Ever since the NBA season got delayed, offering up more time for injured players to rehab and get ready for the playoffs, many fans of the Los Angeles Lakers have been asking one simple question: Could the team sign DeMarcus Cousins for the playoffs?
The short answer, according to cap expert Eric Pincus, is yes. The Lakers or any other team could theoretically sign Cousins, who was on the Lakers’ roster this season until they cut him to make room for Markieff Morris.
(Also, ICYMI, Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters are on the Lakers now. I know a few of you, like me, definitely forgot at one point or another during this quarantine. It’s been a long time since we had basketball).
Pincus cleared up the Cousins misconception in a recent article for Bleacher Report:
A common mistake is to assume that since the Lakers cut Cousins this season, they won’t be able to re-sign him. That’s simply not the case. If rosters expand to 17 players (or if they stay at 15 and the team makes a cut), L.A. could certainly bring Cousins back for the stretch run.
Perhaps the confusion is a similar rule. Had Los Angeles traded Cousins to another team and that franchise then chose to release him, the Lakers would be barred from bringing the center back as a free agent this season.
But even if they could, would the Lakers actually bring Cousins in? According to a few insiders Pincus spoke with, the answer is... it’s possible:
“Maybe,” one Western Conference executive said.
A former executive said of Cousins and the Lakers, “That’s the only team. He respects [LeBron James], and he’s [Anthony Davis’] boy. [Other teams] don’t want that distraction. There’s a small window of time to play, and you can’t let up.”
So this is a done deal then, right? The Lakers can sign a former All-Star for nothing, and Cousins will regain his prior form, help them further transform into a juggernaut, and win his first ring?
It’s a nice story, but in practice, bringing in Cousins may be less easy than that, even if it is legal and some executives can see it happening. For one, while there was speculation about teams getting to expand their rosters to prepare for the threat of coronavirus hitting their roster, it seems that isn’t really happening, as any additions would have to replace players on currently guaranteed contracts due to illness, injury or not wanting to play in Orlando. However, replaced players could not return. That leaves the Lakers back at the reason they cut Cousins in the first place: They didn’t have room on their roster.
“But Cousins might be healthy now!” I can practically hear some of you shouting. Possibly, but when (and if) the NBA resumes on July 30, it will still have been less than a year since he tore his ACL on Aug. 15, 2019, and generally players aren’t really close to themselves after that type of injury in less than a year, and in many cases it takes longer than that to come close to their prior form. And that’s without considering whether or not Cousins has had access to the same level of rehab players would normally get while the country has been in quarantine, which is definitely not a given in our current world.
Would Cousins really hit the ground running in that situation? Even in short minutes and a reduced role, it seems unlikely.
But even if Cousins has been doing the best rehab possible while isolating and the Lakers could sign him without cutting someone, there is also the reality that for Cousins, this is now three separate injuries in the same leg. Rushing back to play for a team that has thus far been just fine in the big man department, in games that will already be sloppy and injury-prone because of this long layoff, just may not make sense for someone who might be on their last chance to prove they can stay healthy and contribute to a winning team.
There is also the matter of whether or not the Lakers would want to deal with the questions that would come with re-signing a player who faced third-degree assault allegations over a recorded phone call in which he threatened to kill his former girlfriend (the charges were later dropped). However, given that the Lakers kept Cousins around most of the year after that anyway, it’s also fair to guess that it’s likely not something the organization is concerned with.
In the end, I understand that Cousins may be technically eligible to play. I get that he used to be an All-Star, and he’s the type of big name that fans get excited about. But the reality is that he hasn’t made consistent, meaningful contributions to a team since prior to his Achilles tear in 2018, and so even if Frank Vogel never shut the door on Cousins returning this year, and even if he said the playoffs were a possibility for Cousins, the Lakers’ actions should tell you all you need to know about the information they really had. If they had Cousins in-house, working with their training and medical staff, and still decided they didn’t think he could be more helpful to them than Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters, even if he’s now unexpectedly had a extra couple months to theoretically get healthier, it’s just hard to believe he’ll be ready to help.
I know that’s not what people want to hear, and it’s not as sexy as an anonymous executive claiming Cousins could come back, but it just seems to be the most logical conclusion at this point.
And this is not me saying it’s certain that Cousins won’t be back, either. He’s close with James and Davis, and the team liked having him around enough to use a roster spot on him even though he was likely never going to play. Far more surprising things have happened, and it’s possible they give him a shot, if he’s willing to chance a return this soon. Still, I wouldn’t necessarily put money down on Boogie taking the floor for the Lakers this season just yet, for all the reasons above.