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


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.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.