So what do you do now, if you’re the Pelicans?
DeMarcus Cousins suffered a torn left Achilles injury Friday night and his projected time in street clothes will be determined sometime today. From the looks of things, it’s fair to project Cousins missing significant time and his season, given that it’s an Achilles, would be over.
The bigger issue for the Pelicans is what his absence, and impending free agency, means to the health of the franchise.
It’s a tricky situation, to be sure. First of all, it’s rare when an NBA player his size suffers an Achilles injury, which is more common to slashers and smaller players. That could dictate how much time he’ll miss, but again, that’s up to the doctors and therapists and experts.
Cousins is an unrestricted free agent this summer and if his injury is severe and will require surgery, the Pelicans won’t have the luxury of seeing how well he recovers before July 1. Cousins, had he stayed healthy, would’ve surely commanded a max contract. Is that still on the table now?
In the much shorter term, there’s the matter of this season and how it’ll play out. Cousins and Anthony Davis gave the Pelicans a unique look and put New Orleans squarely in the playoff picture. Without Cousins, that changes, most likely. It’ll be up to Davis, once again, to carry the club, and as talented as the All-Star forward is, there’s plenty of competition for the last three or four playoff spots in the West.
Finally: The trade deadline is in a few weeks. Curiously, Cousins wasn’t guaranteed to stay in New Orleans beyond the deadline because of his contract situation. Is there any way for New Orleans to pull off a deal for a player who can help this season? Or is that too ambitious for a franchise that, beyond Davis and Cousins and maybe Jrue Holiday, lacks assets other than its No. 1 pick?
Just by coincidence, Davis and Cousins are subjects on the current cover of Slam Magazine, where writer Abe Schwadron penned this about the chemistry between the big men:
“The practices we do go against each other, it’s very intense,” Cousins, 27, says of his behind-the-scenes battles with the 24-year-old Davis.
“It’s usually our best practices, because we try to bring out the best in each other. We already had a lowkey rivalry before we were teammates, just being brought up as the best two bigs, Kentucky, all of that. And the rivalry sort of creeps back out in the practices—they’re very competitive.”
With Davis averaging 26.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and Boogie’s numbers at 25.6 and 12.9 (both players are top-10 in the NBA in each of those categories) as we went to press, the modern-day Twin Towers had the Pelicans sitting in the 6-spot in the Western Conference (25-21) at press time. They are the only teammates in the history of the game to both average 25 points and 10 rebounds a night. Halfway through the 2017-18 season, Cousins already has 12 games with 20-plus points and 15-plus rebounds, and Davis has eight such performances. Charlotte’s Dwight Howard is the next closest on that list, having done it six times this year. Davis is even shooting a career-high 36 percent from three-point range, same as Boogie. Oh, and they’re both averaging career-highs in assists, too. Good luck trying to stop a pick-and-roll involving these guys together. In an era when small-ball is all the rage, New Orleans has something no other team does: two big men who are flat-out better than most guards, even at doing guard things.
Any way you examine it, Cousins’ injury was a terrible blow for him and the franchise. Just when he and New Orleans had turned a corner, this happens. There are no easy questions, and the answers are difficult and complex.
And of course, the biggest question: What does this mean for Davis and his future in New Orleans?