COUSINS HITS BUMPY ROAD WITH PELICANS
Since landing star, pairing him with Davis, team is 0-3
The pressure was coming either way, no matter how luxurious the private jet was that carried DeMarcus Cousins from Sacramento to his new NBA home in New Orleans last week.
New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry traveled more than 1,800 miles to make the former Sacramento Kings big man feel welcome, then went the proverbial extra mile by opting for the charter route after landing him in the Feb. 18 blockbuster trade. Cousins was the superstar they’d been waiting for to pair with Anthony Davis, the MVP-caliber talent who could take their team to the playoffs and perhaps even offer much-needed job security for all involved.
But he was also the league’s most temperamental talent, the fire to Davis’ ice whose agents had warned teams not to trade for him as they tried to land a $200 million-plus contract this summer that only Sacramento could have provided. This could have been a Southwest flight, in other words, and their ears still would have been popping.
That’s the tricky thing about trying to ascend.
Three games into the Boogie-Brow era, the pressure rises further.
After getting routed by the Houston Rockets 129-99 on Thursday in Cousins’ Pelicans debut and falling 96-83 to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, they fell again Sunday, 118-110 at the Oklahoma City Thunder.
They’re 23-37 and 31⁄ games 2 behind the Denver Nuggets (2633) for the eighth and final playoff position in the West, a spot they can hardly see with the Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves in the way. They have 22 games left.
For all the focus on how the Pelicans landed Cousins for the “Wanna Get Away” fare — Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a first-round pick and second-round pick in 2017 — they’re aware that this whole trip will end with a crash and burn if they don’t man the controls. Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, has said an extension this summer is a non-starter, and free agency looms in the summer of 2018.
Getting to the playoffs would be the perfect way to ensure a smooth flight — at least here at the start.
“We’re going to try to make it work quickly,” Gentry said at last week’s introductory news conference. “That may not be the case, but we don’t have a whole lot of margin of error right now.”
But the 0-3 start with Cousins — small sample size and all — doesn’t bode well for the relationship.
While Cousins stood out in his Pelicans debut (27 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, five steals, four blocked shots and one turnover), he had 12 points (3-for-8 shooting) against the Mavericks to go with 15 rebounds, six assists, three steals and seven turnovers. The eight shots marked the third time he had taken single-digit attempts over the last three seasons.
Davis, meanwhile, took 34 attempts, his most since New Orleans’ season-opening loss against the Denver Nuggets on Oct. 26 (also 34). His numbers haven’t dipped with Cousins’ arrival; Davis has averaged 35.3 points and 10 rebounds in the three games.
Cousins seemed to get back on track Sunday, scoring 31 points on 8-for-15 shooting with 10 rebounds, three assists and one turnover.
Still, nothing is going right for the Pelicans. Veteran swingman Omri Casspi, who came with Cousins in the deal from the Kings, broke his thumb in his first Pelicans game and was waived to make room on the roster. Another roster spot was gained by waiving forward Terrence Jones on Thursday.
New Orleans has since signed veteran guards Jarrett Jack and Reggie Williams, if only because the turbulence demanded it.
As Pelicans color commentator and longtime NBA guard David Wesley sees it, Davis and Cousins haven’t found a way to share the hardwood.
“Right now, the spacing of the floor is not there,” Wesley said on the Saturday telecast. “And with DeMarcus, Anthony, whoever is on the block that’s trying to operate, there are no lanes to operate with.
“There are no spaces right now to drive the basketball for the guards or the perimeter players. And they’re going to have to figure that out. This is (the) team they have.”
So far, though, this runway is rough.
DeMarcus Cousins has had two strong games and one subpar outing since being traded, but the Pelicans have yet to win.