Late Sunday evening, after the best players in the NBA had spent a few hours tentatively burying beefs and throwing lobs to one another in New Orleans, the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins, their feast-on-the-bones-of-big-men center, to the Pelicans. In return, they received a package headlined, improbably, by rookie shooter Buddy Hield and a lone first-round draft pick; Cousins, who was in town to play in his third straight All-Star Game, was informed of the news while meeting the postgame press scrum. It's a big deal, but Cousins uncharacteristically undersold his surprise. "Oh, really?" was all he said.
Really. If you have eyes, an internet connection, and even a passing interest in basketball, you have seen the mockery being thrown in the direction of Vivek Ranadivé and the rest of the Kings' front-office brass. Cousins has been the Kings best player more or less since joining this uniquely troubled club, but he has also been on the trading block for years. Though the specifics of deals that have gone undone over the years are impossible to know, it is also seems impossible that this could have been the best offer the Kings have received, or even all that close to it. They look like right doofuses on Monday, and it's likely they will look worse in years to come.
Kings fans should probably log off for a while and take a walk or something. Everyone else, though, can celebrate the Boogie-for-scraps deal. Cousins and Pelicans pivot man Anthony Davis don't just give one another the best teammate either has had as a pro; they inject immediate intrigue into a stretch run that looked primed for little more than the usual dull playoff repositioning; spoiler, if you're just joining this season: the Cavs and Warriors get the 1-seeds. All of a sudden, there's some volatile hoops science experimentation happening in New Orleans.
There are reasons this pairing might not work—the two players occupy much of the same territory in the court, and the modern NBA privileges shooting and speed over old-school brutishness—but there are also plenty of reasons the Pelicans' new pairing could be an antidote to the league's small-ball trend. For one, Davis and Cousins are as talented as maybe any post pairing since Tim Duncan and David Robinson ran the Spurs. Davis has six 40-point games under his belt this year (including a 50-15-5), and earlier this month Cousins put up 32, 15, and 9 in a win over the Warriors. Their skill sets—Cousins turns the player guarding him into sawdust; Davis picks and pops and divebombs the rim—compliment one another. Together, they can do everything you want from near-7-footers: protect the basket, post up, roll down the lane, catch lobs, loft hooks, even spot up a little—Davis is deadly from 20 feet and in, and Cousins has added a silky three-point stroke in recent years. The current shrinking and speeding of the NBA is predicated in part on the dearth of virtuoso big-men. In New Orleans, that will not be a problem. Drop-steps will abound, and stanchions are going to get tested.
The Pelicans first game after the All-Star break comes Thursday night against the Houston Rockets, so we'll get to see immediately how this bruising new front line matches up with modernity. Ryan Anderson, a power forward who shoots threes and is most comfortable guarding other power forwards who shoot threes, is going to have to get in the muck around the rim, and an algorithmic Rockets team will have to prove it can stop one of basketball's most basic strategies: give it to the tall guy. It's an old game plan, but if things go right, New Orleans could make it a problem for the new NBA.