How the signing of DeMarcus Cousins could fix the Rockets
A lot can happen in a week. The Rockets have been reminding everyone of that almost daily.
Ten days ago, it looked like former MVP Russell Westbrook was out the door. Two days after that their other former MVP James Harden looked out the door as well. Trades were made, draft picks were acquired, and then (as should have been expected by now) draft picks were traded.
Then free agency kicked off and Houston dove right in. They immediately addressed their size issue by signing 6' 10" power forward Christian Wood, a versatile big man with the long range shot the Rockets crave. They followed that up with a few dart board throws at some three and D candidates in Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate. Overall, it was a very savvy, calculated, and safe start to free agency.
Monday afternoon is when things got very interesting, with former four time all-star DeMarcus Cousins announcing that he would be joining the Rockets on a non-guaranteed veterans minimum deal. Suddenly the team with one of the smallest frontcourts to end last season became potentially one of the most intriguing. While healthy, Cousins was one of the most dominant big men in the league.
The key word there, is when healthy.
The former Kentucky product has had an unfortunate run of career-sidelining injuries dating back to the 2017-2018 season when he tore his Achilles on the very same court of Toyota Center he hopes to play for this season. Following that injury, Cousins joined the Warriors on a one year $5.3M deal as a sort of try out to the league that he was still capable of performing at an all star level. By the end of the season though, he had torn a quad and then later sustained an ACL tear during the offseason.
This is, essentially, take three of a "prove it" contract.
For the Rockets, it's a win-win scenario.
Cousins joins a long list of players the Rockets had targeted for years and finally signed well after their value had slid. I'm looking at you, Nene, Carmelo Anthony, Westbrook, and Chris Paul. The difference is that this acquisition—unlike the latter two examples—didn't require the Rockets to mortgage the farm in order to take the chance. In much the same way they brought Anthony in, if it doesn't work, they can get rid of him without any issue.
But if it does work, oh boy.
Cousins, at 6' 11" and 269 pounds, is a force in the paint when healthy. Where it becomes intriguing is his ability to shoot from long range as well which, as mentioned before, is almost as much a prerequisite to having a spot on the Rockets roster as an Uber driver needs a car.
Cousins, however, is most effective when creating his own shot. That requires his own share of the ball alongside two of the most ball dominant guards in the league. Queue the "are they going to play with more than one ball" talking points that the Rockets have heard for the past four years. They said it with Paul. They said it with Westbrook. They'll say it with Cousins.
Until I see it on the court, I'm going to refrain from that tired narrative. With Paul it worked fine. With Westbrook it's worked fine at times. It all comes down to scheme, wins, and buy-in. If the scheme works, the wins build up, and there's more buy in. The more buy in, the more wins, and so on.
This is all under the assumption that Westbrook, Harden, and Cousins are all still wearing the same jersey once the season begins. It seems likely that that is the case, as Westbrook's trade value plummeted following his performance against the Lakers in the playoffs. It's possible that a hot start could lower the temperature enough that everyone chooses to stay, but that's also pure conjecture.
In any case, signing Cousins was a great call. If he's healthy, even getting 70% of the production from his all star form would have a massive impact. It may be the calming salve to keep the team together, it could possibly be what gets them over the hump. But at the very least, and worst case, it serves as a solid backup plan in the event that Harden or Westbrook are moved.
If he's healthy.
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