Over the last two months there has been what seems to be an endless chorus of rumors about whether the Sacramento Kings will trade DeMarcus Cousins, and the Kings front office continues to deny that they are considering moving their franchise player. With the amount of turnover in the locker room and in the front office recently, keeping the team's core players together may be the best move, at least in Darren Collison's eyes.
Collison, whose season ended early due to a core muscle injury, is an important piece of the current makeup of the Kings and head coach George Karl has yet to even see him play (Karl was hired by the Kings over the All-Star break, right around the time Collison was injured). The six-year point guard believes that Cousins, Rudy Gay and himself can lead the Kings to the playoffs if they get more time together.
"Absolutely, I think that this core can take us to where we need to go. I'm not a numbers guy, but I've heard from numerous people that our starting lineup is probably one of the best despite having a down season," Collison told Sactown Royalty. "It takes a long time for one core to gel with each other. I think me, Rudy and DeMarcus, Ben [McLemore], we all gelled with each other throughout the whole season. I'm interested to see how we'll come back for our second season ... When you build a core in the NBA it takes more than one year and I think we haven't had enough time with each other to build on what we did."
Collison is correct in that the Kings have one of the best starting fives (Cousins, Gay, Collison, McLemore and Jason Thompson) in the NBA, at least statistically. The problem is that is just based on lineup data - they are still not very good and have a lot of gaps to fill throughout the roster (specifically nearly an entire bench.) But despite the constant rumors about potentially breaking up the core, Collison said he was told during his exit interview with Vlade Divac, vice president of basketball and franchise operations and Pete D'Alessandro, general manager, that things are staying put.
"Vlade brought up a good point: He wants to keep the core together. He understands how important chemistry is. And him and Pete, they just pretty much said that, 'we just want to build around the core,'" said Collison, who averaged 16.1 points, 5.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds last season. "That's encouraging to hear because you see a lot of teams breaking teams up after a year or after two years, they don't really give them time to gel. To hear them say that really feels like, ‘OK, this core has a chance to go forward.'"
Stability is something that the Kings franchise has lacked for the better half of a decade. Divac has made it his mission to bring stability to the front office and the locker room. His first major assignments will be to select the right player in the upcoming NBA Draft and then fill out the roster over the summer, which could mean a variety of things from bringing in another player to share point guard duties to upgrading the shooting guard and/or power forward position.
Collison, who said he is still not 100 percent after his surgery and has been focusing on weight-lifting and conditioning, identified three areas the Kings need to upgrade: defense, shooting and experience.
"I think we need some defensive players with that mindset. I'm all about the defensive players ... We definitely need shooting with the creativity that me, Rudy and DeMarcus have - I think more shooting will help us. And then the one thing that we don't talk about a lot is that we need experience. We do need veteran players who have been around the block," Collison said. "You look at the Houston Rockets, they have a bunch of experienced players. You look at Golden State [Warriors], they've got veteran players. If we can keep the core together like these other teams have kept their core together and add experienced players with defense and shooting, I think we'll be fine."
The bottom line is the floor general for the Kings believes in playing "clutter-free" basketball, as his former coach Doc Rivers calls it. This means having no outside distractions with everyone understanding their roles.
"Any time you can look to the left and you look to the right and you see the same players and the same core guys, it just makes it that much better," Collison said.