Two weeks after publicly saying he wouldn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins, Kings general manager Vlade Divac met with reporters Monday to discuss the stunning deal made during the All-Star Game that ended Cousins’ tumultuous time in Sacramento.
“We want to move forward,” Divac said during an 11-minute news conference at Golden 1 Center. “And I felt very strong that we’re not going in the right direction and we had to do it.”
The Kings confirmed Monday the trade of Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for guards Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway and a first- and second-round pick in the 2017 draft.
The Kings also announced they waived veteran forward Matt Barnes.
It marked an about-face for the front office, which had maintained it wanted to keep Cousins, while Cousins expressed a desire to play his whole career in Sacramento. On Feb. 6, Divac was quoted by ESPN’s Marc Stein saying, “We’re not trading DeMarcus.”
Divac, however, said Monday he had all but committed to trading Cousins by the time the center arrived in New Orleans to participate in the Skills Challenge on Saturday and play in his third All-Star Game on Sunday.
I think (DeMarcus is) a great kid. It just wasn’t, I would say, a fit right now with what we’re trying to do. I wish him all the best, and I hope it would have a positive effect on his career.
Kings general manager
“We were really deliberate what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it,” Divac said. “We came to the point that I realized this is the best time, best move and the best offer we’re going to have.”
Divac also asserted the decision to trade Cousins was his and not subject to principal owner Vivek Ranadive’s approval.
“I just told him what I’m going to do,” Divac said. “He has full faith for me to do basketball decisions.”
Seven times in the first four minutes of his news conference, Divac invoked the word “culture” in discussing his reasons for the move. The Kings are just 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth spot in the Western Conference, but even before the trade, they appeared headed for their 11th consecutive losing season.
Cousins had become an elite big man in the league but remained prone to volatile outbursts on the court that sometimes distracted from his play. He is averaging a career-best 27.8 points this season along with 10.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists. He also leads the league with 17 technical fouls, recently becoming the fastest player to draw 16 technicals since that number began triggering an automatic one-game suspension in 2005-06.
“First of all, I love DeMarcus,” Divac said. “I think he did great things here in the community and for this team, and I wish him nothing but the best in New Orleans. But on the second hand, I have to do my job, and I felt like this is the best time to move forward and change the culture moving forward to make a better organization in the future.”
As details of the trade emerged Sunday night, some immediate reaction was that the Kings had not received enough in return for Cousins, a three-time All-Star.
Divac countered Monday by saying he felt the Kings would have gotten less in return by waiting longer to make a deal. In fact, he said, the Kings had “a better deal” offered for Cousins two days before, but it was taken off the table.
“When you make a deal, you want to get the most, and right now I think it’s the best time and it was the best offer we had,” Divac said.
Asked whether the trade makes the Kings better, Divac answered, “Right now? No. But it’s a process of trying to make a right thing for the future of this team and organization.”
The Kings valued the two draft picks they received from the Pelicans, Divac said, as they see the upcoming draft as being “very strong, probably the strongest in the past few years.”
Divac confirmed the first-round pick the Kings received is top-three protected, meaning the Pelicans will give up any pick that is No. 4 or lower. The Kings owe their first-round pick to Chicago because of a past trade, but only if it falls outside the top 10. With Cousins now gone and the roster in rebuild mode, the Kings could fall in the standings – and end up with two lottery picks in the June draft.
Hield was drafted sixth overall last year after winning multiple Player of the Year awards as a senior at Oklahoma. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound shooting guard is averaging 8.6 points in his rookie season and was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month for December.
“Talented guy,” Divac said. “I talked to him (Monday) and, you know, his work ethic is exactly what we want here. Energy, trying to improve his game and our team. So he’s something that we’re looking forward to.”
The league trade deadline is Thursday, and the Kings still have multiple veterans who could be traded now that the team is in rebuilding mode.
I just told him what I’m going to do. He has full faith for me to do basketball decisions.
Vlade Divac, Kings general manager, on principal owner Vivek Ranadive
“You’re always open to improving the team,” Divac said. “We have a couple more days, so we’ll see.”
Had the Kings kept Cousins, they reportedly were weighing an extension exceeding $200 million. Divac was asked if that figure played a role in his decision.
“It had some part,” he said. “You want to know what you’re getting into.”
Cousins served a one-game suspension levied by the NBA on Feb. 8 after picking up his 16th technical. That night, the Kings played one of their better games of the season in a 108-92 win over Boston at Golden 1 Center. While Divac said that outcome did not influence the decision to trade Cousins, it was an example of how he wants the Kings to play.
Divac said he had spent Monday contacting Kings players to discuss the trade. He said he called and texted Cousins on Sunday night but had yet to hear back.
“Hopefully, I can see him or just talk before he goes back,” Divac said.
Cousins departs as the Kings’ Sacramento-era leader in rebounds, second in points and blocked shots, third in steals and first in personal fouls. He now joins fellow Kentucky alum Anthony Davis in a formidable New Orleans frontcourt.
“Again, I really love DeMarcus,” Divac said. “I think he’s a great kid. It just wasn’t, I would say, a fit right now with what we’re trying to do. I wish him all the best, and I hope it would have a positive effect on his career.”