SALT LAKE CITY — Free agency is still underway in the NBA, and it’s yet to be determined where this leaves the league’s teams, but no matter what happens there will remain one big question:
Whaddya mean the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins?!!!!!
How is that fair?
How many elite players can one team hoard in the NBA?
The Warriors not only signed Cousins, but they signed him for a bargain at $5.3 million for one year. The most talented big man in the game cost them some spare change they had lying around the office. There are about 44 players in the league who make more than 20 million per season. About 180 players will make more money next season than Cousins, a four-time All-Star who has been selected to two All-NBA second teams. He’s only 27.
And if that weren’t enough — he came to them, not vice versa. He called the Warriors on the phone looking for a job and asked if he could join the team. It's like Warren Buffett winning the lottery. The Warriors were already filthy rich in talent. The only position they had a weakness was at center — and now they’ve filled the spot with an All-Star.
How loaded are the Warriors? Let’s look at last season’s player rankings for the 2017-18 season.
The Washington Post included five players in the top 16 who will play for the Warriors next season — 2) Kevin Durant, 4) Steph Curry, 11) Draymond Green, 14) Klay Thompson, 16) DeMarcus Cousins.
Bleacher Report ranked five Warriors in its top 25 — 2) Curry, 5) Durant, 10) Cousins, 14) Green, 25) Thompson.
Sports Illustrated ranked five Warriors in its top 23 — 2) Durant, 3) Curry, 10) Green, 20) Thompson, 23) Cousins.
No other team has more than two players in the top 25 of any of the three rankings (eight of the NBA’s 30 teams have two players at that level).
In Bleacher Report’s player rankings by position, the Warriors ranked No. 1 at point guard (Curry), No. 3 at shooting guard (Thompson), No. 2 at small forward (Durant), No. 3 at power forward (Green) and No. 1 at center (Cousins).
Only in the NBA could one team stockpile so much talent, which is why it is devoid of parity and why 90 percent of the league's teams have zero chance to compete for the championship.
Cousins is an eight-year vet who averages 22 points and 11 rebounds per game. In the last five seasons he has averaged 25.2 points and four assists per game. In a double-overtime win against the Bulls last January he had 44 points, 24 rebounds and 10 assists.
Well, as unfair as the Warriors' addition of Cousins seems, it might not be the game breaker rival teams fear. For one thing, Cousins tore the Achilles tendon in his left foot in January and underwent surgery. It’s a devastating injury for an athlete. The recovery can require a year and even at that it often does not lead to a full return to form.
Patrick Ewing averaged 23 points and 10 rebounds before tearing an Achilles, and 9.6 points and 7.0 rebounds after the injury. Kobe Bryant’s scoring average slipped from 25 points before the injury to 19 points after. Elton Brand, Chauncey Billups, Gerald Wilkins, Mehmet Okur, Christian Laettner, Laphonso Ellis all saw a dramatic dip in their performances after an Achilles tear. Isiah Thomas retired after tearing an Achilles at 32.
On the other hand, Dominique Wilkins, who tore his Achilles at 32, played at almost the same level (26.2 points before, 25.2 points after). Ditto for Wesley Matthews.
Cousins’ age is a big advantage in his recovery. Ewing and Bryant were much older than Cousins when they incurred the injury (Bryant was four months shy of his 35th birthday and Ewing was two months shy of his 37th birthday). But Cousins’ size (6-foot-11, 270 pounds) can’t be good for a recovering Achilles.
The injury played a big role in why teams were reluctant to sign Cousins as a free agent this season, but so did his reputation as a bad guy and a disruptive personality.8 comments on this story
The real question is how his more stationary style of play fits in with the free-flow, athletic Warriors — how he handles the offensive and defensive spacing and the defensive switches with which the team thrives.
But, besides the price tag, there is one big factor that makes the signing of Cousins a no-lose deal for the Warriors in every way. If he doesn’t recover from the injury, if he proves disruptive, if he can’t play until January or February (which will likely be the case), the Warriors can certainly win without him as they’ve demonstrated. He’s merely a luxury for a talent-rich team.