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DeMarcus Cousins is Los Angeles Clippers’ X-factor and a potentially huge steal in free agency

Matt Fitzgerald

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Los Angeles Clippers big man DeMarcus Cousins has seen sporadic minutes and experienced growing uncertainty about his NBA future for several years now. However, when he put up 15 points in the team’s season-saving 116-102 win over the Phoenix Suns, it showed just how much of a force Cousins can still be.

When asked by The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears whether he still wanted to play in the NBA, Cousins’ response was quite interesting.

“That goes through my mind probably once every other day,” Cousins said. “[…] It’s hard knowing what you can do. It’s hard believing in yourself when nobody else believes in you.”

Cousins made the most of his 16 regular-season games of action for the Clippers, averaging 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds in just 12.9 minutes per contest. Those per-36 minute splits translate to quite a huge impact. Basically triple those numbers, and you’re there.

Injuries derailed Cousins’ career, from a torn Achilles to a torn ACL. He’s lost probably over a hundred million dollars because of those untimely setbacks.

In the Undefeated article, Cousins specifically used the term “narrative” to describe why the perception around the NBA about him doesn’t match up with the indefatigable confidence he has in himself. Now that he’s proving he can still dominate in the Conference Finals, it’s time to reevaluate Cousins’ future.

Related: NBA games today – Full offseason schedule, including start of NBA free agency

DeMarcus Cousins could make or break Clippers’ title hopes

Not to put too much on Boogie, but given how much head coach Tyronn Lue has shuffled around the rotation during LA’s first-ever trip to the Conference Finals, maybe one more tweak could help the Clips rally from a third straight 2-0 deficit.

The Clippers need to win the next two games to eliminate the Suns, and with Cousins playing a larger role, they might be able to do it. Consider that Cousins, in Game 5, needed only 11 minutes to stack up those 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, with two rebounds, three assists and a steal to boot.

For all of Lue’s tactical brilliance, it did take an injury to Ivica Zubac for Cousins to even have a chance at increased action. In fact, he hadn’t even played more than four minutes combined in three of the previous four games.

Imagine having a weapon like Cousins on the bench and not using him. This goes back to that “narrative” Cousins talked about, and Lue is doing the 30-year-old veteran no favors for his free-agent value by not playing him.

Look, this isn’t a one-man propaganda campaign to get Cousins more playing time. It’s just a plain fact that his size and skill set creates serious matchup problems. Phoenix had no answer for him in Game 5. Its center, Deandre Ayton, has enjoyed a breakout series thus far, with Cousins being deployed hardly at all to help contain him.

DeMarcus Cousins just needs a proper chance to play

DeMarcus Cousins just needs a proper chance to play
Jun 20, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts against the Phoenix Suns in the second half during game one of the Western Conference Finals for the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Phoenix Suns Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Even after all the injuries, Cousins is still extremely quick and athletic for his size. He has ball-handling skills, the ability to create his own shot, and can facilitate to give his teammates open looks at the basket.

Cousins plays the game with a fiery passion, and is a much savvier player than he’s given credit for. Because of that pesky narrative surrounding him, he’s not gotten his proper due in a variety of ways over the past several years.

For instance, Cousins was a bit player on an absolutely loaded Golden State Warriors squad in 2018-19 coming off the Achilles injury. He then lost the entire next season to that torn ACL.

Where did Cousins go upon his return? The Houston Rockets. Reunited with ex-Kentucky college teammate John Wall, the duo was hoping to rekindle some of that old Wildcats magic. Wall himself was coming off a major injury.

Unfortunately, James Harden requested a trade, and the Rockets honored that request. Cousins was released as Houston sought to give its younger players more minutes and experience. That led to a stint with the Clippers, where Cousins had to earn his way beyond multiple 10-day contracts.

If anyone every questioned Cousins’ heart or love for the game, well, it’s safe to say he’s eager to make a splash with whatever chance he’s given. The question is, will the narrative around him allow for that?

DeMarcus Cousins’ best free-agent fits

It’s obvious that DeMarcus Cousins still has a lot left in the tank and would be a huge asset to any free-agent suitor who’d be willing to pay him a decent contract, allow him a solid role and have winning pieces around him.

With those criteria in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the best free-agent destinations for Cousins when he hits the market this summer:

  • Charlotte Hornets: Plug Cousins in at center, and suddenly the Hornets would form a starting five featuring reigning NBA Rookie of the Year LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington. Talk about a fun group to watch.
  • Miami Heat: A culture that’s all about work. That’s what Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra have built in Miami. Pairing up two hard-nosed leaders like Jimmy Butler and Cousins would be great for the Heat. They need frontcourt depth and versatility behind Bam Adebayo anyway, which Cousins provides in spades.
  • Brooklyn Nets: Because the Nets’ roster is so stacked on the perimeter, that doesn’t leave much room for quality depth inside. Cousins could actually have a chance to start for Brooklyn in 2021-22, with the chance to play alongside Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving. Having said that, Cousins would be able to make considerably more money in Charlotte or Miami.