What’s next for the Kings, Pelicans, DeMarcus Cousins and the NBA?
When the DeMarcus Cousins trade finally happened, it required a triple take. Yes, Boogie was really being traded this time. Yes, the Pelicans really got him for a protected 2017 first–round pick, a 2017 second–round pick, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, and Tyreke Evans’s expiring contract. And yes, that’s all it took—it’s done. Three years of rumors ended over the course of 90 minutes at the All-Star Game.
A few minutes after the game, Cousins met with a horde of reporters who crowded him for answers. “There must be some good s— going on,” he said. “I don’t ever get this much media.”
About 20 minutes later, he was a Pelican. New Orleans now has two of the most gifted big men in basketball, and the rest of the NBA is left to process what just happened. As one league source texted, “What is going on? How is that the trade? I don’t get it.”
Nobody does! As of Sunday night, there’s no such thing as a dumb fake trade anymore. If Dell Demps can trade Buddy Hield for DeMarcus Cousins, anything is possible. For now, there are three big questions after Sunday.
1. Who’s going to stage a revolution in Sacramento?
Vivek Ranadive is Millennial Ted Stepien. It’s amazing. He’s incompetent to a degree that was supposed to be impossible in the modern NBA era. He’s somehow both inflexible and impulsive, and the Boogie trade, while horrible, is actually pretty consistent with everything the Kings have done for the past few years.
This is a team that shocked the NBA by drafting a second-round big man prospect (Georgios Papagiannis) in the lottery this past June, despite already having three centers on the roster. They hired George Karl, a laughably bad fit with Cousins, and then threatened to fire him for the better part of his tenure in Sacramento. Of course, the Karl move only came after abruptly axing Mike Malone, the only coach that has ever clicked with Cousins. They also took Nik Stauskas in the top 10, then traded him 12 months later, agreeing to swap picks with the Sixers in 2016 and 2017, and throwing in an unprotected 2019 first–round pick just for good measure. And the motivation for that deal? Clearing cap space for a run at Wes Matthews, Monta Ellis, and Rajon Rondo.
The dream scenario was a Monta Ellis and Rajon Rondo backcourt. The Vivek years have been like one long bender, but limited to the worst decisions you make at 4 a.m.
I’m sure people will try to argue that the Kings were playing with a losing hand in Cousins trade talks. It’s true. Cousins’s reputation has become so toxic that most of the league’s better teams weren’t interested, and his impending free agency in 2018 complicated his value. But it’s also true that he’s one of the 10 most talented players in the league, and it’s indefensible to flip him for a top-three protected first–round pick and Buddy Hield. How was that really their move?
My brain is broken by Sacramento. The only coherent thought I have is that Vivek has inspired rebellion among minority owners in the past, and it will probably happen again soon. Trading Boogie is fine, but trading him like this was like something out of the 70s. The Kings ignored good offers for two years while his value cratered, then changed their mind after one Celtics game, and rushed into whatever deal they could find. This can’t keep happening. For one thing, if you believe the NBA intervened to short-circuit Sam Hinkie’s plans in Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine Adam Silver will allow Vivek to continue to light his team on fire every year.
2. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. What does that even look like?
Until Sunday, the Pelicans were almost as dysfunctional as the Kings. The Hield pick wasn’t working out, they were flirting with a Jahlil Okafor/Anthony Davis pairing that would have been doomed from the start, and everyone in the organization was on the hot seat. Now, this is about to be the best show in basketball.
Heard rumors of Cousins being traded to NOLA to pair w/ Davis.
Then sipped his Gatorade
"I'm just gonna drink on that one."
— Candace Buckner (@CandaceDBuckner) February 20, 2017
The last time a team’s been this talented up front was (I guess?) the Lakers with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. This is a different category, though.
Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are 7–foot aliens, not big men. Usually when teams talk about combating smallball by going bigger, it ends with some clumsy post-ups and crowded offense. At best, you get a version of Utah or Memphis the past few years.
But Brow and Boogie can take all their size advantages and bring them to outer space. Maybe that means a high–low game where they take turns torturing smaller teams, or maybe they go out to the perimeter and dominate slower big men off the dribble. I truly have no idea.
If it works, it won’t be easy. The questions at the top of the organization are still there. As for the roster, beyond Jrue Holiday, the rest of the roster is limited to career-backups (Solomon Hill, Tim Frazier, E’Twuan Moore, Dante Cunningham, etc). Anthony Davis still has to prove he can stay healthy on a nightly basis, and he’ll obviously have adjustments to make as Boogie gets comfortable. Meanwhile, Boogie has more to prove than anyone. In seven years he’s won more than 30 games only once, and never more than 35. The Kings deserve a ton of blame for everything that went wrong, but Boogie was never part of the solution, and more often than not he compounded the problems. It wasn’t that long ago that the Kings let Isaiah Thomas leave for nothing, in part to appease Cousins.
So: Will Boogie and Brow have chemistry? Will they have enough shooting? Can it work quickly enough to convince Boogie to commit long-term? Is Alvin Gentry the right coach, or is John Calipari scouting Garden District properties as we speak? Does Warriors–Pelicans become the most entertaining first round series in the league?
Both Davis and Cousins have something to prove, but they have never had the help to give them a chance. Now they have each other, and it’s the most fascinating experiment in the league.
3. How will this affect the next two off–seasons?
But DeMarcus Cousins' agent Jarinn Akana tells ESPN that Cousins is unlikely to sign a summer extension with any team that trades for him
— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) February 20, 2017
If Cousins won’t sign an extension this summer, it will make next year’s Pelicans season just as fascinating. While Boogie’s trade value might be complicated for teams like the Lakers, if teams have a chance to sign him outright, half the league would be interested.
On the other hand, it could click with AD over the next two months and they could be even better than anyone expects. The Pelicans could steal the eighth seed, push the Warriors in April, and find themselves entering the summer as a legitimate free agent player. Everything’s on the table as of Sunday.
As for the rest of the league, it’ll be interesting to see whether this sequence becomes more of a drunken outlier, or a real indication of how teams will approach unhappy franchise players. As crazy as the Kings are and as poorly as they handled this, this part made sense: they eventually realized it wasn’t a good idea to commit $200 million to Cousins and expect the situation to miraculously improve. Will the Pacers come to a similar conclusion with Paul George in the next few months? Will the Bulls look at the Cousins timeline as a cautionary tale for Jimmy Butler, and take a Nets pick while it’s on the table? Will Danny Ainge ever actually make a trade? What if Sam Hinkie parlays that Kings trade into running the Kings one day? There’s a chance Boogie is only the first domino.
More than anything, Sunday night was a great reminder of everything that’s made the NBA so addictive over the past few years. People ask how anyone can spend nine months watching a sport where the title winner is basically predetermined in October, and the answer is that there are a hundred different threads that keep it entertaining in the meantime.
Specifically, as of Sunday, that means I don’t care about the Warriors the next few months. It’s time to see what happens with Anthony Davis and Boogie Cousins.