By: Robert Bishop
Back again, and one of the most sought-after free agents of the soon-to-be-open NBA signing period is big man DeMarcus Cousins. Out rehabbing his knee, Cousins was expected to be deciding between a host of suitors. However, Cousins tossed a wrench into the plans of many championship hopefuls. It seems that his primary focus will continue to be on rehabbing his injury. There appears to be thought that Cousins will consider offers to return to the NBA. The disparate reports are likely an indication that Cousins isn’t as close to being fully healthy. Still, he remains a candidate to be a massive difference-maker in the postseason, even in a limited role.
With Cousins disinterested in heading to Orlando, the list of quality options available on the free-agent market lacks a headliner, but there are plenty of reliable options. Guard Tyler Johnson could prove to be a valuable piece for a team looking for depth in the backcourt. Ditto for Trey Burke, who lacks Johnson’s track record of success but has proven himself to be a decent enough floor general in desperate times. Burke has a history with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a reunion makes sense as the team looks to limit Ben Simmons’ workload during the lead-up to the playoffs.
On the wing, Gerald Green is likely the best available option. Green would be linked to the Rockets given his familiarity with the franchise, but he cannot sign with Houston because they dealt him mid-season. This opens up a bevy of options for Green, who may parlay the bidding into securing a commitment for next season. Many teams heading to Orlando need depth on the wings, and Green is the best available option. Other possibilities include Iman Shumpert, who put forth some quality minutes with the Nets earlier this season, and Dragan Bender, who remains labeled as a bust due to his draft position, though he impressed during a brief stint with the Warriors this season.
Swingman Trevor Ariza of the Portland Trail Blazers has announced that he will not be making the trip to Orlando to finish the NBA season. Citing personal reasons related to his family, Ariza will leave massive absence within Portland’s perimeter defense. The Blazers will need a strong showing in Orlando to sneak into the playoffs. Not having Ariza will be a harsh blow to overcome. The Blazers will already be without Rodney Hood (Achilles), leaving Mario Hezonja and Gary Trent to pick up the extra playing time.
Lakers guard Avery Bradley has also decided not to head to Orlando, citing health concerns surrounding his young son. There is obviously going to be zero hard feelings from the championship-hopeful Lakers surrounding Bradley’s move, but his absence will leave a hole within L.A.’s backcourt. Bradley has been instrumental in lifting L.A.’s backcourt defense to among the best in the NBA. The Lakers are likely going to have little trouble filling his roster spot via free agency (J.R. Smith?). Replacing his on-court production will be far more difficult.
Joining Ariza and Bradley in opting out of heading to Orlando is Washington Wizards sharp-shooter Davis Bertans. Heading into unrestricted free agency and looking for a massive, life-changing payday, Bertans will forgo the injury risk of the resumed NBA season. The Wizards are long shots to make the playoffs in the East, and Bertans already has a pair of ACL tears on his resume. There is unlikely to be any acrimony from the Wizards for Bertans’ decision as the franchise will be at the front of the line in bidding to secure Bertans’ services for the long-term this off-season.
Not heading toward free agency is Cavaliers big man Andre Drummond. On Tuesday, Drummond confirmed speculation that he will exercise his player option for 2020-21. Acquired at the deadline, Drummond will opt-into the final year of his deal, a decision that will net him $28.7 million. Cleveland’s move to acquire Drummond was always curious. Now that he’s opted to remain with the Cavaliers, the franchise may not be able to entice free agent Tristan Thompson to stay in town. The Cavaliers are two years into a post-LeBron James rebuild, and the franchise appears to be completely directionless.