February 20, 2017
Over the next 24 hours, the entire NBA will be talking about the trade between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans that sends DeMarcus Cousins to The Big Easy to team up with Anthony Davis. First, let’s take a look at the particulars:
New Orleans gets: DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi
Sacramento gets: Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, New Orleans' 2017 first-round pick (Top-3 protection), Philadelphia’s 2019 second-round pick (via the Ish Smith trade)
There are going to a be a lot of grades handed out for this one and most of them will look something like “New Orleans: A, Sacramento F,” which … sounds about right. When New Orleans was popping up in rumors on Sunday night, I kept thinking that a trade couldn’t happen because the Pels had precisely zero top-notch draft assets or young talent besides Davis. As it turns out, the Kings are reportedly very high on Buddy Hield. Pun intended.
Besides New Orleans, the other team that could stand to benefit quite a bit from the Boogie blockbuster is none other than your Philadelphia 76ers.
Thanks to the 2015 offseason trade that sent Nik Stauskas to Philly as part of a very temporary salary dump, the Sixers have quite a bit invested in the Kings being bad. For almost no long-term cost, former GM Sam Hinkie bet against the Kings in a similar way to how Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, and Steve Carell took out credit default swaps against the United States housing market in “The Big Short.” The major difference is that the Sixers didn’t really have to pay any initial premiums, either.
There are a couple of NBA Draft assets that the Kings still owe the Sixers from that ludicrous trade. They are:
1. 2017 Pick Swap: Specifically, the Sixers have the right to swap their 2017 first-round pick for Sacramento's 2017 first-round pick protected for selections 11-30. The Kings are currently 0.5 games out of the draft’s Top-10, but they’re now also removing a borderline Top-10 player in Cousins from the equation without replacing him. Here are some numbers to keep an eye on:
• When Cousins doesn’t play, the Kings are 7.1 points per 100 possessions worse than their opponents. That level of play is worse than every team during the 2016-17 season with the lone exception of Brooklyn. So, not good.
• The Kings are the 11th-worst team in the NBA right now, but they’re also only 2.5 games behind the Sixers, the league’s fifth-worst team. Sacramento is just 3.5 games behind Orlando for the fourth-worst record.
If you did some rough math and applied the Lakers’ winning percentage (the closest team to Sacto’s non-Boogie net rating) to the Kings’ final 25 games, that would equal eight more wins. In that case, the Kings would finish 32-50.
That sounds reasonable, but this trade could be more damaging to the 2016-17 Kings for a few reasons. Cousins is second in usage rate among qualified players behind only Russell Westbrook, so Dave Joerger now has to build a whole new offense on the fly. New Orleans was also worse when Hield and Evans played, so naturally the Kings are leaning toward waiving Langston Galloway. And finally, it’s probably worth nothing that many of Cousins’ minutes also came against the other teams' starters.
It remains to be seen how the Sixers fare down stretch, specifically with the health of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The good news for Bryan Colangelo is that if the team continues to win games, that insurance Hinkie bought a few years ago likely will allow them to draft higher than they should.
Heck, there is also the small chance that the Sixers hit the jackpot on lottery night and draft someone like Markelle Fultz with the Kings' draft pick.
2. 2019 Unprotected First-Round Pick: Cousins, who had a major financial incentive to stay in Sacramento thanks to the new CBA, was the reason for pause looking ahead to 2019 from the Sixers’ perspective. Even with his checkered off-court history, Cousins averages 28 points (on above average efficiency), 11 rebounds, and 5 assists. It’s almost impossible to truly tank when a 28-year-old Boogie is on your roster.
Well, not anymore.
It feels weird to say for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in forever, but Sacramento is hitting the reset button. The Kings are a small-market team that has a dysfunctional front office. They need to rebuild with young players, and we have already been over why they likely can’t pick at the top of the 2017 NBA Draft with either their own or New Orleans’ pick.
So yeah, it would now be stunning if Sacramento made the playoffs in 2019. Along with Boston’s two picks from Brooklyn, this jumps to the top of the NBA in terms of ranking assets. That pick, which might have felt like a throw-in for Sacramento on draft night, has turned into gold.
There were multiple reports and rumors that the Pelicans were willing to offer a similar trade package for Jahlil Okafor:
The Pelicans were very close on a deal for Jahlil Okafor about 10 days ago, offering a similar package except it didn't include Hield.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) February 20, 2017
Pels offered Tyreke Evans, 2017 1st rounder and future pick for Jahlil Okafor. Same package for Cousins, but with Buddy Hield added. BUDDY!— Sean Deveney (@SeanDeveney) February 20, 2017
If those are true, my initial feeling is that he Sixers made a mistake that ended up working out. That said, rumors often have an agenda behind them around the trade deadline. New Orleans, which many thought was the Sixers’ best chance at an Okafor deal, is now almost assuredly out of the running now with the acquisition of Cousins.
Colangelo will need to be more creative in searching for an Okafor trade, but right now, I think the Sixers would rather Sacramento have made the exact deal they did because of the potential to hit the jackpot and land a star down the road.
The Kings are going from bad to worse thanks to this trade, and nobody stands to benefit more than the Sixers.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann