When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his achilles halfway through his first and only full season with the New Orleans Pelicans, it was difficult to overstate how tragic it was.
The oft-maligned Cousins was having easily the best season of his career, and finding team success for the first time. He was staring down the barrel of his first ever playoff appearance, and a five-year, 200 million dollar contract once free agency came around.
That all came crashing down along with all 270 pounds of Cousins as he failed to rebound his own missed free throw. The groundbound superstar’s achilles ruptured and everything changed.
The extenuating circumstances made this moment much more harrowing than your typical injury. Cousins’ upcoming contract, his pending playoff debut, and the entire arc of his career — trending upward, for the first time — would all be altered by this injury, one of the worst possible for a player of his size.
The Pelicans — who went on to play just as well, if not better without him — would no longer commit long-term money to him. He didn’t get to play in the playoffs. It’s unlikely his body will ever allow him to be the great player he was previously.
He was screwed.
But damnit if Boogie didn’t find an out.
Over the course of a couple of days, Cousins went from cluelessly wondering where he would play next season to sizing his championship ring. The four-time All-Star joined the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors, boasters of four hall of famers, ruiners of the NBA.
It’s been three days now since The Boogie Event transpired, which has hopefully given us all a chance to step back and consider some context.
Everyone was always going to flip out about the Warriors adding another “All-Star.” Everyone freaks out about everything Warriors-related.
Look no further than the story that the Warriors were kicking the tires on signing DeAndre Jordan — a silly rumor that was obviously never going to happen. Everyone flipped out anyway.
If we’re willing to calm down for a moment, maybe we can realize some stuff. Let’s start here: If Cousins plays 82 games next year at 90 percent of the level he played last year — a wholly unrealistic outcome — the Warriors would be heavy favorites to win the title. If Cousins plays zero games and ends up never donning a Warriors uniform, the Warriors will be heavy favorites to win the title.
That’s still disappointing in its own way, certainly. A player as exciting and polarizing and talented as Boogie Cousins should have a tangible impact on the league.
His opportunity to do so was not taken away by his free agency decision though — it was taken away by his devastating injury.
From the moment he was hurt, no one seemed to understand how severe his situation was. When listening to a variety of analysts ponder the idea of Cousins heading to the Wizards in exchange for Otto Porter Jr. — acting like this would be a good idea for Washington — I truly felt like I was dissociating from reality.
The infuriated masses reflexively went to the obvious refrain: “The Warriors now have FIVE ALL-STARS!” What anyone screeching this doesn’t realize is that going forward, Boogie’s All-Star status is no more relevant than that of 2012 All-Star Andre Iguodala.
The impulse is to make this Kevin Durant 2.0, casting Boogie as the godforsaken snake who betrayed his fans and joined the enemy. That’s a completely absurd interpretation of the situation.
Frustration towards Durant was completely justified. When he joined the Warriors, he stood as an all-time great, still in his prime, joining a team that didn’t need him. Durant could have stayed in Oklahoma City and kept together a legitimate threat to the Warriors, or he could have gone to literally any other team in the league and built a title contender from scratch. He’s that good.
None of this applies to Boogie. Even before his injury, his defensive liabilities and his obscene volume of turnovers made him particularly ineffective against the Warriors. Thinking that post-achilles Cousins could make an impact in a playoff series against the Warriors is nothing other than ignorant.
On the Fox Sports One show “First Things First,” host Nick Wright hilariously chastised Cousins for joining the Warriors, saying “Ain’t nobody wanna compete no more, man.” I suppose Wright was hoping Cousins would return to New Orleans and just cross his fingers, hoping that his achilles injury would magically make him a better player?
It’s unclear what Wright and other critics wanted Boogie to do, but regardless, it’s a criticism that’s completely missing the point. Cousins joined the Warriors not because he doesn’t want to compete, but because he wants the opportunity to compete for the first time. This campaign with Golden State will be the first time — and possibly the last time — Cousins will get to play important basketball. If all goes as planned, he’ll play the most important basketball of the season.
How impactful he will be to that basketball is yet to be seen. Cousins’ return from injury has a realistic spectrum of outcomes that fall in between Elton Brand — who suffered the same injury and played 444 games after, but was never the same player — and Nikola Pekovic — who suffered the same injury and played 12 more games before being forced into retirement.
Any reasonable assessment of Cousins’ situation arrives at the same conclusion: this is his last chance. His suitors were already limited this year, when he was a complete unknown. It’s not particularly likely his actual play will increase his stock in the league.
Boogie’s career up to this point has been a pure tragedy. A fierce competitor who absolutely detests losing was drafted into a situation his best Sacramento Kings teammate Rudy Gay called “Basketball Hell.” Just when he found a great running mate in Anthony Davis, in a surprisingly good basketball situation in New Orleans, the rest of his career was basically snatched away.
To insult and criticize Boogie for choosing the one place that will give him a guaranteed chance to accomplish something in the final act of his career seems bitter, and mean, and unnecessary.
Boogie on basically any other team was doomed to be incredibly depressing. On the Pelicans, he likely would have held them back, with everyone involved knowing they would be better off without this version of him.
Few players get to walk into a situation that’s absolutely perfect for them. Not what Durant found in Golden State — the ability to effortlessly win titles while ultimately damaging your legacy. But what Eric Gordon found in Houston, with the way their style perfectly matches what Gordon should do. Or what Kyrie Irving found in Boston, with a strong culture and complementary talent that covers up his weaknesses.
Now, Boogie has found that in Golden State, but in an entirely different way. A unique star consistently followed by bad luck finally caught a break. And everyone is acting like it is some abomination.
No one was hurt. Nothing has really changed.
Please, just be happy for Boogie.