Sacramento – What’s the Deal?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 23: DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the New Orleans Pelicans and Anthony Davis #23 react during the first half of a game against the Houston Rockets at the Smoothie King Center on February 23, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Approximately two years ago, I wrote about the Sacramento Kings. I made a bold comparison, drawing connections to their famous ’02 squad. They weren’t quite the miracle team but a shoddy, scrappier version that had the same characteristics. But the management had a goal. They were desperately making moves, to finally remove their status as the perpetual punching bag of the NBA.

For the first time in fifteen years, they were finally going to leave the hellish depths of NBA limbo – not good enough to make the playoffs but not quite bad enough to stack up some good draft picks. Given their limited resources, they were piecing together the best team available. With their new management, things were looking hopeful. Vlade Divac and George Karl were the beacons of hope, that would eventually transform this team into something great – at least good.1

Instead, George Karl turned into a belligerent mess of a coach, Rajon Rondo still failed to look like his former self and the young talent seemed to fizzle out. Such is the nature of Sacramento. Bad luck always strikes at the wrong time for the Kings3. But this this week, Sacramento pulled yet another bizarre move. They tried something I can’t quite wrap my head around. By trading away DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans, Sacramento has once again done something staggering. They’ve traded the only player in the last decade who’s wanted to stay on the team, for potential. By ditching Cousins for scrap parts and draft picks, Sacramento has mortgaged away their future. They’re in kind of the same place they have been since the early 2000s and it’s frustrating to watch the scenario unfold.

Despite their past draft duds and questionable trades, perhaps the Kings’ FO know more than us. After all, this decision is coming from Vlade Divac, the man traded on draft day for Kobe, so he knows his way around a controversial trade. He’s (hopefully) looked at the scouting reports, watched the footage and studied the strategies. At the end of the day, Divac knows about the team’s strategy, the game plan and who’s the best fit for the team. Using this in-depth information, he’s supposedly moving the team in the right direction. And to him, that means Cousins’ time in Sacramento is up.

But in my mind, this is terrible. Remember that time Billy King traded Kyle Korver for a copy machine4? This return gets Sacramento about the same returns. Tyreke Evans has been proven as a mismatch for the team. He needs a change of scenery and it’s showing. In both his previous stint with Sacramento and last few seasons in New Orleans, Evans has proven to be inefficient and streaky. He puts up around 15 points a game each season, shoots around 45% and hits under a third of his threes. All things considered, he’s in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories, meaning he should probably be coming off the bench or complimenting another dominant scorer. Instead, he’s coming back to the Kings to be the leader of a mediocre team.

Buddy Hield, though young, hasn’t shown much promise either. Investing in a 23 year old, who tore it up at OU, might be a wise investment long-term but he’s struggling to adjust to the NBA. So far, he’s been shooting a measly 35% from the floor, scoring 8 points on 8 shots. Not exactly the model of efficiency. And it goes without saying that without Cousins, Sacramento has lost one of the few players that dominates the low-post in the modern NBA. It’s a high risk-high reward situation, with the weirdest timing possible.

Sure, Cousins’ contract is set to expire in 2018 and they don’t want to risk losing him. And in the past, there’ve been concerns about his attitude. Despite his activity off the court, he whines, gripes, bitches and moans on the court in what feels like every situation. Even with that factored in, this trade makes little sense. It’s a Dwightmare-esque trade return, where they give up a star for peanuts. Except Cousins wanted to stay5.


Implications: 

What does this mean for the landscape of this years’ NBA? Unless everything clicks, Sacramento will likely tank, falling from their ninth seed. For the rest of the Western Conference, the playoff race just got a whole lot more interesting. Though New Orleans stands at a worse 11 seed, Cousins just got paired up with one of the most dominant big men in recent history, Anthony Davis. Davis has some astounding accomplishments. Here are few of them:

A near quadruple double.
12th highest PER ever – behind only Wilt, LeBron, MJ and Steph Curry.

A good sign for the future!
More a testament to Duncan’s absurd consistency – but look at those numbers!

Sure, Davis has been known for his injury troubles, which are obviously highlighted in the last infographic. That’s a big concern to most. While worrisome, they are a bit exaggerated6. Also, it’s easy to attest those problems to a poor supporting cast. Giving 35 minutes to a 7 foot center and expecting him to do everything – score, rebound, block shots, dish out assists – is probably a poor decision. Then again, the Pelicans haven’t really had any other alternatives.

Adding Cousins in the low post is a sure-fire way to lift the load off the oft-injured Davis. And if New Orleans’ shooters manage to show up, this could lead to a deadly inside-out game. Their guards are currently shooting in the mid 30%s from 3 – just barely in the bottom half of the NBA. But that’s not terrible when Anthony Davis is already putting up 27.7ppg and Jrue Holiday adds another 16.3. Pair the two of them with a blossoming Tim Fraiser and another 27 point scorer in Cousins – and this really has potential.

If New Orleans starts to click quickly, I could easily see them rising from their current standing in the 11th seed, to an 8 or 7 seed. At best, New Orleans gets a thrilling rematch with Golden State in the first round. At worst, New Orleans doesn’t make it – but they tried to make a push for the playoffs. Afterwards, they can try to resign Cousins once his contract expires. If not, they have plenty of cap space to sign a big free agent. It’s kind of a win-win-win in their book.

Perhaps I’m too positive of a sports fan. I’m the kind of fan who thought Atlanta would finally bring home their second sports championship instead of Boston bringing home their thirty seventh7. Or that LT and Phillip Rivers were a deadly combination that would bring a Super Bowl to San Diego despite poor management. I always tend to lean toward the underdog and I’ve had my fair share of naive predictions. But for New Orleans, I still hold some of that hope. The pairing of two highly skilled, hyped-up big men is exciting. They’ve both been stuck in terrible situations for a few years so perhaps the combination will finally make up for all the disappointment. Not every superstar pairing matches as well as you’d expect8 but the prospect is exciting.

For Sacramento, I’m trying. I’m trying to be hopeful. To empathize. They tried with DeMarcus Cousins. They had seven years to give him a supporting cast and nothing worked. Whether it’s the development, the drafting or management, something just didn’t add up. And to be fair, this could be on Cousins. Sometimes a star player, despite all the talent in the world, just doesn’t mesh with a team. At the end of the day, it didn’t work and the team is moving on.

In the end, I think this is a pretty terrible trade for the Kings. I think they’re making a mistake. But then again, I could be wrong. Maybe Buddy Hield, the former Sooners star, will have a similar impact in the NBA. He’ll become the face of the franchise. Maybe the Kings will somehow become a competent business that gives Hield some decent role players. And maybe, given his attitude problems in the past, Cousins is the one at fault here. Maybe Vlade Divac really knows his stuff and just picked out a future Kobe and we don’t know it.

But the skeptic in me is really starting to come out. I doubt it.


1When talking with my father, I once referred to Kurt Warner and Rich Gannon as the “old one-two punch”. He quickly shot back with “must’ve been some pretty weak punches”. I imagine Kings fans felt the same about their duo.

2 This was the same guy that almost took a championship from Michael Jordan in his prime?

3 cough 2002 ECF cough

4 A technicality, sure – but this actually happened.

5 Counterpoint – Kevin Durant claimed he never wanted to leave OKC. Same with LaMarcus Aldridge during his stay in Portland. Then again, the opportunity to join the most consistent franchise of the last 15 years or the only the a 73 win team in history are both pretty rare opportunities.

6Here’s a complete list

7Dear Boston: if the Celtics somehow manage to craft a full lineup of 5’8″ Isaiah Thomas-esque guards, you still can’t paint yourself as the “little guy”. Like you always do. Forget the Curse of the Bambino, this is never going to be true. You have 38 championships.

8Remember when Nash & Howard were going to tear up the NBA with their deadly pick and roll?