2018 NBA Free Agency: DeMarcus Cousins Should Prepare to Play the Waiting Game in Free Agency
DeMarcus Cousins is one of the more intriguing superstars on the market this offseason due to his superstar level productivity, and injury concerns following his ruptured Achilles on Friday, January 26th against the Houston Rockets on ESPN.
I don’t have to research the date or time of the game, because the moment was that pivotal to a future of a respective franchise I cover, as well as the NBA as a whole.
At 25.2 points per game and 12 rebounds to go along with five assists, DeMarcus Cousins had cemented himself as the game's best playmaking center, and at 27 years of age, has every bit the possibility of recovering to at least a large portion of that productivity.
So why hasn’t he signed a deal yet?
According to his Twitter account, he seems well on track to becoming available for training camp, and professed those same sentiments to Marc Spears, of the Undefeated.
Could it be his injury concerns? Or perhaps his attitude and history of brash on court behavior?
These are valid, but the answer actually lies within the NBA’s changing financial structure. Following the 2015/16 season the NBA learned a valuable lesson when Timofey Mozgov, Solomon Hill, Evan Turner, Demar Derozan, Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, Harrison Barnes, Tyler Johnson, Luol Deng, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson combined to sign for $823 million dollars.
While arguably only DeMar DeRozan exists on Boogie’s level in terms of All-Star level effectiveness, the NBA has recently discovered how contracts like Blake Griffin’s can cripple a franchise regardless of his 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists per game in 2018.
This, in turn, has created the game of chicken between Boogie and Pelicans’ General Manager Dell Demps.
The Pelicans have little to no wiggle room even without Boogie, due to previous mistakes in defensive stopper Solomon Hill, center Alexis Ajinca, and the $55 million cap figure shared by All-First Team Defense members, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday.
The Pelicans cap currently stands at $95 million with the contracts of AD, Jrue Holiday, Ajinca, Solo, E'Twaun Moore, and Nikola Mirotic.
This does not include unguaranteed contracts to Frank Jackson, Cheick Diallo, Jordan Crawford, DeAndre Liggins, Emeka Okafor, and Darius Miller as well as free agents Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark.
So Demps has every right to be diligent in his approach to negotiations with Cousins, especially considering the financial landscape across the NBA.
Due to that summer of ’16 we previously mentioned, salary cap sheets across the NBA are filled to the brim, leaving only a small number of teams with flexibility to make an offer to Cousins, and of those, contenders are few and far between.
But some team with the wherewithal should be interested in the former Wildcat, but there exists an even bigger problem.
We’ve seen this song and dance before. With James’ status in doubt, everything screeches to a halt until one of the game’s greatest ever makes a decision. The teams with the space and shared interest to sign number 23 outright are Boston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Cavaliers, and the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition, Houston appears another serious suitor in the LeBron James sweepstakes.
And then there’s Paul George, who almost certainly will earn interest from the 76ers, Lakers and Mavericks as well.
So what does this mean for DeMarcus Cousins?
It means he will have to be patient through the first week of free agency. Other than Washington, the only teams set to chase him will chase LeBron, and even Paul George first.
Should Dallas pass on LeBron, they still will likely seek a meeting with Lakers power forward Julius Randle, as well as George.
Washington will not have the resources to sign him outright due to contracts like John Wall, Bradley Beal, Porter, Marcin Gortat and Ian Mahinmi, but a sign and trade could benefit both parties.
While this occurs, the Pelicans and DeMarcus Cousins will be forced to play the waiting game. Until one of Dallas or Los Angeles begins a bidding war, the Pelicans hold all the cards in negotiations.
In Marc Spears’ article with the Undefeated, DeMarcus Cousins made known his desire to play for a contender.
“Somewhere I’d be appreciated and a contender. A team that’s ready to contend.” - Boogie
However, Dallas and Los Angeles sit in a nice position to quickly arm themselves in a staggeringly competitive Western Conference.
Oleh Kosel, Editor to TheBirdWrites.com, discusses how Boston might become interested in trade with the Mavericks should Mo Bamba fall to number five.
Should the Mavericks become able to sign DeMarcus Cousins in addition to acquiring Jaylen Brown, for instance, they could quickly challenge for a playoff spot with a lineup of Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Jaylen Brown, Harrison Barnes and Cousins.
With five potential picks in the 2019 draft, Boston may seek to hold onto its current talent and make picks available instead, but other teams, such as the Portland Trail Blazers, may seek salary relief, and offer up say CJ McCollum in exchange for that fifth spot and a reprieve from the luxury tax.
The Lakers have a promising core of Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram in addition to restricted rights to Julius Randle and over $60 million in cap space that could become even more should they ship out Luol Deng.
They have the power to sign three superstars if things should break right, and might insist on adding Lebron, PG AND Boogie to their ranks.
But regardless of where DeMarcus ends up, and what he ultimately decides in free agency, it will all have to wait while the King makes his decision.
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