The one thing everyone wants to know when an NBA free agent lands at an unexpected destination for a bargain price is simple: They want to know how the hell it happened.
DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star who despite a recent Achilles injury was the best center on the market, signed a one-year deal worth $5.3 million with the Warriors last night. Amid all the cries of anguish from those who saw the move as Cousins and the Warriors conspiring to further ruin the NBA, the big man tried to throw some cold water on the situation, telling The Undefeated’s Marcus Spears that he only signed with Golden State because he had no offers from any of the other 29 teams in the NBA:
It should be obvious that it’s very beneficial for Cousins’s reputation among fans and other players for this version of events to be widely accepted, and the fact that he had this explanation ready to be relayed by a friendly reporter so quickly after signing the deal makes it clear that the optics of the deal are something Cousins was concerned about. The idea that Cousins, on just the second day of free agency, exercised some sort of absolute last resort because not a single team in the league would offer him a contract is ridiculous. He’s a member of the Golden State Warriors because he really wanted to be one.
This doesn’t make Cousins’s decision any less wise. (For him personally, that is. The NBA’s broader labor interests are never, ever served by guys willing to play on sweetheart deals for ownership.) ESPN’s Zach Lowe argued that even if Cousins had given other teams more time to court him, he may very well have ended up only being offered cut-rate, short-term deals by teams that were wary of his injury and his personality. But rather than spend a year trying to prove he’s healthy while making $10–$15 million on a non-contender or fringe contender, Cousins opted for what will essentially be a cushy sabbatical. He won’t make much money in the short term, but he’ll get to take all the time he needs rehabbing and then stage an audition for the rest of the league while likely coasting to a ring. By this time next year, Cousins could be hitting the free-agent market as a healthy superstar coming of a bounce-back season in which he proved himself capable of integrating into a winning culture. That’s likely to earn him some real money.
And if it all goes wrong, if Cousins never really returns to form and ends up causing all sorts of internal strife within the locker room? Well, then he’ll essentially be back where he was yesterday, but he’ll have a ring to show for it.