Does DeMarcus Cousins Deserve a Max Contract?

D.J. Foster@@fosterdjContributor ISeptember 23, 2013

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 10:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings at American Airlines Center on December 10, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

There's an air of inevitability to DeMarcus Cousins' contract negotiations with the Sacramento Kings.

All signs point to the Sacramento Kings offering Cousins a max extension before the October 31st deadline. Cousins himself has said he wants to be in Sacramento. The new ownership group wants him there. There are details to hammer out, but ultimately, the motivations to sign an extension exist on both sides. 

Of course, there's also the knowledge that Cousins would likely receive a max contract offer from another team in restricted free agency, should the Kings fail to lock him up to an extension. We know what young, talented big men demand on the open market, thanks to Roy Hibbert's max offer from the Portland Trail Blazers last year that the Indiana Pacers felt inclined to match. 

Delaying the inevitable and perhaps eliminating the chance at a clean slate for both Cousins and the organization seems needlessly foolish. It's hard to see how this doesn't get done for the most dollars possible.

The money shouldn't be an issue, really, since we can also probably safely assume that an ownership group willing to spend a record-setting amount of money isn't going to jeopardize the protection of one of its biggest assets over what essentially amounts to chump change. Besides, is a max deal for Cousins really overspending if that's the price the market would almost certainly dictate?

April 14, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) reacts after he was called for a technical foul in the first quarter against the Houston Rockets at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Providing Cousins with the option to sign elsewhere by foregoing an extension could only unnecessarily complicate things. Giving Cousins an extension right now is logical, but it's understandable that emotion might be fueling skepticism in an extension for the big man. Cousins is worth a max contract as the market and situation define it, and yet, simultaneously, it still feels like he might not be worth one at all.

Shaky field-goal percentage and porous pick-and-roll defense aside, that's primarily because Cousins is as polarizing of a figure the NBA has. Watching his supporters fall off the bandwagon slowly over the course of a season has become sort of a yearly tradition, hasn't it? Talk to a Kings fan and he'll talk himself into DeMarcus Cousins one day, then swear off him the next.

That's because Cousins is hands-down the most infuriating player in the league to watch: engaged and dominant at times; listless and apathetic at others. In that way, there's a duality to everything about the big man from Kentucky. We hear that he just wants to win, and yet he's often doing things that couldn't possibly be construed as conducive to that.

The fire that makes him dominant during his monster games can also make him insufferable to coaches and teammates. He balances the line between cancer and savior more than anyone else in recent memory.

Tying your franchise to such an unsteady, inconsistent player and person is enough to make anyone uneasy. The Kings simply have to try and make it work, though, because Cousins' talent is too great not to.

You see, the concern isn't that Cousins fails. He'll always be productive to a certain degree, even if that production isn't on par with his skills. So long as he has his youth and his health, some team will always be willing to take the chance on his size and talent. The trade market for Cousins isn't going to dry up, unless something drastic happens.

The main fear for Sacramento isn't failure; it's the fear that Cousins will succeed elsewhere. It's not always easy to evaluate the risk of not taking a chance on a player, but it has to be a prevalent part of the process when evaluating Cousins and his future. If the franchise doesn't want Cousins' commitment to waver, how could it do the opposite by failing to extend him?

Since he's likely to receive an extension, the question now is how can Cousins become worthy of a max contract? It's a long list of things needed to be done, but at the very top is accountability. New head coach Mike Malone will demand it defensively, and as the face of the franchise, Cousins can't undermine his authority with poor efforts or outbursts like he has in the past. Selfishness has to be replaced with selflessness.

To his credit, Cousins has shown he can take charges, make the right passes and use his tremendous athletic gifts to be a factor all over the floor. Now, though, the things that were choices in years past have to become automatic going forward. 

Admittedly, paying someone the maximum amount of money allowed by the league seems like putting the cart before the horse in terms of motivation, but setting a value for Cousins to live up to might not be the worst idea.

Like the kid in school who is extremely intelligent, knows it, and coasts by with minimal effort, it's Cousins' potential that got him here, but it also may have been his potential holding him back. It's incredibly easy to be satisfied with "knowing" you can do better—to be complacent with greatness you promise yourself down the line.

Contrary to what Kings new minority owner and new mentor Shaquille O'Neal might think, Cousins doesn't need to hear how great he could be. He's been hearing that his whole life. He needs to hear how great he has to be. It's time for production to replace potential, and if (or when) the max payday comes, the bigger responsibilities will require a bigger commitment for Cousins.

We'll see if he's up for it.