Mercifully, another All-Star game is over and we can now focus in on the homestretch of the 2016-17 season. The next big shoe dropped quickly when it was reported that the Kings dealt DeMarcus Cousins (with Omri Casspi) to the Hornets for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick. The initial reaction from most writers/fan has been that the Kings did not get a fair return.
Let’s unwrap the deal a bit more and see if that reaction is fair. Cousins’ will be an unrestricted free agent after 2017-18 and the Kings had to decide between giving him a huge contract (in the $300 million range) at age-28 or cashing in for a rebuild. On talent, Cousins looks excellent. He has improved in his raw numbers every year and is sitting at 27.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 4.9 apg, and has even become a viable three-point threat (35.4% on five attempts per game). The advanced stats support this as well. He has career highs in all those major categories: 26.6 PER, 7.1 BPM, and 4.3 VORP. Previously, BPM found Cousins to be decent offensively but he is now in the leaders in that category (18th in the NBA at 4.5).
On the downside, Cousins is set for free agency after 2017-18 and required a huge investment to re-sign. The Kings had quite a few reasons to trade Cousins. The team is bad with him and his tantrums and inability to control his emotions are both troubling. The Kings apparently decided they wanted him gone rather than be married to him for the next few years. This is a perfectly rational decision.
The problem is the return, which was mostly filler. The only pieces that can be considered value from the Kings’ perspective were Hield and the first-rounder. Hield is a rookie but is already 23 and not looking particularly good so far (9.9 PER). The most likely outcome for his career is that Hield will be a three-point specialist. In addition, a mid-first-rounder probably won’t yield more than a decent player either.
Even if Cousins is considered a toxic asset because of his personality, there is no reason the Kings had to make a deal now to get back a tepid talent. Unless there is some hidden risk of having Cousins on the team that the public is not privy to, the Kings didn’t have to rush to get this type of deal. The bleaker alternative takeaway is that the Kings legitimately think that Hield is talented enough to justify the trade. If that is case, Sacramento clearly should’ve kept Dean Oliver around.
Turning to the Pelicans, this is a nice deal. For all the risks associated with paying Cousins, the Pelicans were also in a rut and didn’t have the assets to get a normal legit talent to pair with Anthony Davis. Since they have no alternatives, the Pelicans are one of the few teams that have little to lose in getting DMC. At the very least, they have the rest of the season to see how DMC does before committing.
A DMC-Davis core certainly upgrades the Pelicans. New Orleans is on the edge of the playoffs despite an awful offense (27th). Meshing Cousins and Davis will reduce their stats slightly but the Hornets have so many offensive sink holes (Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, Alexis Ajinca, Donatas Motiejunas) that Cousins will be a huge help. The Pels continue to have a weak backcourt, so the playoffs still aren’t a sure thing but at least things will be interesting.