Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, we kick things off with DeMarcus Cousins.
How did he play?
He didn’t. Cousins never saw the floor for the Lakers, tearing his ACL in August of 2019, just a little over a month after joining the team in free agency.
And despite there being no chance that Cousins could return from a medical perspective — ACL’s generally take a year before players are able to get back on the floor, and this was Cousins’ third serious injury to the same leg (previously rupturing his Achilles and quad) in as many years — and Cousins being caught on audio recording threatening to kill his former girlfriend, the Lakers kept him around to start the season. Frank Vogel and the team also continued to insist Cousins could possibly return by the playoffs, despite that never actually seeming to be logically possible.
By the trade deadline in February, however, the Lakers had accepted reality, cutting Cousins to make room to sign Markieff Morris off of the buyout market. Cousins was allowed to stay with the team to continue his rehab after being cut, but did not get to join them in the bubble. He is, however, eligible to receive a championship ring (it remains unknown if the Lakers will give him one, but I’d be shocked if they don’t at least offer).
So with all that said, did Cousins actually give the Lakers anything? According to members of the team, the answer is still yes, despite him not being able to get on the court. Cousins was a constant presence when the Lakers were at home, shooting around before games, sitting on the bench during them, and doing rehab in full view of the media after the team’s regular season practices.
From the sidelines, he was still able to find ways to contribute. He helped the team come up with in-game defensive adjustments. His status as a fellow star — even an injured one — allowed him to call out both Anthony Davis and LeBron James when he felt they weren’t being aggressive enough. The front office and ownership group reportedly really appreciated his presence in the locker room.
The things above may not have been what the Lakers thought Cousins’ primary value would be when they re-united him with Anthony Davis in free agency, but it’s clear the team valued him nonetheless.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
Cousins has been an unrestricted free agent since the Lakers cut him. His former Kentucky teammate John Wall publicly lobbied for his Washington Wizards to sign Cousins and let him make his return to the floor in the NBA bubble, but Cousins opted to sit out of the restart to continue to focus on his rehab rather than deliver on rumors he would re-sign with the Lakers for the postseason.
Whenever free agency begins — the NBA and NBPA are still negotiating that — Cousins will still be available to any team that wants to sign him. Considering that he’s now coming off of three serious injuries to the same leg at a listed 6’10, 275 pounds, it’s hard to imagine the market for him will be any steeper this offseason than it was last summer, when he took a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Lakers. It’s hard to see him getting any more than the veteran’s minimum this year, given the aforementioned now-lengthy injury history and size.
Will he be back?
I can’t “report” this with 100% certainty, but yes, I expect Cousins will be back, based on both behind-the-scenes whispers and publicly available information to extrapolate from, in much the same way I was certain Rajon Rondo would return last summer. Cousins is valued highly enough by James and Davis that the Lakers kept him around despite his legal battle and being out for the year, and still fought to allow him to rehab with them even after they were forced to cut him to bring in reinforcements.
Maybe I’m wrong, but him not signing with another team in the bubble was the latest suggestion that there is some sort of wink-wink understanding between him and the Lakers that they’ll give this partnership a go again next year, especially when considering how this team normally takes care of players. James and Davis badly wanted to see Cousins win a ring, and so I would be shocked if he’s not a Laker when free agency settles out again this offseason, despite the reality that he could still theoretically go anywhere else.
The good news for Lakers fans is that from the sound of things, Cousins is as motivated as ever, and feeling healthier as he tries to make his return to the floor:
We'll see if this one goes better than the last few in a few months, no matter what roster he ends up on.
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