Why Sacramento Kings Are Making the Perfect Choice with DeMarcus Cousins
According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Kings and Cousins are nearing an agreement on an extension, one that could be hammered out before training camp begins:
Sacramento Kings big man DeMarcus Cousins is on course to see his contract extended before the Oct. 31 extension deadline for 2010 first-round picks, according to sources with knowledge of the talks.
Two sources told ESPN.com that Cousins could actually have a deal wrapped up before the Kings open training camp next week in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Some had Cousins' impending restricted free agency headed for a more dramatic ending. His first three years have been marked by promise, and marred by controversy. There was no telling what would happen next.
Sacramento has elected to put an end to the revolving uncertainty sooner rather than later, making what is the first-ever perfect decision pertaining to its embattled big man.
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Beyoncé knows best...so long as "Single Ladies" was actually a metaphor for NBA contract extensions and not actual engagements.
The Kings could hem and haw all they like, and they wouldn't be fooling anyone. Sacramento not only likes, it needs Boogie. Well before the Maloofs reign of terror and inadequacy ended, the Kings needed him.
Double-double machines with the passing acumen of a point guard come around about as often as Luis Scola's next haircut. Passing on the opportunity to lock Cousins down now would be foolish. For all the temper tantrums he's thrown and technicals he's received, he's only the 16th player in league history to notch at least 16 points, nine rebounds, two assists and one steal per game through the first three years of his career.
Teams should never pounce at the opportunity to distance themselves from that kind of statistical ceiling. Nor do they have anything to gain from playing hardball and letting the situation ride into the summer.
Playing hard to get works for the smoking-hot model sipping multi-colored cosmos at the bar, not the guy who hits the town dressed like the hamburglar just because. In this instance, the Kings fall into the poorly dressed latter.
Allowing Cousins to hit the (semi-) open market is a recipe for disaster. Suitors are going to flock his way; it's going happen. Sacramento would have the right to match any offer he receives, but what's the sense of letting it get that far? Why risk isolating the best player on your team?
Cutting out the middle man (competing offers) shows Cousins the Kings are serious about him. That they believe they can build a winner around him.
No team in the NBA should understand the value of a happy and appreciated Cousins more than these Kings. The owners are new; they're not stupid. They have to see the importance of not prolonging the inevitable.
Not to mention they're officially in no position to feign super-model looks. The first call Vivek Ranadive—who headed the Kings' new ownership group—placed after gaining control of the organization was to Cousins.
"I don't want to say anything premature, but I've been constant in my support for DeMarcus," he told USA Today's Sam Amick. "I reached out to him when we first closed the deal. He was the first person I reached out to.
Once officially named the team's new head coach, Mike Malone didn't dance around the franchise's plans for Cousins either.
"I will go to him with open arms, because we all know, on any given night, he's the most talented big man in the NBA," he said, as quoted by the The Sacramento Bee's Ailene Voisin. "You just don't get rid of those guys."
Malone was right—you don't. And the Kings won't. Good for them.
Embracing the Inevitable
Plenty of things are inevitable in the NBA. The New York Knicks are going to overpay someone every offseason. The Dallas Mavericks will strike out on a big-name free agent annually. And I'll write at least one article a week with Blink-182 on repeat in the background.
Oh, and the Kings were always going to extend Cousins, no matter the cost.
Stein writes that Cousins is seeking a max five-year deal worth $80 million, much like the one John Wall signed with the Washington Wizards. Final numbers could vary depending on how the contract is structured, but Cousins will likely net the maximum.
No one's saying that's not a lot of money. But it's money the Kings aren't going to spend elsewhere.
Below you'll see their current salary commitments leading into the summer of 2014. Team options are represented in bold, non-guaranteed deals with an asterisk and qualifying offers highlighted.
|Luc Mbah a Moute||$4,382,575|
That all-inclusive total is going to change. Sactown cannot carry 17 players, so that number would drop when the roster is narrowed down to 15 players.
Truthfully, we're not concerned with that $66.5 million. The Kings have the ability to part ties with a number of players, including Cousins, bringing their salary commitments down to $39.3 million if they so choose. Even after cap holds, they could still have $15-20 million to play around with in 2014. So what's the problem?
Cap room is nice if you have the means to land superstars. Devoid of a player like Cousins, the Kings don't have anyone to sell prospective free agents on. They'll appeal to the Carl Landrys, but not the LeBron Jameses.
A lot can happen between now and then, of course. Trades could be struck, salaries dumped and spending power increased. But that's flexibility that means nothing without Cousins. There isn't another player on the roster with the ability to charm the way Boogie can. And even he might not be enough.
When it comes down to it, the Kings could retain Cousins and lose most of their financial flexibility, or they can watch him walk away and move forward without a concrete foundation in place for the future or the attractive tools necessary to acquire one. It's not difficult to see which is the more palatable route.
The Shaqramento Kings
More than anything else, Cousins has needed a mentor. Someone to nurture his talent and salvage his persona.
Enter Shaquille O'Neal.
The new minority owner is one of the greatest big men to ever play the game, and managed to achieve that friendly balance between cocksure and fan favorite for almost two decades. Cousins is going to benefit from any advice Shaq can offer both on and off the court.
Shaqueezy himself agrees.
"You hear people say all the time that he's probably the most talented big man in the league, so now if you've got that behind your name, then everything else must follow," O'Neal said, via Amick. "I'm going to teach him a few things to add to his game."
Cousins hasn't had this before. Any of it. The previous regime failed to place a veteran around him who could help him navigate his responsibilities successfully. Shaq can now do everything but hold his hand during games.
Carrying a franchise isn't foreign to him. And neither is winning. He knows what it takes to succeed as a player and person, wisdom that he can now pass on to a willing Cousins.
"DeMarcus is so excited at just the thought that (Shaq) is going to be talking to him, going to be spending time with him, going to be watching him, on the practice court, that he just can't contain himself," Ranadive said, per Amick. "When he first heard that (Shaq) was looking at becoming an investor in the Kings, he just texted me and said, 'Can I please, please reach out to (Shaq)?'"
And it seems he has. Cousins, Shaq and the rest of Sacramento's front-office contingent are already breaking bread together. Ranadive's son, Aneel, posted a picture on Twitter to help capture the moment.
They sure look like one big happy organization, don't they?
Boogie has already solidified his status as one of the most promising centers in the NBA, sans professional and personal guidance. Just imagine what he'll be able to do under Shaq's monstrous wing.
Building a Winner
Quite literally, the Kings eventually want to put a ring on Cousins. They should want to put a ring on everybody. Sacramento hasn't made the playoffs in seven years, and if it wishes to return to contention, it has to start somewhere.
For some teams, that means throwing money at marque free agents. Or parlaying coveted trade assets into disgruntled superstars. Or making shrewd draft-day decisions.
In Sacramento, however, it starts with Cousins.
The Kings don't have the assets necessary to pull off a series of blockbuster trades. They also don't have the big-market appeal necessary to sign star presences outright. And without Cousins, they wouldn't have that selling point who could make future coups possible.
Are the Kings smart to extend Cousins now?
Rebuilds outside of major cities have to start with one player in place. LeBron and Chris Bosh don't join the Miami Heat if Dwyane Wade takes his talents to the Chicago Bulls. Dwight Howard wouldn't have joined the Houston Rockets had James Harden still been in Oklahoma City.
If anything, the Kings should consider themselves fortunate that they have a potential star on the docket already. They don't have to approach the draft, free agency or trade deadline and pray one falls into their laps.
They don't have to start from (absolute) scratch.
Work still needs to be done in Sacramento. Tons of it. Winning cultures don't materialize out of thin air. But they also don't begin without that one player who makes planning for the future worthwhile. And locking up Cousins now gives the Kings an ideal beginning to a rebuild that has been stalled for years.
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