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.
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.