56 quick thoughts on DeMarcus Cousins trade to New Orleans

David Aldridge

A few thoughts on the Kings and DeMarcus Cousins, in column form but Tweet style, because this would have been way too many Tweets to digest over coffee:

1) There is no doubt that DeMarcus Cousins is one of the 10 best players in the NBA. None. Zero. Dude is a monster offensive talent who’s adapted to the modern game by incorporating the three into his arsenal, seemingly overnight.

2) There is also no doubt that DeMarcus Cousins is, often, a huge, colossal pain in the butt.

3) He lashes out when frustrated, tired or angry, and that can go in any direction — at coaches, teammates, reporters (not that anyone cares about reporters) or anyone else. And because he’s 6-foot-10, 270 pounds, and a young black man, this troubles and scares people who are not those things. (Recall what Muhammad Ali said before he first fought Sonny Liston, Liston being the menacing heavyweight champ at the time that intimidated just about everyone: “black people scare white people more than black people scare black people.”)

4) Black men who are loud, opinionated and occasionally profane scare and annoy a lot of white people. (See: John Thompson, Stephen A. Smith, Larry Wilmore, Chris Rock, etc.) I’m not especially loud or profane, but I can’t tell you the number of times in my life I’ve been asked to “calm down” when I was perfectly calm, but raised my voice to make a point. This happens to black men. A lot.

5) And like most men his size, DeMarcus Cousins probably hasn’t really had his ass kicked in a long time, which explains why he continues to lash out when frustrated, tired or angry. Early in his Kings’ tenure, Cousins met up with a dude who wasn’t scared of him — Truck Robinson, an assistant under Paul Westphal. Men nicknamed “Truck” tend to be pretty tough themselves, and Truck Robinson played 10 NBA seasons banging in the paint, giving as good as he got. So Truck Robinson made it clear to Cousins as he tried to coach him — you and me can go outside any time you want.

6) Truck Robinson, alas, didn’t last long in Sacramento.

7) There was a time when the team suspended Cousins for cussing out somebody — I think it was Keith Smart — and it was over the Christmas holiday, and the team got together Christmas night for a practice, and all of a sudden, here came Cousins, who’d had his agent work things out with the front office, and all of a sudden there was no suspension, and many of the players who were there were not happy to see Cousins around that night.

8) The Kings never won more than 33 games in any of Cousins’s six-plus seasons in Sacramento. Some have opined that this means Cousins didn’t impact winning as much as supposedly great players should. It’s not unreasonable to hold this point of view; no, Cousins didn’t take what he had in Sac and do with it what, say, LeBron James did with what he had in Cleveland the first time around. And, thus, Sacramento will not be much worse without Cousins in the long run than it was with him.

9) Except … everything Sacramento has done the last six-plus seasons has been done with Cousins in mind — like bringing in high-character vets this summer like Anthony Tolliver and Garrett Temple.

10) And the Kings will continue serving their Cousins-based decisions for some time — like having to give the 76ers the higher of the teams’ first-round Draft picks in 2017, after also having had to do it in 2016, the result of then-new GM Vlade Divac having jettisoned Nik Stauskas, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson to Philly in 2015 so that the Kings could have cap room to sign free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo. Because DeMarcus Cousins needed a better point guard to play with.

11) Rajon Rondo played one season in Sacramento.

12) And: the Kings still owe Philly another first from the 2015 trade, which can’t be conveyed to the 76ers until next year at the earliest, because the Kings owe Chicago a 2017 first-round pick from another deal. (Don’t ask.) The Kings owe Philly an unprotected first in 2019 to complete the deal.

13) And: the Kings needed a better point guard to play with Cousins because they’d declined to pay what it would have taken to keep the guy who had the job in 2014, who’d been an incredible success story, given that he’d been taken with the last pick of the 2012 Draft.

14) The point guard’s name was, and is, Isaiah Thomas.

15) Isaiah Thomas, now in Boston, just played in his second All-Star Game, for the East team, while DeMarcus Cousins played in his third, for the West. Isaiah Thomas leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring. He is a superstar.

16) DeMarcus Cousins is way, way smarter than people give him credit for being.

17) He witnessed, for six years, the decisions that the various people in the Kings’ front office over the years made. Take 2011. The Kings, picking seventh that year, made a deal to trade for Jimmer Fredette instead of just keeping their pick and drafting Klay Thompson (not to mention Kawhi Leonard, but let’s be fair: only the Spurs, with their vastly superior Borg/Jedi intellect, knew what the Klaw was going to become). Not good. But, again, Sacramento used the last pick in 2011 to take Isaiah Thomas, who was Isaiah Thomas from the minute he became a pro — unstoppable. DeMarcus Cousins liked playing with Isaiah Thomas very much. Yet after three very productive seasons, the Kings signed and traded Thomas in the summer of 2014 to Phoenix, because he wanted a decent payday for what he’d accomplished.

18) So: no Klay Thompson, who you could have had, and no Isaiah Thomas, who you did have.

19) We pause here to consider a Thomas-Thompson backcourt playing with Cousins, and whether a roster with those three players would have won, say, more than 33 games in a season if it had been created and allowed to flourish.

20) Which brings us back to Rondo.

21) DeMarcus Cousins can’t be coached by just anyone. He rebels and challenges and (see above) occasionally loses his temper. (Where is Truck Robinson when you need him?) He blew through Westphal, who didn’t have a chance in hell of reaching him, and tolerated but didn’t really respect Keith Smart, who followed Westphal. But DeMarcus Cousins really listened to and respected Mike Malone, whom Sacramento hired in 2013 to replace Smart.

22) Malone was tough but fair, and he was consistent in what he wanted from Cousins, and he didn’t badmouth Cousins to the media even when Cousins probably deserved it. And Cousins took a big leap forward — from 17.1 points the year before to 22.7 points per game in 2013-14, from 46.5 percent shooting the year before to 49.6, from 9.9 rebounds per game to 11.7. The Kings didn’t set the world on fire as a team, but their best and most important player became much, much more efficient, and had a good working relationship with his coach for the first time in his career. That’s progress.

23) People around the league noticed. Jerry Colangelo, who runs USA Basketball, who has veto power over the roster, who is an old, tough, proud SOB with a lifetime in the game and who does not suffer fools — and who wanted nothing to do with DeMarcus Cousins in 2012 — extended an olive branch to Cousins in the summer of 2014, inviting him to the senior team’s camp. Cousins not only made the U.S. team that played in the World Cup in Spain, he was one of its best players, shooting better than 70 percent from the floor for the gold medal-winning team.

24) DeMarcus Cousins did a lot of that work on his own, but he also had Mike Malone to thank for that turnaround in perception.

25) The Kings fired Mike Malone 24 games into the following season.

26) Sacramento had started the season 5-1. Then Cousins got sick with meningitis. They were 9-6 when he was sidelined by the illness. Then they lost seven of their next nine. Then they fired Malone. It seemed odd to fire Malone at all, barely into his second season, much less at that particular point of the season, when the team was struggling without its best player, the one that respected and listened to his coach for the first time in his career.

27) The Kings’ explanation for why they fired Mike Malone never really made much sense, other than the team didn’t play a style of offense that the team’s new owner — the guy who’d saved the franchise from moving to Seattle in 2013, the handpicked choice of then-Commissioner David Stern — liked or thought his fans would like or support.

28) The new owner was, and is, Vivek Ranadive.

29) Vivek Ranadive has had the kind of life that makes you proud to be an American.

30) He came from India, with next to nothing to his name. And through a combination of incredibly hard work and a withering intellect, he made himself a multi-millionaire, the owner of companies that do things that I couldn’t possibly explain to you, but people smarter than me could.

31) So Vivek Ranadive, who’d been a minority owner with the Golden State Warriors, teamed with Sacramento’s then-Mayor, Kevin Johnson, and Stern, who didn’t want the Kings to move to Seattle, and smart people around the state. He put a group together that not only bought the Kings, but pledged to spend several hundred million dollars to build the new arena that the team desperately needed to stay in town and not go to Seattle. The arena, Golden 1 Center, opened this year. It’s amazing, a tribute to technology, sustainability and the city it represents. So, the Kings stayed in Sacramento, and it’s because of Vivek Ranadive.

32) The address of Golden 1 Center is 500 David J. Stern Walk.

33) So, Ranadive is brilliant. And, he loved DeMarcus Cousins. He gave Cousins a $62 million extension in 2013. He said Cousins would be with the Kings for his whole career.

34) But: Vivek Ranadive had ideas about basketball. Some of them are interesting; some are the musings of a guy who’s great at one thing, but not necessarily great at other stuff. (For example: I can write. I can’t design a building. You wouldn’t want to work in a building I designed.) He wanted the Kings to play fast and score a ton, the way the Warriors did, and that’s just not what Mike Malone does. Or, at least he didn’t do it with DeMarcus Cousins; Mike Malone was hired by Denver about seven seconds after he was fired by the Kings, and as of this morning, the Nuggets are eighth in the league in offensive rating, and they have the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. I don’t know; maybe Mike Malone would have played faster with, say, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in his backcourt; the Kings took Thomas Robinson fifth overall in the 2012 Draft; Portland took Lillard with the next pick. The Kings took Ben McLemore with the seventh pick in 2013; three picks later, the Blazers took McCollum. It seems to me Mike Malone takes the talent he has in a given season and utilizes it in the most efficient manner possible. Which is sort of the job.

35) So the Kings brought in Tyrone Corbin to replace Malone, but he was just keeping the seat warm for the guy Vivek Ranadive really wanted: George Karl. Now, George Karl had been a great basketball coach for most of his career — unrelenting in what he wants, brilliant in how he sees the game. You don’t win more than 1,100 games in this league by being a dope. And: I like George Karl a lot. He’s beaten cancer twice and his teams were always interesting and fun.

36) But George Karl doesn’t suffer fools, either. He calls guys out in the media, ‘cause George, to those of us in the media’s everlasting gratitude, likes talking to people in the media. He gets mad at us on occasion, but he doesn’t view us as the enemy. (See: well, never mind. That’s another column.)

37) George Karl thought the Kings should trade DeMarcus Cousins, and told the people who were doing the hiring so. That got back to Cousins, who understandably wondered if it was conducive to establishing a good working relationship with Karl by hearing Karl wanted him gone. The Kings didn’t trade DeMarcus Cousins. So, if he couldn’t get him traded, Karl had to coach him. He thought Cousins needed to get in better shape. He shared this opinion with lots of people in the media, including me.

38) You didn’t have to have Vivek Ranadive’s brain to see this wasn’t going to end well.

39) The Kings prepared to fire George Karl during last season, because Vivek Ranadive still loved DeMarcus Cousins, and Cousins and Karl were about five seconds from having it out Maximus-Commodus style. But, they didn’t fire Karl during the season; they waited until after the season, and they brought in Dave Joerger from Memphis. This seemed to indicate that the Kings still believed DeMarcus Cousins was their franchise player; even more of an indication came when the Kings’ front office leaked to their preferred outlets of choice when doing such things that they were more than prepared to use the new Designated Player Exception that was created in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement on Cousins.

40) The rules for the new DPE are long, and my fingers are tiring. Bottom line: it would be more than $200 million for five years. They said they’d pay it. Cousins said he’d take it, and that he badly wanted to finish his career in Sacramento.

41) Cousins had taken to Sacramento. He was in the streets, holding a town hall there last summer with the local cops and with the community. He bought presents for families that couldn’t afford them at Christmas. He bought working mothers cars so they could drive to work. He did a lot of other stuff he didn’t want in the paper, because he didn’t do that stuff so it could get in the paper and he could look good.

42) Almost all of those people are black. DeMarcus Cousins likes black people. It doesn’t mean he doesn’t like white people; he’s got plenty of white friends and white people in his life. It just means he’s comfortable and has an affinity for people of color, and especially people who grew up the way he did, poor and scuffling, and who maybe aren’t polished and refined the way our society defines polished and refined, but who have value and worth. (See: Black Lives Matter.) These folks may not view the police the way others in other communities do, which is why DeMarcus Cousins made sure the cops were represented at the town hall there and another one he had in Mobile, Ala., which is where he’s from, and that the cops got to have their say, too. “They’re scared, too,” he said of the cops, and he didn’t say it like he was happy they were scared, he said it like he empathized with them, and he said this around a bunch of black reporters a couple of months ago, and, I don’t know, maybe he was just comfortable around us as we chopped it up.

43) So, DeMarcus Cousins wanted to stay in Sacramento, not just because of the more than $200 million that was coming his way — which, surely, was very important — but also because he liked the city and the people in it, and he was cool with Joerger, and the Kings hadn’t set the world on fire this season, but they’d won four of their last five going into the break, and they were only a couple of games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West — the one currently held by Mike Malone’s Denver Nuggets.

44) And the Kings’ every public utterance was that they were ready to give DeMarcus Cousins the more than $200 million.

45) But, they clearly weren’t ready.

46) Which is a perfectly reasonable decision for a franchise to make. That’s a damn lot of money. And if you’re not convinced the guy you’re giving it to is ready or capable of taking you from, say, 33 wins in a season to something much, much more, you shouldn’t give it to him.

47) Except … if you’ve made that decision, and have thus decided you have to trade him, you have to make sure you get as much as possible for your best player. You don’t have seven best players; you have one. And DeMarcus Cousins — who is, often, a huge, colossal pain in the butt — was the Kings’ best player, their All-Star, a guy who’d earned his way into the discussion of who the very best players in the league are right now, as you’re reading this. Forget whether you’re better or worse off with him; he’s one of the very best players in the league.

48) So, if the best offer you have for him is, say, Buddy Hield — a very good prospect at two guard, a position that has vexed the Kings for years, expiring contracts and cap filler (Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway), and a first and second-round pick in the 2017 Draft — you might say, ‘hey, this is interesting, and maybe it’s got a chance to work, but why don’t we keep our powder dry and see if we can get something a little better for him in the summer? Why don’t we see if teams would offer more for DeMarcus if we keep him and pass the Nuggets and make the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the west, and play the Warriors in the first round, and Boogie spends five or six games knocking the everloving hell out of Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee, and thus gets his trade value up where we think it should be? Not to mention: if we trade DeMarcus and don’t give him the more than $200 million, we’ll be costing him $30 million, because no one else can give him the DPE but us — so the most he could get anywhere else is $180 million. And, no, they’re not going to have any telethons for guys making $180 million, but agents remember stuff like that, and they have long memories, and we’ll be dealing with some of them in the years to come when they have free agents we want.’

49) Leaving aside the issue of what good it does a franchise to say it’s going to keep its star player, and then move him a month later.

50) Or why you give away your best player under any circumstances for less than optimal value. And if you don’t get optimal value, you keep him until you do. Because he’s your best player.

51) Much has been made of the Kings’ blowout win over Boston two weeks ago, playing without Cousins — who was serving a one-game suspension for receiving his 16th technical foul of the season — as evidence of the potential Sacramento has without Boogie. It was a very impressive win.

52) One time, I saw Steve Colter thoroughly outplay Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas in a game. Steve Colter was not better than Isiah Thomas.

53) Or this Isaiah Thomas.

54) I asked a prominent agent who has no particular axe to grind against Sacramento real late Sunday night if he could make any sense of what the Kings had just done, or why.

55) “It’s Sacramento,” he said.

56) Kangz Gonna Kangz.

Longtime NBA reporter, columnist and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer David Aldridge is an analyst for TNT. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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