Sports analysis can sometimes be purposefully contrarian as journalists seek ways to swim against the tide. Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than with the news of the Golden State Warriors signing Demarcus Cousins, a story which should be an absolute embarrassment to the NBA. Despite the addition of the fifth All-Star, Zach Lowe declared that “I am not sure how much this really helps the Warriors in the short term,” citing Golden State’s inability to keep Cousins long term and his Achilles injury. Nate Duncan tweeted that Cousins should not play in Golden State’s closing lineup.
Lowe and Duncan are terrific NBA analysts, and it is possible that Cousins could be to the Warriors what Dwight Howard was to the 2013 Lakers. But the Warriors are not the Lakers, and Cousins can absolutely help this team. Furthermore, the fact that the best team in the league, arguably in NBA history, could pick up a center at such a cheap price is an ironclad argument that something is deeply broken in the NBA, and there needs to be massive reforms if this league cares about competition.
The Benefits of Cousins
Let us get one thing out of the way. Even if Cousins never fully recovers from his Achilles injury and is never an All-Star again, there is no way this signing can hurt the Warriors. This is no long term contract which could hurt Golden State’s finances in the long term or make resigning Klay or Draymond more difficult.
In theory, Cousins’s general temperament could derail a Golden State locker room which had some issues last season. Anyone should expect Cousins and Green to have interesting conversations at some point during the next season. But the Warriors do not need to gamble on Cousins like a game of goldenslot and know this, and so can always send him away like Allen Iverson with the Grizzlies in the worst case scenario.
And in the best case scenario, Cousins makes this team totally invincible. Houston was able to take advantage of Golden State’s weakness at the five slot by switching relentlessly, but trying that now would leave Cousins in the post against players like James Harden or Eric Gordon. And while Harden is a stout post defender, the effort of both guarding Cousins and leading the Rockets on offense would be too much and wear him out. Against other teams which can more easily defend Cousins like Boston, Golden State can pull him out and use the Death Lineup. The Warriors could truly have an answer for every scenario and become a perfect basketball team – at the expense of anyone with a competitive interest in the NBA.
A Broken System
In the aftermath of the trade, there are reports that the Warriors were able to get Cousins because no team made a serious offer for him. Cousins told The Undefeated that he received zero offers from other NBA teams. That claim should be taken with a grain of salt, but it is clear that there were no teams offering max contracts for Cousins like was assumed at the start of this offseason.
Sure, Cousins has an Achilles injury. But Wesley Matthews suffered the exact same injury, and was able to sign a 4-year, $70 million contract in 2015. The reason why Cousins got few if any offers was because there were few teams with cap space that would have interest in Cousins. And the reason there are so few teams is because of the 2016 cap spike which saw teams hand out ridiculous contracts like there was no tomorrow and which are now clogging up cap space. The same cap spike which let the Warriors sign Kevin Durant now gives them Demarcus Cousins.
Clearly, the NBA Players’ Association decision to not accept cap smoothing instead of the spike back then has proven to be a serious mistake, especially as it ended up only enriching the 2016 free agency class at the expense of other players. But that does not mean assuming that what is going on with Golden State is a one-time product of fortune and no major reforms need to be made.
Since LeBron’s decision in 2010, the NBA has talked about the rise of super teams and implemented various CBA changes in order to make it easier for small market teams to keep their stars. But these reforms have failed, and at times even backfired as the example of Kevin Love with Minnesota showed. Instead of crafting new rules through which crafty executives find loopholes through, the NBA should be taking the opposite approach. Remove most of the rules, impose a hard cap, and let teams truly compete with one another.
But until changes like that are made, ridiculous signings like Cousins to the Warriors are going to continue to happen. NBA fans should not appreciate greatness as Warriors fans simper about, or assume that Cousins will not leave much of an impact. They should be angry at the fact that the NBA’s competitive balance has been completely proven to be a joke.