Twin towers revisited in New Orleans | Boogie or bust for the Pelicans | Hayward fending off free agency chatter | Cavaliers exploring the tiny possibility of adding Carmelo Anthony
No. 1: Twin towers revisited in New Orleans -- The idea of playing two dominant big men together is not exactly a new concept. In fact, it was all the rage at one time or another in previous generations. But doing it now, in the pace-and-space era, is something entirely different from the norm. And the New Orleans Pelicans will experiment with it now that they've reportedly paired up All-Star big men DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis. Marc Stein of ESPN.com breaks down the details on Sunday's blockbuster trade and what it means for the Pelicans' long-term future:
League sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that the Pelicans, meanwhile, are confident they will convince Cousins to sign a contract extension to stay in New Orleans in the near future.
Cousins would have been eligible to sign a five-year, $209 million extension with the Kings this summer had he stayed in Sacramento and has spoken openly for weeks about his desire to spend his entire career there, despite the club's decade-long playoff drought.
"That's home," Cousins said of Sacramento in an interview with ESPN Radio earlier this week. "I'm loyal to the city, I'm loyal to the fans and I'm loyal to the organization. This is part of my legacy and I want to bring us back to the promised land."
Earlier Sunday night, before both teams committed to the deal, Cousins' agent, Jarinn Akana, told ESPN that the 26-year-old would likely pass on an extension with any team that traded for him before Thursday's deadline.
Cousins has one more season left on his current contract and can become a free agent in the summer of 2018; New Orleans would be able to offer him a five-year extension worth an estimated $179 million in July.
"I have spoken many times recently with [Kings owner] Vivek [Ranadive] and [general manager] Vlade [Divac] about DeMarcus' future with the Kings," Akana told ESPN.
"They have assured me, and DeMarcus, that the Kings won't trade him and are committed to signing DeMarcus long term. In fact, Vlade has gone on record saying exactly the same thing. If the Kings flip-flop on what they committed, that is on them.
"Under the circumstances and given the Kings' commitments, I would find it highly unlikely that DeMarcus would re-sign with a team that trades for him at this point."
On Feb. 6, Divac told ESPN: "We're not trading DeMarcus ... we hope he's here for a long time."
Divac's public statement, sources said, followed a face-to-face meeting days earlier in which he assured Cousins and his representatives that there would be no trade and that the sides were on track for the extension this summer.
But the Pelicans -- knowing Cousins grew up some 90 minutes away from New Orleans in Mobile, Alabama -- aren't concerned about their ability to sell the former Kentucky star on a long-term future alongside another former Wildcats star in Anthony Davis.
"I don't think they would have done the trade without a lot of confidence they could re-sign him," one source with knowledge of New Orleans' thinking told Shelburne.
The Pelicans have been looking for an offensive-minded center to play alongside Davis dating to last season's trade deadline, when they flirted with dealing for Milwaukee's Greg Monroe. New Orleans has also pursued Philadelphia's Jahlil Okafor and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez in recent weeks before focusing its efforts this week on trying to pry Cousins away from the Kings.
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No. 2: Boogie or bust for the Pelicans -- The Pelicans are clearly going all-in for that eight and final playoff spot in the Western Conference chase. They wouldn't have made the deal for Cousins if they weren't. So it's Boogie or bust in the Big Easy, according to Jeff Duncan of The Times Picayune:
The Pelicans' stunning trade for the talented-but-troubled All-Star center on Sunday night tells us two things:
One, the Pelicans are serious about making a run for the Western Conference's No. 8 playoff seed and trying to build a contender around franchise player Anthony Davis. The Pelicans were stuck in neutral and needed to make a splash to shake the franchise from its lethargy. The five-player, multiple-draft pick blockbuster trade certainly qualifies.
The other thing it tells us is they know something we don't. They must. Otherwise, general manager Dell Demps has committed career suicide. The deal will either make or break his career in New Orleans. And it will make or break the Pelicans, as well.
We can only assume that Demps and the Pelicans were given some kind of assurance from Cousins' agent, Jarinn Akana, that the big man will sign a long-term deal with the club in 2018.
You don't make a deal of this magnitude for Cousins without knowing you can keep him around longer than 16 months. You don't trade away a good chunk of your future -- Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and two draft picks -- for a short-term rental.
If Cousins bolts for greener pastures in 2018 -- Los Angeles, anyone? -- this deal immediately becomes an unmitigated disaster, a basketball version of Mike Ditka's misguided Ricky Williams' trade.
The Pelicans must also know Cousins is going to fit their roster. At first blush, he seems like an odd fit for Alvin Gentry's pace-and-space system. Cousins is a true low-post big. He ranks second in the NBA in post-up possessions. He's used to getting the ball on the block and doing his thing.
Despite their Kentucky roots, Cousins and Davis have not played together extensively in their careers. This isn't fantasy basketball. Both are used to being the alpha dog in their respective lineups. Despite their prodigious talent, Cousins and Davis will need time to adjust and synchronize their games.
If they do, the Pelicans will be scary. The NBA hasn't seen a big man duo this dynamic in years, maybe ever. Davis and Cousins are the best two young big men in the game. They combine to average 55 points and 22 rebounds a game. They will cause enormous matchup problems for opposing teams inside the paint and out.
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No. 3: Hayward fending off free agent chatter -- Gordon Hayward has done his best to avoid the topic this season, his potential free agency this summer. But on basketball's biggest stage over the weekend it was virtually impossible for the Utah Jazz All-Star to dodge the constant questions. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald pressed Hayward on one of the more persistent rumors (something about Hayward reuniting with his college coach, Celtics coach Brad Stevens):
There is no question Utah’s Gordon Hayward will be on the Celtics’ radar if he chooses to become a free agent this summer. But as he prepared for his first NBA All-Star Game experience last night, the sharpshooter was leaving that matter to the future.
“I think you handle it by not really worrying about it, to be honest,” said Hayward, who was, of course, playing against his old Butler coach, the C’s Brad Stevens, in this one. “For me, I’m focused on the Jazz and what we’re doing and trying to win basketball games.
“Ultimately, if you focus on that, it’ll help you out in free agency more than anything. So you can’t be worried about it. That’s why I hire an agent, to deal with that type of stuff.”
To become a free agent, Hayward would have to forego his $16.7 million option for next season. To move to another team, he would have to pass on the greater money and years the Jazz will be able to offer. (Collective bargaining rules, particularly the ones just ratified, are designed to keep star players with their teams.)
Certainly Hayward has already been courted by fans of opposing teams, if not the clubs themselves. He received a good ovation when introduced with the Utah starting lineup in Boston in January, and he then got a taste of the crowd’s loyalty to the Celts when his subsequent made jumpers were not received so well.
He has found the situation a bit odd.
“It does feel strange,” said Hayward, who had eight points in the West’s 192-182 victory. “It’s weird. You know, you get fans tweeting at you throughout the year, telling you to come to their city — different things like that. But that’s not something you can worry about.”
Not yet, anyway.
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No. 4: Cavaliers exploring the tiny possibility of adding Anthony -- There is still hope, however faint, in Cleveland that the Cavaliers might be able to acquire Carmelo Anthony by Thursday's trade deadline. It's a long shot, but the Cavaliers are nothing if not resourceful when it comes to exploring each and every possibility. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer explains:
The Cavs are trying to use a trade exception that expires Monday and also continue to explore the very slight possibility of acquiring Carmelo Anthony by Thursday's deadline.
The trade exception, left over from trading Anderson Varejao last season, is worth about $4.4 million. Anthony is a 12-time All-Star with a $24.6 million salary. So obviously one move would not be related to the other, and the way, way outside shot (we're talking like, say a 93-footer) of acquiring Anthony in a deadline deal with the New York Knicks would be the much bigger transaction of the two. But it's also the least likely.
Cleveland actually has two exceptions that expire Monday, the $4.4 million hole from the Varejao deal, and another worth $947,000 from trading Jared Cunningham last season.
The Cavs have discussed trading for Utah point guard Shelvin Mack, who makes $2.4 million this season and is averaging 7.3 points and 2.8 assists, among others. They need a backup point guard, not so much for the postseason but certainly for March, as they attempt to get All-Star starters LeBron James and Kyrie Irving some rest.
As for Anthony, there are myriad complications and the Cavs' expectations are basement-level low. But they haven't quite ruled him out yet.
Anthony holds a no-trade clause and it's unclear he would waive it (he has said he wants to stay in New York). Also, his salary is so high the Cavs would need to part with several roster players and likely find a third team. They have said privately they do not intend to trade the injured Kevin Love to the Knicks for Anthony.
But the Knicks -- and more to the point, team president Phil Jackson -- may be so desperate to move him by Thursday (as an aside, the Cavs and Knicks play each other that night in Cleveland), there is a feeling inside the league that they would weigh offers for lesser players from teams, including potentially the Cavs.
On All-Star Saturday, Anthony said "I'll have some time after the break to worry about that."
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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: If the first blockbuster trade of the season signals the all-in from the Pelicans, it also signals the complete reboot (again) for the Kings ... Just in case anyone missed it, LeBron James reminded everyone in New Orleans that there is no rivalry between he and Stephen Curry ... Do the Pacers have a Paul George problem brewing? ... Russell Westbrook didn't get his MVP trophy in New Orleans but he certainly had plenty of fun trying ... The high-scoring Jimmer Fredette of old makes an appearance in China ...