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The Yetisburg Address: 2016-17 Week Three

The Kings came up short against two of the best teams in the NBA.

Kimani Okearah

The Kings finally got a bit of a break in the schedule this week after playing their first 11 games in just 17 days, so there were only two games this week, both at home and both losses. Sacramento was visited by two of the best teams in the Western Conference and faced big deficits early that proved to much to come back from.

The High Post

It’s hard to find a positive in this team’s performance this week given the fact that we just had two disappointing games in a row so I’ll just try to point out a few things that I think are encouraging. I thought Ty Lawson’s performance against the Clippers was encouraging. He’s seemed really hesitant with his shot all season and I think he needs to be looking to score more, especially when he gets right to the rim (memo to the team as a whole: STOP PASSING UP WIDE OPEN SHOTS AND LAYUPS). His three point shooting (37%) is slowly climbing back up to respectable and that’s a good sign for Sacramento’s spacing.

I think it’s a good thing that Coach Joerger will be switching his lineup going forward, to play “small” as he said. I think that’s a bit overdue, and I think he really needs to start incorporating Omri Casspi in some role, even as a small ball Power Forward. He’s too good not to fit into the rotation.

I also think it’s good that the rookies are being given a shot to play a lot in Reno. Malachi Richardson in particular seems to be playing well, averaging 22.7 points and 4.7 rebounds, including shooting a very good 46.7% from three on 5 attempts a game.

Here’s hoping to have more to talk about next week in terms of positives.

The Low Post

Given Sacramento’s early schedule, I didn’t expect the Kings to come out on fire or anything. We knew it was going to be a rough start and that the record was probably going to get pretty ugly before it gets better (if it gets better). But I’m left again wondering what the path forward for this franchise is, the same question I was asking all summer. This team is not good enough to compete in the West, and even operating at a high level the ceiling for this team appears to be “borderline playoff contention” aka No-Man’s land in the NBA. The worst case scenario for this team is to somehow play well enough to finally lose their first round pick to Chicago and yet still not make the playoffs.

I still maintain my contention that DeMarcus Cousins is not the problem but that the Kings will need to move on from him because at this point they’ve wasted the opportunity to build around him thanks to a combination of bad ownership, bad management and the overall chaos of the last five-plus years. You can’t be in the NBA lottery as much as the Kings have been and only come out of it with one franchise building block. You can’t have a new coach every year and expect a system to get enough time to develop. You can’t give away All-Star level talent like Isaiah Thomas for nothing.

While I think the majority of the rumors and snark from anonymous NBA GMs are annoying, they are rooted in truth; The Kings are running out of time to make a decision with DeMarcus Cousins and the future of this team. The longer the team waits, the more they risk losing him for nothing which would be the ultimate failure of this rebuild.

I don’t expect anything to happen soon, but if this team doesn’t start turning the corner in December and January when the schedule softens, we could be (and should be) in for some radical changes roster-wise. And even if the team does start to turn around, I’m not sure that radical changes still might not be worth it. Is another 30-35 win season really worth it, or does it just delay the inevitable? Section214 will expand on this a little bit more down below.

I didn’t even touch on the fact that Rudy Gay, the team’s second best player, wants out and will almost certainly leave for nothing if not traded at the deadline. In short, this team’s a mess.

The View from Section 214

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

The Kings can’t win worth a lick, would Cuz fetch a draft pick, there’s so much to fear –

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

With the Kings once again in early season free-fall, the Fanposts and comment threads have seen renewed conversation as it pertains to the trading of perhaps the only true asset on the current Kings roster – certainly the only asset that could fetch a lottery pick or top 50 NBA player. The question begs, what is the trade value of DeMarcus Cousins, and who would be the interested suitors?

The latter helps form the former here, as supply and demand most assuredly shapes market value. Let’s try and take a fair look at Cousins and the value / appeal that he would possess in today’s NBA trade market.

First, let’s attempt to place Cousins fairly on the talent scale, without taking the market into consideration. I think that the fairest comp is LaMarcus Aldrdige. Aldridge is four years older than Cousins, but his age is really not a factor for the two years remaining on his contract (he also has a 3rd year player option). Give or take, they are close on the talent rank scale, with Aldridge making slightly more money over the duration of their respective contracts.

Now, if Cousins has proven anything, it’s that he cannot single-handedly turn a franchise around. This is not a damnation of Cousins, as there are currently no more than a small handful of players that are that profoundly talented (LeBron James is the only one on my current list, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook a couple of rungs down…your mileage may vary).

Next, Cousins has one year and seventy games left on his contract.

Add those two things together, and I think that you can eliminate bad teams from having a high level of interest in Cousins. What would be the point in an Orlando or Phoenix trading for Cousins if it has to empty their asset cabinet to obtain him? They basically become Sacramento-East at that point. Would these teams empty the asset cabinet for Adridge? Then why would they do it for a guy with less than two years left on his contract that has little to no hope of turning his new team around in that time frame?

That narrows the field to contending teams, but the Kings would certainly want assets in return. Most contending teams lack lottery picks and young players with potential. The natural trade partner seems to be the under-performing Boston Celtics. Except…

The Celtics’ core rotation for this season was set to be a backcourt of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, with a front line rotation of Al Horford, Kelly Olynyk and either Amir Johnson or Tyler Zeller, and Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown at small forward. But Smart has missed three games, Olynyk six, Crowder seven and Horford eight. That’s twenty four games missed by guys that would all chart out as being in the top six of the rotation over the first eleven games.

I do not believe that the Celtics are as desperate to make a deal for Cousins as some may think. At the very least, their start has had zero impact on their valuation of Cousins, as their tepid record (which Kings fans would kill for) is more a byproduct of injury than it is lack of talent or cohesion.

None of this is meant to cast aspersions on DeMarcus Cousins as a basketball talent. He’s a top fifteen player in my book (again, your mileage may vary). But his value may very well have peaked during this past off season, when he had two full years left on his contract and there were no fewer than nineteen teams that could have on-boarded his contract without having to create cap space...and had the off-season to meld him into their organization. In the here and the now, his value diminishes as each passing day of his remaining contract ticks off, and any potential suitor would have to fit through the narrow window of “want to compete deep into playoffs immediately – have assets to deal, willing to roll dice on fit issues.” Do we really think that the Knicks would roll the dice on two seasons of Cuz and Carmelo Anthony in exchange for three more years of cheap control (followed by RFA rights) of Kristaps Porzingis?

The Minnesota Timberwolves caught lightning in a bottle with the Kevin Love trade. The circumstances were that a bad team (Cleveland) with one very good player (Kyrie Irving) and one potentially good player (Tristan Thompson) landed the number one pick in the draft, and then proceeded to sign the best player in the world as a free agent. The Cavs were instantly transported from doormat to championship contender, and the trading of that coveted #1 pick for Love made all the sense in the world for them. Had James re-upped in Miami the Wolves would not have seen that level of return for Love.

Based on the dealings of the Sacramento Kings organization over the past decade (or even just during the Ranadive era), what is your level of confidence that the Kings can make lightning strike, and what are the odds that they will be aiming the bottle in the right direction if it occurs?

I think that the Kings have been holding onto Cousins with the mindset that it is safer to hold the star that you know than it is to grab yet again at the brass ring. And given the challenges seen in Sacramento as it pertains to developing and retaining young talent, they may have been right. But the cost to that decision is that DeMarcus Cousins (and his remaining contract) is not worth as much today on the NBA trade market as he may have been just months ago. And barring a seismic shift in the market place, this team, already bereft at assets, may ultimately be faced with the decision of taking pennies on the dollar or letting him walk for nothing.

Nice arena, though.

West’s Side Stories: On Patience, Willie Cauley-Stein, and More Patience

Willie Cauley-Stein was always a project player. This is difficult to accept given his high draft spot and his age (23 years old), but if the Kings hadn’t anticipated that WCS would take multiple seasons of development before he became a truly reliable player, they need a new scouting department. Big men have the most difficult transition into the NBA game, (see Whiteside, Hassan) and given WCS’s physical make-up lack of scoring instincts, this sophomore wall is hitting him as hard as any big.

Now, understandably the most concerning thing about WCS is his effort. The fire we saw in him as a rookie hasn’t blazed as brightly in his second year, and Dave Joeger is having a difficult time trusting him over going big (with Kosta Koufos, which isn’t working) or going small (with Rudy Gay and Matt Barnes, which is). Honestly, we should have seen this wall coming; for the last four years, from Kentucky through George Karl, WCS played in systems that optimized his ability to run the floor on both ends of the court. Now he’s getting used to a new system that is unlike anything he’s used to.

In the first quarter of the Clippers game last night, with the Kings getting crushed in the early minutes, WCS was ahead of the defense on a fast break and Arron Afflalo was pushing the attack. WCS signaled for the alley-oop, but Affalo circled the wagons and waited for Ty Lawson to get up and run the half-court. You could see WCS’s frustration; this slower, half-court offense isn’t as fun, and when the Kings move to slow down the tempo on both ends, WCS is forced to spend more time defending post-ups and less time flying around the defensive end like a 7’1 free safety. Joeger has slowed down this team, and the grit-and-grind is taking it’s toll on WCS. Don’t take this as an full excuse for WCS; he’s a sophomore, and his effort needs to be 100% at all times, even if the new system is taking him longer to get used to than he, Joeger, or us fans would like. But we should have seen this coming, and should have had more patience with WCS to begin with.

While no player on this team should be untradeable, WCS should be one of the most secure pieces. This team isn’t good enough to be shipping youngsters out, especially when WCS would get, to steal Section’s phrase from above, pennies on the dollar. We’ve berated the Kings for years for not being patient enough to stick with anything for the long-term just as we pull up the ESPN trade machine to swap out any pieces that aren’t immediately working.

Give Joeger and WCS the time to figure this out. Don’t trade a 7’1 big man who can run the floor like a guard 1.05 seasons into his NBA career. Let Willie have the time he needs to adjust to the system, have Joeger figure out how a free safety defender like WCS can help in a grit-and-grind defense, and be patient.

And speaking of patience, I secretly hoped this year would be the one where we could ignore the NBA Draft, because even I, a draft-fanatic, am sick of considering the lottery talent season after season after season. Since the collegiate season has only JUST begun, I won’t bore you (plenty of time to do that in March), but I’ll point out that this potential class has a substantial number of talented young guards. Markelle Fultz (Washington), Dennis Smith (NC State), De'Aaron Fox, Malik Monk (both Kentucky), and Lonzo Ball (UCLA) are all lottery-level prospects. They’re all playing in faster offenses, and most of them fit the new-NBA mold of hyper-pace combo guard. It’ll take time to see who shows the most promise in a half-court offense.

Kimani’s Photo of the Week

Player of the Week

DeMarcus Cousins

32.0 PPG, .422 FG%, 15.0 RPG, 6.5 AST, 2.0 STL, 0.5 BLK in 36.6 MPG

Cousins was a handful this week against two very good teams, but he didn’t have nearly enough help on offense as the Kings found themselves trying to dig out of holes from the get go. Cousins led the NBA in usage last year at 35.4% and he’s at 35.5% this year as the team has seemingly become even more dependent on him than ever. Fortunately, Cousins has become a lot more efficient this year, posting career-highs in True Shooting Percentage (57.7%) and career-lows in turnover rate (10.7%, well below his career average of 15.0%).

Highlight of the Week

Upcoming Schedule

(all times Pacific)

11/20 vs. Toronto Raptors at 6 p.m.

11/23 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder at 7:30 p.m.

11/25 vs. Houston Rockets at 7:30 p.m.