Consensus opinion among the “experts” was that the Sacramento Kings got the very short end of the deal that sent the team’s one star player, DeMarcus Cousins, to the New Orleans Pelicans for draft choices and a trio of underachieving shooting guards. Look a little deeper and look at the first games played by the players in their new surroundings, and maybe one should not be so fast to judge.
There had been speculation for a couple of years that the Lakers had serious interest in Boogie and that when he was the subject of real trade talk or when he became a free agent,
they were the team that would be out there making the best offers. As to that actual trade talk this past week, the Lakers, now with Magic Johnson in charge and with Mitch Kupchak gone, not so much. Reports were that Sacramento wanted Brandon Ingram and others, and that the Lakers refused to discuss any deal that included him. For the wrong reasons, this may well have been the right decision. I’m no fan of Ingram’s and I do not think that he will be the player some in the Lakers’ organization (apparently in the Kings’ organization as well) think that he can become, but not making such a deal was the correct move because it would have both cost the Lakers too many talented young players (their rebuilding foundation) besides Ingram, and it would have brought in Boogie, who carries way, way too much baggage.
Cousins may be the best big man in the NBA, but he has never been able to lead his team to any measure of success over his first six years in the league, his on-court behavior has made him enemies across the league, including among teammates, he has been unable to hold back his temper and penchant for, shall we say “acting out” as evidenced by his league-leading 17 technical fouls that already have landed him a one game suspension and that will result in additional suspensions for every two future technicals the rest of the season, and his post-trade name calling – calling his former Sacramento bosses “cowards” – are all substantial evidence that this is NOT the guy, regardless of talent, around whom to build a team.
In the his first game with New Orleans, Cousins did not disappoint in putting up big-time stats, scoring 27 points and pulling down 14 boards in 35 minutes. He also had five assists and four blocks. But the bottom line is that his new team STILL got blown out by division opponent Houston by 30 points, losing 129 to 99.
Boogie moving to the Pelicans seemed to many to turn that team into a power that could still make this season’s playoffs, and maybe even win a round or two. In a modern day
Twin Towers offense with Anthony Davis, New Orleans now has a more than solid front line, plus a solid and still young point guard in former Bruin Jrue Holiday. But what do they have left at the two, and how much depth do they have? As of today the two spot is the one and only E’Twaun Moore, backed up by an out-of-position small forward or back-up point guard Tim Frazier.
Compounding all that is the news that the other player obtained in the trade, underrated forward Omri Casspi who would absolutely have seen more playing time in New Orleans than he had recently with the Kings, and who got off to a solid start in his first game going five-for-nine and scoring a dozen points in 24 minutes, broke his right thumb in that game and will be sidelined up to six weeks.
One game does not a tell a full story, but the implications of that bad loss do not bode well for the Pelicans. Conversely, the Kings, criticized across basketball for the trade, had a very different outcome in their first post-Boogie game. Playing the Denver Nuggets, who came into the game with a record one game better than that of the Kings’, the hopelessly undermined and talent-less Kings won by 16 points, thanks in great part to the outstanding play of Boogie’s eventual replacement at center and of the two new guys from New Orleans who played (the third guy, Langston Galloway, may or may not see court time or even remain on the roster).
Given his first shot at significant playing time at center in the new Kings’ era, Willie Cauley-Stein impressed, putting up Boogie numbers: 29 points on 14-of-22 shooting with 10 boards in 35 minutes off the bench. Veteran Kostus Koufus started at center and contributed eight pints and six boards of his own in 21 minutes. Observers have felt all along that Cauley-Stein has NBA talent and can be a solid center in the league, so the real surprise was the play of those other two guys, the ones who were the source of ridicule for Vlade Divac and the Kings’ hierarchy who negotiated the trade.
Veteran Tyreke Evens, the fourth pick in the draft by Sacraments in 2009 and previously a four-year starter for the Kings, had fallen to the end of the bench in New Orleans, with the
lowest court-time of his career this season, came of the bench to score 15 points (on six-of-eight), with four rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. The real object of the Kings’ affection, however, is former Oklahoma star and 2016 number eight pick, Buddy Hield, who according to reports, King’s officials think will become the “next” Steph Curry. Held, who had averaged only 20 minutes per game in New Orleans, averaging under nine points per game, and who shot under 50% from the floor, also saw 26 minutes of action last night, scoring 16 and pulling down six boards.
Yea, it’s just one game, but observers should not be so quick to judge. It will take more than the rest of this season to know which of these teams is the winner, especially since Cousins can walk away as a free agent. But, it does look a lot like the Kings were not so dumb after all.