By Stephen D. Riley, Special to AFRO
The NBA rumor mill isn’t exactly spinning with DeMarcus Cousins-to-D.C. predictions but it is definitely moving. With no cap space available and a gaping hole in the middle of their roster after this week’s trade that swapped Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers, the Washington Wizards are in desperate need for a center and have limited resources to acquire one. But that’s just a thought. Sign-and-trade deals happen all the time in the NBA, and DeMarcus Cousins is the best free agent center on the market. It helps that Cousins played with Wizards star John Wall in their college days at Kentucky, and that friendship may be enough for them to move mountains together. But how would it all work and what happens next? Let’s imagine.
The likely piece in a Cousins-to-D.C. maneuver would have to center on Otto Porter Jr. The third star in Washington’s “Big Three” currently makes the most money($26 million next season) but is also the most forgotten. For what the Wizards are paying Porter, the value just isn’t there. Despite currently rehabbing from an Achilles tear that he suffered in late January, Cousins — a clear and free free agent by the end of the week — would walk into next season commanding a salary somewhere between $25 million to $30 million. A sign-and-trade between New Orleans and Washington would have to involve Cousins signing with New Orleans and then immediately being shipped in exchange for Porter and some roster filler.
I lambasted the Wizards front office last week for drafting a small forward in Oregon’s Troy Brown that likely wouldn’t play over the Wizards current wings in Porter, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. However, if you trade Porter and either Satoransky or Oubre then it would make sense why Brown was drafted.
Now, fast forward to October: Porter and another wing have been traded for Cousins and the Wizards open up the season to a packed Capital One Arena with half the fans still drunk from the Capitals’ title parade. A new “Big Three” between Cousins, Wall and Bradley Beal is the talk of the league—and for good reason. It’s the new all-Black version of the old San Antonio Spurs trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli. Having the athletic big man that he craved, Wall becomes a true floor general and distributor with Beal and Cousins flanking him. Cousins becomes the go-to man and Beal feeds off of that beautifully. The new chain of command in D.C. takes the offensive pressure off Wall and Brown, and Rivers and whoever is left from the Satoransky/ Oubre sacrifice headlines the reserve rotation. The once starter-heavy Wizards now have a balanced roster with headliners on the front wave and capable talents coming off the bench plus whoever else the Wizards can find with the mid-level exception.
If the Wizards have to swap Porter for Cousins, it would make sense for the team to try to use their exception on an experienced wing instead of leaving the position to younger players like Brown, Oubre and/or Satoransky. If you’re asking me personally, I would love for the Wizards to make a move on versatile forward Jerami Grant. He’s 6-foot-9 and can play and defend anywhere
from shooting guard to power forward. He’s not the shooter that Porter is but his defense and athleticism would look pretty sandwiched between the playmaking of Cousins, Wall and Beal. And it helps that the son of former Washington Bullets forward Harvey Grant is familiar with the area with his dad having played for the team and the younger Grant blossoming into a Division 1 prospect at local DeMatha Catholic High School alongside NBA champion Quinn Cook and Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo.
Sideliners from last season like Markieff Morris, Jason Smith and Ian Mahinmi could actually become more effective with reduced roles or maybe they serve as additional trade fodder because of their expiring contracts. Who knows? Who cares? Locking in Cousins, Wall and Beal next year should be enough for a conference finals run. Of course, LeBron, the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers still threaten the East Coast, but the Wizards wouldn’t be scared. They would have their own all-stars. And, if they can balance out the roster, they’ll be just as terrifying to opponents.
With Cousins coming off injury and trying to fit in, Washington could stumble to open the season up, but after the all-star break—in which Washington could realistically have three stars representing—the team should start clicking, using the passing skills and basketball IQs of Wall and Cousin to form a highly efficient offense. The roster would be devoid of any real leadership so coaching and Scott Brooks would be vital.
The diagnosis on stars capping their careers after Achilles injuries isn’t a rosy outlook. But it’s a gamble that the Wizards almost have to make at this point. Washington has been stuck in neutral for seasons and badly need a shakeup. Luckily for Cousins, his game prior to his injury was never based on supreme athleticism and speed. He’s a below-the-rim attacker who can space the floor from the perimeter, handle the ball, pass and bruise defenders in the post. He’s everything the Wizards need. And, if he’s healthy, then it’s a gamble that could have some long-term benefits. The Wizards instantly morph from pretender to contender and become a destination spot for free agents. A team with blue chippers at point guard, center and shooting guard are a threesome even Kevin Durant would love. But if it doesn’t work then it’s back to the drawing board. If Cousins never even comes to the Wizards, well, that’s a whole other story in itself.