What The Kings Just Sacrificed

demarcus-cousins-showcasing-gold-medal

On February 19, DeMarcus Cousins, a three-time All-Star with “Loyalty” tattooed on his body, reiterated that he wanted to play in Sacramento for his entire career. Later that day, owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac decided to send the big man to New Orleans (mostly) in exchange for a rookie guard, who averages less than nine points per game and recently punched Cousins in the groin.

DeMarcus Cousins is 26. He currently averages 27.8 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists. The two other players to do that are known by their first names: Wilt and Kareem.

The 2017 first round pick from the Pelicans is top-3 protected, denying the Kings access to the slots where franchise players usually land. And even then, the enviable-in-comparison Philadelphia 76ers can pick-swap if and when Sacramento gets a lower lottery pick than theirs.

As a final knife twist, the Kings threw beloved Israeli ray of sunshine, Omri Casspi, into the trade and brought back all-time bust Tyreke Evans, who got picked three slots ahead of Steph Curry and never topped his stat-stuffed Rookie of the Year season.

The trade looks bad now. Like legendarily bad. Like curse-a-team-for-100-years bad. And it’ll probably look worse if the Kings continue their luckless streak on draft day, where they’ve only ever snagged talent in Hassan Whiteside, who turned into a defensive behemoth for the Miami Heat, and Isaiah Thomas, who just made his first all-star team as a member of the second-best-in-the-East Celtics.

Every other pick has only flirted with their ceiling (Ben McLemore, Willie Cauley-Stein), provided ho-hum role-playing production (Jason Thompson, Casspi) or been an unmitigated disaster (Jimmer Fredette, Nik Stauskas, Thomas Robinson).

The team is currently among the most talentless in the league. The best healthy player is probably Darren Collison, a point guard who would be a sixth man at best on an actual contender. Coach Dave Joerger now has to flip a team of fringe playoff contenders into burn-it-down rebuilders—a job that, based off his scant playing time for rookies, might not be one he even wants. And Vlade vaporized his credibility with players, agents and executives when he did the thing he publicly and privately maintained he would not do.

The front office sacrificed a satisfyingly mediocre present for a hazy chance at title contention in the 2020s, but has shown no ability to create such a team.

With two owners, three general managers and six coaches over Cousins’s seven-year stint in Sacramento, the franchise has proven skittish towards sticking with any semblance of a plan, flambéing the consistency upon which great teams are built.

The only time the Kings had done remotely as well as this season was the Michael Malone era—the only other coach Cousins liked, who was fired while the center dealt with viral meningitis.

The Kings have been so consistently bad that Cousins, despite his warts, provided the one excuse to feel the new era’s signature emotion: pride. Sure, Sacramentans live in a small market, root for a consistently underperforming squad and allow a rotating cast of semi-qualifieds to run the franchise. BUT at least we had the most dynamic, dominant and downright fun center in the league. And now we don’t even have that.

My friend, Tyler, a cancer survivor, semi-ironically compared the feeling to when he first heard his diagnosis.

And perhaps that reflects an irrational devotion to a game-playing group of men who have little allegiance to Sacramento beyond their paycheck. But after mainlining some of the finest team basketball ever played straight into our core identity in the early 2000s, it’s not like Tyler, I or any of the other masochistic devotees to this dismal team have a choice.

Some small part of me sympathizes with Vlade and Vivek’s decision. It was either this, or extend a $200+ million contract to Cousins, essentially giving him carte blanche for the well-documented behavior that made him unattractive to a host of teams. They could have secured the lifetime services of one of the top 15 players in the league, but decided the price tag was too steep for the admittedly subpar results that Cousins has so far produced.

But to lay the Kings’ failures on DeMarcus’s shoulders is idiotic. His greatest supporting cast included Rudy Gay, a physical talent with a D-minus basketball IQ, and Rajon Rondo, who stat-chased in a one-year audition for his Chicago contract. Every other season, Boogie had been surrounded by shaky rookies, bargain bin veterans and full-blown scrubs.

And when you spend your entire pre-NBA career wrecking fools while playing for the best teams in the nation, that must be quite the adjustment.

Still, even in the most intense fever dreams, it’s doubtful a DeMarcus-led Kings would have gotten beyond the second round in the West. That doesn’t matter.

Sacramento will not contend for a title until LeBron returns to Mount Olympus and the Warriors stop employing Curry and Kevin Durant. For teams below the Pantheon, there’s only a few scraps of glory up for grabs. For the Kings this season, that meant a potential return to the playoffs for the first time in over a decade.

The Warriors would have consumed the Kings in an alligator death-roll. But the eighth seed still would have given a brief glimpse back into how wonderful it used to be, to be a Kings fan.

Imagine: Game 3. A sold-out Golden 1 Center clanging cowbells and pouring sonic adrenaline into the Kings as they face off against a Goliath they toppled earlier this season.

Imagine: Sacramentans screaming on national television about being the best—no matter how ludicrously unlikely the odds.

Imagine: DeMarcus Cousins with a grey-flecked beard, tearing up as number 15 raises into the rafters.

I would trade anything for that.

 

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