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Lakers! How Paul George’s past informs DeMarcus Cousins’ future

DeMarcus Cousins
Golden State’s DeMarcus Cousins smiles after scoring against the Denver Nuggets on April 2 in Oakland.
(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with a midsummer Lakers newsletter.

The team is finally set and it’s time for summer break.

Because of the Lakers’ chase of Kawhi Leonard, there was a burgeoning sentiment that they somehow wound up as losers of the summer. Leonard chose the Clippers over the Lakers and the Raptors. But once the Leonard dust settled, the reality wasn’t quite so gloomy.

The Lakers got Anthony Davis. Sure, they had to remake their team and give up all but one of their young draft picks to get him, but if it works it will work big. And while their wait for Leonard might have lost them some players, they are now in a position where free agents want to be part of what they’ve built. Several players who signed with the Lakers had similar competing offers from other teams, but this was where they wanted to be.

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Imagine that.

Now the Lakers are doing something they haven’t been able to honestly do in years. They’re openly talking about chasing a championship.

We’ll catch you up on how the team was built down below, but first…

How Paul George’s past informs DeMarcus Cousins’ future

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It’s been almost five years since then-Pacers star Paul George broke his leg in grisly fashion during a USA basketball scrimmage in Las Vegas. It’s not easy to come back from such a traumatic injury, either mentally or physically, and George took a couple of years to return to being the player he once was.

Frank Vogel was the head coach of the Indiana Pacers at the time. He’s now using George’s path to inform his approach to another supremely talented player coming off a devastating injury.

DeMarcus Cousins.

“I talked to DeMarcus about Paul George and overseeing his recovery from that broken leg,” Vogel said. “The first year you’re out. You don’t play. You’re not even in uniform. I mean, you’re just not even in uniform. Year 2, you’re in uniform, but you’re not quite yourself the entire year. Gordon Hayward saw it this year. It takes, to me, a full second year to regain all of your rhythm, timing and explosiveness and quickness. It just takes time.”

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Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in January 2018, when he was playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. He missed the rest of the season and went into what should have been a lucrative free-agency season with hardly any options. He signed a one-year deal with the Golden State Warriors, who had such a talented team that they had the luxury of waiting on Cousins’ recovery.

Exactly six months ago, Cousins made his debut with the Warriors, but he wasn’t himself. Then, in the second game of the playoffs he tore a quadriceps muscle and returned in the Finals, still not quite himself.

In some ways the Lakers might have gotten Cousins at the perfect time. They have Cousins on a one-year deal worth $3.5 million and he’s in his second year since suffering the injury. But Vogel hopes Cousins remains with the team for years to come.

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“This is the year that I think that [he] hopefully starts to really gain his form, and if he does, then we have one of the most powerful, dominant players in the game,” Vogel said.

Vogel isn’t the only one excited about the possibilities. Davis was perfectly candid during his introductory news conference on Saturday – he does not like to play center. That’s why the Lakers went out and got Cousins, with whom he enjoyed playing in New Orleans.

Cousins’ ability has never been questioned, but his demeanor has, in part because he piled up technical fouls with gusto while in Sacramento. Davis scoffed at those potential concerns, using air quotes to dismiss the media attention Cousins got for being “emotional.” He never saw that in New Orleans.

The thing is, Cousins never played on a playoff team in his six and a half seasons with Sacramento, where he started his career. Davis feels that on a team with playoff aspirations Cousins is a great fit.

“Obviously last year it was rarely talked about, him being ‘emotional,’” Davis said. “When you come into another situation like this, I don’t think it’s going to be a problem at all because we have one goal and it’s to win here. I loved playing with DeMarcus.”

Since last we spoke

-- I’ve been wanting to do this story for years and finally had the chance this month. For 50 years, Bill Bertka has worked for the Lakers as a scout or a coach. He still sits behind the baseline at Summer League every year taking handwritten notes on the players. I loved the anecdote in this story about his reaction to the Lakers trading for Kobe Bryant.

-- The Lakers missed the playoffs for six straight years – which is the longest playoff drought of any franchise in Los Angeles. But it hasn’t hurt their business. Times sports business writer Bill Shaikin takes a look at why. “Our fans seem to start with the word ‘when,’” Tim Harris, the Lakers’ president of business operations, said last month. “When are we going to compete for championships again? A lot of teams, they probably get ‘if.’ If we make the playoffs.”

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-- The Lakers reached an agreement for a trade for Anthony Davis on June 15, though it was one they later had to rework. Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and a treasure trove of draft picks were set to go to New Orleans.

-- Here’s how they reworked the deal. They added three more young players, a second-round pick and another team, the Wizards, who sent cash to New Orleans.

-- The Lakers’ chase for Leonard began with some awkwardness: Leonard’s camp only wanted to meet with Jeanie Buss and Magic Johnson, not general manager Rob Pelinka, our Broderick Turner wrote. Leonard had several conversations with Johnson, who couldn’t be part of the Lakers’ official meeting. And ultimately he allowed Pelinka to be part of the meeting. Of course, Leonard ultimately chose the Clippers.

-- Most players either waited or chose other destinations during the five days while Leonard was deciding what to do. Troy Daniels and Jared Dudley both agreed to minimum deals during that time.

-- Cousins has something to prove this year. He explains.

-- Danny Green waited impatiently on Leonard’s decision to make his. But the Lakers made a lot of sense to him.

-- Quinn Cook’s father raised him to be a Laker fan, and now he is one.

-- During his introductory news conference, Davis was charming and charismatic. He also stopped short of making any promises about what would come after this season. He did, however, promise that he would do everything he could to help the Lakers win a title.

-- The Lakers have had a lot of awkwardness in the last few months, but Davis’ introduction was a rare uncomplicated day. Bill Plaschke explains.

-- Columnist Dylan Hernandez offers the doomsday scenario. What if he leaves next summer?

-- Our Broderick Turner takes a look at the concept of load management with these Lakers. Davis says he doesn’t want it. Vogel says he’ll rely on the medical staff to guide him with that.

That’s all for now. We’ll be back again later this summer, then back to our regular weekly schedule when the season starts. Training camp will be here before you know it. As always, pass along any questions or suggestions you have.


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