Monday, March 6, 2017

The Rhythm With the Boogie

By Jonathan Lowe

A couple of weeks ago, the basketball world went nuts as DeMarcus Cousins changed allegiance addresses from Central California to the Louisiana Delta. The trade that sent Boogie from the Kings to the Pelicans allowed folks to dream of what can be in the Big Easy. Pairing one perennial all-star with another (Anthony Davis) is usually the sign of prosperity (and titles) to come. In a stacked Western Conference, though, success doesn't come easily. And there could be a few items make those lofty goals a little too high to reach.

Historical Configurations

When you look at how a championship team is built, there are really four distinct makeups for the particular roster. One features an astounding backcourt (think Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on the wings). One features an all-around team effort (much rarer; the 2003-2004 Pistons are the best example). The most common configuration consists of a dominant inside-outside connection (Shaq and Kobe; Magic, Kareem, & Worthy; Tim, Tony, & Manu; Kareem & The Big "O").

Putting two prolific big men at the core of a team has worked in the past, but it hasn't really been the "go-to" when constructing a roster. Over the last 40 years, this pattern has really worked in three instances. The 1976-1977 Trailblazers were led by the one-two punch of Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas. In the strike-shortened 1998-1999 season, veteran David Robinson and youngster Tim Duncan were the pillars of the Spurs' first title team. And in the '80s, no frontcourt was more formidable than the Celtics' trio of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish.

The Pelicans are looking to recreate those circumstances above with a pair of big guys that can offer different looks due to their skill sets. This type of combination has worked in the past, but it hasn't been the preferred championship model to emulate.

Time, Money, Deliberation

The league's salary cap took a huge jump this past offseason (to a shade over $94 Million). It's expected to go up again over the summer (to an estimated $102 million). That being said, Cousins will be heading into a contract year next season. If there's no restructured agreement, DMC and Davis will make up almost a combined $42 million in salary. If you add in the contracts of Solomon Hill and Omer Asik, the figure for those four roster spots jumps up to just over $64 million.

As of now (according to Basketball-Reference.com), the 10 players signed for next season make a total of $87 million. Fortunately, this should leave the Pelicans' front office with some space to fill out the roster (the luxury tax threshold for 2017-2018 is estimated to be $122 million). However, those 10 contracts the Pelicans have set don't include one for Jrue Holiday, whose $11 million salary will be the last of his current contract. We'll see if Holiday stays in New Orleans, and how much closer a new deal would put them to the cap ceiling.

Mr. DeMarcus and Dr. Boogie

There's no denying Cousins' talent. When you put his numbers against some of the top post players of the last couple of generations, they stack up:

Chart

But, of course, there's another side to Cousins that makes him comparable to another infamous post presence ... Rasheed Wallace. From the late 1990s through his first retirement in 2010, Wallace was the constant when it came to angry outbursts and technical fouls. Almost immediately, Cousins stepped on the floor and helped to fill that tech-laden void. Now, Boogie has fully taken the mantle over from 'Sheed. For the last six-plus seasons, DMC has been atop (or near the top of) that dreaded list. The organization is hoping that a fellow Kentucky one-and-done star (in Davis) can provide that "kindred spirit alignment" that Cousins seems to be lacking since he got to the Association. We'll have to find out.

Sunday night, the Pelicans got their first win with Cousins in the lineup (in five tries). In the game, Boogie surpassed the 10,000-point plateau (and he's not even through his seventh season). There's a lot of talent in the post in New Orleans. But can it lead the franchise to their happy ending? Should be fun to watch.

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