The trade of Boogie Cousins to New Orleans has highwire potential from all sides, which is what makes this one of the most fascinating NBA trades in years. The Pelicans are adding a player who’s averaging nearly 28 points per game, more than 10 rebounds, and nearly 5 assists. He is one of the ten best players in the NBA, a matchup nightmare. He is also the rarest of commodities being a true big man in a small ball league, a Blackberry in a sea of iPhones. He’s been teamed alongside another MVP candidate, both players in their early-to-mid-20s, two Kentucky peas in a pod. The potential is obvious: The Pelicans (the Pelicans!) may have just become a… ahem, Super Team.
When the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen they still had all those banners hanging from the rafters. Same with the Lakers when they grabbed Shaq from the Magic. The Heat became a high voltage squad overnight after adding LeBron and Bosh, but Pat Riley had Miami as an annual contender for years before that (and had won a title in ’06). It is extremely rare when an also-ran, a perennial loser, a franchise with no success suddenly becomes a winner by flipping one light switch (or trade).
The body-swap films in sports usually happen when the franchise strikes it rich in the draft, like the Colts landing Peyton Manning or the Cavs nabbing LeBron. But those fanbases had months of speculation and anticipation to imagine what the future might look like. Pelicans fans fell asleep during a snoozefest All-Star Game (unless they pried one eye open to watch AD win the MVP) with a team 11 games under .500, and woke up with one of the most exciting teams in basketball.
Since the franchise arrived in New Orleans 14 years ago it’s been a machine of mediocrity. The Hornets/Pelicans have missed the playoffs 8 times in that span, and only made it out of the first round once. They’ve been poked fun at for becoming the Pelicans (a species of bird best known for its oversized throat bag), having a giant, terrifying cracked-out baby as one of its mascots, a giant, terrifying, cracked-out pelican as the other, and playing in an arena named after fruit smoothies. This isn’t exactly the New York Yankees.
Which is why there seems to be so much skepticism surrounding whether this will work. Undoubtedly, the Pelicans have some challenges in fitting Boogie and the Brow together. I asked NBA TV analyst Steve Smith what the biggest one is. “With the way we’ve gone small ball (in the NBA), can they coexist?,” Smith says. “Is there enough space? One good thing is both those guys are so talented they can both shoot the three ball and play without the ball. But I have a question: Can a team have a center as its best player, and win a championship anymore?
“But spacing is a question and who do you feature, night in night out, in crunch time?” Smith added. One of the other concerns around this marriage is Cousins unpredictability, volatility, and coachability. In his introductory presser for the Pelicans he was asked just how competitive he is. His perfect response? “About 17 technicals worth.” Cousins has been surly in the past about his treatment from refs, but he was all smiles yesterday. Most people feel Boogie has blown up at officials because of immaturity and selfishness. What if it (at least in part) was out of a frustration with losing? Perhaps it was a symptom of playing for the single most dysfunctional organization in the league (apologies to the Knicks).
The narrative on Cousins has been he lives in his own isolated world. He’s been criticized for pushing other players away (Isaiah Thomas), getting coaches fired (Keith Smart), and only trusting his yes men. But upon being traded Boogie showed an emotional depth, an appreciation for the bond with Sacramento fans. A video captured him openly getting choked up while thanking Kings fans who gathered to say good bye. His Instagram read: “Words can’t even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here… As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don’t just consider you all as fans, you all are my family…and a couple thousand miles aren’t going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. #LoyaltyisLove“
That’s some powerful perspective from a guy who’s supposedly living in a self-absorbed bubble, and he’s also done amazing things in the community. He sponsored panel discussions in Sacramento and his hometown of Mobile, Ala. to help relations between the police and the city. He quietly gave $1 million to local charities in Sac Town after signing his extension. He covered the funeral costs for a Sacramento high school football player who was killed. He wanted the gesture to remain anonymous, but a city council member revealed it was Cousins at a candelight vigil.
New Orleans is not a city known for its stable, successful sports franchises. The Jazz were a putrid sinkhole of a franchise in the ’70s before leaving for Utah. It took the Saints twenty flippin’ years to finally have a winning record. The Pelicans haven’t won a playoff series since Ray J had a hit. Many a dream have been drowned in one too many cocktails along Bourbon Street. Cousins can be tough to deal with. The basketball fit between AD and Boogie may be clunky. There is plenty that can go wrong. But I’m hoping it goes right, because it would be good for the soul. The soul of the Bayou, the Boogie and the Brow.
D.A. hosts 6-10 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.