of 6.1 points at 26.3 percent. But in late January, looks at the former all-star seemed to appear. In his last 14 games he has scored up to 12.4 points on 44.6 percent shooting, and in his last missile deployment he gave Houston 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
He’s still a very flawed defensive player with extremely limited mobility. His shot selection is questionable to say the least, and he is one of the NBA’s greatest risks of injury. His superstar head is probably gone. But in one very specific role with the right teammates, cousins can still be a moderately productive NBA player, and moderately productive NBA players rarely hit the market in February. Cousins may not have a star on their heads, but its upward trend compared to the alternatives available is enormous. There will be interest in cousins as soon as it becomes available, and these five teams are the most logical targets.
It was the Lakers’ turn at the Cousins carousel last season, and after all, it was a pretty positive experience. Though he never played for Los Angeles thanks to the torn ACL that kept him away all season, he was a good sideline soldier, and when he was foregoing room for buyout additions in February, there was Reportedly, mutual interest in a return. Wrestler’s Kevin O’Connor says the Lakers are still interested in such a reunion.
In the short term, that’s not particularly surprising. The Lakers are small, Anthony Davis is out, and even when he came back the two had success together in New Orleans and enjoyed playing together so much that Davis recruited cousins to Los Angeles in 2019.
The relevant question here is how would Frank Vogel Cousins fit into the rotation. He just cannot coexist defensively with Marc Gasol. The two are too slow to share the ground. A Montrezl Harrell fit isn’t ideal either. Any team that signs Cousins would do so for offense, but according to Synergy Sports, Harrell is in the 98th percentile of overall offensive efficiency. Cousins can’t improve that. Harrell has come out on top as a single player this season, scoring an impressive 1.2 points per possession in isolation. When asked to give up possessions for cousins, its value will be minimized, especially since it poses no threat behind the arc. The defense is very comfortable for cousins too, which further inhibits Harrell in color, and Harrell’s own defensive restraints would further weaken the pairing overall.
Davis is the only Laker equipped to cover up the cousins’ shortcomings, and he’s not there for the time being. Even when he comes back there won’t be that many minutes in the middle, especially when Davis starts playing more minutes in the middle in the postseason. The Lakers could split the position between Cousins, Gasol, and Harrell, but how happy either of them would be with the deal remains to be seen.
Rob Pelinka could address these concerns in the trading market, although it doesn’t seem too likely either. Both Gasol and Harrell made salary cuts to play for the Lakers. Harrell is represented by Klutch Sports, who also represents LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He left money on the table believing a Laker would help improve its value in 2021. Would it really be worth betraying Klutch’s anger at Harrell, just adding cousins? Gasoline is Laker royalty. His brother Pau is a team legend who has already left on bad terms. The Buss family would likely prefer not to alienate him further by treating his brother after hitting an extremely team-friendly deal in the off-season.
If cousins joined them, Vogel would have to juggle another big name in an already crowded rotation. He’s done this successfully last season, and teams led by LeBron James are never shy of risky and rewarding additions, but adding cousins wouldn’t be as easy as putting another great man on a team that is suffering from size.
Speaking of teams suffering from size, the blazers essentially pretend that the backup center location doesn’t exist. Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Harry Giles are all injured, and the Blazers have turned to extremely small balls to get through whenever Enes Kanter hits the bench. It creates some of the most exciting stylistic contrasts in basketball. Kanter cannot defend outside of color. Robert Covington offers more rim protection than a player his size, but he’s best at roaming the perimeter looking for steals and distractions. The blazers try to break away from the type of drop coverage that Kanter specializes in. The playoffs are fraught with serious restrictions. But injuries forced her hand so they might as well accept it for now.
Terry Stotts successfully hid Kanter’s defensive mistake in the regular season so he could theoretically do the same for cousins. Portland was interested in cousins in 2018 before signing with the Warriors, and as we’ve seen with Carmelo Anthony, the Blazers are quite poised to hit a former target after the rest of the league lost interest. Anthony’s tour of salvation was largely a success. Maybe the blazers could have the same effect on cousins.
Only one big man on Toronto’s roster has a positive net rating this season. When Chris Boucher is on the ground, the Raptors play well. If Aron Baynes or Alex Len are on the floor, they don’t. Toronto is already looking for an upgrade at the center, with Andre Drummond reportedly targeted. Cousins would be an decidedly cheaper option that would bring the offensive versatility they prefer with their tall men.
The question here is defense. Toronto isn’t exactly known for the conservative plans that a physically challenged player like cousins relies on to survive. They switch. They flash. You play aggressive zones that are only as effective as your slowest rotation. They would almost certainly be cousins. Nick Nurse is as adaptable as any coach in basketball. If a coach could develop a defense that could make up for their weaknesses without compromising the strengths of the rest of the Toronto squad, it is him.
However, the entire identity of Toronto in recent years has relied on each member of its rotation both defending and shooting. They had to compromise a little out of necessity this season, but cousins would take that to a new level. Desperate times may have required desperate action a few weeks ago, but with the Raptors 8-3 in their last 11 games, they can afford to be a bit more picky than they would have been earlier in the season.
Golden State Warriors
In pure basketball, a return to the Warriors makes probably more sense for cousins than a return to the Lakers. Golden State’s offense falls off a cliff every time Stephen Curry hits the bank. With him you get 113 points per 100 possessions. Without him? Only 100.6. They made up for it with excellent bank defense, but a lot of it is based on unsustainable shooting luck. Opponents hit 38 percent of their 3s with curry on the floor and 34.7 percent without him. If any part of you thinks this could be Curry’s fault, keep in mind that his minutes are largely tied to Draymond Green’s.
Ultimately, the opponents against the Golden State bank will recede to average and when that time comes they could probably use a little more punch offensively. Cousins could deliver it. He knows the system and his pass could encourage the off-ball movement that was sorely lacking without Curry and Draymond.
But if Golden State really wanted to keep cousins in 2019, it probably could have been. There were concerns after the D’Angelo Russell sign-and-trade, but cousins could have passed if they let Kevon Looney go. They didn’t, however, and if Looney returns from injury, there’s no reason to believe Steve Kerr will take him out of rotation. Same goes for James Wiseman. Its development is too important to the organization’s long-term prospects to be sacrificed for the cousins’ protocols. Throw an occasional little ball that has generally worked well for Golden State this season and the Warriors may not have enough minutes to please cousins right now.
Given his relationship with Kevin Durant and her small size, there will be some speculation about Brooklyn as a travel destination for cousins, but in pure basketball it doesn’t make sense. Small ball lineups with Jeff Green as the nominal center work. Brooklyn has more than enough firepower. Can they really afford further defense liability? Especially one who isn’t getting along with James Harden? Probably not. If cousins go to the big apple, the curtsey is the most likely landing spot.
You’re without a starting center, after all, Mitchell Robinson, and their crime # 24 took a jolt before he was injured. Cousins have skills relatively similar to Julius Randle, New York’s top shooter, and could allow for some systemic constancy if he goes on the bank. There aren’t many centers capable of handling, passing, and shooting the ball as well as Randle, but if his last handful of games are any indication, cousins may be able to get closer in limited minutes. While Tom Thibodeau has licensed more sports centers to defend the perimeter, the Knicks aren’t a particularly changeable defense. Cousins could tie themselves to the edge and survive in New York.
There’s also the Kentucky connection to consider. The Knicks have four former Wildcats on the roster as well as assistant coach Kenny Payne. This would likely have to be a short term addition. When Robinson comes back there won’t be minutes for him, Noel, and Cousins. But in the meantime? Cousins make sense as a kink.