I woke up to a message from a friend that simply read; "Cousins and Davis on the same team... holy shit!"
Initially I figured he was messaging me an update about his adventures on NBA 2K17; after recently taking control of the Memphis Grizzlies in the general manager mode I thought he had made some out-of-this-world fantasy type trade.
Nope. It's real.
DeMarcus Cousins is now a pelican — and not in some weird shape shifting way. He has officially been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans and they gave up practically nothing to attain him.
What's the deal and who won?
The trade was as follows:
Pelicans receive: DeMarcus Cousins (C) and Omri Casspi (F)
Kings receive: Buddy Hield (G), Tyreke Evans (G), Langston Galloway (G/F), first round pick (with some form of protection?) and a second round pick.
While I completely understand the Sacramento Kings wanted to move on from Cousins and probably didn't want to pay him the $200 million that they would have had to cough up, it still seems strange to me that they've done it now after only recently stating that they had no intention of doing so and after apparently passing up on better offers in previous years.
The next question on the mind of every NBA fan is simply can the Pelicans make this work?
First of all allow me to dispel any notions that this was a bad trade. Even if the Pelicans don't make it into the playoffs this season (which I personally think they won't), the fact is Cousins and Anthony Davis have a good off-court relationship. They are both Kentucky alumni and Cousins once referred to Davis as his "little brother.” Cousins was born and raised in Alabama, just a four hour drive from New Orleans. Meanwhile it's worth taking note of the fact that Cousins has never cared much about playing in a big market like New York or Los Angeles. He was seemingly willing to sign an extension with Sacramento and stick around for another four or five years.
There's a good chance he stays in New Orleans, which means that even if they get to this point of the season a couple of years from now and it isn't working out they can still trade him, probably bringing back a similar package of players and picks if not something better (assuming his image improves now that he's out of the perceived "bad situation" in Sacramento).
Side note: Sacramento should seriously consider hiring the A.I from 2k as their general manager.
How do they make it work?
For me these are the main issues for New Orleans from a basketball perspective.
- Modern basketball has been trending towards "small ball" for a while now and having two high usage big men is a questionable tactic in todays NBA.
- Alvin Gentry comes from the Mike D'Antoni coaching tree and thus leans more towards pace and space offense. I'm not convinced that he's the right coach for a team building around two bigs regardless of how well they can shoot. Gentry hasn't proven much since arriving in New Orleans and this task might prove a little too difficult for him.
- New Orleans is a top ten team defensively. A lot of people don't realize this. Davis has been inconsistent defensively this year while Cousins is probably having one of his worst years ever defensively.
- Their guard rotation is suddenly looking very thin.
- Health is always a question mark with Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis.
Most of these issues could be resolved. The offense for example could work. In theory you have two of the most dynamic big men offensively, and with teams going smaller recently it means at any given time either Cousins or Davis will likely have a mismatch. They can both shoot the ball, face up, roll well and post up. They also have a solid rotation of big men they can mix in with Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and even Solomon Hill who can play some stretch four. So there are plenty of options offensively.
Meanwhile, defensively there is a chance that Cousins will "buy in" more on that side now that he has more competent teammates. As I stated, New Orleans is a top ten team defensively (DRtg), Holiday is solid defensively as is E'Twaun Moore, and Omri Casspi is decent at the small forward position while Davis still has a lot of potential.
Given how little the Pelicans had to give up, this "risk" (if you can even call it that) was well worth it. The odds of them attracting a free agent of this talent level were slim and given their draft history, the odds of them drafting a player who would eventually reach this talent level were even slimmer. This is undoubtedly the only way they could add another star player to this roster, and they gave up very little to get it done.
Does it affect the Warriors?
There is a strong possibility that New Orleans could sneak into the 8th seed of the playoffs now. Being 2.5 games back with only twenty-something games to play and trying to fit a new star into the team is a tall order. Personally, I don't think they'll manage to pull it off this season.
But if they do, how much damage can they really inflict onto Golden State? It's no secret that the biggest weakness for the Warriors defensively is against centers and power forwards. Draymond Green has proven he can hold his own against both Cousins and Davis, but having both on the floor at the same time would force the Warriors to go big as I'm not sure Kevin Durant could guard Anthony Davis consistently.
The Warriors most obvious options then become Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee. While Pachulia is fundamentally sound, he does get caught flat footed against quicker post players and would be a liability in pick and pop situations. On the other hand, McGee may have the required athleticism to run with the Warriors’ offense and block shots defensively, but he lacks the required fundamentals to defend either Cousins or Davis for any significant period of time.
The Warriors still have more offensive fire power than any other team in the league (arguably ever), so they would win out in the end but I doubt it would be a clean sweep. There's also a good chance that Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins would set a new NBA record for technical fouls in a single playoff series — the last thing we need is Green getting suspended in the first round — but let's not worry about that just yet.
Right now I don't think the Warriors need to make a move. However this trade could be the beginning of something special. It could change the entire landscape of the NBA, and perhaps teams will be forced to go big once again. Or perhaps small ball will continue to dominate and the Pelicans will implode. Only time will tell.