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The unbearable sadness of DeMarcus Cousins’ injury

Just when everything started to go right for Boogie on the court, it was snatched away.

Houston Rockets vs New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles on Friday, knocking him out for the rest of the season for the surging New Orleans Pelicans.

In a tragically ironic twist, Boogie was injured chasing down a loose ball, something a segment of basketball fandom would believe an unnatural act for Cousins. That segment of basketball fandom never watched enough Boogie. He had his moments of despair and frustration (which sometimes manifested as sloth), but the dude always got after it in the end. He led the league in charges drawn a few different years, gets more steals than most other big men, and has one of the most diversified games in the league. It’s all because he does work hard, no matter what critics say otherwise.

This injury is uncommonly tragic, despairing, and frustrating. Cousins, freed from the vortex of failure in Sacramento last season via trade, was finally on his way to the NBA playoffs. The Pelicans are the No. 6 seed in the West, beating the Rockets after Cousins went down on Friday. Cousins, in his eighth year, is widely considered the best NBA player in history to never play in a playoff game. He was going to lose that line on his resumé in just three months.

So many blamed the Kings’ foibles on Cousins over all those years. The Kings are on track to have their worst season since 2012, Cousins’ second in Sacramento. Circumstances are different, true. But while Kings fans are rightfully excited by the potential of Buddy Hield (acquired in the Cousins trade), Bogdan Bogdanovic, and De’Aaron Fox, it’s all quite clear that Cousins was the victim of Sacramento’s mismanagement, not the fount of failure himself.

In Sacramento, Cousins put up numbers some considered empty, won All-Star and All-NBA accolades some felt undeserved, and sat watching every April. Finally — finally — this year in New Orleans almost no one questioned his impact for a heavily improved Pelicans club. He was elected an All-Star starter in the highly competitive Western Conference. He was going to taste the tenor of playoff basketball.

All of that was taken away in one moment.

Remember that he’s an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career this July, as well. Before the injury, New Orleans would obviously have thrown a max contract his way, even if that’d be doom for its salary cap sheets. The Pelicans needed this too, having made the playoffs just once in Anthony Davis’ reign, and then only by the skin of their teeth. Davis won’t be under contract forever, and the bold move to grab Boogie last year was really paying off, despite the front office’s recent foibles.

So long as the Pelicans gave Cousins what he desperately wanted — a playoff run — and he gave the Pelicans what they so desperately needed — a co-star for Davis — this was a perfect marriage. Is it broken now? Will the Pelicans fall out of the playoffs, or be so weakened entering them that the berth won’t mean anything? Will New Orleans flinch at committing $135 million to Cousins? Will a flinch break Cousins’ trust in the Pelicans and have him out on the open market for the first time since he chose Kentucky a decade ago? Will New Orleans and Boogie fall back into the background, together yet apart?

Tragic, despairing, and frustrating.

We tend to talk about who deserves what quite a bit in today’s world, ignoring that over the course of human history, “deserve” rarely has anything to do with anything. Please allow this treacle all the same. Cousins deserved the season he’s had, the respect showered upon him. Whatever you think about his on-court demeanor and the episodes of anger he’s flashed (including at the media), Boogie is exceedingly kind to the people he meets. (Media not included.)

Kings fans were divided on whether they wanted to see Cousins traded, and even then the rationales were segmented. Some were ready for a true rebuild, some wanted a clean break from a trying era. Some didn’t think the team could ever win with him. But so many people in Sacramento were crushed by the trade because of what Cousins meant to them and their communities. Boogie was a fixture at high school football games. He supported communities most in need of support quietly, eschewing attention for it. He paid for a funeral for a family whose son was lost to senseless violence. There are so many little stories you hear through whispers, never through press releases.

This isn’t unique among NBA players, so many of whom are so good about doing good in the community. But Cousins’ reputation in Sacramento is as strong as any King’s ever, which is saying something. While opinions were mixed on whether he should have remained a King last season, just about everyone wanted to see him succeed in New Orleans. The outpouring of grief from Sacramento is just as real as the frustrated cries in New Orleans right now. (The near-universal anguish this injury has been met with tells you how the broader NBA fandom feels about Boogie right now.)

All is not lost. A ruptured Achilles isn’t a death sentence. Recovery will be long, arduous, and painful. Cousins’ eight years on the treadmill of mediocrity in Sacramento show he can survive long, arduous, and painful and come out stronger on the other side. The estimate for Cousins’ return to action is 6-10 months, so he could be ready for opening night, hopefully in New Orleans alongside an Anthony Davis and a Jrue Holiday ready to tear down the West’s power structure.

This is not the end of Boogie’s NBA story. This doesn’t have to be the end of his Pelicans chapter. He will be in the playoffs. It’s just going to be a little while longer.

We’ll be here, waiting.