Trading DeMarcus Cousins was not the worst move in NBA history

Trading DeMarcus Cousins was not the worst move in NBA history


Trading DeMarcus Cousins was not the worst move in NBA history

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Pelicans received: DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi
Kings received: Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans, Top 3 protected 2017 first-round pick, second-round pick

There’s only one team in the NBA capable of producing such a visceral and immediate reaction to a trade as the Kings, and the second reports came through that DeMarcus Cousins was being shipped to New Orleans (or since Cousins was there for All-Star weekend, maybe Sacramento can just send his stuff via mail now?) every NBA fan was able to recognize the simple truth:

The Pelicans won the trade by such a wide margin it should be considered robbery.

Not only was the actual content of the trade, in terms of players and draft picks, incredibly lopsided compared to what you’ll see in almost every other trade that happens in the NBA, the optics surrounding the move were so terrible it’s hard not to primarily focus on the circus of it all.

In the hour before the trade, the world knew what the Kings were doing and what they were thinking was being leaked and reported at a rate where the conference calls may as well have been broadcasted over NBA League Pass. From offers that were on the table, to when Sacramento stopped taking calls and exactly how many proposals were delivered to owner Vivek Ranadive by general manager Vlade Divac, everything was being made available to the public. It’s absolute madness.


Cousins’ agent said Sunday that Cousins had been assured he would not be traded, per Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. The Kings trading Cousins to the Pelicans was a laughable idea which turned to shock on a dime among analysts familiar with the team. Pay a quick visit over to the Sacramento Kings subreddit and you’ll find people who may not like basketball anymore.

From a strict asset standpoint, it’s almost impossible to make a more one-sided trade in the NBA. Partly, this is probably due to a likely and incorrect evaluation of Buddy Hield. Hield is an older rookie, already 23-years-old, and while he’s been a pretty good three-point shooter statistically his closest comparisons right now are Nik Stauskas and Ben McLemore – neither of whom would be close to being considered a centerpiece in a similar trade.

It’s hard to figure out exactly where Hield’s upside is supposed to come from. While there are quite a few exceptions and players who develop later in their careers, Hield is far from having the ballhandling and passing skills to run pick-and-rolls. Listed as 6-foot-4, Hield doesn’t have the size and defensive versatility to defend multiple positions and is a pretty strict two-guard on both ends. Hield is shooting a terrible 47.7 percent within five feet of the basket as well.

It’s hard to predict how players will develop, but based on the data at hand it’s hard to find any evidence Hield is actually a really good prospect, and the Kings don’t exactly have the reputation of developing young talent.


Depending on how the Pelicans perform for the rest of the season, the pick the Kings will receive is likely to be in the 12-17 range in the 2017 draft, which is basically the area where the probability of getting a long-term starter is somewhere around 25 percent. Even in a good draft, teams tend to overestimate the value of their picks right until draft night.

Langston Galloway is possibly on his way to being waived, the question “why” doesn’t probably even register on the scale of things to care about, but it’s surprising that the Kings would make that move considering Galloway is a real NBA player under a pretty decent contract for next year. Tyreke Evans is an unrestricted free agent this summer and it’s unlikely he’ll want to re-sign with Sacramento.

All these pieces don’t get the Kings anywhere near the value of Cousins, who is the first big man to average 27 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists in a season since Chris Webber back in 2001 (and before that you’ll have to go back to the 1993-94 season and David Robinson). In addition, Cousins is a good three-point shooter. In fact, he has made more threes than Hield this season.

The narrative on how much credit/blame goes to Cousins or the Kings organization for the lack of success and dysfunction has probably been quite an overrated one. If, instead of drafting Jimmer Fredette, the Kings had selected Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard (and managed to not screw up the development of either) or had done better in other drafts they would be a pretty good team right now. Cousins is a fantastic player and if he had good players around him the team would have succeeded – at least enough to where a trade like the one Sacramento just made would have seemed ridiculous.


On the other hand, the Kings have won on average 28 games a year during Cousins’ six full seasons with the team, and the options for getting better are limited. Sacramento has made some exceptionally dumb trades – like moving Nik Stauskas for cap space to unsuccessfully sign good free agents – bad draft selections, mediocre free agent signings and head coaches have been changed at an exceptional pace. All of this has put the team in a position where they can barely compete for a playoff spot despite having the best center in the league. But since the situation was terrible and the Kings didn’t really have the assets to improve and couldn’t lure big free agents, moving on from Cousins and starting a proper rebuild (that hopefully won’t be torpedoed by incompetence) is the right move. Getting to 28 wins can happen with or without Cousins, and if the team really doesn’t want to deal with him anymore there’s a logic to picking up whatever assets you can, even if you lose the trade horribly.

From the Pelicans perspective, the strategy of trying to sign good players around Anthony Davis instead of building through the draft had backfired, but in one move they may have fixed those problems. It’s an interesting test to see how well a Twin Towers approach works in the modern NBA, but both Cousins and Davis are much more versatile than most traditional bigs and can spread the floor.

Cousins could even run a pick-and-roll with Davis as the screener, and head coach Alvin Gentry will have both a challenge and a great set of tools to start building a great offense. Defensively, Davis hasn’t quite been the game changer many expected coming out of college, but reducing his offensive load could do wonders there. Cousins has been very good by the advanced metrics defensively when he’s been engaged, and in a different situation and on a team that has the talent to compete, there shouldn’t be any excuse for not running back in transition.


For New Orleans, the key will be re-signing Jrue Holiday during the summer. The team has their bigs in place and solid backup options in Donatas Motiejunas and Dante Cunningham, along with the ability to play small-ball with Solomon Hill at power forward. Tim Frazier is a good reserve for Holiday as well. Omri Casspi is a better player than any the Pelicans sent out too. New Orleans will need to fill the wing with shooters who can play off the gravity of Cousins and Davis, and it’ll be interesting to see the success they have filling out those important parts of the rotation.

Davis and Cousins are both elite players, and around them New Orleans has enough to compete for home-court advantage in the playoffs already next season.

There are risks too, however. Cousins is an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2018 and if the next year and a half doesn’t go according to plan, he could leave for another team. If that situation happens, though, it will be a clear-cut sign that Cousins’ teams struggle to succeed and his impact on the court is more negative than the raw stats show.

You can find Mika Honkasalo on Twitter @mhonkasalo.

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