DeMarcus Cousins was Undervalued?

DeMarcus Cousins' time in Sacramento is over. And usually, we'd be patting the Kings on the back for moving on from an overrated star that will likely command a hefty pay raise come the 2018-2019 NBA season. Except ... somehow I'm going to find myself on DeMarcus Cousins side. The Pelicans got DeMarcus Cousins for a price I'm fine with. Meaning the only thing I'm not surprised by is that the Kings made another silly move.

Cousins Potential, Cost, and Contract

Here's a rundown of DeMarcus Cousins' Points over Par per 48 by season (the estimated points an average team with DeMarcus Cousins would win/lose to an average team over 48 minutes)

  • 2010-2011 -4.4
  • 2011-2012 -1.0
  • 2012-2013 -0.8
  • 2013-2014 2.3
  • 2014-2015 0.6
  • 2015-2016 -2.0
  • 2016-2017 0.3

0.0 Points over Par is average. +3.0 is our typical threshold for a star-level player. As we can see, Cousins did get quite close to that mark in 2014. Since then he's been close to an average player. But 2014 is important because it shows some upside. Cousins is 26 years old, which is right in his prime. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I still don't think Cousins is an All-Star, and am candidly skeptical if he ever figures it out. That said, I'm completely on board with the Pelicans here. Let's run down the reasons, list style.

1. They didn't give up much if anything.

The Pelicans traded Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and their first and second round pick for the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft. Or, put another way, a whole lotta nothing. Over their careers, Hield, Evans, and Galloway have all been below average players. Only Tyreke showed potential, but that was injuries ago. As we pretty much say every podcast, most draft picks don't turn into anything. It's also highly unlikely the Pelicans get a very high lottery pick. My biggest worry about any team targeting Cousins was the either high salary they'd have to pay him (more on that in a second) or the high price the Kings would demand. As the Pelicans didn't cost themselves either way, well, my worries don't matter here. On that note.

2. Addition by Addition, and Addition by Subtraction

First, while Anthony Davis has always looked great when healthy, the rest of the Pelicans frontcourt is lacking. Even if DeMarcus Cousins is only average, it's an upgrade over Terrence Jones, (injured) Omer Asik, or Alexis Ajinca. Second, as I noted, Hield, Evans, and Galloway are bad. Hield is downright terrible! Replacing any of these players with other Pelicans is a smarter strategy than letting them play. The Pelicans have upgraded their frontcourt with Cousins and upgraded their backcourt by removing worse players. Also, Jrue Holiday has been playing well and was injured to start the season. Provided he stays healthy; he should easily handle many of the "lost" minutes.

3. Cousins Contract has Improved

When Cousins was signed to a four-year deal worth sixty-five million, we thought it was a bad move. But things have changed. First, Cousins now only has a year and change left on his deal. And, the salary cap has moved from around $60 million to over $90 million. That means that first, the Pelicans aren't weighed down by a long term deal. Second, relative to previous seasons, Cousins is cheaper. Again, we think Cousins is a gamble, and in the past, we always thought the cost for it was too high. It was too high when the Kings signed him. It was too high when we thought the Kings would demand a ransom for him. It may be too high in a season if he demands a max deal. But right now? Right now, it cost a slightly overpriced contract that was easily worth it as it jettisoned bad players.

4. Upside

First, before I get going on this section, I admit it's the most subjective. Analysis, as I said - for the price the Pelicans paid, I find Cousins for the next season and a half to be worth risk. That can change contract time, but we'll cross that bridge then. Now, let's get to the more fun and subjective fan mode, shall we?

The Kings were a dumpster fire, full stop. From snubbing Dean Oliver to toying with George Karl, it never seemed like Vivek Ranadive knew what he was doing. And I can't say that made DeMarcus Cousins play worse, but I can say I don't think the Kings environment is a place I'd want to be. Now, Cousins is going to play next to fellow Kentucky alum Anthony Davis. And as other analysts have noted,  it's possible that being around positive teammates ala Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could work for DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings haven't been close to a playoff team since DeMarcus Cousins has been there. The environment has seemed iffy. While the Pelicans have had their issues (they drafted Austin Rivers!!) they have made the playoffs and have some productive players. Cousins has shown upside and is young. If he gels, the Pelicans could be a strong team. If he doesn't, they can trade him or let him walk (they won't if that happens, but, again, we'll cross that bridge if we come to it)

From drafting to free agent signing, winning in the NBA is about paying the right price and taking the right risks. The Pelicans have done that here. It might pay off, it might not, but that's less important (in my view) than noting that at the time, we thought it was the right decision. Of course, in classic fashion, I find it strangely apt that the Kings last move in regards to Cousins would be finding a way to make me say he was underrated (in this trade)!