When DeMarcus Cousins was cut by the lowly Houston Rockets in January, it could have easily signaled the beginning of the end for the once-dominant big man. Having played in only 55 games over the last three seasons, it appeared increasingly unlikely that Cousins would ever see his way back from three major leg injuries.
But lo and behold, just three months later, it looks more and more like leaving Houston was actually the beginning of the beginning for Cousins.
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Cousins’ signing comes on the heels of two 10-day contracts with L.A. and ensures that the two-time All-NBA center will see the playoffs for only the second time in his career — the first coming in 2019 as a member of the Golden State Warriors. That year, Cousins tore his left quadricep in Game 2 of the Warriors’ first-round matchup against the Clippers, forcing him to miss Golden State’s next 14 games before returning in the Finals against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
Far From a Shoo-In
Since signing his first 10-day contract with the Clippers on April 5, the 30-year-old Cousins, who played his first seven seasons with the Sacramento Kings, has been far from a shoo-in to stick with L.A.
In his inaugural game, a 17-point victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on April 6, Cousins played better than most expected — seven points and four rebounds in eight minutes — but was nonetheless aware that he could be on borrowed time.
“I understand the situation that I’m in,” Cousins told reporters afterward. “Whatever opportunity is given to me, I plan on just taking full advantage of it, just controlling what I can control.”
Not yet knowing the Clippers’ offense, however, limited those opportunities tremendously, and over L.A.’s next four games, Cousins saw the floor a total of only six minutes. In fact, on the eve of his first contract expiring, April 14, with rumors of the Clippers signing guard Yogi Ferrell to a 10-day contract, many wondered if Boogie would be boogeying on out of L.A. the very next day.
But that night, Cousins played 15 minutes against Detroit, and though he didn’t shoot well (3-for-9), the minutes alone seemed to indicate he was part of the Clippers’ future plans. Indeed, after the game, before any official announcement one way or the other, head coach Ty Lue tipped his hand by saying that the Clippers were “looking forward” to Cousins continuing on.
Two days later, Cousins signed his second 10-day contract and has seen double-digit minutes in all but one of L.A.’s last five games. Over the course of his two short-term contracts, playing in eight of 11 games, Cousins averaged 6.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists while shooting 48.8% from the field.
Perhaps crucial to his sticking around, in those eight games Cousins showed a willingness to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team, whether that meant banging down low on the blocks or stepping in to take charges, of which he drew six. Seeing Cousins pop up from the floor each time likely answered a few questions for the Clippers’ staff, who were obviously aware of Cousins’ recent injuries — namely a ruptured Achilles, the torn quad with the Warriors, and an ACL tear in the summer of 2019.
Level of Involvement Still Unknown
Though Cousins now knows where his mail will be delivered for the next few months, his involvement in what the Clippers hope is a long playoff run remains to be seen.
Winners of their last 17 of 20, the Clippers have the third-best record in the NBA and are threatening to overtake the Phoenix Suns for the second seed in the brutally competitive Western Conference.
Most impressively, they’ve managed to stay toward the top of the league despite numerous injuries to key players, one of whom is starting center Serge Ibaka. Ibaka has been out of the lineup since mid-March with back spasms, and though Ivica Zubac has filled in heroically in the meantime (with many even suggesting that Zubac should remain the starter no matter what), the Clippers lack of depth down low was the primary impetus for signing Cousins in the first place.
Recent reports, however, have Ibaka making progress and returning somewhat soon, which would undoubtedly eat into Cousins’ minutes. But clearly, the Clippers are not sold on Ibaka staying healthy, and besides, if Cousins can flash even a little of what once made him a perennial All-Star, the move to keep him aboard will be well worth it.