After being brought aboard in early December via a non-guaranteed deal to provide added size, Cousins quickly managed to carve out a role for himself for the champs. He was great, and when the team was forced to decide whether or not to guarantee his contract, it seemed reasonable to believe they would keep him. However, the front office ultimately decided to let him go to keep a roster spot vacant and maintain financial flexibility. There has been controversy surrounding the move, but will the decision to let Cousins walk come back to haunt the Bucks? Let us take a look at the long and short term impact of the move.
The short and long term impact of the Milwaukee Bucks waiving center DeMarcus Cousins
The reason why the Bucks signed Cousins in the first place was due to the absence of starting center Brook Lopez, who has missed all but one game this season. With Bobby Portis sliding to the starting center slot, Cousins was an ideal backup. With Cousins gone, the Bucks are left with no second center to reliably play those minutes as Lopez is not close to returning just yet.
When Portis is not on the floor, rookie Sandro Mamukelashvili will see playing time now as his importance just increased mightily. The second rounder has shown potential in limited minutes this season, but not enough to justify cutting a seasoned veteran like Cousins that had just found his niche in the lineup. It is possible that the team sees something special in Mamukelashvili, but a late rookie second round pick is not often tasked with helping a championship team.
When they need to, the Bucks can also run lineups with Giannis Antetokounmpo at center, which has proven to be formidable before. Yet, having Cousins proved to be a luxury for the Greek Freak as they were a solid pairing, with the former able to stretch the floor offensively and also work in the post when needed. Though Portis and Mamukelashvili fit well alongside Antetokounmpo also, it would have made sense to keep someone like Cousins around for those reasons.
Statistically, the Bucks will be without a key player in the second unit that contributed 9.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.1 assists in 16.9 minutes per contest. Given how little Milwaukee’s bench has contributed this season – 28th in points, 20th in rebounds, and 29th in assists – letting go of a player that was producing like Cousins only adds to how head-scratching the decision was.
Ultimately, this move could hurt the Bucks in the short term. They waived a solid center that had played serviceable basketball for them at a position they are incredibly shorthanded at. The bench continues struggling to contribute most nights, and the Bucks cut someone who provided a solid spark with his offense, rebounding, and facilitating.
If the Bucks make a move for another center before the trade deadline in less than a month, this move to waive Cousins could be viewed much differently. For now, the move is questionable for a team that is down as many rotation players as the Bucks are.
In the long term, there has been rumored optimism for months that Lopez could return this season after his back surgery. Barring something unforeseen, If Lopez could be back for the playoffs, it would send Portis back to his role as the backup center and make the need for another center minimal. While it never hurts to have depth, Cousins would not see much time once Lopez returns. If Portis sat on the sidelines throughout Milwaukee’s second round matchup against the Brooklyn Nets last year, Cousins would not have any luck playing a meaningful role in a potential matchup either.
The Bucks are clearly banking on the hope that Lopez will return be back this season after waiving their promising backup. Cousins’ absence will hurt in the short term as they battle through injuries, illnesses, and health and safety protocols, but as the team starts to get healthier, it will not hurt them as much, particularly when the postseason rolls around. While that does not justify the move, as it is still questionable, it makes sense to some degree.
It may ultimately hinge on Lopez’s health and what the Bucks decide to do with their open roster spot as they opted to keep their flexibility for potential buyout targets or a trade. If they make a big splash, opinions could undoubtedly change. It is common knowledge by now that general manager Jon Horst tends to have a plan at all times, so hopefully he has something up his sleeve over the next month here with the trade deadline approaching.
Stay tuned for updates regarding the Milwaukee Bucks on that front.