The New Orleans Pelicans swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs without the injured DeMarcus Cousins, and they have reportedly considered offering the big man a short-term deal instead of a max offer.
Zach Lowe of ESPN.com reported the news, noting, "The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max" following his season-ending Achilles tear in January.
"I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins' camp," Lowe wrote. "But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him."
This is a change from what Lowe reported was a "consensus around the league" the Pelicans would offer the Kentucky product a five-year max deal in the immediate aftermath of his injury in part because they didn't want to lose a superstar without much return. However, the report points out there aren't expected to be many suitors for Cousins' service after the injury, changing the equation in negotiations.
Without Cousins on the floor, the Pelicans went with a faster lineup against Portland with Anthony Davis at center and shooters spacing the floor around him. The spacing not only gave Davis more room to operate and cut to the basket, it created driving lanes for Jrue Holiday—who averaged a head-turning 27.8 points and 6.5 assists per game in the series.
While Cousins is an accurate shooter for a big man, he can't consistently space the floor or provide the defensive versatility Nikola Mirotic does. Mirotic shot 37.7 percent from three this season for the Pelicans and Chicago Bulls, while Cousins is a 33.8 percent three-point shooter in his career.
There is also the question of whether Cousins can return to the dominant big man he was before the setback, and Lowe called the sample size of those who return to full strength after rupturing their Achilles "practically nonexistent."
That's not to diminish Cousins as one of the most talented frontcourt players in the NBA. He is a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA second-team selection who averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.6 steals per game this season.
He stuffs the stat sheet and can facilitate the offense from the top of the key, score on the blocks and protect the rim on defense. Re-signing him would also give the Pelicans two superstar building blocks in Davis and Cousins as they look to compete against the likes of the loaded Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in the Western Conference even if there are lingering concerns.
Cousins is set to be an unrestricted free agent following the season, per Spotrac, meaning the Pelicans' decision-making will be put to the test soon.