Could Pelicans Success Lead DeMarcus Cousins to Dallas?

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 22: DeMarcus Cousins
NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 22: DeMarcus Cousins /

With the recent success of the New Orleans Pelicans, could it lead to a team like Dallas swopping in for DeMarcus Cousins this summer?

It was during All-Star weekend in 2017 that trade negotiations started hitting social media between the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans.

Before anyone could catch their breath, DeMarcus Cousins was a Pelican.

Suddenly, arguably the two best big men in the league were on the same team in Cousins and Anthony Davis.

They would go on to finish 10th in the Western Conference and missed the playoffs. Everything pointed towards the 2017-18 season and the final year of Cousins’ deal. Could they do enough in a season and a half to convince Cousins to sign there long-term?

Would the dual big man system even work?

It would take some time, but it seemed as if the Pelicans were starting to figure it out as the season went along. Both Cousins and Davis were headed to the All-Star Game in February as starters and New Orleans as a team had won seven of their last eight games.

Then, on January 26th, Cousins went down with a ruptured Achilles. His season was over. Not only that, but it would be the last time people would see Cousins on a basketball court before he hit unrestricted free agency over the summer.

A free agency that was headed straight towards a five-year, max contract extension for Cousins.

Most people, including myself, expected the Pelicans to fold with the supporting cast around Davis  consisting of Rajon Rondo, Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore.

But on February 1st, New Orleans would swing a trade for Nikola Mirotic and signal a shift in their scheme and plans for the season. They were changing things up in hopes of making a playoff push with Anthony Davis at the helm.

They would not only make the playoffs, but after the first round, they are considered the hottest team in the playoffs.

Matched up with the Portland Trail Blazers, the three seed in the West, the Pelicans were counted out by many. In fact, ESPN’s full list of NBA analysts picked each series and every single analyst picked Portland to win.

Long story short, the Pelicans shut down the Blazers back court and completed the four game sweep.

The only team in the playoffs to do so.

Anthony Davis moved to center and remained one of the best players in the league. Holiday proved to everyone that he is arguably the best defending guard in the league and stepped up his offensive game to a whole new level. Rondo turned back the clock and Mirotic allowed them to spread the floor as an outside threat.

The new system and roster is working and working well.

Now they head into the second round where it looks like they will face off with the Golden State Warriors.

What if they win a couple of games? What if they take them to seven games? What if they shock the world and win the series?

How would this all affect DeMarcus Cousins?

Theoretically, Cousins is eligible for a five-year deal worth around $180 million this summer coming off a torn Achilles in January. The 6’11” Cousins is roughly 270 pounds and is currently 27 years old.

With the Pelicans current cap situation, Cousins’ injury uncertainty, and the level that the team is playing at without Cousins, some are beginning to question whether New Orleans will actually hand out the max to Cousins this summer.

But is there another team in the league that could offer a similar deal?

Enter the Dallas Mavericks.

Back in the fall of 2017, I had heard grumblings about Dallas’ plan to test the waters with Cousins in free agency. They were a logical destination point and people were already starting to connect the dots. Back last year, when Cousins was on the Sacramento Kings, I talked to him about his brother spending time in Dallas in the G-League. He had nothing but praise for Mark Cuban, the franchise, and the city for how it had treated his brother.

All of those grumblings went away as the season went along due to his success with the Pelicans playing alongside Anthony Davis. He seemed destined for a max extension in New Orleans.

But now the door is starting to crack back open. Especially if Dallas is willing to throw a four-year max contract on the table.

Donnie Nelson was very vocal at his exit interview talking about free agency plans by saying the Mavericks will be “very active” and that they are looking for the next piece to the puzzle. Dirk Nowitzki reiterated the big summer ahead to Dwain Price.

So what if Dallas decided to hand Cousins the max? What then?

With the salary cap not 100% set in stone yet, lets assume Cousins will make around $30 million starting next season. He would instantly become the highest paid player on the team with Harrison Barnes trailing behind him at $24 million.

After Wesley Matthews picks up his player option, all three of them would combine for roughly $73 million. That would leave the Mavericks roughly $25 million to fill out the rest of the roster.

Dwight Powell is locked in for $9.6 million while J.J. Barea is locked in at $3.7 million. The second year of Dennis Smith Jr.’s rookie contract is worth $3.8 million. Then go ahead and add in roughly $6 million for the incoming first round pick (depends on where the pick lands). Don’t forget Nowitzki’s $5 million team option.

That takes the total to about $101 million.

Then you have to decide on restricted free agents like Yogi Ferrell, Salah Mejri and Doug McDermot along with non-guaranteed contracts of Maxi Kleber, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Kyle Collinsworth.

Assuming they let Mejri and Ferrell walk, they could theoretically bring back McDermott, but it would have to be executed in a certain order of events and probably go over the cap to do so.

Financially, if they brought in Cousins on a max deal, it would most likely signal the departure of several Mavericks from this past season.

What about the fit on the court?

Cousins would fit directly into the center role for the Mavericks moving forward and would still give Dallas a threat from the outside at the five-spot; something Rick Carlisle enjoys. In this scenario, Nowitzki would probably come off the bench during his last season, something he said he would be willing to do next season at his exit interview.

At the four could be the new draft pick. Marvin Bagley III, Michael Porter Jr. and even Luka Doncic could be the starting four next to Cousins. They could even entertain running Cousins alongside another big like Mo Bamba or Jaren Jackson since Cousins is already used to that from this past season alongside Davis.

Dallas would then run back out Barnes, Matthews and Smith Jr. to complete the starting unit.

What would a starting lineup of Smith Jr.-Matthews-Barnes-Bagley III-Cousins look like?

With a bench unit consisting of Nowitzki, Barea, McDermott, Powell, Finney-Smith and other minimum contracts.

Is there a guarantee Cousins will be the same Cousins that we all know after the injury?

That is the question.

With the injury being one of the worst injuries in basketball, recent cases of players suffering from the injury doesn’t necessarily help Cousins. Players such as Elton Brand and Wesley Matthews are guys who have never really looked the same since the injury. Then you factor in that Cousins is almost seven feet tall and weighs around 270 pounds.

It might be a long road for Cousins in the rehab process.

Adrian Wojnarowski reported the recovery to be 6-10 months. If it took the entire 10 months to recover, that would put Cousins coming back around the first of November.

More from The Smoking Cuban

It is impossible to know at this point, or maybe during free agency, what Cousins will look like again when he hits the court. A risk that some team might be willing to take.

The final question is if Cousins would even want to come to Dallas.

If Dallas offers a max contract and New Orleans doesn’t, then that could be a huge motivating factor. Then consider the connections his agent has with the Mavericks. As Kevin O’Connor pointed out on The Ringer, Cousins has the same agent as J.J. Barea and Kyle Collinsworth. The same agent as former Mavs Erick Dampier, Manny Harris and Delonte West.

The same agent also represents his brother Jaleel Cousins, who played for the Mavs’ G-League team last season.

O’Connor also pointed out that Dallas was willing to hand out a big contract to Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews despite their injury history. For Matthews, they handed a four-year, $70 million deal just a few months after he ruptured his Achilles.

Money aside, would Dallas be appealing to Cousins?

Cuban & Co. would try to sell it to Cousins to be one of the next faces of the franchise alongside Smith Jr. and the new draft pick. With Nowitzki towards the end, Cousins could once again get his “own team”, but with a better surrounding cast.

The fit between him and Carlisle would be interesting, but you simply never know with Rick. You have obvious players like Rondo and Noel that didn’t work out, but it could be different with Cousins. Having a mastermind of a coach like Carlisle might be the exact thing Cousins needs (and maybe wants) at this point in his career.

In my opinion, it comes down to the tough decision for New Orleans. And that could be heavily influence by how they come out of the series with Golden State.

Next: NBA Lottery Mock Draft 2.0

But if the Pelicans go into free agency unwilling to commit to Cousins financially for the long haul, it could leave room for a risk-taking team like Dallas to swoop in and hand him the max contract that he could covet.