Last night, in the New Orleans Pelicans' win over the Houston Rockets, center DeMarcus Cousins landed awkwardly after an attempted offensive rebound, hurting his left leg in the process. There were only 10 seconds left in the game.
It looked immediately bad. Largely uncontested on the play, Cousins took two staggered steps on the other leg, took a step on the injured leg, and immediately went down and stayed down in pain.
It was. ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski reports that Cousins has torn his Achilles tendon.
This is extremely bad news for Cousins. He will miss six to ten months of his prime, and the future after serious injury for a basketball player is never certain, especially one in the legs. Cousins was on course for his first ever NBA playoff appearances. He won't now be there.
This is also extremely bad news for the Pelicans. The duo of Cousins and Davis is the key to everything they want to do, and they were starting to come good. Winners of seven of their last eight games, up to sixth in the Western Conference and only one game out of fifth, the Pelicans were playing their best basketball in years. They were even reportedly trying to be buyers in the trade market, despite being capped out and asset-short.
Further troubling is the fact that Cousins is headed this summer towards unrestricted free agency. His strong play on the season to date had made him a prime candidate for a huge contract in what should a fairly tame free agent market - as an All-Star starter in his prime years capable of doing things that only about two other players in the league can do, Cousins was shaping up for a bidding war and a maximum salary. But being hurt going into that free agency is going to damage his prospects and his fortunes.
The Pelicans were going to offer Cousins the maximum possible salary for five years to re-sign with them. Can they still do so?
Particularly troublesome is what the injury is. A torn Achilles is a very serious injury, and the list of NBA players to have previously suffered them and still come back to play is short.
The most recent example is Wesley Matthews of the Dallas Mavericks. However, although Matthews has come back to play healthy and regularly, his game has never reached the level it did before injury. Matthews is still a useful NBA player, sufficiently so that Dallas want to cash in on his perceived value, yet his play and his value are not what they were before the injury, and nor is it coming back now.
Before him, Kobe Bryant of the L.A. Lakers tore his Achilles at the end of the 2012/13 season. Kobe's ability and desire to play through, and quickly recover from, injury was the stuff of legend. But even he struggled with this one, coming back looking sluggish before going out again after only six games with a season-ending knee injury. Whether or not there was a causative link between the Achilles tear/recovery and the immediately following knee injury can never be proven with certainty, but what is known is that Bryant was never the same again.
Others, such as Patrick Ewing, Dominique Wilkins and Elgin Baylor, also came back from torn Achilles injuries. But with the exception of Matthews, all tore their Achilles towards the end of their careers. Cousins has torn his in his prime. And this could significantly impact his future.
With regards to Cousins's spot as an All-Star, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hand-picks the replacement. The most obvious candidate for a spot is Oklahoma City Thunder forward Paul George, a frontcourt player (albeit admittedly a very different one) was quite a significant snub in the first place.
For the Pelicans, however, such factors are incidental. Already suffering from a serious lack of depth beyond their starting five and especially their big two, the Pelicans' season that hitherto was looking like at least a first-round series now might mean being stuck in the awkward high-lottery area that is not conducive to winning neither now nor in the future. The franchise's future depends on Anthony Davis, and it is reasonable to assume that Davis's future depends on Cousins. And all of that is now in doubt.
And for Cousins himself, the future suddenly got a lot bleaker.