The Sacramento Kings changed course Sunday night and agreed to trade DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans, just two weeks after publicly proclaiming that the All-Star center was off the market.
The teams announced Monday afternoon that the Pelicans had acquired Cousins and swingman Omri Casspi while sending Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-rounder to the Kings.
A front-office source familiar with the Kings' thinking said owner Vivek Ranadive's adoration of Hield was a key driver in the deal. "Vivek thinks Buddy has Steph Curry potential," the source told ESPN's Baxter Holmes.
The 6-foot-4 Hield has been inconsistent during his rookie season. As a college senior with Oklahoma, Hield was one of the best players in the nation. He is averaging 8.6 points but has been explosive at times, posting a season high of 21 points.
Cousins is averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds this season. The three-time All-Star recently served a one-game suspension after accruing his 17th technical foul and will be forced to serve additional suspensions with every other tech he incurs for the rest of the regular season.
"It was time for a change and I decided this was the best direction for the organization," Kings general manager Vlade Divac said in a statement issued Monday. "Winning begins with culture and character matters. With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in a decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward.
"We thank DeMarcus for his contributions and wish him all the best in New Orleans. The fans in Sacramento are the best in the world and we are all committed to building a team that will continue to make Sacramento proud."
The first-round pick Sacramento will acquire in this fast-moving blockbuster deal is top-three protected in the June draft, ESPN has learned. That means New Orleans must immediately surrender the pick if it lands at No. 4 or lower.
The Kings also announced Monday that veteran forward Matt Barnes has been waived, a move that was necessary in order to create roster room to complete the Cousins deal.
Sources told ESPN that the Kings and Pelicans came to terms on the trade Sunday while the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans was playing out.
The immediacy of landing two picks from what is widely projected as a strong draft, as well as the chance to start over amid growing internal concern about Cousins' unpredictability and run-ins with referees, were chief among the lures that convinced Sacramento to go forward with the trade Sunday, rather than playing the process out until Thursday's trade deadline.
Sources said the Kings are quietly hopeful that their expected slide in the Western Conference standings will ensure that they get to hang on to their own first-round pick in the June draft, which must be sent to Chicago if it falls outside of the top 10. Sacramento (24-33) should thus wind up with two lottery picks in June to start reshaping its roster in earnest post-Cousins.
League sources told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that the Pelicans, meanwhile, are confident they will convince Cousins to sign a contract extension to stay in New Orleans in the near future.
"We're thrilled to welcome DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans family," general manager Dell Demps said in a statement. "This is an exciting time for Pelicans fans as we continue our quest for long-term success. I know our fans are equally excited to welcome DeMarcus and Omri to our great city."
Cousins, 26, would have been eligible to sign a five-year, $209 million extension with the Kings this summer had he stayed in Sacramento and has spoken openly for weeks about his desire to spend his entire career there, despite the club's decadelong playoff drought.
"That's home," Cousins said of Sacramento in an interview with ESPN Radio earlier this week. "I'm loyal to the city, I'm loyal to the fans and I'm loyal to the organization. This is part of my legacy and I want to bring us back to the promised land."
Earlier Sunday night, before both teams committed to the deal, Cousins' agent, Jarinn Akana, told ESPN that Cousins would likely pass on an extension with any team that traded for him before Thursday's deadline.
"I have spoken many times recently with Vivek and Vlade about DeMarcus' future with the Kings," Akana told ESPN.
"They have assured me, and DeMarcus, that the Kings won't trade him and are committed to signing DeMarcus long term. In fact, Vlade has gone on record saying exactly the same thing. If the Kings flip-flop on what they committed, that is on them.
"Under the circumstances and given the Kings' commitments, I would find it highly unlikely that DeMarcus would re-sign with a team that trades for him at this point."
On Feb. 6, Divac told ESPN, "We're not trading DeMarcus ... we hope he's here for a long time."
Divac's public statement, sources said, followed a face-to-face meeting days earlier in which he assured Cousins and his representatives that there would be no trade and that the sides were on track for the extension this summer.
Cousins has one season left on his current contract and can become a free agent in the summer of 2018. New Orleans would be able to offer him a five-year extension worth an estimated $179 million in July.
The Pelicans -- knowing Cousins grew up some 90 minutes away from New Orleans in Mobile, Alabama -- aren't concerned about their ability to sell the former Kentucky star on a long-term future alongside another former Wildcats star, Anthony Davis.
"I don't think they would have done the trade without a lot of confidence they could re-sign him," one source with knowledge of New Orleans' thinking told Shelburne.
The Pelicans have been looking for an offensive-minded center to play alongside Davis dating back to last season's trade deadline, when they flirted with dealing for Milwaukee's Greg Monroe. New Orleans has also pursued Philadelphia's Jahlil Okafor and Brooklyn's Brook Lopez in recent weeks before focusing its efforts this week on trying to pry Cousins away from the Kings.
ESPN's Justin Verrier reported earlier Sunday that New Orleans also tried to engage the Indiana Pacers in trade discussions involving All-Star swingman Paul George. The Pelicans were driven to land top-level help to pair with Davis, who earned All-Star Game MVP honors Sunday after scoring a league-record 52 points in the West's 192-182 victory.
"This is an unbelievable weekend," Davis told ESPN's Jeff Goodman after learning of the trade following his MVP news conference, greeting the news with a smile and a big thumbs-up.
"All-Star MVP and now getting Boogie. It doesn't get better than this."
Davis told Goodman he hasn't heard anything official from management or talked to Cousins yet.
Cousins played only two minutes in Sunday night's All-Star Game. Sources told ESPN that Cousins asked West coach Steve Kerr to keep his minutes down for reasons unrelated to the trade talks.
Cousins was flying back to Sacramento on a private plane with his assistants and family and is expected to return to New Orleans on Tuesday, a source told The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears.
Sources told ESPN's Chris Haynes that the Pelicans will now seek a trade partner to take on power forward Terrence Jones and ease their frontcourt logjam.
The Los Angeles Lakers also pursued Cousins in recent days but felt Sacramento's asking price was too high, sources told Shelburne.
Talks quickly fizzled, according to Shelburne, once the Kings informed the Lakers that they weren't interested unless they would receive 2016 No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram as part of a Cousins deal.
Evans won the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award in Sacramento in 2010 -- beating out Curry -- before joining New Orleans in the summer of 2013 in free agency via sign-and-trade.
The 6-9 Casspi has been playing about 19 minutes per game for the Kings this season, averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.