San Antonio Spurs: Pros and Cons of signing DeMarcus Cousins in 2018
By Rob Wolkenbrod
Will DeMarcus Cousins be targeted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2018? If so, there’s upside and downside to the situation.
The 2018 offseason is far away, with the 2017 offseason just ending. The San Antonio Spurs made multiple signings in free agency, players that will impact the team for the 2017-18 season like Rudy Gay, Joffrey Lauvergne, and Brandon Paul. None of these players were big-name splashes, unlike what most of the Western Conference did.
In 2018, the Spurs’ plans in free agency can change. They potentially have over $50 million coming off the salary cap, if LaMarcus Aldridge, Danny Green, Gay and Lauvergne all opt out of their contracts for the 2018-19 season. Tony Parker also has an expiring deal worth over $15 million.
With the available money, what if San Antonio targeted one of the big names in free agency? LeBron James, Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and DeAndre Jordan will all be free agents. There’s also one more top name set for unrestricted free agency: DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins enters the final year of his deal with the New Orleans Pelicans. He arrived in the middle of the 2016-17 season via trade from the Sacramento Kings. It was a blockbuster move before the NBA Trade Deadline, which shook up both franchises.
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However, after just a season-and-a-half, Boogie can leave NOLA for another organization. Will that be the Spurs? If so, there are positives and negatives that come along with this potential signing.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of Cousins in San Antonio.
Next: Superstars align
Pro: A superstar to team with another superstar
On every great team of the modern-day NBA, there are two or more superstars. That goes for teams trying to build a foundation, too, like the New Orleans Pelicans with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis.
A superteam has arguably won the NBA championship in every season since 2008, except the 2011 Dallas Mavericks and 2014 San Antonio Spurs. The Los Angeles Lakers of 2009 and 2010 are debatable. Otherwise, there’s been the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors to win the title as a team with multiple superstars.
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Is this the guaranteed recipe for success? No, but with the way the NBA is trending, stacking the roster at the top is working out for most teams.
Adding Cousins to join Kawhi Leonard puts two completely different players with each other. Cousins handles the game under the basket, while Leonard handles the ball and is the primary scorer on the outside.
Would these two mesh? Cousins hasn’t found winning ways in the NBA yet, while Leonard’s superstardom has come on its own. With his game at the level, it’s at now, will these two be able to share the spotlight? That may be ludicrous to ask, but superstar pairings aren’t guaranteed to succeed.
Contracts given out in the 2017 offseason were …. expensive.
- James Harden: Contract extension worth up to $223 million
- Stephen Curry: 5 years, $201 million
- Gordon Hayward: 4 years, $128 million
- Blake Griffin: 5 years, $173 million
- Kyle Lowry: 3 years, $100 million
That’s only the start, as starting-caliber players earned $20 million per year. If that’s the trend free agency is headed, then it will take a lot of money to sign DeMarcus Cousins, to say the least.
Given Cousins’ status as a top big man in the NBA, along with averaging 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, he’s set to earn a hefty nine-figure deal. That could be worth around $30-$35 million annually over four years.
The San Antonio Spurs never gave out money like that before, not even for Tim Duncan who maxed out at $22 million. While they’ve given players of their own these sizeable deals, it’s hardly handed to outside-the-organization acquisitions. The last was LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015, who struggled through his first two seasons in San Antonio.
If the Spurs open the checkbook for Cousins, he’ll absorb most of the available cap room (if all those previously-mentioned players opt out). That limits the money to use on players to fill the roster, leading to a group of veteran-minimum players joining and causing an imbalance, from the top to the bottom of the team.
Maybe Cousins will take lesser money to join, but it’s a Kevin Durant-to-the-Warriors situation where three superstars with large contracts are already in place. Look for him to get paid.
Next: Best interior presence since Duncan's prime
Pro: Best big man since prime Tim Duncan
If DeMarcus Cousins joins the San Antonio Spurs he’ll, by far, become the best big man on the team since prime Tim Duncan. That goes back to the 2007 NBA championship season.
Cousins adds an interior presence that’s unmatched by most players in the NBA. His position isn’t the popular or flashy one; it used to be in the 1990’s, but the NBA became a guard’s league. Players stretch the floor all over the place. This extended to the centers and power forwards that need to shoot as part of their requirements.
Duncan was never a shooter, except for the occasional jumper around the paint. He also made just 30 career 3-pointers in the regular season. Cousins made 131 in 2016-17 alone.
The Kentucky product can hurt a defense at all points of the floor, which goes beyond Duncan. That’s not to say he’ll be better than the Big Fundamental, but the 3-point shooting is a dynamic from a top-end big man that the Spurs haven’t had. It makes for an interesting toy for Gregg Popovich, who rolls out more 3-point shooters and shots than anyone can handle.
It’s possible Popovich reels in Cousins to work under the basket. However, there’s plenty of use to get out of him if these last two seasons are any indication.
Next: Against the grain
Con: Not what the Spurs usually do
As noted, when does anyone see the San Antonio Spurs sign a player like DeMarcus Cousins in free agency? Almost never.
LaMarcus Aldridge joined on a four-year, $80-plus million deal in 2015. He joined an aging Tim Duncan and became the No. 2 star on the Spurs. It was supposed to be as a “superstar” and top player on the Spurs. Instead, Kawhi Leonard broke out into a MVP-caliber player and Aldridge’s stats regressed. He’s no longer the 20-point, 10-rebound player from the Portland Trail Blazers, going from 23-10 to 10-8.5 and 17.3-7.3 in the 2016-17 season.
Will the Spurs take another gamble on a superstar like this? Cousins will be two years younger than Aldridge at the time of a potential deal, but arguably better than the latter ever was at his peak. However, it’s for more money, with the way NBA salaries are rising.
A player like Cousins isn’t someone the Spurs usually host, either. He’s not a player that gets into legal trouble, but someone that’s made headlines for spats with coaches. That can’t and won’t happen with Popovich.
This isn’t the player the Spurs usually sign, someone as outspoken and talented as Cousins in free agency. Will these be factors toward the team not bringing him in?
Next: Improves title odds
Pro: Improves title odds
Then, there’s the goal of every NBA team: the championship. Any team wants to win it all and stand tall at the end of the NBA Finals. Since 2000, only eight different organizations have won it all. That’s through 18 years, which doesn’t represent great parity but better than the 1980’s and 1990’s that were dominated by one or two teams.
A small reason for more teams winning? The movement of superstar players. LeBron James jumped from Cleveland to Miami to Cleveland in the 2010’s, winning a championship for both teams. Kevin Durant joins the Golden State Warriors in 2016 and wins in 2017 (they already won in 2015). Pau Gasol moved to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008 and contributed toward two titles.
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The San Antonio Spurs won in 2014 with a group of very good players, but a bunch that had their profiles lowered (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) or on the rise (Kawhi Leonard). No one was a top-five or 10 player, as on other teams, so this organization didn’t follow the trend.
If the Spurs sign Cousins, they will obviously be following the trend. It can’t hurt to add a player of this caliber, though, who will reshape how the team plays basketball and make them a feared squad in the post. Adding this to Leonard, who led the team to a 61-win season, should be intriguing, with the potential to exceed that win total, depending on the supporting cast.
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Does all of this mean the 2019 NBA Finals for the Spurs?