Boogie is an appropriate nick name for DeMarcus. He’s probably the most talented 5 in the game today. He’s a great post talent with guard like passing ability and flashes of being a good shooter. He can also bang down low and collect boards with the best of them. Yet, despite all those talents and the need to have such a talent on the roster, he still scares the shit out of you. Not in a Mark Jackson ‘there goes that bad man’, but as a fan of his and of the Kings. You see the raw talent, but you also see major character issues that are getting worse with time, not better. You see Antoine Walker, Rasheed Wallace and later Shawn Kemp morphed into one mind.
This is not the leader of a franchise.
The bigger question is why are the Kings hanging onto him? Before we answer that let’s dive into why they shouldn’t.
While the Kings are sniffing a bottom playoff seed for the first time in a decade, they don’t have a foundation that will be better than a 1st Rd and out playoff team. Even if all goes right for the next 5 years – Cousins’ continues to progress as he has, Gay stays and doesn’t regress, Collison stays solid, Temple/Barnes/Casspi provide necessary veteran contribution – at best that’s a perennial 42 win team. At best!
The Kings best case is 1st round purgatory which actually sounds enticing to a franchise with the second longest playoff drought (Minnesota is longer at 12 years). It leaves the franchise little to no hope of even having title contention aspirations for the next half decade or so.
The other main point franchises rarely look at when moving their stars in hopes of a rebuild or revamp is what the market is like at the time. Now more than ever the market favors a team looking to rebuild.
As we discussed in an earlier article, the value of first round picks has tanked in recent seasons. Additonally, you have teams on the rise like Boston, Denver and potentially even Philadelphia looking to move youth/assets for quick fixes. For example, the Kings could likely swap Cousins to the Celtics for BOTH Brooklyn picks in 2017 and 2018, likely get some other solid pieces and start a rebuild quickly. The Nets are expected to be real bad those next 2 seasons and odds are those picks will both be in the top 3.
This isn’t like in the past where teams like Boston or Portland who wanted to unload their respective head cases in Antoine Walker and Rasheed Wallace were only able to net late picks and contract fillers. Despite all the ridiculousness surrounding Cousins over the past few years, the Kings could actually net out way ahead by moving him now.
The Kings are extremely hesitant though. Despite that moving him can give back faith to California’s capital, despite the potential at building a new and better foundation, despite having an actual culture. Despite all of that, the Kings will likely keep Cousins long term.
The Kings correctly realize that by dealing DeMarcus they’d have to go back into a rebuild. They didn’t do too well in the prior one. Sacramento was bad when the drafts were stale and missed out on some talents. Willy Cauley Stein, Nik Stauskas, Thomas Robinson and Ben McLemore have caused Kings’ brass to be more reluctant about the prospect of lottery picks. This happens at times with teams who have a string of bad draft selections – they lose faith in their future picks. For example, after a string of Mediocre to poor 1st rd selections of Adam Morrison, Ray Felton, Sean May and DJ Augustine in the lotto the then Charlotte Bobcats dealt their lotto pick for Jason Richardson. The Warriors used the pick on Brandan Wright, so no real harm done there.
Still, the lesson there isn’t that building through the draft doesn’t work. It’s more that you can only expect so much from building through mid to late lotto picks. Besides Morrison, all of those Bobcats picks were outside the top 3. All of those Kings selections were outside the top 3. In fact Sacramento hasn’t netted a top 3 pick since 1991 when they selected Billy Owens who a season later turned into the legendary Mitch Richmond (via trade).
The other concept is how hard it is to obtain a franchise guy. Many NBA teams seem to be on this ever lasting quest for a franchise star to help lead them. There are 3 ways of acquiring one: draft, trade and free agency. The Kings don’t really have ammo to lure a franchise guy via free agency. They don’t have the assets yet to do so via trade. The only route is draft. Now the bigger problem here is that the Kings see Cousins as their franchise guy. While that’s a great title for Boogie, a franchise player is someone you can literally build a contending team around. As we noted earlier if the best we can aspire to is a 42 win team with Cousins then you probably need to rethink that franchise title for him.
Other teams don’t have to necessarily go the rebuild or bust route. For example, the Pacers and Warriors have done an excellent job at drafting quality talent late. The Kings were both unlucky and bluntly bad drafters. The truth is even if you stink at the draft, if you draft high enough and take the consensus Best Player Available you will field a strong core.
Let’s take a look at the Lakers, for example. I don’t think fans would say the Lakers are a phenomenal drafting team over the past decade, but they selected Randle years ago when he was the obvious choice and recently were fortunate enough to land consecutive top 3 picks and grabbed D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram. Sure, they aren’t setting the world on fire yet, but their fans are truly excited about their young core and they are starting a sensible foundation.
The Kings have a tremendous opportunity now. Two paths lay in front of them – either move forward with the soon to be albatross contract handed to Cousins, or call your pal Danny Ainge. That decision will dictate the future of basketball for the franchise and determine whether DeMarcus is the new Kings of the C’s or continues to be the Kings of Queens.