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2016-17 Season Preview: Kings running out of chances with Cousins

Dec. 18, 2014 - Sacramento, CA, USA - The Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins (15) takes the ball down court after a rebound against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif
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The Sacramento Kings are like the construction on the side of highway that never seems to get done. The team is under constant rebuild and, even though owner Vivek Ranadive wanted to be contending for the playoffs by the time the team moved into the new Golden 1 Center, that doesn’t seem likely.

The Kings went 33-49 last season, marking 11-straight sub-.500 seasons. To try to buck the trend, general manager Vlade Divac hired Dave Joerger as the newest head coach of the Kings. Joerger comes over from the Memphis Grizzlies, where he had a 246-147 record in three seasons.

This offseason, Divac traded the No. 8 pick in the draft to the Suns for picks No. 13, No. 28 and the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic, currently stashed in Europe. Divac drafted a pair of big men in Georgios Papagiannis (the “Lord give me strength” pick) and Skal Labissiere with the picks. Those moves caught some criticism because, well, the last thing the Kings need is more big men. However, Divak probably doesn’t trade out of the eighth pick if even one of the draft’s top guards fall to him (which they didn’t).

DeMarcus Cousins later explained his tweet as being frustrated with a hot sculpting class. Believe what you want.

The team signed veterans Arron Afflalo and Matt Barnes, while Rajon Rondo took a deal this summer to join the Bulls. Starting point guard Darren Collison will miss the first eight games of the season after pleading guilty to domestic battery.

WHO GETS MOVED?

There is talent on this roster—no really, there is! Cousins is an absolute freak not too far from the levels of Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Few 7-footers can bring the ball up the court, drive to the rim, shoot threes and pass like he does. I mean, how many centers can do this:

 

Or this:

 

But the team isn’t built to take advantage of Cousins’ unique talents. Divac can either trade Cousins for a Kings’ Ransom or make moves to recalibrate the roster around him.

Rudy Gay has been involved in trade rumors recently, with teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers as possible landing spots. Ben McLemore has yet to pan out and could be shipped off for a fresh start. Then there is Kosta Koufos, who could get moved to make more room for second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein.

The spotlight will always be on Cousins, however. After averaging 26.9 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists while shooting 33.3 percent from beyond the arc last season, the question no longer is if a team can build around Cousins, but if the Kings can. If they can, they’ll make some moves this season to do so. If they can’t, well, they may decide to part with him and start a hard reset.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

A Cousins-Cauley-Stein frontcourt is intriguing in a league that is going small. They’ll have a size advantage over nearly every team, and Cousins is athletic enough to rebrand himself as a Super 4. From his days with Memphis, Joerger knows how to win 50-plus games with a team built around twin towers. That won’t happen this season, even in the best-case scenario, but the Kings could start building toward that.

They’ll have to make some changes, of course. The Collison-Afflalo backcourt might be the worst in the league. The Kings need to find an appropriate point guard who can space the floor and get players involved, as well as a perimeter defender. Trading Gay for some upgrades there seems like the obvious move.

If the Kings can do that sooner rather than later, they could very well improve on its 33-win mark from last season.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

How much longer can Cousins tolerate this? If he doesn’t jive with Joerger right away, he could demand a trade. Stars are hard to come by in the NBA, and this is likely the Kings’ last chance to make theirs happy.

A hard reset may not sound bad to Kings fans. The team is a mess, and trading a star and tearing it down recently worked for the Minnesota Timberwolves. But the Timberwolves got the top pick in the draft in return for Love, and were led by one of the best–the late Flip Saunders–through the beginning of the process. Divac hasn’t proven he can build a winner with Cousins, so why should we think he can without him?

This team is going to lose games. Lots of them. The worst-case scenario would be losing those games, and losing their star player.

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