While many were watching All-Star 2017, the New Orleans Pelicans were busy remodeling their front line.

While many were watching All-Star 2017, the New Orleans Pelicans were busy remodeling their front line.



While many were watching All-Star 2017, the New Orleans Pelicans were busy remodeling their front line.

That Was the Week That Was ...

It’s Over, Let it Go ...

We Had a Lot this Week and We’ve Nothing Left to Wait For

But Total Snow ...

-- That Was the Week That Was, BBC TV, Dec. 29, 1962

SUNDAY, FEB. 19

Let’s face it, the All-Star Game last Sunday was awful -- a 192-184 exhibition that was, even by the All-Star Game’s historically paltry standards for defense, painful to watch. The hometown guy, New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis, got the MVP away from Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook -- who at least put on an impressive display of 3-pointers and explosive drives -- with about 752 dunks in the second half.

Afterward, all anyone could talk about in the hallways of the Smoothie King Center was about how someone had to do something to make the game more palatable going forward. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins only played two minutes -- by design, according to Western Conference team coach Steve Kerr, because Cousins was a little beat up and asked for a light workload. Made sense.

But there were stirrings in the building. There had been increasingly loud chatter during All-Star weekend that the Kings were seriously considering trading Cousins, but that seemed impossible -- Sacramento had publicly gone out of its way to express not only support for Cousins, who leads the league in technical fouls, but its intentions to give Cousins that $209 million contract for which he was eligible under the new Designated Player Exception in the newly signed Collective Bargaining Agreement.

And, indeed, by the time most had left the arena, the Kings had finalized a deal to trade their All-Star center, along with Omri Casspi, to the Pelicans for rookie guard Buddy Hield, veteran Tyreke Evans, and first- and second-round picks in the 2017 Draft. It was stunning across the board -- stunning that the Kings had given up so quickly on Cousins as their franchise’s standard bearer, and stunning that they’d gotten so little for him.

On the other hand, the Kings’ willingness to settle instead of waiting it out was indicative of the franchise’s collective exasperation with Cousins -- who didn’t help his case by quickly racking up an 18th technical foul on the season two games into his tenure with the Pelicans, assuring a second one-game suspension from New Orleans’ next game. It did, in some ways, feel more like a divorce than a trade: take whatever you want; just get out.

MONDAY, FEB 20

Answers, sort of, came from Kings’ GM Vlade Divac in a news conference with reporters in Sacramento -- before which, the Kings put out a press release officially announcing the deal in which Divac said “Winning begins with culture and character matters,” a fairly clean kill shot to Cousins’ reputation.

Divac said that the Kings had a better offer for Cousins on the table two days before from an unnamed team, but that that team pulled the offer back before Sacramento could act on it. He intimated that Cousins’ agents were responsible, by warning the unnamed team that Cousins wouldn’t re-sign there when he became a free agent in 2018 (that team, like everyone else other than Sacramento, would not be able to offer Cousins the $209 million DPE. Only the team that drafts the player is allowed to use it on the player). He also said that he believed the offers for Cousins would get worse as Sacramento neared the trade deadline Thursday, not better.

Divac was crushed nationally for these explanations, as people noted that a) the actions of Cousins’ agents, if true, were fairly predictable, considering the most Cousins could get from any other team in the league was $180 million -- a loss of almost $30 million from what the Kings could offer him with the DPE, b) trade offers historically tend to improve as desperate teams see the looming trade deadline as the last best chance to improve their rosters before the playoffs, c) Divac never explained the team’s backtracking on either the leaked commitment to paying Cousins the $209 million or their pledge to his agents the day of the trade that they weren’t going to trade him.

Some have defended Divac by saying reporters may have misinterpreted what he said because English is not the Serbian-born Divac’s first language. I’ve been covering Divac since the Lakers drafted him in 1990. The story then was he learned English watching “The Flintstones”. It was a cute story as thin as phyllo dough. Divac’s English was fine then -- like many people who come to the States from another country, he just wasn’t comfortable yet speaking English conversationally, lest he make a mistake with a colloquialism -- and, almost three decades later, it’s fine now. That’s not what got Divac in hot water.

At any rate, the Kings were finally done with Cousins, but Cousins wasn’t done with Sacramento. Such a softy.

TUESDAY, FEB. 21

A woman fires her brother from the job their father gave him helping to run the family business, and hires a Hall of Famer to replace the brother. The Hall of Famer, in turn, hires Kobe Bryant’s agent to run one of the NBA’s two most historically important franchises … and everyone acts like it’s a big deal or something.

So that was the state of things when the Los Angeles Lakers announced they were cleaning house Tuesday, with Jeanie Buss finally dropping the hammer on her brother, Jim, the team’s longtime GM, Mitch Kupchak, and the team’s just as long PR director, John Black. Jeanie Buss, the team’s Executive Vice President and representative at the league’s Board of Governors meetings, made the call, with the Lakers facing a fourth straight season out of the playoffs and the team’s inability to attract difference-making free agents an increasingly public problem.

Jeanie Buss wasted little time formally giving Magic Johnson the reins, naming him the team’s President of Basketball Operations, substantially increasing the “advisor” role he’d been given a couple of weeks ago. Johnson has become a wildly successful businessman since his playing days ended, hoisting a second career on top of his first. That he’s never run a basketball team from the front office before makes him not at all different from Larry Bird or Michael Jordan or Isiah Thomas or Kevin McHale or any of the other superstars of his era that got a crack at it.

But the Lakers aren’t any other franchise.

Only the Boston Celtics rival them in terms of championships and Hall of Famers. No one rivals them -- even now -- in brand recognition. But the franchise was an afterthought for many modern players -- many of whom barely remembered the Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe days, much less Magic’s on-court reign. The Lakers couldn’t get audiences with Kevin Durant or LeBron James when they were free agents. They reached for the likes of Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng in free agency last summer, and that use of the cap room that was finally freed up after Bryant’s $48 million contract came off the books may have been the last straw.

Jeanie Buss told the Lakers’ broadcast partner in an interview, “this was a very difficult decision. It was probably so hard for me to make that I probably waited too long. And for that, I apologize to Laker fans. But now, with clarity and direction, and after talking with Earvin, really knowing that a change was needed. And that’s why we’re here today…I wanted for the current front office to have their opportunity to show us what Laker basketball was going to be. And it just wasn’t going in a direction that was satisfactory for what this organization stands for.”

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