Denver Nuggets: Could DeMarcus Cousins be the missing piece?

Should the Denver Nuggets explore signing DeMarcus Cousins?

The Denver Nuggets were one of the darlings of the NBA restart bubble, making a magical run to the 2020 Western Conference Finals. They became the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit twice, defeating the Utah Jazz and LA Clippers.

Also during the run, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray cemented themselves as not only one of the best duo’s in the league, but as two of the brightest young superstars, the game has today. But the magic ran out for the Nuggets against LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the eventual world champion Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. They beat Denver in fairly easy fashion in five games, displaying that the leap from contender to legitimate championship threat is still one that remains for the Nuggets to make.

So what exactly is it that the Nuggets need to get over the proverbial championship hump? Well, with nearly $50 million in cap space the options are plentiful for team president Tim Connelly. Some have suggested Denver look to make a big splash in free agency or the trade market.

Rumors of moves for Bradley Beal, Jrue Holiday, and Chris Paul have been suggested frequently for the Nuggets, even if it means dealing someone like Michael Porter Jr. But I think Connelly knows he has a group currently that possesses rare chemistry and I don’t believe he’s ready to sell so soon on MPJ’s potential, after the growth he showed during the Nuggets postseason run.

I think the answer for Denver is a much smaller move, but one that could be just as impactful as the ones mentioned above. I believe bringing in four-time All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins could be the move that helps the Nuggets close the gap with the Lakers and ultimately helps them win an NBA championship for the first time in franchise history.

Cousins is coming off an ACL injury he suffered back during preseason workouts with the Lakers late in the summer of 2019, leading to the team waiving Cousins this past February. The former Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans star has had brutal injury luck as of late, tearing his left Achilles with the Pelicans in 2018 and his left quadriceps with the Warriors in 2019, right before the ACL tear.

But he’s been in the gym as of late, getting back in shape, and seems motivated to prove he’s still an All-NBA caliber player judging by one of his posts on Twitter last week.

The Nuggets seem like a perfect fit in my eyes as a longtime fan of the franchise for both parties. Cousins is looking for redemption and what better place to do that than in Denver, alongside a young, contending team who happens to be led by his former coach in Michael Malone.

For Denver, it makes sense because at times they were overwhelmed by the Lakers’ size and their attitude during the West finals. Mason Plumlee didn’t provide much for the team against Los Angeles’s frontcourt, averaging 4.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game during the series. Plumlee also had no blocks or steals during the entire five games against the Lakers, there’s no doubt in my mind Cousins could provide much more than that on both ends of the floor.

Plumlee becoming an unrestricted free agent gives the Nuggets an opening at the backup five position and only having Bol Bol left, doesn’t seem like a great solution for the defending champs size. Cousins fills that need in a plethora of ways and at a cheap cost, he signed with both the Warriors and Lakers on one-year deals, for $5.3 million and $3.5 million respectively. I’d imagine Denver would have no problem giving Cousins a deal within that range financially, something coming off three serious injuries I’m sure he would be happy to take.

But an overlooked detail of this possibility is that one of Cousins agents Jeff Schwartz also represents both Jokic and Murray, who signed $148 million and $170 million extensions each with the team. That familiarity you would have to hope helps with the chances of potential negotiations between both Cousins and the Nuggets going smoothly.

A reunion with Malone is another huge factor as to why I could see Cousins finding some comfort or interest in the Mile High City too. The two were together for a year and a half with the Sacramento Kings, before Malone was fired in December of 2014 by the franchise, something Cousins was clearly never a fan of. The respect has seemed to have never left since those days in Sacramento and to see them come together once again in Denver, could be a beautiful thing.

The Nuggets provide him with a rare opportunity of redemption, competing for a championship, and reuniting with maybe the coach who believed in him in the most. Plus, the added bonus of being able to beat the Lakers, the team who just waived him, potentially in a playoff series and dethroning them, you would think could motivate a competitor like Cousins.

Now I know some may say Cousins is a horrendous fit for the Nuggets, that he’ll never be the same after three significant injuries and would be a combustible element to add to a rather healthy locker room. But I couldn’t disagree more, I think many people have mistaken Cousins competitiveness and desire to win as him being a destructive personality. Yes, he might not be great all the time with the media, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a great teammate or person.

I think he’s been vastly misunderstood for much of his career and it also didn’t help that he was in such a toxic situation like Sacramento for so long. Coming into an organization in Denver that is ready to win now, genuinely loves each other, provides him with a no-lose opportunity, and a chance to reunite with Malone could be the best thing for Cousins’ career right now.

Cousins might want to join forces with Jokic for once too, both are very used to battling one another. In eight career meetings, Cousins has dominated Jokic, going 5-3 in those outings and averaging 27.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc. Speaking for most Nuggets fans, it’d be nice to not be on the side of those bludgeoning’s anymore and the idea of a Jokic-Cousins pick and roll combination is pretty wonderful.

Plus, people just forget how skilled he is; Cousins can shoot it from deep, handle the ball, pass it, dominate in the post, and add physicality defensively. As the Nuggets backup center playing 20-25 minutes a game, this could be a role Cousins could thrive in. He’d also be the perfect complement to the bench unit and replace Jokic well, having the skills to replicate much of his style of play. But the biggest reason I think Denver should sign Cousins is the demeanor he brings and the attitude he would add to the team.

The Nuggets no doubt handled themselves well during the Playoffs, but they seemed to get content after beating the Clippers in seven games in round two. This carried over to the Lakers series somewhat and during the entirety of the Western Conference Finals, the energy Dwight Howard provided on the court bugged the Nuggets.

Even players like J.R. Smith and Markieff Morris brought a certain irritant vibe, that Denver just couldn’t seem to shake or do anything about. Someone like Cousins would definitely do something about those kinds of antics, especially in terms of the things Howard was trying to pull off. At times the Nuggets get too subdued and try to be so stoic, with Murray being the only one showing any real emotion.

Adding a fiery competitor like Cousins, who can be that enforcer of sorts for them, could wake that up in the Nuggets and provide that edge they may be missing at times. Regardless of what they do, Denver will need to make some sort of adjustment to surpass the Lakers in the West, and bringing some Boogie to the city could be just the solution for the Giants of Hollywood.