Well, despite all the effort to try and come up with a realistic trade package for Russell Westbrook, he metaphorically blocked my efforts a la Rocky’s half court shot when the talented point guard shocked everyone and re-upped with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Let’s face it though, a trade for Westbrook, or the subject of our follow up piece Blake Griffin, would have been an incredibly risky move by the organization given the fact that both are on expiring deals (or were in the case of Westbrook). Surrendering the type of assets it takes to acquire a superstar via trade on merely the hope that you can convince them to stay in Denver long term is not exactly the most sound roster development strategy. Luckily for the Denver Nuggets (and for this series of articles) there are some star talent players rumored to be potentially available who are on contracts that extend beyond the 2016-2017 season. Perhaps the most likely of all of them to want to play out his career with the Nuggets is DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins is currently in Rio with the US Olympic Team and has averaged a double double for virtually his entire career. He’s also coming off back to back All-Star seasons. However, far more than Westbrook and arguably at the same level of Griffin, he is not without his off the court problems. Never one to be described as picture of veteran leadership, the mercurial center has often been linked to clashes with coaches and less than stellar endorsements of the organization that pays him. In fairness, the coach he clashed with was George Karl, who has a track record for those things, and the organization he questions is the Sacramento Kings who are questioned by virtually every person who covers the game of basketball. So while yes he can be something of a headache, his talent nor his status as a star player in the NBA cannot be denied and potentially he is just a case of a great player in a bad fit.

The reason that he makes sense to find long term happiness in Denver is the one coach that Cousins by all accounts was on board with is current Nuggets head coach Michael Malone. In the one full season Malone coached the Kings, Cousins recorded his highest value over replacement player (VORP) and box score plus/minus (BPM), two statistics that help illustrate the overall ability of a player in comparison to the rest of the league, so arguably Cousins was never better than when Malone was his coach. He recorded higher per game stats across the board with Karl but that likely has more to do with his rising usage rate than anything, as evidenced by the fact that despite increasing his stats, his efficiency rating dropped. So there's certainly reason to believe Cousins could be successful long term with the Nuggets and with a contract that doesn't expire until after the 2017-2018 season he is arguably the first player in our series who would make sense for the Nuggets to aggressively pursue in a trade.

Which brings up the question of what would it take to get him? In the previous parts of this series we fleshed out our system for quantifying the cost of acquiring a star player by looking at the average total wins above replacement of the players involved in packages of previous star trades. We averaged WAR across the two seasons prior to the players being traded and in the case of players who had played less than two years, such as Andrew Wiggins, we used FiveThirtyEight.com’s CARMELO system and took the average of their projected WAR. The table below illustrates the method we’ve been using.

Trade partners NBA starter NBA role player Young role player/prospect Long shot prospect Cumulative WAR
Nuggets and Knicks Danilo Gallinari Raymond Felton Wilson Chandler Timofey Mozgov 10.65
Hornets and Lakers Lamar Odom Luis Scola Kevin Martin Goran Dragic 17.82
Hornets and Clippers Eric Gordon Chris Kaman Al-Farouq Aminu None 2.23
Magic and Lakers Arron Afflalo Al Harrington Nikola Vucevic Josh McRoberts 11.88
Cavaliers and Timberwolves Thaddeus Young none Andrew Wiggins Anthony Bennett 7.1

One of the things that was mentioned in the Griffin piece was that certainly a package for Griffin should cost less than a package for Westbrook due to the fact that A. Westbrook is the superior overall player and B. Griffin had some pretty serious off the court issues last season. Nothing Cousins has done is on the level of punching an equipment manager in the face and breaking your hand but he still has some red flags around him and he also is not on the same level as Westbrook ergo he should also not cost as much as Westbrook. If you compare the average WAR over the past two seasons for Griffin and Cousins, Cousins has a slightly higher output, coming in at 8.1 to Griffin’s 7.02 so the argument can be made that no package for Cousins should cost less than the proposed Kenneth Faried, Will Barton and Gary Harris package we settled on in our last piece, but also shouldn’t have to be much greater. Once again, as our table shows, the typical start trade requires a cumulative WAR somewhere in between 7 and 11 (plus draft compensation.

Let’s start with a package centered around Faried and Wilson Chandler, a combo that was generally used in conjunction with possible trade scenarios with the Kings prior to the 2015 NBA draft. Those two alone of course aren’t enough to get a deal done with the Kings though because at the time Ty Lawson was still playing in Denver and was the third part of the package. Difficult to find a player of Lawson’s caliber from that season on the current Nuggets roster outside of Danilo Gallinari who would be far too expensive to make a deal work, but let’s start small because fact of the matter is the Kings desperately need a point guard.

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Huzzah the reutrn of Kostas Koufos! This trade would be an amazing one for the Nuggets but also would be terrible for the Kings. Not only would it deplete their depth at center (don't worry, they'll probably draft five more next year) but it is also woefully short in terms of value with a cumulative WAR of 5.4. Also, Chandler has shown far too much love for this city and this team (and, full disclosure, this site) for me to include him in any deal that would send him to the unmitigated disaster that is the Kangz. Still, there's some groundwork laid here. The Kings really are in desperate need of a point guard with only Darren Collison and second round pick Isaiah Cousins on the roster. They also do have a bevy of centers at their disposal with not only Cousins and Koufos on the roster, but also their previous two first round draft draft picks Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis.

The other part of the previous trade that doesn't really work is the fact that the Kings are getting nothing but veterans who are in or past their prime. While Faried and Chandler are certainly above average players, it's hard to imagine the Kings not wanting some part of Denver's youth movement in a package that requires them to surrender thier best player. Emmanuel Mudiay seems to be the natural fit but on the flipside it's hard to imagine the Nuggets giving up Mudiay without getting an upgrade at the point guard position in return, which is why he could be included in our proposed Westbrook deal but not here. So perhaps there is a deal that gives the Kings a bright young asset who fills another one of their needs.

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I can feel the collective rage of Nuggets Nation all the way from desk. This in turn would be a great trade for the Kings, not only do they get an outstanding replacement at center in Nikola Jokic who performs better at the 5 than anyone outside of Cousins on the current Kings roster and also has a higher ceiling than anyone on the Kings roster outside of Cousins, but they also get the best player on Denver’s roster in Gallinari as well as a competent point guard. Problem is, the value is way tilted in Sacramento’s favor with the cumulative WAR registering at 10.74, far more than what was proposed in our Westbrook piece and only less than the Magic’s haul for Dwight Howard (which required the Lakers to surrender Andrew Bynum who was at the time consider to be an upcoming superstar in the league) and nixed Lakers Hornets Chris Paul trade that is clearly an outlier in our equation. Also, Gallinari is a bit redundant on the Kings as they already have Rudy Gay in tow.

In order to truly make a reasonable trade for Cousins the Nuggets are going to have to come up with a package that includes one of their young talents, helps fill Sacramento's glaring needs in the back court and also doesn't completely gut their front court. Which brings up the major issue in any Nuggets/Kings deal: the Kings need a point guard and unless the Nuggets are surrendering Mudiay, they don't have a point guard on the roster enticing enough to make a complete package. No matter how much you try to talk Vlade Divac up about Nelson, there's just no way the Kings are giving up Cousins without getting an NBA starting point guard in return. So, for the first time in this series, we're going to bring in a third team for help.

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Fortunately for both Denver and Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves are able to help. With the selection of Kris Dunn fifth overall in this years draft the Timberwolves have effectively begun the process of moving on from the Ricky Rubio era. However, Minnesota remains woefully underwhelming at power forward and frighteningly thin at the center position, the addition of Faried and Lauvergne helps shore up both those issues without any additional hit to Minnesota’s cap. Meanwhile Sacramento gets a starting caliber PG, an effective scorer to either start at shooting guard or come off the bench and a young talent to replace Cousins at center who could project either as a starter or a very good back up depending on how Papagiannis pans out. The value comes in at a cumulative 7.98 WAR, a solid number for a star trade and, as is always the case in these deals, since the Kings are giving up the best player they likely will have at least one first round pick coming their way too. The Nuggets roster meanwhile adds a star and welcomes back Koufos who will help maintain depth at the five.

  • PG: Mudiay, Nelson
  • SG: Gary Harris, Jamal Murray, Axel Toupane, Malik Beasley
  • SF: Gallinari, Chandler, JaKarr Sampson, Mike Miller
  • PF: Cousins, Darrell Arthur, Hernangomez
  • C: Jokic, Koufos

Coach Malone would have some work to do figuring out how to best utilize Jokic and Cousins together on the court and also how to make a big lineup work in this small ball world but the pairing of those two isn't terrible. Cousins provides rim protection on defense while Jokic stretches the floor on offense. It would be very similar to the Nurkic/Jokic pairing the team experimented with at the end of last season, only with a much more potent big man in Cousins. The roster also appears to be thin at the center position but given that Cousins and Jokic can both operate there and pair nicely next to Arthur it is certainly doable. Meanwhile the Kings shore up a lot of their holes in this deal as well.

Presto changeo! No more PG problems, no more log jam at center and a solid blend of veterans in Gay, Rubio and Afflalo to go along with a young front-court that has a bright future. Depending on how the Kings recent draft picks turn out this is a team who could definitely compete for the playoffs in the West. The question for the Nuggets of course is are they willing to take the risk on Cousins. He is more talented than anyone on the current Nuggets roster and could potentially be talented enough to lead a team to the Finals, but he also hasn’t been anything close to a choir boy in the locker room either. Is that something the Nuggets would really want to take on? On most teams that answer is still probably yes but on the Nuggets it should be a resounding yes. Coach Malone did have an impact on Cousins while he was his coach, that much is evident by the way Boogie reacted when Malone was fired and the proposed trade doesn’t gut the veteran leadership of the Nuggets at all. Gallo is still there, Chandler is still there, Nelson is still there and Mike Miller is still there. The culture in Denver has changed enough to be able to take on a personality like Cousins and with the coach having an inside track to convincing the player to stay and two full seasons to do so, Cousins is absolutely a trade target Denver should pursue. The question is only whether or not the Kings would want to listen.