Buddy Hield graced the hardwood of the Golden 1 Center just twice this season as a 23-year-old rookie. As usual, Anthony Davis commanded the attention of the crowd with his tantalizing two-way ability and unmatched production (34 and 32 points in those matchups). With eyes peeled on New Orleans’ young star, Hield faded into the background. However, one man might’ve held the struggling two guard in a higher regard than anybody present those games.
“We’re still gonna get you,” Vivek Ranadive told Hield personally, a proclamation that developed into reality. Ranadive’s affinity for the Bahamian sharpshooter played an intricate role in dealing star big man DeMarcus Cousins. With New Orleans general manager Dell Demps making Hield an attainable commodity, Sacramento management pounced.
Demps has to be commended. He didn’t have the deepest cache of assets to dangle in front of Ranadive and Vlade Divac. However, capitalizing on Sacramento’s disdain for Cousins’ antics is savvy, intelligent and calculating. Technically dealing three role players (Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway) and a pick that could decrease in value with Boogie in the Bayou (plus a future second), Demps successfully executed a deal that puts some relevancy back in New Orleans without denting future resources.
Cousins’ uncertain free agent status does cause a shade of uneasiness in the Big Easy, but there are plenty of positives that completely outweigh the one controllable negative. The early returns of the Davis-Cousins pairing are promising, as the duo combined for 56 points and 23 rebounds last night against Houston. With the Pelicans’ backcourt and wings still underwhelming, as the Pelicans dropped a 129-99 contest to the Rockets, monstrous outings from Boogie and the Brow might be for naut some nights.
While the newly dubbed “fire and ice” will create havoc for opposing defenses, another new addition to the Southwest conference is already thriving for Houston. Lou Williams was the Los Angeles Lakers’ fallback option when contests appeared to be shifting to opposing team’s favors. Now he’s another scoring weapon on Houston’s loaded second unit, dropping 27 points off the bench in Thursday’s win.
Mitch Kupchak’s last move as the Lakers’ general manager, to cash in on Lou’s scintillating season for a 2017 first-round pick from Washington and Corey Brewer, was one of the savvier deadline moves that could put a stronghold on a Lakers top-3 finish.
Team: Los Angeles Lakers (19-39)
Tankathon.com Ranking: third
Protections: 1-3 in 2017, unprotected in 2018
Analysis/Pick Status: Corey Brewer isn’t Lou Williams off the pine and the magnetic sixth man’s presence will be welcomed in Houston. Opening up minutes for Los Angeles’ other guards, the remainder of the season will be a true litmus test to gauge where their youth is in development.
The Lakers can’t turn to Williams for shot creation around the perimeter anymore and there will have to be a new safety valve. D’Angelo Russell’s role as a playmaking 1 might be amplified. With the highest assist-to-turnover ratio among rotational Lakers, Russell’s ability to command Walton’s offense efficiently will be accentuated.
Williams’ absence naturally will open up more looks for struggling rookie Brandon Ingram, an aspect of trading an offensive catalyst for assets. Ingram’s wiry frame hasn’t been conducive to scoring or getting off quality looks this season, shooting just 36.3 percent from the field, but an extensive break might’ve been needed. Possibly realizing that management wasn’t willing to part with him could light a spark in the 19-year-old dynamo.
There’s an incentive to give relentless burn now to the youth for Los Angeles. Possibly someone takes the reins in Sweet Lou’s absence and spearheads this new iteration of Lakers basketball.
Chance for Pick Conveyance: Taking on a revamped Thunder team tonight and hosting the Spurs and Hornets this week, it’ll be tough for Los Angeles to jump Orlando in the standings.
Team: Sacramento Kings (25-33)
Tankathon.com Ranking: 12th
Protections: In 2017, Philadelphia has the right to swap first-round picks with Sacramento if the Kings’ pick lands in the top 10 post-lottery.
Analysis/Pick Status: Buddy Hield might not be Stephen Curry-lite, as of yet, but had one of his most productive outings of the season last night in a Sacramento win against Denver (16 PTS, 6 REB). Backed by management, Hield could flourish in Joerger’s second unit with a long leash to make mistakes. As Cousins leaves, the bench has to be mentioned moving forward. Hield could eventually supplant Ben McLemore, whose impending free agency might play into shifting their roles in Sacramento’s rotation, and Willie Cauley-Stein could follow.
Cauley-Stein looked possessed offensively by Hakeem Olajuwon last night, scoring 29 points (14-of-22 shooting) and hauling in 10 boards. In a season-high 35 minutes, WCS destroyed rising star Nikola Jokic in the matchup of centers. Whether it was slashing, hitting face up jumpers or working in the post, Cauley-Stein caught fire and made Kings fans forget about Cousins’ inside prowess for one night. Trying to salvage an underwhelming start to his career, the former first-round looks like an intricate part of Sacramento’s rotation moving forward.
While Galloway didn’t appear in the first game since being acquired, Tyreke Evans returned to Sacramento and gives Joerger a heady veteran presence. Looked at as a contract to match Boogie’s salary, Evans provides the Kings with versatility and offensive value off the bench. They’re a surprising, new unit that’s going to compete down the stretch and not tail off.
Chance for Pick Conveyance: Cousins’ departure will assuredly lead to losses and Sacramento has a chance to figure out their rotation moving forward. However, their volatility, still, makes it hard to peg them as a tanking organization moving forward.