While LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard are the superstars Magic covets, Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins would actually be better long-term fits with the exciting young core of budding stars the Lakers have assembled.
More importantly, pursuing George and Cousins wouldn’t require the Lakers to sacrifice the promising young talent they’ve bled so badly to acquire to trade for Kawhi or appease LeBron and his fading championship window. Nor would it limit or slow down the growth and development of the Lakers’ exciting young core as playing with LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard might. That alone could be a reason for the Lakers to pursue George and Cousins.
While signing a superstar coming off a serious injury like a torn Achilles is a big gamble, it’s also a huge opportunity as DeMarcus Cousins would give the Lakers the dominant inside scorer and rim protector they desperately need. Sometimes, the reward is so great you just have to roll the dice and take a calculated risk. The Lakers just cannot pass on a superstar center who can dominate at both ends of the court and fits perfectly with their young core.
While DeMarcus Cousins might never be the same player he was before the injury, chances are he will still be a top five dominant center in the league. On average, NBA players suffering an Achilles injury can realistically expect to lose around 9% of their athleticism. Since Cousins is only 27 years old and plays a style more dependent on his skillset and power than athleticism, he has a excellent chance to return close to the same dominate player as before.
DeMarcus Cousins is the perfect stretch 5 center to play alongside Julius Randle and would be a dramatic upgrade over Brook Lopez, the Lakers’ current starting center. In many ways, Cousins is the superstar version of Lopez as verified by their statistics. Boogie is averaging 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.6 steals per game compared to Lopez’ 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 0.4 steals per game.
Paul George would provide the Lakers with a similar dramatic upgrade at shooting guard over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers’ current starter. Like Cousins is the superstar version of Lopez, George is the superstar version of Caldwell-Pope. So far this season, George is averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 0.2 blocks, and 1.7 steals per game compared to KCP’s 13.9 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 0.4 blocks, and 1.2 steals per game.
While KCP has done a good job on both ends of the court as the Lakers’ shooting guard, George is a superior scorer, rebounder, playmaker, and defender. And he is 4 inches taller, 6 inches longer, and 15 pounds heavier. Paul George and Lonzo Ball would give the Lakers one of the best guard defensive tandems in the league. Lonzo is already looking like a perennial All-NBA defender while PG currently leads the NBA in steals per game.
The beauty of adding Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins to the Lakers is that it upgrades what is currently the team’s two weakest positions — center and shooting guard — while allowing the Lakers’ dynamic young core to play their natural positions without having to switch or come off the bench as reserves. And because the maximum salary for George and Cousins is $5 million less than for James, the Lakers would be able to keep emerging Julius Randle.
Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins are better fits than LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard to play with and develop the Lakers’ young core because of their age and position. While teams traditionally ignore fit when pursuing a superstar, the Lakers might be better served by adding superstars who better fit and complement budding young stars like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle, who need touches and chances to grow.
The Lakers already have their point guard of the future in Lonzo Ball, small forward of the future in Brandon Ingram, and power forwards of the future in Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma. What they lack are their shooting guard and center of the future, which Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins fill perfectly. With LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, the Lakers would either have to play young players out of position or trade them for a shooting guard and center.
Since Paul George and DeMarcus Cousins are both only 27 years old, they’re better fits with a Lakers’ young core that includes 20-year olds Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, 22-year old Kyle Kuzma, and 23-year old Julius Randle. Signing George and Cousins gives the Lakers a longer and more sustainable path towards building a championship dynasty like Showtime in the 80’s than trying to do the same with a 33-year old LeBron James with heavy mileage.
Center and shooting guard are both positions of weakness and uncertainty that the Lakers need to fix and positions of opportunity they need to exploit. George and Cousins would solve these issues better than James and Leonard.
Pursuing George and Cousins would also enable the Lakers to keep Julius Randle and their 2018 first round draft pick. If they were able to draft a talented young point guard like Aaron Holiday and sign a veteran 3-and-D small forward like Trevor Ariza, the Lakers could boast a dynamic starting lineup and formidable bench. Here’s the potential lineup by position:
PG: Lonzo Ball, Aaron Holiday
SG: Paul George, Josh Hart
SF: Brandon Ingram, Trevor Ariza
PF: Julius Randle, Kyle Kuzma
CE: DeMarcus Cousins, Thomas Bryant
Since DeMarcus Cousins will likely miss the first half of the season, the Lakers could easily adapt and go small by moving Julius Randle to center to replace Cousins and starting Kyle Kuzma at power forward. A 5-man small ball lineup of Lonzo Ball, Paul George, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Julius Randle would be the Lakers’ version of the Warriors’ infamous ‘Death Lineup.’
While it might take a couple of years of growth and development by the Lakers’ young core before the team could challenge for a championship, there’s a chance this group could end up being their best potential team.
Which Superstars Best Fit the Lakers? The answer is George and Cousins.