Properly valuing enigmatic players will never be easy in the NBA. For the Sacramento Kings, it is nearly impossible. On one hand, Demarcus Cousins is only 22-years-old, and is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder. On the other, he is the team’s biggest headache. Last season, Cousins led the entire NBA in technical fouls, ejections, and fines. This season, he finds himself perched among the top five in all of those categories once more.
In Cousins’ two and a half seasons in Sacramento, he has failed to get along with teammates, coaches, opponents, and even opposing team’s television commentators. Still, for a Sacramento organization starved for success, releasing a player as talented as Cousins would be a setback. Cousins is as rare a find as any player in the league today: a true center with towering height and intimidating size accompanied by remarkable coordination and athleticism.
There have been numerous teams around the NBA that have taken interest in Cousins in recent weeks after he was suspended by the team for a very public altercation with his head coach and longtime supporter Keith Smart. As Cousins continues to alienate himself from the organization, it seems inevitable that the team will part ways with the maligned big man by the trade deadline in February. While the interest for Cousins is abundant, no team will be willing to trade a player of comparable potential for him. After all, no player in the league carries as much baggage with as small a track record of success as Cousins does. Knowing this, it is important for Sacramento to be realistic in their demands for their one-time-considered centerpiece.
Thing is, Cousins isn’t the Kings only issue. Far from it: Assembled over the past few years seemingly without a clear vision, the Kings’ roster wreaks of redundancy at nearly every position. While the team is talented, several starters would be better suited for reserve roles on more successful teams. To compound the problem, Sacramento has an outrageous number of undersized combo-guards, unproven forwards, and aging wing players. To make matters even worse, most of the contracts on the payroll are clear products of the Maloof Brothers‘ careless spending.
Between Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, John Salmons, and Francisco Garcia, the Kings have more than seventy million dollars committed over the next three seasons to four players who would best be served as reserves.
The most pragmatic way to handle their asset in Cousins should be to use his value as a means to rid the team of some of their long-term commitments. Consider it like the team declaring bankruptcy: by declaring bankruptcy (trading Cousins), the team clears themselves from their debt (long-term contracts).
After much consideration, I have determined the most logical landing spot for Cousins is Houston.
For starters, nearly every player on the Rockets compliments Cousins’ game well.
Jeremy Lin’s is a player who loves to penetrate to the hoop. Unlike the Kings’ guards who prefer to nest out on the perimeter and shoot, Lin’s driving ability will lead to switches and openings for Cousins on the offensive glass. As talented as Cousins is, the third-year-player has proven to be far more efficient as a bruiser in the paint than as an isolation player out of the post.
Meanwhile, James Harden has proven to be among the league’s most dynamic pick-and-roll players. Cousins’ size and agility would serve as a terrific compliment to Harden’s facilitating skills.
Kevin McHale, the Rockets’ coach, is one of the best big men in NBA history and could mentor Cousins into living up to his potential. McHale’s success as a player would allow him to command the respect from Cousins that few other coaches around the league could demand.
Most importantly, however, is that Cousins’ former teammate at Kentucky, Patrick Patterson, is currently a starter on the Rockets and has a very strong relationship with Cousins. In Patterson, Cousins would receive the “older-brother” that many executives believe he needs to stay motivated.
Lastly, the Rockets also happen to be one of the few teams in the league with enough cap space to swallow one of Sacramento’s bad contracts. In fact, beyond the financial reasons, the Rockets actually have a void of perimeter wing scorers and could find use in John Salmons after the trade. Cousins and Salmons could make the Rockets a legitimate dark horse in the Western Conference.
However, after Cousins and Salmons go to Houston, the trade becomes complicated. The Kings would likely be unsatisfied with only relieving themselves of one of their bad contracts in the trade. Moreover, the Rockets simply do not have the assets or matching salary pieces to trade directly with the Kings. The two teams will need a third team to step in to facilitate the trade. Enter Utah.
While Utah is in the playoff hunt, they, like the Kings, also have several issues to address. Between Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Enes Kanter, and Derrick Favors, the Jazz have a clear logjam of big men. The veterans, Jefferson and Millsap, clog up playing time from Kanter and Favors – two highly touted prospects who figure into the Jazz’s long-term plans. Utah, meanwhile, could use some more depth on the wings and has a need for a young point guard.
With the rotation being unsettled in Utah, it is likely that the Jazz would be willing to trade Al Jefferson. Conveniently for both teams, Cousins’ departure from Sacramento would leave the team with an immediate void at center. Jefferson, with only one year left on his contract, would give the Kings offensive legitimacy for the rest of the year while also giving the team the possibility of extending his contract in the offseason.
For the Jazz to be enticed into the deal, they would have to get some young talent to ease the loss of Jefferson’s production. Marcus Thornton is an efficient perimeter scorer who could immediately upgrade the Jazz bench. However, any trade between the Kings and Jazz would almost certainly also have to include Jimmer Fredette.
Fredette, who was heavily pursued by the Jazz in the 2011 Draft, became a star in Utah during his illustrious college career at Brigham Young University. In Fredette, Utah would get both a local legend and a point guard to build around for the future. Additionally, the Jazz would also be able to replace Jefferson’s rebounding with a dependable veteran in Chuck Hayes. Lastly, as a sweetener to the deal, the Rockets could send one of their prospects (Terrence Jones, the doubly unsatisfied Royce White, or Donatas Montiejunas) to Utah to help the Jazz further their retooling efforts.
In parting with Fredette, the Kings would likely request the Jazz’s Alec Burks in return. Burks, who was Utah’s first round pick last year, has disappointed so far but would fit in well in Sacramento, as his 6’6” size would compliment the team’s currently undersized backcourt. The Kings would also have to take back two small short-term contracts from Houston to allow salaries for the current season to match. Cole Aldrich and DaeQuan Cook would fit the bill.
All in all, the Kings would successfully save nearly 55 million dollars from their payroll over the next three years while also freeing up some playing time for their young prospects to develop. Meanwhile the team’s drop-off in success would be marginal as Al Jefferson would be able to shoulder the offensive load in place of Cousins.
If this trade were to occur, the Kings would shed three of their four worst contracts, the Rockets would add an interior dimension to their promising future without sacrificing any integral players from their core, and the Jazz would add depth and their very own Jimmy Chitwood. This trade is the ultimate win-win-win.