DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury greatly changed the complexion of his impending free agency. Where he was a max-salary lock before, he’s now the league’s biggest question mark.
Will the New Orleans Pelicans match other offers from rival teams? Will he even have substantial offers elsewhere? Do the Pelicans even want to pay him after seeing how much success they’ve had with Anthony Davis at the 5? What is Cousins’ financial ceiling in free agency? A two- or three-year max? A four-year deal worth significantly less than max?
All of these questions will be answered in due time. For now, as they prepare to enter Round 2 of the playoffs, the Pelicans must devise a plan for how they’re going to approach Cousins’ free agency and then adjust accordingly based on the market. And though nothing has concrete has been determined right now, sources did tell ESPN.com’s Zach Lowe have talked about a rough approach to offseason negotiations:
The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.
Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say. He doesn’t make sense for rebuilding teams. Even bad teams hungry for a big jump in wins next season — say, the Suns — can’t be confident Cousins will be ready to produce at his usual All-Star level until 2019-20, anyway. (Still: Never underestimate Robert Sarver’s July 1 exuberance in the name of short-term gain.) Some teams are afraid of his baggage.
Ideally, as Lowe also notes, the Pelicans would be able to ink Cousins to a two-year deal with a team option that tickets both him and Davis for free agency at the same time. But Cousins may be looking for more than that—a third guaranteed year specifically, if not a fourth-season implant.
Everything depends on how robust his market is over the summer. The Pelicans have safeguarded themselves against total desperation with the addition of Nikola Mirotic and their success in the playoffs, so they have some leverage. But they’ll need other prospective suitors to punt on Cousins’ return from injury to enjoy the kind that allows them to peddle short-term deals without the risk of insulting or driving him away.