NEW ORLEANS – As the NBA trade deadline inched closer and Sacramento’s chances of looking like anything but a humiliated first-round playoff victim faded, the Kings’ front office united in one goal: Getting Vivek Ranadive on board with trading three-time All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. For months, Kings execs, from basketball to the business side, were in lockstep with the reality that rebooting the franchise without Cousins was the only long-term solution. Ranadive, the embattled owner, was all that stood in the way.
Ranadive stepped aside on Sunday, clearing the way for the Kings to send Cousins and Omri Casspi to the Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and 2017 first- and second-round picks. In dealing a top-10 talent like Cousins for a solid scoring rookie and a pair of picks, the message was unmistakable: Cousins is good, but we’re better off without him.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac publicly pledged his allegiance to Cousins earlier this month, but internally, nobody believed him. The full-court press of Ranadive began before the season, league sources told The Vertical, and it was unrelenting. Only after a pair of recent incidents — an expletive-filled remark after a Feb. 4 win over Golden State and a 17th technical foul, and a resulting one-game suspension, on Feb. 12 — did Ranadive start to soften his stance on Cousins, only after repeated acts of immaturity did Ranadive start to rethink binding the franchise to Cousins.
The Kings didn’t get equal value for Cousins, but they never expected to either. Several teams, including Orlando and Boston, expressed nominal interest, while Sacramento’s efforts to extract Brandon Ingram from the Lakers were rejected. Cousins, rival executives say, is a bad investment, appealing only if the asking price was minimal.
“We would have taken him,” said an executive from a team that inquired about Cousins, “but only if they were basically giving him away.”
New Orleans isn’t getting Cousins for free, but the cost was minimal and, hey, what do the Pelicans have to lose? General manager Dell Demps is under fire, and head coach Alvin Gentry knows that if the GM goes, he likely goes with him. On paper, a Cousins-Anthony Davis frontline is terrifying, and if the duo clicks it’s a pair that could be overwhelming for years to come. Hield is a decent prospect and the 2017 draft projects as a deep one, but if New Orleans misses the postseason, there are no guarantees Demps will be around to make the pick, anyway.
The Kings excised Cousins, and there are strong indications they are not done dealing, either. Sacramento is determined to restock the franchise with assets, and will be targeting rookie-deal players and draft picks in the coming days, sources told The Vertical. Free agents-to-be Ben McLemore and Darren Collison are available, sources said, as is Arron Afflalo, a solid bench scorer with a manageable contract.
It’s a full-scale rebuild now in Sacramento, and the pressure on Divac has never been stronger. League-wide Divac is viewed as a keen basketball mind, but his inexperience has been costly. He mishandled the George Karl situation last season, his pair of first-rounders this year — Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere — have not shown much, and his emphatic support of Cousins weeks before trading him did not go unnoticed by the player agents he will have to deal with.
Cousins is gone, but for Divac, for the Kings, the work is just beginning. They expect to sink in the standings, but a double-digit win over Boston without Cousins earlier this month had some in the organization dreaming of what a free-flowing, post-Cousins offense could look like. Regardless, the pressure is on Divac to draft well, to sign players judiciously, to not be tempted by quick-fix solutions. Cousins is gone. There is no one to blame anymore.
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