DeMarcus Cousins is nearing a one-year deal with the Houston Rockets, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania. Cousins will be paid the minimum on a non-guaranteed deal to play for a Houston team currently in line to pay the luxury tax for the first time under Tilman Fertitta. He missed the entire 2019-20 season recovering from a torn ACL, which came after injuries to both his quad and Achilles in his previous stints with the Golden State Warriors and New Orleans Pelicans, respectively.
The move appears to mark the end of Houston’s micro-ball experiment. Last season, the Rockets abandoned the center position entirely and relied on Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker to serve as their rim-protectors. They switched everything defensively and set the NBA record for most 3-point attempts per game from a team.
They veered away from that strategy by trading Covington to the Portland Trail Blazers last week and then acquiring former Detroit Pistons big man Christian Wood in a sign-and-trade. Now, they’ve added Cousins as well. The logic is fairly simple. The Rockets are trying to recapture some of the benefits of small-ball, but with bigger players. Both Wood and Cousins have displayed uncommon shooting skills for their size. Cousins is a highly-regarded passer as well. Neither is a particularly strong defender, but an altered Houston defensive scheme could protect them despite their limitations. Those two aren’t going to be switching onto the perimeter as Covington once did.
For Houston, the move is a low-risk, high-reward home run swing. For all we know, Cousins is no longer healthy enough to be a major contributor to a winning NBA team. But if he’s fully healthy and can recapture anything resembling his former All-Star form, this deal is an absolute bargain for a Houston team absolutely desperate for depth. Cousins, meanwhile, gets to join a team with plenty of shot-creation in the form of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. That should help him adjust to playing with less athleticism. Aside from his time in Golden State, Cousins has never had a star point guard. Now he has two of them.
Harden and Westbrook are still pushing for trades. Cousins is no longer the sort of player that would get them to back off, but if the move works out, his presence might ultimately help them warm back up to the idea of a future in Houston. And if it doesn’t? He’s only making the minimum. No harm, no foul.