DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury is a tragedy. Very few basketball players, very few student-athletes, very few students, in general, come through Kentucky and have the same type of effect on the environment that Cousins had.
He’s a fan favorite. He always will be, no matter how outsiders try to portray him. Cousins means more to the University of Kentucky than most people could ever dream of, and that’s why this injury is so hard to accept. He’s been unfairly belittled, criticized, and – at times – ignored throughout his entire NBA career. And right when he was beginning to prove everyone wrong, right when he was proving that yes, he is one of the best players in the league and the top center in the NBA and an All-Star starter, he had it all unfairly ripped away from him. What made it worse was how it happened. He didn’t clash knees, he didn’t take a hard fall to the floor, he simply landed the wrong way.
Cousins and Anthony Davis were a match made in heaven by the basketball gods. They complemented each other’s weaknesses and formed what was the most explosive, dangerous, and unorthodox frontcourt the NBA had ever seen. The New Orleans Pelicans are 27-23 on the season and lost their two games following the injury to Cousins. The team is now scrambling. No team can lose a top 15 player in the NBA and continue on the same path that New Orleans on. The Pelicans are trying desperately to fill a hole the size of their city and there’s nothing that can fit.
Not only do the Pelicans need to figure out to how to keep this season together, they have to plan for the future. A future that originally (and still does) included a Cousins/Davis frontcourt for the next five-plus seasons. Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent this coming summer with a giant question mark looming over his and the organization’s head.
Achilles injuries can end what were once wildly successful careers. Just look at former All-Star Elton Brand, who suffered the same injury when he was 28 and never saw the same type of production he had pre-injury. Brand is just one example of many – and there are plenty of examples of players who returned to full health – but it is a cause for concern considering how big Cousins is and the offensive load he burdens.
Cousins is set to receive a max deal this summer. The new type of “mega-max” deal that the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows (somewhere in the five year/$175 million range). Cousins deserves that money, he’s earned that money, and the Pelicans are probably the only team that will offer it to him.
Which may be the lonely silver lining in all of this. The Pelicans will more than likely offer Cousins the max and he’ll probably take it in a heartbeat. But odds are, Cousins won’t be courted by other teams like he should. Cousins’ deserves to be one of the most sought-after free agents this summer. He’ll still get calls from other teams, but no one will offer more than New Orleans will. The Pelicans should offer him the max and it’d be a good guess to say that Anthony Davis would gladly encourage it.
The question (well, two rather broad questions) still remains. What does this mean for the rest of the 2017-18 season and what does this mean for the seasons that follow?
Answering the latter is a bit easier, in theory. Cousins takes a year to recover back to full health, the Pelicans don’t rush anything and ultimately give him the max deal. This would keep Davis and Cousins in New Orleans for at least three more years following the current one (barring a trade that sends Davis elsewhere, which is still unlikely despite Cousins’ injury).
The more difficult question is what the Pelicans should do right now. Davis is once again their number one source of offense. He’s their only source of offense, to be frank. Not to discredit Jrue Holiday (who is playing at a high level) or even Darius Miller, but they aren’t even in the same stratosphere as Davis and Cousins.
The Pelicans nearly completed a deal that would have sent Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic to New Orleans in exchange for Omer Asik (who is owed a ton of money yet hardly plays) along with the real prize of a first-round pick. The deal would have provided Davis with a real scoring option. Mirotic is someone who can knock down six or seven threes a game and would stretch the floor for Davis, but the deal fell apart.
Instead, the Pelicans are back to where they were two seasons ago, but luckily with Davis still two or three years away from entering his prime (which should demonstrate how brilliant a 24-year old Anthony Davis has been and how much better he can still become). However, there will be some team slippage. There were was no logical way to defend both Cousins AND Davis at the same time. You couldn’t double one of them, you couldn’t double both, and you couldn’t guard them one-on-one. Now, all the focus is once again centered on Davis and the defensive gameplan just got a hell of a lot easier for opposing coaches.
The numbers speak for themselves. This season, when Cousins is off the court, Davis shoots 8.2 percent worse from the floor and 3.7 percent worse from three with a plus/minus of negative 0.2. With Cousins on the court, Davis’ plus/minus is a positive 3.2. Cousins helped pull the attention from Davis, allowing him much more offensive freedom. Now, the defenses will gravitate towards Davis like he’s a black hole.
The Pelicans have some tough decisions to make in the coming months and it’s hard to think that far ahead considering where the team currently sits in the Western Conference standings. All hope isn’t lost because they do have Anthony Davis, who will undoubtedly put up monster numbers for the rest of the season. The team won’t tank – not at this point in the season – and given Davis’ injury history, they don’t want to do anything that might put him in a dangerous position, either. The team needs to be extremely careful with the moves they make. Regardless of whether or not they make the playoffs, this season might go down as one they tuck away and try to forget.
— DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) January 30, 2018
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