It was just over five months ago that DeMarcus Cousins was making jokes about getting too much attention. He was inside a room at Staples Center overflowing with reporters and cameras and microphones. After suffering an Achilles injury in January 2018 with the Pelicans and spending almost a year off the court, Cousins had made his return to the court as a Warrior, and his game that night in late January 2019 had shown promise.
“This is probably the most fake attention I’ve ever gotten,” he said. “I don’t know how Steph and KD do it on the daily with cameras around. I don’t like it.” Boogie smiled and chuckled and was in a good mood.
The memory now feels like it belongs to a parallel universe where Cousins is still one of the best players in the league—a four-time All-Star. Instead, Cousins had an up-and-down finish to the season, suffered another injury (a torn quad) in the first round of the playoffs, and was inconsistent in the Finals when he returned from that injury. His effort to return to the court as fast as possible backfired. Against the backdrop of a league that was zooming and switching and demanding flexibility, Boogie’s injury-affected play, combined with his usual plodding style, stood out for all the wrong reasons.
For all the other teams and general managers watching, the lowlight reel must have overshadowed any positive impact Cousins could have on a team. It’s the only explanation for what has happened. Now, Cousins isn’t just a man without a team, it seems he’s a player without any suitors. Kawhi Leonard aside, he’s the biggest name that remains unsigned. But ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Tuesday that there is basically no market for Cousins, and on Wednesday morning The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported that Cousins had changed agents in the middle of free agency, hiring Jeff Schwartz of Excel Sports. As I’m writing this, news that Boban Marjanovic is getting a two-year, $7 million deal was just reported. Boban signed before Boogie.
As this year’s Warriors team stumbled, got injured, fell in the Finals, and then crumbled in free agency, no one lost out more than Boogie. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson still got their money. Every other player still has a team. Boogie’s tenure in Golden State was supposed to be a mutually beneficial agreement, but it ended up being helpful for nobody.
So where does Cousins go from here? The hard truth is that there aren’t a lot of teams and situations that make immediate sense. The Celtics, now without Al Horford, were thrown around as an option, but they recently re-signed Daniel Theis, signed Enes Kanter, and also added French center Vincent Poirier to round out their big-man rotation. Other teams that could theoretically add more talent or depth at the position are either out of cap space, too young and on a different trajectory, or play a style that doesn’t suit Boogie’s strengths.
The Spurs have been linked, at least vaguely, to Cousins. There’s little about that marriage that makes sense on paper, but maybe that’s why it should happen. San Antonio is one of the slowest teams in the league, and it needs more talent. Boogie might be a better 3-point shooter than DeMar DeRozan, so he could theoretically provide some spacing around LaMarcus Aldridge too. San Antonio is also at a crossroads, and this could be the final year before the team begins transitioning to a more youth-focused squad. So why not take a chance on Boogie? Good luck selling Pop on that idea, DeMar.
If Cousins is willing to take a veteran minimum deal, the Lakers might be interested. LeBron James and Anthony Davis have both been big Boogie supporters, and Davis has already played alongside Cousins in New Orleans. And again, in theory, Cousins would be an experienced player on a team whose starting center, if Davis doesn’t play the 5, is currently Jonathan Williams. Then again, the Lakers need guards, not another big, and while Boogie and AD have shown they can play together, is that the style Frank Vogel and LeBron want to play?
There’s a larger conversation to be had about big men in today’s NBA. In some situations, they are making a small comeback (see: the Sixers, last year’s rookie class), but for the most part, it doesn’t make sense for a team to spend a lot cap space on a prized center (see: the Rockets making Clint Capela available in trades). Boogie falls in a very specific gray area; his talent is undeniable, but so is the fact that his defense is inconsistent and his pace is, at times, glacial. If you’re not Rudy Gobert on defense, you have to be Giannis or Joel Embiid or a cheaper rim runner on offense. Right now, Boogie is none of those. He’s also still not 100 percent healthy. Next season, he’ll either show more of the same issues or start turning back into a wrecking ball on offense and become the steal of the summer. But first, he’s got to find a team that wants him.