By John Hooper
It’s rare for a player of DeMarcus Cousins’ caliber to be traded. You can pick from the plethora of stats that have been tweeted to show just how impactful he can be on the court, but by any measure he’s one of the best fifteen best players in the world today.
It’s also been well documented that what the Kings received in return for Boogie is far from an equal return in value. FiveThirtyEight put together a thorough statistical analysis that paints how lopsided of a deal it was that I recommend checking out. However, not only were the scales heavily tipped in New Orleans’ favor, but there were also a number of details about the deal that made Vlade and the gang look even worse, such as allowing the Pelicans to slap a top three protection on the 2017 First Round draft pick and getting the Kings to toss Omri Casspi into the deal.
With that said, what’s done is done. Maybe this is the move that lifts the black cloud that’s been over the Kings’ franchise, maybe it’s the move that provides the antidote to Smallball. Only time will tell. So how does each team give themselves the best chance to make this trade the first domino on their path to a title/respectability? I’m glad you asked. Here are the three steps each team should take:
1. Play Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein 32+ Minutes per Game
This is a no-brainer, but if the Kings really believe Buddy has a chance to be an All-Star they need to make him their offensive focal point from day one. Hield proved in his Senior year at Oklahoma that he certainly has the chops to be a volume scorer. The main question is how well he can cope with the longer, more athletic defenders in the NBA versus those of the Big 12. Thus far the results have been lukewarm. His ceiling looks like that of Rockets' Eric Gordon - someone who can average 20 points a night bombing from deep and doing precious little else - and the Kings have an opportunity to see if he can reach that level of production.
The more interesting player that now gets a featured role is Willie Trill, Mr. Cauley-Stein. WCS has looked increasingly frisky the last few weeks, and his impressive recent showings against the Warriors and the Celtics may have greased the wheels to finally allow Vivek to feel comfortable giving the green light to jettison Boogie. The promising flashes that WCS shows brings to mind the potential to be a springier Tyson Chandler. He can be a top tier rim runner and the ideal modern defensive 5 with his incredible quickness and leaping ability. The question that the Kings need to be able to answer is whether WCS is going to be best served as a role playing defensive specialist or if he has the focus and offensive skills to be a building block for their new future. The potential is there.
2. Experiment with Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere
The nice thing about removing expectations for a season is that you get free reign to try out all kinds of lineups and new roles for players. @Coach Joerger - give us a lineup of Collison - Hield - Richardson - Labissiere - Cauley-Stein or give us death!
Skal Labissiere was the number one recruit in the country coming into Kentucky a mere 18 months ago. Yes, you read that right, above theoretical wunderkind Ben Simmons. Yes, he struggled mightily in Lexington and tumbled to the end of the First Round, but the raw skills are still there. He was a good rim protector in his short time in college, and he’s shown surprising range for a player 6’11”. What if Skal was the player that made Sacramento known as the hub for player development? Wouldn’t that be great? All that I ask is that Skal gets 20 minutes a night for the rest of the year. Let’s see if he’s got more Myles Turner or Hasheem Thabeet in him.
3. Buy out Tyreke Evans
The one man who could foil all of the moves outlined thus far? You got it, the former Rookie of the Year, Tyreke Evans. Evans is the type of ball-dominant player that could sap us of the opportunity of seeing how these young players handle increased responsibility. He’s also just good enough to trick the Kings into winning games they have no reason to win anymore, which goes against their new plan to tank. Look, the Kings have seen this movie before, they know how it ends. Let Tyreke choose a team that fits what we wants to do at this stage of his career. There’s only so much orange to go around, save it for the kids.
1. Play Cousins and Anthony Davis together as much as possible
The Pelicans should make the playoffs on paper. They’re 2.5 games behind the Nuggets and have significantly more star power than Denver. Either way, the Pelicans aren’t winning a title this year from the 8 seed. What’s important, however, is finding out if this is a pairing that’s going to work long-term. Of course they could play Boogie and AD separately to maximize the amount of time they have a superstar on the court, that's not the point this year. Play them side-by-side to see if they can coexist offensively as well as if they can handle modern NBA schemes while on defense together.
Most importantly, please run 4-5 pick and rolls. Please, Alvin. The thought of Boogie getting some poor Stretch 4 down on the block or AD having the Mozgovs of the world trying to guard him 20 feet from the hoop is too enticing. These two could be the ultimate zag to the rest of the league’s zig right now and I intend to find out.
2. Draft VJ Beachem
The Pelicans will have a Second Round selection somewhere around pick 45 this year. That’s a bit too late for Beachem, so the Pelicans will need to find a way to move 10-15 slots to be able to take the Senior from Notre Dame. Why Beachem? He’s a stronger Rodney Hood. Would Rodney Hood look good spacing the floor next to AD and Boogie? Exactly.
3. Use the D-League to find cheap 3&D wings
With the large contracts the Pelicans are going to have committed to AD, Boogie and Jrue Holiday (provided Holiday wants to stay), they’re going to have to get creative to find role players to fit around them. The atrocious multi-year deals they’ve committed to Omer Asik and Solomon Hill don’t help but hey, c'est la vie. Sure, they may be able to get some vets on the cheap a la Zaza to the Warriors this year but a team can’t bank on those types of things happening.
With that said and since they Pelicans are going to use their only pick in a package to move up to grab VJ Beachem in this scenario, we need to get creative to help fill out the roster. Dell Demps would be wise to look for a diamond in the rough in the D League, hoping that Alvin Gentry can coax a Jonathan Simmons-esque rise out of a player waiting for a shot in the bigs. A player that Demps would be wise to target is Travis Leslie, a Shooting Guard out of Georgia known for his powerful dunks.
Leslie was selected by the Clippers in 2011 with a main weakness being a lack of a consistent three-point shot, shooting 30% his Junior year as a Bulldog. He's clearly been working at his craft, however, as this year with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants he’s been averaging 1.4 made threes on 40% shooting from behind the arc. It’s nice to see a player who improves over time and entering his prime at 26 now, Leslie deserves another shot in the NBA.
Sunday was a landmark day in the league, and a day that both teams will be able to come back and point to a few years down the road as day that turned the tide of their franchise. Only time will tell which direction each club goes from here, but I’ll certainly have the popcorn ready to see how Vlade and Dell manage the next six months.