The Lakers are continuing to add depth to their roster, this time at the center position, as DeMarcus Cousins will be joining the Lakers on a one-year deal, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:
Free agent center DeMarcus Cousins has agreed to a one-year deal with the Lakers, agent Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports tells ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
Cousins' one-year deal with the Lakers is $3.5M. https://t.co/nXaFChoG3C— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 6, 2019
That is more than the minimum, meaning that this move will eat into the Lakers’ available cap space.
Cousins and JaVale McGee, another former Warriors center, are now the two fives on the roster.
The former Kentucky Wildcat was originally expected to receive a maximum contract in the summer of 2018 before he tore his Achilles while with the New Orleans Pelicans in January of that year. After spending the first half of last season rehabbing in Golden State, Cousins played 30 games to close out the year and appeared to be asserting himself as a free agent target once more before injuring his calf during Game 2 of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
Cousins rejoined the Warriors during the NBA Finals and showed some offensive burst during the two Golden State wins. However, his defensive limitations were laid bare and he only really made his mark for the Warriors in the games when Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant went down with injuries.
As a result, Cousins’ market this offseason was more tepid than he and his camp might have been expected, especially once the Warriors were hard-capped through the sign-and-trade for D’Angelo Russell. That allowed the Lakers to swoop in for what has to be a fairly cheap deal, given the other contracts they have already committed to for next year’s team.
Cousins is still a prodigious offensive threat. He is an excellent passer for a center, has the ball-handling to create for himself from all over the floor, and can bully opposing bigs with his bulk and post skill. He has certainly lost a step from his injuries, but during the regular season last year, Cousins averaged 22.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 5.0 assists per 36 minutes on a 56.2% true shooting percentage. He had a 111.0 offensive rating, per NBA.com, while the Lakers as a team were at 107.4 points per 100 possessions.
It’s on the other end of the floor that Cousins shouldn’t be expected to contribute. His best skill as a post defender has historically been his willingness to take charges, but he doesn’t have the lateral mobility to get good position anymore. He is probably best served as the offensive hub of a second unit to minimize his defensive impact.
Cousins and Davis were previously teammates with the Pelicans in 2017-18. Per Bill Oram of The Athletic, New Orleans faired well in their minutes together.
Ok... So in 2017-18, the Pelicans had an offensive rating of 108.9 and defensive rating of 103.6 when Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were on the floor together.— Bill Oram (@billoram) July 6, 2019
However, it’s disingenuous to believe that Cousins is the same player he was back with the Pelicans after his Achilles and calf injuries. The Lakers aren’t signing him because they believe he is still an All-Star level talent. However, at this price and in this role, Cousins can contribute as a backup and the Lakers can go small — or prioritize McGee — on the nights that Cousins doesn’t have it.
This is a reasonable gamble to take, especially considering Cousins’ friendships with Davis and Rajon Rondo. The Lakers significantly upgraded their talent by signing Cousins, and it should be fun to watch him take his place on what is now one of the more physical frontcourts in the NBA.