Although the All-Star Game is usually the biggest story on the Sunday of All-Star weekend, it took a back seat as we learned that All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins was traded from the Sacramento Kings to the New Orleans Pelicans. As a matter of fact, Cousins had not become aware of the deal until after the game when he was pestered by reporters.
While the Pelicans will received Cousins and forward Omri Casspi, the Kings were able to net Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, 2017 first round pick (top 3 protected), and 2017 second round pick. Although the reason for trading Cousins will not be truly revealed for many years, it is apparent that this was a decision made by the Kings’ owner. Since Cousins was drafted out of Kentucky, he has been one of the most dynamic and successful big men in the entire league, but has also been a frequent headache for the team. Cousins has received constant criticism because he routinely allows his emotions to get the best of him and alter his decision making. In addition to his questionable on the court character, it is widely speculated that the Kings’ owner did not want to commit a designate max salary to Cousins because he does not believe that they could become a contender centered around Cousins. After next season, Cousins would have been in line for a 5 year/$209 million deal.
Instead of committing to Cousins, the Kings are looking to rebuild once again around young players and potential high draft selections. Outside of Cousins, the Kings did not have any future superstars so it will be a long time until they can compete in the West. They were able to receive Buddy Hield, a player that the Kings’ owner has compared to Steph Curry due to his shooting potential. However, Hield has not had a very successful rookie season and their are questions from around the league if he will ever develop into a franchise player. In addition, it is troubling that he is already 23 years old, which is young, but about three to four years older than many of his rookie peers. Outside of Hield, the most valuable piece of this trade is the 2017 first round pick. Currently, the Pelicans are 2.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed in the West. With the addition of Cousins, the Pelicans should continue to contend for a playoff position. Thus, it is likely that the draft selection will either become a late lottery selection. Although many stars have been drafted late in lottery, it is unlikely that anyone of these players will become a perennial All-Star like Cousins. To make matters worse, the Kings have been one of the worst teams at identifying young talent and making smart draft decisions. Besides Hield and the first round pick, Evans and Galloway have little value to the Kings as they are expiring contracts and will not be on the team next season.
The Pelicans just made one of the best trades in the NBA history. Everywhere one looks around the internet they will see how the Pelicans just robbed the Kings of their best player and one of the most talented big man in the league. If you look at past deals, it is incredible that they were able to obtain Cousins for next to nothing. A comparable deal situation to Cousins was Dwight Howard and the Magic were able to obtain significantly more assets than the Kings. Even though Howard stated that he wanted out of Orlando, the Magic were still able to dump a significant amount of salary, net multiple young assets, and multiple draft selections. In addition, the Lakers were forced to take on bad contracts, lose draft selections, and separate with All-Star center Andrew Bynum. Although Cousins will not be a perfect fit alongside All-NBA player Anthony Davis, both of these players are too talented to not succeed. Due to their skill and shooting ability from around the court, one of the players can dominate the front court, while the other could stay outside of the paint. In addition, this will allow Anthony Davis to move to his true power forward position, which will limit the amount of wear on his body from opposing bigs. While many teams are looking to play “small ball” without a true center, the Pelicans can take advantage of this situation because no team will have the pieces to stop both of their stars.
With the addition of Cousins, the Pelicans now have the potential to become a championship contender in the near future. However, they will need to add at least one more star and fill out their roster with competent role players before they can think about competing with the Western elites. The Pelicans should attempt to acquire a star point guard that will be able to keep both Davis and Cousins happy. Since they do not have many other assets to acquire a point guard, the team will have to take a chance in free agency on either Deron Williams, Jrue Holiday, or Derrick Rose, and hope that one of these three will be able to stay healthy for an entire season. Due to their shooting ability, Williams and Holiday would be better fits for the team than Rose, who primarily drives to the basket and is not a true pass first point guard. In addition, they will need to search for starting forwards that will be able to stretch the floor and provide room for Davis and Cousins to work inside of the arc. The current options on the roster, E’twaun Moore, Solomon Hill, and Quincy Pondexter, are not the answers at the wings and the GM will have to make the potentially expensive and creative but necessary maneuvers in order to make the team a champion.