The Demarcus Debate

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Demarcus Cousins Illustration by Mike S

Baseliners A.S. Chin and Ben Weinrib discuss the PROS and CONS of betting the franchise on Boogie Cousins.

BEN: It’s that time of the year again. We’re approaching the NBA Draft, which means rumors are starting to fly about which troubled young stars might be on the move. Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins’ name has been popping up a lot lately, although there have been just as many reports saying the Kings don’t want to move him. But trade talk is fun, so let’s continue with the hypotheticals!

The Bobcats’ package for Boogie (wow, what a nickname) would certainly be centered around the #4 pick in the draft. With four first-round picks in the next two years, Charlotte has the chips to get a trade done, but the Kings’ asking price is surely going to be steep. At what point is GM Rich Cho giving up too much for the moody free agent-to-be?

ASCHIN: Don’t believe the reverse-hype. If there’s an offer out there good enough, Sacramento will make the move. The Kings organization is starting over from the top down (owner, GM, coach) and would certainly welcome the opportunity to shed Boogie and his antics for the right price. I’m guessing a combination of this year’s #4 pick, Bismack Biyombo and the future Top 14 protected Portland pick is the MINIMUM it will take to get the deal done pre-Draft.

BEN: I’ll start by saying this: I am a HUGE DeMarcus Cousins fan. It’s almost creepy how much I like him. But the money is a bit concerning. He has one year left before he will assuredly get a max contract, which means he will cost $63.3 million over five years. That’s pretty fair value for a guy who averages 18 and 10, but the #4 pick gives tremendous value. Drafting a big man (Anthony Bennett or Alex Len) will only cost $16.8 million over four years. That comes down to $4.2 million for the draft pick and about $12.6 million for Cousins. Bennett or Len may eventually put up similar numbers and they’ll cost one third as much. Using some advanced math–bare with me here–that gives Charlotte $8.4 million extra to spend. There’s a lot a team can do with that extra money. They could sign a Charlie Villanueva, their own John Salmons, or even a Metta World Peace! That’s not even considering they’d be giving up essentially two more first-rounders. Isn’t there something to be said about financial flexibility?

ASCHIN: First off, how dare you neglect to mention everyone’s favorite $8 million man, Tyrus Thomas. Second, I’m having an extremely difficult time recalling anybody in that “above-mid-level-sub-max” range worth the money. Thanks to the past couple of CBAs, the league has been further stratified into the haves and have-nots. Today’s ideal cap situation consists of two to three “stars” making near max money, a couple of mid-level guys and a bunch of rookies and veterans on minimum deals. Demarcus has a chance to blossom into an elite center thanks to his ability to operate in the high and low post (see Duncan, the Gasols, Bosh) and as of right now, he’s probably the best chance Charlotte has at acquiring a star because A.) the team’s hasn’t exactly perfected the art of Drafting and B.) Free Agent stars won’t come to Charlotte without other stars or potential stars on the roster (see David West in Indy). So in my mind, you have to make the bold trade and hope Cousins’ mental problems don’t get in the way of him reaching his potential – price be damned!

BEN: I think you’re starting to convince me, but I still think there’s an issue about the value of the assets. Let’s assume the trade would be Boogie for the #4 pick, Biyombo, and the Portland pick. Houston is rumored to be looking to auction off Thomas Robinson for a future first round pick, so they can fit Dwight Howard under the cap. Charlotte could land a player they nearly took last year on the cheap for that very same Portland pick they would be using to land Cousins. Isn’t the #4 pick, Biyombo, Robinson, and financial flexibility more valuable than Cousins? I understand the need for a star, but just because landing Cousins might be a sound trade doesn’t mean there aren’t better moves out there.

ASCHIN: I don’t think these options are mutually exclusive. It took Houston a couple of years to accumulate its chest of assets – expiring contracts, draft picks and prospects – in order to cash out when a big time prospect became available. Now that the Rockets have James Harden secured as a major building block, they’ll need to reconfigure their cap in order to sign their second star, Dwight Howard (or Chris Paul), this summer. I’m sure that Daryl Morey would love a mid to late round first round pick for Robinson but I think he realizes that in today’s NBA, having a team both absorb $4m+ in annual payroll AND give up a precious first rounder might be asking a little much. I’d bet that T-Rob could be had for as little as a high second rounder – but only for a team under the cap.

Meanwhile, by trading for Boogie this summer, Charlotte basically Xeroxes the Morey playbook, cashing in their assets for a young star (Harden/Cousins), using their cap space to bring in another young frontcourt prospect (Asik/Robinson) and then go into next summer with enough financial flexibility and picks to lure another star should one become available.

Also, thanks again for pitching me all these softballs. I mean, you haven’t even brought up the fact that I’m having Cho spend half his war chest on a (potentially) insane person.

BEN: That’s the thing: I still really really like Cousins. And as crazy as he may be, we’ve seen that crazy can be channeled into results by looking 600 miles west to Memphis and Zach Randolph. But is Cousins really the franchise player Harden is? I think he’d be a great second banana, but they still need a number one type player, and he’s much more volatile than The Beard. Kemba has the ceiling of a number three or two player, and MKG could end up being a number two as well. Could they get that top guy through the draft still? I don’t think they’d still be in the running for Wiggins et all if they have Boogie, Kemba, and MKG. I somehow doubt players will want to come play for the Hornets in free agency, since this city doesn’t have the tax-free allure of Houston, and there wouldn’t be many trade assets left after this deal. Like you said a GM’s job is extremely tough, but do you really want to build your team around a taller Zach Randolph?

ASCHIN: Just for the record, Ben was supposed to be taking the “CON” position on Boogie. Hell, maybe Cousins is such a great prospect that the immaturity and high cost of acquisition can be overlooked. To further your points: I agree that Boogie is probably a second banana. Kemba looks like a solid number three. MKG’s a good glue guy and potentially much more. This is approximately the type of nucleus Indiana had going into the ’11-’12 season. If the Horncats can use some of their cap space and remaining Lottery picks over the next two summers to add an All-Star type ala David West, they could seriously make some Playoff noise. We’re talking about an inside/out offense with some very effective transition guys and coach who’s made his name on getting the very best out of his bigs. Add a veteran free agent big like Paul Millsap to a Walker/Henderson/MKG/Cousins lineup and suddenly you a very intriguing starting five.

ASChin on Twitter: @bobcatsbaseline

Ben Weinrib on Twitter: @benweinrib

Baseline Observations : Rockets @ Bobcats 3.13.09

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Rockets defeat Bobcats 3.13.2009

The Charlotte Bobcats let a close one slip away against the Houston Rockets on Friday the 13th.  Like a true NBA competition, it all came down to crunch time.

Box Score | Recap 

Throughout all four quarters, this was a tight game with each team trading the lead and “mini-runs” to counter each other.  The largest player on the court was also the the most dominant – Yao Ming.  There was really no answer for Yao, who showed a full array of post moves, defense, and shooting range.  The Bobcats focused most of their defense on quieting the rest of the Rockets and accepting their fate against Yao in the paint.  Obviously facing a tough match, Emeka Okafor had no luck offensively early in the game and he was visibly tired from his work inside against the 7’6″ center.  Larry Brown chose to plug Desagana Diop into the game to rest Okafor, and his fresh legs may have helped to restrain Yao briefly.

Elsewhere on the court, Boris Diaw was caught in early foul trouble and Vlade Radmanovic benefited from a bump in first half minutes.  He really took advantage of the opportunity during the second quarter with a series of drives and great outside shooting.  Rad Man really used his assignment on Brent Barry well.  Barry is an easy cover for a player as big as Vlade and couldn’t catch up as the Serbian came off screens.  While neither team was explosive on offense in the first half, Gerald Wallace found his usual numbers by playing like Gerald Wallace.  More importantly, he kept Ron Artest from finding a rhythm in the first half.

The Rockets have a force of a trio in Yao Ming, Ron Artest, and Shane Battier.  All can score in the paint, play strong defense, and hit mid-range shots.  The Bobcats survived the first half with only Yao scoring well.  The third quarter saw Charlotte struggling to knock down shots and Houston’s trio warming up.  Both Raymond Felton and Raja Bell threw repeated bricks at the rim.  Bell didn’t register a shot for the entire quarter.  Boris Diaw couldn’t find consistency in his offense and after a quick foul, he had to play a bit softer than usual on Luis Scola.  Scola took advantage of the match up and showed his inside game, taking Diaw into the paint at every chance.

Despite their struggles on offense, the Bobcats entered the fourth quarter down only by 5 points.  The game became much more intense after a few minutes of the final period.  The Bobcats pushed to close the gap to 3 pts (72-69) with a string of steals that lead to fast break buckets.   Each team then tightened their defense and traded stops before Vlade Radmanovich was fouled shooting a 3 point attempt.  He knocked down 2 of 3 and the Bobcats were only behind by 1 with seven minutes left in the game.

The Rockets regained the lead but after a big steal and save by Raja Bell on Houston’s side of the court, Bell tipped in a put back attempt by Okafor to give Charlotte a 1 point lead.  By this point – it was crunch time.  

Raymond Felton returned to replace DJ Augustin and Gerald Wallace rotated back in for Radmanovich. Augustin had searched for offense the entire game with little success shooting or creating assists.  He frequently lost track of the perimeter shooters when driving into the lane.  The inside presence of the Rockets didn’t allow DJ a single chance to use his reverse layup move, so he had to pass to the nearest teammate – thus, extinguishing the set play for that possession.  In contrast, Felton attempted shots when the opportunity presented itself and passed based upon what he was reading on the court.  The Bobcats guards came up big in the final stretch of the game.  Although Raja Bell had shot a terrible 2 of 12 going into the 4th, he was determined to keep shooting.  Luckily, he started hitting the baskets that the Cats needed.

It looked like a rough ending for Charlotte at 2:08 left in the fourth.  But there was still more action to come.  With the shot clock running down on the Rockets Yao Ming caught a pass at the top of the key and knocked down a three pointer (his first of the season) to push Houston’s lead to 6.  Coach Brown called a time out and somehow things started to click.  Raja Bell answered with a 3 and then Diaw put in a quick layup after a Felton steal to close the deficit to 1 point.

On the next possession, Ron Artest was determined to make a big play and held the ball longer than anyone had all game.  Gerald Wallace matched him move for move and as Yao Ming attempted to set a screen for Artest he fouled Wallace turning possession over to the Bobcats.  Less than a minute was left in the game and Charlotte need to score.  Okafor missed a close attempt inside against Yao, but the ball bounced back to the direction of Raja Bell who shot it off the glass and through the rim.  Cats took the lead 86 – 85, but that didn’t last long.  Ron Artest shook Gerald Wallace off of him and hit an open shot from the top of the key to put the Rockets ahead by 1.  Following a miss by Raja Bell (his first of the fourth quarter), the Bobcats had to play the foul game. After Aaron Brooks put in two free throws, a three pointer was Charlotte’s only hope of tying the game.  Unfortunately, Ron Artest saw the play coming from a mile away and blocked Radmanovich’s attempt with 7 seconds left, snatched up the ball, and put it in on a fast break to seal the game.

Charlotte Bobcats @ Rockets 2/22/09

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1.  Inauspicious start to the road trip on Sunday afternoon, as the Cats suffer a blowout loss to the Houston Rockets, 99-78.  AP story here, box score here.  The Bobcats fall to 22-34 and have now fallen 4.5 games back from the 8th playoff spot.

2.  This one was a two point game at halftime (44-42), but the Rockets absolutely dominated in the third quarter and, to a lesser extent, the fourth.  The two pictures above are apropos of the tone of this game.  The Rockets were rougher and tougher, knocking the Bobcats around and preventing anyone from getting their offense going.  The Cats only managed 14 points in that decisive third quarter.

3.  For the second straight game, the Cats had more turnovers (21) than assists (15).  The shooting was terrible: 36% FG and 21% 3PT.  No one was any more egregious than anyone else.  Check the box score, everyone’s stats are equally mundane.

4.  The only thing that does stand out in the box score for the Bobcats is Gerald Wallace’s -24 +/-.  Wallace managed a double-double with 11 and 10, but only took 8 shots, had four turnovers and fouled out after drawing a personal and a tech with a few minutes left in the game.  Oh, and the aforementioned brutal +/-.

Except for the Indiana game, Gerald has not been the same since coming back from his busted rib and partially collapsed lung.  Let’s hope he gets his groove back on the road trip.

5.  The Rockets look pretty good without McGrady.  Artest was on tonight; he led the way for them with 26 points on 9-15 FG and 5-7 3PT as the Bobcats again struggled to defend the perimeter after devoting extra defensive attention to the opposition’s low post threat (Yao, in tonight’s case).

So anyways, the Rockets were plenty good enough to beat the Bobcats tonight, but when they hit the playoffs they’re going to need a bit more offense.  Artest won’t go 5-7 from three-point land on a regular basis; Von Wafer isn’t striking fear in the hearts of opposing 2 guards.

6.  One minor quibble with the coaching down the stretch.  When the Bobcats were down by 20 points with under seven minutes left, why were Gerald Wallace, Boris Diaw, and Emeka Okafor still in the game?

I can buy Okafor, as he is a Houston native and Brown is committed to these sentimental college coaching manuevers like “the homecoming game”.

But since he has stubbornly resisted sending Alexis Ajinca to the D-League, you’d think he’d be on the lookout for opportunites to get him some meaningful experience playing American-style basketball in game situations.  Right?  Nope, another DNP-CD for Freedom Fries while Gerald, Boris and Emeka play out garbage time.

7.  That’s all I got tonight, folks.  Hopefully we’ll have something positive to talk about after the next game.

Next up is an always-tough-despite-the-opponents road back-to-back: Tuesday against the Suns (9 PM ET) and Wednesday against the Kings (10 PM ET).

-E