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Lakers will reportedly ‘pursue’ DeMarcus Cousins in buyout market

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Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Lakers
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

With the Rockets letting DeMarcus Cousins go, the Lakers may reunite with their former center.

DeMarcus Cousins is on the way out with the Houston Rockets. According to Shams Charania of the Athletic, the Rockets are working on a buyout with Cousins, and Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer subsequently reported that the Lakers will be among the teams interested in his services.

There have already been reports that the Lakers have been “poking around” the buyout market to see who might become available, so in the wake of Anthony Davis’ injury creating a potential vacuum for the team to fill with an extra big, this news isn’t particularly surprising.

And if the Lakers are going to try and sign Cousins — whether or not they “should” is a different question, we’ll get to that in a second — they have a few avenues to do so. One option would be to cut the non-guaranteed salary of Quinn Cook, whose veteran’s minimum deal becomes guaranteed on Feb. 24. That date is also significant for another reason, because it’s the day the Lakers could, even without cutting Cook, add a player on a prorated veteran’s minimum deal under the hard cap they’re currently up against. They currently have an open roster spot, so they don’t need to cut Cook necessarily, only if they wanted to sign a player before next Wednesday.

Now, as to whether or not the Lakers “should” sign Cousins, as I’ve made clear in prior posts and podcasts, I don’t really see the need for an extra big, mainly because when it matters, Anthony Davis is going to play the important minutes there. If he’s not healthy enough to, the Lakers are screwed anyway, and they don’t need to sign a new big just for the games he’ll be out when they already have Marc Gasol, Montrezl Harrell and Markieff Morris in an increasingly smaller league anyway.

The other thing is that, even if you still want to counter that by arguing the Lakers need another rim protector or big body, Cousins is probably worse there than everyone they have there already:

So yeah, he’s a big name, but Cousins really just isn’t a helpful NBA player anymore. He’s had some good games this year, but he’s shooting a career-low 37.6% from the field — not from three, from the field — as a seven-foot center. In terms of helping a winning team, or even just the Lakers specifically, I don’t see a natural fit here.

But even after all that, I also know that there are still going to be some people who read this and say “well, he can’t be worse than Gasol!” And while I can quite confidently tell you that is very much the case, I also messaged Cranjis to ask for some tangible metrics that show as much, and he informed me that Gasol is better than Cousins in every interior defense stat they track at BBall Index, including:

  • Blocks per 100 possessions
  • The percentage of shots taken at the rim when he’s on the court that he contests
  • Blocks per shot contest
  • dFG% at the rim +/-
  • Deterring shots from being taken at the rim (per RAD)

Gasol is also better than Cousins in their finishing at Rim stat, which looks at FG% at the rim and adjusts for the degree of difficulty of shots. Cousins has been in foul trouble more more often than 98% of NBA players this year, an area Gasol has been better despite his matchup difficulty being higher than 87% of players. Cousins’ matchup difficulty, by contrast, has been in the 36th percentile, so he’s hacking away at worse players than Gasol is guarding, all while Gasol also ranks ahead of Cousins in defensive and offensive impact according to their LEBRON overall impact stat.

So yes, he’s Cousins can — and has been — much worse. He could likely be better on a better team in L.A., but there is no real argument to be made for him to supplant Gasol, or be signed because he’s better. And for what it’s worth, Rockets fans don’t exactly sound super broken up about losing him:

But all that said, he’s likely not asking out if he doesn’t see somewhere to go. That’s not how the NBA works. This stuff usually gets lined up beforehand, tampering rules be damned. And given that he slammed James Harden for his effort on the way out with the Rockets, Cousins is one of the few buyout bigs that likely won’t find a more appealing situation waiting for them with the Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers also thought highly enough of him to give him a championship ring and try to keep him around even after they cut him midseason, so the organization clearly thinks highly of him despite some reprehensible conduct off the floor while he was with the team.

So do the Lakers actually go after Cousins? According to O’Connor, it seems like they’ll at least sniff around. If they do actually bring him in, we’ll see how it goes, but there aren’t very many reasons to think he can actually provide very much that this team needs as of right now.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.

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