Pelicans lose DeMarcus Cousins to Achilles injury in win over Rockets

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NEW ORLEANS — So now what?

New Orleans is a city that knows all too well how quickly euphoria can turn into heartbreak. Less than two weeks ago, the New Orleans Saints and their fans had their guts punched by the Minnesota Vikings. And now this?

Late in the New Orleans Pelicans’ 115-113 win over the Houston Rockets, DeMarcus Cousins attempted to reach for a loose ball and throw it back onto the court. Suddenly his left foot popped up from the ground and Cousins went to the floor.

As he rolled in pain, the Smoothie King Center went quiet. It was quieter still as Boogie was helped into the locker room, unable to put any weight on his foot at all.

While his teammates were closing out one of the Pelicans’ biggest wins of the season, Cousins was probably finishing his season.

Early reports are that Cousins suffered a torn Achilles tendon, an injury that will keep him sidelined for the rest of this season, and quite possibly into the beginning of next.

What should have been a celebration of the Pels’ first four-game winning streak of the season, now feels like a funeral procession.

“He’s extremely important to us so yes, we’re scared about it,” said Head Coach Alvin Gentry. “I feel horrible for him. Everything that he’s done and what he’s tried to do this year for us and what he’s made himself and the improvements in all areas that he’s made, on and off the court, it’s just been great. I don’t want this to happen to a guy that’s trying to better himself.”

Cousins has done more than just better himself this season. He has helped lead the Pelicans to a 27-21 record, their best at this point in the season since Anthony Davis’ arrival. Boogie had also played himself into starting his first All-Star game, and even the Most Valuable Player discussion.

Some nights Cousins has been a singular talent, posting historic numbers reminiscent of grainy black and white footage taken of games played in decades past. He ranked second in the NBA in double-doubles and put together his third triple-double of the season against the Rockets with 15 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

His injury now makes the final 34 games of the season almost anticlimactic.The belief that the Pelicans might be able to make a run to the second round of the playoffs was probably shattered the moment Cousins went down. With only three games separating the sixth-place Pels from the ninth-place Clippers (Los Angeles visits New Orleans on Sunday), even making the playoffs is in jeopardy now.

The Pelicans will play nearly 70 percent of their games the rest of the season against the top 19 teams in the NBA. With Cousins, New Orleans went 16-15 against those teams. Without him, can New Orleans stay afloat?

“We have just got to keep going,” said a clearly despondent Anthony Davis. “I mean, next guy up, honestly. We can’t keep our head down and just pray. We have just got to move on to the next game Sunday and try to go out there and do the same thing.”

The reality is the Pelicans can’t do the same thing without Cousins. Even with his shortcomings, there isn’t a player on the roster or group of players who can replicate Boogie’s numbers or his impact on the game. New Orleans was small with a thin bench before the injury, now they’re smaller and thinner.

Sure, Omer Asik will be pressed into duty and Solomon Hill will return in February (hopefully). Maybe Frank Jackson can come back from injury and contribute. But this season isn’t even close to being the Pelicans’ greatest concern.

With Cousins still becoming a free agent this offseason, what becomes of the franchise now? General Manager Dell Demps is in the last year of his deal, as is Gentry. Besides Cousins, the Pelicans have a slew of other free agents; including Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Tony Allen, Dante Cunningham, and Jameer Nelson.

How does anyone get evaluated properly now? Do the Pelicans offer Boogie the five-year maximum contract of $176 million, even knowing that an Achilles injury is one of the most severe for a basketball player and particulary damaging to a man of Cousins’ size?

Then, of course, there’s the potential impact on Anthony Davis. Davis becomes eligible for a 10-year super max contract after the 2019-20 season. Just how closely is his future in New Orleans tied to Cousins’? If the Pelicans don’t re-sign Cousins, is that a signal to AD that his career might be best served somewhere else?

It’s a dizzying amount of speculation, but it’s strangely par for the course for this star-crossed, snake-bitten franchise that seems perpetually just out of reach of relevancy in the NBA.

The games will go on, that we know for sure. Everything else at this point, is anybody’s guess.

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David Grubb

David Grubb

Featured Columnist

David Grubb has more than a decade of experience in the sports industry. He began his career with KLAX-TV in Alexandria, La. and followed that up with a stint as an reporter and anchor with WGGB-TV in Springfield, Mass. After spending a few years away from the industry, David worked as sports information director for Southern University at New Orleans…

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