Ironically, the most exciting part of the NBA All-Star Weekend had nothing to do with the festivities. In a blindsiding move, the Sacramento Kings agreed to trade superstar center DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for guards Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans. In addition, the Kings received a protected 2017 first-round pick and an unprotected 2017 second-round pick.
Cousins has long been the subject of trade rumors, dating back to last year’s trade deadline, often in conjunction with Boston and its stockpile of picks and young players. Known for being emotional on and off the court, Cousins was the subject of much scrutiny and often blamed for the basketball struggles in California’s capital.
Despite repeatedly demonstrating the pride Cousins felt for playing for Sacramento — whether in the form of on-court leadership or in donation of time and money to the local community — the Kings’ front office never assembled the pieces to help support its star player.
Sacramento struck gold by drafting Cousins fifth overall from Kentucky in 2010, but proceeded to draft forward Thomas Robinson, guard Ben McLemore, guard Nik Stauskas and center Willie Cauley-Stein with its first-round picks in the following years. None have developed into the supporting talent Cousins needs.
In fact, the Kings struck gold again by drafting two-time all-star guard Isaiah Thomas with the last pick in the 2011 draft. However, typical to the Kings’ actions, they promptly traded the Washington product to Phoenix for a 2013 second-round pick.
It is safe to say that the Kings’ ownership is nothing short of inept. Owner Vivek Ranadive and General Manager Vlade Divac could not even manage former Coach of the Year George Karl. This allowed tensions between Karl and Cousins to boil over and impede on the team’s chemistry. Between the failed draft picks and the tension between their coach and star player, not much went right for Sacramento’s front office. But of all their shortcomings, nothing was more emblematic of their failure as a front office than the logic behind trading Cousins.
Despite admitting to receiving better trade packages for Cousins, the Kings’ front office proceeded with the trade with New Orleans due to their affinity for Buddy Hield. The Oklahoma product and former Naismith Player of the Year averages 8.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game in his rookie campaign. A rare four-year senior at Oklahoma, Hield is 24 years old, only three years younger than Cousins. With a middling first-round pick to boot, the Kings did not receive an adequate return for their star and have not put themselves in a position to succeed in the future.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans are in the process of rejuvenation. The pairing of Cousins with star forward Anthony Davis creates the best frontcourt since the Spurs drafted forward Tim Duncan to join center David Robinson in 1997.
Normally, having two big men as the focal point of the offense comes with spacing issues. However, the reason this tandem can be successful is because both Davis and Cousins have developed their game to include a jump shot. Davis currently shoots 50 percent from the floor and makes a living with his elbow jumper, while Cousins is shooting 35 percent from deep — a staggering number for a man of his stature.
Both players are adept at driving to the rim, posting up defenders and even passing out of the post. Offensively, they will be a matchup nightmare, creating and exploiting various mismatches and scoring in various ways. Defensively, Cousins grabs 10.7 rebounds per game and Davis is averaging a bewildering 2.5 blocks per game. This means that opposing teams are going to have a difficult time making good shots and rebounding their misses.
The Pelicans currently sit at 23-34, good for 2.5 games back of the eighth seed. With 25 games remaining, the Pelicans are in great position to make a push for the playoffs. Their roster is somewhat depleted after the Cousins trade, but guard Jrue Holiday remains at the helm and can help orchestrate the playoff push.
It is very possible that the Pelicans end up with the eighth seed and challenge the Warriors in the first round. The Warriors’ greatest weakness is their lack of interior defense; the Pelicans’ roster is best suited to exploiting that weakness. In the 2015 playoffs, Davis alone averaged 31.5 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game on 54 percent shooting against the Warriors.
Despite the glamour, a lot of questions surround the trade. Perhaps the most pressing is whether Cousins will re-sign with New Orleans in the future. His contract expires at the end of next season, so the Pelicans have a year and a half to convince him to stay. Davis is under contract until the 2020-21 season, so the potential exists. However, Cousins re-signing is contingent on New Orleans’ number of victories and whether he is finally paired with a front office that is willing to help him succeed.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.