Getting DeMarcus Cousins seemed too good to pass up on, but the New Orleans Pelicans would be better off if they still had Buddy Hield around.
Hindsight is 20/20. That must be what the New Orleans Pelicans tell themselves whenever their trade for DeMarcus Cousins comes up around the office. At the time it seemed like a solid deal for the Pelicans, who added a top-15 player to pair with Anthony Davis and convince him the franchise is committed to winning.
Cousins and Davis had some good moments together, mostly at Mardi Gras, but then Boogie tragically tore his Achilles tendon roughly halfway through his first full season with the Pellies. He missed the rest of the regular season and the postseason, where New Orleans discovered, years and years too late, that Davis plus four capable shooters equal a monster on both ends.
Boogie boogied over to the Golden State Warriors in free agency, and that was that. The Pelicans had given up Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, and a pair of draft picks. These days Evans is doing work with the Indiana Pacers after a great season with the Memphis Grizzlies last year, and Hield took a leap that seemed unlikely given his rookie year numbers in New Orleans.
That is the risk a team takes when trading a sixth overall pick in his first season, though. Only a rare few players come into the NBA looking like stars. Most guys have to grow into it. It turns out Hield is in the latter group.
He went from scoring 8.6 points per game as a Pelican to immediately putting up 15 per game with the Kings that season, and he’s only gotten better since then after a lacking campaign last season. These days, Hield is putting up 20.1 points per game on sterling shooting averages of 51.5 percent from the field and 45.8 percent from 3-point territory. He is, essentially, the perimeter player the Pelicans have always needed to go between Jrue Holiday and Davis.
New Orleans was smart to bring in Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle for low cost, but as much as those players help they still can’t play the 2 or the 3. Hield can, and would be a godsend for a Pelicans team currently starting E’Twaun Moore and Wesley Johnson on the wing.
Such is life with a young superstar on the roster. New Orleans felt it had to make a big move to prove to Davis the team could compete in the short-term, to be sure he didn’t try and force his way out. The cost of that move was the kind of cost-controlled, young asset that a team actually needs to be competitive.
The Pelicans aren’t necessarily ruined for making that deal, and there’s a legitimate case that their ceiling would be higher if Cousins had stayed healthy and worked out in New Orleans. That isn’t what happened, though, and in this reality not having Buddy Hield hurts.
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