The Lakers are expected to land a talented, young center on Thursday. Most assume it will be Jahlil Okafor, but could it possibly be All-Star DeMarcus Cousins instead?
ESPN’s Marc Stein reported on Monday that the Lakers are actively constructing trade scenarios to convince the Kings to trade him. It was also said that the trade scenarios involve the #2 pick and/or Julius Randle. Perhaps Jordan Clarkson is involved too, but that’s purely my own speculation.
DeMarcus Cousins is basically everything people hope Jahlil Okafor can become in the future. A 20+ PPG scorer, and a double-digit rebounder. A dominant post-player that you can run your whole offense through. Cousins has also made significant strides on the defensive end since entering the league – an area that Okafor needs to improve on as well.
But if Cousins’ current ability at age 24 (!!!) is what we hope Jahlil Okafor will become in the best scenario, you happily trade the second pick for Cousins, right? Perhaps, but there’s much more to it than that.
It obviously depends which combination of picks and players it would take to land Cousins. Would I like the trade if it’s just the #2 pick for Cousins? Yes. The #2 pick and Clarkson for Cousins? Probably. Clarkson and Randle without giving up the #2 pick? Maybe. Randle and the #2 pick for Cousins. No. In the last two scenarios I mentioned, you’re losing two top prospects on rookie contracts. Needless to say that rookie contracts are extremely valuable. Not only are they cheap, they allow you to control a player for basically 6-7 years. Cousins on the other hand, will be making $14M this next season, and is an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-2018 season. If the Lakers struggle to build a contender around Cousins, he could leave.
On the flip side, Cousins’ contract is extremely reasonable and frankly will likely be a bargain in the new salary cap. Sure, the Lakers would lose a significant amount of cap space to use this offseason (about $10M since that is the difference is salary between Cousins and what the player selected second overall will get), but the 2016 plan will be essentially unharmed. If the cap is $90M as expected, Cousins’ $15.7M salary in 2016 will take up just 17% of the cap. That would give the Lakers plenty of room to build around him in the summer of 2016 (or another future offseason) since it’d give LA about $50-60M in cap space. Not to mention they’d already have a PROVEN All-Star to build around and to entice potential free agents with.
The counterargument to this counterargument is that if Okafor (or Russell) on a rookie contract does become as good as Cousins, you’d then have the extra cap space to build an even stronger team. But if you’re unwilling to trade the second pick for Cousins because the pick will have a cheaper contract, you better be real sure that he will become at least close to the player that Cousins is.
All in all, whether I’m a fan of a potential trade for DeMarcus Cousins depends on what the Lakers would have to give up for him, as I mentioned earlier. Give up too much, and the Lakers may struggle to build a solid team around Cousins. If that happens, he could bolt from LA in free agency. A result which would force the Lakers to rebuild all over again.