In 2010, Kings fans were treated to yet another metaphorical kick in the jewels during the Draft Lottery following a 25-57 regular season, good for the third worst record in the NBA that year, ahead Minnesota and New Jersey, when the embattled franchise was "awarded" the fifth pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Dreams of John Wall were shattered, and the Wizard's victory yielded conspiracy theories in response to the coincidental death of Abe Pollin, the beloved owner for over forty years. What was considered a four player draft seemed to be the perfect situation for the Kings, but well.. You know.
But you also know what actually happened on Draft Night. David Kahn decided that Wesley Johnson was the way to go on Draft Night, and proved to the rest of the league that he has absolutely no idea what he is doing. Scary enough, the Wolves are in a much better position than we are, even after Kahn's intervention. The Kings were then able to snag talented, but enigmatic Kentucky center, DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth pick of the draft. Everybody knew from the very beginning that this was a very aggressive move, discounting what four other teams seemed feel put off enough to pass on, which is true; because DeMarcus was and still is the most talented player picked in that draft, outside of John Wall. He had plenty of red flags, GMs and ESPN alike cited his moody behavior, labeling him a problem child for whatever organization he ended up with.
Admit it, you didn't care about what they said. We were far too busy counting our blessings for Minnesota's ignorance, far too happy that we had just grabbed the second best prospect of the draft, despite a precipitous fall during the lottery. Pundits admired our ambition, but called for caution in the Kings' handling of what could grow up to be quite a beast in the league. Some said Rasheed, others Coleman. Not everybody loved the pick, but everybody was happy that we were able to pick a player projected in the top three prospects.
Throughout the Summer League, we saw display his passing ability, and even a turn around winner against the Timberwolves. Who could forget that game? The infamous Webber versus Kahn interview feels so long ago, but still remains one of my favorite memories of these new Kings. Funny, how it doesn't include any of our actual players. There was potential, but the good was met with a whole lot of rookie mistakes. I remember expecting six or seven turnovers a contest even against Summer League competition. For every Vlade-esque pass, there was an equally opposite turnover. His demeanor would often come across as moody, but a far cry from the media's demonization of him. During interviews and TV spots, he seemed like a smart, engaged young man who was confident in himself. We all ate it up, hoping he could be the fire to Tyreke's ice, a passionate future leader for our Sacramento Kings.
His first year looked good, not great. But good. Posting fourteen points per game, alongside nearly nine rebounds was a strong start for a rookie center in a vastly different game than Cousins experienced at Kentucky. The worrisome numbers were his turnovers coupled with his fouls per game. Over three and four respectively, we all knew he would have to improve if he was hoping to have a successful career. His efficiency came into question (and still is), but we all saw the potential. Unfortunately, his attitude was showing plenty more, many defended Cousins, stating it was his passion and frustration in the face of losing, not a much more insidious, long-lasting issue. Once the team itself improved, those problems would go away.
DeMarcus' second year was a revelation. He posted a double-double for the season, and cut down the turnovers just enough to where it wasn't quite as alarming. He still made the unadvised pass or two, but the improvement was obvious, and even more impressive in the midst of a lock-out shortened season that left out summer training and preseason games. But with his successes came those same problems. Refs were giving him little wiggle room, and after an Oklahoma City game where Cousins claimed he was "clearly fouled" fourteen times, and was denied the ball on the final possession in favor for a semi-open Tyreke jumper, he fought with teammate, Donte Greene and was promptly suspended. This incident was doubly worrying for myself, as it showed two different fractures within the team. One, between DeMarcus and Greene, the other between our supposed leaders Cousins and Evans. It appeared the Cousins was trying to make a power grab within the locker room, and when he was overlooked by Greene in favor of Evans, it pissed him off. Now, I'm not expert, but a power struggle between stars on a successful team is common. Kobe Byrant and Shaquille O'Neal could go all day at each other, but it didn't detract from the team's success since they were both so immensely talented (in Shaq's case big). But in my earnest opinion, a schism between a terrible team's top two players only stunts growth, and limits the potential of the duo as long as they are on the same team. Neither has the resume or the backing of a winning record to validate their claim as alpha-male, and DeMarcus' territorial behavior was rightly not tolerated.
Fast-forward to December 5th, Voisin of the Sacramento Bee published the story that "DeMarcus Cousins has no confidence", where our young player spoke to to Ailene stating that: "I've been terrible. We're losing. I don't feel like I made improvements from last year. I really don't have any confidence at all. I'm just trying to think my way through it, but right now, I'm not finding anything..."
Now, isn't that a different picture of the fiery competitor would go as far to fight a teammate after a loss, someone who would cause waves just because he didn't get the last shot? This 20 year old wanted to be the leader of a struggling franchise, and seemed like nothing would stop him. But now we're hearing this, straight from his mouth, too? Ruh-Roh.
He isn't lying, either. His stats have dropped, even his shooting efficiency has gone down, despite being pretty terrible for an NBA center, already. But what am I looking at moreso than his admittance of lost confidence? The statement right before it.
"I don't feel like I made improvements from last year."
DeMarcus is a GM's dream, and a coaches nightmare. He is potential laden, the sky is truly the limit for him. But, can he get there on his own? No. A truly skilled coach will be needed to guide him there. When Sloan resigned from the Jazz, I was ecstatic for a moment, but then remembered we're the Kings, and we can't afford Hall of Fame-caliber coaches. Paul Westphal was not the guy to help Cousins reach his potential; in fact, I as well as the vast majority of this site thought he did much more damage than good. When Keith Smart was hired mid-season, we were cautiously optimistic about his coaching methods. He said all the right things, and seemed to communicate with Cousins far better than his predecessor. So, what happened to Cousins' skyrocketing NBA career? You know, the one where he was slated as the second best center behind Dwight Howard. The one where in a couple years he would rip the mantle from Superman and dominate the league for a decade? I mean he's been alright, not great.
Cousins' growth has been stunted, and I can't help but wonder why. Is it his coach? We've all held Smart responsible for his strange lineup usage, minutes flying all around the roster, DNP-CD's going where they weren't before and whatnot. But Cousins' MPG average is a mere seven seconds lower than last year, even if he has played in fewer games as a result of a suspension, that still doesn't warrant such a drop in his performance. His blocks are halved, showing less defensive effort, but his fouls are also down to just three a game, a far cry from the 4.1 fouls per game in his rookie year. Interestingly, he has bumped his FT% up by over 7% this year, and rests just below 80% for the year. His skill is still there, but why they drop then? With the benefit of a training camp and summer league this year, Cousins' leap should have continued, not tripped over itself. His coaching situation has improved, as dirt is always better tasting than manure, he's had more time to improve, and he has of course aged experience-wise. So, what the hell? I'll tell you the hell, he's lost his alpha dog status in the locker room.
Even though he is officially considered a team captain, I believe that Cousins is no longer a captain in the minds of his teammates. What shakes up a young man more than his own actions' results? Those of people around him. Speaking as a teenage male, I can say that for the vast majority of his life, DeMarcus Cousins was the alpha male in most any situation. His dominance in sports, the disarming good humor, even his stature at 6'10 leads me to believe he's never been the underdog in any situation, until now.
Of course, Cousins has heard criticisms his entire life, but by his peers? Not really. Pundits, sports writers, coaches. Those are a group of far off old men to the plucky twenty-something professional basketball player. But his teammates, that's something else entirely. When people you work with begin to feel resenting of you, boy you can feel it and you feel it deep. I think that Chuck Hayes is tired of Cousins' childish attitude, I think that Jason Thompson has to be tired of his refusal to hustle on defense, and I think the other guys all have reason to start feeling negative around Cousins. He hit a player in the groin during a game, that is just plain wrong. It shows a lack of respect of the professionals around you, and basic recognition of acceptable behavior. This, and the piling suspensions and technicals are beginning to wear down on a team that could use all the help it could get, and then some. Nobody likes it when a self-proclaimed leader is sitting on the bench for threatening a spectator, not the fans, not the coaches, and you better damn well believe the players don't.
Now, this 1,700 word or so diatribe has to lead somewhere right? Well, you'd be right in assuming. As I said before, this team could use all the help it can get, and so does DeMarcus. And much like when the family dog bites the baby for the third time, I propose we send him elsewhere. Not just for his good, but for our good, as well. I loved DeMarcus, still do. But eventually, we must sever our ties with Cuzistan and I declare it be sooner than later, in hopes we get the best value we can.
The biggest leap here is getting the best value we can, because we all know our trades don't normally yield a fair bounty. Secondly, we have to find a team that is confident enough to rein in Cousins' flaws that it would be willing to offer comparable talent. Naturally, finding a team and package that suits both of these requirements is near impossible. I can only name two or three coaches off the top of my head that could possibly manage Cousins, Poppovich, Carlisle, and maybe Thibbs. So, from there I will attempt to construct a couple combinations for each team.
Trade #1: ttp://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=c67t5sc
Trade #2: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=cpm4lc3
Kings Receive: Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton, Jimmy Butler, and Bulls 2013 First Round Pick
Trade #1: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=cmnwmvl
Kings Receive: Tony Parker, Kahwi Leonard, and DeJaun Blair
Trade #2: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=ckr57az
Spurs Receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Marcus Thornton, and Aaron Brooks
Kings Receive: Manu Ginobli, Kahwi Leonard, Patty Mills, and Spurs 2013 First Round Pick
Trade #1: http://espn.go.com/nba/tradeMachine?tradeId=ccxqrmw
Kings Receive: Shawn Marion, OJ Mayo, Beaubois, and Dominique Jones
As you can see, these trades are pretty far-fetched, but they rely on the idea that each of these contending teams wants to rebuild on the fly, and DeMarcus would be an excellent piece to try and integrate into an already-winning situation. Places like Chicago and San Antonio have established cultures, and know how to mold players into the ones they need to win consistently. Each of these trades nets us at least one young prospect who has shown a good deal of talent, and a couple veteran pieces that could help us out. In addition, we gain a couple wing players that would happily be substituted into the starting line-up by Smart.
I hate to see Cousins go, because he is still my favorite player. But, I can't just see this season leading into any success going forward. I would rather him go off and win playoff games (and perhaps a title) while we build a core of smart, hard-working players that will one day be able to take in players much like DeMarcus, and craft them like the aforementioned franchises.
As always, go Kings.