Even before the news first broke that the Sacramento Kings Ownership agreed to extend Demarcus Cousins’ contract, putting him in the top 20 for salaries in the NBA, there was a lot of spirited debate here at STR and it created some buzz around the league. While 89% here agreed with the decision to extend DMC now, only a few here believed rewarding the 23 year old now was earned and does not come with significant risk. Why? Well unless you have been living on the International Space Station for the last three years you would know that DMC is known less for his occasional dominance but more for his frustrating knuckleheadness (trademark pending) and mediocre production.
Arguments abound about DMC especially in regards to his potential upside and his hypothetical ceiling. Effectively, is he an average big with a big problem or a future all-star bogged down by the big mess that existed in Sacramento? His first three years have been a tale of two cities. DMC dropped 18 pts, 18 rbs, 7 asts, 2 stls, 3 blks on Utah as a rookie, but last season mustered an anemic 3 pts and 2 rbs against Denver. Nobody really knows where DMC is going to end up be but we do know that for better or worse his four year extension is on the books leaving many with anxiety that DMC’s new nick name might as well be Damn Max Contract!
There is no need to rehash all the reasons why it would have been prudent for DMC to deliver one actual all-star caliber season to justify a big pay day. 20 pts, 10 rbs, 4 asts, 50% efg, less than 10 Ts and less than two ejections this season would support the theory that DMC’s mercurial past is behind him or at least he can be more productive than problematic. DMC didn’t earn his contract extension plain and simple. And while most of us are not absolving DMC’s history we are resigned to how the business side of the NBA operates.
DMC is a young big and as the story goes young bigs are paid more, paid sooner and given more latitude to develop than their shorter, quicker peers. In the NBA size does matter. The last NBA All-Star Game featured 10 centers & centers masked as power forwards out of the total 24 roster spots. It follows then that despite more versatility and a better locker room presence Tyreke’s value came up short—a polarizing topic on STR but not nationally. DMC is the lone Kings’ hopeful for the US Select and Olympic Team as since only one team was willing to make a deal for Tyreke it gives credence to DMC’s stock outside of Sacramento.
Despite my pessimistic preamble there is a silver and purple lining. First, trust that anchoring around DMC was neither an impulsive nor emotional decision made by the Kings’ leadership. Vivek and Co. have a plan plotted out a few years ahead and includes a myriad moves and contingencies. When the local and national media wanted to know what their intentions were with DMC, they were already executing the plan in a confident and unflinching matter. Does it read intelligible to us yet? No. Despite their refreshing and unparalleled accessibility, their roadmap to resurrect the Kings back to NBA viability will be guarded ‘secret sauce’ like Colonel Sander’s Original Recipe.
Vivek a NBA Executive Insider for a few years now has been quite vocal about surrounding himself with those that are smarter than he—if that is even possible. With access to legends like Jerry West, Chris Mullin, Larry Bird and many others inside the NBA does anyone doubt if he was taking notes? Even after buying the team, he took his time putting General Manager candidates through the rigors undoubtedly capitalizing on the free intellectual property by picking their brains, leveraging their perspectives, gaining credible objective assessments on what the Kings assets are in comparison to what else is out there and what will be available in the next couple season’s drafts and free agency periods. Vivek had an amalgam of input and insight that likely included roster roadmaps from a handful of GM candidates including RC Buford, Travis Schlenk, Mike Dunleavy, Sr., Chris Wallace, and cursory conversations with Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal and Kenny Smith before being impressed by Pete D’Alessandro. Given all the collected intel on the team and specifically its biggest asset, It is very doubtful DMC’s contract extension played out any different than Vivek and PDA expected.
You can also bet PDA’s phone rang all Summer long (like Petrie’s before him) due to interest in DMC probably more than the rest of the roster combined. Background checks were had by the Front Office including conversations with DMC’s high school coach Otis Hughley and his University of Kentucky coach, John Calipari. Even DMC and his Mom were met face to face back in Moblie by Vivek, PDA and Malone to ensure everyone was on the same page regarding DMC’s capabilities, challenges and likelihood he could deliver against the Kings’ plan. So what did they conclude? They were better off locking him up now.
It was all by design. They likely contended that unless DMC went all Sprewell or Artest on a fan or a coach, there was little wiggle room to get a huge discount and the upper hand on a DMC Contract next Summer because as stated earlier the word on the street was already out on DMC. Next Vivek and Co. wanted to make sure they put their stamp on how the Front Office will conduct itself relative to managing the process of negotiating player’s contracts that would be a departure and more productive than that of the old regime. If you want to attract top talent in the NBA you have to have an effective relationship with their handlers and DMC, anticipating this Extension opportunity hired Dan Fegan,—a top 10 Agent in the world of Sports. In some ways it may have been more important for the NBA’s deal makers to bear witness how cordial, professional and effective a major contract negotiation is with the Kings’ regime now before next season’s draft and free agency hits to optimize the Kings chances of making a big splash. Had they waited, too many players and their agents may have not been trusting enough of the newcomers to give the Kings a fair chance. Additionally by controlling the process from beginning to end, by publically addressing DMC’s future upfront, by not getting into a battle of words in the media with Fegan after the announcement demanding that his client’s extension be addressed before the season started made the Kings look poised and ready for business.
They also had to know that DMC was not tradable as is for a greater return of asset(s). If the word on the street was the Kings could get two first round picks in the 2014 draft or if an Andre Igoudala could be had in a sign and trade with a first rounder or any actual all-star could be swapped then they could have and likely would have played their hand differently. Conversely , if the word on the street was that all they could trade for was a 2nd round pick for just a rotational big then was the upside in that? They knew it was better to keep and develop DMC because the other options right now were less desirable and a flat inconsistent season by DMC was--after all weighed in—not going to change his value as much as the good will had by pulling the trigger now.
By committing to DMC and following though with the Extension it provided a number of intangible and tangible benefits to the Kings organization. As mentioned previously it established good will with the NBA players and their Agents. Second it showed they are not afraid to spend money yet still value it. Consider the aggressive offer to Igoudala, the tepid valuation of Tyreke, the signing of Carl Landry as further evidence that they are serious about a plan and but not just spending money for the sake of being active. Next it definitely bought them good will with DMC. Would DMC have shown up a month early and taken a true leadership position by being organizing and managing the players only practices and being the first in last out of the gym every day? Finally by committing to DMC now, there can be no excuses if he does not live up to his end of the contract. It is squarely on DMC to produce or kick rocks.
While it may not seem like it to the few skeptics here at STR, the best benefit by signing this extension now, is it forces everyone to move forward and engenders togetherness. By resolving this situation early it keeps the media, the players, the organization and the fans focused on the positive transformation, helping everyone buy in to the new culture and fostered chemistry. The players themselves are relieved to know they do not have to field questions constantly from the media about what is going on with DMC’s contract situation. Maybe it’s the optimism that most of us have but this jump start may help the new Kings catch lightening in a bottle. Changes to the roster, the culture, the coaching staff, the front office, stability with the franchise, plans for a new arena, renewed fan support and most importantly growth, maturity and improvements to his overall skills, perhaps provides DMC the impetus needed for a breakout year. And should that happen, the Kings and the fans do not have to worry about losing him to a bigger market team that is already in contention for a championship.
So now that the deal is done, let us take a closer look at how good or bad DMC’s Extension is by comparing his salary versus the rest of the starting centers in the NBA as well as statistically where DMC compares today versus where he needs to be going forward to both justify his contract and to be considered an elite center. DMC will average about $15.5M per year for four years starting next Summer, when his rookie contract—which pays him $4.9M—is complete. There are two ways to look at this: 1) DMC is heavily under paid for this year considering Carl Landry’s $6.5M, Chuck Hayes’ $5.7M, Jason Thompson’s $5.6M and potentially overpaid (time will tell) for the subsequent 4 years compared to the rest of the League. 2) If DMC doesn’t improve statistically over the next 5 years at all, he is a somewhat overpaid when you consider his effective average salary translates to $13.4M a year. Given DMC’s statistical output even last year, few here believe he is worth $15.5M a year and even fewer believe he is an elite player. Some do maintain hope that DMC has the potential to be worthy of max contract and can become an elite player.
Realizing there is some subjectivity to this discussion given everyone has a unique eyeball test when they watch and evaluate a player and weighs statistical metrics differently, I will not boil the ocean on those tradeoffs-- that is a post for a different day--but rather compare a broad swath of measures so we can evaluate more holistically on how DMC compares to his peers. Likewise we could debate if there is a material difference between an elite center versus an all-star center since there could be two statistically equal players but the more popular player might be selected as an all-star. Regardless, DMC is neither. If he becomes either all will welcome and most will be content with that improvement. Suffice it to say that since we have yet to define what an elite player yet, all-stars are selected each year, so for purposes of this post I will stipulate that the players selected to last year’s all-star game provide a sufficient sample in which DMC can be compared.
To determine if and by how much DMC’s Extension is bloated, I looked at last season’s salaries across the NBA and filtered my view to just the 30 centers that played the majority of the minutes for their respective team. A few like Elton Brand and Andrew Bogut because of their injuries were excluded from consideration but arguable would have slightly elevated the average salary rankings. I then matched each player, their salary and that salary’s League Ranking (based on ESPN/Sport Trac).
|Player||LG Rank||12/13 salary|
The result is rather simple to interpret. ESPN recently ranked DMC as the 53rd best player in the NBA after last season but his Extension would have put him 18th in the League and 3rd highest paid center behind only Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh (even though some list Bosh as a PF). Do I have to ask the question? Is DMC a top 20 player or is he a top 3 center in the League? Insert cricket sound effects here.
The second part of evaluating DMC’s Extension is centered around identifying the delta between DMC’s production last season and what would be in line considering his $15.5M per year Extension. I compared the salaries and advanced stats of all the starting centers last season and calculated the statistical median to establish a baseline to determine what the average value (production v. salary) was for the 2012-2013 Season. I segregated the advanced stats into two categories: Offensive and Defensive Production. I omitted the combined stats such as TRB% and WS and used MP for both because it made sense to me that being on the floor versus a back up is a success factor on both offense and defense. From this I was able to compare statistically how DMC ranked against the League’s starting centers.
DMC’s Offensive Production breaks down as follows:
|NBA Center Average||2175.0||18.8||0.535||0.505||7.7||13.3||10.2||20.5||106.5||2.7|
|Ranking v. NBA Centers||11||6||21||25||5||9||12||2||23||19|
When you compare DMC against his peers offensively he is statistically slightly better than average with an average rank of 13.3. His USG%, AST% and PER are all atop the League but his TS% and eFG% and ORtg are in the bottom third. It should be noted that the median salary last year amongst starting centers was $9,057,996 making DMC’s $15.5M per year Extension seem way too high for only slightly above average ranking.
DMC’s Defensive Production breaks down as follows:
|NBA Center Average||2175.0||22.3||1.1||3.7||103.5||3.0|
|Rank v. NBA Centers||11||5||1||29||23||21|
When you compare DMC against his peers defensively he is statistically exactly in the middle of the league with an average rank of 15. DMC is by far the best center in the league at stealing the ball but one of the worst at blocking shots. He is also atop the League in terms of defensive rebounding but in the bottom third from a DRtg and DWS standpoint. Again, when you consider the salary that he will be commanding, he has to improve in these areas of weakness in order to earn his Extension. When you consider DMC will be paid approximately $2M more than the average salary for the bigs that played in last year’s NBA All-Star Game he has a lot to improve upon.
Finally I wanted to be specific as to how far DMC needs to improve in order to have his production match his value when his Extension kicks in. To achieve this I filtered the list of centers down to who was selected to the NBA All Star Game last season to fine a statistical median to determine how DMC ranks against the League’s ‘best’.
DMC Offensive Production v. NBA All-Star Center Average
|v. NBA All-Star Centers||-58.5||0.5||-0.0205||-0.0335||4.35||4.15||2.05||4.5||-5||-1.1|
|% Dif. v. All-Star Centers||-0.025||0.025||-0.038||-0.067||0.397||0.366||0.232||0.191||-0.047||-0.355|
DMC Defensive Production v. NBA All-Star Center Average
|v. NBA All-Star Centers||-58.5||5.25||1.10||-2.75||-6.50||-1.95|
|% Dif. v. All-Star Centers||-2.5%||24.1%||84.6%||-59.1%||6.5%||-45.9%|
As you can see, while DMC is already earning his Extension in a few areas both offensively and defensively, yet he needs to make major improvements in all other areas in order to be an All-Star in this League. It still stands to reason that with a new regime, culture and accountability to change, DMC should be able to continue to evolve as a player. As the pre-season continues it will be interesting to see how he adapts both offensively and defensively.
On offense, he will need to work harder off ball to establish low post positioning sooner and to keep moving—giving his guards better opportunities to pass him the ball in rhythm to the hoop for more assisted baskets or to give him an opportunity to draw the double team and pass out to the cutters. When he is at the elbow or on the wing he needs to look more at initiating the pick n roll versus shooting with 10+ seconds still on the shot clock, or pass up on the lower percentage shot and use his quickness to create a better shot. His stats prove out his prowess passing the ball and the more consistent he looks to involve others in the offense the less defenses will collapse on him. Given Patterson, McLemore and IT and Fredette are all above average shooters this should be easy to reinforce especially if McLemore’s habits of coming off screens to get open can become infectious with the other wings.
On defense, he will need to get back on transition every time and curtail looking at the officials for an explanation for the non-call. Expect Malone to demand quicker rotations over to help the weak side, and DMC to become more adept at anticipating and challenging the shot v. trying to poke it free which should increase his block shot percentage and decrease his fouls per game. We have seen his occasional explosiveness but too often he settled for defending down low instead of leveraging his standing reach to his advantage. Additionally his ability in defending the pick n roll should improve under the new regime further reducing opposing offenses opportunities to take higher percentage shots out of the pick n roll.
In summary, there are some advantages that signing DMC early has afforded the Kings new regime. Time will tell however if DMC can improve enough to reach his potential, become an All-Star center in the NBA and therefore justify that Extension. What are your thoughts?