In the aftermath of Demarcus Cousins’ injury, the Lakers are pressed with yet another obstacle on the road to their next championship.
With Cousins’ suffering a possible season ending ACL tear in his left knee, which is the same leg that suffered both the achilles and quad tears, finding a replacement that fills the the two way role that Cousins provided beside Anthony Davis won’t be easy.
The previous chemistry between Cousins and Davis during their tenure together with the Pelicans was abruptly cut short by Cousins’ achilles tear and unfortunately the promising duo won’t get a chance to rekindle that chemistry any time soon.
Finding an “Impact” Big Man
When thinking about replacing a big man of Cousins caliber, we have to take into account his fit alongside Davis and how he complemented him. Davis who has already been outspoken about not playing heavy minutes at center essentially had perfect “bruiser” to lessen his defensive workload.
Without Cousins there, the priority for the Lakers will involve replacing that same “bruising” big man role to help keep Davis fresh for his late game role at center.
He will have to be capable enough to defend the likes of opposing big men the size of Embiid & Jokic.
While help side defense will most likely be handled by Davis replacing Cousins also involves finding a productive sized defender who can also stay out of the way of the offense.
With Davis’ request to play the other forward role next to LeBron, another skill the replacement will need to have is the ability to spread the floor and/or be a tremendous rebounder so that defenses can’t just help off of him on the defensive end.
With both the defensive and offensive criteria more clear we can move on to the different routes the Lakers can take to find the replacement for Cousins’ (Note: Both routes involve leaving that last roster spot available for the wing defender that LA is waiting on)
Route 1: Waive Cousins & Sign A Big
In the most simplest route, the Lakers would just go ahead and waive Cousins from the roster while still allowing him the ability to recover and rehab at the Lakers facilities.
With this scenario Cousins is able to continue being around the team and the Lakers can monitor his progress and look to add him (this year or the next) if he can get back to 100%
Route 2: Waive Cousins, Apply for DPE, Trade for a Big
In this route the Lakers would waive Cousins and apply for a Disabled Player Exception which if used to acquire a player via trade would enable the Lakers to acquire a player of up to $1.85M in salary who is in the last season of his contract.
While this route is a little more complicated, applying for the DPE allows the front office to scour league for a replacement big looking for more minutes.
The “Free Agent” Options
With the criteria established above the Lakers have a short list of active free agents the can target for an outright signing which includes: Joakim Noah, Kosta Koufos, Amir Johnson, Timofey Mozgov, and even Kenneth Faried.
After those names the options start running into unknown territories which the Lakers may not be interested in.
The “DPE” Options
Mentioned prior, if the Lakers apply for the Disabled Player Exception, they can try and scour the league for a replacement.
Remember that the main parameter is that the player must make $1.85M or less and must be in the last year of his contract (option included)
Replacements that could be acquired for a future asset in return include: Jahil Okafor (NOLA), Willy Hernangomez (CHA), or Christian Wood (DET)
One of the upsides to taking this route and acquiring Okafor or Hernangomez in return is that it would allow the Lakers to acquire a player with their full Bird Rights (Hernangomez) or Early Bird Rights (Okafor) available next off-season.
In the event either of the DPE replacement candidates work out, the Lakers would be able to retain them with their Bird Rights since their cap holds are minimal. The Lakers could also offer to S&T either player to the team of their choosing if the situation arise bringing back another rotation player to the team.
LA also has the option to wait and see if any candidates emerge on the buyout market like Dwight Howard but the team may not wait very long if LA is looking to get the replacement in time for training camp
In the end Cousins’ injury is a setback for the Lakers but not so much considering LA had managed to get him on a bargain deal. While dreams of the two headed tandem of Cousins and Davis are now subdued, the Lakers front office and GM Rob Pelinka have their work cut out for them in finding Cousins’ replacement but through creative means could find a quality rotation player that no one expects.