It was kind of a surreal situation for the Sacramento Kings: they had a star player producing at an All-NBA caliber, and just signed George Karl, a big time name at head coach. Finally they were on their way back up. That is, until they weren't.
In recent reports, George Karl is pressuring the team to trade DeMarcus Cousins, and tons of rumors are popping up, from the Lakers to the Suns to the Nuggets to about every team with draft picks, trade assets, and interest in a 24-year-old center who just averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists p36. Unfortunately, as a taxpaying team without assets, it would seem incredibly unlikely that the Clippers could get in on the action this time around.
At least, it would seem that way to most.
Just because the Clippers can't acquire Cousins doesn't mean they can't benefit from a Cousins deal. Salaries need to match in trades, and the Clippers have a rare tool to help facilitate a big-salary trade: Jamal Crawford. With only $1.5 million of nearly $5.5 million guaranteed, another team could choose the cap space offered by waiving Jamal over the reality of taking on multiple years of paying Darren Collison, Carl Landry, or Jason Thompson. The Clippers, on the other hand, would be glad to get one of those guys (or even just a first round pick that could be flipped), for Crawford and let someone else save the money.
In one popular suggested trade, Cousins would go to the Denver Nuggets for Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and the #7 pick in Thursday's draft. However, due to Faried's soon-to-kick in extension, the salaries from this trade actually don't match, and Sacramento needs to send out a few million more. Their options: Carl Landry, Jason Thompson, Darren Williams, Ben McLemore. Let's assume that McLemore is off the table; which of the other three would Sacramento be most eager to part with? It's hard to say, but any of the three would be a better addition than the Clippers can find for the minimum, and would fit well in a swap with Jamal Crawford should Denver decide that they would rather cut Jamal for space with which to add a free agent (they have potential to have cap room) than have 2 years and over $12 million owed to Landry or Thompson, or three years and over $15 million to Collison.
Another popular option is a Phoenix Suns package centered around Eric Bledsoe, who has also been mentioned in rumors. However, Bledsoe on his own makes nearly as much as Cousins, meaning that for Sacramento to take back supporting pieces like Alex Len and the Morris twins, the Kings would need to send out more salary. Phoenix is another team that has a chance to have cap space this summer, especially if they make a trade that reduces their payroll. Are these two teams more likely to find a happy deal where one of Sacramento's $5-6 million players goes to Phoenix, or a trade where one of those players comes to Los Angeles and Crawford goes to the Suns to be waived for cap relief?
All in all, Cousins probably won't be traded in the next week. Granted, crazier things have happened, but a 24-year-old dominant post player probably doesn't get shipped out on short notice for a low-value package when he has three years left on his contract. He may or may not end up finding a happy future in Sacramento with Karl, but it would be shocking if the road ended so abruptly.
However, the principle of the Clippers getting involved as a minor facilitator in a big-time blockbuster trade applies to whatever may come up across the board, and the odds that trades will need salary help in the next week are very high. Even teams that want to swap a $7m player for a $3m player could use Jamal's non-guarantee to help facilitate a trade (with sweetener in exchange for the Clippers' cooperation, of course). There have been rumbles that Denver wants a first round pick in order to part with Wilson Chandler, and maybe Jamal's contract could become that valuable to teams trying to get a deal done. Then, just send the pick to Denver instead of to LAC, send Chandler to LAC in Jamal's salary slot, and let the Nuggets keep a $7 million trade exception. Everyone wins.
Whether the Clippers use Jamal Crawford as a player to come off the bench next season, or as trade bait for a team that could either decide to retain the two-time Sixth Man of the Year or waive him for cap relief, he has utility and the team would be wise to test the market in order to determine the value of a sizable non-guaranteed contract for salary-matching purposes.
It's been shown that it's not likely that teams will be willing to give up a player just for a few million of cap relief, but there's a roundabout way of approaching this and finding a team in the right place where Jamal's unique situation is of extreme value, and then maximizing the return.