The Los Angeles Lakers, by all outward appearances, will have a championship-caliber roster for the 2019-20 NBA season.
The chief reasons why are that they pulled off a blockbuster trade for Anthony Davis, then signed two-time NBA champion and defensive ace Danny Green, as well as several other strong 3-point shooters.
But one free agent signing could be the difference between the Lakers merely being one of the favorites to win the NBA championship versus becoming the prohibitive favorites to do so by the end of the regular season: DeMarcus Cousins.
It wasn’t long ago that Cousins was considered the best true center in the NBA. As a member of the Sacramento Kings, he averaged 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 blocks per game in the 2014-15 season. That year he was voted onto the All-NBA Second Team, an honor he also received the following season.
After being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans midway through the 2016-17 season, he was starting to develop some good chemistry with Davis. But then disaster struck the following season when he tore his Achilles.
The Golden State Warriors took a flyer on Cousins a year ago when there was virtually no market for him, and in 30 regular-season games this past season, he showed some spark by putting up 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 25.7 minutes.
Then he tore his quad muscle in the first round of the playoffs. He returned during the NBA Finals perhaps a little ahead of schedule, but looked limited both physically and in terms of his overall production.
Once again, there was no market for Cousins this offseason, but the Lakers decided to take a chance on him. As a result, he will have another chance to resurrect his career, not to mention win an NBA championship.
If Cousins is nothing more than a decent backup center at this point of his career, the Lakers could still win the league title on the strength of their star power and ample depth. However, there is no clear-cut favorite to win the championship this upcoming season, unlike in recent seasons when teams like the Warriors and Miami Heat were installed as prohibitive favorites before training camp even started.
But if Cousins shrugs off both injuries and simply plays at the level he did in the regular season for the Warriors, it would be a huge boon for a team that hasn’t been a title contender since then-head coach Phil Jackson resigned after the 2011 playoffs.
As presently constituted, the Lakers have plenty of footspeed between Davis, LeBron James, Javale McGee, Kyle Kuzma and Avery Bradley. They appear to have plenty of dependable 3-point shooting. Both are considered integral prerequisites to winning in the modern NBA.
But Cousins can give the team a legitimate widebody big man. The Lakers should be a strong fast break and early offense team, but when the game slows down, a spry Cousins will be a huge matchup advantage that most teams will have trouble dealing with. The Lakers can simply get the ball to Cousins on the block and expect him to get them a score as a featured offensive option in their halfcourt game.
He will also be a nice complement and contrast to the rest of the roster, which is comprised mostly of finesse-oriented players.
If Cousins returns to form, the Lakers will likely have the best frontcourt in the league. The Los Angeles Clippers, who lack serviceable size up front, will have lots of problems trying to neutralize the Lakers’ offensive power in the paint. Perhaps only the Philadelphia 76ers have the size and length to deal with a Lakers team that possesses a healthy and productive Cousins.
With training camp less than two months away, this should be, pardon the cliché, the chance of a lifetime for Cousins to re-establish himself and change the narrative of his career.