The Milwaukee Bucks’ Curious Decision to Release DeMarcus Cousins Is a Sign the Defending Champs Will Be Active at the Trade Deadline

The Milwaukee Bucks looked as if they found a key piece for their title defense in DeMarcus Cousins. Yet Wednesday night, the Bucks made the decision to move on from the 11-year veteran.

Milwaukee releasing Cousins may be a confusing move to some. But a closer look reveals how the move is simply a sign the defending champs will be aggressive shoppers over the next several weeks.

DeMarcus Cousins was a solid addition for the Milwaukee Bucks before getting released

In need of some size, the Bucks looked for help on the free-agent market. They found it in Cousins, who signed a non-guaranteed, rest-of-season contract worth around $2 million on November 30.

The four-time All-Star, who played just 41 total games over the last two seasons, provided instant help. Boogie scored seven points or more while getting limited minutes off the bench in each of his first three games. He later had five straight starts from December 17-25 after Giannis Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis entered health and safety protocols. In that stretch, the 6-foot-10 center put up season-highs of 22 points, 12 rebounds, and five steals.

In 17 games, Cousins averaged 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in just 16.9 minutes. The big man increased Milwaukee’s offensive rating by over nine points when he was on the court versus off of it. In addition, the Bucks also saw multi-point increases in rebounding percentage with Cousins on the floor.

“It’s been fun. He’s like a big brother to me,” Portis said after Cousins dropped 15 points off the bench against the Orlando Magic last month. “It’s good having a guy like him on the team who can provide us energy, offensive rebounds, and lots of big plays. He’s going out there and doing what he can in the minutes that he gets and that’s a pro’s pro right there.”

However, there were a couple of areas in which the big man fell short. A career 33.1% shooter from three, Cousins shot just 27.1% from distance with the Bucks. Not to mention, injuries to his ACL and Achilles have hampered his abilities as an athletic rim protector, which in turn hurt Milwaukee on the defensive end.

Releasing DeMarcus Cousins is a sign the Bucks will be aggressive shoppers

Although he wasn’t perfect, Cousins still brought a lot of positives to the 25-15 Bucks. His final outing was perhaps his strongest overall, scoring 15 points with 10 rebounds and three steals before getting the ax. So why did Milwaukee cut ties with the 31-year-old? In a word, flexibility.

By releasing Cousins, the Bucks now have 14 full-time players, two two-way players, and one player signed under a 10-day hardship extension. If Cousins was signed for the remainder of the season, the number of ways they could improve their roster decreases.

Now, there is extra space for the Bucks to either add via trade or buyout market. And as Eric Nehm of The Athletic points out, the buyout market may be where Milwaukee turns to next.

“Guaranteeing Cousins’ contract (as well as [Wesley] Matthews’ deal) would have essentially locked their roster into place barring a trade. For example, if a player came available on the buyout market, the Bucks would have not just been able to sign that player and instead would need to find a way to move one of their players to open up a roster spot. It may not seem like much, but refraining from guaranteeing Cousins’ deal gives the Bucks some flexibility that they would not have any other way.”

Eric Nehm

The NBA trade deadline is set for February 10. Expect the Bucks to explore moves both before and after that day in order to climb up the Eastern Conference and position themselves for another championship run.

The Bucks are taking a gamble that any new addition is an upgrade over DeMarcus Cousins


Milwaukee Bucks Trade Rumors: Should the Defending Champions Make a Move at the NBA Trade Deadline?

With Cousins out of the picture, Milwaukee is now in a position to add to its roster in the coming weeks. The only problem: Who on the buyout market will be as serviceable as Cousins?

The Bucks could hypothetically add an impact player via trade and then fill up the leftover spots on the roster with buyout casualties. They could also just wait until after the deadline and hope a free agent will be an upgrade over Cousins.

Head coach Mike Budenholzer has praised Cousins in the past, but even he alluded to the front office being capable of finding talent to replace the former All-Star.

“The key to being a good NBA team is having players, and [general manager] Jon Horst and the front office has done a great job of putting together our roster,” Budenholzer said after the December 30 win over Orlando. “We have a lot of depth and a lot of different ways to beat teams.”

We’ll see if the Bucks end up upgrading over Cousins. But expect them to explore a variety of possible moves in the process.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and contract figures courtesy of Spotrac.