Updated Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Pelicans Star DeMarcus CousinsDecember 12, 2017
Updated Trade Packages and Landing Spots for Pelicans Star DeMarcus Cousins
The New Orleans Pelicans don't have to trade DeMarcus Cousins. Right now, they definitely don't want to.
Just for emphasis and to clear the air from the beginning, this article is purely speculative. We're intentionally jumping the gun, diving into potential landing spots and packages if—and only if—New Orleans' season starts trending south, leaving it no choice but to trade the big man before he hits free agency.
At this point in the season, Cousins is flat-out balling.
He's a dominant presence on the offensive end thanks to his uniquely unstoppable combination of physicality and finesse, and he's playing some of the best defense of his career. Accordingly, the Pelicans are hanging tough in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot. Even after letting the Houston Rockets storm back and prevent an upset Monday night, they're 14-14 and in possession of the seventh postseason seed.
But what if something goes wrong? New Orleans' net rating is 0.0, and it's teetering on the brink of contention despite a thin roster while depending almost entirely on its two big-name players.
If something does go wrong (and, once more, it doesn't have to), we have some options for the Pelicans to move on from the short-lived Cousins era.
Cleveland Cavaliers Get: Cousins
Pelicans Get: Channing Frye, Iman Shumpert, 2018 first-round pick (via Brooklyn Nets)
Just look at that picture from the 2017 All-Star Game.
LeBron James knew. He always knows.
Fox Sports' Nick Wright suggested this package in late August, and it holds no less validity a few months later. So long as the Pelicans are shopping Cousins (which remains a big assumption at this stage of the season), they'd have a tough time finding more intriguing assets than what the Cleveland Cavaliers could offer.
The appeal for Cleveland is obvious: Surround James with as much talent as possible, because winning a title and showing you're all-in for the present may be the only way to retain his services during the upcoming offseason. A healthy lineup of James, Cousins, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love and Kyle Korver would be virtually unstoppable on the offensive end, giving the Cavs the necessary firepower to keep up with the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets.
Defense might be a concern, but not with James flitting around like he's 25 years old and Cousins continuing to grow on the less glamorous end. He's quietly been one of the league's most improved defenders and sits No. 22 overall in ESPN.com's defensive real plus-minus—a substantial upgrade from last year's No. 145 finish.
And for the Pelicans, everything centers around that Brooklyn Nets pick, which could rise rather high during the expected-to-be-star-studded 2018 NBA draft. Brooklyn has been competitive enough that the selection would just be No. 10 (barring ping-pong miracles), but that would still give NOLA a shot at an up-and-coming star to pair with Anthony Davis.
Taking on Iman Shumpert's deal would be painful but less so because of the dearth of capable wings by the bayou. Channing Frye has an expiring contract, so he shouldn't hold up these proceedings. What would come aboard isn't nearly detrimental enough to prevent the Pelicans from getting their talons on an elite draft-day asset.
Milwaukee Bucks Get: Cousins, Omer Asik
Pelicans Get: Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson, Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic
The Milwaukee Bucks already gave one clear-cut indication they're playing to win right away by trading for Eric Bledsoe. But they still don't have enough to compete with the upper-tier teams in the Eastern Conference.
When Bledsoe and Giannis Antetokounmpo share the floor, they've outscored the opposition by 13.5 points per 100 possessions, via PBPStats.com. That's a strong start, but it's not enough for a two-man combination comprised of two of the team's leading contributors when the rest of the roster isn't quite up to snuff. The Bucks need further upgrades, and moving on from John Henson and Jabari Parker by acquiring Cousins would do the trick.
To be clear, this would be a painful and risky move.
Cousins would in no way be guaranteed to remain in Milwaukee for more than one season, though he'd certainly be tempted to continue logging minutes next to one of the NBA's brightest talents in Antetokounmpo. Onboarding Omer Asik's salary is in no way appealing, especially when it comes in conjunction with giving away multiple rotation members. Perhaps the Bucks are close to viewing Malcolm Brogdon as untouchable after he won Rookie of the Year. And they might still be overjoyed at the potential laying dormant in Parker's rehabilitating frame.
But all that should be irrelevant.
Brogdon isn't a star, and he's more replaceable than ever with Bledsoe in the mix. Parker isn't necessarily a key part of the future and will be seeking a new contract this offseason—one that'll come rife with uncertainties after multiple ACL tears. Henson and Mirza Teletovic are nice rotation bigs, but they're not crucial building blocks and are playing out their age-27 and -32 seasons.
In fact, they'd be more useful to New Orleans, which needs more reliable non-stars and could have fun playing Brogdon and Jrue Holiday together. This would be a haul for a franchise also getting rid of Asik's albatross salary, and yet there's a reasonable set of inclusions on each side.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland Trail Blazers Get: Cousins
Pelicans Get: Ed Davis, Maurice Harkless, Jusuf Nurkic, 2018 first-round pick (lottery-protected)
The novelty of the Jusuf Nurkic experiment may have worn off.
Despite starting his Rip City career in dominant fashion, the big man hasn't been nearly as effective for the Portland Trail Blazers in 2017-18. The per-game numbers (15.1 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 0.8 steals and 1.3 blocks) seem fine, but they're masking diminished shooting percentages from the field, less involvement as a passer and severe backsliding on the defensive end.
Though the Blazers are still better when he's on the floor, that's likely due—in large part, at least—to interaction effects between him and the superb backcourt. Plus, the uptick of 2.2 points per 100 possessions when he's on the court pales in comparison to last year's jump of 13.3. Couple that with a downward plunge from 0.62 (including his less impressive work with the Denver Nuggets) to minus-0.76 in ESPN.com's real plus-minus, and Portland might be hesitant to hand him heaping piles of money this offseason after the parties failed to come to terms during earlier extension talks.
Nurkic isn't Cousins. No one is. And that's exactly why the Blazers might be so keen on seeing what the All-NBA center can do alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum—even if it means parting with a rotation wing (Maurice Harkless), frontcourt depth (Nurkic and Ed Davis) and a first-round pick sure to fall outside lottery range.
Of course, the Pelicans would have to agree to this deal, and that's the tough part. The Blazers aren't offering a top-of-the-line selection or an elite up-and-comer since Nurkic is trending in the wrong direction and waiting to get paid.
But there's enough to tempt them if no better offers come into the picture. They sorely need a capable wing like Harkless and would still be adding a number of useful pieces with untapped potential.
Toronto Raptors Get: Cousins
Pelicans Get: OG Anunoby, Jonas Valanciunas, 2019 second-round pick
Of the five packages put together in this article, this one is the most likely to give the team acquiring Cousins serious reservations. OG Anunoby has been that excellent during the opening salvo of his inaugural NBA campaign.
Having appeared in 25 games and moved into the starting five for over half of them, the Indiana product hasn't just shattered rehabilitation timetables after a torn ACL prematurely ended his career with the Hoosiers. He's also played rather well, averaging 6.6 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.9 steals while shooting 49.6 percent from the field, 43.3 percent from downtown and 63.6 percent from the stripe.
Don't be fooled into thinking he's an offense-only player, though. As Jonathan Tjarks wrote for The Ringer on Dec. 5, he's an exceptional defender:
"Anunoby is not playing like a rookie. He gets the toughest defensive assignment on the wings every night. In his first two weeks as a starter, he has guarded James Harden, Jrue Holiday, Bradley Beal, and Victor Oladipo. At 6-foot-8 and 235 pounds with a 7-foot-2.5 wingspan, he is a physical marvel who can match up with players at all five positions. He frustrated Harden and helped hold him to 8-of-25 shooting, picking him up full court and staying with him step for step. Anunoby has quick feet, long arms, and strong hands, and he knows how to use them."
But could the Toronto Raptors justify parting with him and a 2019 second-rounder while also giving away Jonas Valanciunas and the final three seasons of his rookie-scale contract? Most likely so since the center north of the border is making $15.5 million this season and $34.2 million over the next two, assuming he picks up his player option for 2019-20.
Cousins would be an ideal fit in Toronto, capable of handling a large defensive role while playing the pick-and-roll/pop game with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Best of all, he'd give the team another offensive creator, which, given the guards' postseason struggles in prior go-rounds, would likely be rather good news during the inevitable playoff run.
Washington Wizards Get: Cousins
Pelicans Get: Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre Jr., 2018 first-round pick (top-10-protected)
"I talked to him. He said he would come to D.C., but he didn't know what was going to happen," John Wall said in an interview with The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears about trying to get Cousins onto the Washington Wizards roster before he was traded away from the Sacramento Kings. "I didn't know he was going to be traded like that. We thought it was going to be later on or he was just going to stay [in Sacramento]. It shocked me just like it shocked him."
Better late than never, right?
Making this move happen while keeping control of Otto Porter Jr. might be difficult, but the Wizards could potentially tip the scales by dealing away one of their big-money centers (Marcin Gortat would be preferable to Ian Mahinmi from the Pelicans' perspective) and offering a few sweeteners. A first-round draft pick qualifies as such, and so too does the high-upside entity known as Kelly Oubre Jr.
Oubre's hot start to his junior season might make him a sticking point. He's hitting 38.5 percent of his triples while taking 4.0 per game, which represents drastic improvement after he entered the year throwing up 1.9 long balls per contest and connecting at a 29.6 percent clip throughout his brief professional career. Pair those strides with his athletic and passionate defense, and you can see why he's been able to overcome inconsistency to emerge as a valuable piece of an improved bench unit.
But the Wizards have to give up something.
Oubre isn't a top-20 player. Cousins is. And that's the key for a team already operating with a Big Three of Porter, Wall and Bradley Beal: It should be fine mortgaging the future to bring together a league-altering quartet featuring two marquee superstars with established chemistry from their mutual days in Lexington.
As for the Pelicans, they may not be able to get their hands on player who is currently better than Oubre, who is already useful, plays at a position NOLA needs and still has plenty of untapped potential. The Wizards will assuredly pick after the Nets (see: Cavaliers), thus depressing the value of their offered first-rounder.
This could still be the best package of all.
Adam Fromal covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @fromal09.
Unless otherwise indicated, all stats from Basketball Reference, NBA.com, NBA Math or ESPN.com and accurate entering Dec. 12.