Almost precisely two years after Kevin Durant’s infamous “My Next Chapter” announcement, the the Golden State Warriors sent another wave of shock and dismay across the NBA world. DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All Star and arguably the best center in the league, decided to sacrifice a substantial amount of money to add even more firepower to one of the greatest teams ever assembled.
Hypersensitive. Hotheaded. Egocentric. The stigma of the NBA’s “bad boy” followed Cousins since the very start of his career in Sacramento. His tenure with the Kings looked like a competition between how much technicals and fines Cousins can amass, and what levels of dysfunctionality his franchise can reach. Both parties eventually realized Cousins won’t be able to reach maturity in such an environment, and Cousins took his talents to The Big Easy.
At the start of the 2017-18 season, it was clear that the change of scenery did wonders for Boogie. Many were skeptical about his ability to share the frontcourt with another high usage guy like Anthony Davis, but the duo quickly shut the doubters down.
Cousins started posting incredible numbers right off the bat, logging three games with 40 points and 20 rebounds in a span of just three months (last player to achieve that feat in a single season was Moses Malone back in 1981-82).
Cousins looked extremely comfortable in the new system; shooting 35 percent on over six attempts per game, he established the 3-point shot as another deadly part of his arsenal. What especially excited the Pelicans fans, however, was his willingness to facilitate movement on offense, as he averaged a career high 5.4 assists per game.
And then, just a week after he got voted in as a starter for the 2018 All-Star Game, a tragic, worst possible case scenario unfolded right before the eyes of growingly optimistic fans at the Smoothie King Center.
The notorious Achilles tear Cousins sustained was the main trigger for his ultimate decision to join the Warriors. First, he rejected the low-ball offer of a two-year $40 million extension from the Pelicans right after the injury. By the end of the season, the offer was off the table, and since Cousins reportedly didn’t receive any other significant offers, he chose to spite the entire league by signing a comically low $5.3 million contract with the Warriors.
While securing Cousins once the opportunity presented itself was a complete no-brainer for Bob Myers, Cousins’ motivation to agree to such a deal remains controversial.
Sure, an almost 100 percent guarantee of an NBA title after a career-long playoff drought (535 games and counting, second most among active players) sounds quite attractive, but it comes at a large cost for Cousins – he is putting his reputation at stake and surrendering ~$15 million out of his pocket.
Historically speaking, it’s hard to expect a player who suffered an Achilles injury to make a return in his full former glory. Cousins made a reasonable decision in that regard. Joining a team that just nonchalantly swept a LeBron James-led team in the NBA Finals will surely allow him to take an ample amount of time with his recovery process. Even if he misses the entirety of the regular season, the Warriors should still easily reach one of the top seeds in the West, and then trample the opposition in the playoffs once a fully fit Cousins rejoins the team.
Beneath the surface, the situation is not that simple. With the Warriors current cap situation, re-signing Cousins next year at his realistic market value is definitely out of the realm of possibility. That means that this season, Boogie is playing for his next big contract.
If he ends up taking too much time off, his potential suitors might become suspicious of his ability to contribute at his expected level in a more significant role than he will have on the Warriors. Therefore, Cousins staying content on the sidelines and not forcing the issue of a premature return might not exactly be a sure thing, especially in the latter stages of the season.
Another reason why the seemingly flawless plan might potentially backfire is the style of play Cousins nurtures. It’s not a secret he loves to be in the spotlight, making big decisions with the ball in his hand. That’s heavily reflected in his usage rate numbers, that haven’t dropped below 31 percent over the last five seasons. For reference, that puts Cousins on par with Steph Curry who logged the highest usage rate on the Warriors roster last season.
While he reportedly stated that he’s more than willing to adjust to a lesser role once he recovers, the reality might be different, especially given the aforementioned fact that Cousins will be working on securing his next contract.
After years of relying on individually dominating opponents, assuming the role of a glorified Zaza Pachulia or a JaVale McGee might come tough for Cousins. Frequently deferring to his teammates, constantly setting screens to open up space for others and running back and forth multiple times without getting the ball simply isn’t Boogie’s game. Given the mental instability and the sense of self-entitlement he put on display so far, Boogie could easily turn into a ticking bomb both on the court and in the locker room.
The duty of preventing Cousins from having an adverse effect on the Warriors’ stellar chemistry will largely fall on Steve Kerr’s back. While some may argue that it’s easy to keep everything in check when the team is winning, Kerr’s ability to handle the egos that could easily blast through the roof in a different setting is vastly underrated.
Incorporating Cousins into his system will, however, be his biggest test so far on his path to the elusive threepeat. Same goes for Cousins, who will have to undergo a huge transformation in his approach in order to comfortably win his first ring without much drama.
Cousins to Warriors, a move that ruined the league according to the majority of fans and pundits, implies two possible outcomes: Cousins either refrains from imposing his will and takes another financial hit next summer, or his addition puts too much weight on one end of the scale and ends up breaking it, giving the opposition a slither of hope of finally putting an end to the Warriors’ hegemony over the league.