Heading into the 2017 All-Star break, the Pelicans were keen on making a move to land a center to pair alongside Anthony Davis, who has maintained on multiple occasions that he prefers to operate out of the power forward position. Names like Jahlil Okafor and Nikola Vucevic usually dominated the headlines, but Dell Demps wound up hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth, or so to speak, by acquiring DeMarcus Cousins completely out of the blue.
With New Orleans in the midst of enjoying the Mardi Gras festivities, most locals were paying little attention to professional basketball. Who could blame them as the Pelicans entered the All-Star weekend with a depressing 23-34 record. Besides, the NFL draft lay around the corner, and as everyone knows, the city has a love affair with the Saints.
Oh how things changed quickly one unassuming Sunday evening!!!
Rumors started circulating that the Pelicans were engaged in talks with the Sacramento Kings to acquire their three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA Second Team winner. Following the All-Star game, where Boogie logged less than three minutes of action — prompting more discussion, the biggest fireworks were lit during the post-game interviews.
Notice a Kings PR staff member whisper something into Cousins’ ear, Boogie raise an eyebrow, almost simultaneously say, “Oh really,” and then, as his face explodes into the biggest shit-eating grin, respond to a reporter he loves New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, we all learned about the significance of this moment, so mark it down on your calendars: February 19, 2017 may wind up one of the memorable dates in team history.
Most of those who follow New Orleans closely were astounded by the news, believing the Pelicans did not possess the assets to pull off a miraculous move like this. Well, the impossible did happen, but understand that there was a whole lot of luck involved for the home team being in the right position to add this specific superstar.
The Kings most likely would have not traded Cousins in the first place were it not for a new rule in the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement. The veterans designated player exception (DPE) allows a player of Cousins caliber to get paid 35% of the salary cap. If this exception never gets written, the Kings would have fretted less about paying a volatile player a lower maximum salary.
The next reason this trade lined up perfectly for the Pelicans was Buddy Hield. Yes, Buddy, not the lure of any future draft pick(s), had been the apple of Vivek Randive’s eye for a very long period.
The moment Buddy Hield said that Kings owner Vivek Ranadive told him while playing with the Pelicans that "we're still gonna get you" pic.twitter.com/0lVJ2n2cgK— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) February 23, 2017
If you may recall, the Pelicans faced a difficult decision on June 23, 2016: draft Hield or opt for the much younger Jamal Murray. They went with who they figured was the more NBA ready of the two. We won't know for some time who turns out to be the better player, but even if it’s Murray, realize Cousins to New Orleans doesn’t happen if the front office would have gone in any other direction. If you like Boogie, always, always, be thankful Dell Demps chose Hield at the sixth overall pick!
The final major domino to fall for the Cousins-to-New-Orleans deal to become a reality was Boogie’s agents doing their job. Dan Fagan and crew told teams that if they traded for their client, he was not likely to sign an extension in free agency.
“Jarinn Akana and Dan Fegan, who represent Cousins, they did their job here, which was to — and this also complicated what they could get in a trade — Jarinn came out publicly last night and privately they told teams, ‘If you trade for Cousins, we’re telling you, he may not stay. He may nor re-sign with you. The Lakers are going to have a lot of cap space again potentially in a couple years. He could go to L.A. as a free agent. He might not stay in New Orleans or he might not stay in Phoenix or anywhere else...’
Before the deal was finalized, the Pelicans had an additional 2019 first round pick on the table. The Lakers had a package centered around Brandon Ingram. However, once the agents started scarring off potential suitors, New Orleans deal — even with the subtraction to the Pelicans 2017 second round pick — was the best one sitting on the table.
And so we’ve arrived at what was the determining factor throughout all the negotiations: the Kings once again behaved too much like the Kings. Better deals could have been had. An arm chair analyst of an owner fell in love with an unproven player. Sigh, Sacramento’s future is more cloudy than ever after ten years of lottery picks with no postseasons or stars to show for it, but this time round, New Orleans benefited from one of their ill-fated deals.
To be clear, there is some risk in trading for Cousins — he will be an unrestricted free agent in one year’s time. If the Pelicans fail to make another postseason and/or Cousins fails to bond with his New Orleans teammates, the front office may have to flip him before the next deadline. It’ll be easier for him to leave around $180 million over five years instead of what once could have been a DPE-enriched $209 million for a 4-year deal worth approximately $133 million to go to any other team in the league — perennial playoff contenders can now apply.
Yet before New Orleans is forced to cross any bridge, remember today’s Flashback Friday moment: Circumstance definitely played a crucial role, but every Pelicans fan should be appreciative of the fact that the Kings assisted the Pelicans in hitting the lottery for a second time in five years — metrics believes the DeMarcus Cousins trade is one of the greatest heists in history!