While LeBron James and Paul George grab all the headlines for this year’s free agency frenzy, DeMarcus Cousins is an interesting name to watch. Coming off a torn Achilles injury that he suffered in January, Cousins might have a problem securing a long-term contract at the maximum value.
Based off the reported $101 million dollar cap figured for the 2018-2019 season, Cousins’ maximum starting salary is $30.3 million dollars in the first year. There are several teams who could create the cap space in order to sign him to a max deal. However, many of them aren’t likely suitors for him, forcing him either to return to the Pelicans on their terms or work out a sign-and-trade.
Sacramento Kings & Philadelphia 76ers
For obvious reasons, neither of these teams will bring in Cousins. There is obviously bad blood between the Kings organization and Cousins. While the 76ers have no need for Cousins as Joel Embiid is entering the first year of his new contract.
Los Angeles Lakers
They aren’t likely to sign Cousins given their focus on LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Even if they strike out on all three, they will likely save their cap space for next summer’s free agency class.
The drafting of Wendell Carter Jr. combined with Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez, there simply isn’t a need for Cousins. Instead the Bulls are likely to use their cap space to re-sign Zach LaVine and take on bad contracts via trade in order to acquire more draft picks.
In total rebuild mode, the Hawks have no plans to sign Cousins. They are reportedly planning on using their cap space to take on bad contracts in exchange for draft picks.
There was a chance that the Pacers would sign Cousins but with Thaddeus Young opting into his deal for the 2018-2019 season, and with the report that the Pacers plan to target Magic restricted free agent Aaron Gordon with a max offer; the Pacers aren’t an option for Cousins anymore.
Many expected the Mavericks to be the favorite to sign Cousins. However, they have turned their focus to DeAndre Jordan. Assuming Jordan ends up in Dallas on July 1st, Cousins will have one less suitor.
According to reports, Cousins is likely to return to the Pelicans on a two-year deal. Given the lack of other free agent options, this may be the best spot for Cousins. Things could fall apart if Cousins is determined to get a max value deal and the Pelicans don’t want to risk that kind of money given the Achilles injury. This would leave Cousins forced to find a team willing to do a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans.
Potential Trade: Gordon Hayward for Cousins.
Reportedly, the Celtics have had talks with the Spurs to trade for Kawhi Leonard but refuse to trade Jaylen Brown or Jason Tatum in the deal. The Celtics view them as future superstars and want to keep both. In order to reach their ceilings, both will need plenty of playing time. That means Hayward could be on his way out of town. If the Celtics want to play Al Horford more at power toward this season, they could convince the Pelicans to swap Hayward for Cousins. The Pelicans need a wing scorer and could throw out a line-up of Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday, Hayward, Nikola Mirotic, and Anthony Davis. While the Celtics could roll out a line-up that stacks up to the Warriors with Kyrie Irving, Brown, Tatum, Horford, and Cousins.
Potential Trade: Otto Porter Jr., Jason Smith, Jodie Meeks, future first-round pick for Cousins.
After the Wizards traded Marcin Gortat away, the team is clearly not done re-making the center position. Rumors have been out there that John Wall wants to play with Cousins again after their time at Kentucky. While the Wizards are over the cap and luxury tax, which will make a sign-and-trade very difficult, they could make it happen. Much like in the Celtics deal, the Wizards could offer the Pelicans a wing player with 3&D ability in Porter and two serviceable veterans on expiring contracts. Since Hayward is clearly a better player than Porter is, the Wizards would have to offer a future first-round pick in the deal as well. If LeBron James goes to the Western Conference, a Wizards team with a trio of Wall, Bradley Beal and a healthy Cousins should be one of the favorites to come out of the east.
Cousins could try to work out a sign-and-trade somewhere else but the Celtics and Wizards are the two teams that could offer the best packages back to the Pelicans. Cousins could take a mid-level exception somewhere if the Pelicans won’t facilitate a sign-and-trade, but that has almost no chance of happening.
In the end, the odds are that Cousins re-signs with the Pelicans on a short-term max money deal, allowing both parties to see how Cousins bounces back from the Achilles injury while allowing him to sign a long-term deal in a year or two. However, the Wizards should be viewed as a dark horse team that could work out a sign-and-trade deal to pair up Cousins with his Kentucky teammate Wall as the team is at a breaking point.
Check out Free Agent Deep Dive: Boogie Cousins here!