This may surprise some, but there is more to winning games and championships than simply putting together a bunch of talented players together on the same team.
Now that the dust has settled from the news that DeMarcus Cousins is joining the Golden State Warriors on a one-year, $5.3 million deal, we can now properly assess how he fits in with the defending NBA champions.
He doesn’t need any introduction to NBA fans anymore, but let us first discuss the man in the center of this all, DeMarcus Cousins.
Boogie Cousins is arguably the best center in the NBA today. He can bully opponents down on the post, but he can also attack from the perimeter and shoot from the outside. The former University of Kentucky Wildcat also has great ball-handling skills and vision for a big man. There is virtually nothing that Cousins cannot do on the offensive end. The problems lie in the nuances of how he plays and his off-court behavior.
Throughout his stay with the Sacramento Kings, Cousins was plagued with issues surrounding how he got along with his teammates and coaches. And even if things seemed better for Cousins during his time with the New Orleans Pelicans, the fact that they were not keen on offering a contract anywhere near what he wanted does say something.
As physically gifted as he is, Cousins tends to provide inconsistent effort in games (either to preserve his stamina or simply out of habit), particularly on defense. He constantly loses track of his man, he does not offer much as a help defender, and sometimes he just plainly does not get back down on defense. He also doesn’t seem to have the stamina and quickness to participate in the Warriors’ switch-heavy defensive schemes.
These shortcomings will be even more emphasized in Golden State’s fast-paced style, and under the watchful eye of the expanded audience that playing with the Warriors brings. When we think of the Warriors, we think of a beautiful offensive machine that generates open shots and is unstoppable in transition. But what many forget to appreciate is that their discipline and versatility on defense is as much a part of their identity as their offense.
And for all his offensive talent, Cousins’ fit within Golden State’s offensive system is questionable due to three main things; His propensity to hold the ball for prolonged stretches, his love for posting up, and his tendency to commit careless turnovers. The first two are things that run counter to Golden State’s offensive principles, the last is already their greatest weakness.
There were several points in last year’s playoffs — particularly during the Western Conference Finals series against the Houston Rockets that went 7 games — when the media and the fans questioned how much Durant’s tendency to isolate and hold the ball sabotaged the Warriors’ offensive flow. Things will be much worse with Cousins if he continues to play the way he has for his career.
We have not even touched on Cousins’ injury. He is coming off a torn Achilles tendon. There are not many players who have recovered from that injury and got close to what they were prior to the injury. Add in the fact that any kind of foot injury that happen to big men have historically either diminished their abilities or consistently persisted, and the prospect of seeing DeMarcus Cousins perform the way he was before the injury seems a lot more grim.
And while some may applaud the Warriors for being able to convince Cousins to accept a major pay-cut to play for them for at least one year, there really is no long-term benefit with this move for them.
In Cousins’ perspective, given that there were reportedly hardly any lucrative offers for him because of his injury, only Golden State made sense to go to on a short-term/one-year deal. Given the team’s talent, the Warriors would be in no rush to bring him back to action and would allow him to take his time in recovering. And even when he returns to action, he would not have to carry the team anymore, thus easing the mental and physical toll on himself. And lastly, being on the Warriors — winners of three of the last four NBA championships — theoretically gives him the best chance of winning a ring. If he does, then he won’t have to carry the burden that a lot of past and present NBA stars have to carry for the rest of their lives for never winning a title. And after all that, if he does get to return to anywhere near his pre-injury form, Cousins will be able to test the free agent market once again in search of that (potentially last) big-money contract he initially wanted this year.
Things don’t look as rosy for the Warriors moving forward. Even without any major signings, they were already favorites to win the championship anyway. Signing a player with so many question marks at this point in his career may become a lose-lose situation for them.
The first risk is that Cousins plays poorly due to the effects of the injury or that he doesn’t mesh well with the system and culture of Golden State. Even if Golden State’s management or coaching staff does decide to bench him for these reasons, Cousins will surely disapprove of the move. And an unhappy DeMarcus Cousins is something the Warriors do not want in their locker room — especially after the reported issues that they faced during their championship run last season.
The next risk is that Cousins plays well. Because if he does, he will surely command max or near-max money on a long-term contract next summer. Since Cousins will be coming off a one-year contract, the current CBA only allows teams to re-sign players coming off one-year deals to 120 percent of their previous contract (around $6.4 million in this case). There is no way a healthy DeMarcus Cousins will agree to that.
The best-case scenario is that the Warriors essentially gift DeMarcus Cousins a championship ring — a ring that they were probably going to get with or without him anyway — and then he leaves to chase the money he wants (and deserves). The worst-case scenario is that the dynamic of having Cousins on and off the court causes the Warriors to implode, ending their dynasty as we know it.
Getting another All-Star to play for a team already with four is good for optics and for making headlines, but a closer look at the context of the deal, the player, and the team reveals more risks than it seems. As they say, it is bad to have too much of a good thing. And while the Warriors may very well win another championship next season, for the first time since their first title win in 2015, they may be taking on a gamble with risks that outweigh the benefits.
(Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)