The Pelicans offseason hinges on the DeMarcus Cousins decision. Will he sign? Will he walk? Will he agree to a sign-and-trade? In this series, I will look at ways to build a team that finds itself in any of those scenarios.
I have a special place in my heart for the Meek Mill song I referenced in the subheading of this article because it was the soundtrack to this incredible flip trick extravaganza courtesy of Jeron Wilson and Brandon Biebel (warning: NSFW with sound on — unless your workplace is cool as f**k).
Anyway, for those of you typecasting me as one of the guys trying to run DeMarcus Cousins out of town because I wrote two sign-and-trade option pieces to kick off my look at possible offseason outcomes — KEEPING BOOGIE IS MY PREFERRED CHOICE.
I love him.
In our years of basketball nomadic fandom before Baron Davis Rick Flair “Woo!!!ed” his way into our hearts and prior to his alien abduction or Quarter Pounder knees and back issues briefly derailed his career, the Jason William, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac Kings were my team. I’m still a minor Kings fan and definitely keep up with them and watch way more of their games than I should because of that playoff run and series against the Jazz in 1998 — combine that with being a New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans fan and just imagine how much terrible basketball I’ve watched in the last 20 years — but those years have made me extra excited when we added Tyreke Evans and then DeMarcus Cousins to our squad — poaching the only good things the Kings had since the ghost of Chris Webber left for Philadelphia.
Luckily, things are on the up-and-up in New Orleans, even if my side chick in Sacramento is pretty busted and dusted. Coming off a first round sweep of the Trail Blazers and as good of a showing as one could expect against the crazy killer chainsaw and sword armed robots that would serve as excellent villains in a Chopping Mall reboot — the Golden State Warriors, you have to feel good about the immediate future of basketball in New Orleans even with the major question marks and cap concerns we are currently facing.
Last offseason, I wrote a three-part plan on how to build around Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins. The first part focused heavily on why this pairing of bigs can be special. For those of us with short term memory issues that keep replaying a Cousins-less success story staring Nikola Mirotic over-and-over in their heads, here are a few excerpts from that plan that explain why Davis and Cousins and their guard-like skill sets can cause major match-up issues for the opposition.
In basketball terms think about how revolutionary the 7 seconds or less offense was when it first appeared on the scene. Think about how detractors like Charles Barkley would say that a team built around jump shooting couldn’t win a title... until it did. Jump shooting and playing a traditionally three-sized guy at the four and four-sized guy at the five was once the revolution. However, it is now the norm. When you face two mirrors together they just reflect each other and don’t expose anything new.
This is why the Pelicans find themselves — along with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Milwaukee Bucks (whom I also see as suited to be their Eastern Conference counterparts) and even to some degree the Cleveland Cavaliers — to be the bandanna over the face hooded sweatshirt wearing spray paint can wielding revolutionaries to actually challenge the establishment. While the title of this article is slightly tongue in cheek — as I believe we have enough shooting already to win with this new identity — the key to being that irritant to the elite rosters in the league is to double down on defense, own the glass, be big and have play-making from multiple positions.
You can look at one of the seasons’ biggest wins — the January 26th victory over the Houston Rockets — as evidence that playing bully ball with smaller teams can be successful because of the other skills our bigs have on their resume.
This, of course, would also be the turning point of the season as Boogie would tear his Achilles tendon in the closing minutes; however, it did lead to a steal of a deal by Dell Demps to dump Omer Asik, Tony Allen and Jameer Nelson’s toe on the line along with our 2018 1st round pick for Nikola Mirotic and a 2nd round pick. This injury and this move told us a whole lot about our team — lessons that should have given Dell Demps and Alvin Gentry a pretty clear plan of who to target, who to group on the floor and how to handle pace and style of play with each personnel grouping.
Being able to play multiple styles within a single game can be a huge advantage should the Pelicans go this route, and for me, this will be the litmus test of just how good of a coach Alvin Gentry is. We have seen that he’s excellent when the roster suits his, “live life a quarter mile at a time” preferred style (as a side note I have not seen any of the Fast and Furious movies, but I’ve listened to at least 5 podcasts about them). Can Gentry adapt to having to play a hobbled big man 25ish minutes per game in order to maximize his effectiveness? This is the challenge. However, it isn’t Gentry’s challenge alone. Can Cousins adapt his mentality and pride to take a backseat — especially in year one of his recovery to fit in?
The gamble of bringing back a 6’-11” 270lbs man on a busted Achilles whose talent dictates that if healthy he’d be worth a supermax when eligible, but whose temperament, fit and personality had his head coach allegedly asking his GM to trade him — in a season where he was sometimes inserted into the MVP discussion prior to his injury — is just as big as letting him walk or trading him away in a market that hasn’t yet attracted superstars on a team with limited resources to replace any semblance of his production. There isn’t a definitively correct way to handle this situation. It will be a decision that will be dissected and debated for years no matter what the choice is or the success or failure of that choice. It’s a pivotal move for this franchise, which is why I’ll wait to judge that decision for several years.
As I’ve already stated, I’d roll the dice on Cousins eventually returning to at least 80% of his previous form by the time his new contract runs out. Mirotic’s presence, the team’s success without Cousins and Anthony Davis’ re-grabbing of the reigns as the dominant force on the squad, provides Cousins with a safety net to work his way back to health without the pressure of having to produce immediately. It hopefully will also serve as a moment of introspection for Cousins — helping him to mature and address some of the internal issues that almost cost him a chance to be part of a historically great front court.
Prior to his injury and the Pelicans’ subsequent success without him, it was easy for Cousins to be a bully in the locker room or to play outside of the system because for his entire life he was the best player in his locker room. For his entire NBA career prior to his Pelicans’ tenure, he was the only reason people were even paying attention. However, now knowing that his alleged disrespectful behavior with the staff and his going off-script almost cost him a chance to finally be part of a winning team for the first time since college should have him working on those issues.
Also, Cousins’ recovery will certainly diminish his impact on the court for much of the 2018-19 season...if not all of it. He will most certainly be on a minutes restriction and will be rested on back-to-backs in year one. His skill set will not be what it was initially and he will be forced to take a backseat to Davis and Jrue Holiday, which could be a great thing not only for his recovery but also for his career long term. Anthony Davis is the backbone of the Pelicans and everyone but perhaps DeMarcus Cousins saw it that way. Now as he works his way back, Boogie will be forced to play second, third or even fourth fiddle. Still, the Pelicans will reward him with stretches where he is the offensive focal point because he will still be a dominant post player who can shoot the three and create for others.
This is not meant to be a a cloud formed from Ex-Lax vapors just raining excrement down on Cousins — it’s just some hard truths that we all have to face at some point in our lives. Cousins was a force this past season, and he will continue to be one. While he would sometimes steal some shine that should have gone to Davis, he did make several role players better. From late November up until Cousins’ injury on January 26th, Darius Miller and E’Twuan Moore thrived on the space and playmaking that Cousins brought to New Orleans. During that run we in the blogosphere cautioned that their shooting numbers were unsustainable — however, while Moore certainly stayed effective post Boogie — Miller turned into a pumpkin. He was completely lost and had zero confidence in his shot. On a roster that may dip into the tax or have to highwire walk to avoid it, having a player like Cousins who can make a bottom of the rotation borderline NBA player like Miller effective is crucial. Until Anthony Davis improves his playmaking abilities, Boogie’s work from the elbow and post are a major and necessary weapon when the offense slows to the half court.
That being said, Rajon Rondo was nearly unplayable with Cousins in the game. Both are defensive liabilities overall and Rondo is very ineffective as a spot-up shooter or without the ball in his hands — this is where the Nikola Mirotic addition becomes so key. Not only does he give Demps and Gentry the luxury of easing Cousins back to shape, but he helps you maximize the players on the roster. Mirotic and Rondo (if he’s retained) should share the floor always. Cousins and Rondo should see limited time together. Cousins should be played with those fringe guys who are mainly spot up shooters — like Miller and Moore — operating from the elbow or post creating space, banging down low, crashing the offensive glass and finding shooters. The pace should slow to allow him to bang and give time for shooters to run off of screens and cutters to flash to the rim in the half court. When Cousins is on the bench, the Pels should revert to the blurred offensive streaks that has every court-side photographer modifying their cameras to get shutter speeds over 1/1000th of a second. Mirotic and Davis are the uppercuts to the jaw; Cousins becomes the jabs to the body. As en vogue as fast paced small-ball is, versatility can make the Pelicans really special — but egos may need checking for it to work.
Now onto my Cousins free agency plan and how the Pelicans can machinize a better team around Davis, Holiday and he in part 2.5 posting later today...