There are two prevailing schools of thought regarding DeMarcus Cousins.
One is that he is an outrageously skilled, 25 year old, two time All-Star who is still a year or two away from his prime. The other is that he is a perennial malcontent who spends far too much time complaining to referees, racking up costly technical fouls and casually jogging back on defense. With each loss the Kings suffer, it seems more and more are leaning towards the latter in describing DeMarcus Cousins.
An article penned five years ago detailing the pros and cons of Cousins as a player would unequivocally still ring true today. His immense talent is still blatantly obvious, but so is his perpetual sulking and screaming at referees.
The hope for Kings fans and the King’s front office was always that he would grow up, mature, learn to pick his battles with refs, and evolve into the unquestioned leader of the team who sets the tone for the Kings and the example for his teammates. He’s this generation’s Rasheed Wallace. With the exception of a short period under Mike Malone, who ostensibly was the one coach who got through to DeMarcus in Sacramento before Malone was regrettably fired in December 2014, Cousins hasn’t developed from a maturity point at all since the Kings drafted him in 2010.
If this was the NFL, cutting your losses with an uber talented but disgruntled star is a little more feasible. But in the NBA, where All-Star talent is so scarce that there literally isn’t enough to go around, teams trade them away as willingly as they would give away a winning lottery ticket.
Kings’ Vice President of Basketball Operations Vlade Divac has repeatedly and emphatically stated that the Kings will not trade DeMarcus Cousins since he officially took the post in August 2015. Divac no doubt recognizes the rarity of DeMarcus Cousins’ skills, but Divac is also there front and center every game. From his perch in the tunnel just feet away from the action, he watches and hears DMC eviscerate referees, which typically leads to unnecessary and harmful technicals (giving away free points when the Kings have the worst defense in the league as it is).
It truly is a very difficult quandary the team has found itself in. Even if the Kings have determined in their heart of hearts that dealing Cousins away is what’s best for the franchise (which I don’t think they have), the elephant in the room that has to be addressed is the pristine new Golden One Center slated to open seven months from now.
Trading a talent like Cousins is never easy to swallow, but particularly when they have a gorgeous (and expensive) new arena to fill. An entertaining and competitive product is a necessity. And on top of all that, their division rival and neighbors 105 miles to the south are the defending NBA Champions and are overwhelming favorites to defend as champions this year. In short, pressure is high in Sacramento to win and snap the second longest playoff drought in the league.
But can they win with Boogie Cousins?
One could argue that DeMarcus has never even won thirty games in a season with Sacramento, thus if you’re not winning with him how much worse could it get without him. His defenders would quickly point to the mostly poor rosters he’s played alongside and the generally unstable nature of the franchise since he became a Kings nearly six years ago.
The interesting and somewhat puzzling aspect regarding DeMarcus is he isn’t always the scowling curmudgeon fans routinely see on the court. After every single contest, win or loss, he is always there facing the music to the media like a team leader should. He answers questions thoughtfully, gives very intelligent responses and assesses what went right and what went wrong. By all accounts he is a genuinely very funny, pleasant guy to be around off the court. Then when he gets inside those lines, Dr. Jekyll leaves and Mr. Hyde returns.
I’d hate to see him become silly and nonsensical like say, Dwight Howard. But if he could find that delicate balance, where instead of teammates walking around on eggshells around him they genuinely enjoy being around him and want to go to war with him. And he can still be every bit the fierce competitor, just direct it at the opposition instead of the referees. Like Kevin Garnett did in his prime.
Throughout his tenure in Sacramento, DeMarcus Cousins has gone out of his way to speak glowingly about the city and his affinity for playing in the capital city. He’s been loyal to a franchise that doesn’t exactly have a rich history of All-Star caliber talent. He’s locked into a very reasonable contract, a salary that will be even more palatable with the cap about to jump significantly, through the 2017-18 season.
Clearly Sacramento will never be confused with Los Angeles or Miami as a free agent destination, so when you get a stud like Cousins every effort must be exhausted to make it work and have him wear your colors as long as possible. Particularly when said All-Star player wants to be in Sacramento.
Ordinarily that would be an absolute no brainer, but this is anything but an ordinary situation.
Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images. Courtesy of Sacramento Kings.