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Looks Like DeMarcus Cousins and the Kings Are Stuck with Each Other

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 07:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings takes on the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2016 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2016

If the Sacramento Kings were going to move on from DeMarcus Cousins, it seems like they would have done it by now.

Long before the latest swell of character-impugning incidents—assault lawsuits stemming from a nightclub incident in New York, video of Cousins intimidating Andy Furillo of the Sacramento Bee, the resulting $50,000 fine, Mouthpiecegate and an ensuing postgame rant—the Kings had more than enough cause to end the Cousins experience.

But they didn't.

Which makes you think that in addition to believing a few things about Cousins—that he'll mature, that he can be the cornerstone of a winner, that they may never get another shot at a player as talented as he is—the Kings also haven't found the market for his services to be robust.

Because however committed to him they may be, everything has its price.

The Kings, apparently, haven't found one they like for Cousins. And that's not likely to change.

 

Centers Aren't What They Used to Be

MEMPHIS, TN - DECEMBER 16:  Marc Gasol #33 of the Memphis Grizzlies handles the ball against DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings during a game on December 16, 2016 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Scan the NBA and try to count how many quality teams are built around score-first centers who don't defend.

You won't find any.

You also won't find any bigs as physically gifted as Cousins, but that's not really the point. What matters is that teams aren't constructed this way anymore.

And while Cousins' remarkably versatile offensive game (he shoots 37.4 percent from long range on nearly five attempts per game and cannot be stopped with a live dribble) sets him apart, inconsistent effort and attention on defense diminish the package considerably.

Saying the rest of the league doesn't view Cousins as a cornerstone is different than saying he's not valuable. It's just that in today's game, poorer facsimiles (think Greg Monroe, Al Jefferson, Enes Kanter, even Jahlil Okafor) are second-unit pieces.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 23: Jahlil Okafor #8 and Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers watch the game against the Orlando Magic from the bench on February 23, 2016 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Magic defeated the 76e
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

As reserves and spot-use options, those defense-averse scorers can attack backups without their weaknesses being so badly exploited.

Try imagining a world in which Cousins, a two-time All-Star in his absolute prime, a guy averaging 29 points per game and posting the second-highest usage percentage in the league, would accept reserve duties.

Won't happen.

But that's where the league (and especially teams in its upper reaches) see big men with his skill set. Marc Gasol is the only pivot serving as an offensive fulcrum on a good team, but he's also leading the Memphis Grizzlies' No. 1 defense and has a Defensive Player of the Year trophy in his possession.

The Kings and the market, then, are at odds. Cousins is the beginning and end of everything Sacramento does, but for potential suitors, he's more like a complementary piece.

That disconnect doesn't mean a trade is impossible, but it sure makes negotiations a whole lot harder.

 

Pay and Stay

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 9: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings and Vice president Vlade Divac talk after the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 9, 2016 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackno
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement contains a Designated Player Exception that will apply to Cousins, according to Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post. As an All-NBA team member in the last three years still playing for the team that drafted him, Boogie is in line for a massive payoff—but only the Kings can give it to him.

Jay King of MassLive.com covers the Boston Celtics, a team persistently linked to Cousins trade rumors, and he lays out the new reality in clear terms: "The Sacramento Kings could still decide they would rather move on, but now have the option to offer Cousins a longer, pricier extension this summer—which could give them a better chance of keeping the center beyond his current contract."

That extension, for up to five years and featuring a larger starting salary than any other team could offer, gives the Kings immense leverage.

So not only is Cousins' trade value diminished because of his play style (not to mention his baggage), but the Kings also have the ability to offer much more financial security (and offer it sooner) than any other team. Even if some other club was interested in trading for him before the Kings presented him with an extension offer, it'd be taking the enormous risk of surrendering assets for a guy who could walk away as a free agent in 2018.

If Cousins was to sign an extension, the added contractual certainty would up his trade value. But then you're asking a team to overlook his maturity, defense and everything else while committing to pay him like an unquestioned alpha superstar for another half-decade.

That's a big ask.

From Sacramento's perspective, absorbing all the hassle and headache of Cousins' presence for this long already makes it seem unlikely it'd draw the line on keeping him at the price of a max extension. It's difficult to imagine a scenario in which dollars would be the deal-breaker.

 

Sacramento Is "Competing"

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 18: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings handles the ball against the Dallas Mavericks on December 18, 2016 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
Glenn James/Getty Images

The Kings are in the playoff race, vying for the No. 8 spot in the West with the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets. Sad as it sounds, that's where this organization, currently riding a 12-year postseason drought, wants to be.

They're not here without Cousins, who, notably, has said he's content staying put.

"I'm happy where I am," Cousins told ESPN.com's Marc Stein earlier this month. "I'm happy with this team. I'm in a great place."

A small-market team trying to stay relevant would risk everything by trading the one player who keeps it that way. Even if Cousins' career to this point includes six seasons with an average win total of 27 games, his talent and extracurriculars generate interest.

A fanbase as devoted as Sacramento's deserves an organization that aims higher than fringe playoff contention, but it's not hard to understand why the Kings might not want to risk the teardown that would accompany a Cousins exit.

A brand new arena factors into that thinking too, as does the startling absence of young talent and draft assets on deck. None of the lottery picks made (since Cousins was taken in 2010) have panned out, and the Kings don't control their own first-round picks in 2017 or 2019.

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 18: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings talks with David Joerger of the Sacramento Kings before a game against the Dallas Mavericks on December 18, 2016 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User ex
Glenn James/Getty Images

Cutting Cousins loose wouldn't trigger an immediate rebuild. It would be the start of a long and painful teardown process first—one the Kings would undertake at an extreme disadvantage.

Life with him has been hard, but the prospects of the Kings' post-Boogie existence sounds even more brutal.

If you're part of the faction that swears the Kings will never win with Cousins as their leader, if you're convinced he (and not a flighty, short-sighted organization) is the true impediment to Sacramento's success, if you long for a fresh start and a new vision, no matter how far it sets the team back, I've got bad news for you.

The Kings and Cousins might be stuck with each other.

      

Follow Grant on Twitter @gt_hughes and Facebook.

Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Thursday, Dec. 22.

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