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What DeMarcus Cousins’ Torn ACL Means For Him, the Lakers, and the NBA

Lakers center DeMarcus Cousins will probably miss the upcoming NBA season after he reportedly tore his ACL while working out in Las Vegas on Monday. Cousins signed a one-year deal with the Lakers earlier this summer after one season with the Warriors. The former No. 5 overall pick missed much of last year while recovering from a torn Achilles, and then missed most of the playoffs after tearing his quad in the first round. Cousins can be a free agent again next year, and he’ll be 30 years old by the start of the 2020–21 season. Here’s what his torn ACL means for him, the Lakers, and the NBA at large. 


There’s no sense in beating around the bush: This injury sucks. Cousins was clearly less than 100% during the NBA Finals, but he provided the injury-riddled Warriors with some valuable minutes in their loss to the Raptors. Last season was supposed to be Cousins’s return to glory. Instead, he never fully meshed with Golden State, and he wasn’t healthy enough during the playoffs to command a big contract in July. That set up another prove-it year with the Lakers, and now that’s been taken away as well.

Boogie is an incredibly fun player, a burly center who wants to play like James Harden. The NBA needs more of those kinds of unique stars. I still have hope for Cousins that he has one more big payday left in his career. If he has to take another one-year deal next summer, he can hopefully enter free agency as a 31-year-old with his injuries behind him. The road will continue to be long and arduous. And there will probably be times when Cousins will wonder if any of this is worth it. But he’s too immense of a talent to give up on his career. And I don’t think teams will give up on him as well. As long as he takes the proper amount of time to rehab his ACL—which is no longer the death-knell injury it was in the past—I certainly don’t think we’ve seen the last of Boogie.

The Lakers

The Lakers are in a tough spot without Cousins. I don’t think Boogie was going to close many games for this team, but he was almost certainly going to start, and soak up a good chunk of minutes at center. The only other center on L.A.’s roster is JaVale McGee, who had some solid stretches last season, but isn’t consistent enough to be an every night starter. On one hand, Boogie’s injury may force the Lakers to play more Anthony Davis at center. That’s good! Davis is more than capable of playing the five, Kyle Kuzma is more of a four anyway, and the Lakers can probably put their best five players on the floor in this scenario. (A Kuzma-Davis-Boogie frontcourt always seemed too clunky, anyway.) On the other hand, there’s serious concern about wear-and-tear with that lineup on an already thin team. LeBron’s going to have a typically large workload at point. Davis is going to have to bang with some legit bigs, and there isn’t much help coming from the bench. 

Long story short, Boogie’s injury is definitely a net loss for the Lakers. L.A. may start its best five players as a result of the situation, but the Lakers don’t have enough consistent performers on the roster to lose someone with a ceiling as high as Boogie’s. More minutes for JaVale doesn’t really seem like a recipe for success, to be frank. I’d be shocked if the Lakers weren’t actively looking for a Boogie replacement. 


Because Adam Silver keeps bringing this up, I want to tie Boogie’s torn ACL into the larger conversation about the power of players in the NBA. Silver often laments trade requests and players not fulfilling their contracts. Cousins’s former coach Steve Kerr pretty much did the same about Anthony Davis. What about what happened to Boogie?

In 2017, the Kings traded Cousins during the All-Star Game, one week after they told him he wasn’t going to be traded. And despite all of the turmoil in the organization’s front office, Cousins wanted to stay in Sacramento. He was lied to, then traded without his consent. That trade, by the way, disqualified Cousins from signing the supermax extension he would have been eligible for in the summer had he remained with the Kings.

We know what happened from there. In his second year with the Pelicans—and first full season—Cousins was putting up career numbers in a contract year before tearing his Achilles. He’s been hurt ever since, and he’s lost dozens and dozens of millions as a result. When NBA players decide to play with their friends or decide to exercise their leverage on teams, DeMarcus Cousins is the reason why. If the league’s commissioner wants to continue to publicly criticize players for requesting trades—and even fining them or their agents for being honest about it—perhaps he needs to more strongly consider the ramifications of what happens when players are blindsided by trades from teams they want to stay with. 


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