It’s not easy being a King.
Just ask the city of Sacramento. After seeing its Bay Area neighbor in the Golden State Warriors win their first championship in 40 years, their hometown Kings found themselves in yet another bout of organizational turmoil. Between the team rifling through three head coaches in less than a calendar year, and the volatile personality of their best player in C/PF DeMarcus Cousins, the fan base was suffering along with their team – one that had not been to the playoffs since 2006.
They did, however, see a glimmer of hope when new head coach George Karl was brought into the fold. After all, he was a proven commodity that had a chance to mold the Kings’ young roster into a playoff team in a matter of months.
Nobody bothered to tell their franchise center, though. It was bad enough that Cousins wasn’t happy when the organization let go of Michael Malone – a coach he reportedly worked well with – but they picked up a coach like Karl, with whom he, apparently, immediately clashed. Reports recently came out that Karl was actively shopping the team’s best player in the days leading up to the NBA Draft. While all is currently quiet on the Western Front, rumors continue to swirl that Cousins is a tradable asset for opposing teams like the Lakers, and that owner Vivek Ranadive was willing to fire Karl in what amounted to an NBA team’s version of “Sophie’s Choice”.
This ridiculous soap opera – one in which no one comes off as innocent – could have been avoided, and will likely not be resolved until either Cousins, Karl, or both, are gone. The current mindset is that both will stay, and an intermediary will need to get involved for both player and coach to get on the same page for the foreseeable future.
But, as all things go, the media will speculate – after all, the idea of Cousins being traded to arch-rival Los Angeles continues to have life in the sporting news cycle – or at least it did until yesterday. Needless to say, for Kings fans, that hypothetical would have practically been apocalyptic, at best.
Though, it did get me thinking: What if, after all the unnecessary drama, the Kings’ hand was forced, and they chose the successful coach over their talented, 24-year-old franchise big man?
“What If” Scenario: The Sacramento Kings are forced to trade C DeMarcus Cousins, in order to get the best value back, and – just for kicks – to put Cousins in the best position to succeed as a player.
So, first of all, many have said that trading Cousins – a talented, young low-post player who hasn’t yet reached his prime, on a relatively cheap contract ($51 million left on a current four-year deal) – wouldn’t get nearly the same value back for a team like Sacramento, who is essentially looking for everything. In that case, maybe a team like the Lakers is automatically excluded – they can’t give the same value, lest they offer a (excuse the pun) Kings’ ransom for Cousins. Furthermore, Cousins probably wouldn’t make the Lakers an immediate playoff contender, anyway – even with a newly-acquired talent like D’Angelo Russell running the point.
Now, there might be a dozen suitors who would make sense for a talent like Cousins – I can’t imagine who wouldn’t want him, unless his emotional red flags are too much to handle – but there’s only one team that I zeroed in on, in terms of where Cousins might work best. That said, the team would have to offer three things:
1) A stable organizational framework – one in which Cousins could instantly trust, given its track record;
2) A coaching staff that could mold Cousins’ potential into bona fide superstar status that helps win games; and, most importantly,
3) The ability to give the closest thing to equal value in return.
Why else would I come up with … the San Antonio Spurs?
And who would the Kings trade for, straight up? I’m glad you asked. Because, as a matter of fact, I would offer, in this hypothetical scenario, someone the Kings had a chance to take – twice – but passed on in the 2011 NBA Draft …
That’s right: 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard.
Look, if you know me, then you know how much I wanted the San Diego State standout to come to Sac-Town four years ago. Hell, I even came up with another “What If” involving Leonard and Blazers G Damian Lillard on this same site. And, seeing how much he blossomed in San Antonio, I’ve been envious of the Spurs ever since. In this hypothetical scenario, Leonard would come to Sacramento with no discernible baggage of any kind – just the kind of work ethic, all-around defensive talent and growing offensive game that a team like the Kings – and Coach Karl – would welcome with open arms. Not to mention that, while the Kings would be giving up a seven-footer, they would receive a guy who essentially played like one.
You combine that with the recent drafting of Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein, and the resulting defensive frontcourt would be unlike anything the team had seen since the days of Vlade Divac and Chris Webber. On top of all that, the Kings would likely give Leonard – a restricted free agent – a max deal following the 2015-2016 season, holding onto a stable cornerstone at the four for years to come.
Meanwhile, with Cousins in San Antonio, the most likely concern for the Spurs would be Cousins’ attitude – one that could potentially poison the locker room. However, it should be noted that Cousins, despite his emotional faults, would likely not want to cause any waves for a team that he had a chance to win with immediately. Not to mention he would likely work with future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, in a role that would make Cousins his heir apparent. It would be an opportunity for the kind of stable success he never got in Sacramento.
Furthermore, the mentorship Duncan would offer could easily turn Cousins into a perennial All-Star power forward – one that could herald a new era of prosperity in San Antonio. Finally, the Spurs were reportedly willing to give Leonard a max deal, considering he is a restricted free agent. In this scenario, not only would the Spurs get an absolute steal of a contract in Cousins, they could use whatever money was left to build a younger roster that could extend the longevity of a successful Spurs franchise.
It’s as much of a win-win scenario as I could dream up.
The question is – how realistic is it? Would the Spurs be willing to give up such a talent in Leonard for a mercurial guy like Cousins? That would likely be the biggest question. But, if the answer even approached a “Yes”, then it could be something both teams might explore. For a team like San Antonio, it would be the coming of a new franchise big man. For the Kings, it could herald the separation from an era of discord they have been hoping to separate themselves from for years.
If only Kings fans could be so lucky.