3 major injuries in 20 months have left Boogie a long shot to return to stardom and a likely tragic “what if” story.
DeMarcus Cousins has always been an eccentric figure. He’s a hotheaded, emotional player but staunchly loyal and devoted to winning. The opinions about him have varied from fan to fan, but one thing was always agreed upon: Boogie can hoop. But in the last 20 months the transcendent talent has suffered 3 severe injuries and his legacy is now in danger of being swept into obscurity—a devastating thought. It might be time to start confronting the harrowing reality that we may never see the incredible peak his basketball journey seemed destined to reach.
Cousins has always been hampered by minor injury troubles, never logging a full 82-game season in his career, but the serious problems started when he tore his Achilles tendon as a member of the Pelicans. It’s not quite a kiss of death, but Achilles injuries are certainly a kiss of mediocrity—no star has ever returned to dominance after suffering one.
It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Boogie: in the midst of a contract year and headed for a huge payday, putting up a monster 25/13/5 stat line through 48 games. But in a split-second he went from co-leading a scary Pelicans team with Anthony Davis, on his way to a $100-plus million contract to cheering from the stands, hoping some team would take a chance on him that summer.
One team did, and considering the circumstances it was about the best possible scenario for the recovering Cousins: the Warriors took on the wounded center with a one-year, $5.3 million contract for last year. It was a far cry from the max deal he was once sure to make, but a smart basketball move. He was joining a juggernaut squad with the certainty of competing for a ring, all with the added bonus of having no pressure to return too soon. And things were going according to plan until he suffered his second serious injury: a torn quad in the first round of the playoffs. Fortunately, due to the long-lasting format of the NBA Playoffs, he was able to recover and eventually return to action in the Finals, but the questions were already being asked: is he too injury prone to be a key player ever again?
Those doubts were confirmed this summer after Cousins tore his ACL on a drive to the basket. The issue isn’t so much the ACL tear itself (the ligament is reconstructed and most players bounce back to form straight away) it’s the way his body continues to fail him. The ACL tear was a result of a simple drive to the basket, with little to no contact. If his body breaks down on drives to the basket in a summer pickup game, that doesn’t bode well for trying to take on an intense 82 game season plus playoffs.
There is a potential roadmap for Cousins to remain a contributor for an NBA team, which is to lose some weight to take pressure off his ailing legs and key in on his above average shooting and excellent ball handling/passing skills as more of a perimeter big. The ACL recovery timetable is usually around a year, so a team is likely to pick him up to see if he can do that in the 2020/21 season.
It’s hard not to imagine what the framework of the NBA would look like if Cousins never suffers that Achilles tear. In that world there’s a very real possibility that New Orleans is a perennial contending force with AD and Boogie both under long-term max contracts—a bizarre thought considering the turmoil surrounding the Pelicans last season.
Regardless of the jersey he wears, it remains a tragedy that yet another generational talent has been undermined by injury. Cousins joins the way-too-long list of “what ifs?” right at the top with the likes of Derrick Rose and Brandon Roy. There is still time for Cousins to leave his mark on the NBA; it’s just more likely to happen as a role player than a star. If he can embrace that then he’ll certainly find success—there’s always room for a 7-footer who can shoot on a winning team in today’s NBA. Here’s to hoping that will be the case.