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DeMarcus Cousins remains ultimate ‘what if’ for Wizards

January 25, 2019

If DeMarcus Cousins had made his return from a torn Achilles a month-and-a-half ago, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green joked both the All-Star center and the two-time defending NBA champions would have probably been “screwed.”

Back then, the Warriors were in a slump with some even suggesting that the Warriors looked mortal enough to be knocked off in the postseason. An awkwardness still lingered after a heated exchange between Green and star Kevin Durant from November.

It could have been a challenge to incorporate Cousins if he felt he had to be the piece “to right the ship,” Green said.

“We just weren’t in a good place,” Green said.

Instead, the opposite happened. Cousins returned to a scorching-hot Warriors team last week, giving them another weapon. By beating the Wizards 126-118 Thursday, Golden State has won nine straight, three of which have been with Cousins in the lineup.

Cousins appears to have fit seamlessly into the Warriors’ free-flowing offense. Coach Steve Kerr said Cousins brought “new life” to his team, and Cousins looks to perfectly compliment the team’s other stars in Durant, Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

And to think, Cousins, who scored 17 points in a season-high 24 minutes, took just a one-year, $5.3 million deal last summer to join them.

For the Wizards, Cousins’ brief stop in the District marks a significant “what-if.” Teammates at the University of Kentucky, star John Wall and Cousins are close friends and previously pondered about playing together again. It’s easy to see Cousins take such a discounted rate and wonder if the Wizards could have landed him had they tried to top it.

But Cousins joining the Wizards was never that simple.

Golden State presented the perfect opportunity for Cousins to rehab a significant injury and return to a contender after he was healthy. Cousins knew he would miss a portion of the season, given he tore his Achilles in late January 2018.

“Everyone in that situation probably would have done the same thing that he did,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “Knowing that he was going to be out, he has a chance to come back on a great team that has a chance to play later in the summer.

“When you have an injury like that, you want to extend that season for your own health and your own good. And he has a chance to win a championship.”

It was Cousins, too, who first brought up the idea of joining the Warriors. In July, the four-time All-Star told ESPN he was insulted he did not receive an offer in free agency, so he instructed his agent to set up a phone call with Warriors general manager Bob Myers. “This was my chess move,” he said then.

Some have pushed back against the idea Cousins didn’t receive an offer, arguing it was a matter of semantics. His former team, the New Orleans Pelicans, offered a two-year, $40 million deal after Cousins’ injury but before the season ended and took it off the table after it was rejected, the New York Times reported. The Boston Celtics were also reportedly interested in Cousins.

Regardless, the Wizards didn’t have the financial flexibility to offer Cousins a deal worth more than the mid-level exception, which is what Cousins took with Golden State. So Cousins would have almost certainly rejected the same deal for the Wizards.

Other options for the Wizards to land Cousins included a sign-and-trade or clear out enough cap space by trading away higher-priced players like Otto Porter or Ian Mahinmi (good luck trying to move the latter.) But those also presented a number of risks and challenges. There were concerns whether Cousins would be the same player after his injury, as well as his fiery attitude.

Instead, the Wizards used their midlevel exception to sign Dwight Howard, who appeared in just nine games before undergoing back surgery in November.

If all goes well for Cousins, he could have a list of suitors interested in him this summer. This is a chance for him to restore his market value, in addition to winning a ring.

In the meantime, the Warriors are glad to have him. Though the Warriors have won three of the last four titles, they’ve had never had a big who can pass, stretch the floor and dominate in the low post as Cousins can.

Thompson said Cousins is one of the most skilled big men he has been around.

“It gives us a big jolt of energy just because he’s been working so hard to get back to this point,” Thompson said. “He adds a whole new dimension to our team, and I get really excited thinking about the possibilities.”

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