February 20, 2017
New Orleans Pelicans Receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi
Sacramento Kings Receive: Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, New Orleans’ 2017 first round pick, top 3 protected, Philadelphia’s 2017 second round pick
Dell Demps completed what on the surface looks like one of the biggest trade robberies in my memory. The Pelicans have had one of the best young players in the NBA in Anthony Davis, but have not been able to build a solid team around him. The Pelicans seemed to make moves like they were only playing for the 8thseed in the West, and not thinking about the future. They have had a rotating collection of average veterans who were not making the Pelicans title contender, but also who had probably reached their ceiling. There had already been talks in the media that Anthony Davis could be the next superstar to demand a trade, even though he is signed through 2020-2021. Giving Davis a top ten player in the NBA in Cousins has to be an encouraging signal for him that management is trying to set this team up as title contenders. In today’s NBA, a team needs multiple superstars to compete for championships and it looks like the Pelicans are on their way to that. The rest of the roster still needs some work, but the foundation pieces are in place, and that makes New Orleans a much more appealing destination for free agents. With their point guard Jrue Holiday approaching free agency, this gives him incentive to resign and run the pick and roll with the two best big men in the NBA. Outside of Holiday, there is not much talent on the roster but that can be addressed in the offseason. Omri Casppi also came over to New Orleans in the trade but he is a free agent this offseason. After having a rough season himself in Sacramento, this was probably more a move to get Casppi out of Sacramento, rather than coming over as an important piece for the Pelicans. Right now the focus is on getting Davis and Cousins to learn to play off each other.
Davis and Cousins are both averaging over 25 points and 10 rebounds per game, both are coming of All-Star selections, and if the season ended today, would probably both be on All-NBA teams. Pairing these two players together is going to give opposing coaches nightmares. In what is currently a faced-paced, small-ball NBA, the Pelicans are going the opposite direction. They have what I feel as though could be a Tim Duncan and David Robinson level frontcourt, just both players are closer in age with Cousins and Davis and will be playing together in their primes. Both players can rebound, defend, block shots, shoot, pass and run. These are not traditional centers. The Sixers had trouble running an adequate team with Okafor, Embiid, and Noel but those styles of players are nowhere near Cousins and Davis. They can play interchangeably between the 4 and 5 and Davis can even slide down to the 3 if necessary. It will be interesting to see how small ball teams approach stopping this now two-headed monster that is the frontcourt in New Orleans. There is a strong possibility that this duo can average 50 points, 25 rebounds, 10 assists, 5 blocks and 3 steals a game between them. These two generating those numbers would make life easier for everyone around them.
As good as the numbers look, and the idea of Cousins and Davis playing together seems great, it is not a guaranteed slam dunk. There is a reason Cousins did not have much of a market and it has to do with his supposed “toxic” attitude. Cousins leads the NBA with 19 technical fouls this year and has had incidents with media members and fans. He also has had rough relationships with past teammates and coaches. We will now have the chance to see if the unstable situation in Sacramento was a large portion of the problem and if Cousins can leave his problems in California. The hope is that Davis and Cousins, both Kentucky alums, can mesh together and create the best frontcourt in the NBA. Cousins will be a free agent after the 2017-2018 season. If Cousins were to leave in free agency, he is sacrificing a lot less money than he would have if he left in free agency from the Kings. The smaller gap in dollar differences may entice him to take a look at all the options he has rather than just resign in New Orleans, especially if he and Davis do not click. The team will have a whole season to convince Cousins to stay. Will Cousins being from Alabama and New Orleans being a large, fun city, there are already two non-basketball factors that bode well for the Pelicans.
Giving up what essentially amounts to two first round picks (Hield and the 2017 draft pick), two players who were probably going to leave in free agency this offseason anyway, and a second round pick is 100% worth the risks for one of the best players in the NBA. None of the outgoing assets were going to drastically change the fortunes of the Pelicans; Cousins can. We could be looking back on this trade in 5 years as what kick started the Pelicans championship aspirations. A lot would have to go right for the Kings for us to look and think if it was anything but one-sided in the Pelicans favor. There is always the chance Hield turns into a star, and the two draft picks return stars, but that is highly unlikely. The NBA is always top heavy, and even in this deep draft class, anyone outside the top ten rarely turns into an All-NBA talent. It’s possible and there are always guys who outplay their draft position, but it is much more rare in the NBA than any other professional sports. The only reason this trade is not A+++ for the Pelicans is Cousins attitude and how he will gel with Anthony Davis, and the fact that Cousins can leave in free agency in the summer of 2018. If Cousins and Davis learn to play together and Cousins resigns, we are going to look back in even more shock that this was all New Orleans had to give up.
This is the start of what will be a long rebuild, on what has already been a rough decade for the franchise. A lot of that can be attributed to management and ownership, which means this could take a while. Owner Vivek Ranadivé and General Manager Vlade Divac have made many questionable decisions in recent years and did a horrific job of handling the DeMarcus Cousins situation. The fact that Divac told Cousins he would not be traded, to then have Cousins find out from a P.R. guy whispering in his ear after the All-Star Game to make him aware of the trade, to saying today that there was a better offer for Cousins two days ago is just a bad look for this franchise. Why would Divac take a low-ball offer like this when he still has a couple days to work the phone and try to get a better deal? I get the Pelicans could have gone in a different direction if he had waited but it is still questionable. This is after years of coach turnover along with trades and free agent signings that were questionable at the time and look even worse now. This is not only currently hurting the team, but will have an effect on how free agents look at this team.
Looking at the Kings’ roster right now, it resembles the look of the 2013-2014 Sixers’ roster, which was the first year of The Process. The big difference between those is the direction the roster has moving forward. The Sixers had been collecting assets and needed to develop players and wait for their draft picks to come through. The Kings do not have much talent on the roster and their future collection of draft picks does not look nearly as promising as what the Sixers possessed. The Kings owe their 2017 first round draft pick to the Bulls, protected picks 1-10, the Sixers have the rights to swap picks with the Kings in the 2017 draft if the pick falls from 1-10, and they owe the Sixers their 2019 first round pick, unprotected. The ideal situation for the Kings would be getting a pick in the top 10 of the draft this year so they do not convey their first round pick to the Bulls and instead send them a 2017 second round pick. The way the standings are now, the Kings would have the 11th pick in the draft but they should probably lose a significant amount of their remaining games and end up in the top 10. The Kings also have no other incoming first round picks beside the one picked up from the Pelicans, which would currently be the 9thpick, but because of how tight the standings are and the expectation the Pelicans will start winning more, it is very realistic that the pick is closer to 15thor 16th come draft time. They only sit 2 games back of what would be the 15thpick. The Sixers’ 2017 second round pick will likely be in the early thirties, and in such a deep drat class, the Kings may be able to find a rotational player that late.
The way the roster currently sits, it rivals the Brooklyn Nets as the worst roster in basketball. If this were the roster since the season started, it would be very realistic for them to be in last place. The most skilled player on the roster is probably Rudy Gay, who is out the rest of the year with a torn Achilles, and is a free agent at the end of the season. Gay has made it clear he is not resigning in Sacramento and the Kings were most likely going to trade Gay during the season. It is safe to assume they could have gotten a young player or draft pick in return for Gay, but they will have to see him walk this summer for nothing. Tyreke Evans, who started his career in Sacramento and just came back in the Cousins trade, will also be a free agent this offseason. It has been reported that Evans may be bought out and was only included in the trade to make salaries work. Langston Galloway also does not seem to be a big part of the Kings future, as he has underperformed since signing his deal this past offseason and has a player option for next year. A significant portion of this roster can be free agents at the end of the season, and no one that is expect to be back next season has much star potential. The Kings believe Buddy Hield, the big return in the trade, has Steph Curry potential. Hield was the 6th pick in the 2016 draft, but he is already 23 years old. I was not very high on Hield coming out of college, as he was more of a role player until he broke out his senior season. I thought Jamal Murray would have been the much better pick, and how this season has gone so far, Murray looks like the better prospect. But the Kings loved Hield and now they have him and need him to turn into a star if they do not want to be the laughing stock of the NBA.
The Kings will be looking to build around Hield, 2015 first round pick Willie Cauley-Stein who is expected to take over center duties, and 2016 first round picks Georgios Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson, and Skal Labissiere. Outside of Hield, none of those players for average more than 6 points per game for the Kings before the trade. Papagiannis was the 13th pick in the 2016 draft, but most experts did not even have him as a first round prospect. Richardson was the 22nd pick in the 2016 draft and up until his breakout performance in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, no one saw him as an NBA draft prospect after just his freshman year. He has potential, but has showed no signs so far of putting that all together. Labissiere was the 28th pick in the 2016 draft after an extremely underwhelming freshman year at Kentucky. He was a top recruit out of high school and was drafted based all on that potential. He, like Richardson, has showed no signs of putting everything together. It is nice that the Kings have some young players under rookie scale contracts to try to build around, but this is not the group that I would want.
I can’t believe that this is what the Kings got in return for one of the best players in the NBA. The NBA is a superstar driven league and you have to do what you can to keep them. With the new CBA, the Kings would have given Cousins the financial incentive to resign there, so they must have really felt that Cousins was that toxic to their locker room that they would get rid of him for so little. It also shows the market that was there for him. The Kings have hit the reset button and they should try to trade the remaining veterans on the roster for other young pieces or draft picks in the hopes of speeding up the process. The Kings need Hield to develop in a star and they need to hit on what will hopefully be two draft picks for them this year. If not, this could go down as one of the worst trades in NBA history.
Rest of the NBA
The team most effected by this trade that was not Sacramento or New Orleans was the 76ers. The Sixers have been in the middle of their own drastic rebuild over the past few years, but there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. The Sixers have talent on the roster, a star in Joel Embiid and hopefully Ben Simmons, and still a lot of incoming picks. Since the Sixers have started winning, their chance at a top draft pick has become smaller. They are still looking as though their own pick will fall in the top ten. The Sixers have the right to swap picks with the Kings if the pick is in the top ten. With how bad the Kings roster is, there is a solid chance that they lose almost every remaining game. The Sixers have been on a roll recently, so if they want to push for a playoff spot, they should still be able to retain a top ten pick due to the pick swap. The Sixers also own the Kings’ unprotected 2019 first round pick. It Is tough to project what the league will look like in 2018-2019, but there is a good chance that the Sixers’ talent will have come together and they will be competing in the playoffs and the Kings will have one of the worst records in the NBA. It could be a situation like the Celtics this season were they are competing for a championship, yet still has a chance at the number one overall draft pick. The only negative for the Sixers is that this trade took away one of the most likely teams to trade Jahlil Okafor to. The Blazers and Pelicans were two of the three most rumored teams to be interest in Okafor, along with the Bulls. Now that the Blazers and Pelicans have each traded for a center in the past week, it is unlikely either makes a move for Okafor. Neither team had to give up much to bring in their new center, so it also lowers the market for Okafor. Hopefully the Sixers can find a taker for Okafor, but if not, he is still on a rookie-scale contract for two more seasons after this one.
I thought that going into the last few days before the trade deadline that there was a slight chance that the Celtics could come away with both DeMarcus Cousins and Jimmy Butler. They had the assets to make it happen and could have easily blown the Pelicans’ offer for Cousins away, but rumors have it that they had no interest in bringing Cousins into their locker room. The Celtics need to make a decision on whether they are going all in right now or playing for the future, or else they could get stuck in a 15-year middle ground. If I were Danny Ainge, I would seriously consider trading Isaiah Thomas and some other veterans. Even though that is not what Celtics fans want to see, I think they could get so much in return right now that could help them compete for the 2022 championship. Thomas has the best contract in the NBA right now from a front office perspective, but will the Celtics want to make him a max-contract player in the summer of 2018? Al Horford is also aging and will likely not be playing at the same level when all these young draft picks are ready to compete for championships. The other side is that they consolidate all their young assets and go for a championship right now. With how good the Warriors are, this is not the route I would go. The new CBA has made it easier for teams to keep their drafted talent, so anyone drafted in the coming years will likely be a Celtic for at least 8 years, barring a trade or release. The Celtics are in an enviable position with their current roster and future assets, but it would be easy for them to not take full advantage of their situation.