In the most millennial of methods, DeMarcus Cousins indicated via Instagram that he will likely sign with whoever offers him a max contract during the offseason. While it might seem obvious, the fact that he tore his Achilles in January means he might have a problem - there aren’t many teams with significant cap room to give him the max.
Two of teams who do have cap room, the Sacramento Kings and Philadelphia 76ers, won’t come calling for obvious reasons (his Sacramento history and the presence of Joel Embiid, respectively). Using contract numbers from Eric Pincus at Basketball Insiders, here’s a look at who might actually offer Boogie a maximum starting salary of $30.3 million, based on an assumption of a reported $101 million salary cap by the NBA.
Los Angeles Lakers
Current cap space projection: $46.2-$59.9 million
LA’s craving for a splash signing might be Cousins’ best bet since they’ve been planning around this summer for a while. The projection depends on their non-guaranteed contracts and cap holds for their own free agents, specifically Julius Randle’s restricted status. They could add $9.8 million more in cap room should they use the stretch provision on Luol Deng’s contract. Trading away this year’s first-round pick would also provide the estimated $60.6 million needed to sign Cousins along with Paul George, but stretching out Deng’s salary over five years is needed to pair LeBron James with one of them.
The fact that George shares the same agent as Randle could mean choosing the younger and cheaper big man. However, the timing of any offer sheet Randle signs with another team could also force their hand. If they strike out on George and James, adding the offensive abilities of Cousins to make life easier for Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma makes sense as a consolation prize. However, they could opt to keep enough room for Southern California native Kawhi Leonard next summer.
Current cap space projection: $25.4-$31.3 million
Dallas may seem like a surprising suitor since Cousins isn’t the high-flying, shot blocking type that they’ve repeatedly tried to pair with Dirk Nowitzki like Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan or Nerlens Noel. However, as the future Hall of Famer nears the end of his career, the offense could transition towards revolving around Cousins’ cadre of skills; post moves, shooting and passing. Rick Carlisle has proven that he can scheme an effective defense around a limited defensive big man in the past as Cousins has shown lapses on that end of the court.
Like I'm playin' for the Mavericks. (Photo by Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images)
The Mavericks have executed continual salary cap acrobatics via declining Nowitzki’s team option and re-signing him to a cheaper deal, and that would be needed again to clear room for a max contract, along with the waiving of two of their three non-guaranteed contracts and renouncing their free agents. Dallas signed Wesley Matthews in 2015, showing they're not afraid of giving a huge contract to someone returning from a ruptured Achilles, and as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out, they have a large history with Jarinn Akana, the agent for Cousins and his brother Jaleel (who played for the Mavericks’ G League team).
Current cap space projection: $24.3-$38.3 million
Consider this one a long shot. Besides the fact that Chicago is still rebuilding, Zach LaVine’s $9.6 million cap hold as a restricted free agent keeps them from having quite enough room without moving some contracts around. Yes, pairing Cousins with impressive rookie Lauri Markkanen on the front line could form a nice inside-outside scoring tandem, but a team that’s not ready to contend probably doesn’t need to risk a 28-year old coming off a major injury dominating touches as it develops its young core. I’d expect them to keep their books clear until at least next year when they can move on from Robin Lopez and Omer Asik.
Kawhi to Chicago perhaps?
Current cap space projection: $19.1-$33.9 million
Welcome to Atlanta? (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Atlanta is in a similar situation to Chicago but with an even more precarious fit with promising rookie big man John Collins. Cousins could provide some sorely needed scoring for the NBA's 26th ranked offense, but they’re not close to contending as rookie coach Lloyd Pierce takes over this rebuilding project. They would need Dewayne Dedmon and Mike Muscala to decline their player options, which... good luck. The idea of Cousins getting mad at Dennis Schroder for a lack of quality passes is fun to think about, so... maybe?
Current cap space projection: $5.9-$51.2 million
As you can see in that huge range of possible cap space, Indiana is the real wild card in free agency. Thaddeus Young’s $13.8 million player option is a large part of that, odds are high that he'll opt in, which means they'd have to create room by using the stretch position and rescinding rights to lesser players. With Bojan Bogdanovic locked in and Young returning, they could carve out around $29 million rather easily. That would get them close enough to Cousins’ max salary, but the challenge is his fit with Victor Oladipo and young bigs in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. Would Boogie create a crowded rotation? How would spacing on offense and switching on defense work? Maybe more roster tweaks and upgraded talent could help fit the pieces together later, but the roster dynamics makes for a tough landing spot for Boogie.
New Orleans Pelicans
Current cap space projection: $0-$4 million
That brings things us back to New Orleans. The lack of room doesn’t matter since they have his Bird rights, but the problem is that they need to go into the luxury tax to offer him his max. Even by waiving all of their non-guaranteed contracts, signing Cousins would place them at the threshold with just eight players on the roster. Stretch provisioning players like Solomon Hill and/or Alexis Ajinca could create breathing room, but how much better is the team in this scenario?
Boogie Nights. (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
The Pelicans with Anthony Davis surrounded by perimeter players looked exceptional during the closing stretch of the regular season and in two playoff rounds, and it's fair to question how Boogie fits into the dynamic next season. The Brow’s free agency in 2020 looms in the background, and if Davis wants his Kentucky buddy back to absorb some of the banging inside, the Pelicans would be wise to pay the tax and appease him. The versatility of Davis on both ends makes a three man rotation of him, Cousins and Nikola Mirotic scary for their opponents, as their dynamic should improve with an offseason. The Pelicans will carry an expensive payroll with limited options to improve the roster, and it would be ideal for the two sides to agree on a slightly smaller salary with a focus on incentives, years or a player option. However, Boogie is within his right to secure his financial future how he sees fit, and should do so.
That being said, with the potential of a cool market this summer, it’s reasonable to bet on the Pelicans to run it back with The Brow and Boogie.
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