After the Pelicans dominated the Portland Trail Blazers in a first round sweep, the NBA commenters did not wait long to ask the question: so what do you do about DeMarcus Cousins?
The former Kentucky Wildcat and New Orleans All-Star will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The variables that will go into his final decision are immeasurable.
Cousins is rehabbing an Achilles tendon tear, a devastating injury that has zero precedence for a player Cousins’ size. The Pelicans are also playing their best basketball via small ball. Alvin Gentry pushed the pace with Boogie, but has cranked it up a few notches in the playoffs. Now with a series sweep under their belts,: are the Pelicans better without Boogie?
With the help of GIFs, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor got into the nitty gritty of the Pelicans play, with and without Cousins. It’s difficult to judge based on a small sample size (they were playing well before Boogie’s injury, and just turned it back on in time for the playoffs), but there’s no denying it will be risky to keep Cousins.
Re-signing Cousins could be a necessary risk, no matter what happens against the Warriors. But I would be cautious if I were Pelicans general manager Dell Demps. In decision-making positions, you must consider all possible outcomes. One of them includes Cousins returning and lacking the same blend of power and finesse that has allowed him to be a dancing bull on offense, which means he’d probably be even worse on defense. Were that to happen—even if the team signed him to just a four-year deal for max money, instead of a five-year deal—Cousins would become an albatross that could prevent the Pelicans from ever taking the next step as a franchise.
ESPN’s Zach Lowe went further down the potential free agency rabbit hole. Both agreed the Dallas Mavericks are his most likely suitors, and seconded C.J. McCollum’s notion that he might want to team up with John Wall. Lowe believes letting Cousins walk might be the best move, BUT…
But no team-building decision is as obvious as it looks. The Pelicans are about to face the Warriors — a team with four legitimate stars. New Orleans without Cousins has one star in Davis about as good as Golden State’s two best players, and a second sometime-star (Holiday) who at his peak is somewhere close to Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. (Holiday has been way better than that in the playoffs, but he won’t maintain this level. I mean, if he did, he’d basically be Michael Jordan.)
Against the best teams, you need some base amount of talent. Cousins ups the talent quotient. He raises New Orleans’ proverbial ceiling.
What will happen is unknown. In the meantime, more longform pieces will be written about the endless free agency possibilities and the Pelicans will go head-to-head against the Golden State Warriors dynasty.
If you want Boogie to remain united with The Brow, cheer against the Pelicans. If they prove they can beat the best without Boogie, they will likely let him go this summer.