There’s a reason DeMarcus Cousins has yet to change teams despite perpetually being in trade rumors. We talk about his prospective destinations in a paradoxical way. Who needs Cousins? It’s a question that almost immediately negates whatever answer you provide. You need talent to trade for talent and lacking something begets a need for it. The Kings are at least a year away from being desperate enough to trade Cousins for pennies on the dollar.
Prospects are always an option in trade rumors, but packaging young players and draft picks for Cousins means trading away the future to put a malcontent two summers away from free agency on another bad team. Not to mention it would take quite the package of surefire young players with high ceilings to keep Sacramento from hanging up the phone.
All that said, a trade involving Cousins happening this season is not untenable. In the unlikely scenario that it happens, it would probably affect the NBA Finals one way or another.
The current landscape of the NBA looks the way it does because of a hoarding of talent surrounding the best players in the league. No players near the caliber of Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, LeBron James or Chris Paul have anything resembling a comparable amount of All-Star caliber players around them.
The paradox of NBA trade rumors is broken by one kind of team: the kind with talent to spare.
There are almost certainly no more than four teams capable of winning an NBA championship this season, probably only three, possibly only two. The league is not wide-open. The Warriors, Clippers and Cavaliers are confident there are only three teams capable of preventing each of them from winning the championship if they remain healthy (San Antonio getting the benefit of the doubt to be the fourth).
Continuity, chemistry and team building is crucial when there are teams like the Russell/KD era Thunder, the Mavericks of Dirk’s prime, the 2012 Pacers, or even the Grit N’ Grind Grizzlies, more than capable of knocking out any contender that underperforms. With all due respect to the current second-tier of teams, this season’s contenders know they only have to be better than a few teams absolutely loaded with talent.
If they were to at any point begin to worry that their level of talent won’t be enough to defeat their fellow contenders then Cousins is an alternative approach to the season. The reality is that if the Warriors, Cavaliers or Clippers decide they want Cousins anytime between now and mid-February, they can likely have him.
Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Love and DeAndre Jordan are all players the Kings would likely accept in a one-for-one trade for Cousins. They all have years left on their contracts and are talented enough to build a team around. From Sacramento’s standpoint, starting fresh with a new star is more promising of a future than keeping Cousins after their rocky relationship. They simply couldn’t afford to leave any of those players on the table considering the context and the leverage they will lose as time goes on.
The fact that Paul and Cousins seem to genuinely dislike each other might be enough to kill that possibility for the Clippers, which leaves us with the two teams most of us think the Finals will come down to anyway: Cleveland and Golden State.
Cousins is about as unstoppable of a big man as exists in the NBA, and there’s a general assumption that he would be even more effective surrounded by talented players, a theory that has yet to be tested in his first six years. There’s an argument to be made that either the Warriors or Cavaliers would be better on paper by trading a piece of their core to acquire him.
The Warriors could address the possibility Zaza Pachulia will eventually cost them an important game. Plus, Cousins would feast on the lack of double teams he’d receive playing next to Curry and Durant. Putting Cousins on the Cavaliers might be the most threatening counter to the Warriors’ small ball.
But there are obvious risks to chemistry and identity. The Warriors’ run of dominance was predicated on small ball and that would change with Cousins. He would also have to dominate for the Cavs to make up for Love’s three-point shooting and the reduced role Tristan Thompson would see. A midseason shakeup puts a huge onus on the players and coaches to make it work on the fly.
If anything, Cousins represents a drastic measure in a sort of Cold War between Cleveland and Golden State. One of their biggest temptations to trading for him might be the worry that if they don’t then the other one will. Cousins’ reputation for being a difficult personality would make it all the more difficult for either team to pull the trigger.
In all likelihood, neither team will make this trade. Sometimes we don’t do drastic things simply because they’re drastic. Oddly, the same would probably be true if we flipped the situation. If the Cavs already had Cousins and could trade him to get Love they probably wouldn’t do it. Same goes for Green and Thompson for the Warriors. These teams were designed with specific plans and abandoning those plans is a sign of panic.
But if either team believes deep down that trading for Boogie Cousins would increase their chances of beating the other in a seven-game series they should pursue it. Because as the league stands currently, that might be the only thing that matters.