The Sacramento Kings stunningly changed course Sunday night and agreed to trade DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans just two weeks after publicly proclaiming that the All-Star center was off the market, according to league sources.
Sources told ESPN that while Sunday’s All-Star Game in New Orleans was playing out, the Kings and Pelicans came to terms on a trade that will send Cousins and swingman Omri Casspi to the All-Star hosts in exchange for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-rounder.
The first-round pick that Sacramento will acquire in this fast-moving blockbuster deal is top-three protected in the June draft, ESPN has learned. That means New Orleans must immediately surrender the pick if it lands at No. 4 or lower.
Sources say the deal is likely to be submitted Monday for league approval.
The immediacy of landing two picks in the trade from what is widely projected as a strong draft, as well as the chance to start over amid growing internal concern about Cousins’ unpredictability and run-ins with referees, were chief among the lures that convinced Sacramento to go forward with this trade late Sunday night, as opposed to playing the process out until Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
Sources added the Kings are also quietly hopeful that their expected slide in the Western Conference standings in their remaining 25 games this season will ensure that they get to hang onto their own first-round pick in the June draft, which must be sent to Chicago if it falls outside of the top 10. Sacramento should thus wind up with two lottery picks in June to start reshaping its roster in earnest post-Cousins.
League sources told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that the Pelicans, meanwhile, are confident they will convince Cousins to sign a contract extension to stay in New Orleans in the near future.
Cousins would have been eligible to sign a five-year, $209 million extension with the Kings this summer had he stayed in Sacramento and has spoken openly for weeks about his desire to spend his entire career there, despite the club’s decade-long playoff drought.
“That’s home,” Cousins said of Sacramento in an interview with ESPN Radio earlier this week. “I’m loyal to the city, I’m loyal to the fans and I’m loyal to the organization. This is part of my legacy and I want to bring us back to the promised land.”
Earlier Sunday night, before both teams committed to the deal, Cousins’ agent, Jarinn Akana, told ESPN that the 26-year-old would likely pass on an extension with any team that traded for him before Thursday’s deadline.
Cousins has one more season left on his current contract and can become a free agent in the summer of 2018; New Orleans would be able to offer him a five-year extension worth an estimated $179 million in July.
“I have spoken many times recently with [Kings owner] Vivek [Ranadive] and [general manager] Vlade [Divac] about DeMarcus’ future with the Kings,” Akana told ESPN.
“They have assured me, and DeMarcus, that the Kings won’t trade him and are committed to signing DeMarcus long term. In fact, Vlade has gone on record saying exactly the same thing. If the Kings flip-flop on what they committed, that is on them.
“Under the circumstances and given the Kings’ commitments, I would find it highly unlikely that DeMarcus would re-sign with a team that trades for him at this point.”
On Feb. 6, Divac told ESPN: “We’re not trading DeMarcus … we hope he’s here for a long time.”
Divac’s public statement, sources said, followed a face-to-face meeting days earlier in which he assured Cousins and his representatives that there would be no trade and that the sides were on track for the extension this summer.
But the Pelicans — knowing Cousins grew up some 90 minutes away from New Orleans in Mobile, Alabama — aren’t concerned about their ability to sell the former Kentucky star on a long-term future alongside another former Wildcats star in Anthony Davis.
“I don’t think they would have done the trade without a lot of confidence they could re-sign him,” one source with knowledge of New Orleans’ thinking told Shelburne.
The Pelicans have been looking for an offensive-minded center to play alongside Davis dating to last season’s trade deadline, when they flirted with dealing for Milwaukee’s Greg Monroe. New Orleans has also pursued Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor and Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez in recent weeks before focusing its efforts this week on trying to pry Cousins away from the Kings.
ESPN’s Justin Verrier reported earlier Sunday that New Orleans also tried to engage the Indiana Pacers in trade discussions involving Pacers star swingman Paul George, desperate to land some top-level help for Davis, who earned All-Star Game MVP honors Sunday after scoring a league-record 52 points in the West’s 192-182 victory.
“This is an unbelievable weekend,” Davis told ESPN’s Jeff Goodman after learning of the trade following his MVP news conference, greeting the news with a smile and a big thumbs-up.
“All-Star MVP and now getting Boogie. It doesn’t get better than this.”
Davis told Goodman he hasn’t heard anything official from management or talked to Cousins yet.
Cousins, averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds this season, played only two minutes in Sunday night’s All-Star Game. Sources told ESPN that Cousins asked Western Conference coach Steve Kerr to keep his minutes down before the game for reasons unrelated to the trade talks.
Cousins was flying back to Sacramento on a private plane with his assistants and family and is expected to return to New Orleans on Tuesday, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears.
The three-time All-Star was recently forced to serve a one-game suspension after accruing his 17th technical foul this season and will be forced to serve additional suspensions with every other tech he incurs for the rest of the regular season.
Sources told ESPN’s Chris Haynes that the Pelicans will now seek a trade partner to take on power forward Terrence Jones and ease their frontcourt logjam.
The Los Angeles Lakers also pursued Cousins in recent days but felt Sacramento’s asking price was too high, sources told Shelburne.
Talks quickly fizzled, according to Shelburne, once the Kings informed the Lakers that they weren’t interested unless they would receive 2016 No. 2 overall pick Brandon Ingram as part of a Cousins deal.
The Kings get a player with a lot of potential in the 6-foot-4 Hield, although he has been inconsistent during his rookie season out of Oklahoma, where as a senior he was one of the best players in the nation.
Hield is averaging 8.6 points but has been explosive at times, with a season high of 21 points.
Evans won the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award in Sacramento in 2010 — beating out Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry — before joining New Orleans in the summer of 2013 in free agency via sign-and-trade.
The 6-foot-9 Casspi has been playing about 19 minutes per game for the Kings this season, averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.