There are times when I lament that I don’t have the kind of access or connections that some of the more established national and local writers have. I don’t have a single GM, owner, or NBA player slipping me 2 a.m. texts about crazy situations.
If I had that, I often reason, I could do a much better job at predicting what’ll happen next in the NBA. I’m good. I crunch numbers, I read everything, I listen to subtext, and I keep my eye on the Twitter and Instagram pages of the NBA’s most volatile and entertaining personalities. But, I’m still not much more than a relatively smart guy doing some pretty excellent guessing.
Sometimes, as it turns out, you can have all the information in the world, and still have ZERO clue which bomb is about to go off in the NBA.
I could be talking about anything involving the Knicks (they like to arrest former players, and then bring in choking hazards to smooth over PR—if you need a quick example of NBA crazy).
I could be talking about the unexpected Denver/Portland trade.
But I’m not. You know I’m not. In fact, the Denver/Portland trade went from being a head scratcher to a footnote real quick.
Sunday night, practically while he was posting up in the All-Star Game, Boogie Cousins got traded to the New Orleans Pelicans.
The implications of this trade are substantial for the NBA as a whole, and they’re substantial for the Dallas Mavericks on at least a small scale. Let’s break down my thoughts in as organized a fashion as possible (given that my brain has exploded and scattered across my desk in tiny chunks).
One: The ESPN NBA Trade machine works—I guess?
I went in last night and plugged in the rumored trade pieces. They worked. The trade was successful.
Of course it was. The NBA trade machine doesn’t care about incredulity, it only cares about raw numbers. Will the cap space work? Will the number of players break any rules?
What it never asks is: Are you giving up a dollar for 3 quarters?
But, that’s not even what we have here. The Kings gave up 5 dollars for three dimes.
The NBA trade machine doesn’t care that Boogie is one of only three players in the NBA with 27 points and 10 boards per game (the other two are Russel Westbrook, and Anthony Davis). The NBA trade machine doesn’t care that Boogie is one of the most impressive athletes in the NBA.
The NBA Trade Machine doesn’t care about how many times Boogie has been All-NBA.
It just needs the numbers to work. The numbers worked. All the rest? That’s supposed to be when someone like Vlade Divac makes a smart basketball move. He didn’t. Here we are.
Two: Divac Takes a Hit
The game is filled with subterfuge—but gone are the days when you can treat players 100% like farm equipment and come away unscathed.
As the great Adrian Wojnarowski put it:
“Divac's public and private proclamations that he wouldn't trade Cousins will impact his future credibility w/ agents, players.”
And that’s putting it lightly.
Don’t get me wrong—if Divac had come out on the better end of this trade—maybe people cut him some slack. Maybe someone could believe that he was sincere, but in the face of a brilliant offer, he had to reconsider.
But, Divac didn’t win when they traded away the league’s 16th best Real Plus Minus guy, the league’s 9th best PER guy, and the guy who wanted his name in the Sacramento rafters. They didn’t get back Nikolo Jokic, they didn’t get Jimmy Butler. They didn’t even get someone like Blake Griffin (a guy who is constantly part of trade rumors in LA).
They got back Tyreke Evans, Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and a PROTECTED 2017 first-round pick that lost some of its value the minute the trade happened (more on that later).
If you don’t feel an immediate pang of excitement when you hear any of those names—you’re right. In fact, if you need to google them, that makes both you and Vlade.
So, what you have now is a team that lost its biggest draw, one of the best players in the NBA—and they got back some guys you’ve never heard of.
So, not only is Vlade a guy who got fleeced at the trade deadline—but he did it while lying to the face of his franchise player.
Maybe players will forgive Vlade for this, because they sympathize with his need to manage and unload Cousins and his volatility.
But, maybe they’ll see a franchise that constantly worked to undermine its star with coaches who wanted to trade him, players like Rajon Rondo who were washed up and even more volatile than Boogie, by quick-firing the one coach who seemed to understand and respect Boogie—and who earned Boogie’s trust.
That’s not all on Vlade—but it does paint a picture of a front office that is so volatile, so reactionary, so unpredictable, and so disrespectful that it transcends the specific person calling the shots.
Maybe players will ask: Why did this front office choose Rajon Rondo over Isaiah Thomas two years ago? Why did they sign a coach that wanted to trade Cousins before he walked in the door? Why did they lie to Boogie’s face and then send him away for scraps?
If they can do THAT to Boogie—what chance do I have in a King’s uniform?
Vlade was brought in so that that team would have the face of a future hall-of-famer to alleviate some of those worries. Now, he’s the avatar for that dehumanizing attitude. The stink is going to stay with both him, and the King’s franchise, for a very long time.
Unless this whole thing works out, I mean.
Three: Mavs Fans—Shut Up About Not Wanting Boogie
Mavs Fans, I love you. I’m one of you. I have a Dirk bobble head that nods at me when I ask if my German is getting better.
So, when I tell you to shut up, please know I’m saying it with all the love and respect I can muster.
Not all of you. I’ve talked to a few of you today who, very rightfully, are lamenting that we didn’t put together our couch change and a protected 1st rounder for Boogie.
But, just as many of you want to tell me about what a cancer Cousins is in the locker room. You want to tell me how he’s never won anything, never played any meaningful minutes, never stayed out of trouble.
Some of that is true—I’ll admit that. The man’s never seen the other side of the playoffs. He’s known for picking up technical fouls more often than Allan Houston picked up offensive rebounds. He’s butted heads with coaches a few times.
You know who else isn’t great at making the playoffs? Boogie’s new teammate Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans. Yeah, he snuck into the 8th seed a couple of years ago—but since then his team has regressed.
Because Davis’ career is marked more by injuries than anger, people don’t blame the team’s failures on him. The only coach that ever got Davis to the playoffs was fired after losing to the Warriors (one of the greatest teams of all time and that year’s NBA champion)—but we don’t call Davis a coach killer.
The team has regressed since they fired Williams—a favorite of Davis—but we don’t suggest that maybe Davis isn’t playing as well because he’s mad at that front office.
But, because Boogie has a reputation, any bad thing in Sacramento has hung on his shoulders. The fact that he wanted to stay there and see his name in the rafters—even after everything written about him and said to him. Even after a blistering series of front-office decisions that gave him little help, he wanted to stay with the Kings.
The man was mercurial as a King—but he was also loyal. A great trait to list along-side, “best player in the building.”
Let’s forget all of that. Let’s forget that Shaq, Kobe, and a dozen other egos in the NBAs history have succeeded by virtue of their volatility.
Let’s forget that the man is one of the top 10 or 20 players in the NBA.
Let’s forget that Boogie is a man—a human being—for just a second.
He’s also one of the greatest assets in the NBA.
When I say assets, please know that I’m not predicting wins-above-replacement. I’m not predicting the number of championships he could’ve brought to Dallas, I’m not predicting the number of points and rebounds he could’ve brought in.
If Boogie came to Dallas, clicked with Rick, deferred to Dirk, and won some games. That’s great. That’s amazing. Extend him, make him the new cornerstone, and win for ten more years.
But, even if that isn’t how it worked out—he still would’ve been DeMarcus Cousins, top 20 NBA player. If Lance Stephenson, Dion Waiters, and Rajon Rondo can still command money and attention in the NBA—DeMarcus Cousins will always be an asset to a team looking for a big man, a superstar, or just a guy who can sell tickets.
So yes, Mavs fans, you did want that guy in your locker room. (Oh, and also, "Yes, Mavs Fans'': The Mavs tried. They called. Click here.)
For 5 cents on the dollar? One of the best players in the NBA? A guy who you can trade for as much, or more, than you gave up to get him—even if it doesn’t work out?
Yes, that’s exactly what you want. So, again, please, with sugar on top. Shut up.
Four: The Dallas Mavericks and Napoleon’s Plan
One of my favorite episodes of "Sports Night'' (the short-lived, but fantastic Sorkin dramedy about a sports show) introduced me to the idea of Napoleon’s plan to conquer Europe.
That two part plan, as you can see in the video above:
- First we show up,
- then we see what happens.
The Mavs have had people interested in Bogut, Williams, Curry, Barnes and who knows who else this season. Far too often, instead of shifting those guys at their highest value, they’ve kept them in their pockets.
Could the Mavs have found the right assets to get Boogie? Could they have found the right assets to filch Denver’s 1st rounder from them this year? Is there some other unexpected situation that they could capitalize on before Thursday?
I don’t know.
Like I said at the very top of this piece—I’m just a guy who studies a lot. I know what I know—I don’t know what Fish knows. I don’t know what Vlade Divac knows. I certainly don’t know what Donnie Nelson knows.
But, what I do know, is that the Mavs have got to start showing up to some of these battlefields, because sometimes what happens is something magical.
Years ago, when Napoleon’s plan started to fail, he traded his Boogie Cousins to the U.S. for pennies on the dollar. The Louisian Purchase of 1803 sent over 800,000 square miles of land to the U.S. for 15 million dollars.
All these years later, Louisiana took a page out of its own playbook. They got a big chunk of assets for next to nothing. They did that by showing up. They did that by saying, “Hey, this is really crazy, but the trade machine says it’ll work—are you dumb enough and desperate enough to give me something amazing for next to nothing?”
The Kings were.
Someone else out there is just itching to make the wrong deal. Someone else out there overvalues a player that the Mavs keep buried on their bench—or a player who won’t be here next year either way.
Feb. 23 is coming.
Someone out there is just waiting for the Mavs to show up.
I’m just waiting to see what happens.