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23 thoughts on DeMarcus Cousins’ shocking Warriors move

What the f***? There’s a lot to dig through here.

Less than a day after LeBron James made his move to the LA Lakers official, the reigning Golden State Warriors summoned a delicious clapback in the form of a 1-year, $5.3 million contract for all-star center DeMarcus Cousins. That’s right: the team that has won three of the past four titles and already has four NBA All-Stars, two of whom have MVPs, just added a fifth all-star at the only position where they have a need.

It’s unreal. And as with the LeBron deal, there is a lot to unpack here. Let’s dig in.

1. First of all ...

DeAndre Jordan reacts to NBA free agency.

OK, we got that out of our way.

2. This decision was 100 percent driven by DeMarcus Cousins. That’s important for everyone to keep in mind as we rail against the Warriors. Golden State didn’t lose JaVale McGee to the Lakers on Sunday and decide to go chase Cousins — odds are the Warriors believed, like everyone else, that despite his Achilles surgery last winter, he’d command a huge salary on the open market, even if only on a 1-year deal. He didn’t according to The Undefeated’s Marc Spears, or at least he wasn’t willing to wait it out. He sought out the Warriors.

3. That said, given the deal came down July 2, something tells me Cousins’ camp had this thought in the back pocket all along. That would be smart and responsible. But this didn’t just spring up after it became clear the Pelicans were getting shy and the Lakers weren’t going to bring the max to the table.

4. Cousins will not be a Warrior past this next season unless one of the following things happens: Klay Thompson leaves in 2019 free agency, Kevin Durant leaves in 2019 free agency, or the Warriors trade Draymond Green. As Zach Lowe and others have noted, the Warriors won’t have Cousins’ Bird rights and won’t have the cap space to sign him to a market-rate deal in 2019 without other moves. Even Thompson taking a substantial discount — something that registers as unlikely — won’t create enough room for Boogie. Everything points to this being a one-year rental, not the new norm.

NBA: All Star Practice Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

5. The Warriors were already prohibitive favorites in 2018-19. That allows you to look at this move two ways. One way is to be angry that the prohibitive favorites decided they needed more help, and that a very good player in a weird situation decided to jump on the wagon. The other way to look at it, given the reality explained in Point No. 3, is since the Warriors were probably going to win the title anyway, this doesn’t really matter.

6. What would Golden State critics have the Warriors do when Boogie’s agent calls? “No, I’m sorry, this will go over poorly. We agree that it’d be a beautiful match, help us and help you, but no. It’s too rude to the rest of the league.” That’s never going to happen in a league competitive as the NBA.

7. Consider Boogie’s mindset. He has heard so much criticism over the years: about his attitude, about his fitness, about his defense. A constant refrain has been his inability to win. Smart people saw the consistent dumpster fire surrounding him in Sacramento and knew that on a functional team with a decent, stable supporting cast, he could win. But the popular commentary on Cousins was that he was a pit of empty stats, a bad actor who’d always drag his team down even if he soared individually. You have to consider the impact of that criticism of him over the past eight years when considering his mindset.

(7a. This isn’t to say that Cousins had no culpability in Kings’ dysfunction. He was just never the biggest factor. Boogie was always more of a symptom than a cause. In the Geoff Petrie-Paul Westphal regime, Cousins was an accelerant. Otherwise, he was more a byproduct of the raging dysfunction around him.)

8. Cousins finally got a chance to win last season. He finally got a chance to smell the NBA playoffs. And it was cruelly ripped from him by injury. How painful can this world be? We know trauma hardens hearts and souls, and Cousins decided he wasn’t taking any chances. Hence, the Warriors.

9. Why is winning so important to a guy like Boogie Cousins? Because it’s so important to all of y’all! If the sports world yells about RINGZ and winning loud enough, it has an impact. A sports culture obsessed with binary team success tends to lead to prioritization of binary team success. If you’re mad about the Warriors’ dominance, consider for a minute what we’ve been collectively telling Cousins and Kevin Durant their whole lives.

10. DeMarcus Cousins signed with the Warriors, folks.

Jimmy Butler.

11. Another huge factor here is the NBA’s financial system. The NBA has a soft team salary cap, which means that there are various ways in which teams — like the Warriors, for instance! — can exceed the cap to sign players despite having huge payrolls. The Warriors used one of those methods, the miniature mid-level exception, to sign Cousins to a $5 million deal. The players’ union has fought consistently for the soft cap, and the league has bargained to allow these exceptions in order to allow capped teams to improve annually and, I suspect, to keep free agency interesting.

12. The NBA also has an individual player max. This absolutely leads to something like these current Warriors signed Cousins. Without the individual max, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant would be making $50 million instead of $30-40 million. Durant might actually be up in the $60 million range — it’s impossible to really tell and would depend on everything that would change. If the best players in their league made true market value and there were still some sort of downward constraint on team salary (whether through a soft cap, a hard cap, or luxury taxes), teams wouldn’t be able to stockpile talent like this.

13. The cap spike in 2016 is truly the most important random NBA financial quirk in modern league history. That cap spike allowed the 73-win Warriors to sign Durant outright as a free agent in 2016. It also gave a grip of other teams loads of cap space. Most of those teams spent it all right away. There’s a direct line between the irresponsible spending in 2016 (as teams believed the cap would continue to rise — it hasn’t) and the super-tight market this summer. That super-tight market killed Cousins’ earning potential and made the Warriors deal possible.

14. The players’ union could have stopped the cap spike by negotiating with the league to phase it in over several years without taking one dollar from players in the long run. The union refused. Here we are.

15. The NBA actually could have phased it in themselves through negotiations with the broadcast partners. (That’s the reason for the cap spike: the NBA’s new TV rights deal with ABC/ESPN and Turner went into effect in 2016, and it was much, much richer than the prior deal. The salary cap level is based on league revenue. When league revenue jumps, so does the salary cap.) Had the league foreseen the impacts to the salary cap, they could have negotiated a rights deal that ramped up over the course of a few years without leaving a dollar on the table. They did not. Here we are.

16. All that said, there is no evidence the Warriors’ continued dominance and stockpiling of talent is bad for the league. Ratings have been up, fans watch the Warriors in droves, and the NBA’s historical high points have traditionally been associated with dominant teams like the 1980s Celtics and Lakers, the 1990s Bulls, and the early-2010s Heat. The league office probably cringed when Cousins took the deal only because a bunch of franchise owners are going to complain about the Warriors, not because this will actually hurt the NBA.

17. There has been some criticism of Cousins — as there has been for Durant — for taking less than what is absolutely possible to the benefit of NBA franchise owners. This is a fair criticism from a labor perspective, moreso of Durant (who has consistently cut Joe Lacob a deal) than Cousins (who is seeking to maximize future earnings by taking less this season). That said, when you play this out all the way, it doesn’t actually matter. NBA players are guaranteed a certain percentage of league revenue. What Durant doesn’t take goes to other members of the union. Are you concerned with Durant saving Lacob from paying a few extra million in luxury tax? OK, understand where that luxury tax goes: to other NBA franchise owners. Specifically, NBA franchise owners who aren’t paying union members as much as the Warriors are. It’s all a wash in the end.

18. DeMarcus Cousins is going to be a free agent again in 2019. For all of you (us?) who want to see the Warriors challenged and defeated, isn’t Cousins doing really well this season and signing with a top rival to the Warriors — like, say, the Celtics or Lakers? — in 2019 the best-case scenario? (Well, the second best-case scenario after Boogie destroying the Warriors from inside. Speaking of which ...)

19. This tweet from Stephen Curry is so perfect.

This is actually a nod back to Cousins stroking threes alongside Curry and Klay Thompson with USA Basketball. But it fits the notion that Durant doesn’t actually fit in with the Warriors so, so well. Durant has won two titles with Golden State, and it’s Cousins — not him — who is the official third Splash Brother. Glorious.

20. This whole dynamic between Curry (who loves Cousins), Boogie (who loves Curry), Durant (TBD), and Draymond Green (LMAO) is going to be incredible.

21. The Pelicans traded Buddy Hield and a lottery pick for, essentially, one season of DeMarcus Cousins. To compound matters, they replaced him with a 1-year rental of Julius Randle, and replaced Rajon Rondo (electric in the playoffs) with Elfrid Payton. This is a bad offseason for New Orleans. Sure, they kept their cap sheet clean going forward. But you can’t go backwards when Anthony Davis is moving closer to free agency and you just had a killer playoff run. You just can’t.

22. If you’re still really mad at the Warriors, remember the Kings could have offered Cousins a super-max deal and he absolutely would have signed it. Sacramento didn’t want to do it, so they traded him. Here we are.

23. Cousins was drafted in Sacramento in 2010, just before Curry’s second year in Golden State. Both teams were awful at the time. Never underestimate the power of watching the Warriors rise to incredible heights just up I-80 while Cousins’ Kings languished all those years. Boogie had a front row seat to see how much fun the Splash Brothers and Golden State more widely was having. That must have left a powerful impression on a player who wants nothing more than to ball out and win.