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Mazurek: Cousins trade good, but not great, for Pelicans

| Thursday, February 23, 2017

During the NBA All-Star Game Sunday night the West beat the East, 192-182.

But the biggest news of the night wasn’t the game — it was the Sacramento Kings’ agreement to trade all-star center DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and both the Pelicans’ draft picks this year.

Now, I’m not the first sports writer to comment on this blockbuster deal. In fact, R.J. Stempak wrote in his column Monday that the Pelicans “won” the trade and that the Kings got fleeced. It appears most people keeping up with the NBA agree with Stempak’s assessment.

I, however, believe Stempak and his ilk are looking at this trade too narrowly and are being too quick to laud the Pelicans.

No, I’m not going to say that the Kings somehow won the trade, because on paper, they didn’t. The two draft picks may prove more helpful than people think in this year’s loaded draft class, but the rest of the package doesn’t leap off the page. Hield is a rookie with a lot of upside, but for Kings’ owner Vivek Ranadive to reportedly think he will be the next Stephen Curry is far-fetched.

No, the reason I disagree with the majority opinion has to do with how the Pelicans’ roster now looks.

Let’s start with the new guy: Cousins himself. All through his time in Sacramento, Cousins developed a reputation for being hot-headed and difficult to deal with in the locker room. He spoke out against ownership after the firing of head coach Mike Malone in 2014 and had an extremely poor relationship with George Karl two years later. This year, Cousins leads the league in technical fouls with 19.

Some people think a change of scenery will help Cousins out, but is that really going to happen? If Cousins were joining a winning team, then yes, I’d say he’d probably calm down, but the Pelicans are not the Golden State Warriors. In fact, New Orleans is two spots behind Sacramento in the Western Conference standings. The prospect of playing alongside star center Anthony Davis may cheer him up for a while, but at the end of the day, 11th place in the conference is a tough hole to crawl out of. How long will it be before Cousins’ attitude sours like it always has in the past?

Next up, what does the addition of Cousins actually mean for the Pelicans on the court? If you’re a Pelicans fan, you may think the combination of Davis and Cousins will simply be too much height for anyone to deal with and that the Pelicans can somehow beat up the Warriors and win a playoff series.

To those fans, I say dream away.

Look, having arguably the two best centers in the league is great. You can control the glass on both sides of the floor and two big men provide shot blocking. But you still need a team around the big men to be successful. Jrue Holiday is the third-best player on the Pelicans behind Davis and Cousins. Is he going to be able to affect the game? Is he who you want going up against Russell Westbrook or Curry?

Winning with only big men is hard. Oklahoma City beat up Golden State on the glass in last year’s conference finals with Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, but that strategy worked because the Thunder also had Kevin Durant and Westbrook to get it done on the offensive end. The Orlando Magic had a multi-year run of relevance centered around Dwight Howard, but the Magic surrounded him with shooters to whom he could kick it out. Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan all had superb guards to balance out their advantages in the post. The Pelicans just don’t have the shooters.

I’m not saying the Pelicans aren’t better off for this trade, because they are. But how much better? They won’t contend for the title in the near future and with all the salary cap space eaten up by Davis and Cousins, the Pelicans have basically relegated themselves to finish somewhere between fifth and eighth in the Western Conference. And for Pelicans fans, maybe that’s enough. But with a once-in-a-generation talent like Davis, the New Orleans front office could have picked a better superstar compliment.

In getting something good, New Orleans missed on an opportunity to get something great.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Marek Mazurek

Marek is a senior history major and is a former resident of Carroll Hall. He has lived in Mishawaka or South Bend for all 21 years of his life and covers Notre Dame football and men's basketball. He has loads of hand-eye coordination but lacks the height to be any good. Marek is also a proud esports supporter.

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