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Patience is a virtue, but the clock is ticking

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There has been this unofficial time clock for many of us (yours truly included) as it pertains to our beloved Sacramento Kings becoming a playoff team again.

Christian Petersen

The band of brothers and sisters that are shoulder to shoulder with me have set the date as Autumn, 2016, coinciding with the opening of the downtown arena. It has a nice symmetry to it, and I'm betting that it would meet with the approval of those of us that see patience as a virtue.

Further, I would hazard a guess that the majority of Kings fans could survive another two years in lotto land if it meant a 50+ win ball club in 2016. Not that it will make for an easy two years, mind you.

While 2016 is certainly a pragmatic and sensible target, it overlooks one major issue: Two years of DeMarcus Cousins' current deal will have been spent on non-playoff basketball.

This is not to say that the first two seasons of Cousins' contract would be written off as a total loss. If the team continues to head in the right direction, those two seasons would surely be seen as being positive and beneficial. But it would be a bit of a waste of what is shaping up to be a great value to contract.

Cousins' current contract needs to be properly defined here. While it has been described as a "max" contract, there are two components to his contract that make it less than a max deal.

First, it is Cousins' second contract, and his first non-rookie contract. This is why/how Cousins will make an average of $16.4m over the run of his contract, while Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony will make $24m-$25m a year. Cousins (along with Paul George and John Wall) is tied for 28th in individual player salary for this year. At $13.7m, he's proving to be a very nice value to contract.

Second, his contract runs four years and not five (like the 5/$80m deal of Wall, for example). When the Kings first signed Cousins to his early extension, this was a source of relief to many fans (yours truly included). Now it appears that it may have been a mistake, as having Cousins locked up that fifth year (especially with a new CBA on the horizon) would be a nice little security blanket. Note: This is not to say that the Kings erred in not giving Cousins a five year deal - he may have preferred the four year deal and the earlier access to the mega-third contract. But whatever the reason may be, Cousins will be back on the market 20% earlier than he would have been had a five year deal been brokered.

What this all means is that Cousins provides great value to contract, enabling the Kings to spend money elsewhere throughout the roster. But this also means that come 2018, Cousins will become very expensive to retain, and that it will become more difficult for him to provide large value to contract (not results to contract, but value). Come 2018, the Kings will no longer have the contract "edge" in Cousins to re-invest elsewhere.

True, there will be a new CBA by then. But this will be an apples to apples thing. There will be more money for every team to spend. Caps will go up, but so will contracts. So the notion that everything will be alright because of a new CBA is fool's gold, in my opinion.

This does not mean a death knell for the Kings. They may make up that lost "edge" elsewhere. There is no one under contract to the Kings in 2018, so there is a long, long time in determining that roster. A second round pick that delivers core rotation minutes provides edge. First round picks (especially those outside of the top five) can provide edge. The Omri Casspis of the world can provide edge, as can the eventual Eric Morelands. A player that is signed on the relative cheap that takes his game to the next level provides edge (fingers crossed, Darren Collisons of the world).

But what it does mean is that if the Kings are not playoff contenders until 2016, they will have spent two years of DeMarcus Cousins' contract edge, with no games in May to show for it.

This is certainly tough terrain for the front office to negotiate. On the one hand, they inherited a tire fire of a roster. On the other hand, only Cousins and Jason Thompson will remain from that roster effective 2015. Every other 2015 contract (Carl Landry, Collison, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Ramon Sessions, Ray McCallum and Eric Moreland) is a result of a signing or draft pick that has no association with inherited contracts. Even the stretch of $900k on Wayne Ellington is a result of the Kings electing not to devour all of that contract this year.

So should we attach this team's playoff hopes to coincide with the new arena (as I have)? If the new arena was scheduled for 2015, would we move our playoff hopes up? If the arena was scheduled for 2017, would we move our playoff hopes back? Given that 2015 was more or less a clean payroll palette for the new front office and that it will represent their third year at the helm, is it reasonable to expect playoff contention by then?

There's an and-1 here, and it is the elephant in the room (albeit a sleeping elephant at the moment). How long can the Kings be a non-playoff team before DeMarcus Cousins gets his Kevin Love on and demands to be traded? If Anthony Davis is looking down at Cousins in the standings, what kind of impact will that have on Cousins? If the Splash Brothers go deep into the playoffs for the next couple of seasons while the Kings fight 9th place or lower in the West, how will that affect Cousins?

My guess? The Kings need to play meaningful games into at least the middle of March this year, and they have to be at least down to the wire for a playoff seed in 2015-16. They will have to have a solid and affordable core by 2018 to avoid having to fire sale talent to re-sign Cousins, as well as providing Cousins with desire to re-sign.

New ownership and management has only been on the job for a little over a year. 90 regular season games, when you think about it. They will overtake Andres Nocioni and Darrick Martin in a couple of weeks for games as a King. They deserve the time to get this ship righted. But due to the timing of DeMarcus Cousins' contract, time is of the essence, and the clock is ticking.