It finally happened. DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors have dominated NBA circles for a long time. I never thought they would actually come to fruition, given the new Designated Player Extension clause in the CBA. Turns out, that’s exactly what scared the Sacramento Kings into trading their franchise star. They (rightly) turned their nose up at signing Cousins for $200 million over five seasons, but they accepted a much worse haul than they could have received. Owner Vivek Ranadive is rumored to be in love with Buddy Hield, the main player coming back in the deal, meaning that the trade could have come from ownership at the opportunity cost of receiving more value overall.
That being said, here we are. Cousins has now paired with Anthony Davis on the New Orleans Pelicans. Jrue Holiday plays a solid third fiddle, and the Denver Nuggets have to be concerned that the Pelicans may be good enough to catch them in the standings for the 8th seed. Currently, the Pelicans are just 2.5 games back (23-34) of the Nuggets (25-31), which isn’t that much ground to make up.
How it affects the schedule?
The Nuggets play the Kings on Thursday night at Golden 1 Center after the break is over, which will be the first game the Kings play without Cousins on the roster in seven years. Clearly, the team will be at a disadvantage talent wise, but as the Nuggets proved against the Golden State Warriors a week ago, the game following a trade is just weird.
The Nuggets and Kings will face two more times, once on March 6th, and once on March 11th. The Nuggets should be favored in all three contests, and it would be prudent for a team with playoff aspirations to win all three games.
The Nuggets and Pelicans don’t meet until March 26th, but they will face each other three times in the final ten games of the season, twice at home surrounding a road trip that includes a visit to Smoothie King Center. The Nuggets struggle with both Cousins and Davis individually, and I can’t imagine the thought of defending them at the same time without leaving shooters wide open on the perimeter. The Nuggets will need to win at least one of those games to earn a tie with the Pelicans in the season series, and if they win two, they earn the tiebreaker, which would help in terms of playoff seeding.
How will Tim Connelly and the Denver Nuggets respond?
Both Tim Connelly and Michael Malone have urged that the team would not sacrifice its future to contend before it is ready, but neither could have expected a large trade like this to happen. Before, the Nuggets could simply press on and win the 8th seed because they were still more talented than the competition. Now, the Pelicans have caught up, maybe even overtaken them in terms of talent.
After the Mason Plumlee trade (in which the Nuggets gave up slightly less value to what the Pelicans gave up for Cousins), it is likely that the team was comfortable standing pat and knowing that their playoff chances weren’t truly in question. Now, fans will be able to see, based on the moves made, just how important a playoff birth truly is to Denver. If Denver wants to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, they could make a “win-now” acquisition and sacrifice future talent/flexibility.
Surrounding Nikola Jokic and the style of play he creates with the best pieces possible is the ultimate goal. The Nuggets accomplished step one of that process with the Plumlee trade, creating continuity from starters to the bench. Step two is to find the best possible players to fit with Jokic on both sides of the floor. Perimeter defense has been an issue with the Nuggets for awhile, and while Jokic makes up for a player’s limitations offensively, he cannot do the same thing while protecting the paint defensively...yet.
Another idea would be to pair Jokic with another star, something that would cost the Nuggets more than a shiny penny. Jimmy Butler and Paul George come to mind as targets, but the chances those players are dealt are still slim to none.
Could the Cousins trade be much ado about nothing for the Nuggets organization? Could they be feeling pressure to make another move to get better? Moves (or lack thereof) will give Nuggets fans a better idea of the team’s mindset by Thursday afternoon.