DeMarcus Cousins: Sacramento Needs Him More Than Ever

The Sacramento Kings went 0-4 to begin this month when star power forward DeMarcus Cousins missed time with an Achilles strain. Sacramento immediately won three of four after his return, which was no mere coincidence.

Following a loss to the Spurs on November 9, Cousins averaged 36.3 points per game to go with 10.6 rebounds against the Pistons, Nets, and Raptors. That came on 51.4% shooting from the field, with 9 three-pointers sprinkled in for good measure. Cousins has always been a good scorer, but this was utter dominance.

Nevertheless, Cousins is a continual subject of trade rumors in part due to issues with coach George Karl. Recently, there has been chatter that the Celtics would be interested in his services. At this point, there seems to be more smoke than fire on the subject.

I must insist that it’s in Sacramento’s best interest to keep Cousins, particularly after his strong start.

First off, dealing Cousins now would be a case of trading a dollar for three quarters. According to one general manager, the Kings have “had him way overpriced.” Other teams seem to shy away from his mercurial personality and ignore the fact that few forwards in the league are better players. Recent events haven’t helped his cause.

According to reports, Cousins verbally abused Karl during practice after the defeat to San Antonio and General Manager Vlade Divac denied Karl’s subsequent request to suspend Cousins.

It wouldn’t be a big surprise if Karl were dismissed before Cousins was shown the door. Even if Divac got ownership to sign off on a deal, their return for Cousins would likely be disappointing relative to expectations. Cousins did apologize to Karl, saying that his outburst was due to frustration after losing. Karl cooled off as well and commented on his passion for the game by saying:

Everybody should be frustrated if you’re passionate about wanting to be a good team and winning.”

They are not necessarily incompatible people. Cousins actually played better under Karl last season than with previous coach Tyrone Corbin.

On the offensive end, Cousins is an intriguing blend of power and finesse. He can both will his way to the basket and finish with nice touch from almost anywhere given his sizable range. With the ability to play in the post or facing the hoop, he’s a tough assignment on any night. Cousins is also a skilled dribbler, so he can maneuver surprisingly well for someone listed at 270 pounds and just under 7 feet tall. During the contest on November 13 against Brooklyn, Cousins had an especially strong sequence when he dribbled from the three-point line for a dunk.

Time will tell whether he has made another leap as a scorer this season or just had a few especially hot games. In any case, his scoring average of 28 points so far would be a career high. He just had his best full season in 2014-15 with a shade over 24 points.

Cousins has been labeled as selfish by his detractors, but it’s plain wrong to say that he’s disinterested defensively. Cousins is a good defender everywhere on the court, and especially around the rim.

Last season, the opposition shot 8% worse than average within six feet of the hoop and 6.9% lower within 10 feet. In fact, his Defensive Real Plus-Minus (DRPM) was fourth best in the league. His 2014-15 averages of 1.7 blocks and 1.5 steals put him in fairly rare company as well. Finally, his 9.5 defensive rebounds per game cut down on second chances for the opposition.

Cousins has been working well with new point guard Rajon Rondo, who piled up 65 assists from November 9-18; 22 came on baskets by Cousins. So far, Rondo has also been able to stay healthy which has been an issue over the past several seasons. Rondo is a calming influence on the roster, and he praised Karl for giving him the “freedom to play.” The Kings may only be 5-9, but that’s a product of the team’s lack of depth and not the fault of Rondo or Cousins.

The one exception: Cousins’ suspension for hitting Al Horford with his forearm on November 18. That cost him the chance to help the Kings in their 116-109 loss at Miami the next day. Cousins argued that he hit Horford accidentally while dodging his elbow, but some critics saw the act as overemotional.

To me, the incident underscores just how important Cousins is to Sacramento. Missing their biggest star makes it that much harder to stay competitive, which is reflected by their 0-5 record without him.

One final component of Cousins’ value is his contract. His skills already include excellent defense, strong rebounding, and polished three-point shooting. He can drive to the hoop like a guard and then show off his array of post moves that allow him to fool double teams. Even better, Cousins is set to make $15.7 million next season and $16.7 million in 2017-18. That may not seem like a cheap deal, but with the salary cap set to rise after this season it suddenly looks quite reasonable.

As a contrast, LeBron James is expected to make more than $31 million if he declines his player option but remains with Cleveland next season. If Cousins can keep up this level of play, he’ll actually be a bargain.

photo via llananba