Although absolutely nothing has happened for the Cavaliers in the 12 days since winning the NBA Draft Lottery, it has seemed like an eternity to fans. There’s still another 26 days remaining until the actual draft — showing how all of the team’s options can start to wear on an exhausted Twitter base.
But most notably in the past week, Cleveland Twitter has been electric with the allure and mystique of 22-year-old Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. One of the most polarizing players in the NBA, Cousins was “potentially” on the block with the Kings being sold and changing their leadership structure.
Alas, as of last night, it now appears that Cousins will not be anywhere close to the trade block. Would this have been a fruitful exploration? Moving forward after that fantasy, what can Cavaliers fans do now? What’s next on the horizon? Let’s take a look through the stats and the narratives.
What could have been with Cousins
As always, the WFNY email thread was lighting up all week with the prospect of a Cousins trade. These three snippets below illustrate some of the divided interpretations even among the staff:
Andrew: “I’ll deal with his anger problems in exchange for a 17/10 frontcourt player. The Cavs have to get better, and I don’t see any scenario in which Cousins doesn’t make the Cavaliers immeasurably better immediately. Sure, he’ll cost the team the occasional technical and ejection, but IMO he can only improve his anger. Dennis Rodman was every bit as volatile, unpredictable, and distracting as Cousins has been, and a lot of teams won Championships and playoff series with Rodman playing a vital role. With the Kings, Cousins is a problem because they’re not winning.”
Scott: “Kid could be the best center in the league this season — I think you have to do it as well. I do worry in the regard that CLE doesn’t have the veterans (akin to those who surrounded Rodman), but it’s tough to turn down high-end potential. Don’t forget that Brown coached Delonte West. If Delonte would have been a 20/10/2 guy, he’d still be here.”
Kirk: “I fully understand taking the risk. Given this draft’s uncertainty and lack of star power, I can understand pulling the trigger in exchange for the top pick. Still, he had issues at Kentucky as well and they weren’t exactly losing many games. Big egos and disruptive to team chemistry are two different things in my book. My fear is he’s the latter. Will Mike Brown or some vet they bring in be able to stand up to him? You need someone with a strong, positive personality, and I don’t know if Kyrie’s that guy. Maybe Tristan is the closest.”
From my perspective, and as I’ve emailed to the staff, Cousins is absolutely a star in the making. Consider all of the production that he has had on the court before even turning 23 years old1. In fact, there have only ever been 30 player-seasons under the age of 23 with 1,800 minutes played, 20+ points per 36 minutes, 11+ rebounds per 36 minutes and 20+ PER.
Cousins accomplished that feat in each of the last two seasons. The only other players to do that multiple times before turning 23: Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Walt Bellamy, Bob Lanier, Kevin Love, Bob McAdoo, Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwan. That’s a pretty elite list of some of the best big men in NBA history. While Cousins has his faults on the court2 and certainly off the court (as we all know), but in knowing everything he know now, he probably would be worthy of the No. 1 pick in this draft.
The fact that Chad Ford said he wouldn’t even be a top-5 pick (he was No. 5 initially) in a 2010 re-draft is absolutely bonkers and preposterous. Cousins is one of the elite young players in the game, even if he is a unknown in several areas. Now that the Kings appear to be sticking with Cousins– and reportedly, per FSO’s Sam Amico, the Cavs never had any interest in him — the dreaming of pairing him with Kyrie Irving likely can end, but it was nice to finally provide the closure on the potential for what could have been.
The odds of a major trade and aiming for the playoffs in ’13-’14
Now that the Cousins rumors can end, it’s necessary to look back at Kirk’s fantastic NBA trade options article from last week. In that piece, he broke down the potential players available that fit the Cavaliers’ desire for a “young All-Star-caliber player.”
In the end, he ignored the Kevin Love speculation and passed on DeMarcus Cousins, then resorted to these three potential options: 1) Brook Lopez, 2) Ersan Ilyasova, 3) LaMarcus Aldridge/Nicolas Batum. The point being of reviewing Kirk’s article: It seems now that the prospect of making a mega deal for a superstar is fading fast. Lopez or Aldridge might barely fit under such a criteria, but likely don’t have the name recognition or star power as Love, Cousins or a player like Andrew Bynum.
With all the fantastic assets the Cavaliers have at their disposal, the odds are that this summer, they won’t be making a James Harden-esque trade to add a major indispensable player alongside Kyrie Irving. Anything could still happen. Rumors circulate quickly and as the draft approaches, anything could be back on the table. Heck, GM Chris Grant should be making phone calls every day all summer in case a Harden talent becomes available at all.
So I’d peg the odds of a “major” trade at probably 15-20%, just spit-balling. Some sort of mid-major move, a la Ilyasova, Batum or another at-best 3rd-player: Maybe 50-60%. As of now, that obviously seems much more likely because of the fewer higher-end pieces that would have to change hands. There’s just so much at risk and up in the air when projecting superstar trade negotiations; on a smaller scale, the odds just seem greater because there’s less at play.
More likely than not, I think the Cavs are going to end up drafting Nerlens Noel at No. 1 and keeping him for the long-term. The value of the No. 1 pick is unfortunately low for the team this season and with the odds of a major trade not that high, the probability of the team just keeping Noel seems to be growing. He’ll hopefully be another cornerstone piece of the franchise, but there will be several other moves still to come.
What can’t happen: Sacrificing the long-term for the short-term. That’s why I don’t think the Cavs will draft a high-floor, low-potential, not-really-a-No. 1 prospect like Otto Porter with the top pick. Although it might be helpful in November and December when he’s healthier than Noel, and possibly even for the first 1-2 seasons overall with his more complementary skill set, Noel is the better prospect for any team’s future.
Dan and Nick Gilbert provided hopes at the draft lottery that the Cavaliers wouldn’t be there again in the summer of 2014. Based on what usual teams do in their rebuilding efforts following a 24-win season, however, a jump of about 8-12 wins is more in line with reality. That wouldn’t necessarily mean the playoffs, even in the Eastern Conference. And in the grand scheme of things, that’s not so bad. This team still needs lots and lots of warm bodies to fill in the rotation, the young players like Irving, Waiters and Thompson will keep improving, but it’s OK to miss the playoffs for one more year.
And as every day passes by with no increased probability of a major deal, it seems like the Cavaliers might be warming up to that idea. An Ilyasova or Batum would certainly help and both are young enough to be a part of the long-term picture, but neither might be enough for the oddly-coveted No. 8 spot in the playoffs. For now, it’s more important to keep the right players and keep improving each season.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
To be honest, Cousins is just 22 days older than me. Which is nuts. [↩]
He’s not yet an efficient scorer — looking at his Basketball-Reference shot chart and comparing it to other elite PF/C types will show you how he’s down across the board. Also, he’s had some issues with turnovers and foul trouble, averaging 3.4 and 4.5, respectively, over the last two seasons per 36 minutes, both of which aren’t very helpful as a star player. [↩]
Jacob Rosen is a long-time contributor to WaitingForNextYear. He's also a writer online at SportsAnalyticsBlog and Nylon Calculus . An Akron native, Jacob is a current MBA student at the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. You can follow him on Twitter @WFNYJacob or e-mail him at udjrosen(at)gmail(dot)com.