Report: Lakers passed on signing DeMarcus Cousins for salary similar to Warriors deal

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DeMarcus Cousins signing with the Warriors for just the taxpayer mid-level exception sent shockwaves through the NBA.

But Cousins was Golden State’s at least second choice. Anthony Slater of The Athletic:

(Tyreke Evans will sign a one-year, $12 million contract with the Pacers.)

And the Warriors – even after the Pelicans pulled their larger offer and Cousins came to terms with accepting a relatively low salary this season – apparently weren’t Cousins’ first choice, either.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Word also reached us Monday night that LeBron’s Lakers, after signing Rajon Rondo away from New Orleans and then losing Randle to the Pelicans, had an opportunity to sign Cousins at a one-year price point similar to the one that landed him in Golden State. But I’m told the Lakers passed, clearing the way for the Warriors to infuriate the basketball public yet again.

The Lakers have $5,681,934 of cap space left – enough to match or even slightly exceed Cousins’ $5,337,000 salary in Golden State. Los Angeles also has an underwhelming center rotation comprised of JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner.

Why pass on Cousins?

His Achilles injury and attitude scared off many teams. Maybe we shouldn’t single out the Lakers.

But we didn’t know which other teams could have signed Cousins so cheaply. The Warriors provided an elite opportunity to win, and that obviously appealed to Cousins.

Yet, the Lakers – in the Los Angeles market with LeBron James there – drew consideration from Cousins before Golden State. So, the Lakers warrant extra attention for passing.

The Lakers just don’t seem that committed to winning a title with LeBron this year. Their other free-agent agreements – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee – collectively underwhelm. They haven’t traded any of their young players – Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart – for better veterans (like Kawhi Leonard), at least yet. Maintaining flexibility for 2019 appears to be the priority.

But Los Angeles has LeBron James! It seems foolish to throw away a year in his prime. Cousins would have increased the Lakers’ variance, helpful considering the Warriors’ supremacy. He also would have accepted a one-year deal that keeps Los Angeles’ options open for 2019.

What downside with Cousins could justify turning down that upside?