The Sacramento Kings have gone through a lot over the last six seasons. There have been relocation threats, ownership changes, coaching changes, management changes, roster turnover and drama. But the one constant through it all has been DeMarcus Cousins and Sacramento’s plan to build around him. So far, the Kings haven’t found the right formula to make it work, and with Cousins’ contract almost up, the clock is ticking for Sacramento to either figure it out or cut their losses and start over.
I understand why the Kings haven’t made any real efforts to move on from Cousins just yet. For a small market team like Sacramento, getting a player as talented as Cousins is incredibly hard, so they want to make the most of it. Rebuilding is hard, and having a star to build around should make it easier. The Kings haven’t helped themselves with their chaotic situation however. Every time a new coach or a new GM comes in, the plan changes. The roster has turned over so much in Cousins’ time in Sacramento that Omri Casspi is on his second stint with the team. It also doesn’t help that the Kings have done a terrible job of adding young talent around Cousins. Despite a decade stuck in the lottery, the only player the Kings have drafted in the lottery after Cousins to make an All-Rookie team is Willie Cauley-Stein. To make matters worse, the one talented young asset the Kings did have, Isaiah Thomas, was unceremoniously let go by management as they sought to pursue a “true” point guard. Thomas made the All-Star team in Boston last season, leading them to 48 wins.
This summer only brought more change. There’s yet another head coach in town (Cousins’ sixth in seven seasons) and the Kings added almost half a team’s worth of new players, including two rookies that play the same position as Cousins. Are these additions enough to push the Kings into the playoffs? New head coach Dave Joerger will try, but he’s been very upfront in media interviews this summer that this season is about laying down a foundation and not necessarily about wins and losses. How satisfied will Cousins be if he’s staring at yet another season that ends early as his peers continue to battle on into May and June?
This is an important question, because right now all of Sacramento’s plans hinge on a future with Cousins. They’ve done little to prepare themselves for a scenario in which Cousins leaves or is traded. Vlade Divac’s infamous 2015 trade that sent pick swaps and future draft considerations to Philadelphia leaves the Kings in a precarious spot as they could lose a high draft pick if they were to have a bad year. But what would be even worse for the Kings is a situation in which they feel they can convince Cousins to re-sign in Sacramento once his contract is up in 2018. I understand that’s two years from now, and a lot can happen between then, but time is running out for the Kings to make a decision and this year will likely be the last chance the Kings have of making things work, because if things don’t, they’ll only have from next summer to February to try to find a deal that gets them something for Cousins, and the longer they wait, the less leverage and value they will have.
The absolute worst thing that could happen to the Kings is having Cousins walk in Free Agency and getting nothing for him. In that Adrian Wojnarowski report on Rudy Gay telling the Kings he was opting out, the most terrifying line to me was this:
Ranadive has told associates that he believes he can change Gay’s mind this year and persuade him to stay, league sources said.
It will be interesting to see how the team handles the Rudy Gay situation in light of this news, because it might foreshadow how they handle Cousins soon after. Gay isn’t as important to the team, but it would still hurt pretty badly to lose a player of his caliber for nothing at all in Free Agency. Teams like the Kings can’t afford to lose talent without gaining anything back; That’s how teams get stuck in decade-long ruts.
So yes, at least in my opinion, this is the last chance the Kings have of making things work with DeMarcus Cousins. While I personally feel that it’s far too late to make this team good enough over this year and the next to convince him to re-sign, I do understand why they have waited and will continue to wait. Cousins’ talent is not easily replaceable, and all the pain of these past years will have been worth it if they can figure out how to put a team around him. I just hope that if it doesn’t pan out, the Kings can recognize that and make the tough decision instead of simply hoping for the best and mortgaging the future.