The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, armed with only the taxpayer mid-level exception, used their free agent spending allowance on DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time all-star center. That’s completely bonkers given the addition of Cousins would give the Warriors All-NBA caliber players at every position on the court if he’s healthy, an embarrassment of riches even for them.
It’s a steep comedown for Cousins, who was in the midst of his most productive season with the New Orleans Pelicans when he tore his Achilles last January. Before the injury, he was surely thinking he’d be in line for another max payday in free agency this summer. Instead he signed with the champs for a little over $5 million.
Earlier in the day, the Pels replaced Boogie with Julius Randle, a versatile and talented young forward whose restricted free agent rights were renounced by the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers executed that unexpected move to free up money to sign Rajon Rondo, who got his career back on track with New Orleans playing with Cousins.
Rondo, of course, was also a former teammate of Cousins in Sacramento, where they played on one of the most dysfunctional teams in recent memory. Who would have guessed that one day Cousins would be teaming up with the star-studded Warriors, while Rondo would be playing alongside LeBron James in Los Angeles?
This is all rather shocking, and so very NBA. Let’s take this slow. There’s a lot to unpack.
Signing Cousins is the kind of risk a team like Golden State can take and just about no one else. The Warriors don’t need Boogie to win championships. In fact, their best lineups have no centers. But the Warriors like having 7-footers on hand, which is how they went into last postseason with a bunch of big men on their roster who rarely played.
In Cousins, they get a true monster of a big man, but the Achilles injury is not insignificant. It has felled many a giant over the years, and there’s no telling how it will affect Boogie, who isn’t likely to be ready to play until December or January.
The Warriors don’t really need Boogie and Boogie doesn’t really need to do anything but rehab and get ready for the playoffs. This was a true luxury signing, considering the cost in real dollars will be more like $20 million given their luxury tax situation.
That bill is a little easier to take, given that Kevin Durant left a bit of money on the table specifically so the Warriors would sign a free agent. Take shots at KD all you like, but his contract maneuvering has made it less painful financially for the Warriors to retain Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, while also adding Cousins.
Perhaps even more surprising than the signing, was the revelation per ESPN’s Chris Haynes, that Boogie’s choice came down to Golden State and Boston, of all teams.
The Celtics could have had Boogie at various points over the years, but never went all-out in an effort to acquire the big man due to various concerns about well, everything.
You may remember that the Pels really took off after Boogie’s injury when Anthony Davis shifted over to center full-time. That’s the thing with Cousins, who was averaging 25 and 12 at the time of the injury. All those numbers, and it’s not at all clear if he really impacts winning.
But these are the Warriors and surely this will all work out for them.
The Pels really made out here. In a world where Cousins doesn’t get hurt, they’d be on the hook for a massive extension to continue a twin towers experiment that was only sorta kinda working. In this one, they get a 23-year-old forward who averaged 16-and-8 for $9 million. Randle should form a delightful frontcourt trio with Nikola Mirotic and AD, who gets to stay at the position that maximizes his immense talent.
One would have thought that the Lakers would have held onto Randle, given his age and talent. Instead, the Lakers used that space to sign Rondo, who plans of challenging Lonzo Ball for the starting point guard job. (Please lord, grant us one Lavar vs. Rajon dustup.) Rondo at least fits the criteria of player who can think the game, as LeBron spelled out during the Finals.
“Rondo was calling out sets every time you come down,” James said at the time. “It was like, OK, this is bigger than basketball.”
Several years and many basketball lifetimes after having breakfast with Kobe Bryant while still a member of the Celtics, Rondo is finally a Laker. We were all so much younger then.
The Lakers went into the summer thinking they could get two max free agents. It would have likely cost them Randle, but it would have been worth it to get a player the caliber of say, Paul George.
Instead, they used that space to re-sign Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and add Rondo, JaVale McGee, and Lance Stephenson to one-year deals.
This is going to be one hell of a weird basketball team. They have LeBron and LeBron tends to make everything better, but this is not the scenario many of us envisioned when James was making his free agent decision.
In sum, the Warriors get an All-NBA big man on the cheap, the Pelicans get a versatile young big man, and the Lakers got a bunch of random guys to team with the greatest player of his generation.
What a bizarre offseason.