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Why Isn’t DeMarcus Cousins Joining the Trail Blazers?

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Following one of the most lopsided deals ever, readers want to know why an all-world center didn’t come to the Blazers. We break it down.

NBA All-Star Game 2017 - Media Availability Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag has to do with the man of the hour, DeMarcus Cousins. As news broke about his trade on Sunday, everybody wanted to know what happened and why and how and why not the Portland Trail Blazers??? So here you go, a 100% Boogie-ful Mailbag for the ages.

Hi Dave,

I'm sure your inbox is blowing up with Demarcus Cousins questions, so let me pile on.

Why wasn't Portland in that conversation? Wouldn't Allen Crabbe or Mo Harkless and two first-round picks have blown away the Pelicans offer? Even if there's no guarantee that Boogie would resign with the Blazers, isn't that a chance you have to take? You don't get many chances to add a player of that caliber, baggage and all. And the Blazers culture would have been strong enough to keep him in line, I think.

Emil

A Blazers fan from Manila

We already went through this a little in this week’s podcast, but since not everybody listens (and since this matter is sure to be invoked in conversations for years to come) let’s go over it completely.

The Blazers could have missed out on DeMarcus Cousins for several reasons:

  1. They just didn’t want him.

Given their current situation, I can’t imagine Portland not wanting to take a flyer on an all-universe talent at a relatively cheap price, but it’s possible that they just didn’t think he’d fit here. Cousins’ technical fouls and sour relationship with media are well-chronicled. In Portland that’ll invoke Rasheed Wallace flashbacks. You know how that relationship ended up. (Though it’s worth noting that Wallace later won titles in Detroit.)

The Blazers are slowly aging but they still read “young”. There’s no ultra-veteran presence on the roster to help balance the locker room if Cousins knocks it askew.

Or maybe Portland just didn’t think that DeMarcus’ offense and Usage Rate would mesh with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Personally 28 points and 12 rebounds per game plus a gazelle’s movement on a semi-truck frame would have convinced me to blow past all of those warning signs. It’s not like the future looks rosy with the current roster. But I’m not management.

2. They didn’t know he was available at that price.

Once in a blue moon you see a Corvette in a classified ad for $10 because a girlfriend is mad at her cheating boyfriend. One lucky person gets a cheap dream car while everybody else says, “I wish I had seen it first!” I don’t know who Vlade Divac was mad at, but there’s a reasonable chance that a dozen NBA GM’s saw the Cousins trade scroll across their Twitter timelines and said, “WHAT???” Teams are under no obligation to inform everybody about their intention to make a move, even a historically imbalanced one.

3. The contract situation scared them off.

Cousins is under contract this year and next. After that he’s a free agent. The Blazers haven’t had a good track record of keeping free agents lately. If they had any doubt about Cousins staying, a couple of first round picks and a young player might have been too much to give...mortgaging the future for a present that wasn’t going to last. On the other hand, how often do you get a shot at a player of Cousins’ caliber? But the Blazers love their draft picks and this draft is supposed to be deep. They may be banking on a cheaper, more measured rebuild instead of an instant and risky one.

4. The Luxury Tax scared them off.

Trading away Allen Crabbe would have balanced out Cousins’ incoming salary this year. Moe Harkless would not have. The Blazers would have needed to include another player or two in order to make that deal work, exacerbating the problem in #3 above. Either way, they could have wiggled the numbers so Cousins would not have driven them into the luxury tax this year. Good enough.

Next year they would have been over the tax threshold, but it looks like that will happen anyway. Also good enough.

The real rub would come with a new Cousins contract, which the Blazers would be forced to sign to avoid wasting the trade. Paying the Cousins-Lillard-McCollum trio $80 million would have left them in perpetual tax hell. You can do it, but you better get multiple title runs out of it, plus at least one actual trophy. As tempting as his talent is, I’m not sure Cousins assured that. Guaranteeing the payout without being sure of the payoff brings trouble, especially when the stakes are that high financially.

5. They did make an offer but it got trumped.

With everything the Blazers could put on the table, they didn’t have Buddy Hield. If Vivek Ranadivé really wanted him, what could Portland do? Sacramento let Cousins go way below expected market value. If you’re thinking about accepting middling returns no matter which way you go, you might as well get something you like out of it.

My best guess is that whatever the Blazers thought of Cousins, the financials sealed the deal. If they were getting Hakeem Olajuwon you have to believe they’d have paid anything. But going into the red and getting tax limited forever with the potential of ending up as a fancy version of Sacramento North with toxic center in tow might not have appealed.

Dave,

The Cousins trade got me thinking about Aldridge. They say you never get equal value when trading an all-star, but the Kings got more than the Blazers did. On the other hand the only way the Blazers were going to be contenders any time soon was if Aldridge stays, which the Kings just forfeited with cousins.

So who made the better play, Kings or Blazers?

TJ

Why do you ask me these things? It’s a knotty question and I’m going to get called six kinds of fool no matter which way I answer.

So look, both moves were historically bad in different ways. Given the buzz around Cousins for the last couple of years, I don’t think anybody will ever make sense of the low-low price for which the Kings sold him. I guess we need to have a Hield Corollary and a draft-pick exception. If one or the other turns out amazing, all’s well that ends well. That doesn’t seem likely.

On the other hand, dropping four fifths of the starting lineup of a playoff team is astounding, even if some of those losses were voluntary. Losing a superstar for nothing is pretty much Page 1 of the Big Book of GM No-No’s. Neil Olshey did that and more. The Blazers had a bounce-back season right after, which may indicate that Sacramento did worse. The chickens have come home to roost now, though.

Frankly the outlook doesn’t look great for either franchise at this point. At least the Kings can anticipate some cap flexibility in the next decade. If things remain the same Portland will end up paying $133 million next year in an effort not to suck and they’ll still kind of suck. That another star power forward got traded the summer before Aldridge left and the guy he was traded for currently scores 23 ppg for another team rubs salt in the wound.

(sigh)

Basically you’re asking whether I’d prefer to be killed by Jason or Freddy. I suppose I’ll pick the Kings’ route because at least they got some return on their deal. Even so we have to admit that Sacramento’s fate was more easily avoidable and they should have done so.

Dear Dave,

Wow! Still can't believe that the King's traded Cousins, especially for that pathetic haul. Seemingly, the Blazers could have exceeded the Pelicans offer. Do you know if the Blazers had any interest in Cousins or made any offers? Is there any way the Blazers can swindle some other team in a similar deal?

Best,

Trey

In 1968 the Los Angeles Lakers got Wilt Chamberlain from the Philadelphia 76’ers for Darrall Imhoff, Jerry Chambers, and Archie Clark. So sure, wait another 49 years and it might happen again.

Dear Dave,

Do you think new orleans will be automatically that much better with DMC? Are they contenders now?

Jim

I don’t think they’re automatic contenders, no. I’m curious to see how this thing with Anthony Davis works out. He’s fantastic. He’s also young and the Pelicans are trying something quite unusual. They may break the mold or they may get broken. If they mess up Davis in the process, it won’t have been worth it.

For our purposes, whether the Pelicans end up in glory or despair isn’t really the point. They’re now one more young team the Blazers have to contend with in a field that already includes Golden State and Utah. To make it to the top of the mountain you have to climb over everybody. The more bodies in front of you, the harder the trip. I would rather have had Cousins and Davis on different teams threatening to be mediocre than have them unite and risk one franchise sinking while another becomes a powerhouse. Eliminating Sacramento as a hurdle won’t matter much if New Orleans becomes a brick wall.

Dave,

I think I know the answer but I’ll ask. Would you have taken Cousins despite it all?

Jerry

Yes.

Dave,

Who needs DeMarcus Cousins when Nurkic—

No. Just...no. You may be right that Jusuf Nurkic could turn out to be more serviceable if Cousins implodes or poisons the New Orleans locker room. He’ll certainly be more affordable. But still, right now in this context? Nope.

Keep those Mailbag questions coming to blazersub@gmail.com! We answer non-DeMarcus-Cousins ones too!

—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard