NBA: Pelicans make huge steal in signing Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins goes to the basket during the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge at Smoothie King Centre – his new home.
DeMarcus Cousins goes to the basket during the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge at Smoothie King Centre – his new home. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

NEW YORK • As the National Basketball Association (NBA) comes to grips with DeMarcus Cousins joining Anthony Davis to form one of the most imposing frontcourts in league history, the most striking thing may be how little it cost the New Orleans Pelicans to pull off Monday's move.

But, once that shock fades, it might sink in that in a Western Conference dominated by the small-ball Warriors, a team that best exploits Golden State's weaknesses suddenly exists.

In exchange for Cousins, a player best described as Shaquille O'Neal having gone to a weight-loss clinic and returned with a crossover dribble and a bad attitude, the Pelicans had to give up only an underwhelming rookie (Buddy Hield), a few draft picks and spare parts (Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway).

It was a shockingly small haul for a 26-year-old franchise player, and it drew comparisons to the Philadelphia 76ers' trade of Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns for Jeff Hornacek, Andrew Lang and Tim Perry in 1992.

Cousins is younger than Charles was then (29), may be just as talented and has an even more troubling attitude. He leads the league with 17 technical fouls this season.

The seven-year veteran is in his fourth consecutive season of averaging in excess of 22 points and 10 rebounds a game.

  • 27-10 

    DeMarcus Cousins has been averaging a double-double in excess of 27 points and 10 rebounds a game for the Sacramento Kings this season.

He has stepped things up this season with averages of 27.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists a game.

According to Basketball-Reference.com, the only players to average in excess of 27 points, 10 rebounds and 4.9 assists for a season were Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Cousins, standing at 2.11m, will team with Davis, creating a frontcourt of nearly unmatched size and versatility.

He will most likely take over at centre, cementing Davis, a 2.08m 23-year-old who just scored an All-Star game record 52 points, at power forward.

They are both likely to sacrifice some statistical dominance, but it is truly remarkable that the team have two players capable of averaging 27 points and 10 rebounds a game.

The question, at least for this season, is whether the Pelicans will dig out of their hole and make the play-offs.

At 23-34, New Orleans are 11th in a race for eight play-off spots in the West, with Portland, Sacramento and Denver in their way.

With 25 games left, the Pelicans have to work Cousins into their rotation, find solutions for the absence of Hield and Evans, and probably win at least 15 games to safely outpace the competition.

A longer-term question is Cousins' attitude: He has been a consistent malcontent, and that could rub off on Davis.

He could also walk away as a free agent after next season.

In the end, a team who badly needed to be shaken up if they hoped to capitalise on Davis' prime got the best player available for a trade, and the Pelicans seemingly gave up nothing they will regret losing (especially if they make the playoffs, thus devaluing the first-round pick sent to Sacramento).

A season and a half of Cousins very likely outweighs the risks of exposing Davis to Cousins' antics.

Everyone involved should look forward to April 8, when the Pelicans, 23 games into this experiment, play at Golden State in what could be a preview of the first round of the play-offs.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Pelicans make huge steal in signing Cousins'. Print Edition | Subscribe