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Anxious to Make a Move, Warriors May Have Made a Mistake with Cousins

Ric Bucher@@RicBucherNBA Senior WriterJuly 3, 2018

New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins walks on the court in street clothes during the first half of Game 3 of the team's first-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in New Orleans, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Veronica Dominach)
Veronica Dominach/Associated Press

If you've ever been around Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob for any amount of time, you know that he is a fidgeter. He may sit down, but he rarely sits still. Even when standing in conversation, there is a struck-tuning-fork energy about the man.       

He oversees the Warriors with the same sort of restlessness, which sources close to the team say inspired the decision to agree to sign All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins on Monday, even though he is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and may not be available to play until midseason.

Lacob, league sources say, squirmed while his Western Conference rivals appeared to be making upgrades as the Warriors stood pat, particularly the Oklahoma City Thunder, who retained Paul George and added center Nerlens Noel. The last few years, the Warriors have struggled at times against a beefy Thunder front line led by Steven Adams, and Cousins presumably would be an ideal antidote.

Adding Cousins, though, is not the same as All-Star forward Kevin Durant coming on board as a free agent two years ago, even though public reaction via social media has portrayed it that way.

Some have euphemistically suggested the Warriors already clinched the 2019 championship with the move because it means the team could start five All-Stars. Several rival executives are also exasperated that Cousins did not at least wait for a better offer.

Here's the catch: The Warriors aren't planning to start Cousins, one league source says. They hope to convince him to come off the bench as the centerpiece of the team's second unit, thereby not disrupting their vaunted small-ball Death Lineup with Draymond Green at center that they started in the playoffs. Having been a starter his entire career, it will be interesting to see how well Cousins accepts and adapts to that role.

This also means no other significant help is on the way. The one-year, $5.3 million deal Cousins is signing burns the Warriors' luxury-tax mid-level exception and their last significant means to add a quality player.

In the short term, the Warriors are not likely to improve a bench that stood as a major liability whenever any of their core players—most notably Andre Iguodala and Stephen Curry—were injured. Nick Young is not likely to return, and 38-year-old shooting guard Jamal Crawford is not likely to join them, a league source says. That means coach Steve Kerr either will have to rely more on his core of existing All-Stars—Curry, Kevin Durant, Green and Klay Thompson—or hope to get more from two young players who were up-and-down last season, forward Jordan Bell and point guard Quinn Cook.

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 18:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors attend practice for the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 18, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Cousins' Oakland tenure is strictly an audition for the rest of the league. With this only being a one-year deal, the Warriors couldn't offer him any more next year than the same luxury-tax mid-level exception; presumably, Cousins is looking to prove that he still deserves the max-level-type contract being discussed before his injury.

Then there's the nature of Cousins' injury. While he is a four-time All-Star, at one point was arguably the best center in the league and should be entering his prime as he turns 28 in August, there is no guarantee that he will return to form—or even play again. Chauncey Billups, Mehmet Okur and Anderson Varejao all saw the same injury effectively end their careers (though they all hung on for parts of two more seasons), but they were also all in their 30s. 

Perhaps the best comparison is power forward Elton Brand, a double-double machine and two-time All-Star until he tore his Achilles at age 28. He played eight more seasons after his return but never came close to the same effectiveness or accolades.

Cousins told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated that he received no significant offers from any of the other 29 teams, but one Western Conference GM disputed that, saying he knew of at least one playoff team capable of outbidding the Warriors that was interested. The GM speculated that Cousins and his agent, Jarinn Akana, simply didn't want to risk any scrutiny of his Achilles leaving them empty-handed.

Finally, there is the combustibility of Cousins, which has resulted in jawing with several current Warriors, including Green and Durant, as well as heated exchanges with previous coaches and teammates alike. While Curry and Iguodala, most notably, celebrated the addition via Twitter, one league source says Green talked to Cousins before the deal was struck and acknowledged they'd probably have their differences and would have to find a way to put those aside for the sake of the team.

Stephen Curry @StephenCurry30

The 3rd splash Brother 😂😂😂😂😂😂😂. Let’s go @boogiecousins

Andre Iguodala @andre

Big fella!!!!

Could Cousins make the Warriors even more formidable in the postseason and lead to a third consecutive title and the fourth in five years? For sure. Is it a guarantee? Far from it.

        

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher.