To trade or not to trade DeMarcus Cousins. That is the question.
DeMarcus Cousins could be more like Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar than we thought.
Both big men were surefire Hall of Famers when they were traded away from their respective franchises. While Chamberlain was shipped off from the San Francisco Warriors to the Philadelphia 76ers and then moved to the Los Angeles Lakers just three seasons later, Abdul-Jabbar was sent to the Los Angeles Lakers because the Milwaukee Bucks didn't fit his cultural needs.
They're the best examples of big men either blossoming or in their primes who were sent packing, but Cousins could soon join them. And don't worry, I'm not suggesting that "Boogie" is a surefire HOFer.
Well, not yet.
Although the Kentucky product has played superb basketball during his first three seasons at the professional level, the discussion surrounding him centers around trades, not contract extensions. For all his physical dominance, the big man is a massive head case, prone to technical fouls, ejections and suspensions.
Is he worth the headache? Well, that's for the Sacramento Kings to decide, and they'll need to do so soon.
Pros of Trading Cousins
One of the most exciting parts of the offseason has taken place in Sacramento, and we haven't even crowned the champions of the 2012-13 season. The Maloofs are out, replaced by a new ownership group.
At one point, the Maloofs were considered masterful owners of a small-market team, but that was a long time ago now. We have a short memory in sports, and they were almost universally looked down upon in Sacramento during the denouement of their ownership.
With Vivek Ranadive at the helm now, things are looking fresh and sparkly for the Kings. When compared to what was happening before they took over, the situation almost has to.
How much confidence do you have in Ranadivé?
The Kings are staying in Sacramento, and there's hope for competence at the top. And if that competence trickles down throughout the organization, the team will be in great shape down the road.
Ranadive and Co. have the ability to give the team a blank slate, shaping the franchise as they want it to be shaped. James Johnson, Toney Douglas and Tyreke Evans are all restricted free agents, so they could be on the way out. And there's a chance that the Evans-Cousins combination, one that once looked so promising, could be completely gone.
Remember when the Washington Wizards ridded themselves of JaVale McGee? They made an internal decision to value character over talent, shipping off the seven-footer and his constant antics on the court.
McGee was actually having the best season of his career, but it didn't matter. Averaging 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while shooting 53.5 percent from the field, Pierre had earned a 19.6 PER, then a career high.
But none of that mattered to the Wizards brass.
Since then, the Wizards have been on the rise, and they now look poised to contend for a playoff spot in the admittedly weaker Eastern Conference.
Trading away Cousins would send a similar message in Sacramento, and it could have similar results down the road. A move would signal that a shift has occurred in the organizational philosophy. One player isn't bigger than the team any longer.
That's sort of the hidden pro of trading Cousins, though. The more obvious answer is simply that they could get a lot for him in a trade.
Right now, the working rumor comes to us courtesy of ESPN's Bradford Doolittle (subscription required):
Let's say the new regime taking over the Kings decides that in order to turn the page from the Maloof years, it has to begin by moving on from the Cousins-Tyreke Evans years. Evans will be a restricted free agent, and that is a separate issue. Cousins is entering the last year of his rookie deal, making him eligible for an extension in October.
If the Kings are ready to pull the plug on the talented but undisciplined center, then no team could offer a package of young assets more attractive than what Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant could send their way. And doing so would likely further strengthen Cleveland's position when it comes to re-signing James.
Before Cavs fans get mad—again—at seeing Waiters leave their team, let me make perfectly clear that the point isn't to analyze this specific trade. Instead, just take a look at the level of assets that Sacramento is expected to get for Boogie.
In this move, they're working with a high-potential former lottery pick, a rotation big and the No. 1 pick in a weak draft class. That's a lot in return for one player.
The first rumored deal rarely comes to pass, but it can be useful because it sets a nice benchmark. By dealing Cousins, it's apparent that the general manager in Sacramento—one who has yet to be named, or hired, for that matter—could send his team down the path of the Houston Rockets: stockpiling young players and tradeable assets until landing a superstar.
Regardless of the specifics, Sacramento could get a good deal of talent for Cousins.
The third pro of dealing the former Wildcat requires looking at what happens if the Kings don't make a move.
What happens if he blows up again and earns himself a lengthy suspension? What if his headache-inducing antics on the court (note: Cousins' reputation as an off-court cancer is ridiculous. All his problems have taken place on the hardwood) never stop, and he fails to reach his full potential?
Both of those scenarios could result in failing to sign him to an extension during the 2013-14 season—or not even wanting to.
Then you're left in a bit of a pickle when he hits unrestricted free agency while you sit there having received nothing in return.
Cons of Trading Cousins
Trading Cousins prevents the possibility of Vivek Ranadive and the rest of the new ownership turning around the course of his career. Additionally, Mike Malone could have a serious say in Cousins' actions on the court.
As an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and Golden State Warriors, Malone has been a part of quite a few defensive turnarounds, and he's also developed a reputation in NBA circles as a well-liked guy. Perhaps, he's the personality needed in Sac-Town to make sure that Cousins' head stays screwed on properly.
But the bigger con is what could happen if Cousins gets a chance to develop on another team. There's no feeling worse than knowing you unnecessarily traded a future superstar before watching him blossom into an elite player elsewhere.
And here's what I've neglected to state explicitly up until this point in the article: DeMarcus Cousins is already a dominant center.
He's submitted a plus-20 PER during each of his past two professional seasons, including a 21.7 PER in 2011-12 that left him as one of the few players in the league whose PER was higher than his age.
Cousins has also displayed a nice knack for steady improvement in a number of ultra-important areas, something that's undoubtedly a good sign for the rest of his career:
The takeaway here is that Cousins is trending toward becoming a consistent scorer, and he's getting less turnover-prone while learning how to limit the number of fouls he commits.
A little-known fact about Boogie is that, despite averaging 14.1 points per game as a rookie with the Kings, he actually racked up minus-1.9 win shares on offense. Believe it or not, his presence was detrimental to the offensive efforts.
That can no longer be said, especially after he submitted an average of 2.05 offensive win shares over the past two seasons.
Cousins is also an absolutely dominant rebounder, and that's one of the toughest pieces to find without throwing a board specialist onto the court. He's particularly potent on the defensive glass now, and he finished ninth in the Association in terms of total rebounding percentage.
The players ahead of him? Only Reggie Evans, Omer Asik, J.J. Hickson, Nikola Vucevic, Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Tyson Chandler.
In fact, only Cousins, Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Kevin Love were able to boast at least 17 points per game and a total rebounding percentage of 18 or higher during the 2012-13 season.
Here's the full list of players who have met those qualifications during a single season since the turn of the century: Carlos Boozer (three times), Andrew Bynum (once), DeMarcus Cousins (twice), Tim Duncan (10 times), Kevin Garnet (five times), Blake Griffin (once), Dwight Howard (seven times), Al Jefferson (once), Kevin Love (three times), Shaquille O'Neal (once), Zach Randolph (three times).
There are two primary takeaways here: Tim Duncan is really good at basketball, and you want to be on this list.
Unless his attitude holds him back, Cousins is going to be special. He's already on that track, and the Kings would hate to see him reach the other end of it while wearing a uniform that didn't include purple and black.
To borrow a concept from Bill Simmons, each player, and his trade value, can be represented by a coin or bill.
The two-dollar bills are exceptionally rare, and back when Simmons introduced the idea, only Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, and Derrick Rose qualified for the category.
The general rule of thumb is that you don't want to trade a two-dollar bill for eight quarters. In theory, yes, they're equal. But in the NBA, the two-dollar bill is far more valuable because it can help you win a title.
Based on Simmons' criteria, Cousins is currently hovering somewhere in between being a silver dollar and a 50-cent piece. His talent falls in with the former group, but the attitude might knock him down into the latter.
Should the Kings trade Cousins?
Many of the trade offers that Sacramento gets if it places Cousins on the trading block will involve getting back a collection of quarters, dimes and nickels.
One of those deals could be the best option for the Kings, but it's important to stay patient. There are pros and cons to keeping him, just as there are pros and cons to trading him.
Evaluating those is the first big challenge of Ranadive's reign in the Sacramento front office. Hiring Mike Malone was tough, as will be finding a general manager and deciding who to draft.
But deciding whether or not to trade Cousins?
Whew, I'm glad I only have to speculate.
Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.