Q: Why did the Kings do this trade now?
A: The new CBA changed things and created a new and accelerated timeline for the Kings. There's now a rule that allows players to extend their contracts up to five years one year before they become free agents. Cousins is one of those players. So while he is not a free agent until 2018, the Kings suddenly had a massive free-agent decision coming this July.
Q: Why was it massive?
A: Cousins is one of the few players eligible for what's called a Designated Player Extension, DPE for short. That means he could've signed a five-year, $209 million extension this summer and added that to the one year left on his contract that would've locked him in through 2023. It would've been the largest contract in NBA history. Also, once a player signs a DPE, he can't be traded for a year, which further narrowed the options the Kings had.
It's a big decision for a player with a checkered history to say the least. Clearly the Kings decided they weren't willing to make the commitment. The irony is this rule was created to keep stars stay put with their teams. But its first application squeezed a team into trading a franchise player.
Q: Did Cousins want to be traded?
No. And there's a very simple reason why. That $200 million extension was only possible with the Kings. Under the new rule, he can't get the same deal with the Pelicans or any other team. If he were to sign an extension with the Pelicans this summer, he couldn't get anywhere near the same money. His agents were afraid of this. They were saber-rattling that he wouldn't re-sign if he was traded; they were trying to scare the Pelicans and other teams off. It did not work.
Q: So Cousins won't re-sign with the Pelicans?
A: That's a question for another day. He can still sign a five-year extension this summer, but he has almost no incentive to do so. He can re-sign a max extension with the team in 2018 for about five years and $180 million, which means this trade could end up costing him $30 million over the long haul. The real motivation was to re-sign in Sacramento. But he's under contract for next season, so the Pelicans have time to work it out.
Q: Was this the best deal the Kings could get?
A: That will be debated for a long time. The Kings have been offered numerous better deals for Cousins over the last several years than the one they took. Only the Kings truly know what the other offers were. It is clear they prioritized young prospects and draft picks and not established players. Not every team had that type of package to offer. The Lakers, for example, were a bidder. But they couldn't trade their pick this season because it belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers, unless it's in the top three picks. It is fair to guess that many teams that could've made better offers didn't, which is a commentary on what Cousins' reputation is in the league.
Q: Why did New Orleans make this move?
A: General manager Dell Demps is on the hot seat with the team in danger of missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since Anthony Davis signed a contract extension. He prioritized getting a center so Davis could play more at power forward. The Pelicans were close on trading for Jahlil Okafor and were willing to trade a first-round pick for him, but they couldn't come to terms with Philadelphia. Cousins represents a gamble for sure, but the Pelicans were able to buy low, especially since they were able to not have to trade point guard Jrue Holiday in the deal. Holiday is a free agent after the season, but New Orleans has now assembled a star core that has potential to be part of a strong team.