What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. This week we examine a team with a star center and little else, the Sacramento Kings.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. That’s where the Kings find themselves right now. DeMarcus Cousins, their best player by a wide margin, has three years left on his contract and will become an unrestricted free agent in 2018. As a young player who’s one of the league’s best centers, with term on his contract as well, Cousins is one of the league’s most valuable assets. The problem is, he’s pretty much all the Kings have to work with. They can choose between building around him or trading him at his peak value to get the most they can in a trade. The Kings have a decision to make, and the road they choose will change their franchise forever.
There have been reports of the Celtics looking to acquire Cousins in a trade using their vast collection of draft picks to acquire the Kings’ star player. If the Kings were to accept this trade, they’d be hitting the reset button hard. Cousins is the only really promising part of their roster. The Kings’ second-best player is probably Rudy Gay, whose departure from the Raptors caused them to go from 34-48 to 48-34 with a 10-2 run immediately following his trade to Sacramento. If the Kings trade Cousins, it needs to be for a package that would shore up their roster with several solid players.
The Celtics trade offer could include any of their many assets including: three unprotected picks via the Brooklyn Nets, a late first-round pick in this year’s draft from the Clippers, a top seven protected pick from Dallas next year, a top 12 protected pick from Memphis in 2018, and also the Celtics’ own draft picks and players. (Thank you, realgm.com) If I were the Kings, unless all of those picks were made available to me, and I got Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, I’d hold onto Boogie.
The most elusive ingredient to a championship contender is a superstar caliber player. DeMarcus Cousins will be the best center in the league very soon, and you could make the case that he already is. Yes, he has a bad reputation for petulance, but you can’t argue with the results he put up this past year. He’s a talent that you can’t ignore or give away in exchange for a bunch of OK to solid players. Good rotation guys are infinitely easier to find and obtain than superstars, and the Kings need to realize how lucky they are to have a franchise player under contract for the next three years.
The Kings have time; Cousins’s value will still be there next year. Having a player under contract for two years isn’t as appealing to trade partners as having him for three, but the Kings won’t be trading him as a one-year rental either. They can afford to try to build around Cousins for another year and see if they can get themselves on the right track. If things don’t look good this time next year, the Celtics will still be there with plenty of draft picks left.