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Despite finding a small rhythm, DeMarcus Cousins could never boogie with Rockets

Unlike Kelly Olynyk, DeMarcus Cousins never found his niche as the team’s second big man, but his time with the Houston Rockets was far from a failure. 

NBA: Miami Heat at Houston Rockets POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

It was the best game of DeMarcus Cousins’ career in three years.

On Jan. 23, the Houston Rockets recorded a 133-108 victory over the Dallas Mavericks inside American Airlines Arena. Leading the way for the Rockets was Cousins, who started in place of the injured Christian Wood. He ended the night with 28 points (9-15 FG, 4-8 3PT) and 17 rebounds — Cousins’ first 20-and-15 game since April of 2019.

Both the fans and media members gushed over Cousins’ performance. And by the time the Rockets departed from Dallas, Cousins’ play left many yearning to see him share the court at the same time with a healthy Wood.

A month later, Shams Charania of The Athletic reported that the Rockets and Cousins had parted ways.

Despite conflicting reports that the four-time All-Star was unhappy with playing time, the Rockets’ desire to play smaller was the primary reason behind Cousins’ release. But when the Rockets take the floor against Cousins and the Clippers on Friday, Houston will do so behind their new frontcourt duo of Wood and Kelly Olynyk at the helm.

Each minute that goes by with Olynyk and Wood playing side-by-side inside the Staples Center will be a reminder of what could have been had Cousins worked out in Houston.

“The role that Cousins had was hard. There were games where it would be harder to play him. And then there were games where he would be playing well, but Christian was the starter. There were times where it was a bit difficult for him — and I totally understood that. But he handled it well.” — Stephen Silas

Prior to the start of the season, Stephen Silas did have a strategy to implement Cousins into Houston’s system. He felt Cousins could be beneficial to his offensive scheme due to his ability to stretch the floor and presence down on the low block. But once the season began, Cousins’ efficiencies on offense could not make amends for his problems on defense.

Cousins’ defensive woes were his most significant shortcoming in Houston. He was never a defensive juggernaut like Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert. But the mounting of injuries sustained over the years had a negative impact on his defense — mainly his defensive mobility.

It was nearly impossible for Cousins to stay in front of his man when attacked downhill. Amid allowing players to shoot 48.3 percent from the field, his opponents shot 61.1 percent when guarded by Cousins around the basket — according to the player tracking stats.

The best illustration of Cousins’ inability to stay in front of his man came on Feb. 11 against the Miami Heat. On this defensive possession, Jimmy Butler converted an easy left-hand layup once Cousins made the on-ball switch.

It’s natural for a big to struggle when switched onto smaller guards. But most big men hold their own more conventionally — similar to Olynyk when compared to Cousins.

“I think it’s the versatility of both Christian and Kelly. We can put them in different places on the floor, and they can guard multiple positions. And they are both natural movers on the offensive end. They are quick to the next action. Their ability to create action with their movement and versatility makes them a good pairing.” — Silas

Cousins struggled to find his footing on the hardwood floor but emerged as a leader inside the Rockets’ locker room. He became a mentor to the younger players and left a profound impact on rookie Jae’Sean Tate.

Even when Cousins was most afflicted with the team’s rotation, he kept things professional with the organization.

Cousins’ professionalism is what Silas appreciated most during his short two-month stint in Houston — especially considering the bevy of egos he had to overcome through his first year as head coach. Silas and Cousins had a relationship built on trust and understanding. The two respective parties kept an honest and open dialogue with each other that always ended with Cousins acknowledging Silas’ decisions regardless of the circumstance.

“DeMarcus was a great vet to me. He helped me since day one by being one of those vocal leaders in the locker room. He always told me little tips about being a rookie and how to go about things. He definitely helped me during his time here.” — Tate

Cousins is auditioning for the Clippers on a 10-day contract. He only appeared on the court for seven minutes during the Clippers’ 133-116 victory over the Trail Blazers, where he recorded 7 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists in his first game.

While averaging 5.0 points and 5.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists through his first two games, it’s reasonable to believe a second 10-day contract is likely in the works for Cousins come Thursday.

There are a lot of factors that will determine if Cousins will stick around Los Angeles the rest of the season, especially given the fact that he is an insurance policy due to the injured Serge Ibaka.

All it will take for Cousins to secure a permanent roster spot with the Clippers is to have another 20-and-15 performance. Although more than capable of doing so, hopefully, it’s not against the Rockets.

“It has been a journey for sure. I’m grateful and ecstatic to be able to put together a game like this the way I did. There is still a long season ahead, and my goal is to make this a consistent thing. This is definitely a confidence booster for me. And hopefully, I can continue moving forward.” — Cousins