It’s been a while since we’ve had an earth-shaking trade in the NBA quite like this one. In case you somehow don’t know what I’m talking about, the Sacramento Kings just sent Demarcus Cousins packing (with Omri Casspi) to New Orleans, in return getting Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 1st round pick and another 2nd round pick.
No, you read that right. That’s all the Kings managed to get back for Cousins. After 36 months of testing the market, negotiations with dozens of GMs in the league, all that back and forth, and the media coverage, that’s what they settled for. A 23-year-old rookie shooter who is struggling with his shot, a broken-down former rookie of the year, a guy they’ll waive by end of the week, and ONE 1st round pick (likely to be 15th, where the top talents in this year’s ‘deep’ draft are likely gone).
The Kings figured Buddy Hield would be their new franchise centrepiece they can build around to draw the crowds in to the their brand new Golden 1 Center. They are so caught up at missing out on him in the draft last season that they gave up a once-in-a-generation, game-changing big man to get him. That’s really playing the odds here, because in 2 years, if he turns out anything less than a Klay Thompson level player, this trade didn’t work out.
Now some Kings fans and Cousins critics have spoken out in support of the trade, claiming ‘character’ as the reason the Kings pulled the plug. Truth is, EVERYONE who had any interest in the NBA knew that Cousins was a headcase 4 years ago. Fact is, the Kings had every opportunity to move him 2-3 seasons back, and gotten way more back. They put up with every dickhead move he pulled because he was clearly a superstar in this league, a top-15 player and a crowd puller. Maybe they finally though enough is enough and cut their losses. But that’s just poor business.
Now the Pelicans come out looking like geniuses in the aftermath, but really they are more like the lucky punter at the casino who’s had a bad run, down to their last chips, tossed them all on the table and the dice rolled their way. Who would’ve thought, after all the offers the Kings turned down, that BUDDY HIELD would be the piece that swayed them to give up on Cousins. Pels probably drafted Hield with high expectations too, but surely no where near as high as what the Kings now expect from him. Throughout the course of this season they probably realized that Hield was never going to be Klay Thompson. So they said hey, didn’t the Kings want him in the draft earlier, let’s give them a call and see what we can get for him. Lo-and-behold, the Kings gave them the 3rd best big man in the NBA.
Regardless of how the trade came to be, the Pelicans outlook just took the VIP elevator up to the 87th floor. They were still in the mix, but in reality were never likely to make the playoffs this season, and would’ve been stuck in the purgatory of being the 8th to 12th best team in the crazy Western Conference. Even with Anthony Davis, they were never going to put up a fight against the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets, Clippers, not without getting major help. Boy did the help package arrive in style.
With Cousins and Davis in the frontcourt, Pelicans suddenly have 2 of the best 3 big men in the NBA, making them by far the scariest, most dominant frontcourt in the league. Not since Tim Duncan/David Robinson of the late 90s Spurs have we had a ‘twin tower’ combo on a team quite like this. Cousins and Davis each have proved borderline unguardable while playing with weaker teammates. Now that they’re together, defenses are going to freak out. The pair might take some time to learn how best to play together, and coach Alvin Gentry is going to have to work overtime the next few weeks to work out the right plays to run and the right way to stagger minutes between the two big men. But eventually, the Pelicans are going to dominate the frontcourt in most games. Cousins can be used like Shaq as the overpowering force in the paint. The only way for most defenses in the NBA today is the double him inside. Only thing is, Cousins is a great passer, and Davis has become a tremendous mid-range shooter. So it’ll become a pick-your-poison kind of thing for most teams. That’s probably an oversimplification of things, but that’s the end result we’ll be watching in most Pelicans games.
On defense, Cousins and Davis is a pair that’ll discourage any team from coming inside. Cousins problem on defense has always been effort. When he’s up for it, playing for a decent team that wins games, the effort should be there and Davis is freakish enough to make up for gaps he leaves open. Both are great rebounders, on both ends of the floor, so expect them to get many more possessions in games than they were before, which is always good for the Wins column.
Don’t expect the Kings to pull a shocker in this year’s playoffs though. Despite having the scariest frontcourt combo in the league by far, the Pels just have no one else. Jrue Holiday will run the point and get 12 assists a game just running picks and throwing alley-oops to his big men. Other than that, Tim Frazier, Solomon Hill, Etwaan Moore and gang just don’t bring much help, and the Kings will struggle to stay in the game whenever their second unit have to be on the floor. The silver lining is, by fleecing the Kings in the trade by giving up only one 2017 1st round pick, the Pels can take 2018 as a ‘learning to play together’ year, then dive right back into the draft for more help in the 2018 draft. By then, their big three of Cousins, AD, Jrue should have figured out plenty of ways to kill teams, and with some luck, they get a few good shooters to help them out. A knock-down three-point starting guard, a lock-down defensive stopper who can slow down the top wings like Derozan or Butler, and a decent bench. Those are the 3 things the Pels need to dig hard for from now until 2020. Those are the 3 things that’ll get them over the bar and become a contender in the West.
All in all, despite the lacklustre All-Star Dunk Contest, New Orleans must be feeling pretty good about themselves this weekend. An All-Star Game MVP that was their franchise centrepiece, now joined by Demarcus Cousins, not many other fans can be more excited than them for the second half of the season to begin.