Lakers work out DeMarcus Cousins, Meyers Leonard as they mull big man depth

EL SEGUNDO — Any sniff of fresh blood is likely to get the Lakers’ rumor mill spinning.

When it leaked Thursday that the Lakers intended to work out DeMarcus Cousins and Meyers Leonard, a pair of big men who both have a bit of baggage, it got national attention. But maybe for naught.

Coach Darvin Ham was complimentary toward the two bigs, who came in Friday for workout sessions, but didn’t hint at a future for either on the roster at the moment.

“They both looked great,” Ham said. “Whether or not we’re able to do something with them is a different story. But we’re constantly trying to kick the tires on different scenarios. But the first order of business is to get our guys back healthy. But, definitely, we appreciate them for coming in and they both look great.”

The Lakers have some issues in the front court, leading off with Anthony Davis’ injured right foot. The 29-year-old big man was able to participate in some half-court work in practice on Saturday, but it’s likely some time before he’s able to suit up again – and perhaps more time before he rolls into the All-NBA form he was playing in before he got hurt on Dec. 16.

In the meantime, the Lakers have been making do with Thomas Bryant as a starter, Wenyen Gabriel as a backup and lineups with LeBron James at center. Damian Jones has played almost no meaningful minutes in the last month without Davis.

Front court depth is bound to be a concern Sunday, when the Lakers take on Joel Embiid, who scored 38 points in the last overtime meeting back in December. Bryant has been a capable offensive fill-in for Davis, but has struggled to guard opposing bigs.

“He’s put his best foot forward, and everything we’ve asked him to do, he’s trying to do it: Be a body, be physical, contest without fouling and try to come up with rebounds,” Ham said of Bryant. “We have several clips of him just holding his own and being a force for us in the paint on both sides of the ball. So I expect him to continue that.”

If the Lakers wanted to bring in another big man, they would need to manipulate their roster. The 10-day contract of Sterling Brown ends after Sunday, but the Lakers are still missing wings and guards Lonnie Walker and Austin Reaves, and Patrick Beverley is questionable for the Philadelphia game with a non-COVID illness (he missed practice on Saturday to rest and hydrate, Ham said). The need for Brown at guard might supersede the need for another big man – unless the Lakers choose to waive Jones.

But neither Cousins nor Leonard have played in the NBA this season. Cousins spent last year split between Milwaukee and Denver, averaging 9 points and 5.6 rebounds on 46% shooting, his once dominant athleticism sapped by a string of devastating injuries. Leonard hasn’t played in the NBA since 2020-21, when he suffered season-ending injuries and then was embroiled in controversy after using an anti-semetic slur on a livestream.

The Lakers have worked out others including Cody Zeller and Tyler Dorsey in recent weeks. But more than adding anyone as a free agent, the Lakers have a stronger sense that Davis’ return will improve their fortunes and answer a good deal of the roster questions they have right now.

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“He’s been one of the best players in the league this year so far,” said Reaves. “So anytime you have a guy like that at that caliber coming back, it’s really good for your team to say the least.”

James disappointed by last two-minute report

It was harder to say which upset LeBron James more on the NBA’s last two-minute report on the double-overtime loss to Dallas: The call the league said it got right, or the call it acknowledged getting wrong.

James could well have won the game in overtime on Thursday night if the officiating crew had called a shooting foul on Christian Wood, which would have put James at the line with 2.9 seconds left. When asked for his thoughts, James joked that he had his three children’s college funds to think about, implying that he’d rather not get fined.

“It is what it is. I know what was happening in the game,” he said. “I hate those last two-minute reports. It don’t change nothing.”

But James did cry foul when he saw that Brown, who took contact from Tim Hardaway Jr. on the last shot of regulation, had been ruled a correct non-call. The justification both immediately after the game and in the report was that Hardaway made contact with the ball before hitting Brown’s arm. Whether or not James’ objection fits within the rules, he was upset with that determination.

“We should have won the game: He got fouled,” he said. “The two-minute report is absolutely wrong. He got fouled. As a shooter if the guy hits your palm, he doesn’t allow you the follow through, that’s a foul.”

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