In the first playoff hunt in 11 years, General Manager Vlade Divac received the go-ahead from owner Vivek Ranadive to kamikaze any semblance of competitiveness. By trading DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins for bits and pieces to the New Orleans Pelicans, the Sacremento Kings added one more notch to their growing list of suspect deals.
From trading 2010 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans for Greivis Vasquez and meager draft picks to retaining Darren Collison instead of two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, Ranadive has yet to add value to the team with any of his decisions. It is as if the Kings’ top brass thought Feb. 19—not four days later—was the trade deadline and Ranadive, who made his fortune in data analytics, hovered over Divac for a last-minute desperation trade. Divac explicitly told Cousins’ agent that “the Kings won’t trade him, and are committed to signing Demarcus long term,” according to Marc Stein of ESPN.
In addition to the soon-to-be free agent Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and 2017 first and second-round draft picks were the supposed sweeteners to the deal. Hield is a 23-year-old rookie who projects to be a middle-of-the-pack shooting guard, while Galloway has yet to prove that he can steadily produce in the NBA.
As for the draft picks involved, the first-rounder sent to the Kings is top-three protected. This means that if the Pelicans nosedive in the standings and secure the first, second or third pick in the draft, they get to keep it. The Kings entered this season without their own first-round pick due to deals with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers involving Omri Casspi and Nik Stauskas, respectively. In a loaded draft class with expected franchise players such as Lonzo Ball and Markelle Fultz, they have sneaked their way into the sweepstakes hoping for a foundational piece.
Cousins is known for his petulance and immense offensive talent. Since his rookie season, he has led the league in technical fouls, ejections and times fouled out of games. His brash, volatile attitude may have driven down his market value—teams would rather avoid Cousins and his tantrums even if they lose out on his prolific scoring. Some Kings supporters blamed Boogie for the toxic culture surrounding the team and saw him as a dark cloud over the franchise. In fairness, the Kings never finished with more than 33 wins during Boogie’s tenure.
Cousins told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne he wanted his “jersey to hang in the rafters in Sacramento” on Feb. 17 and was eligible for a five-year, $209 million contract extension under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. This extension, however, was only available to Cousins had the Kings retained him, making it all the more lucrative for him to praise the organization and express loyalty. Thanks to the trade, the Pelicans can offer Cousins $180 million over five years. They are optimistic in their chances of signing Cousins long-term, but he has little incentive to stay if he does not fit in, as other teams may have more favorable situations.
Mardi Gras was unofficially extended into April after news broke of the trade. Anthony Davis, fresh off a record-setting All-Star game performance, is an otherworldly big man perfectly engineered for the modern era. No power forward-center combination in recent memory has featured two top-15 players in the prime of their careers. The Kentucky Wildcats connection vaults the Pelicans into instant playoff contenders, though they currently sit 2.5 games out of the eighth seed and one game behind the Kings.
Outside of All-Star games and international competition, neither Davis nor Boogie has played with someone of his own caliber. They rank top five in scoring and are the only two players to average at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in the last four seasons. The Pelicans have flung Alexis Ajinca, Asik and Robin Lopez onto the court to limit Davis’s exposure to bruising centers throughout his career. Boogie’s presence not only allows Davis to slide into his natural power forward slot, but coach Alvin Gentry can now delegate scoring responsibilities among the big men.
Between Evans, Rudy Gay and Thomas, Cousins never found the Robin to his Batman. Playing alongside “The Brow” could be the antidote for Cousins’s ill-temperament. Just imagining the dynamic duo sharing the court has basketball fans salivating. Gentry and his staff have the All-Star break to redesign their offensive playbook and opposing staffs are scrambling just as quickly to counter.
The Pelicans, unsure of their ability to lure free agents to New Orleans and stuck with a middling roster around a superstar, launched their rebuilding process into hyperdrive. Worst-case scenario, Boogie leaves after the 2018 season and Davis is trapped in mediocrity. Best case, Boogie and Davis bully the Golden State Warriors into submission in the first round of the playoffs and shock the NBA as they terrorize the league for years to come.
For Kings fans, this is the darkest timeline: a roster of aging toads and waddling tadpoles, no star power to draw interest from free agents and their one glimmer of hope in draft picks could be sent elsewhere.