Unlike LeBron James and Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins doesn't have a player option in his contract for next season, meaning the four-time All-Star is guaranteed to be a free agent when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.
Cousins is one of the most dominant big men in the NBA at full strength. Prior to tearing his Achilles on Jan. 26, he led all centres in points, assists, steals, field goals made, 3-pointers made and free throws made this season. Cousins was also third behind Andre Drummond and DeAndre Jordan in total rebounds. The problem is he missed the final 34 games of the season and all of the postseason, and it's still unknown when he'll be able to return from an injury expected to keep him sidelined for six to eight months.
Despite his injury, a number of teams will be looking to sign Cousins as a free agent this offseason. From the Mavericks to the Wizards, let's take at which ones make the most sense for him.
The only centres the Mavericks have under contract for next season are Dirk Nowitzki and Maxi Kleber. That could change depending on who they select with the No. 5 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft - Mohamed Bamba and Jaren Jackson Jr. could both be available at that range - but the Mavericks will also have the option of finding their big man of the future in free agency.
Dallas has pursued All-Star centres before, so it's no surprise they've been linked to Cousins in the lead-up to free agency. Even though they're coming off of a season in which they won 24 games, they have some intriguing pieces already in place that could put them in position to compete for a spot in the playoffs with a dominant force like Cousins on-board. His ability to space the floor from the centre position would open up driving lanes for Dennis Smith Jr. and he'd take the scoring burden off of Harrison Barnes, who has been tasked with averaging nearly 20 points per game since becoming the No. 1 option on the Mavericks in 2016.
If Cousins is ultimately looking to be the face of a franchise again, the Mavericks might be his best bet this offseason.
Los Angeles Lakers
In a world where the Lakers aren't able to sign LeBron James and/or Paul George, they could turn to the next tier of free agents, headlined by Cousins.
Cousins would replace Brook Lopez in the starting lineup for the Lakers. The difference is Cousins is a far superior player than Lopez on both ends of the court, having averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game this season.
With those numbers, Cousins would relieve Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma of having to carry a Lakers team that ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency this season. It would, however, come at a cost. Whereas Lopez had a usage rating of 23.5 percent this season, Cousins' stood at 31.9 percent, giving him the fourth-highest mark in the league behind James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Joel Embiid.
If Cousins can make a full recovery, his ball dominance wouldn't be a problem for the Lakers because he greatly could accelerate their growth. If he can't, it could stunt the growth of their younger players, assuming the Lakers don't move some of them to surround Cousins with more established veterans.
Regardless, Cousins is a multi-time All-Star and arguably the most talented center in the league when healthy. Signing him would bring some much-needed star power back to Los Angeles.
The Wizards don't have the cap space to sign Cousins outright, but a sign-and-trade with the Pelicans remains a possibility if the two sides can come to an agreement that benefits them both.
One option would be trading Cousins to Wizards in a deal centred around Otto Porter Jr. While Porter isn't close to being the perennial All-Star Cousins is, he's developed into a versatile defender and an elite 3-point shooter. (Porter has knocked down an average of 1.8 3-pointers per game at a 43.7 percent clip over the last two seasons, making him one of the best spot-up shooters in the league). Sliding him into the starting lineup alongside Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis would therefore give the Pelicans the 3-and-D wing they've been looking for.
For Cousins, suiting up for the Wizards would give him an opportunity to play with John Wall again. The two were teammates in their lone season at Kentucky and they form a natural pairing on the court, with Wall being an elite pick-and-roll scorer and Cousins being the rare centre who is as comfortable picking-and-popping as he is picking-and-rolling. Cousins would be able to help Bradley Beal, too, both as a pick-and-roll partner and a capable playmaker with the ball in his hands who can take some of the attention away from him when he isn't sharing the court with Wall.
The combination could be what the Wizards need to take the next step following years of falling short in the postseason.
New Orleans Pelicans
Cousins and Anthony Davis still haven't played much together. Cousins only appeared in 17 games after the Pelicans acquired him at the trade deadline last season and 48 games this season. Their record stood 27-21 when Cousins went down with his injury in 2017-18, but they had won seven of their last eight games - three of which came against playoff teams - with their starting center averaging a near triple-double at the time.
The question now is whether or not that's enough for New Orleans to believe the best is yet to come for Cousins and Davis, the alternative being letting Cousins walk to double down on the team that swept the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs and put up a good fight against the Warriors in the second round. The Pelicans already have around $85 million committed to Jrue Holiday, Nikola Mirotic, Solomon Hill, E'Twaun Moore and Davis for next season, limiting their options improve their roster through free agency if they do move on from Cousins.
If they don't move on from Cousins, the Pelicans can run it back with the same team that finished last season and ease him back into the rotation in the hopes that he and Davis can get it rolling again for the playoffs. What remains to be seen is how much the Pelicans are willing to offer Cousins given the circumstances.
The Cavaliers, because of LeBron James. Similar to Paul George, this probably isn't an option if LeBron leaves in free agency. They would form a terrifying one-two punch, though.
The Trail Blazers, because of similar reasons as the Wizards. Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Cousins would make for a dynamic trio in Portland. The problem is the Blazers don't have the cap space to sign Cousins as a free agent, so a sign-and-trade is the only option. Would the Pelicans want Evan Turner, Moe Harkless, Meyers Leonard and/or Al-Farouq Aminu in return for Cousins? If not, they'd struggle to match salaries without including McCollum.
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