DeMarcus Cousins looked comfortable inside Capital One Arena. After his New Orleans Pelicans concluded their shoot-around Tuesday morning, the big man sat at center court, lounging and playing cards with teammates Rajon Rondo and Dante Cunningham. Later in the evening when the Washington Wizards handled the Pelicans in a 116-106 win, Cousins walked from the visitor’s space to the home team’s, threw his arm around the shoulder of Wizards VP of Community Relations Sashia Jones, stood near the locker room door and playfully heckled his good friend John Wall as he fielded questions from reporters.
Wall informed Cousins that he’d need another 30 minutes to wrap up his postgame medical treatment — no problem. Cousins killed time by strolling the hallways, giving a head nod to friendly faces and casually going wherever he pleased.
Cousins belonged in those areas where only players and their credentialed guests can wander. But it’s difficult to imagine Cousins roaming these hallways as Wall’s possible teammate with the Wizards.
For many, it’s natural to believe that Cousins would consider the Wizards based on his deep friendship with Wall, but the three-point shooting, trash-talking, body-bruising “Boogie” who deserves to be a franchise centerpiece may be too big for Washington’s core.
While dogging Mike Scott for his isolation game and yapping at anyone in a white jersey on Tuesday — “Boogie likes to talk junk,” Wall said, smiling — Cousins still dropped 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting and grab 13 rebounds. Yes, he’s a dominant player. But possibly too dominant. This season, Cousins ranks second in the league with a 34.2 usage percentage (a statistic that measures the portion of team plays used by a player), which is to say he has the ball in his hands an awful lot for the Pelicans.
Cousins doesn’t need a dynamic point guard. He’s not a cutter or an alley-oop finisher like Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who greatly benefits from playing with a pass-first point guard like Wall. Boogie can be his own play maker and has knocked down 127 unassisted shots, according to NBA.com. Through 31 games, Cousins has taken 294 jump shots — 194 have come from beyond the three-point arc.
While it may be tempting to think of all the space Cousins could create for Wall’s drives to the rim, this would neglect Bradley Beal’s role in the offense. Entering Tuesday’s game, Beal accounted for 22 percent of the team’s field goals, fifth highest in the league. In his breakout sixth season, Beal has graduated to become the team leader in field-goal attempts (19.0) and points per game (23.7). He’s developing into one of the best shooting guards in the league, but the inclusion of another ball-dominant player could potentially stunt Beal’s growth.
When the Wizards signed Otto Porter Jr. to a $106 million extension last summer, majority team owner Ted Leonsis memorably explained the commitment by telling reporters, “There’s one basketball and there’s a pecking order.” Porter fits behind Wall and Beal because he does not demand nor need the ball. After all, three alpha scorers and one basketball does not equal success. Just ask the 2017-18 Oklahoma City Thunder.
But even before evaluating Cousins’s potential fit in Washington, there’s the slight problem in figuring out how he would get here.
Cousins, who enters free agency at the end of the season, is playing in his first full season in the Pelicans’ grand experiment that features the best two big men in the game on the court together. So far, the Cousins and Anthony Davis pairing has yielded a 15-16 record this season, good for eighth place in the Western Conference. Less than two months from the NBA’s trade deadline, the current Pelicans’ situation does not scream panic. The team may be unlikely to move Cousins if it remains in the playoff hunt.
That leaves open the possibility of Cousins reuniting with Wall by choice, if only the Wizards could work some magic to find the money to pay what would surely amount to another max contract. For the first time in franchise history, the Wizards are paying the luxury tax due to the long-term deals given to Wall, Beal and Porter. Again, remember Leonsis’s words from the summer.
“We said we’ll end up with three max players that we drafted, that would be awesome. I would much rather give players that we know that we think have upside long-term big deals than roll the dice, right?” Leonsis said at that time. “There’s always lots of buyer’s remorse in free agency because you don’t really know the player, you’re looking at the stats.”
The Wizards didn’t mind spending the money to keep their three homegrown players as the core for the future, then use whatever is left to build around them. Bringing in a free agent such as Cousins would force the team to surrender one of its own to avoid a hefty tax bill.
Putting financial limitations aside and continuing the pipe dream, the Wizards could be a destination solely because Wall and Cousins have held a bond since they were kids. They spent their freshman year together on a juggernaut at Kentucky, before parting in 2010 to start all-star careers in the NBA. And judging by their open displays of friendship, the two have an easy connection that could smooth the rough edges of Cousins, whose all-NBA caliber play has at times been overshadowed by his temper and outbursts.
Last season when Cousins was still with the Sacramento Kings, he admitted how the topic of playing together with Wall has “come up.” Wall went further and said the two “talk about it all the time.” These days, however, the friends are no longer leaving bread crumbs to a potential reunion.
“It’s not on my mind at all,” Cousins told reporters Tuesday night about playing with Wall.
“Do I recruit him? Nah, we’re just brothers,” Wall responded, when asked directly if he’ll serve as the Wizards’ recruiter for Cousins this summer. “We just talk. Why wouldn’t we want to play together? We’ve been brothers since we were 14. Whatever happens, if it happens, it happens. If not, I don’t think there’s too much recruiting that needs to be done there. I think everybody knows what our brotherhood is, where we are. …
“I mean, certain people have that bond where it’s an opportunity and you take advantage of it. If it’s not there, these are my brothers. These other 14 guys. And I compete with these guys every day. … I’m with these guys eight, nine months out of the year. So if it happens, it happens. If not, [Cousins] still has to worry about his team and I have to worry about mine.”
Wall knows moments like Tuesday night, when Cousins looked right at home poking his head into the Wizards’ locker room, only stokes the swirling fire of trade and free agency rumors.
“Any time you talk about us or put a picture up, everybody’s going to say, ‘Why didn’t we do this?’ ” he said about the Wizards potentially making a move for Cousins.
Then, Wall smiled wide: “You’re going to have a frenzy whenever you post anything.”
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