The Sacramento Kings are entering an era of welcome stability after a tumultuous decade of incompetence and disorganization. They've got a new ownership group, led by Vivek Ranadive, and a new coach in Mike Malone.
The question now: Is DeMarcus Cousins, who symbolizes the era the Kings desperately want to put behind them, on his last chance to prove he's a franchise player?
Well, he sure hasn't been one in his three-year NBA career to this point. Franchise talent? Sure. But franchise cornerstone? Hardly.
See, Cousins has always been described by a pair of adjectives, one forever following the other. He's both "talented" and "immature." And there's really no arguing with either characterization.
Watch Cousins thread a one-handed bounce pass to a cutter from the top of the circle or dominate the paint on offense with his rare mix of size and quickness, and the "talent" portion of his makeup is undeniable.
But sit back as he suffers unprovoked emotional meltdowns, fails to get back on defense and makes countless basketball mistakes, and the "immaturity" part of him is just as obvious. Because of that duality in Cousins' game, the Kings are in a tough spot.
There are plenty of reasons why this should be Cousins' last chance with the Kings.
For starters, he hasn't shown much personal growth since he entered the league. Last season—his third—was marked by run-ins with everyone from television commentators to opposing players to his own coach. I'll grant that playing for the Kings is frustrating in itself, but there's really no excuse for the continuous lack of maturity Cousins displayed last season.
That immaturity seems to be related to the lack of progress in his game as well. This past season, Cousins continued to tantalize with glimpses of great footwork and impressive displays of rebounding prowess. But he logged more turnovers than assists, continued to take a bevy of mid- and short-range jumpers despite his complete inability to knock them down, and didn't show the slightest inkling of understanding how to play team defense.
At some point, these things stop being the signs of inexperience and start being symptoms of an unwillingness to put in the work (and absorb the criticism) necessary to improve. Watch film from any of Cousins' three seasons and he appears to be essentially the same player.
That's not a good sign.
In addition to his stunted development, Cousins might deserve to be on his last chance with the team because a culture change may not easily occur if he's still around. Sacramento has a stunning collection of shoot-first players who don't know how to do the little things. Part of that has to do with the former ownership group's failure to support the roster with capable coaches.
But just as much blame has to fall on the players themselves.
So if the Kings are serious about changing the franchise's culture, Cousins—and just about everyone else on the roster—should probably be shipped out. There's nothing wrong with starting fresh when you're already in the league's basement.
And if the team does want to trade Cousins, now's the time. If he doesn't improve under Malone, his value will sink even lower. Because of his personality issues, there's already no way the Kings will get dollar-for-dollar value in a trade. They risk getting mere pennies back if they wait until Cousins fails under the new regime.
As much as it seems like this should be Cousins' last chance, there are a number of signs pointing toward patience among the Kings' new management structure.
Malone, for one, has been lauding Cousins in his initial comments as the team's new coach.
According to Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee, Malone said: "We all know on any given night he's the most talented big man in the NBA. You just don't get rid of those guys. He could be and should be the cornerstone of this franchise for years to come. That's my hope."
Of course, it's hard to imagine Malone saying anything negative about Cousins—even if he believed it—at this early stage. Being critical wouldn't really get the new coach anywhere at this juncture, and if the team wanted to trade Cousins, it makes sense to speak highly of him in the meantime.
And who knows? Perhaps Malone can make a difference. He was a straight talker in Golden State, and his chops as a defensive strategist are unquestioned. Maybe he'll get through to Cousins and inspire him to turn his career around. (Please stop laughing; that's at least possible, right? Right?!)
But there's more.
It sounds like Ranadive has designs on marketing this team internationally. It'd be ideal to do that with a winning product, but someone like Cousins—who at least has the occasional outward appearance of stardom—could suffice in a pinch.
Vivek: "I'd like nothing better than a billion Indians to know who DeMarcus Cousins is." #sackings— Jonathan Santiago (@itsjonsantiago) June 3, 2013
Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Cousins is going anywhere right now. Malone should at least get the chance to connect with his team's most talented player before the franchise moves on. There's almost no evidence that Cousins will ever grow up enough to be a key player on a winning team, but it seems like the new regime wants to at least find out for itself whether Cousins is as problematic as advertised.
There's a sliver of a chance that Cousins could actually turn into a franchise player. Apparently that possibility, remote as it is, is going to be enough to keep Cousins in Sacramento—for now.