Cousins injury is important reminder for how OKC Thunder handle upcoming season

OKC Thunder: Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder: Chris Paul, DeMarcus Cousins (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

The DeMarcus Cousins injury serves as a reminder to the OKC Thunder on how important minute allotment and off court conditioning will be this coming season.

This past week DeMarcus Cousins went down with his third injury to the same leg in less than two years. That injury served as an important reminder to the OKC Thunder on how important minutes allotment and offcourt conditioning is. This is especially true this season with at least two players the Thunder will be desirous of trading and both of whom have a history of injury.

Over the course of a players career in the National Basketball Association, they will pass through different stages. Typically we separate players careers into three tiers. From a players rookie season through the first few seasons they are in the development phase. The second stage is what is referred to as a player’s prime. As the game entered the current era of a faster pace and featured more skills across all positions the prime age shifted from their late 20s to a few years prior to that point, generally 27 years of age. The final stage is when the player transitions out of their prime into the final portion of their career as a veteran.

Coinciding with these phases are player contracts as the initial two contracts tend to fall in the development phase, the middle contract (or two) covers the prime and their final contracts the later stages of their career. Obviously, each player transitions through these three stages at their own pace but these tend to be the normal patterns.

New Era – health management:

Also, in the new era, we’re seeing more and more players hit their prime sooner. Although older generations worked out in the offseason the increased pay scale coincided with players spending the majority of the offseason on development in order to capitalize on the increased salary potential.  Subsequently, this is also affecting how stars are managed in season. We’re witnessing teams exercise game management in the season due to the toll on players bodies.

Last season, Kawhi Leonard was mocked mercilessly for the ‘load management’ applied by the Raptors. He was rested or sat in 22 regular season games coming off a previous year where he played in just nine games due to injury. Still, midway through the playoffs, he was dealing with an obvious leg situation and those critics of load management were suddenly taking a different stance.  More than ever players (particularly stars) are looking at playing time and rest with more emphasis and importance.

This past week that message got drilled home as DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL rendering him out for likely all of next season. In less than two years Cousins has now suffered a torn Achilles tendon, quad injury and now the ACL all on the same leg. At just 29 the big man is missing out on those prime year contracts and his injuries are serving as an important reminder of how important time management and conditioning has become. Not every player will have the body chemistry of LeBron James who missed over 20 games for the first time in his career last season at age 34.

Kevin Durant (Achilles) and Klay Thompson (ACL) both went down in the finals sparking even more conversation around the subject since they’ve been on the court through June by virtue of constantly returning to the finals. Multiple players pulled out of the FIFA World Cup most citing their choice to get ready for the season, but there are others who likely want to manage their bodies and workload to decrease the chances of injury.

OKC Thunder witnessed injury hardships:

Closer to home, OKC Thunder fans witnessed Russell Westbrook go down during a playoff run after a questionable move by Patrick Beverley. Up to that point, Westbrook was an iron man never missing a game in any of his high school, college or NBA years. Yet, after that initial knee injury, it led to subsequent procedures and time spent off the court. And, like James, Westbrook isn’t your typical NBA athlete.

Paul George suffered the horrendous leg injury during a Team USA exhibition game taking him off the court for a full season and at least another full year to re-gain his prowess. This past season he injured both shoulders and we’ll always be left to wonder if those shoulder injuries were the first domino falling in what has become a rebuild in OKC.

Need a plan in place for 2019-20

Entering this season, these issues are arguably more important than ever for the OKC Thunder. Although the team is predominantly youth-based all the assets General Manager, Sam Presti will likely shop this season are in the stages of their primes or veteran years. More importantly, the top assets on the board have a history of getting injured.

Chris Paul has been hampered by injuries throughout his career with the most publicized being two years ago in the postseason when a wonky hamstring may have cost the Rockets a shot at the gold ball. In each of his past three seasons, he’s only played over 60 games once.

For the OKC Thunder CP3’s case is extreme since he likely will generate the greatest value for return. Paul is set to earn $38,506,482 this season, $41,358,814 in 2020-21 and $44,211,146 in 2021-22. At 34 years old that’s a ton of money to pay and one injury could be the difference in Presti being able to trade Paul for a reasonable return and being mired with an aging star with another two seasons on the books.  Given the Thunder are in rebuild mode this is neither a desirable situation or one the franchise wants to begin their rebuild phase hampered by.

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Likewise, Danilo Gallinari is set to earn $22,615,559 this season on the final year of his contract. Gallo has also spent a great portion of his career dealing with injury and recently underwent an appendectomy. He intends to play for his national Italian team at the FIBA World Cup which will put extra mileage on his body entering the season.

At 31, like Paul, how the team manages the forward’s minutes is crucial in order to maintain his health. Keeping him healthy could be the difference in the Thunder being able to trade him prior to the deadline and reap rewards in the form of other young assets and more draft picks. Gallinari’s circumstance carries extra weight since not trading him by the deadline would mean he could walk in the offseason without the team getting any return. Hence, why keeping him healthy through to the deadline increases in importance.

Even Steven Adams who is only 26 appeared to be hampered by injuries last season although no formal word confirmed it. Adams was a step slower than usual and inexplicably got outplayed in the playoffs by his former Stache Brother, Enes Kanter who was also dealing with copious injuries.

My point is how the OKC Thunder deals with minutes allotment and player conditioning is more vital than ever. If Sam Presti wants to get the best available packages back for his assets it’s essential the club has a preseason strategy in place and make a concerted effort to keep the roster in optimal health.

Next. Grading and examining every Thunder player contract. dark

Ultimately, it will affect how what trade packages the GM can garner and the types of assets and picks Presti can get in return for these assets.