Dallas was every free agent big man’s fall back heading into free agency. The Mavericks had cap space — around $28 million — and the need for a center. For the other big men in free agency, that’s leverage.
That leaves those other free agents with less leverage.
For DeMarcus Cousins — who had been tied to the Mavericks — it leaves the Pelicans as by far the most likely team to sign (or in this case re-sign) him, according to the buzz from teams around the league. That was always the most probable outcome, but it’s becoming more evident when talking to teams. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN emphasized that on SportsCenter last night.
Cousins is immensely talented, but coming off a torn Achilles it becomes a question of years. The money will not be the max, but it will still likely be in mid $20 million a year range. The question is how many years does the Pelicans, or any team want to committed to Cousins fully guaranteed? Because the history of big men, especially those who rely on their quickness as part of their game, coming back from this injury is not good.
Most likely this is a two-year deal. There could be a third year with Joel Embiid-style incentives — hitting thresholds of minutes and games played — but that’s probably the max.
Cousins wants more. Before this injury the Pelicans were going to lock him up with a five-year max deal, to have that and see it fall away is hard. Cousins was hoping to use Dallas and anyone else interested as leverage, but that is slipping away. Instead, the Pelicans are bidding against themselves and they are not going to overdo it.
From Cousins’ perspective, he just has to look forward. Put in the work on recovery. Can he bounce back? How close to his old form can he get? Because he is really playing for his next contract starting this September.