At the end of the season I was working on a recap post, but it never really came to fruition. This was my segment on DeMarcus Cousins:
DeMarcus Cousins - I had the privilege of attending the late season Kings/Lakers game with Aykis16. And when I tell you that Aykis is both a gracious host and a learned scholar of basketball, I say that without an ounce of sucking up in the hope of securing future invitations. But I digress. Before the game started, I asked Aykis whether or not Cousins would make it to the end of the game. Aykis laughed, but could not assure me that DeMarcus would indeed be around for the end of the game. And when Cousins picked up his technical foul, there was plenty a conversation from fans all around us that had not been privy to our conversation. "Oh boy, here we go," said one fan. "Commence countdown," I heard from over my shoulder. "Bye-bye Cuz," came from the side. And I'm sure that if you were at or watching the game, the same thought at least crossed your mind. And that's where we are with DeMarcus Cousins. We actually wonder if he's going to finish the game, and many of us wonder it long before the game ever begins. I'm not sure what that is, but it sure is something.
After an abysmal start to the season, Cousins improved his game in those moments where he is able to stay on the floor. For the season, he was still among the most inefficient offensive big men in the game, but he played at a middle-of-the-pack level from January through the end of the season. He had moments of elite level play, though those moments were rarely sustained for a prolonged period of time before he regressed and/or got suspended. To his credit, he ranked 9th in PER among centers and 14th among bigs overall, benefitting greatly from his rebounding ability (10th in the league in rate) and his assist ability (7th among bigs, though he is #1 in turnovers among that same group).
Among players logging at least 30 minutes a night, Cousins ranked 1st in fouls per minute. His 17 technical fouls led the league (Russell Westbrook was 2nd with 15), and his 4 ejections trailed only Larry Sanders (5). He missed 7 games this past season, and I believe that all of those games were due to suspension (I could be wrong here).
There are times where DeMarcus Cousins is the best player on the Sacramento Kings. But over the course of the 2012-13 season, he probably ranked behind Tyreke Evans, and since the all-star break, even with his improved play, he was not as consistently good as Isaiah Thomas. Jason Thompson was better than Cousins over the first two months of the season.
For this reason, I hold Cousins the most accountable among the players for this team's struggle to crack even the 30 win barrier. (For emphasis, I am only talking players here, not coaching, management or ownership) 2012-13 should have been at least a quasi-breakout season for Cousins. His play since January is how he should have started the season, and he should have elevated from there. And he should have done this while figuring out a way to keep himself in uniform and in the game. The inconsistency of his game and his availability torpedoed this team.
The only thing that Cousins really has going for him at this point is potential. The potential to eventually grow up. The potential to begin to produce on a consistent and sustained level. But potential doesn't win ballgames. Production and consistency wins ballgames. We're three years in now, and Cousins is still more potential than production/consistency. And when you throw in the distraction that his histrionics and subsequent availability (or lack of same) creates among his teammates and the coaching staff, one could at least make an argument that the franchise would be better off without DeMarcus Cousins. One could also argue that the franchise has made its bed with Cousins at this point, and has little choice but to ride it out and hope that he becomes the player that we see in flashes.
I'm not advocating getting rid of Cousins, but I suppose I wouldn't protest it too much, either. Unless Cousins has an epiphany, things will not end well for him in Sacramento. It is certainly possible that a change in franchise ownership and some much needed direction for this rudderless franchise could help the situation. However, that is no excuse for Cousins. Guys like Isaiah Thomas and Tyreke Evans and Jason Thompson have remained pros under this regime, so DeMarcus Cousins should be able to do it, too. The notion that he somehow hates losing more than any of these other guys is preposterous. It's time for DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become a professional basketball player, with all of the requisite sacrifice and dedication and self-ownership that goes along with it.
Please understand, I'm not laying this season solely at the feet of DeMarcus Cousins. As I have often noted, ownership and management get the bulk of the responsibility, with smaller shares going to coaching and the players. Small forward is still the sucking chest wound of this team, and Tyreke Evans, though a very, very good player, is not delivering on his rookie year promise. Cousins is the only big on the Kings that actually has the potential to be a plus starter, in my opinion. But when it comes to the roster as it was constructed and presented at the beginning of the season, no one underperformed more and created more of a distraction than DeMarcus Cousins. A guy that we had hoped would be at least a small part of the all-star conversation wound up performing erratically on the court...when he was on the court.
The most common and perhaps accurate comparison to Cousins is that of a young Zach Randolph. Randolph showed the promise as a youngster to eventually land him what was at one point an oversized contract, but Portland eventually had to cut bait with him. He went from the Knicks to the Clips and then back to the Knicks before landing with Memphis, who acquired him in an exchange of seemingly bad contracts (Memphis parted with Quentin Richardson). Randolph, now playing with his fourth team off of his fourth trade and at the age of 29, finally found a home and has been a major cog in Memphis' impending Western Conference Finals appearance.
There are those that have contended that Cousins may need to go through the same metamorphosis (raises own hand). That perhaps Cousins will never figure out that he needs to changes some things, at least not while he's wearing a Kings uniform. That he will have to have history repeat itself at least a time or two before the light clicks on for him.
My question is, does the change in Kings ownership count as a "trade" for Cousins? Will he look at this as a fresh start? Will the franchise? Or is Cousins destined to continue to make the same errors in Sacramento? And if Cousins does not change his attitude, how will the Ranadivé ownership group deal with it? All early indications seem to be that Vivek Ranadivé places a pretty high value on respect and decorum. My uneducated guess is that he will want to the franchise to be somewhat of a reflection of himself. And Cousins certainly has not been a reflection of respect or decorum or professionalism during his three year career.
Understand, I am not professing that NBA players need to be choir boys. But I think that there is a level of professionalism that needs to be attained and maintained, and some franchises set the bar higher than others (San Antonio comes to mind, and Golden State seems to be employing the same mind set under new ownership and management). I just get the feeling that Ranadivé is going to want to build a winner that represents the City of Sacramento. Is DeMarcus Cousins a part of that model? I don't know. I surely don't.
There is also the very real question of what Cousins' trade value might be, and it's probably fair to guess that it is probably short of his talent and potential, due to his continued attitude issues. Should the Kings consider trading Cousins at less than value? I don't think so, and the solution may be in the timing.
The Kings had a decision to make this off season regarding whether or not they wanted to extend Cousins now or wait a year. For reference, Golden State got Curry's extension done a year early at what now looks like a bargain (4 yr. / $44m). Perhaps the Kings should be looking at a 4 year extension for Cousins right now in the same range. If Cousins refuses it, he's still an RFA next season. If he takes it, you have him locked up for next season and the next four, and at a price that would not be impossible to trade out of if push came to shove. Either way, he's still locked up this next season for cheap ($4.9m), and you give new ownership a chance to bring Cousins into the new mindset of the franchise.
It seems to me that the ownership change has bought the Kings at least a little more time as it pertains to making a decision on big Cuz. Unless a deal comes along that is just too good to refuse, new ownership may be content to get to know the big fella, and give him a chance to get to know them.
Can it work out? Sure. Will it? I don't even have a hint of a guess of a clue. What do you think?