The Phoenix Suns are in pursuit of DeMarcus Cousins; we can say that for sure. It sort of came out of nowhere, but then again Ryan McDonough trades always do. I wasn’t even ready to accept or believe it myself, until McDonough came on the Burns and Gambo show last night to talk to the guys about the Suns’ season as All-Star Weekend and the trade deadline approach.
The hosts made the respectful decision to avoid direct questions about Cousins or the Kings, but McDonough’s answers were clearly centered around this rumor. Two points stuck out:
- The Suns are focusing specifically on young players within or entering their prime. McD mentioned Bledsoe being 27 and T.J. Warren being 23 as indicators of this team’s timeline.
- They are not concerned with bringing a player with off-court questions into the fold. McD mentioned Earl Watson’s leadership specifically as a tool the Suns will take advantage of.
With all of that being said, it appears this rumor might be more than just a rumor. It has legs. Instead of arguing on Twitter, I encourage you all to comment below with why/how you think something like this could go.
There are two main things to consider (outside of the obvious character concerns with Cousins) in a deal like this: Fit and Finances. It is a deal that can work within the parameters of these two categories, but in many ways it still seems like a longshot.
Most importantly, DeMarcus Cousins’ contract is not quite at the whopping level of the recent maximum extensions signed by Mike Conley or DeMar DeRozan. He signed his deal before the 2014 season, so the salary cap numbers were smaller than they have been under the league’s newest TV deal. As a result, he is making $17 million this season and will make $18 million next season.
On the Suns’ side, they are currently operating with $13,221,994 of cap space, meaning they could absorb Cousins while sending only around $4 million back. As a result, something as simple as a Leandro Barbosa-for-Demarcus Cousins swap technically works under the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), because Barbosa makes exactly $4 million.
Alex Len, P.J. Tucker and Dragan Bender are three other players making similar salaries who would work as one-offs in a possible Cousins trade. None of them would be valuable enough as the only bait for the Kings, but consider those names and dollar values for reference.
The Kings, on the other hand, are $2 million over the salary cap, with $17 million left to spare before entering the luxury tax zone. They must use a traded player exception to absorb a bigger contract, which is a rule in the CBA that allows teams past the cap to add players to their teams. Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, a team like the Kings (above the cap but below the luxury tax line), sending out a minimum of $17.5 million in annual salary (Cousins’ contract), could receive a maximum of $22 million ($17 + $5 million) in salary money back in a trade. For example, the Suns could pair Len, Bender, and Brandon Knight’s $12.6 million deal in a deal that checks out.
If the Kings ended up combining other players’ contracts with that of Cousins, the rules could change. If the Kings are sending over $19.6 million out, the amount they receive in return would change to 125 percent of the total outbound salary numbers, plus $100,000. We’ll assume that because the Suns are so far under the cap, the Kings won’t need to include any other legitimate salary in a potential deal.
Basically, this would be an easier trade to do than most, because the Suns have done a good job maintaining salary flexibility despite signing several players to long-term deals.
According to ArizonaSports’ report, the deal being discussed would include at least T.J. Warren and Alex Len. But because of past rumors surrounding point guard Brandon Knight and the Kings, it’s likely he’s also been a part of these discussions.
The Kings need a point guard, and while getting a high draft pick this season would put them in the running for a great one, the draft is a gamble. Knight is on a deal that would keep him in Sacramento for three more seasons after this one, but he may not fit the timeline of the team. It’s clear that he’s at least a part of the considerations for both teams.
The report also says concretely that Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker would not be included in any deal. Bledsoe was at the University of Kentucky at the same time as Cousins, so their fit makes sense. Booker is probably not available in any trade discussions at this point. That would leave the Suns arranging a roster around the core of those two and Cousins, with a hole on the wing minus Warren, Chandler at backup center, and the team’s three rookies thrust into larger roles. They would have the summer to snap in new puzzle pieces.
First thing’s first: this season has been Cousins’ best. The Kings are almost a point and a half better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court; he’s averaging nearly 30 points while maintaining rebounding excellence; his usage is the highest of his career. Most importantly, the Kings are within shouting distance of the playoffs, despite a roster and style overhaul under new coach Dave Joerger.
DeMarcus Cousins at the top of the key remains one of the most devastating weapons in basketball. Over the past two or three seasons, he’s added a nimbleness and intelligence to his game that turned an unguardable player into a basketball wizard. The big man combines the best skills of modern big men like Draymond Green and Blake Griffin, though you could argue Cousins himself pioneered this style.
He will break his career assist record in the Kings’ next game, only their fiftieth of the season. That comes behind a remarkable 4.6 dimes per game, by far the best of his career. What immediately jumps out about the way a player like this might pair with the Suns’ current nucleus is that he might be an answer to the team’s concerns over Bledsoe’s load as a ball-handler. Instead of playing three guards or posting up Booker to give Bledsoe a break, Cousins taking over a greater portion of the play-making duties would be a simple and effective way to save energy on offense and make possessions more democratic.
He has benefitted this season in a spread-out style; players like Anthony Tolliver, Arron Afflalo and Garrett Temple replacing the big men Cousins often shared the court with in years past has done wonders for his growth. The Suns would be able to put guys like Bender, Jared Dudley and Devin Booker behind the arc as Cousins goes to work.
And though the Kings have slowed their pace quite extremely under Joerger, averaging almost six possessions less per game than last year, Cousins has found ways to be effective in either style. He can go coast-to-coast after a rebound, make threes above the break, and pick cutters out in transition. Cousins is most devastating putting pressure on defenses, and playing quickly is an easy way to create that pressure.
A DeMarcus Cousins-to-Phoenix Suns trade works on paper, and seems like it could work on the court. However, this sort of monstrous trade rarely happens in-season. The Kings have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since the early-2000s, so they may not want to shake things up. The Suns may have their sights set on a different player.
Keep in mind that the current CBA applies only until July 1st of this year, so the draft would be the most logical point in time to rethink things if a deal isn’t done before the in-season deadline.
Trading P.J. Tucker to a team like the Raptors or Clippers that needs forward help, or Knight alone to some team desperate for guard help, remains more likely. But we should all be taking these Cousins rumors seriously.