Sunday Musings: Will Cousins stay or go?

Cousins-Media-Day

The only thing that is certain in Sacramento is that more changes are coming.  George Karl is the head coach going forward, but he will certainly make additions and subtractions to his staff.  Pete D’Alessandro, Chris Mullin and Mike Bratz run the basketball side of the team, but Vlade Divac just entered stage left.  Lastly, this group of players might win 30 games if they are lucky and that’s not acceptable moving forward.

As we move towards another offseason, it’s probably time to examine perhaps the biggest is question mark of all – is DeMarcus Cousins a long-term fit with the Kings?

It’s a complex issue that pundits around the league chime in on every couple of days.  It’s an easy topic to discuss.  Cousins is an easy target, as are the Sacramento Kings.

Coming off his first All-Star appearance and a gold medal run with Team USA, it’s hard to imagine Sacramento’s brass moving the 24-year-old star.  But that doesn’t mean they won’t.  The Kings didn’t put him on the block at the deadline, but a source tells Cowbell Kingdom that they didn’t stop teams from making offers.

The argument for keeping Cousins

Cousins is a force.  Despite playing for five head coaches in five seasons in Sacramento, Cousins has developed into a bona fide NBA superstar.  He is a top 10 player in the league and the argument could be made that he is closer to the top five.

In his fifth season in the NBA, Cousins is averaging 23.6 points, 12.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.6 blocks in 33.9 minutes per game.  These are stellar numbers across the board, and perhaps the scariest part is that he is only scratching the surface of his potential.

Cousins has already shown the ability to improve on the defensive end, but he has more to learn.  His block numbers skyrocketed as he learned to improve his positioning and understanding of defensive rotations.  And there is no question that the Kings are a better defensive unit when he is on the floor.

On the offensive end, Cousins can compete for a scoring title under Karl.  There isn’t a big man in the league with the array of moves that Cousins possesses and he’s only getting better.  His decision making has room for improvement, but once the Kings surround him with shooters, the sky’s the limit.  Where Cousins can take a huge step is as a distributor.  3.2 assists per game is impressive, but once he masters the high post offense and improves on his recognition of the double-team, that number should take a huge jump.

You don’t trade a big man this talented unless you have to.  Cousins hasn’t set the world on fire under Karl, but this is a learning process for both men.  Once you build the right team around Cousins, he could compete for an MVP.

The argument for dealing Cousins

Cousins has seen too much.  The Kings have seen too much.  For a guy who needs stability around him, the Kings have pushed every wrong button possible.  Two full-blown relocation attempts put a ton of stress on every player and swapping out coaches every five minutes was like poking the angry bear.

Sacramento finally found a guy who could reach Cousins in Michael Malone and they unceremoniously dismissed him during a December swoon.  Karl is not a natural fit for the talented big man, but it’s hard to count out one of the game’s great coaches.

Cousins hasn’t been the same since Malone left.  You can hope that some time off this summer will allow him to hit the reset button one more time, but his value is tremendous right now.  He is one of the best big men in the league and there are plenty of teams around the league that would give up a ton for a player of his caliber.

Maybe he isn’t the right fit.  Maybe the Kings have had enough of Cousins’ antics.  Maybe a team comes to them with a deal they can’t pass up on.

If D’Alessandro and Karl want to rebuild the Kings in their own image, Cousins could find himself in a new location.

Why he stays

He stays because he is too good to trade.  Secondly, he is about to become one of the best deals in basketball.  Cousins is in the first year of a four-year, $62 million extension.  He is scheduled to make $17 million during the 2016-17 season when the salary cap is set to jump to between $88-$92 million due to the new national television contract. If Cousins was on the open market, he would be eligible for a salary closer to $30 million.

The Kings have had a difficult time finding a star through trades, free agency and the draft.  Pure talent alone, Cousins is in the top two or three players the Kings have had in their 30 years in Sacramento.  He is the lone payoff for a decade of pathetic basketball and it’s tough to see a deal where the Kings get equal value.

Why he goes

There are three scenarios where Cousins is moved.  He could leave because he asks to go and the Kings acquiesce.  It’s possible that Karl and D’Alessandro come to the conclusion that it will never work out and the last possibility is that someone blows the Kings away with a deal and they can’t walk away from it.

Cousins could ask out this summer, but making the All-Star team probably helped Sacramento’s cause, at least for one more year.  The Kings need to quickly surround him with the right players and let Karl work his magic.  Sacramento has a few pieces that work, but they also have a stack of players that they need to find new homes for.  The Kings need to show Cousins that they are able to build a team around him that can win more than 28 games.

You have to believe that a Hall of Fame caliber coach will figure out a way to use Cousins correctly, but it’s possible it’s just too late.  The front office didn’t consult Cousins on the firing of Malone and they allowed his name to get dragged into the Karl sweepstakes.  They know the clock is ticking and maybe they decide to move him while his value is at its highest.

Lastly, there are teams out there that would love to have Cousins, especially when his deal becomes a steal.  Maybe one of those clubs makes an offer that involves an All-Star level player and a pick or two?  Stranger things have happened

Conclusion

The easy answer is that the Kings will keep Cousins and build around him this summer.  But the easy answer isn’t always the correct answer.  There is enough evidence to make a case that this is wide open.

Sacramento is a season away from opening a new arena.  Cousins is supposed to be the centerpiece to the team that opens that building.  Rarely do you see a team move a 24-year-old franchise cornerstone big man with three years remaining on his deal, but nothing is off the table with this group.

comments

Tags

About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".