The Kings had plenty of reasons to trade All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, starting with the five-year, $209 million extension he would have commanded in the upcoming offseason.
Then there are all the other reasons. The locker room eruptions. The mood swings. The profane outbursts against fans. The ongoing feud with the referees and resulting technical foul nightmare. And let’s not forget that the Kings failed to win more than 33 games during his six-plus seasons in Sacramento.
But essentially swapping Cousins for Buddy Hield and two draft choices?
Deep breaths are mandatory here. Divorce after a lengthy marriage can be debilitating. The initial reaction to the New Orleans deal is to flail your hands, scream to the heavens, regurgitate the last meal and chastise the Kings for being, well, the Kings. They lose a majority of games. They fire all their coaches. They rotate general managers. They make poor draft selections. They make lousy trades. They indulge their best player, or at least they did, until this past unusually eventful, potentially franchise-transforming All-Star weekend.
So there it is. There is this, too: If you want to dance, you need a partner.
All of the above-mentioned factors, the familiar baggage that has been attached to Cousins since the day he arrived, angry and overweight, placed a significant chill on the market. When Kings general manager Vlade Divac decided in recent weeks to trade his center – even while inexplicably declaring his intentions to ESPN to the contrary – his peers around the league were willing to talk but reluctant to offer anything remotely close to equal value.
Cousins, frankly, scares the hell out of people. Four weeks ago, one highly regarded Western Conference executive told me the Kings would be lucky to get two quality players in return. Two weeks later, an Eastern Conference GM said he appreciated Cousins’ talent but wouldn’t touch the player, let alone a long-term extension. Another GM suggested Cousins needed to be paired with an alpha male, then noted that few of the elite teams possess what Divac coveted: young players and draft choices.
That left about a handful of potential partners. The Orlando Magic refused to part with any of their promising youth. The Lakers reportedly declined to include draft picks. The Phoenix Suns shook their heads at swapping Devin Booker. The Boston Celtics, who are laden with picks, never entered the conversation. That left the Pelicans, who turned their attention in recent days from Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor to Cousins, a former Kentucky Wildcat and friend of Pelicans power forward Anthony Davis.
“This was the best time and the best offer,” Divac said during a brief media session at the practice facility, adding that a preferable deal was pulled two days earlier before it could be finalized. Sources indicate the discussions initially included another first-round pick, but that the Pelicans feared Cousins would bolt for free agency instead of re-signing when his contract expires in June 2018.
Again, here and everywhere, start with the money. If the Kings had retained and extended Cousins in July, he would have been one of the highest-paid players in the league. Additionally, because of his designated veteran’s designation, once he signed a Kings extension, he could not be traded for a year – an increasingly alarming proposition given his persistent pattern of bad behavior.
Divac, who insisted that all of his coaches and front-office executives agreed with the move, simply tired of the nonsense, Cousins’ impressive stats (27.8 points, 10.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists) and All-Star stature notwithstanding.
The most recent episodes include a televised postgame rant against the officials, a profane comment and gesture directed toward a Golden State Warriors fan in the hallway near the locker room and the one-game suspension for exceeding the allowable limit on technical fouls (15). A number of Kings officials, in fact, mentioned the technicals as well as the team’s inspired performance against the Boston Celtics the night Cousins served his suspension.
“Winning begins with culture,” Divac said, “and character matters. It was time for a change, and I decided this was the best decision for the organization. With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in a decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward.”
This is a complete reboot, the makeover that probably should have occurred before the team stepped into Golden 1 Center. If the Kings drop in the standings, as expected, they will retain their first-round draft pick (top-10 protected) to go with the two selections obtained Monday. Tyreke Evans’ $10 million contract expires in July, providing additional cap space.
When one member of the organization was asked about the timing – with the Kings only 1 1/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference – he said the team was trying to avoid taking shortcuts and instead thinking of the club’s long-term future. In other words, the Kings would rather have high draft picks and a fresh start than remote prospects of making the playoffs and getting swept by the Warriors.
For that to occur, Cousins had to go.