Writers in recent years have composed opuses on the question that defines our times:
At last, we are going to get the answer.
If you are a Kentucky Wildcats fan who relishes a UK connection to basketball’s biggest stories, you have loved these past few days. Everyone has been talking about the surprise trade that has paired former UK big men Cousins and Anthony Davis on the New Orleans Pelicans’ front line.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In exchange for Cousins — a three-time NBA All-Star — and forward Omri Casspi, Sacramento received guards Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, plus 2017 first- and second-round draft picks from New Orleans.
Back when he was knocking over banks, John Dillinger never pulled off a heist of the magnitude of what New Orleans has executed.
With Davis and Cousins, New Orleans now employs, arguably, two of the NBA’s three most talented big men. The Pelicans boast the only two NBA players to average more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game in each of the past four seasons.
And get this: Cousins is 26, and Davis is 23.
The questions that emerge as a result of the trade are tantalizing.
Can Cousins and Davis play together?
It is not unprecedented in NBA history for two of an era’s best big men to be paired. David Robinson and Tim Duncan combined to win San Antonio’s first two NBA championships in 1999 and 2003. Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon together took the Houston Rockets to the 1986 NBA Finals.
What makes New Orleans adding Cousins to Davis so fascinating is that it runs 180 degrees contrary to the current “small ball” fascination in the NBA.
In a league where the best teams now tend to play four men behind the three-point line, can a franchise employing Davis and Cousins together successfully guard?
It’s hard to imagine the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins defending on the perimeter. It is easy to conceive of the 6-11, 253-pound Davis — long and athletic — doing so.
The quandary is, if you use Davis to guard out on the floor, you are taking the premier shot blocker of this generation away from the basket.
Of course, those “small ball” teams also have to guard Big Cuz and The Brow, too.
Fair or not, most of the post-trade scrutiny will be on Cousins. There are few more polarizing figures in the NBA.
A player currently averaging 27.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists has self-evident virtues.
Cousins has continued to develop his game as a pro. Over his first five years in the NBA, Cousins made a combined 11 three-pointers. Last year and so far this season, he has made 165 treys.
Yet even as Cousins’ individual skills blossomed, Sacramento’s bottom line did not. In Cousins’ six-and-a-half seasons, the Kings went 188-345 — a 35.3 winning percentage.
According to nbaminer.com, Cousins leads the NBA this season in having his shot blocked (89), offensive fouls (40) and technical fouls (12).
ESPN stats and info reports that, since Cousins entered the NBA in 2010-11, he is first in the league in technicals (105), fouling out of games (46) and ejections (12).
Nearing the point in which Sacramento had choose whether to offer Cousins — whose contract expires after the 2017-18 season — a five-year, $209 million contract extension, the Kings apparently decided they could not change their dysfunctional franchise ethos as long as Cousins was their marquee player.
As winning “cultures” go, New Orleans is hardly San Antonio. Since drafting Davis No. 1 overall in 2012, the Pelicans are 159-226 (41.3 winning percentage).
Still, for Cousins, New Orleans represents a fresh start with one of the elite talents in the game, Davis, at his side.
This is Big Cuz’s chance to show the Kings — and his many other doubters — he can be a winning basketball player in the NBA.