Best Landing Spots for DeMarcus Cousins After Reported Houston Rockets Release

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2021

Best Landing Spots for DeMarcus Cousins After Reported Houston Rockets Release

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    DeMarcus Cousins is available. Again.

    Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Tuesday the Houston Rockets are releasing the four-time All-Star as they attempt to go smaller and younger up front. It isn't yet clear how much interest Cousins will garner, whether he'll be claimed off waivers or wind up on the open market. The cachet attached to his name far outstrips the influence he has on the court.

    While he's only 30, Cousins has a torn left Achilles tendon, left quad and left ACL in his rearview since January 2018. In 25 appearances with the Rockets, he averaged 9.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists while knocking down just 42.6 percent of his twos and 33.6 percent of his threes. His defense is an issue if he's tasked with doing more than planting himself around the basket.

    No team is going to scoop up Cousins with the hope he's its missing piece. That ship has sailed. He hasn't sniffed fringe stardom since the Achilles injury in 2018.

    For the time being, Cousins would be most valuable to a team starved for depth up front. He can still snare boards, potentially drain trailer threes and punish mismatches in the post. His best landing spots were delivered with all this in mind.

    And just so we're clear: These suggestions do not amount to endorsements. They're merely the destinations with the most incentive to roll the dice on the player Boogie is right now.

Honorable Mention: Los Angeles Lakers

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    Troy Taormina/Associated Press

    The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor initially reported the Los Angeles Lakers would be in on DeMarcus Cousins if he hit the market. That interest seemed to gain steam after they created a roster spot by waiving Quinn Cook.

    Or maybe not.

    The Lakers aren't expected to go after Cousins, according to the Los Angeles Times' Dan Woike and Broderick Turner. This makes sense.

    Anthony Davis may be on the shelf with a strained right calf, but the Lakers have plenty of options in the interim. Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris-at-the-5 arrangements should do the trick.

    Things will change if it looks like Davis will remain out over the long term—as in well past the All-Star break. To what end, though? Davis is going to return at some point, and when he does, Cousins would become something more than superfluous for a team with two other viable center options that figures to close the most important games with AD at the 5.

    Some might argue Cousins would be an upgrade over the 36-year-old Gasol. That's extreme. He may be younger, but his health bill isn't pristine. Gasol is still the smarter defender and hitting his threes at a higher clip. Cousins has not been nearly efficient enough in the post, as a rim-runner or as a pick-and-pop weapon to plug in to those minutes.

    And yet, the Lakers are the Lakers. They'll always be linked to bigger names who don't cost pretty pennies. The offense has also been a nightmare in the minutes logged without both Davis and LeBron James on the court.

    Conceptually, at least, Cousins would give them a much-needed shot creator to weather those stints—especially while Dennis Schroder is out of commission.

Boston Celtics

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    Jose Juarez/Associated Press

    Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge is on record saying his team needs "shooting with size." Another big is probably not what he's thinking. The Celtics are wafer thin on the wings, and he mentioned that anyone they get needs to be an active defensive participant.

    Cousins doesn't check either box. But Boston will be hard-pressed to find someone who does.

    Two-way wings aren't available in droves, and the Celtics don't necessarily have the incentive to go for broke on the trade market unless the player they're acquiring would be assured a spot in their most common closing unit—which, at full strength, has four spots accounted for with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

    Acquiring Cousins would be more of a stab-in-the-dark upside play. The Tristan Thompson signing hasn't panned out, and while Cousins doesn't mirror his switchability, he would shore up the team's defensive rebounding and scoring dynamism. The offense is floundering when one of Brown or Tatum takes a seat.

    Landing Cousins would also allow the Celtics to more freely shop Thompson, who looms as their best salary-matching anchor in prospective trades. And he wouldn't command as much guaranteed playing time, which would pave the way for Robert Williams III to assume a larger role.

    Boston is already rolling out dual-big lineups with Thompson and Daniel Theis. It has even toyed with using Grant Williams as the 3. If that's a path the Celtics want to continue to follow, adding another 5 who might be able to space the floor and attack closeouts would be worthwhile.

Dallas Mavericks

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    Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

    I am not contractually obligated to include the Dallas Mavericks as a possible destination for all available bigs. Promise.

    Going after Cousins is different from entering the Andre Drummond non-sweepstakes. The equity required isn't anywhere near as steep. Cousins won't be on the books for $28.7 million or cost Dallas any assets beyond the creation of a roster spot.

    The fit isn't perfect. The Mavericks rank 27th in points allowed per 100 possessions, and Cousins won't remedy their core issue: rim protection. Opponents are shooting 67.8 percent at the basket against Dallas (28th), a mark that barely improves during Kristaps Porzingis' minutes (67 percent).

    Still, Cousins can pitch in on the glass. The Mavericks are 20th in defensive rebounding rate—not to mention 26th at the offensive end—and none of their bigs pace inside the 60th percentile of defensive rebounding efficiency. Cousins' numbers are inflated by a smaller sample and Houston's own frontcourt limitations, but he has never finished lower than the 82nd percentile in defensive rebounding rate.

    Adding him would also be an attempt at diversifying the offense. Dallas doesn't have anyone to consistently punish mismatches in the post—aside from Luka Doncic. Porzingis' efficiency in these situations has climbed, but he's not what you would call a bankable option.

    Nor is Cousins, for that matter. He's shooting just 42.9 percent on post-ups. But he has a track record of being more useful on the block, even post-injuries. He brings a combination of brute force and dexterity the Mavericks won't get from any of their other bigs.

    Just how useful Cousins might be is debatable. Playing him in tandem with Porzingis is probably a non-option, and he'll need to hit more than 33 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes regardless of the lineup composition. But unless the Mavericks are married to minutes from Willie Cauley-Stein or Dwight Powell, Cousins' arrival would qualify as an ultra-low risk.

San Antonio Spurs

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    Michael Wyke/Associated Press

    Any big man with crafty post moves and exceptional vision used to be billed as a no-brainer fit for the San Antonio Spurs. Times have changed.

    The Spurs are no longer as hard-wired to grind out plays on offense. They are younger and more twitchy on the wings, and they rank fifth in average possession time after grabbing a defensive rebound, according to Inpredictable. Cousins is not a natural fit for that mold.

    LaMarcus Aldridge's right hip injury makes it easier to overlook the stylistic mismatch. He might be on track to return soon, but his defense has dropped off and the rotation isn't flush with other bigs. San Antonio isn't inclined to lean on Trey Lyles, which leaves Jakob Poeltl, Drew Eubanks and, occasionally, Rudy Gay-at-the-5 arrangements.

    Perhaps that's enough. The Spurs look more aesthetically pleasing when they're rolling without Aldridge, and Cousins isn't built to play at a higher speed.

    But he will throw more outlets off defensive rebounds, so he shouldn't compromise the pace within the second unit. And he can, at least in theory, replace aspects of Aldridge's role—mainly his post-ups and pick-and-pops.

Toronto Raptors

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Cousins is a natural flier for any team that appears desperate for size.

    Enter the Toronto Raptors.

    Andre Drummond has reportedly caught their attention, as Shams Charania wrote for The Athletic. Pivoting to Cousins would be substantially cheaper. Drummond's $28.7 million salary is difficult for pretty much every team to match via trade, but Toronto's priciest expendable player is probably Aron Baynes, who's on the books for only $7 million. Even if you consider Norman Powell nonessential, he's earning $10.9 million.

    Cousins doesn't perfectly mimic the idea of Drummond. Then again, Drummond himself doesn't live up to the idea of Drummond. His rim protection is adequate, not elite, and he's vastly overrated as a roll man. He's shooting just 43.2 percent as the diver this season, and nobody has underperformed their expected scoring totals inside 10 feet more since 2013-14, per The Athletic's Seth Partnow.

    Drummond no doubt offers better mobility and superior hands at the defensive end. That's not enough to pounce at the chance of what would likely be a three-for-one trade. He is a much more sensible addition if he hits the buyout market.

    Emphasis on if. Drummond might not get there. And if he does, the Raptors aren't guaranteed to get him. Cousins is cheap and available. Immediacy matters.

    So too does the outline of his offensive skill set. Cousins isn't drilling his threes at a high clip, but he can still pop off screens. His pump-and-drive game unfolds in slower motion, but he can still attempt it. His passing ability persists. He'd definitely beef up Toronto's 29th-ranked defensive rebounding attack.

    If nothing else, Cousins might bolster a center rotation that seems itching to spare Pascal Siakam from the rigors of playing the 5. OG Anunoby guards plenty of bigs when they populate the frontcourt—and took the opening tip in the Raptors' Feb. 21 win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Siakam-Chris Boucher combination isn't getting it done on the glass. And Baynes has been nearly reliable enough from day to day.

    Maybe Cousins won't be an upgrade or substantially augment any of the 4-5 combinations the Raptors are running out. It still wouldn't hurt to have a look.

             

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass and accurate entering games on Feb. 18. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.