AP photo/Rich Pedroncelli
At times, DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings acts like a unhinged maniac and is a terrible teammate. But still, nearly every team in the NBA could use him on their roster.
Now, more than ever, the Kings need to hang onto their big man.
Troubled yet talented, Cousins has been the best at his position for years now and also at the centre of trade winds.
What you see is what you get from the former Kentucky Wildcats centre. He is the best low-post player in the league, he can take the ball up the court like a point guard, he doesn’t need to cram it to score around the hoop, he can finesse his way to the hoop from the arch and developed a surprisingly accurate three-point shot (shooting 6 per cent better than his career average — 38.2 per cent). He’s one of a handful of players in this universe that is simply unguardable.
But he also comes with more baggage than a Southwest Airlines flight from Houston to Las Vegas.
Last season, the Kings finished 10th in the Western Conference, eight games back of Houston Rockets for the rights to get waxed by the Golden State Warriors in the opening round.
Out of contention for the majority of the season, last year looked like the optimal year for a Cousins trade. He had maximum value on his contract with two more years of team control, coming in at roughly $17 and $18 million — peanuts for a guy with his smorgasbord of skills.
There were plenty of rumours out there. The Boston Celtics were making a serious push at Boogie with their stocked cupboard of draft picks and young wing defenders, but the Kings didn’t bite. The Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards all popped up on Twitter as possible destinations, but nothing panned out.
It would only make sense for an Eastern Conference team to jump on Cousins. With only two teams with legitimate big men capable of guarding Cousins (Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons) it would give the potential suitor a punchers chance at taking an extra game or two from LeBron James in the playoffs.
But the laughable ownership of Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac scoffed at those deals. They either didn’t have their pants knocked off them far enough or thought that they needed to keep Cousins, a bonafide NBA All-Star, to help put butts in the seats when their new stadium, the Golden 1 Center opened the following season.
(The Golden 1 Center is right up there with the Talking Stick Resort Arena and the Smoothie King Center for the worst arena names in the league.)
Well it’s a good thing that they held onto Cousins to sell more tickets instead of trying another reboot. Without him, who knows, they might be DFL in attendance (they currently sit 29th in total attendance with 246,512).
So here the Kings are today, one of six teams fighting for the final playoff spot. Becoming a free agent following next season, the only thing dumber than not trading him last season would be to trade him this season when the Kings are actually in it.
Cousins is in the midst of one of his best years. His 30.0 points per 36 minutes is the highest of his career (second in the NBA) and owns a 110 offensive rating per 100 possessions, seven points higher than his career average. While his rebounding is down a tick (still averaging 10 boards per game), his effective field goal percentage has never been higher at .495.
One would have to think that his peak value was last season, but maybe a team like the Raptors realize that this is the best their franchise has ever been and offers up a kings ransom for the Kings centre, making one final push at taking down King James.
There are still moves to be made to improve this Kings roster that don’t include moving Cousins.
Rudy Gay has not shied away from the fact that he will likely opt out of his deal following this year and has no intentions of returning to State capital.
On the surface, he is on par with his career numbers of 18.5 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game and 2.9 assists per game. His true shooting percentage is the highest it’s been since the trade from Toronto (.554, right along league average) and has improved his offensive rating from plus-2.0 last season to plus-11.3 this season in his 11th year in the association. Welcome back contract season Rudy Gay!!
Gay has been sidelined as of late with a right hip flexor injury. He hasn’t made too much progress and there is no timetable for his return.
Since the Gay injury, Cousins has average 30.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.2 assists, while drilling 38.9 per cent of threes. Toss in a 55-point, 14-rebound performance against the Trail Blazers and a 31-point, 17-rebound outing against the Los Angeles Lakers, and Cousins is playing out of his mind with next to no help on the floor.
The Kings have had a craterous hole at point guard. Sure, Rajon Rondo was okay last season; it was quite oblivious that he took the one-year deal with the Kings to pad his assist numbers to get a better deal. The Kings are better off without him, just look at Rondo with the Bulls now; he isn’t even getting on the floor.
The Kings had a point guard for the future in Isaiah Thomas, but traded him to the Phoenix Suns for someone named Alex Oriakhi in July, 2014. (Thomas is fifth in league scoring at 27.8 points per game, while Cousins is second at 29.0 points per game.)
There are a couple obvious trade candidates for Gay that could help the Kings out.
Right now, it’s Russell Westbrook’s world and we are all just living in it. Aside from the inconceivable triple-double season, it should come as no shocker after the departure of Kevin Durant that Westbrook leads the league in usage rating at 41.5 per cent (Boogie sits second at 37.4). Adding Gay into the mix for the Thunder offers a reliable sidekick for Westbrook, if he ever is interested in having some help.
Gay would provide the scoring punch on the wing that the Thunder hoped they would have gotten from guys like Andre Robertson and Anthony Morrow.
In return the Kings could grab young Cameron Payne (he’s destined to never to play on the same team as Westbrook) at another attempt to grow another point guard and then throw in a guy like Jerami Grant or a draft pick.
The Celtics will always be in any big-time trade talks. They severely need a crunch-time scorer from someone other than Thomas and Gay has played that role in the past.
The Kings really should look to improve the point guard position. Ty Lawson is coming apart at the seams and Darren Collison is nice, but could be better served coming off the bench.
While there have been stories written about a possible Kentucky Wildcats reunion of John Wall and Cousins, the Kings simply don’t have the assets that it would take to pry the all-star point guard away from the nations capital.
Maybe look at moving Willie Cauley-Stein. His minutes have fallen off a cliff this season and the second-year seven-footer could surely come in handy elsewhere coming off the bench.
One area that needs addressing is the Kings in their own zone. They sit 25th with a 107.8 defensive rating. The fall-off-the-map Portland Trail Blazers are the only playoff team from last year with a worse rating.
It’s almost getting to the point where it’s urgent that the Kings make the playoffs. Right now, they currently own the second-longest playoff drought in the NBA (10 years). After unexplainably canning the defensive-minded Michael Malone, they appear to be happy with another defensive coach in Dave Joerger.
Much has been made about the turnover at the coaching position and management under Cousins time in Sac Town, but Joerger and Cousins appear to be a good fit, considering that Cousins hasn’t thought stuck him into a cement-filled bucket and thrown him into the Sacramento River. Joerger seems to be steering the ship in the proper direction. And with only one-plus year of Boogie under team control, if there were any hope of resigning the most important player in franchise history since Mike Bibby, it would only be helped out by a playoff push.
Teams are going to back up the Brinks truck up to Cousins, fill it with hundreds of millions of dollars, with the opportunity to play for a contender in two summers time. It took Cousins six years in Sac Town to win 30 games, a feat he accomplished last year (33). The Kings are going to have to show more progress than that before Boogie enters his contract year if they dream of keeping him from bolting. That’s even with the new collective bargaining agreement, which makes it easier to try and keep homegrown talent.
Missing the playoffs gets the Kings nowhere. The Bulls have the Kings 2017 top-10 protected first-round pick (J.J. Hickson-Omar Casspi trade 2012). Bulls claim the Kings pick if it lands between selections 11 through 30, which it likely to happen at this point. They are also without an unprotected first-round pick in 2019 as a result of the unforgettable Nik Stauskas trade.
And as of today, the Kings would be a playoff team. They sit a game up on the spiraling Trail Blazers.
The seventh and sixth seed seem out of reach at this moment. The Grizzlys have been one of the greatest stories in the NBA, being able to hang onto a playoff spot with one of the most injury-riddled rosters. The Thunder occupy the sixth seed and are led by an insane robot with a machine gun for a heart in Westbrook.
Tuesday night gave us another matchup featuring an up-and-coming big and Cousins. Like most times when Cousins gets paired up with a young post player, he slaughtered him.
To be fair, Nikola Jokic looks like he is going to be a great player in this league. At 21-years-old, he can set up teammates with great looks, lead fast breaks and has crossed up Draymond Green. He’s even passable for a guy who will only take 90 three-point attempts per season.
None of that mattered at the Pepsi Centre. Cousins was the leading scorer with 31 points on 25 shots, to go with six rebounds and six assists. He is still the ultimate alpha male.
That was a big win early for the Kings. Sure, the Nuggets were playing the back end of a back-to-back, recuperating off a Golden State drubbing, but they were also playing at home, and as mentioned earlier, Gay was still out with a leg injury.
The Kings got up by five early in the second quarter and didn’t really feel much push back from the Nuggets. The lead grew to 16 later that quarter and the Kings cruised to the 120-113 victory, putting them a game-and-a-half up on the Nuggets.
Take a look at the MLB and what has happened to franchises that end playoff droughts — the Toronto Blue Jays, Chicago Cubs, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. Their fan bases exploded.
Now 1-vs-8 matchups never end well in the NBA, but it is important to show some signs of life.
If the Kings sneak in and have the opportunity to get wasted by the Warriors, maybe they will have one close game at home, like the Game 3 of the New Orleans Pelicans-Warriors first-round series two years ago.
But without Boogie, that will never happen. We could very well live in a world two years from now where Cousins leaves for greener pastures and more than 30 wins. Until then, it’s important to enjoy and take advantage at a generational talent and do everything possible to win now and hope they can land a free agent somehow, and let the rest sort itself out later.