DeMarcus Cousins tears ACL: What this means for Lakers and Cousins' suddenly tenuous career
It's the left ACL, too -- the same side as Boogie's Achilles tear less than two years ago
To say DeMarcus Cousins can't catch a break would be an understatement. Two years ago, Cousins was the best center in the NBA. Then he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a contract year, tore his quad in the first round of last season's playoffs, and now has reportedly torn his ACL during a summer workout in Las Vegas.
What does this mean for Cousins?
It's dangerous business speculating in certainties, but one can feel pretty safe in saying DeMarcus Cousins is never going to get anything close to the max contract he was seeking, and probably in line for, prior to tearing his left Achilles in January of 2018. At that point, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.4 assists for the Pelicans, a line no player in NBA history had ever matched.
Most importantly, the Pelicans were streaking, winners of four straight and seven of their previous eight. It appeared Cousins and Davis were finally putting it together as a modern Twin-Tower attack. Say what you want about Cousins' attitude or his inability to satisfy the newest big-man requirement of playing defense on the perimeter, but as true bigs go, until Joel Embiid came along, he was as dominant an offensive force as we'd seen since Tim Duncan and even back to Shaquille O'Neal.
From 2015-2018, Cousins, who made all four All-Star teams in that span, averaged 25.9 points, 11.9 boards, 4.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks on 46-percent shooting, including 35 percent from three. He believed he could get back to that kind of production after the Achilles tear, and he took a one-year, $5.7 million deal with the Warriors last summer with the intention of proving as much.
Cousins wasn't bad for the Warriors. For stretches, he was pretty darn good, averaging 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists in the regular season after returning to action in late January. He shot 48 percent from the field. He still looked like a great passer when called upon to make plays, particularly as a high-post hub. His 3-point shot was inconsistent but clearly still a weapon and within range of returning to borderline elite form for a big man.
It's easy to forget because he was effectively benched more than once in the playoffs -- mostly for his alarmingly apparent defensive liabilities in a heavy-switching scheme against a versatile Toronto attack -- but the Warriors would not have won Game 2 of the Finals without him. They wouldn't have won Game 5, either, when he put up 14 points and six rebounds in 20 gigantic minutes after Kevin Durant went down with his own ruptured Achilles.
Back from a torn quad that was widely expected to end his season, he made plays going to the basket. He finished defensive stops with heavy-congestion rebounds. All along, he proved he was willing to play a role and battle through his own frustrating limitations to contribute whatever he could to a championship cause. It was expected he would do the same for the Lakers this season, again with the outside hope of taking a one-year peanuts deal and using it as a platform to re-prove his high-value merits.
In all likelihood, Cousins wasn't going to be seen as a core championship player even before this ACL injury. Yes, he was great in big spots for the Warriors, but he was terrible in others. Teams obviously put more stock in the terrible as he remained untouched on the free-agent market until the Lakers struck out on Kawhi Leonard and went looking for leftover scraps late in the process. The defense is a big problem. It's hard -- if not next to impossible -- to run an offense through a big man these days. Embiid and Nikola Jokic are the exceptions.
For a long time, Cousins was an exception of his own kind. I've had multiple GMs tell me they would never sign him to a big deal for attitude and locker-room reasons alone, but Hall of Fame talent almost always finds a high-priced home somewhere. Until you're the seven-footer with now multiple serious injuries on the same leg. Cousins could well miss this whole season. By next summer, he will have played about three months of NBA basketball over the previous two and a half years.
Chances are, for both physical and opportunity factors, Cousins will never be the same player again. That's a huge bummer. Injuries are one of the darkest corners of sports, and Cousins continues to be stuck in that corner with no hope of getting out any time soon.
What does this mean for the Lakers?
As mentioned above, the Lakers put all their eggs in the Kawhi Leonard basket this summer. By waiting on him, they missed out on a lot of good players that would've fit perfectly with LeBron and Davis. Guys like J.J. Redick and/or perhaps Bojan Bogdanovic. There was talk of D'Angelo Russell, but the Warriors swooped in as the Lakers were in idle. They wound up doing pretty decent late in the process, nabbing Danny Green and Avery Bradley while reuniting Cousins with Davis.
Again, in losing Cousins, the Lakers lose production, plain and simple. Yes, the defensive issues were real and perhaps, come playoff time, would've been a real detriment, but for a regular season in which the Lakers are likely going to do everything they can to save the legs of LeBron and A.D. for May and hopefully June, losing a guy who can get 20 and 10 on any given night hurts.
It's also a matter of positional preference. Davis wants to play the four. The Lakers like him at the four. Cousins slotted as a natural five with experience, and success, playing alongside Davis in two-big lineups. Still, according to our data guru Stephen Oh, losing Cousins doesn't really hurt the Lakers on paper, where he projects them to drop from 53 expected wins with a healthy Cousins to 52.3 wins without Cousins. Oh projects the Lakers' championship chances to drop from 16 percent to 14.7 percent. Finally, the Lakers project as the 2-seed in the West with or without Cousins.
That said, basketball isn't played on paper and we know that there was an upside hope for Cousins that went beyond the known statistical data at this point. That dream is dead. The Lakers are now in a position of having to potentially start JaVale McGee at center. The Lakers have a roster spot open, but they could be saving it for Andre Iguodala in hopes that Memphis turns him loose. Some free-agent big men still available: Nene, Kenneth Faried, Greg Monroe, Amir Johnson, Zaza Pachulia.
Camelo Anthony looms.
We'll see what the Lakers do. There will be more options available to them if they wait until December 15 when some newly signed players become trade eligible. However it plays out, they likely won't get a player with the upside of a healthy Cousins, his downside notwithstanding. This is a blow for the Lakers. Not a catastrophic one, but a blow nonetheless.
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