Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac headed into All-Star weekend convinced it was finally time to part ways with ultra-talented center DeMarcus Cousins.
Befitting a franchise that appears headed to a 11th straight season without a playoff berth, the Kings even seemed to botch that. Sacramento dealt Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to New Orleans in exchange for Tyreke Evans, 2016 first-round draft pick Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and first- and second-round draft picks this summer.
When asked Monday why he didn’t wait for a better offer closer to Thursday’s trade deadline, Divac gave a curious response that raised more questions than it answered.
“Most likely we would get less because I had a better deal two days ago,” Divac said. “I don’t want to go into details. I don’t want to discuss the process.”
Cousins will now team with another former Kentucky big man who has developed into an NBA All-Star in New Orleans’ Anthony Davis. Cousins is averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds this season and can become a free agent in 2018 unless the Pelicans can sign him to an All-Star caliber extension.
The Kings have not won more than 33 games in a season since drafting Cousins fifth overall in 2010 and grew tired of his antics that included frequent run-ins with coaches, media members and officials. He leads the NBA with 17 technical fouls this season, leading to a one-game suspension earlier this month. He will be suspended again after his next technical foul and every two beyond that for the rest of the regular season.
Divac frequently mentioned culture and character when explaining the thought behind the deal, saying the franchise needed a change despite being only 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I really love DeMarcus,” Divac said. “I think he’s a great kid. It just wasn’t a fit right now with what we’re trying to do. I wish him all the best. I hope this will have a positive effect on his career.”
The deal to pair Cousins with Davis sends a message that the Pelicans are more concerned with making a 25-game push for the playoffs this spring then where they’ll be drafting next offseason.
Pelicans general manager Dell Demps previous’ attempts to provide Davis a requisite supporting cast has been under increasing scrutiny as losses have mounted – New Orleans is 23-34, 2 + games out of the final playoff spot in the West with 25 games left. When the deal was made official Monday, Demps thanked Pelicans owner Tom Benson and top executives Mickey Loomis and Dennis Lauscha for their “continued support and providing the resources for us to be successful.”
“This is an exciting time for Pelicans fans as we continue our quest for long-term success,” Demps said.
The Kings, who are a game ahead of the Pelicans in the standings, will now enter rebuilding mode without Cousins. They could deal other veterans for prospects or picks before Thursday’s deadline but even the rebuilding plan has issues.
The Kings could be forced to swap first-round picks with Philadelphia this year and also owe the 76ers an unprotected 2019 pick as part of a trade in July 15 made to create salary cap room to sign Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos and Marco Belinelli. Only Koufos is still in Sacramento.
This trade does increase Sacramento’s chances at two first-round picks this year because they only have to give up their top pick to Chicago if it falls outside the top 10. The pick from New Orleans is top-three protected.
“We feel very strong about this draft this year,” Divac said. “It’s very strong, stronger than the past few years. It’s time to start fresh.”
The Kings also get the 23-year-old Hield, who won the Wooden Award at Oklahoma last year before being drafted sixth overall by the Pelicans. Hield has struggled as a rookie, averaging 8.6 points per game in 20.4 minutes per contest, while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and 36.9 percent from 3-point range.
“He’s talented guy,” Divac said. “His work ethic is exactly what we want here.”
Evans, who can play point guard, shooting guard or small forward, will be entering a second stint in Sacramento, where he was drafted in 2009 and went on to be Rookie of the Year. Galloway has been a solid reserve, providing scoring punch from the perimeter.
Casspi has been playing about 19 minutes a game for the Kings this season, averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.