The Celtics have been building for the moment a star became available since the moment they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. A star became available over the past few days. The Celtics said no thanks.
The Suns, Sixers, Nuggets, Lakers and Heat have all quietly spent the past few years piling up trade chips, just waiting for the moment they could snatch Cousins from Sacramento’s increasingly weak grip. None of them pulled the trigger.
There is a disconnect here. An absolute superstar, one of the five most talented basketball players on the planet, was just traded for peanuts. And the rest of the league looked at the situation, shrugged their shoulders and said “Nah, we’re good.” How on Earth did that happen?
You can find micro reasons with each individual team. The Celtics were apparently fixated on Jimmy Butler. Some of those teams are happy with their young players. Jeanie Buss might be in the middle of a Lakers basketball operations coup right now and has accordingly frozen the team’s roster.
But add all of those up and the odds that every team with assets in the league individually decided that they were better off not matching this offer are still incredibly slim. There has to be a macro reason here. There has to be something that universally kept everyone but the Pelicans from biting on a superstar in his prime that was available for pennies on the dollar.
The character excuse is tired and historically wrong. Charles Barkley got traded twice. So did Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson. Shaq broke apart more contenders than I can count and teams still lined up for his services. Talent will always trump character. Cousins is as talented as anyone on that list.
The diminished importance of big men doesn’t make much sense either. Cousins isn’t a lumbering low post scorer. He shoots three-pointers; he plays defense. Frankly, he does everything you’d ask of any player on the court, center or otherwise. You’d probably rather have a star perimeter player than a star center in a vacuum. That said, Cousins is not a traditional center.
Here’s a thought, and it relates to Boston’s reluctance to give up their pursuit of Butler. Historically speaking, star trades happen in clusters.
Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams and Chris Paul were traded within eight months of each other. The Dwight Howard and James Harden trades came only a year later and happened within a few months of each other.
Shaq and Tracy McGrady were both traded in the 2004 offseason, and Vince Carter followed less than a year later. Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol all happened within a matter of months. Then it took three years for Chris Paul to start the cycle up again.
The point is that superstars tend to have a sort of floodgate effect when they’re traded. Once one team has traded one, other teams feel more comfortable doing so themselves. And there are several out there.
Boston wants Jimmy Butler, and all of the same whispers we heard from Sacramento before the Boogie trade we’ve heard from Chicago.
Paul George is 18 months away from free agency, and the Pacers aren’t close to contention.
And then there’s the big fish. Russell Westbrook is also 18 months away from free agency, and after having lost Kevin Durant for nothing the Thunder are as aware as anyone the risks that come with not trading a star when they have a chance.
We have no idea who from that list, or any other list of stars, is getting traded. But history says that someone else will be. And the asset consolidation candidates probably looked at the landscape, saw that coming and decided to wait and see what else was out there.
Boston isn’t in a position where they HAVE to trade for a star. They can wait the Warriors out and then try to compete when their war chest of draft picks come of age. The Nuggets think they have a franchise player in Nikola Jokić and the Suns are probably close on Devin Booker. The Lakers have a whole lineup of young studs.
Would they all like the sure thing? Absolutely. But if they have a preference, there’s a good chance that player is going to be reasonably available in the near future. So they can feel somewhat comfortable waiting it out. Boston doesn’t want a star. They want Jimmy Butler.
And that’s why Boogie was traded for such a low price. Other teams were more than happy to let New Orleans get him in the hopes that it spurned the Bulls, or the Pacers, or the Thunder, into trading someone they’d prefer.