The 2019-20 NBA season has not even begun, but the Los Angeles Lakers have already suffered their first significant injury.
Former All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Lakers this offseason, suffered a torn ACL during a workout in Las Vegas on Monday, first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic. Later in the day, Cousins' agent, Jeff Schwartz, informed Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com that the test results confirmed a torn left ACL for the Lakers big man. No timeline for surgery has been announced.
This would be just the latest in a series of bad breaks for Cousins from a medical perspective. He ruptured his Achilles tendon with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2018, only to return on a one-year "prove it" deal with the Golden State Warriors. He was rounding into form before tearing his quad muscle in the postseason. With another year removed from that initial Achilles injury, the Lakers were optimistic about Cousins' health this season. That has changed in light of this injury.
The timeline of a torn ACL is typically around one year to return to the court. The best-case scenario would be something in the eight-to-ten month range, which could potentially have Cousins back in time for the postseason, but given his injury history and size, that isn't exactly a safe bet. In all likelihood, this could keep Cousins out for the season.
Expectations for Cousins coming into the year were cautiously optimistic. His conditioning had drawn praise after photos showed that the star center had lost weight this summer. While predicting improved health is obviously impossible, the Cousins signing represented a low-risk, high-reward bet for the Lakers. If healthy, he would have vastly outperformed his deal and give the Lakers a potential star on a tiny contract. If not, the deal was small enough that it hardly makes a difference anyway.
Without Cousins, according to Stephen Oh, SportsLine's projections for the 2019-20 Lakers season decline slightly. Their projected win total drops from 53 to 52.3, while their championship odds fall from 16 percent to 14.7 percent.
Those drops are not overwhelming, but the loss of Cousins changes the orientation of their roster significantly. They signed Cousins and JaVale McGee because they did not want Anthony Davis to play many minutes at center. With Cousins now out, the Lakers only have around 25 minutes per game at the position handled, and if McGee were to go down, they would have nobody besides Davis capable of playing the position.
The Lakers do have an empty roster spot that they could use on another big man, but pickings are obviously slim at this point in the year. Players like Joakim Noah, Ryan Anderson and potentially Dwight Howard if he is waived could make sense, but none come with the upside Cousins presented.
Now the Lakers will have to adjust their plans significantly, and that likely means playing Davis more minutes at center. It also probably deprives them of the roster spot they had been saving for Andre Iguodala. As for Cousins, it all but sinks his hopes of landing another big-money contract. With major injuries to his knee, quad and Achilles tendon, teams simply won't have enough confidence in his ability to stay healthy moving forward to pay him the sort of money he is hoping for. This news is devastating for all parties involved.