On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers were dealt some bad news: DeMarcus Cousins suffered a leg injury in a workout in Las Vegas earlier this week, with Shams Charania of The Athletic reporting that it is a torn ACL.
If so, Cousins will likely miss the entire 2019-20 season.
DeMarcus Cousins -- a four-time NBA All-Star -- will undergo final tests that are expected to confirm the torn ACL diagnosis, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA @Stadium. https://t.co/L04AgnBG1d- Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) August 15, 2019
Cousins only signed a one-year, $3.4 million contract with the Lakers this offseason, but he was expected to compete with JaVale McGee for a spot in the starting lineup alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis. He had the potential to put the Lakers over the edge, being a four-time All-Star with career averages of 21.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
With that in mind, how does his reported injury impact the Lakers?
More minutes for Anthony Davis at centre
Boogie's injury opens up more minutes for Davis to play at centre next season, more out of necessity, less by choice.
Davis is at his best when he's playing centre, but he much prefers playing power forward. He made that clear when the Lakers officially introduced him to the team in July.
"I like playing the 4," Davis said at his press conference. "I'm not even going to sugarcoat it. I like playing the 4. I don't really like playing the 5.
"If it comes down to it, coach, and you need me to play the 5, then I'll play the 5."
Davis' preference is likely why the Lakers pursued Cousins in the first place. It helped that the two have been teammates before - they played alongside each other in 2016-17 and 2017-18 as members of the Pelicans. According to Basketball-Reference, Davis logged 42 percent of his minutes at power forward over the two seasons Cousins was in New Orleans.
For comparison, with Cousins in Golden State, only 4 percent of Davis' minutes came at power forward last season.
A bigger role for JaVale McGee
The reason the Lakers will need Davis to play more centre is that JaVale McGee is their only other option at the position right now.
Outside of them, the Lakers are basically looking at LeBron James and Jared Dudley to fill in for Cousins at the five.
The Lakers could do much worse than McGee - he's one of the league's most athletic centers and best shot blockers - but historically, he hasn't been someone who can be relied on to play big minutes. The 2018-19 season was only the third time in his 11-year career that he's averaged more than 20 minutes per game, and he only played 30 or more minutes in 11 games.
Furthermore, the Lakers struggled on both ends when McGee was on the court last season despite him averaging a career-high 12.0 points to go along with 7.5 rebounds per game. According to NBA.com, teams outscored them by 4.4 points per 100 possessions with him in the lineup. With him on the bench, they were an ever-so-slight positive (+0.1).
The Lakers can't afford for that to be the case again next season.
A sobering free agent market
The Lakers could turn to the free agent market to sign a centre, either as a means to allow Davis to play his preferred position or to take some of the pressure off of McGee.
The problem is there aren't many centres available at this point of the offseason. Nene and Joakim Noah are at the top of the list, followed by Amir Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, Marcin Gortat and Salah Mejri.
The Lakers are otherwise hoping for a better centre to be waived or bought out, such as Dwight Howard, who was traded to the Memphis Grizzlies this offseason and doesn't fit into their short or long-term plans. There's just not knowing if and when he or someone else in his position will be bought out.
Another option for the Lakers? Carmelo Anthony.
While he's not a centre, Anthony has been linked to the Lakers before, mostly due to his relationship with James. Anthony obviously isn't the player he once was - he wouldn't still be a free agent if he was - but he might be able to make up for some of the loss of Cousins with his scoring ability.
Kyle Kuzma's development
There was already pressure on Kuzma to step up this season, but there are now even more shots up for grabs with Cousins being sidelined.
At his peak, Cousins averaged close to 20 field goal attempts per game. He even got them up in Golden State last season to the tune of 17.3 field goal attempts per 36 minutes, a number that was only slightly below his career average.
With the Lakers signing mostly specialists this offseason - Quinn Cook, Avery Bradley, Danny Green and Troy Daniels to name a few - Kuzma is best suited for an increased role. He's embracing the opportunity as well, with him telling ESPN's Ohm Youngmisuk that he believes he can be the third star James and Davis need.
It would certainly ease the pain of losing Cousins if he does.
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