Is DeMarcus Cousins a max player next summer? Next season will have say.


LeBron James is going to get a max salary next summer, wherever he plays. Same with Kevin Durant (who will stay a Warriors). Russell Westbrook and Paul George are lock max contracts. Chris Paul, too. Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid probably will (if Embiid stays healthy).

DeMarcus Cousins?

Probably. Cousins is the best traditional center in the game right now: 27 points and 11 boards a game last season, he can hit midrange shots and threes (36.1 percent from deep last season) and is a solid defensive presence in the paint. He also has never led a team to the playoffs, has been seen as selfish, rubbed some teammates/coaches/executives the wrong way (to put it kindly), and there are questions about his fit in an evolving NBA.

Cousins will be paired with Anthony Davis in New Orleans next year, and more than one executive told Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports how that relationship goes could impact Cousins free agent value.

“This season is huge,” said a Western Conference team executive. “He has to prove he can win. He has never played with anyone near the talent of Davis. He has to show he is willing to sacrifice for the team and do what is best for the team first. He really needs to turn a corner. If he acts up, he will cost himself a lot of money.”

Added another Western Conference exec, “There’s no way to overstate it – there is huge money on the line.”

Cousins refuses to address anything beyond next season. “I’m not real concerned,” Cousins said. “I know people know my talent. I’m past all that.”

The max for Cousins will be at 30 percent of the cap, this season that would start at around $29.7 million (if the cap remains flat next season that would be his number). The max another team could offer was four-years, around $128 million, while the Pelicans could offer about $5 million more over the course of four years plus one guaranteed additional year (a fifth) at around $40 million.

However, it is going to be a tight financial market next summer — only nine teams are expected to have space for a max contract, and not all of them will need centers. If potential suitors are hesitant after this season, Cousins would still make a lot of money ($25 million a year?) but teams would be reluctant to go fours years. He may not get more than three.

The Pelicans are going to be battling for a playoff spot in the bottom of a crowded West — going against good teams such as Denver, Portland, Memphis, and the L.A. Clippers — and if things go sideways, there are a lot of executives around the league who think Cousins could get traded again. Who makes the postseason at the bottom of the West is going to come down to health and chemistry.

The Pelicans think they can zig while the league zags — everyone is going small and versatile, they are betting on big. If it doesn’t work, Cousins will likely get blamed, but there also likely will be a house cleaning in New Orleans of the front office and coaching staff. A lot of jobs are on the line with this bet.

And also a lot of money for Cousins.