The pool of NBA free agents available as of July 3 is shockingly small. The vast majority of marquee names settled within a few hours of the official kickoff of free agency Sunday afternoon; a huge number of rotation guys and role players have already grabbed up much of what remained of the open salary cap space around the league. For teams still waiting around to see what Kawhi Leonard will do, the options for pivoting to any kind of respectable plan B are dwindling rapidly.
One of the few free agents still searching for their next job is DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins joined up with the Warriors before last season in an attempt to rehabilitate his value after an Achilles tendon injury deprived him of what almost certainly would’ve otherwise been a max or near-max contract last summer. Boogie’s deal with Golden State was for the taxpayer midlevel exception, worth just over $5 million for one year of service, a humongous discount in the event that he’d work his way back to something like his usual form, to say nothing of starting games deep in the playoffs.
Boogie never quite got there—he played a career-low 25.7 minutes per game over 30 regular season games for the Warriors, and then re-injured himself during the playoffs—but by some measures he got a lot closer than you might’ve thought. His numbers per 36 minutes—23 points, 11.5 rebounds, and five assists—were right in line with his beefy career averages. His steals and blocks per 36 minutes were both career-highs. His efficiency was respectable, especially when you consider the drop-off in three-point accuracy from the past two seasons, when he’d developed into a genuine threat from beyond the arc. That drop in accuracy can probably be explained away as rust and a result of Boogie not being in the greatest physical shape, which itself should probably be understood as a reasonable result of having missed most of a year of basketball.
On the other hand, the Warriors were better by net rating with Cousins off the court than on, and they were pretty horrible with him on the floor in the playoffs, which Cousins was probably hoping would be his big showcase ahead of free agency. That’s a reasonable red flag while also being just a little bit unfair—a playoff run in the brutal Western Conference is an extraordinarily unforgiving crucible for a big man returning from a catastrophic injury, and anyway the finer points of how to use traditional centers deep in the playoffs is a non-academic concern for only a small handful of the teams who ought to be interested in a player of Boogie’s pedigree. Sure he looked winded a lot with the Warriors, but he was also still very clearly a very talented basketball player who can help a team win some basketball games.
Which is why it’s at least a little bit surprising to see Boogie still waiting for a gig after Jared Dudley and Frank Kaminsky and [gulp] Isaiah Thomas have all found work. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported on Tuesday that “there is not a market” for Cousins, and shot down both the idea of Cousins grabbing up an eight-figure, one-year contract from a cap space team and the prospect of Cousins landing another midlevel exception-type deal. If he makes less money coming off of what he did with the Warriors than he made coming off of a damn ruptured Achilles tendon, the NBA is truly all borked up and diseased. Things appear to be getting a little bit desperate in the Cousins camp, where Boogie has now reportedly fired his agent in an effort to change the angle of approach to free agency.
Cousins was never going to pull in a huge mega-deal this summer, not without the Knicks and only the Knicks losing their minds after striking out in their pursuit of more desirable free agents. But it’s not impossible that Boogie might be among the few free agents whose market really is dependent upon what Kawhi Leonard does—if he spurns the Lakers, for example, they could do a lot worse than running back the Boogie-Anthony Davis duo that worked reasonably well in New Orleans, especially if they can land Cousins at a reasonable price and use the rest of their cap space to fill in their rotation. Or the Clippers could retract the qualifying offer they made to restricted free agent Ivica Zubac and instead put Cousins in a fun center tandem with Montrezl Harrell.
Eventually, a market will emerge for Cousins and he’ll land a job somewhere. But there’s now a non-zero chance that it will emerge in east* Asia and that job will be playing for Stephon Marbury’s Beijing Royal Tigers in the Chinese Basketball Association. When you consider what kind of contract he was in line for before that Achilles injury, this has been an unbearably steep slide toward irrelevance for one of the most talented big men in basketball.