The all-star weekend has come and gone. The Verizon Slam Dunk competition was by all accounts a huge disappointment. Eric Gordon of the Houston Rockets won the Three-point shooting contest. Even Kristaps Porzingis won the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. Hometown hero Anthony Davis won the All-Star game MVP after scoring a staggering 52 points. But all that pales in comparison to the news of the weekend; The Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Cousins by all measures is a superstar in the NBA. He has been a fixture in recent Team USA squads as well. This move has several angles. The ramifications of the Cousins trade to the Pelicans are enormous and far-reaching.
Ramifications of the Cousins trade to the Pelicans
Recapping the trade
The Kings sent DeMarcus Cousins and swingman Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans. The Pelicans sent rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a (top three protected) first round pick (2017) and a second-round pick (via Philadelphia). This was hardly a ‘king’s ransom’, no pun intended.
The Pelicans point of view
This was an absolute coup by the Pelicans. Under pressure, New Orleans GM Dell Demps needed to make a move to help vault the underachieving Pelicans fight their way into the playoffs. Superstar forward Anthony Davis has been magnificent and healthy all season but the wins have not been consistent enough. The Pelicans were hit with some bad luck, however. Point guard Jrue Holiday (personal reasons) was absent from the team for the start of the season. Injuries also played a significant role as well. Only rookie Buddy Hield appeared in all 57 games before the break.
Not to be discounted as well was Davis’ desire to play as a power forward as opposed to the center position. The Pelicans were in the market for a center. They were linked to deal with the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez, and with the Philadelphia 76ers for Jahlil Okafor. Then like ‘manna from heaven’, this happened.
What have the Pelicans given up for Cousins? An injury-plagued player in Evans, two players each averaging less than ten points per game and a first round pick. For that, they received quite possibly the most talented center in the world. Better yet, the best big-man in the game. But he comes with significant baggage. However, the good parts of Cousins are fantastic. He is durable, appeared in fifty-five (55) games this season. Cousins numbers are staggering as well. He has averaged 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists in roughly thirty-five minutes per contest. His shooting has been very good as well, averaging 35% from the three-point arc while attempting five a game.
There is a drawback, however. Cousins was in line to sign the new Designated Player Exception (DPE) end of this season as he has one more year left on his present contract. New Orleans traditionally has not been a free agent hot spot over the years and the Pelicans do not hold Cousins’ Bird Rights. In Sacramento, the Kings would have been able to offer Cousins approximately $210 million over five years, but the most the Pelicans would only able to offer Cousins is about $180 million over the same period. This means, barring an intervention from the NBA much like with James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Cousins would no longer be in line for the DPE deal. Something as important as this may incentivize Cousins to seek employment elsewhere, i.e Kevin Durant.
But in the interim, the Pelicans have a five-star talent for at least the rest of this season and next season. For such services, they paid minimally.
From the Kings vantage point
Ding-dong the witch is gone. Quite possibly, that is the sentiment of many Kings’ players. In a recent article by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, an unnamed player from last season expressed his displeasure with the mercurial emotions of Cousins.
Here’s a segment from the Arnovitz article; “Nobody calls him out,” the former teammate says: “It’s an ongoing thing. Nobody holds him accountable, and nobody ever has. Sometimes we looked around when he was going at it, and everyone was thinking, Who’s going to stop this?”
Cousins incidents of immaturity and unprofessionalism are wide ranging
Demarcus Cousins is known for his passion and temper on the basketball court. Cousins has never been a player afraid to speak his mind, even if it meant piling up the technical fouls. Off the court, the big man had issues with players, coaches, referees and even members of the press.
In a recorded altercation, Cousins was seen verbally threatening a member of the Sacramento Bee. All because the reporter wrote about an incident in which Cousins’ brother was allegedly involved.
This is another excerpt from the Arnovitz article: ‘referee Bennett Salvatore is briefing the Kings on the NBA’s points of emphasis with regard to officiating. It’s an annual rite for each of the 30 teams, and Salvatore opens the session by letting the players in attendance know that game officials appreciate an open line of communication. Refs care about getting the calls right, he says. If you have concerns, we want to hear them. “This is bulls—!” Cousins yells at Salvatore. “They don’t want to listen!”‘
The Head Coach
Cousin’s relationship with former Kings’ head coaches is well documented. Cousins once interrupted a team’s film session, yelling “Why don’t we play film of all of this motherf—er’s mistakes?” pointing to then-coach Tyrone Corbin.
There’s also the incident with the referee’s meeting the Kings players. Cousins, had issues with several former coaches, not only Corbin. George Karl is a prime example. But Cousins had run-ins with coaches he genuinely liked and respected. Mike Malone comes to mind. Malone coached him tough and Cousins respected him for that. Of course, the Kings fired Malone and Cousins’ was once again unhinged.
New coach Dave Joerger and Cousins seemed to get along okay by all accounts. Cousins now in his seventh season as a pro has already garnered the reputation as being a malcontent. He’s uncoachable. He quite possibly has the worst body language in the NBA.
Back to the trade
It is said that Cousins, heard of his trade while at the airport leaving New Orleans per Sean Cunningham of KTXY and ABC 10 in Sacramento.
Been told that this moment was of trade winds and that DeMarcus Cousins still didn't know of trade until ride to airport. https://t.co/QFcblebOMl
The Cousins trade signals a changing of the guard in Sacramento. In coach Joerger, they have attempted to give a clean slate. One may say it’s devoid of talent but it’s also devoid of a very large headache. The Kings, as a consequence of the trade, is waiving another volatile player in veteran Matt Barnes. This is to clear the necessary roster space to accommodate the incoming players.
The ramifications of the trade
Kings GM Vlade Divac is often labeled as incompetent. This obviously makes it easy for the critics, naysayers, and gasbags to bloviate on this trade. The first point of contention, the amount or lack thereof the Kings received for Cousins. According to social media, the Kings did not receive adequate compensation for a player of Cousins stature. However, trades are individual in nature. Trade factors often are unrevealed.
Yep, Vlade actually said this. pic.twitter.com/CEW7aynAZ2
For all intents and purposes, the Kings in the past received better offers for Cousins. An important question is, “Why accept this deal?” Or better still, “Why rush to trade him now?” The answer is most likely is financial in nature. The thought process of the Kings was to trade him now before the season ends. Thus eliminating any thoughts of the Cousins going into the new season in the final year of his deal. Or maybe sign him to the DPE during the offseason? That would make him untradeable, however. This relationship has been toxic since its inception so five more years of Cousins? No, that’s akin to having a baby solely to save an otherwise failing marriage.
A thought process among the NBA fans and executives alike is that a trade must be equal. By that, both parties get similar value from the trade. It’s naïve to believe such a trade always exists. No one can tell the true motivation for pulling the plug on a player. An interesting side note to consider is that the Kings 2019 first round pick belongs to the 76ers.
Addition by Subtraction
And here's maybe the most important thing. Most of Cousin's teammates the past 7 years hated playing with him! That is a fact!
The Kings front office is hoping that is the case here. The cupboard is far from bare, as the Kings have eight players on rookie or expiring contracts. That means, salary-cap space. There is Rudy Gay also. Gay is currently injured for the remainder of the season and has a player option for next season. The Kings are undoubtedly hopeful that this trade sparks the turnaround they desperately desire.
As mentioned before, the Pelicans will have some decisions to make going forward. They have chosen to surround Davis with top-tier talent but at what expense? It is a win-now approach, try to get to the playoffs. The Pelicans effectively gave up one lottery pick in Hield and potentially another in the upcoming draft. With Holiday becoming a free-agent this offseason, re-signing him becomes a key priority. Also, there is the matter of convincing Cousins to re-sign with them. Time will tell.