EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — After Lakers shootaround on Friday morning, an increasingly familiar sight was visible on one of the team’s two practice courts: DeMarcus Cousins, draining jumpers as he continues to rehab from a torn ACL he suffered in August.
From near the right elbow, Cousins drained one, then two, then three, then four jumpers in a row. After moving to a spot on the right baseline, same thing: One, two, three, four.
Cousins going through such drills after the team is done with a practice or shootaround has been relatively common this season, as has the sight of him on the bench. This comes as part of the team’s efforts to keep Cousins feeling like he’s part of the team, and after Frank Vogel previously said that the Lakers weren’t closing the door on a possible return for Cousins.
Vogel provided an update about Cousins on Friday, and said that the center had recently been cleared for “a little bit of light warmup stuff” by the training staff.
“But that’s just like light jogging and those types of things. There is still a long way to go,” Vogel cautioned, but he added that he thinks there is also still a chance of Cousins coming back.
”As far as I know he’s still on track. He’s still a possibility to play this year, but I can’t really go into more detail,” Vogel said.
The Lakers are clearly trying to do right by Cousins — who is close with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Rajon Rondo, all powerful voices in the locker room — but the reality is that considering when his injury happened (August) and what is now a history of lower-body injuries, it seems exceedingly unlikely he will (or should) return this season.
“The research shows that the average return to play in the NBA after an ACL rupture is roughly 10 months, which would be a return date in June for Cousins,” said Dr. Rajpal Brar, who has a doctorate in Physical Therapy and does injury analysis for this website, the Laker Film Room YouTube Channel, his 3CB Performance business and other platforms.
“In a normal case with a player who didn’t have a significant injury history like Cousins, I’d say there’s a reasonable chance the player could beat that timeline and be back sooner, potentially in May for the start of playoffs,” Brar said, but due to the factors mentioned above and others, Cousins is not a normal case.
“However, Cousins is coming off an Achilles rupture and partial quadriceps rupture on the same leg so, if anything, that return timeline will tend to get pushed out past 10 months, rather than sooner. Further underlying that point is the fact that Cousins ruptured the ACL on a simple maneuver — literally pushing off that leg for a layup — which hints at significant underlying deficits,” Brar said.
There is also the reality that the Lakers — who at 27-7 have the best record in the Western Conference — have been just fine without Cousins. Dwight Howard has been a revelation since being brought in, and he and JaVale McGee have combined to form a tandem that Vogel has credited with giving the Lakers “All-Star level” production. They’ve done well enough that Howard has even racked up some All-Star votes for himself, owing in part to his play, but also his nearly unbelievable redemption narrative.
With all of those factors being considered, it’s doubtful — depending on how healthy and effective McGee and Howard stay, obviously — how Cousins could be better than what the Lakers have now, while theoretically playing in the NBA Finals in his first competitive basketball in nearly a year. With his history of injuries, it just doesn’t make sense for him or the team to risk his future by having him suit up. There is always the chance he just really wants to play and do his part to try and get a ring, but it’s also worth acknowledging that there are a lot of factors that make such an outcome unlikely.
We’ll keep monitoring this as Vogel provides updates on it, but don’t expect an imminent return, or (most likely) any return at all from Cousins this season.
Dr. Rajpal Brar has a doctorate in physical therapy from Northern Arizona University, and runs his own sports medicine and performance business, 3CB Performance, in West LA and Valencia, CA. He also works at a hospital — giving him experience with patients in the immediate healthcare setting and neurological patients (post stroke, post brain injury) — and has been practicing for 1.5 years. Brar is additionally training at UCLA’s mindful awareness research center (MARC), and analyzes the Lakers from a medical perspective for Silver Screen and Roll and Laker Film Room.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.