Storyline: DeMarcus Cousins Trade

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9 months ago via ESPN

9 months ago via ESPN

Barnes understands the Kings had doubts about giving Cousins a $200 million extension in the summer. He gets the business. But throughout his 13-year career that included stops with nine different teams, Barnes said he’s never observed an organization handle a player — let alone an All-Star player — in such a deceiving manner. “Nah, never. That was bad. That was a bad way it went down,” Barnes said to ESPN. “But you know, my hat’s off to DeMarcus the way he handled it. To give everything he gave to that franchise and for it to go down the way it went down at the end is a tough pill to swallow. But he stayed professional and said the right things. Even though he may have felt another way, he said the right stuff and that’s all that matters.”

In an interview with European media outlet, Blick Sports, Divac acknowledged he tried to get Jokic, as well as other promising rising stars in the Phoenix Suns’ Devin Booker and Los Angeles Lakers’ Brandon Ingram, in exchange for Cousins. The article was written in Serbian with an excerpt translating to the following: “There was no way that we (could get) Jokic. I wanted him, but (Denver refused),” Divac said. I tried to get Booker in Phoenix, and Ingram from the Lakers but there was no chance. I wanted to start from the beginning and I think that’s for the best.”

My sources also told me that NBA vice president Kiki Vandeweghe and Bob Delaney flew out here and met with DeMarcus a day or so before he was tagged with his 16th technical and that the meeting was not well received. But what finally moved you from pause to pushing the button? Was there a tipping point? Vlade Divac: It was a lot of things, but basically, I thought it was time to start over. There was a lot of bad stuff happening here the last five years, a lot of bad habits. There were always issues, many you don’t even know about. Now I believe strongly this was the right thing to do for our future. Now I have a clear vision. This city deserves better, and I want to create that. With DeMarcus’ situation, I basically was stuck.

Then why tell ESPN two weeks ago that you were keeping Cousins and expected him to be around for a long time – which suggests a contract extension was in the works? Vlade Divac: Because I really did not have (good offers) for DeMarcus. In all the conversations I was having with GMs, we weren’t going to get anything. People were scared because of his history. So I felt confident he was going to stay with us, and I was going to work with him, and we would do the best we can. But then I got the offer from the Pelicans a few days before the All-Star Game. That was a difference of, what, two weeks from what I had said to ESPN? Everything changed.

“I look at this fresh start as a new opportunity,” Cousins told The Vertical. “I can now separate myself from the Sacramento Kings. I’m my own man once again. And what I bring here is basically what I go by, from now on. It’s on myself and the team. It can be a similar situation – or we can make things work and make it something special.” Oddly enough, Cousins said he wasn’t overcome with emotion and didn’t feel any awkward moments as he prepared for his first game with a new team. Perhaps because the Pelicans swapped out their usual red, navy and gold uniforms to wear Mardi Gras uniforms in that familiar purple hue of the Kings – “It won’t go away,” Cousins told The Vertical with a laugh. Maybe because it felt like another road game or he already was used to being in the arena – and the home locker room – after spending All-Star Weekend in the same place, it all seemed normal. Visits to New Orleans generally required a heavy ticket demand, but Cousins is already learning to say no to those expecting more of the same. Cousins only needed 10 tickets for his semi-homecoming.

Rubbing his head and scrolling down his phone while soaking his feet in ice after the game, Cousins was still wearing the game shorts that were created to capture the most exciting time of the year for the people of New Orleans. The disappointment of this loss will soon fade, but Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry has encouraged his players not to get discouraged. Just as those street crews are able to sweep up the debris from those enthusiastic parades in time for the morning commute, Cousins is optimistic that the mess in which the Pelicans find themselves can be cleaned up as well. “Honestly, I don’t feel any pressure. I didn’t come here thinking we were going to win a championship,” Cousins told The Vertical. “On paper, we look great, but the game isn’t played on paper. Being good on paper is not going to win games. I think it’s going to be a process, and I think we’re going to be fine.”

“I’m sure he’s hurt,” Malone said of Cousins. “He wanted to be in Sacramento. He loved the fans. Sometimes change is good for people. I reached out to him and he got back to me. He’s a lot closer to his home and his family in Mobile, Ala. He’s going to a team that has a chance to make the playoffs. The one thing, at the end of the day, that you can say about DeMarcus is that he’s a competitor. He loves to compete and he wants to win. That’s the one thing that has eluded him.”

After the trade became official Monday, Divac said in a statement, “Winning begins with culture and character matters” – not-so-veiled shots at Cousins. His agents were blamed for making it impossible for the Kings to get a better deal, as they were blamed for the team’s hesitation to hire George Karl as coach two years ago. Cousins said he hadn’t spoken to Divac since the trade and did not take the comments personally. “I’m OK with it,” Cousins said. “I kind of expected it. I’ve seen this before. I’m moving on.”

DeMarcus Cousins: Words can’t even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It’s hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don’t just consider you all as fans, you all are my family…and a couple thousand miles aren’t going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. #LoyaltyisLove

Mr. Benson Reacts to Recent Pelicans Trade: “I could not be more excited to add DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans. I know that everyone is thrilled with the anticipation of DeMarcus and Anthony (Davis) and Jrue (Holiday) and the rest of our team hitting the floor tomorrow night against the Houston Rockets. We are only a few games behind in the playoff hunt and I want to bring an NBA championship to this city. I think this trade puts us in a position where we are now more improved and can make a run. The NBA All-Star weekend was a great weekend for New Orleans and Anthony was a worthy MVP, and then we topped it off with a trade for one of the best players in the NBA. I was appreciative of Mickey (Loomis) for keeping me updated daily during the trade talks and I was 110% behind the decision. I hope all of our fans welcome DeMarcus and Omri with open arms to our great city.”

Cousins, frankly, scares the hell out of people. Four weeks ago, one highly regarded Western Conference executive told me the Kings would be lucky to get two quality players in return. Two weeks later, an Eastern Conference GM said he appreciated Cousins’ talent but wouldn’t touch the player, let alone a long-term extension. Another GM suggested Cousins needed to be paired with an alpha male, then noted that few of the elite teams possess what Divac coveted: young players and draft choices. That left about a handful of potential partners. The Orlando Magic refused to part with any of their promising youth. The Lakers reportedly declined to include draft picks. The Phoenix Suns shook their heads at swapping Devin Booker. The Boston Celtics, who are laden with picks, never entered the conversation. That left the Pelicans, who turned their attention in recent days from Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor to Cousins, a former Kentucky Wildcat and friend of Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.

According to a league source, the entire basketball operations side was part of the discussion on the situation, including head coach Dave Joerger. The Kings have built their team around the talented big each of the last seven season with the hope of turning the franchise around. Despite being in the conversation for the eighth seed, the Kings sit nine games under .500 with 25 contest left. Even if they found postseason paydirt, the Golden State Warriors would be waiting in round one.

“I had a better deal two days ago,” Kings general manager Vlade Divac said. Um, what? Divac made Sacramento look foolish with that quote, but according to a league source, the problem was more poor communication with the media — something Divac is no stranger to — than terrible trading. According to the source, the potential trade partner made an offer only to pull it once Cousins’ camp threatened the star center wouldn’t re-sign in 2018. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, publicly said before the New Orleans deal was consummated that it was “highly unlikely” Cousins would re-sign with any team that trades for him.

Another source involved in Cousins trade discussions confirmed Cousins’ camp attempted to dissuade teams from trading for him, though that source did not confirm a pulled offer. It’s unclear whether the Kings could have completed the “better” offer before the other team pulled out. The offer was presented as available to Sacramento for a day or two, according to the first source, though the other team could have always backed away at any point as it received more information.

“We’re thrilled to welcome DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans family,” stated Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps. “This is an exciting time for Pelicans fans as we continue our quest for long-term success. I know our fans are equally excited to welcome DeMarcus and Omri to our great city. I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Benson, Dennis Lauscha and Mickey Loomis for their continued support and providing the resources for us to be successful. I’d also like to thank Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and Buddy Hield for their professionalism and hard work on the court and in the community during their tenure in New Orleans.”

“It’s not just that he can be emotional on the court,” the source said. “It’s just playing with him every day. Like, when a coach says he can’t coach him, you lose credibility. You can’t sustain things that are important to winning if a coach isn’t able to hold him accountable.” The source emphasized that Cousins was generally viewed as a good person off the court by those around him. “But it’s his on-court demeanor, his play, his effort, that type of stuff,” the source said. “It’s just really hard when you can’t find one basketball person [to vouch for him].”

DeMarcus Cousins was all smiles the moment he appeared to find out about his trade, or at least trade rumors of going, from the Kings to the Pelicans. But once he examines the deal closer, he might not like every aspect. Cousins stands to miss out on a lot of money — about $30 million or more — due to this trade. Because he made All-NBA teams the last two seasons, he was eligible to sign a designated-veteran-player contract extension this summer. As a matter of fact, he reportedly planned to do just that with Sacramento reportedly planning to offer it. That extension projected to be worth $209,090,000 over five years ($41,818,000 annually). But, once officially dealt, Cousins will no longer be eligible for that super-max extension. It’s reserved for players still with their original team or who changed teams only via trade during their first four years.

For months, Kings execs, from basketball to the business side, were in lockstep with the reality that rebooting the franchise without Cousins was the only long-term solution. Ranadive, the embattled owner, was all that stood in the way. Ranadive stepped aside on Sunday, clearing the way for the Kings to send Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and 2017 first- and second-round picks. In dealing a top-10 talent like Cousins for a solid scoring rookie and a pair of picks, the message was unmistakable: Cousins is good, but we’re better off without him.
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