News came down Sunday night that Demarcus Cousins had been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans along with Omri Casspi for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, the Pelicans 2017 first round pick (top-3 protected) and the 76ers 2017 second round pick. It was a surprising deal for a number of reasons, and it seems that the Kings have been universally panned for the move, and deservedly so.
It’s obvious to most that the dysfunction in the Kings organization runs far deeper than just its inability to get a fair return for Cousins. Zach Lowe killed the Kings yesterday on his podcast, and many share his sentiment.
From rumblings that Vlade Divac is not well versed in the salary cap to an interview with Divac himself saying he had a better offer two days ago, there are many troubling elements to the Kings organization. However, the King’s biggest problem lies in the way they evaluate and consider roster moves. To me, the most damning report to come out since the trade is that the Kings preferred the Pelicans’ package because it came with Buddy Hield, a player the owner covets.
This is the worst possible mindset a team can use when making a trade because when a team makes trades because they value an incoming player higher than the market, they are losing the trade from a value perspective. One trade like this won’t kill you, especially if the player pans out. However, over time, making trades like this is what leads to bad management because it depletes a team’s asset base. When you’re ‘losing’ every trade you participate in you end up in the exact position the Kings are in now with little talent on the roster and depleted draft coffers, ironically at the hands of Sam Hinkie, the Godfather of the anti-Kings strategy.
When Hinkie fleeced the Kings in the Nik Stauskas trade he probably didn’t fully anticipate this kind of dramatic drop off from the Kings, but the thing is, he didn’t have to. Hinkie won so many trades that while some of the assets he accumulated gained value and some of them lost value (Jahlil Okafor), he had so many that every time he swung and missed he had an ace up his sleeve. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, but when you systematically get more chances than other teams, you’re going to be better off in the long run.
This is the problem with the Kings. Instead of going for the best possible assets, they are putting all of their eggs in the proverbial Buddy Hield basket. This is a losing strategy.
The Kings will never be good as long as they make moves with this mindset. Additionally, their inability to choose winning or losing, or perhaps more accurately, their incompetence in terms of understanding their positioning has led them into a very dark place. The roster is void of serious talent and they owe picks. They have no capital with agents and players around the league. It will be hard to attract free agents. The only clear path they have to getting better is the draft, but in the recent past they’ve drafted poorly and in two of the next three years, a winning lottery ball for the Kings would go to Philadelphia.
The Kings trading Boogie signals a rebuild. However, the mindset that their front office has exhibited in making trades is the worst possible mindset to pursue a rebuild with. If the Kings don’t radically alter their strategy, they will be bad for a long time.
The Pelicans side of this deal is interesting as well. On paper it seems like good value, but there are a lot of problems on their side too. The Pelicans’ organization has operated under the same sort of short-sighted mindset that the Kings have over the last few years, and before this trade they were really poorly positioned because of it. They consistently traded first round picks and signed veterans they didn’t need to bad contracts. Now, they have Cousins, but they are still bogged down by the bad decisions of the past.
The Pelicans are currently in a battle for the 8 seed, yet they’re completely capped out for the foreseeable future. After signing mediocre young talent to big money this off-season (Solomon Hill and E’Twaun Moore), it appears they used their bullets too early. Throw in holdovers from previous disasters (Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca) and the money they’ll have to pay to their stars (Cousins, Davis and Jrue Holiday) and the Pelicans have already pretty much hit the cap.
Due to their previous penchant for trading first round picks, they have no good young players on the roster. With almost no hope for internal improvement and no draft pick this year, it’s hard to see how the Pelicans can go up from here. This trade improves their roster, but consistently poor management has led them to a place where whatever this roster gives them is as good as it gets. With no youth and no depth, this is it.
The Pelicans are going to be good, but not that good. AD and Boogie will be interesting next to one another because they are both so versatile. They are both huge, talented, and more importantly, skilled. With two freaky athletic monsters on the front line they will force teams to make adjustments.
At a time when teams are going smaller because no one can make them pay, the Pelicans will do just that. Few teams can play two reasonable post defenders together without severely compromising their offense. Doubling either one of these guys will be difficult because they can both pass, and they can both shoot.
However, there is a clear flaw here, and it’s based on the concept of diminishing marginal returns. These two players have similar strengths, and will seek to operate in largely the same spaces. At that point, the advantages of each individual are tempered by the similarity of the other. This wouldn’t be such a big deal if not for the fact that building an NBA roster is a kind of zero sum game. If you have a really good player at one position, it takes away from your ability to have good players at other positions.
Davis and Cousins are great, but the Pelicans still need an entire guard and wing rotation. They have Jrue Holiday, but if the Pelicans are trying to compete for a title, he’s not at that level. He’s a borderline top-10 point guard, and his consistent health problems are a glaring weakness. The Pelicans don’t have another above average starter on their roster. This zero sum trade off is exacerbated by poor management, which New Orleans seems to suffer from. The Pelicans have two great bigs, one solid guard, and nothing else. With two true superstars this team is sexy, but it has no substance.
Making matters worse, the team will probably now enter a true ‘win now’ mindset, which will compromise their organizational decision making even further. The Pelicans have consistently made such moves in the past and have paid for it. Now, with two actual stars, there will be an even bigger incentive to squeeze every possible win out of each season, likely leading to more bad contracts and traded picks. This leaves them in the same headspace as the Kings, making short-sighted moves that add up over the years into poor management.
If the Pelicans commit to spending $60 million a year on Cousins and Davis (or between $80-90 on the Davis, Cousins, Holiday trio) AND they continue to make short-sighted moves that hamstring their future, they will never be a real contender without a serious stroke of luck. Maybe they finish just outside the playoffs and vault into the top-3 to get Markelle Fultz, or maybe they spend the primes of their respective stars chasing home court advantage in the western conference only to consistently be eliminated by teams with better management.
Things are better in New Orleans, but they are not trending upward, and that’s a key distinction. At least they’re not the Kings.