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2018 NBA Free Agency: DeMarcus Cousins will have to wait for LeBron James to announce his monumental decision

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Boogie’s destination won’t be known until a few other dominos fall first.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at New Orleans Pelicans Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Cousins put together one of the more impressive seasons in modern history when he went down on Friday, January 26th. At 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 5.4 assists per game, Boogie joined an elite group consisting of five Hall of Fame players:

Wilt Chamberlain

Kareem Abdul Jabar

Oscar Robertson

Elgin Baylor

Charles Barkley

With 18.5 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists, Nikola Jokic, arguably one of the game’s biggest rising stars, is set to earn a five-year and $146 million contract this summer, but when it comes time to foot the bill for Cousins, the New Orleans Pelicans and the rest of the NBA are instead believed to be trying to short change arguably the best center in the NBA.

Is it due to the ruptured Achilles? Primarily, yes, the injury is a devastating one and has claimed the careers of many big men. However, with Cousins relative youth (27) as well as the advancements in modern medicine, the odds are favorable he reclaims much of his former productivity. For instance, his rehab appears to be on schedule.

So why the proverbial game of cat and mouse between Boogie and General Manager Dell Demps?

Could it be Cousins’ attitude and history of brash behavior? Boogie does sport the most technical fouls and head coaches of any player over his seven-year career.

Or could it be tied to the current roster’s ‘chemistry?’ Alvin Gentry and Demps both lauded Nikola Mirotic and his production, coupled with the lightning fast pace and defensive improvements the Pelicans’ made between February and the rest of the season. All of this culminated in a four-game sweep over the third-seeded Blazers that saw a frenetically aggressive Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday score 88 points in a single game!

The answer, honestly, lies within the Association’s financial structure. Thanks to a nine-year, $24 billion television deal, every team’s cap space exponentially increased by an astounding degree.

The NBA argued for ‘cap smoothing’ but the Players Union would have none of it. So, the cap leapt from $70 million to $94 million and many franchises have been paying for the Union’s mistake ever since.

Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah, Bismack Biyombo, Luol Deng, Solomon Hill, Evan Turner, Ryan Anderson, Tyler Johnson, DeMar DeRozan, Eric Gordon and Harrison Barnes combined to ink $823 million in the Summer of ’16. While DeRozan and Barnes have arguably lived up to their contracts, the league has witnessed how an albatross contract like All-Star power forward Blake Griffin’s can cripple a franchise, even despite the 20/8/6 per night.

The Pelicans front office has every right to be cautious, yet Cousins has every right to seek the money he deserves as the league’s most dominant center. New Orleans must try to keep their All-Star at a team friendly rate because due to previous mistakes tied to Solomon Hill and Alexis Ajinca, the team finds themselves without flexibility heading into free agency. With $93 million dedicated to Anthony Davis, E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, Ajinca, Niko and Solo, the Pelicans would hit the luxury tax if they give Boogie the max.

New Orleans is not alone — many salary cap sheets are filled to the brim across the NBA. But there will be a few that should have some available resources. For DeMarcus, patience will likely be key this offseason as an even more complex problem must be solved first: LeBron James.

The best player in the league will ultimately control the timetable of NBA free agency.

Dallas, for example, is often said to be Boogie’s biggest suitor, yet they are also linked to Clint Capela, Julius Randle, and even Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon. Los Angeles General Manger Magic Johnson once called Boogie the most skilled big man in the NBA. The Lakers have the space, the market and the resources to seduce him, but none of these teams will put down details onto pen and paper until they are first spurned by the King.

Dallas is not in the running for the King’s services, but his actions will have a ripple effect across the league. Should LeBron choose to go to Houston, the Rockets would need to jump through hoops, offloading Ryan Anderson’s monstrous contract and likely losing Capela in free agency too. If so, one would expect the Mavericks to prefer the younger, healthier Capela to Boogie.

Los Angeles is said to have interest in Cousins, but that interest won’t reveal itself until LeBron, Chris Paul, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard give them a thumbs down.

A sign-and-trade with the Washington Wizards involving Otto Porter Jr., or a collection of assets headlined by Kelly Oubre and Tomas Satoransky plus expirings could be the avenue the Pelicans and Boogie choose, but should he walk in free agency, he will need to wait for LeBron James.

Kevin Barrios argues that Lebron has already made his decision based on information provided by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons — Simmons was privy to Lebron’s hand injury before anyone else while filming “Courtside at the NBA Finals,” for HBO. Just in case he’s wrong, here are the reasons why Lebron’s mind should be far from made up.

San Antonio

LeBron has called Gregg Popovich the best coach in the world on multiple occasions. But in order for LeBron to go to the Spurs, Pop and Kawhi will need to resolve their beef. That’s not expected to happen by July 1st according to most prognostications.

Philadelphia

The fit is there despite the presence of Ben Simmons need to have the ball. Philly has the space and the young talent to attract the King, and who doesn’t want to play in the East? But, with Lebron’s son and family set to move to LA with or without him, it hardly makes sense to cross coasts to see young Bronny play midseason.

Houston

Unloading the contracts of Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon remain a challenge. Should the Rockets be LeBron’s preference, we will know by June 29th, when Lebron opts into the final year and $35.6 million of his deal. Houston is said to match whatever deal Clint Capela receives, which would make Houston’s tax bill nearly untenable. But this does fit within Kevin and Simmons’ guess.

New Orleans

A fit between AD, Jrue, Lebron is too good to be true, but this only further compliments the rationale that DeMarcus would need to wait until team officials meet with Bron’s camp and work out all the logistics a monstrous deal like this would entail. An arrangement like this would potentially need four teams to make work, at least three, and could not be executed on the opening night of free agency, much less opening week. For more, check my earlier article on Boogie.

Cleveland

No chance.

Brian Windhorst gave the Cavaliers a 40% chance of bringing the King home, but a source reported to Mark Weisler of the Los Angeles News another opinion.

It’s not Cleveland. If he was staying, the press people wearing a path to his entourage’s door would have been issuing hourly bulletins on all the communication back and forth as Bron and the Cavs planned their future before the draft.

Remember, he’s no longer owes Cleveland anything: ”What else do I have to prove?” James said in an interview with Cleveland.com last May. “Seriously, what else would I have [to do]? I’ve won championships. I won my first one and I’ve won for my teammates. I came home and won. There isn’t anything I have left to prove.”

Also, LeBron made his feelings known about Dan Gilbert and his infamous 2010 letter on Lebron’s YouTube series “The Shop,” filmed in New Orleans at a local barbershop:

”this fucking article ... where he completely bashed me and ... disrespected not only me as an individual but disrespected my name.”

Lebron goes on to speak of his family, who were against returning to Cleveland in 2014.

”Some people were on the fence,” James says. “My momma and my wife was like, ‘Fuck that. I ain’t with that.’ My mom was definitely like, ‘Fuck that. We ain’t going back.’”

Los Angeles

The popular betting site TopBet.Eu has the Lakers as the likeliest landing spot for LeBron James.

It’s not a shock why. Let’s start with the fact that LeBron owns two mansions where his son is said to start school soon.

In addition, Doris Burke has reported that LeBron is seeking to play off the ball in the 2018-19 season.

“I was told LeBron wants to get off the ball more in the future. He doesn’t necessarily want to function full-time as that point forward.”

According to Ramona Shelbourne that player could be Lonzo Ball.

We’ve seen Lebron talk to the young man following a Cavaliers win over the Lakers. Remember this?

So, LeBron gets to stay in the same city as his family, play off the ball and have a chance to assemble a new group of super friends?

“Meanwhile,” said the GM, “LeBron is doing what we does — calling players on other teams he wants to play with.” — Mark Heisler, Los Angeles News

However, don’t get married to this idea just yet.

Paul George, the Palmdale, California native, is the most likely target to team up with LeBron. Last year, Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News reported that George ”never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers locker room,” meaning teammates knew he wanted to sign with the Lakers.

But according to Marc Stein of the New York Times, Adrian Wojnarowski, and Sam Amick of USA Today, there is growing optimism in Oklahoma City that George will be back by Russell Westbrook’s side this season. Stein specifically says that “more than one rival team” believes George will “strongly consider” a two-year deal worth more than $60 million from Oklahoma City with a player option in the second year.

“I haven’t even gone through a season yet, and they’ve already proven everything on my check list (that) I can check off,” George said earlier this season. “That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me, and somewhere I can call home for years.”

In addition, when Westbrook signed his super max, George was quoted saying,” This definitely makes the decision easier.”

Chris Paul was reportedly feuding with the Houston Rockets over contract concerns by Chris Broussard.

Tommy Beer of Basketball Insiders weighs in on why paying Paul a maximum contract could be seen as a mistake long term:

  • 2018-19: $35.4 million
  • 2019-20: $38.2 million
  • 2020-21: $41.0 million
  • 2021-22: $43.8 million
  • 2022-23: $46.7 million

That’s a total sum of $205 million over five seasons. Chris Paul will be 37 years old in 2022, but he’s already missed a combined 45 regular season games in his age 31 and 32 seasons.

On the other hand, USA Today’s Sam Amick again weighs in: While the Rockets don’t believe LeBron James will sign with them, there is “a strong sense” Paul will re-sign with Houston.

Besides, Chris Paul just bought a gorgeous new home in Houston.

Kawhi is likely a no-go this season as well.

“We will explore all of our options, but the first one would be to keep Kawhi as part of our group,” Buford told reporters of Leonard, who missed most of the season with a right quadriceps injury and is eligible for a five-year, $219 million extension on July 1.

Then Ramona Shelbourne reported:

Or could Lebron’s superfriends be comprised of these guys (sans CP).

”I really hope that, before our career is over, we can all play together,” James told B/R two years ago. “At least one, maybe one or two seasons—me, Melo, D-Wade, CP—we can get a year in. I would actually take a pay cut to do that.”

The Thunder would be thrilled to seek a buyout with Melo, and Dwayne Wade and his beautiful wife and actress Gabrielle Union, would be delighted to join the King in Hollywood.

While Lebron James and his super friends may make league changing decisions on the opening night of free agency, the more likely route has most of the players taking meetings first, with DeMarcus Cousins sitting patiently and waiting for the chips to start falling.