In an offseason with so many big-name players hitting the open market, one of the most interesting free agencies will be that of Golden State Warriors big man DeMarcus Cousins.
When healthy this season, Cousins put up fairly impressive numbers – 16.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.5 blocks per game – as a fourth, and sometimes even fifth, option on one of the best teams in basketball. His defense may have been shaky and the Warriors were statistically a bit worse during his time on the floor, but it was still a noteworthy showing for a former All-NBA center returning from a brutal achilles injury.
The problem is that in the playoffs, when Cousins really could have put himself back on the map as one of the league’s top big men, he got hurt again – a partially torn thigh this time – and missed 14 of the Warriors’ 22 postseason outings.
He deserves commendation for battling back from the injury and making a speedy return in time for the Finals, but the comeback was far from triumphant, as Cousins averaged just 8.3 points and shot 42.5 percent from the floor during Golden State’s final six games in the season.
Nevertheless, considering Cousins’ pedigree and the fact that he is now heading into the summer healthy, he should still receive a good amount of interest as a free agent this summer as a secondary target.
Below, we break down four potential landing spots for the nine-year veteran center.
With Willie Cauley-Stein, their starting center of the last two seasons, making it known that he would like out, the Sacramento Kings could have a hole to fill at the 5 next year if that request is obliged.
Might that open the door for a reunion between Sacramento and Cousins?
Their relationship may have had its ups and its downs (and that’s putting it lightly), but considering cost and ability, the Kings may not have a better option than their former big man once free agency opens up.
Other free-agent center possibilities that may interest Sacramento, like Nikola Vucevic or Al Horford, are coming off strong, healthy campaigns, and would be much more expensive to lock down than Cousins.
What’s more, Cousins proved last season that he’s willing to take a less focal role in an offense during his time with the Warriors (his usage rate with Golden State was 28.1 percent – a much lower mark than his combined 34.7 percent usage rate from the four seasons prior), meaning the worry of him taking possessions away from Sacramento’s developing young core might not be so prevalent.
It’s probably not the outcome either party expected when Cousins got traded back in 2017, but a reconciliation between the two parties could very much benefit both the Kentucky product and the Kings next season and beyond.
When Cousins shocked the NBA collective by signing with the Warriors last summer, a report from Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes stated that Golden State wasn’t Cousins’ only option when he made his final decision.
The other team that almost signed the four-time All-Star center?
None other than the Boston Celtics.
Well, with Horford and Boston reportedly headed for a split, maybe the Celtics might try and kick the tires on Cousins again.
Without Horford or the seemingly Brooklyn-bound Kyrie Irving on the roster, Boston projects to have over $20 million in cap space this offseason, more than enough to make a competitive offer for Cousins, who will probably land a deal worth less than half that this offseason.
Cousins would be able to replace some of the floor-spacing and playmaking duties Horford is set to leave behind, albeit without the same level of defense the Dominican big man provides.
Still, at a fraction of the cost of the deal Horford is about to sign this summer (reports state it could be worth over $100 million), a Cousins signing could be a worthwhile, low-cost gamble for Boston.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Another team that has been previously linked with Cousins, the Los Angeles Lakers could also make some sense as potential suitors for the enigmatic big man.
Although the addition of Anthony Davis might make Cousins seem like a superfluous target for the Lakers, if they can land him at a reasonable price, he could be an extremely savvy acquisition for Los Angeles.
For starters, Cousins at the 5 would allow Davis to shift to his preferred spot as a do-it-all power forward, capable of defending multiple positions and abusing opposing slow-footed bigs on the perimeter.
Plus, let’s not forget how well the duo was starting to play together as New Orleans Pelicans before Cousins suffered the Achilles injury back in 2017, when they were averaging a combined 57-plus points and 25-plus rebounds per game.
That tandem, plus a reinvigorated LeBron James, as well as whoever else the Lakers are able to sign with their still-copious amounts of cap space, should form a force in the Western Conference.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS
Although they won’t have much cap space this offseason no matter what happens with Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson, we still can’t rule out a Cousins return to Golden State.
When asked about his upcoming free agency and whether the Warriors would be in the running for his services, Cousins said the following:
“‘It was a weird summer last summer. So you never know how things work out,’ Cousins said. ‘I’m open and I’ll make the best decision for myself and my family. We’ll see which way the wind blows.’”
Although he can probably get more money elsewhere, Golden State will actually need Cousins’ help next season, with Durant likely gone and Thompson on the shelf until probably next March, if not longer.
If Cousins were to choose the Warriors, there’s a good chance he would finish next season as their second-leading scorer, behind only Stephen Curry, and make himself a whole lot more appealing to prospective suitors next summer when he hits free agency again, provided he makes the sensible decision and signs a one-year deal. That interest would multiply if Golden State makes an improbable playoff run with Cousins as one of their top players.
There is the issue of finances to deal with, though. Using his non-Bird rights, the most the Warriors would be able to offer Cousins next season on a one-season deal is $6.4 million, which would make it two years of the big man’s prime spent taking a pretty steep discount.
Could choosing that path be worthwhile for Cousins anyway if all of the above happens and he puts himself in the position to secure a major contract in the summer of 2020?
But it would still be a very risky proposition for the almost-29-year-old with a concerning injury history.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.