Here’s why the Boogie signing is being overblown and could be a mistake.
When the Warriors inked a one-year, $5.3 million deal for DeMarcus Cousins, the NBA world went into massive shock. Who could blame us? Teams that are as good as the Warriors aren’t supposed to sign max-level talents for $5.3 million. Especially not after sweeping the NBA Finals in route to a second consecutive championship.
According to reports, Cousins, while rehabbing a ruptured achilles, rejected a two-year, $40 million contract offer from the Pelicans towards the end of the season. Then, the Pelicans pounced on Julius Randle‘s availability and let “Boogie” hit the market this offseason. Cousins had little interest in the deals being offered to him, so he picked up the phone and called Bob Myers to express interest in taking the mid-level exception to play for Golden State. He will now make far less than he’s worth in the Bay Area and jump on the Warriors’ gravy train. His move is the latest example of a change in mentality that permeates the NBA: a willingness for NBA superstars to shun traditional standards of competitive integrity and take their careers into their own hands, regardless of inevitable criticism.
“This was my ace of spades. This was my chess move,” said Cousins
The electric Warriors we watched in the playoffs that were nearly impossible to contain offensively and suffocated opponents defensively seemed like they had hit the apex of NBA basketball. The Rockets were the only team that presented any real threat, and after consecutive championships, no one could question Myers if he stuck with the status quo and changed as little as possible. Instead, he chose to keep his foot on the gas, add another major talent, and change the complexion of his dynasty again.
But pump the brakes. In the midst of all the hype and criticism, let’s consider the logistics.
Firstly, while signing one of the NBA’s premier talents is always an accomplishment, this can’t last longer than one year. The Warriors don’t have the funds to re-sign Cousins if he performs well. If Cousins remotely resembles his old self, he’s gone in 2019, so the signing has very little effect on the long-term competitiveness of the league.
Beyond that, a great cloud of uncertainty looms over this acquisition. Most notably is the issue of Boogie’s ruptured achilles and how it will heal. Outside of Dominique Wilkins and Kobe Bryant, no superstar player in the past two decades has actually suffered this injury. Wilkins came back to dominate and log 28 PPG and 7 rebounds over the next two seasons, while Bryant struggled to stay on the court and was never the same in his next three seasons before retirement.
On top of the questions surrounding whether Cousins can recapture his game (25 PPG and 13 RPG on 47% shooting in 2017-18), he isn’t expected back until January 2019. At which point the Warriors would have to integrate a new, ball-hungry piece into their fluid offensive machine.
Which leads us to another problem: have the Warriors considered whether Boogie actually fits? He’ll see much less of the ball in Golden State than he has anywhere else, but he isn’t a very effective off-ball offensive player.
He’s not an overly effective offensive rebounder (2.8 ORB), and definitely won’t be comfortable scoring a huge portion of his points that way. Cousins will also intensify the Warriors’ one major defect: turnovers. He averaged nearly five last season when handling the ball for the Pelicans. In addition, while he can spread the court offensively and be effective from deep, spot-up shooting isn’t his forte.
The Warriors will have to create mismatches and let Cousins play his typical isolation style to get the best out of his scoring ability. Yet, that would cause Golden State to move further away from the free-flowing, pass and move style they’ve leaned on in the past. Cousins won’t be content with constantly screening for ball handlers on offense like Jordan Bell or Kevon Looney, but the Warriors work best with a big that’s willing to do the dirty work and doesn’t need his number called. He’ll want his piece of the pie offensively; but with Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson‘s mouths to feed, the Warriors’ pie might not be big enough for yet another big appetite.
Sure, basketball analysts had these same questions when Golden State added Durant two years ago, and then they won two titles. However, this feels different. Unlike Durant or any of the other Warriors stars, Cousins absolutely needs the ball to affect the game. He’s a great scorer, but he plays a methodical game that involves attacking his defender with his size in the post or taking to the perimeter to show off versatility. He also struggles to keep up with fast-paced teams. Last season with the Pelicans, who finished #1 in pace last year, Cousins would often be the last player to enter the frame in transition.
This is a conditioning problem that extends as far back as his days with Sacramento. It’s noticeable not only in transition but also when Cousins shows inconsistent effort defensively. He also doesn’t have the athleticism to support the Warriors switch-heavy defense, or to take the primary rim protection responsibilities from Durant or Draymond Green.
It’s hard to argue that the Warriors best lineup isn’t still the “Hamptons Five”: Curry, Thompson, Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Green. It’s much more versatile defensively and causes less offensive conflict. Steve Kerr could end up playing Cousins way fewer minutes than he’s accustomed to if he can’t adjust his playstyle to fit their championship-winning scheme.
It’s hard to imagine a dominant talent like Cousins becoming an afterthought on any team, but the Warriors are a special case. The Warriors won’t change for Cousins; he’ll have to blend in, and it remains to be seen whether he can actually do that coming off of a devastating injury.
If and when he plays next season and is any semblance of his old self, Cousins will, at the very least, improve the Warriors bench unit’s scoring ability in key playoff moments. One could argue that’s enough to justify a very low price tag. But it’s far from a guarantee that Cousins will settle for what could become a complementary role on a loaded team. He’s had locker room issues in the past and he might not be worth the headache for a team that didn’t need him in the first place.
You can’t blame Myers for signing an all-star for pennies on the dollar. However, Cousins might have made the wrong decision if his goal was to show the rest of the league what he can do after his injury. He might just end up frustrated and out of place.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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