Make no mistake about it, one day in the foreseeable future DeMarcus Cousins will no longer be a member of the Sacramento Kings. Whether he is traded or leaves as a free agent, it seems inevitable that Cousins will be on the move in the next year or two. He is not a good fit with the Kings and never will be, which leaves other NBA teams salivating at the prospect of signing a young player with dominant talent who already has few peers at the center position and is getting better.
The Kings have spent the past two years denying speculation that they will trade Cousins. However, there are recent rumblings that their resolve may be weakening, and something might actually happen this summer.
Cousins is perceived, whether fairly or not, as a malcontent. He has played for a virtual merry-go-round of head coaches in Sacramento, which some critics try to blame on the challenges of coaching him. There is also a concern about his durability in that the last two years he played in only 59 and 65 games, respectively.
Yet, no one can deny his immense talent. Cousins played one year of college basketball at the University of Kentucky, where he was SEC rookie-of-the-year. He was rated by Rivals.com as a five-star recruit coming out of high school and was ranked the number one power forward and number two recruit in the nation. He was the fifth overall selection in the first round of the 2010 NBA Draft.
Cousins has been good since the start of his NBA career, but the past three seasons he has really soared, another testament to the fact that even the best players take a few years to start to resemble the player they will become. He made the Western Conference All-Star team the past two years, and, more importantly, he was an All-NBA Second Team selection both years. For his career, through six seasons, his averages are 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. These numbers are rising steadily, as last season he averaged 26.9 points and 11.5 rebounds per contest.
Cousins is only 25 (he turns 26 next month), which is scary for opponents. It means he is a great fit for a young roster such as, for example, the Los Angeles Lakers. The inescapable fact is that Cousins is already the best center in the NBA, and he is going to get even better.
The Kings’ draft philosophy the past two seasons has been peculiar. With Cousins already in the fold and so many weaknesses to address on their roster, last year they spent their high lottery pick on Willie Cauley-Stein from the University of Kentucky, another center. He played well in his rookie season, so the assumption was the team would look to shore up other areas in this year’s draft. Instead, they selected two more centers, Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere. What the Kings plan on doing with four centers is anyone’s guess, but logic suggests they have plans to move one or two of them. Could Cousins be first to go, especially if the Kings could secure good young talent to fit around the remaining centers?
One team with good young talent is the Lakers. They have eight players 24 years or younger who are expected to make the 2016-17 roster. This includes the 2015 and 2016 number two overall draft choices D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram, another top selection the year before in Julius Randle, and two other players who would be coveted by other teams, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance, Jr.
Adding to the speculation is the fact that the team has not yet officially signed three players in Brandon Ingram, Tarik Black, and Marcelo Huertas. There has been no explanation from the team, which is fueling speculation that the Lakers are trying to leave cap space to make a major deal.
The big question, of course, is whether the Lakers are willing to part with at least two top players to make the trade happen. The Kings could ask for Russell and Ingram, which the Lakers would likely refuse. However, if they would settle for Randle and either Russell or Ingram, would the Lakers bite? The answer is, maybe.
Lakers fans are bitterly divided over whether they would support such a move. Although Cousins’ immense talent is undeniable, his attitude and durability are questions, although such knocks against him may be exaggerated and unfounded. But the bigger issue for Lakers fans is that they want to see the current young core play together and grow. There is great reluctance to trade for anyone if it means parting with the most important of the young players.
The front office knows, however, that while there might be excitement right now, that could change once the season starts if the team struggles again which is expected. These are very young players, and it will likely take three more years for the team to learn what they will become. Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak might feel they don’t have three more years to wait to find out, and if Russell, Randle, Ingram and Clarkson do not reach All-Star heights (or close), the team will be back to square one regarding its championship aspirations.
The Lakers’ brass also knows that Cousins has two more years on his contract at a relatively affordable salary equivalent to what the team will be paying Timofey Mozgov per season, which means it is a bargain for someone with Cousins’ talent. They may feel if they can sign Cousins now, it significantly increases their chances of getting point guard Russell Westbrook after next season when he will be an unrestricted free agent. With Cousins and Westbrook, the Lakers would be back in business.
The Lakers are not the only team interested in Cousins, but they may be in the best position to get him. They have attractive young assets to trade if the Kings decide to make a move and rebuild with their draft choices from last year and this summer and the players they get in the trade. The key will be whether they insist on receiving Ingram and Russell because the feeling is that the Lakers will not part with both.
If the Kings will agree to accept Randle and Russell, with perhaps Anthony Brown, Tarik Black, Marcelo Huertas or Nick Young thrown in to sweeten the pot, there is a chance the Lakers might say yes. That would still leave the purple and gold with Clarkson, Ingram, Nance, and Zubac, with a still productive Luol Deng. Plus there would be Cousins and perhaps Westbrook to follow after next season. Of course, the one piece that does not fit is Mosgov, to whom the team has committed a lot of money.
After three months of non-stop drama since last season ended in mid-April for the Lakers, it was expected that the next two months would be quiet and peaceful leading to the start of training camp. A trade for DeMarcus Cousins would shatter the calm, shake up the roster, require more moves to shore up the holes left by the departing players, and send shockwaves across the NBA. Certainly, Lakers fans would be debating such a move for months and perhaps longer.