The deal is inevitable — just like the destruction that’s sure to follow.
Cousins is one of the best players in the NBA and arguably its greatest big man. He showed the full complement of his skills on Tuesday night in a beatdown of the Los Angeles Lakers, forcing each purple-and-gold-clad big into foul trouble and throwing down massive dunks on a bewildered defense.
You have to give that kind of player the maximum amount of money allowed by the collective bargaining agreement. No front office on the planet would have the temerity to look at someone of Cousins’ caliber and pass.
Five years at a cost of $200 million or more? Sounds good for a 7-footer who can shoot 3s, make plays, and get buckets. Without a doubt, Cousins is a destroyer of basketball worlds.
He also destroys his team from within — and despite a willingness to change, there’s been little actual progress. Take Cousins’ response to a league-leading 17th technical foul this season (via Sacramento Bee):
“It’s obvious I can’t be myself,” Cousins said. “Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to, you know, do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”
Cousins says all the right things after the fact, but he’s just not able to rein it in during games. Time after time, simmering frustration gives way to detonation and another ejection for the moody big man.
It’s an awful situation for such an emotional player. You feel for a guy who wants to do the right thing despite his very being shoving him in the other direction. Yet that sympathy doesn’t change reality.
The NBA isn’t just about talent. Chemistry matters. Building an identity matters. When you’re a veteran, leading your franchise matters. Seven years into his career, Boogie simply hasn’t done that. Why should we think that will be different next year, or in 2020, or once Cousins has passed his peak? This is who Boogie is — a fantastic basketball player who’s so good you can’t let him go, yet a superstar in name only who doesn’t help you win championships.
In his defense, we haven’t seen Boogie with good players or in anything approaching a good situation. Cousins has watched his franchise jerk him around for years, trying to find someone to trust as the universe turns into a maelstrom all around him. Leading becomes a lot easier when your subordinates embrace the team concept and want to be led, so maybe winning could fix everything. Adding even just a few good players might be a nice start toward soothing Boogie’s rage.
But that’s the other problem: Sacramento is synonymous with “awful,’ and that’s not going to change any time soon.
This is a franchise that employs a former player with zero previous front office experience as general manager, a team owned by a man who views basketball as a laboratory for whimsical experimentation. The Kings drafted Nik Stauskas and made sure the world knew how great a decision it was, then watched their selection implode. They fired the only coach Cousins ever liked, then hired and fired so many coaches after that I’ve legitimately lost count. And when they did have a running mate for Cousins in Isaiah Thomas, they watched him walk away for similar money as a restricted free agent because he could smell the stench that permeates the organization.
The Kings aren’t exactly the Spurs, is what I’m saying. Hell, they’re not even the Knicks; at least New York has Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis to go with their drama.
The only alternative is to trade Cousins, and that’s a non-starter for all parties.
To borrow a gambling term, Sacramento is pot-committed. They have to take the chance Cousins takes the next step as a leader, because the odds of that are significantly greater than the chance Divac & Co. can use the first-round picks they receive in return to draft viable NBA players, let alone All-Stars. And Cousins doesn’t want a trade because he wants to get paid. It’s really that simple.
So Sacramento will give Cousins his maximum extension, as they must. Boogie will sign it, as he must. And the two sides will continue their pas de deux for the foreseeable future — one trying to keep his cool, the other searching for answers.
One year later, Boogie will demand a trade (as he should), and another team will gut its roster to add him, risking the possibility of recreating this quagmire in another locale. The Kings, because they are the Kings, will acquire 65 cents on the dollar in the exchange, and they will claim they got the better end of the deal. Boogie, meanwhile, will arrive in his location heralded as a savior. And for the first time in far too long, he will have hope.
First, though, comes despair. For Sacramento and Cousins, rock bottom is inevitable.