Philadelphia 76ers: With Boogie down, ‘The Process’ can reign supreme

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

With DeMarcus Cousins out for the season, Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid can once and for all insert himself as the best center in basketball.

When DeMarcus Cousins went down with yet another season-ending injury – this time a torn ACL – it very literally changed the very makeup of the NBA.

With Cousins on the mend for presumably the entirety of the 2019-20 season – a season many eagerly declared wide open after the demise of the Golden State Warriors dynasty – the Los Angeles Lakers‘ already suspect starting five will now have to turn elsewhere for big contributions out of the paint, with none other than Dwight Howard potentially on his way to the City of Angels if recent reports are of any indication.

But in a weird twist of fate, Cousins’ sabbatical from the game could present one Philadelphia 76ers center with an opportunity to become the unquestioned best center in the NBA.

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Despite making his NBA debut one season after Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid swiftly took the league by storm and established himself as a potential MVP candidate over an abridged 31 game Rookie of the Year-caliber campaign.

Embiid’s sudden, meteoric rise left many fans, pundits, and players alike wondering if the traditional center wasn’t an endangered species in this modern era of space and pace, with some going so far as to christen the Cameroonian 7-footer ‘the leagues’ next great big man’.

One of those Embiid advocates was DeMarcus ‘Boogie’ Cousins.

In a post-game on-court interview following a buzzer-beating win by the Kings over the Sixers (as per NBC Sports Philadelphia), Cousins declared outright “I like that kid a lot. I think he’s got a great chance to be the best big in this league … after I retire.”

Cheeky? Yes, but game respects game and Cousins’ declaration highlights just how impressive Embiid’s game was even before he took his sophomore jump.

Fast-forward a little over one calendar year, and the duo were both named 2019 All-Star starters alongside the best of the best the NBA had to offer.

However, as Embiid’s legend continued to grow, Cousins’ began to crumble.

After being traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package highlighted by then-rookie first-round pick Buddy Hield and a draft pick that eventually netted the Kings Harry Giles and Harrison Barnes after some serious wheeling and dealing, Cousins only appeared in 65 games in the Big Easy before suffering a torn Achilles that would unceremoniously conclude his 2018 season, and put his 2018-19 season into question.

Despite being in line for a max contract that would form an insane big man dynamic duo alongside Anthony Davis, Cousins was allowed to hit the open market and remained unsigned for almost a week before he reached out to the Warriors and offered to play on the mid-level exception.

From there, while Embiid continued to shine as the best big man in the East on a max contract, Cousins quietly rehabbed both his leg and his ego with the best team in the league in the hopes of making a return to the court before the postseason – and for the most part, it worked.

Despite never really making it back to full strength, Cousins appeared in 38 games for the Warriors in 2019 and did his best to contribute to the team’s admirable title defense against the Toronto Raptors, but his flaws on the defensive end of the court limited his effectiveness against the likes of Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

A bridesmaid once more, Cousins once again hit the open market, and once again sat idly by until July 6th when he agreed to an even smaller deal to compete alongside Javal McGee as the Lakers starting center – that is, until he bumped knees with another player in Los Vegas and effectively finished his season – and reign as an NBA superstar – before it even began.

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So, in a lot of ways, DeMarcus Cousins was right that Joel Embiid can now become the best big in the league on arguably the best team in a wide-open Eastern Conference, but unfortunately for ‘The Boogieman’, it came a bit earlier than he would have liked back in 2016.