If there was a Mount Rushmore of current day NBA writers, Zach Lowe would be on it. You could debate endlessly for the remaining three spots, but Lowe is certainly a lock amongst the best NBA writers in the game today. The former SI writer and now Grantland blogger manages to put out some of the best analytical content week-in and week-out.
That said – he is wrong on DeMarcus Cousins and his future in Sacramento.
If you missed it, Lowe put out a column on the Sacramento big man on August 6th titled The Mystery of Boogie which should be top-priority reading for any Kings fan. Lowe delves into the ‘mystery’ of Cousins and comes up with the following conclusion:
(Kings GM) D’Alessandro should be working hard to find that trade partner willing to surrender a package (for Cousins) that meets his needs.
This would be a big mistake; the Kings need to keep Cousins at least one more season to see how he functions in an actual functioning basketball organization. Trading Cousins now would not only give up their biggest puzzle piece, it would be trading him without even seeing if he fits this new puzzle D’Alessandro is building.
You shouldn’t trade a star (which Cousins is, even if no one is sure how brightly a star he is) for pennies on the dollar. Any offer at this point for Cousins will be below his actual value. Heck, Lowe’s boss Bill Simmons writes about this idea constantly – never trade a paper dollar into a handful of coins. (Read this. It’ll make sense.)
And while Sacramento proved this offseason that they will put themselves out there in big-name free agent hunts (the Andre Iguodala chase/dismissal, the Greg Oden façade), top tier talent will 95% of the time only come to Sacramento in the draft. When Sacramento drafts a real talent like Cousins, they need to exhaust every attempt at making it work before giving up.
Finally the biggest argument: DeMarcus Cousins went through three dreadful years of a dysfunctional basketball organization. Now the Kings have an ownership group dedicated to stability and a (seemingly) competent GM/Head Coach combination who both have massive respect around the NBA. Why should Sacramento give up on Cousins NOW that the atmosphere around him is finally clearing up (for a bigger take on this point, check out this article I published a week ago)?
And risking a big contract next year on Cousins isn’t even about risk in terms of dollar signs; as Lowe points out, there will be plenty of teams that would pay him the big bucks.
Some team is going to make a giant bet, ranging from $50 million to $80 million, on the idea that Cousins is fixable outside of Sacramento’s miserable atmosphere, and that it will be the one to fix him.
Lowe is mistaken on Sacramento’s atmosphere, which isn’t going to be so miserable this year. Let’s just keep that out there. The last three years were miserable, but you can’t dismiss the new organization that quickly. Why shouldn’t Sacramento get the first shot at fixing both their atmosphere and their superstar center?
Much of Lowe’s article also discusses Cousins’ defensive woes, which even the biggest Cousins supporter must accept as truth. Cousins has been a below-average defender in his career, and his untamed basketball IQ really shows its flaws on that end of the court.
But those three seasons were under two vastly disappointing coaches. The Kings finally have a coach in Mike Malone with a proven track record defensively – he spent the past eight years as assistant coach and defensive architect on some of the leagues better defensive squads. The problems with Cousins’ defense weren’t just with Cousins, but with the Kings team defense as a whole. Expect to see improvement on both the team defense and Cousins’ individual defense as a whole under Malone.
There should be obvious trepidation about giving Cousins the max-deal or near-max contract he’ll most certainly get, and I’m not advocating the Kings offer Cousins that massive contract immediately. Certainly, it would be a huge sign of good faith from a front office that has done nothing but support Cousins since they took over, but the good cheer it would bring isn’t worth the risk.
The Kings should let Cousins play the season. They should see how he handles being in Mike Malone’s new system, and see if he thrives in the new organization. If he shows significant progress this year, they should re-sign him next offseason at his market value (letting him go into free agency at that point would be no big risk since they could match any offer regardless).
To be fair to Lowe, he doesn’t say the Kings ‘need’ to trade Cousins, only that they should be trying to find the proper package for him at this point. Rather than look for his departure, the Kings should spend the next season trying their best to make it all fit. If Cousins doesn’t show significant progress, next offseason will be the appropriate time to begin sign-and-trade discussions. Lowe is right on a lot of things in his article, but he misses on major point; Cousins deserves this opportunity to prove himself as a Sacramento King this season, and the new Kings organization deserves a shot at coaching and teaching DeMarcus Cousins. Trading him now would be admitting failure before giving either side a chance.