DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury is devastating. There are no other words, only a guttural and raw sadness about something that was so joyful this season being replaced with an absence.
The injury came with just seconds left in regulation while the New Orleans Pelicans center hustled down his own missed free throw, a hustle play in a close game and eventual win against the Houston Rockets. Cousins has often been knocked for his lack of effort, something that had still shown up in New Orleans at times, but this was the opposite. It’s cruel that this happened on what should have been a small, virtually unnoticed moment of growth.
We knew the moment it happened, though we denied it as long as we could. Cousins went down without contact, immediately fell to the floor grabbing at his heel, and couldn’t rise without help from his teammates. If you still weren’t sure, the somber faces and quiet answers from the Pelicans after the game said it all.
What this injury means for the Pelicans
New Orleans finally — finally — had everything going right, and Pelicans fans know how long finally means. They had suffered through it all, and they had been rewarded with a thrilling counterculture team using two dynamic unicorn centers. The unique approach was finally clicking, with the Pelicans winning eight of their last nine games while pushing themselves to a 27-21 record. Anthony Davis and Cousins were both selected to start the NBA All-Star Game, and the playoffs seemed almost inevitable. And now ... who the hell knows.
The Pelicans roster without Cousins is better than the past two seasons, but it’s probably not enough to support Davis alone. New Orleans has a three game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers, who are currently in the No. 9 seed looking at the playoffs from the outside. Is that enough to hang onto a playoff spot? It might be, but the odds are now against New Orleans.
Without Cousins, New Orleans will need more offense from Davis and Jrue Holiday, who has been excellent this season. Bumping Holiday from the third option to the second is sure to cut into his career-best efficiency, and he’s already averaging the second-most shots of his career this season. Outside those two, the Pelicans are light on scorers: E’Twaun Moore, Darius Miller, and Dante Cunningham are all used better working within the Twin Towers system that New Orleans had created, not creating on their own.
Holiday has only been on the court 81 minutes without Cousins or Davis, though they have gone quite well. That number will have to increase, and the Pelicans can only hope that small sample size theater has some basis in reality.
What this injury means for Boogie
In a tweet:
Most likely Demarcus Cousins has a torn Achilles pending an MRI.— Carmichael Dave (@CarmichaelDave) January 27, 2018
-will not start his first all-star game
-will not participate in his first playoff series
-will be in rehab during the summer of a contract year
It’s pretty damn bad.
Cousins will be a free agent this offseason — there’s no player option he can exercise to deny it, or anything like that. New Orleans was set to offer him a five-year, $175 million max contract, but this injury will at least make them reconsider their plans. Cousins may not even be ready to start next season due to his six to 10 month recovery timetable, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
The problem is that an Achilles is a terrible injury — probably the worst in basketball — that has a terrible track record for full recovery. Go down the list, and few players ever regained their former peaks after an Achilles tendon rupture: Kobe Bryant, Wesley Matthews, and Elton Brand are notable recent cases.
Matthews might be the best case scenario for Cousins’ recovery. Matthews tore his Achilles tendon headed into a contract summer, and he still was signed to a four-year, $70 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks. Despite suffering the injury in March, Matthews still returned for the start of the season and only missed 13 games combined the next two summers. But Matthews still hasn’t returned to his pre-injury form — he’s having his best season since the injury this year, and it’s still a ways off from the Matthews of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons.
What this injury means for the NBA
While the NBA has been zigging for years, New Orleans zagged. Small ball lineups are replacing traditional centers, but New Orleans used Davis and Cousins like guards in ways that disrupted defenses.
Cousins had a 44-point, 23-rebound, 10-assist game earlier this week, and on Friday, he was cooking with a 15-point, 13-rebound, 11-assist triple-double. Those aren’t normal stat lines for your 6’11, 270-pound center. Those aren’t normal stat lines for, well, anyone. Not only were the Pelicans rolling, but Cousins was right smack dab in the middle of it.
Who wasn’t excited to see Cousins and these strange-but-wonderful Pelicans in the postseason? Or the Cousins-Davis duo starting together along with Kevin Durant and LeBron James in the All-Star Game next month?
But those things won’t happen, and with it, the NBA will be less fun. F*** that. F*** injuries. Please, Boogie, take my Achilles. You need it more than me.