A major turning point for the Los Angeles Lakers this season happened when center DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL in a summer pickup game. The Lakers responded by signing Dwight Howard and, along with JaVale McGee, he has turned the center position into a strength rather than the weakness it was presumed to be.
Still, Cousins’ talent level was a different level than that of 34-year-old Howard or McGee and it’s easy to wonder how the Lakers would have meshed with the big man down low next to his former Pelicans teammate Anthony Davis. If you take Lakers head coach Frank Vogel at his word, there’s still a chance to see just that.
Vogel spoke at NBA All-Star media day on Saturday and had the following to say about Cousins:
“He’s on track to get healthy by the playoffs. We’ll have to see where he’s at with his rhythm and conditioning and timing and all that stuff. But there’s a possibility he returns this season.”
The Lakers have been reiterating for months now that Cousins could return to the court and play for the team this year despite the big man suffering a major injury following other injuries to his Achilles and quad the last two seasons.
It seems unwise for the Lakers to put so much pressure on a Cousins return, especially given how well Howard and McGee have played. The Warriors saw last season that bringing a big man like Cousins back from injury in the playoffs doesn’t always go as planned. It would also disrupt everything the team has worked on all year because Boogie plays a completely different style than the team’s other two centers (and Davis).
It’s also fair to wonder if all this talk about Cousins returning is just an excuse for the team should they cut another player to sign a free agent ahead of the playoffs. Cousins is a close friend of both Davis and LeBron James and the Lakers surely have interest in re-signing him on a cheap contract for next season so they probably would not want to waive him to create a roster spot. They would likely instead waive someone like Troy Daniels who has, on occasion, played meaningful minutes for the team. It’s an easier pill to swallow if there is some distant possibility of Cousins returning to the court this year.
Still, this is raising expectations for a player who suffered three major injuries in a span of fewer than two years and that seems like a bad idea on the part of the Lakers.