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All-Star players pay tribute to Bill Russell, wish him happy 80th birthday

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NEW ORLEANS — That was maybe the best moment from the All-Star Game — legendary former players such as Dr. J and Magic Johnson honored Celtics legend Bill Russell, who turned 80 this week. The crowd sang happy birthday to the 11-time NBA champion and then the players took time to shake his hand and honor him.

It was a touching moment.

“I thought that was one of the more special moments in All Star history,” West coach Scott Brooks said. “You’re talking about one of the greatest winners of all sports. What he exemplified is just what you want your team to be: Teamwork, about the team, about the city. Just an amazing player. That was a great moment to watch that all of our guys really honored him, and rightfully so.”

Carmelo Anthony agreed.

“First of all, this was by far one of the most memorable All Star Weekends, All Star Games honoring Bill Russell, Magic and them guys, getting the whole arena to sing happy birthday to him, and then the game. All of that played into tonight’s game,” Anthony said after the East win. “It was a great atmosphere. It was good for us to be a part of that celebration. Bill Russell was one of them guys who paved the way for guys like myself and the guys that was out there. So it was just great to be a part of tonight.”

John Wall, will Wizards made trade deadline move? “I think so,” will seek bench help

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards looks on against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first half at Verizon Center on February 13, 2017 in Washington, DC.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Since Dec. 1, the Washington Wizards have been the best team in the East.

That is if you go by their record, which 28-10 since the calendar flipped to December. However, nobody sane thinks the Wizards could beat a healthy Cavaliers teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. It’s fair to ask if they need more help to get by Boston or Toronto just to get a shot at the Cavaliers.

That need for a little more help has led to trade rumors about Washington heading into the trade deadline Thursday (Feb. 23), and John Wall confirmed the team is looking to J. Michael of CSNMidAtlantic.com.

“I think so,” Wall said when asked if he expected president Ernie Grunfeld to make a move as he has done the last several years, and the most recent being for Markieff Morris. “We’re looking at some options to help our bench out. Other than that I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him about it.”

There are two scenarios for a Wizards trade that get the most traction around the league.

One is to get Lou Williams from the Lakers. This makes sense as a plug-and-play option, Williams is averaging a career-high 18.6 points this season and is a candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year award with his play. He’s a bit of a volume scorer, but that can work well with a sixth man (see Jamal Crawford for example).

The other rumor is Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic, who brings more size up front (6’8″) but can still shoot the three (35 percent this season). Bogdanovic is averaging 14.2 points per game.

Of course, the question is what the Wizards would have to give up to make these deals happen? Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports has said the Wizards might well be willing to give up a protected first-round pick in a deal, and that could well be enough to get a trade done (depending upon the exact protections, and the year). That said, the Lakers, in particular, have been hesitant to make a move.

Don’t be shocked if the Wizards make a move at the deadline. This is their best team in a long time, and they want to capitalize on it.

DeMarcus Cousins trade leaves Kings in the lurch

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts after making a 3-point basket against the Chicago Bulls during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. The Bulls won 102-99. (AP Photo/David Banks)
AP Photo/David Banks
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Two weeks ago, Kings general manager Vlade Divac said, “We’re not trading DeMarcus.”

Yesterday, the Kings reportedly agreed to trade DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans.

What changed between?

After leading Sacramento to a win over the Warriors — of whom Kings owner Vivek Ranadive used to own a share and seemingly still idolizes — Cousins flipped the double bird and shouted, “F— Golden State” at a Warriors fan, which drew a $25,000 fine.  Cousins exchanged shoves with a Bulls assistant coach. Later in the same game, he received a suspension-triggering 16th technical foul more quickly than anyone ever. The Kings beat the Celtics by 16 without Cousins, and Sacramento point guard Darren Collison said, “I thought we did an unbelievable job of really coming together. Nobody was complaining about the calls or anything that was going on.” Then, Cousins declared, “I can’t be myself.”

But Cousins has antagonized the opposing side, gotten fined, tangled with coaches (though usually his own), gotten suspended (including for too many technical fouls), ruffled his teammates’ feathers and remained headstrong numerous times already. And Sacramento still sounded prepared to offer him a designated-veteran-player contract extension, which projects to be worth $209 million over five years.

All in all, it seemed like a typical couple weeks for Cousins and the Kings.

Yet, Sacramento now diverges on a new path with its jaw-dropping trade of Cousins and Omri Casspi to New Orleans for a first-round pick, second-round pick, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway. That’s an astonishingly low return for Cousins, a 26-year-old who has made three straight All-Star games and two straight All-NBA second teams.

The return and the Kings willingness to deal Cousins at all speaks to his reputation.

Cousins put Sacramento on his back, averaging 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game this season. But he also contributed to a toxic environment that trickled onto the court. Even with Cousins’ superstar production, the Kings are just 24-33, which put them on pace for their best record since drafting him.

The best indicator of Cousins’ negative influence? The team that knew him best just traded him for that package.

Sacramento is banking on fixing its culture now that he’s gone.

The trick: Rebuilding with Ranadive, a talent deficit, a starving fan base. It’ll be something if the Kings pull it off.

Nothing excuses some of Cousins’ behavior over the years, but Sacramento’s problems run deeper than him. They start at the top with Ranadive, who’s not going anywhere. There might be more locker-room tranquility sans Cousins, but Ranadive will have to learn when and when not to intervene. Until then, it’ll be hard to get anything off the ground.

The best owners put the best people around them. Ranadive installed Vlade Divac to helm the front office.

Divac is learning on the job how to be a general manager, and his early miscues dug the Kings’ hole deeper. Trading Cousins’ opens far more possibilities than paying him $48 million when he’s 32 would have. But there are still several steps between Sacramento and a desirable team.

 

The Pelicans’ first-rounder is reportedly top-three protected this year, which limits Sacramento’s upside. Likewise, the Kings’ own first-rounder this year can’t become the No. 1 pick. First, they must land a pick in the top 10 to avoid conveying it to the Bulls, which seems reasonably likely without Cousins. But the 76ers hold swap rights on a top-10 Sacramento pick, which could wipe out any lottery luck.

Those picks — plus the Kings’ own 2017 second-rounder and 76ers’ 2017 second-rounder, acquired from New Orleans in the Cousins deal — will join Hield, Willie Cauley-SteinMalachi RichardsonSkal LabissiereGeorgios Papagiannis and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic as centerpieces in this new direction.

Hield was the unlikely cog in this trade, the bridge between Sacramento and a Pelicans team that lacked assets around Anthony Davis. The Kings were reportedly enamored with Hield entering last year’s draft. They traded down from No. 8 once New Orleans took him No. 6.

Hield’s specialty is outside shooting, though he’s only one percentage point above league average on 3-pointers. To be fair, at least that’s on a high volume of attempts. But Hield shouldn’t get much benefit of the doubt overall for lackluster production. Already 23, he’s older than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has already signed his rookie-scale contract extension, and every 2016 first-rounder save Denzel Valentine.

Sacramento badly needs to add talent in the loaded 2017 draft, which is far from automatic given the constraints.

If Cousins was that harmful in the locker room, maybe the Kings will win more without him and send their pick to Chicago anyway. If New Orleans misses the playoffs and gets its digits pulled in the lottery, that pick won’t convey this year. Sacramento could wind up no 2017 first-round picks.

More likely, the Kings keep their own pick as they spend the rest of the season working their way up the top 10 (though, because of Philadelphia’s swap rights, they can’t climb too high in the draft) and get a middle-of-first-rounder from the Pelicans, who win more with Cousins and Davis.

There’s still a lot of potential downside in just this aspect of the trade, considering Sacramento dealt a star.

More troublingly, the Kings must have urgency in a turnaround. Waiting until 2018 to add major talent would be devastating, because they owe the 76ers an unprotected 2019 first-rounder. Remaining bad then and sending Philadelphia a high pick would stifle Sacramento into a Nets-lite situation.

 

When will Ranadive feel fans losing patience, and what will he do about it?

The Kings have gone a decade without reaching the playoffs, the NBA’s second-longest drought behind only the Timberwolves.

Prior to this trade, FiveThirtyEight gave Sacramento a 16% chance of reaching the playoffs, which about seemed to match the eye test. That’s not great, but it’s not nothing — especially for a small-market franchise stuck in the lottery for 10 years. This team had really begun to compete, even it lacked the talent to consistently win.

Now the Kings have less talent and less direction but, more importantly to them, less DeMarcus Cousins. We’ll finally see whether that cures what ails them.

Pelicans win trade, land All-NBA player in Cousins, but move comes with risks

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 12:  DeMarcus Cousins #36 (L) and Anthony Davis #42 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team joke around during a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Make no mistake, Pelicans GM Dell Demps pushed a big bet into the middle of the table Sunday trading for DeMarcus Cousins — he now needs some cards to fall his way.

He is betting that what Cousins just needed was a change of scenery. He is betting that Cousins wants to be coached and Alvin Gentry can reach him. He is betting that Anthony Davis can help keep a volatile personality in check. He bet that in an era of small ball the Pelicans can play two versatile bigs together and dominate, that the two will click together. He bet that he can now find guards and wings who can shoot the rock and help facilitate for those bigs. But more than anything, he bet the Pelicans can re-sign Cousins, either with an extension this summer or as a free agent in 2018.

It’s a lot of risk for the Pelicans.

It’s also a trade they had to make.

Not just because Demps’ job was considered in jeopardy around the league and this trade could help save it, although that factor plays in.

More so, this is the right move because the Pelicans needed to try to get more talent around Anthony Davis — the All-Star Game MVP — and they had struggled to do that through the draft, plus New Orleans is not a powerful free agent destination. Chances for any team — let alone a smaller market like New Orleans — to land a player as good as Cousins rarely come along, and when they do the teams need to be aggressive. The Pelicans were that, it was unquestionably the right move for them. Even if the experiment fails.

The Pelicans did not give up much in this trade — Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, New Orleans’ 2017 first-round pick plus a 2017 second-round pick.

That said, they need to find a guard rotation that works. They have Jrue Holiday, Tim Frazier, and E'Twaun Moore on the roster, but that’s not going to cut it. Maybe they could try to play Solomon Hill or the just acquired Omri Caspi more as a wing, but both of those guys are not fully suited to that role. Demps has some work to do, but most of it will have to come in the off-season — starting with re-signing Holiday, who is a free agent this summer.

Gentry also needs to see what works for his two bigs on both ends of the floor. While on paper you can say Davis is the four and Cousins the five, both can either step out to the arc and hit a three or score inside. Most teams are going to struggle with a big front line this athletic — watch teams try to deal with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the Clippers. The difference is Los Angeles has Chris Paul orchestrating the offense and keeping everyone happy with touches on the court (and in line off it). Holiday is a nice point guard, but he’s no CP3.

The Pelicans will have nightly mismatches up front, the question is will they be able to exploit it? Will their two bigs play well with each other and willingly share the rock, or will this become a battle for touches where Holiday is in a no-win situation? Demps and Pelicans fans believe in the former happening, but the latter is a possibility.

Defensively, Davis is a beast and a rim protector. Cousins can be a good defender when engaged, but much of this season he has not been — Gentry and the Pelicans need to get him to focus. If not, it will be hard for New Orleans to make up the ground they want.

The Pelicans made this trade in part to make a playoff push this season — they will return to play 2.5 games back of the eight-seed Nuggets. They can make up that ground, especially since they play the Nuggets three more times. But to make the playoffs means this experiment will have to come together quickly because the Pelicans will need to win at least 13 (and maybe 15 or 16) of their remaining 25 games to get to the postseason. And it will mean the defense came together.

In the long-term, the Pelicans need to re-sign Cousins, who will make at least $30 million less than if the Kings kept him and gave him a designated player contract. New Orleans is reportedly confident they can re-sign Cousins, maybe even to an extension this summer. Cousins agent said he didn’t see a reason to sign an extension that quickly, and it is possible now Cousins will want to test the free agent market in 2018. As much as anything with this deal, Demps bet on himself — that he and the organization will re-sign Cousins.

We’ll see if that’s enough to keep his job.

We’ll see if this move can change the trajectory of the organization in New Orleans.

What we do know now is this was the right move for the Pelicans to make. Without question.

Report: Kings also ready to trade Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo, Ben McLemore

Sacramento Kings guard Darren Collison, foreground, is hugged by teammate DeMarcus Cousins in the closing moments of the Kings 109-106 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors in an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. At right is Kings guard Arron Afflalo. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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A driving force behind the Kings trading DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento keeps its first-round pick in the loaded 2017 draft only if it lands in the top 10 (though the 76ers hold swap rights). Otherwise, the Kings’ pick conveys to the Bulls.

Sacramento, only a half game better than the NBA’s 10th-worst team, figures to drop into the keep-pick zone without Cousins, the team’s best player.

But the Kings can intensify a fall through the standings by trading supporting players like Darren Collison, Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.

Collison is the Kings’ starting point guard, and he’d be solid for a team seeking a rental. He’s making $5,229,454 in the final year of his contract. Trading a starter would certainly help Sacramento keep its pick in the top 10.

Afflalo ($1.5 million of $12.5 million guaranteed next year) and McLemore (who can be made a restricted free agent next summer) are producing far less. It’s less likely other teams covet them. At least keeping these two guards probably won’t lift the Kings too high in the standings.