When the Los Angeles Lakers announced that they had signed DeMarcus Cousins, the list of accolades they put out in the press release was impressive.
Cousins is a four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA Second Team selection, Olympic Gold Medalist and NBA All-Rookie First Team member in 2011.
Most players with resumes like that don’t come off the bench — or become available for a $3.5 million, one-year deal — but in his introductory conference call with local media, Cousins says he doesn’t have any guarantees of being a starter.
“Honestly I’m just kind of coming in and doing whatever I can to help this team go to the next level and win games on a nightly basis. I’ll leave those decisions to the coaching staff,” Cousins said.
It sounds like the coaching staff may not have decided on the exact role they’ll use Cousins in, which makes sense considering that training camp is still months away and the team only signed him a few days ago. New Lakers head coach Frank Vogel was talking about the report that LeBron James will start at point guard when he discussed the starting lineup during an appearance on ESPN, but it’s fair to imagine his thinking extends to Cousins and the rest of the team as well.
“There are no decisions made on our starting lineup,” Vogel said. “A lot of different lineups and combinations have been discussed, but it’s really way too early for any of that.”
He’s right, especially in the case of Cousins. The increasingly svelte seven-footer may have said his quad is “100 percent” healed, but there is no way to really know where Cousins is in his recovery from that injury (or his torn Achilles) until training camp rolls around, even as much fun as it is to bandy about possible rotations for the new-and-improved Lakers.
Cousins as the starting center would re-unite him and Anthony Davis, and team them with LeBron James to create one of the most bruising front courts the league has ever seen offensively, an exhausting combination to defend around the rim that would rack up fouls and offensive rebounds like candy.
However, that frontcourt may also have defensive issues given James’ (understandable at his age) propensity to coast a bit on that end during the regular season, and the fact that Cousins may not be back to his prime levels as a rim protector, not to mention that such a combo would lack shooting to some degree.
The more interesting plan might be to leave JaVale McGee as a starter — a role he very much seemed to relish and thrive in last year when juxtaposed with his time on the bench — and then bring in Cousins (maybe alongside Kyle Kuzma) to serve as a wrecking ball for second units. Cousins is an underrated passer who still demands double teams due to his sheer size alone, and would give the Lakers a change of pace off the bench while allowing Cousins to dominate the ball and make the most of his skillset.
But again, as fun as it is to guess at how the Lakers will use Cousins and other players, Vogel is right that it’s too early to decide before seeing how training camp goes. This team needs to find which player combinations fit best together so they can be greater than the sum of their parts, and Cousins isn’t stressing about where he’ll fit in when it’s all said and done anyway.
“I come in and I control what I can control, which is my effort every night for my work ethic, etc.,” Cousins said. “That’s up to the coaching staff, and when my name is called upon I’ll be ready.”
That’s easy to say in the offseason, but if it holds true when training camp rolls around, the Lakers could theoretically have one of the most dangerous bench weapons in the league on their hands if Cousins starts to rediscover some of his old form.