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NBA Sunday: Moving DeMarcus Cousins

As the Sacramento Kings prepare to trade Rudy Gay, it may also be time to part with DeMarcus Cousins.

Moke Hamilton

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As we head into the 2016-17 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings are a team that should appear on your “must watch” list. But not exactly for riveting basketball.

In all likelihood, we are watching the final days of Rudy Gay’s career as a King, but it is DeMarcus Cousins whose potential move could have power shifting potential.

Trading him will probably be the most difficult decision that vice president of basketball operations and general manager Vlade Divac will have to make.

Still, it appears to be an easy one.

* * * * * *

Of all NBA teams, the Kings have the second-longest playoff drought. Having not made a postseason appearance since 2006, only the Minnesota Timberwolves (who last made a playoff appearance in 2004) have them beat. With Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Kris Dunn, though, there appears to be a bright future in Minneapolis. So, for the Kings, in the battle of futility, they appear to be in the lead.

Complicating matters for the Kings, this past week, Rudy Gay essentially confirmed the reports of his having one foot out the door. Holding a player option on his 2017-18 contract year, Gay reportedly told the Kings that he plans on opting out of the final year of his contract, making him a free agent on July 1, 2017. He is also said to have let the team know that he would welcome a trade, indicating that he isn’t likely to re-sign. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how that’ll end.

Among the most telling quotes that Gay gave us this week are that he has “no choice” but to “work” for the Kings and that he will “act” as if he will be with the team all season. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

The good news for the Kings, though, is that there does appear to be some life after Gay. There a semblance of a nucleus in Sacramento, and the assets could be netted in return for Gay could help the rebuilding process along.

InsiderDeMarcusCousinsDeMarcus Cousins now ends up caught in the middle. Again.

The recently hired Dave Joerger is his sixth coach since beginning his career in Sacramento in 2011 and he has seen scores of teammates including Tyreke Evans and Rajon Rondo come and go. Now, as Cousins arrives at the penultimate year of his current contract, despite coming off of an incredible season, the wisest thing for the organization to do is to deal him now.

It may sound crazy, but if it does, ask yourself two questions. First, are the Kings likely to become a contender over the next two seasons? Second, will Cousins’ trade value increase between now and July 1, 2018?

The answers are “no,” and “probably not,” respectively. So why delay the inevitable?

Back in February 2011, the Utah Jazz traded Deron Williams to the Brooklyn Nets after the franchise found itself in the same exact predicament with Williams. At the time, Williams still had two inclusive seasons remaining on his contract and netted the Jazz Derrick Favors and two first-round picks in return. Had the Jazz waited until the final year of Williams’ contract, the return probably wouldn’t have been as great. Since then, things may have been slow to come together for the Jazz, but in hindsight, it’s clear that trading Williams in February 2011 was the right move and it came at the right time.

The Kings now sit in the same exact predicament with Cousins. Only he has been rather outspoken and critical of the moves the franchise is making. He has become the epitome of a disenfranchised franchise player, and if Kevin Durant left the Thunder—despite their resounding success—what do you think Cousins is thinking?

As we have seen, players in the final year of their contracts wield a de-facto “no-trade clause” in that few teams would be willing to give up any assets of substance without an assurance from the acquired player that he would be willing to re-sign with the acquiring team. In other words, one year from now, if the Kings decided it was time to move Cousins, he could simply refuse to extend his contract and hamper any attempt to trade him, even if a specific trade would yield the highest return.

With two years left, though, you can bet that every team in the league would do their best to be in on the bidding, even though Cousins would wield the same power. There are rebuilding teams in the league that would roll the dice if they had two seasons to convince a talented player to stick around. That’s precisely what the Nets did with Williams and he ultimately re-signed. The Los Angeles Clippers took a similar risk with Chris Paul, as well. That worked out, too.

Yes, trading a 26-year-old center who is coming off of a season where he averaged 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game seems asinine, but nothing would haunt the Kings more than losing Cousins for nothing in return.

Just ask the Thunder.

* * * * * *

In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers appear to be the most talented teams. The Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers all figure to be in the playoff mix, as well. The New Orleans Pelicans, Minnesota Timberwolves and Utah Jazz are also among the teams expected to take strides forward, while the Thunder probably remain viable. That means, in all likelihood, the Kings will join the likes of the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets as the teams pulling up the rear out West.

Do the Kings have enough talent to enter the playoff race? Does newly installed head coach Dave Joerger have the ability to pull it all together and end the playoff drought that has existed since the days of Shareef Abdur-Rahim? Probably not, and that’s true despite the team having a fair amount of young players who have have bright futures in the league.

Skal Labissiere, for example, was regarded by many as a “can’t miss” prospect as recently as 2015. Had he not gone to college and could have been drafted straight out of high school, he would have been a top five pick. Instead, reminiscent of Perry Jones III in 2012, he improbably fell to the Kings on draft night. He may be the second coming of Jones—four years later, he’s not even in the league—but he could also join players like Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Paul Millsap, Isaiah Thomas and Draymond Green. They are but a few examples of prospects who were simply missed by front offices.

Along with Willie Cauley-Stein, Malachi Richardson and George Papagiannis, Labissiere gives the Kings four young prospects whose best days are probably ahead. None of those four seem ready to lead the Kings back to the playoffs, but they do present hope for the future. As of right now, after becoming the poster child for futility, that’s more than can be said for the Kings odds of returning to the playoffs over the next two seasons. It’s also more than can be said of their prospects for ultimately re-signing Cousins.

We’ve seen this movie before. The writing’s on the wall. Rudy Gay told the world that he was done in Sacramento, and as his tenure draws to a close, the Kings should be thinking long and hard about making their trade conversations a double-feature. As painful as it may be, it may finally be time to part ways with arguably the most talented center in the league.

As we saw with the Jazz and Deron Williams, there absolutely is a right time to trade a franchise player.

For the Kings, that time has arrived.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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NBA

NBA AM: Nicolas Batum Is Helping The Hornets Get Organized

Dwight Howard has predictably struggled with scoring efficiency, but Nicolas Batum’s return is already helping.

Buddy Grizzard

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With the Charlotte Hornets below .500 and presently out of the playoff picture almost a quarter of the way into the season, it’s not too early to start looking at what has gone wrong. While Dwight Howard has, predictably, been an inefficient contributor on offense, the loss of Nicolas Batum for much of the early season was a major setback. With Batum averaging 13.5 points and 4.5 assists in his first four appearances since his return, can he be the catalyst to help Charlotte turn its season around?

Batum scored 16 with five rebounds and six assists in his first appearance of the season in a loss to the Cavaliers. Hornets coach Steve Clifford said it’s been a struggle to ease Batum back into the rotation due to his eagerness to be on the court.

“When he feels good, I just leave him out there,” said Clifford after Wednesday’s shootaround. “We just have to be careful because the first night, he gets going in the games and he wants to play more.”

Clifford added that Charlotte’s condensed schedule, featuring seven games in 11 days, has complicated efforts to bring Batum along slowly.

“He just needed to play some,” said Clifford. “I think once we get through this stretch he’ll be good. He eats up minutes anyway.”

Batum working his way back into the rotation could help the Hornets address one of the early issues, which has been the incorporation of Howard into the offense. Batum gives Charlotte another proficient pick and roll ball handler in addition to Kemba Walker, and he should help put Howard in better positions to score.

“It’s a lot different being out there with Nic,” said Walker. “He just takes so much pressure off a lot of us. It’s really good to have him back. He just makes the game easy for a lot of us.”

Three Hornets have executed over 20 pick and rolls as the roll man this season. Cody Zeller has scored 1.14 points per 100 possessions on 22 such possessions. Frank Kaminsky has scored 1.15 per 100 on 33 possessions as a roll man. This scoring efficiency for both players ranks just above the league average.

For Howard, in 24 possessions as a roll man, he’s scored .75 per 100, which ranks in the eighth percentile. In other words, Howard ranks in the bottom 10 percent of the league in pick and roll scoring efficiency. Just as Howard was unable to establish a consistent pick and roll partnership in Atlanta last season with point guard Dennis Schroder, Howard’s possessions as a roll man in Charlotte account for only nine percent of his total possessions.

By contrast, Howard has used 95 possessions this season in post isolation, which accounts for more than a third of his total possessions (35 percent). He’s scoring a ghastly .66 per 100 possessions, which ranks in the 15th percentile league-wide. Of the 17 players who have used at least 50 post-up possessions this season, Howard ranks dead last in scoring efficiency.

Despite these struggles, Clifford said Batum’s re-integration into the lineup has already resulted in more opportunities for Howard, both from direct and indirect assists.

“Since Nic came back now he’s getting the ball a lot more,” said Clifford. “That’s how Nic plays. It’s not only directly from Nic, but Nic will see how he’s playing and touch the ball to somebody else so they can get it to him.”

Clifford sounds relieved to have Batum back in the rotation, almost as if he’s an assistant coach on the floor.

“Certainly [it helps] our efficiency and organization on both ends of the floor,” said Clifford. “It’s the very nature of how he plays.”

With the Hornets just outside the playoff picture in the East, Batum’s return should help stabilize the team in its quest for the postseason. Batum wasn’t available to help ease Howard’s integration in the early part of the season. But now that he’s back, according to Clifford, he’s already been a huge asset to the team’s cohesion.

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NBA

Life After Philadelphia is Just Fine For Turner

Evan Turner goes 1-on-1 with Basketball Insiders to explain how life in Philadelphia shaped the rest of his career.

Dennis Chambers

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Once upon a time, Evan Turner was the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and the next man in line to save the Philadelphia 76ers.

After finishing his junior year at Ohio State University, Turner declared for the draft and eventually was taken directly after John Wall by the Sixers. Turner joined a team that won just 27 games the year before, but had more than a few promising young pieces.

Andre Iguodala, a former Sixers top-10 pick in his own right, was the oldest of the core bunch, at just 27. After him, the likes of Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Thaddeus Young, and Spencer Hawes were all under the age of 24. All in all, adding a No. 2 pick to that mix looked to set up the Sixers for years to come.

For the most part, the beginning of Turner’s career was successful. After making the playoffs his rookie season and losing in the first round to the Miami HEAT four games to one, the Sixers pushed the Boston Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals during the 2011-12 season.

Turner started 12 of those 13 playoff games during his second season, averaging 11.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 points per game.

Just as Turner seemed to be coming into his own, though, the tides in Philadelphia began to turn, and turn quickly.

His third year in the league, and first year as a full-time starter, came and went for Turner. He posted decent numbers. His 13.6 points per game were second only to Holiday. He was third on the team in assists and sixth in rebounds. In the midst of his fourth season, while averaging a career-high 17.4 points, Turner was traded to the Indiana Pacers.

Newly hired president of basketball operations, Sam Hinkie, had a plan in place that didn’t include Turner. It didn’t include Holiday either, as he was shipped off during the 2013 draft for Nerlens Noel and future first-round pick.

Just as the Sixers were becoming “his” team, Turner was sent packing to a new zip code. In his mind, he never got a fair shake at trying to the be the guy he was drafted to be in Philadelphia.

“I don’t think I really ever had a chance to shoulder it, to tell you the truth,” Turner told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t start my first two years, but numbers wise I thought I did well. Nobody averaged more than 13 or 14. We were a great unit. My third year, my first year starting, I thought I did pretty well for a first-year starter. We missed the playoffs, which is always tough. Within the next year, it got blown up.”

Turner reiterated that in his mind, he wasn’t allowed the leash to become a franchise guy. But it wasn’t all for naught in Philadelphia.

“Honest opinion, I don’t think I ever fully got the chance,” Turner said. “But I got the chance to do a lot of great things. Learn how to win, learn how to defend, learn how to prepare.”

Since leaving Philly, Turner’s role in the NBA has shifted from a potential franchise player to a serviceable role man on a playoff caliber team.

Last summer, Turner inked a four-year, $70 million deal with the Portland Trail Blazers after his stint with Indiana, and then two years with the Boston Celtics. Beyond the years in Philly, Turner’s life in the Association has been kind to him.

“It’s been fine,” Turner said. “On the up and up, I was fortunate to make the playoffs every year since leaving Philly. I made the playoffs two out of three, or three out of the four years that I was here. It’s cool, it’s a blessing. Healthy, stable, and living the dream.”

On Wednesday night, Turner returned to Philadelphia and the Wells Fargo Center to square off against his old team. Nowadays, this version of the Sixers is much different than the one he left behind. A process that nearly began with jettisoning Turner to the Pacers feels near completion, and the energy Turner once felt on the court in a Sixers uniform is returning in full force.

When walking around the building, this time as a visitor, Turner takes appreciation in seeing some old faces. The guys “behind the scenes” as he put it, always are welcoming. Brett Brown, Turner’s former coach, never fails to show him love, and the arena in South Philly, Turner says, is always a great reminder of where he came from.

Turner thinks the process that was kicked off with getting rid of him and his core teammates is promising, though.

“It’s turning around,” Turner said.  “Just off the first eye glance, I know Coach Brown can coach his butt off. Even the fact that they’re getting up a real practice facility says a lot. Obviously on the court, the energy. You see on tv before, it’s more sold out. When you see the Sixers sometimes it would be a joke, in regards to how many games they lost, or whatever. But now it’s kind of like you’re going to see some great highlights, you’re watching a lot of energy from the crowd and things. I’m happy for them. It seems like it’s trending in the right direction.”

It wasn’t always rainbows and sunshine for Turner in Philadelphia; he would be reminded of that as he was greeted with boo’s from the crowd when he checked into the game for the first time Wednesday night. The city of brotherly love has a reputation that doesn’t necessarily precede its name.

“Much is given, much is expected,” he said. “One thing is, when you get kind of labeled as whatever, you kind of get tagged for the most critical stuff. I saw how sometimes Iguodala would get blamed for everything, and then I kind of moved into that. I went from the cute little kid, to moving into that responsibility. Then MCW (Michael Carter-Williams) went from that position. It’s just kind of, you know, part of the game.”

The harshness of the city, and Turner’s situation particularly, helped guide him through his career after Philadelphia. In Turner’s words, “The only way to go from here, in a certain sense, is up.”

Portland’s sixth man has lived a long, lucrative life in the NBA, even if it didn’t go exactly how it was initially planned to. Turner was quick to point out that any time he heard someone complain during his travels around the league, at least they weren’t facing the wrath of Philadelphia.

“Going into new situations, people are like, ‘Hey they do this or they do that,’ and I’m like are y’all serious,” Turner said with a smile. “Go to Philly and see what they’ll do to y’all.”

Maybe his time spent in Philadelphia didn’t turn out the way fans had hoped, but Turner found out quickly there was a spot for him in the league as a former second overall pick, and that his career has gone just the way it was supposed to.

“I’m a firm believer in everything is supposed to happen how it’s supposed to happen,” Turner said. “Regardless of which, it’s a blessing.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA AM: The First 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

Steve Kyler

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The Thanksgiving 2018 NBA Mock Draft

With College Basketball getting underway and things starting to get interesting in the standings of the NBA, what better time to drop a 2018 Mock Draft than on Thanksgiving.

So with that in mind here is my first Mock Draft of the 2018 Season, look for more of these are we march on (and hopefully you like the new Mock Draft table design.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this summer.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the current standings.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick only conveys if the Bucks pick lands between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the standings today would convey.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Ricky Rubio trade this summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves first round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors first round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick is lottery protected and based on the current standings would convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets first round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick is top-three protected and based on the current standings would convey.

Check out our Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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