DeMarcus Cousins trade leaves Kings in the lurch

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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.

NBA: Referees missed multiple intentional-foul attempts by Mavericks in loss to Nuggets

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The Mavericks trailed the Nuggets by 23 points in the second half and 16 points with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter last night. But Dallas rallied and cut its deficit to only one with 10.4 seconds left. Denver had the ball, so the Mavericks had to foul.

They tried… and tried… and tried before finally succeeding.

Per the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report, Dennis Smith Jr. should have been called for intentionally fouling Will Barton with 8.2 seconds left. Failing that, Wesley Matthews should have been called for intentionally fouling Barton with 6.7 seconds left. Mercifully, officials (correctly) whistled Matthews for fouling Gary Harris with 1.7 seconds left.

Harris made both free throws, and the Nuggets escaped with a 105-102 win once Dallas couldn’t get off a shot with so little time left.

The Mavericks probably would have lost even with a correct call on this sequence. They were trailing in the final 10 seconds and without the ball.

But allowing Denver to run off an extra 6.5 seconds and get the ball to a better free-throw shooter certainly hurt Dallas’ odds.

I’m not so concerned with the result of this game, though. The Mavericks are better off improving their lottery position by losing. It is a bad break for the teams jockeying with the Nuggets for playoff position, but, again, Denver probably would have won anyway.

The bigger takeaway: Even if players are more concerned about communication than calls, if referees can’t even get consecutive intentional fouls right, that doesn’t instill much confidence in the officials.

Rockets’ Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green suspended two games for charging into Clippers’ locker room

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The Clippers-Rockets game on Monday was wild from start to finish past finish. Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly went through a back hallway to the Clippers locker room to confront Austin Rivers and Blake Griffin after the game.

NBA release:

Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza and guard Gerald Green have each been suspended two games without pay for entering the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room to confront a player from the opposing team, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident occurred following the Clippers’ 113-102 win over the Rockets on Jan. 15 at Staples Center.  During the league’s investigation, which included more than 20 interviews with executives, staff, coaches and players from both teams, as well as arena personnel, it was determined that Ariza and Green entered the Clippers’ locker room immediately after the game and engaged in a hostile, verbal altercation with several Clippers players.  The league’s investigation further concluded that Rockets players, James Harden and Chris Paul, followed Ariza and Green into the corridor outside the locker room in an effort to defuse the situation, and accordingly, discipline is not warranted.

It’s difficult to unsort exactly what happened away from the court. I don’t envy the NBA’s job here, nor do I blindly trust that the biggest stars should escape punishment.

Ariza and Green will miss games against the Timberwolves on Thursday and Warriors on Saturday. Paul and Harden (if healthy) will be eligible to play in both nationally televised contests.

I’m just surprised Griffin didn’t receive additional penalty for striking Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni:

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Anthony Davis

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The New Orleans Pelicans look every bit the playoff team right now — at 23-20 they are the farthest they have been over .500 and fivethirtyeight.com lists them with an 82 percent chance to make the playoffs.

They wouldn’t be there without Anthony Davis, who has been brilliant all season but has turned it up in the past week, and that got him the NBC ProBasketballTalk Player of the Week award. In his last three games, Davis has averaged 43 points on 56.3% shooting, plus 14 rebounds a game, and the team. More importantly, the Pelicans have won every game, including knocking off Boston behind his 45 points a couple of days after he dropped 48 at Madison Square Garden.

Just to be clear on one other thing, the Pelicans are not trading Davis anytime soon. Because they’re not stupid.

Paul Pierce says he told Celtics not to show Isaiah Thomas tribute video

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Isaiah Thomas announced he was withdrawing his request for the Celtics to play a tribute for him Feb. 11, the same night Boston will retire Paul Pierce’s number.

That was a nice gesture that ended a dispute started by Pierce, who said he preferred not to share his night with Thomas. It made Thomas look magnanimous, and it prevented Pierce – even if he had a fair point – from continuing an unbecoming campaign that made him look petty.

Except, before Thomas’ announcement, Pierce revealed just how far he went to stop Thomas’ video.

Pierce, via Jackie MacMullan and Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

“Danny and I talked about it for 40 minutes,” Pierce explained to ESPN early Tuesday afternoon. “He told me, ‘This is what we have planned,’ and at the end of the conversation, he said, ‘If you don’t want us to do Isaiah, we won’t.’ So I told him, ‘I really don’t.’ So that was it.

“That’s how we left it.”

“(Thomas) had a shot to be honored,” Pierce said. “You came to Boston. Whether you are playing or not, you should have had your tribute then. I just don’t see how, if someone is having a jersey retirement, they’re going to be running other tributes for other players.

“Danny tried to sell me on it, but I told him, ‘He had a shot, Danny, and he punked you on it. He pretty much dictated everything.’ They let it happen because they felt sorry how (the trade to Cleveland) went down. It’s guilt. That’s what it is.”

Ainge said Tuesday night that Thomas intended all along to bow out of the video tribute once he learned of Pierce’s reservations.

If only Pierce kept quiet publicly a little longer, he could have avoided looking even pettier. Yet, he revealed his conversation with Celtics president Danny Ainge, so he we are.

That probably won’t matter to those close to Pierce, though. Though Rajon Rondo was most blunt, he wasn’t the only member of the Celtics’ 2008 title team to take Pierce’s side.

Tony Allen, via Jay King of MassLive:

“Yeah, I’m with Pierce, man. He didn’t put in more work than Pierce. Anybody disagree? OK. Paul Pierce put in big work, man. Why would they honor him on that same day, man?”

Kevin Garnett, as relayed by Pierce to ESPN:

“Everyone understood where I was coming from,” Pierce said. “KG was like, ‘Isaiah who? Hell no, you’re damn right you’re not sharing your night with him.'”

Was there nobody to in Pierce’s life to tell him just to let Thomas have his short video during pregame introductions?

Pierce got his wish. He just looks even pettier as a result.