For months, the basketball world was abuzz with rumors about the seemingly inevitable trade of Sacramento Kings superstar DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. Just 26 years old and already in his seventh NBA season, everything about Cousins’ situation screamed for a change of scenery. Widely considered the most physically dominant center since Shaquille O’Neal, with a widening offensive skillset and improving jump shot every year, Cousins had never once led his Kings to the postseason and become the subject of much controversy surrounding his supposed bad attitude.
Front offices are always hesitant to pursue a player who might be perceived as a toxic locker room presence, but most pundits expected a superstar of Cousins’ caliber to receive a lot attention, particularly from teams looking to make “the leap” from mediocrity to contention. Cities like Boston, Washington and Denver all seemed like plausible locations for the mercurial big man but it’s safe to say that not too many expected his actual landing spot: New Orleans.
In a trade last week that was remarkable for how un-blockbustery it felt, Boogie was shipped off to the Pelicans with forward Omri Casspi in exchange for rookie shooting guard (and OU alum) Buddy Hield, swingman Tyreke Evans, point guard Langston Galloway and the Pelicans’ 2017 first and second round picks. Cousins will now team with Anthony Davis, he of the famous unibrow and perhaps the only big man definitively better than Cousins himself in trying to lead the embattled Pelicans to the eighth seed in the Western Conference and the team’s first postseason appearance since Chris Paul left for LA.
So now that the dust has settled, you may be wondering what the fallout looks like. How has the landscape of the league changed by Cousins acquiring a new address? First, let me preface this by saying that armchair executives like you or I can sometimes get too presumptuous about our own understanding of sports trading markets, and thus constantly make unfair judgments of front office decisions. By definition, none of us can really know the full picture of what’s going on behind the scenes from the outside. But with that said, I’m really struggling to find the rationale behind this deal.
Let’s deal with the Pelicans first. Obviously this trade isn’t going to make them a true threat to the upper echelon of the West, but unlike some, I’m not going to argue that that’s a reason not to make a move. This is basketball and at some point you just have to just accept the power imbalance.
If every team that didn’t have a realistic shot at the title just decided to tear everything down and rebuild, we might as well just kick everybody besides Golden State, Cleveland and maybe San Antonio out of the league. There is absolutely something to be said about a team wanting to make itself “good, not great” so long as they don’t bankrupt their future in doing so. The only problem is I’m not sure pairing Cousins and Davis does that.
Nobody doubts the pair’s stratospheric talent. Both are spectacular athletes who handle the ball and see the floor like guards, excellent midrange shooters and shot-deterring/switch-happy (if occasionally inconsistent) defenders. Having one guy like that on your team to build around is a blessing but two, playing the exact same position?
I have no idea how they’ll be able to mesh. Boogie and the Brow are about as ball-dominant as it is possible for big men to be, and while both could certainly benefit from somebody else easing their offensive burden, it would make far more sense to place the ball in the hands of a sweet-shooting point guard rather than a copy of themselves. They won’t both be able to operate from their preferred spot in the high post; the Pelicans don’t have the shooters to surround these two for proper spacing and driving lanes will be completely clogged. That will spell death in the modern NBA unless one or both of Davis and Cousins takes another step forward and becomes an efficient and respected shooter from deep (Cousins to his credit has improved his three point shooting this season).
I hesitate to negatively prognosticate a team with this much raw talent but if I was a betting man, I’d still be putting money on the overlooked and hungry Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed.
But hey, at least New Orleans will have talent to build around in the future. I’m honestly not sure what Sacramento has to look forward to. Tyreke Evans is an anachronism, a physically gifted guard who can’t shoot or see the floor well. Buddy Hield, the nominal centerpiece of the deal, is an undersized shooting guard who’s not a great shooter, and who has had exactly one season of college basketball where he flashed anything even resembling NBA starter potential. Oh yeah and he’s already 23, just nine months younger than Davis, despite being a rookie. “Yeah,” you’re saying, “but they got picks too!” Except that only one of those is a first rounder and it’s this year’s. Even if Cousins doesn’t take the Pelicans to the playoffs, that pick will most likely be somewhere in the teens. There’s no getting around it, this meager return is a disaster for the Kings no matter how you slice it.
A few other trade deadline notes: Carmelo Anthony stayed put in New York, placing the final nail in the coffin of his chances at an NBA title and setting Kristaps Porzingis’s star development back another few years; Serge Ibaka has quietly been having a nice year in Orlando. He’ll be Toronto’s best big man since Chris Bosh left and should put a stop to the Raptor’s unexpected stumble; Neither Paul George nor Jimmy Butler, the East’s underappreciated versions of Kawhi Leonard, changed teams.
They are both in crappy situations in Indiana and Chicago respectively and it’s unlikely that either stays when they hit free agency; speaking of which, HOW COULD THE CELTICS NOT HAVE MADE A PLAY FOR THOSE GUYS?? THEY HAVE PLENTY OF INTRIGUING YOUNG GUYS AND APPROXIMATELY 3,854 DRAFT PICKS, ONE OF WHICH HAS A GREAT CHANCE OF BEING NUMBER ONE THIS YEAR! ADDING BUTLER OR GEORGE WOULD HAVE ARGUABLY MADE THEM THE FAVORITES IN THE EAST OVER THE BANGED UP CAVS! Sorry, I’m playing armchair GM again.