by Alan Goldsher
For two members of the United States Men’s National Basketball team, the Rio Summer Olympics has become a Boogie wonderland.
Jimmy Butler isn’t the only Olympian to be involved in a bromance with the man they call Boogie: It’s been speculated that thanks to their on-court chemistry in Brazil, Cavs All-Star Kyrie Irving could try and recruit Cousins to help form a Golden State Warriors-like super team in Cleveland when the Sacramento center becomes a free agent after the 2017-18 season.
With the rumors flying, the question becomes, would Chicago or Cleveland offer Boogie a better situation? The answer might seem simple on the surface (Cleveland, naturally), but there are several factors involved that muddy the waters:
THE TRANSACTION FACTOR
Somebody needs to tell Kyrie Irving that concocting a Warriors-like “big four” with himself, Cousins, LeBron James and Kevin Love would be next to impossible; Golden State’s signing of Kevin Durant required a level of salary cap juggling that Cleveland likely couldn’t pull off. As for a trade, Sacramento likely wouldn’t agree unless Love was involved, but Love wouldn’t fit into the Kings future plans (whatever those plans may be), so they probably wouldn’t agree in the first place.
Chicago, on the other hand, can offer a combination of young veterans (Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic), up-and-comers (Denzel Valentine, Doug McDermott) and draft picks (they have two first rounders in 2017, one of which used to belong to Sacramento) that would be far more enticing than anything Cleveland could deliver.
THE DIRECTION FACTOR
Chicago had a bumpy 2015-16 season and missed the postseason for the first time since 2009. In his rookie campaign, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg had to deal with a whole lot of turmoil, stemming in part from the fact that he wasn’t Tom Thibodeau. Much of that turmoil might have left the building with new New York Knicks Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah—Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times reported that their relationship with Butler and the rest of the team had deteriorated dramatically—so it’s possible the mess is on its way to being cleaned up.
The Cavs, on the other hand, are coming off of two consecutive NBA Finals appearances and are a massive favorite to win this season’s Eastern Conference title. Tyronn Lue has proven himself to be a savvy coach and his recent five-year, $35 million contract extension demonstrates the organization’s strong commitment to his vision, so Cleveland is both really stable and really good. (It’s interesting to note that Lue’s deal runs for five years, while LeBron James’ contract is up in three seasons. Sure, that was likely James’ decision, but still.)
THE INDIVIDUAL STATS FACTOR
History tells us that when an Alpha Dog frontcourt star takes his place alongside LeBron James, his numbers make an immediate downward spiral. The first season Chris Bosh paired with James in Miami (2010-11), his averages took a 5.3 point/2.5 rebound hit, while Kevin Love’s maiden voyage in Cleveland (2014-15) found him losing 9.7 points and 2.8 boards.
If we split that down the middle and apply it to Cousins’ 2015-16 totals, we’re looking at averages of 20.8 and 9.2 boards, making it the first season in his career during which he didn’t average a double-double. Boogie would likely be willing to sacrifice digits for a ring, but he might not be thrilled about it.
In Chicago, Cousins would be the co-Alpha with Jimmy Butler and his numbers would likely take a slight dip, but nothing that would cause him to pause.
THE BFF FACTOR
While Cousins and Irving seem to be getting along well, Boogie and Butler appear to be on their way to becoming best friends forever:
Additionally, new Chicago Bull Rajon Rondo — Boogie’s former Sacramento teammate and fellow former Kentucky Wildcat — have been tight for years. There’s something to be said for comfort level.
THE FUTURE FACTOR
Let’s assume Golden State has the NBA title sewn up for the length of Kevin Durant’s contract, that being two seasons. For Cleveland, the addition of Cousins combined with the subtraction of Love slightly improves their chances of taking down the Dubs before 2018. Slightly.
In 2018, when some or all of Golden State’s Durant/Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson/Draymond Green core go their separate ways — and a trophy for anybody other than the Dubs again becomes a realistic thing — LeBron James will turn 34 and enter the final year of his contract. Michael Jordan won his last championship when he was 35 and in the final year of his contract…and then he retired. So for Cousins, it might well be 2018 or bust.
As for Chicago, the Bulls we see today won’t come close to resembling the Bulls we’ll see in 2018. Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo could be gone after their contracts are up on two years, plus the Cousins trade will have emptied Chicago’s cache of young assets, thus we’re looking at Butler, Boogie and a whole bunch of who-knows-what. So it’s 2016 or bust, and with Golden State standing in the way, bust has the edge.
While Cousins is driving this particular ship, Sacramento ultimately has to agree to any trade, so if Boogie thinks the Kings brass would be more apt to pull the trigger on a deal with Chicago, he’ll apply the pressure. Even if the Cavaliers have a better shot at a ring than the Bulls, the Windy City offers Cousins stats, friends and the postseason, a far better combo platter than what he’s being served in Sacramento.