NBA AM: Is Cousins The Kings’ Problem Or Solution?


Is DeMarcus Cousins The Kings’ Problem Or Solution?

There are some lottery-bound fanbases around the league that are excited and completely overjoyed about their next superstar. The New Orleans Pelicans have Anthony Davis. The Minnesota Timberwolves have Karl-Anthony Towns. The Utah Jazz, for instance, have promising talent in Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert.

The hope that these fans share is that their young stars will fully develop and eventually lead them to the promised land – being in serious contention for a NBA title.

However, there is one franchise with arguably the best young big man in the game entering the summer months with more questions than answers regarding their future. The Sacramento Kings boast two-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins, a rare talent who is capable of being a 30-point, 15-rebound threat on any given night. In an era where dominant big man are as rare as a lunar eclipse, Cousins is a guy coming off a season where he averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds per game.

But in mainstream discussions, when talking about the next sure thing, Cousins’ name is not likely to be mentioned before Davis or Towns. The reason for this is simple: Most cannot determine whether Cousins is part of Sacramento’s long-term solution or is the big man driving the majority of the franchise’s problems.

Cousins came into the league with a reputation for being hard to deal with personally. Fair or not, this was the perception. Not surprisingly, the young big man has had more than his share of clashes with Sacramento’s head coaches over the years. Whether it has been run-ins with Paul Westphal all the way to the recently dismissed George Karl, Cousins has had trouble getting along with the guy calling the shots from the sidelines.

But on the flip side, Cousins’ teammate revere the guy. Cousins’ teammates routinely talk of a guy who gives his blood, sweat and tears every time he puts on the uniform.

So which is it?

Is Cousins someone who just doesn’t respect any type of authority? Or have the Kings failed to put the right authority figure around the emerging star?

Heading into the offseason, the Kings remain at a troublesome crossroads. The franchise has not reached the postseason since 2006, but looked like they could potentially make a run this year before a rash of injuries bottomed the team out after the All-Star break.

The challenge for Sacramento’s front office will be the decision to either continue building around Cousins or surveying the market to see what type of return they could potentially receive for his talent via trade.

However, here’s the issue.

There’s no way the Kings receive fair market value for Cousins via trade because of all of the uncertainty surrounding the big man – the mental aspect specifically. If it came down to just on-court results, this would be a different story and teams would be tripping over themselves to get a piece of Cousins’ upside. But there aren’t going to be many teams lining up to mortgage the future of their respective franchise for an emerging star with plenty of talent who has never led his team to 40 wins in any campaign over six seasons.

For now it appears that the Kings, who are once again searching for a new coach, are stuck with the idea of building around Cousins – which makes this summer even more interesting. Former All-Star guard Rajon Rondo is headed to unrestricted free agency. While Cousins and Rondo are both former University of Kentucky standouts and quickly bonded, the question remains will Rondo stay with the Kings or did he do his one-year stint in Sacramento to improve his stock after the his fiasco in Dallas in 2015? Is Rondo now ready to join a legitimate title contender as he rounds out a very respectable career?

The Kings will have between $11 million and $26 million in cap space this summer to retool their roster depending on cap holds and player/team options.

There’s no question Cousins has the physical tools for greatness. The jury is now out on whether he has the leadership chops to strap his team to his back and get into the playoffs. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. But that’s the dilemma the Kings’ front office has to figure out. Is Cousins their biggest problem or their best potential solution?