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Essay: Imagining DeMarcus Cousins In A Different Setting

“Shit, you’re good.”

A statement like this is the utmost form of flattery; an honest admittance of true respect. Three simple words that mean everything.

During Sacramento’s loss to San Antonio on Wednesday night—their 33rd of the season, and a game that felt like a big brother toying with his younger sibling—these were the carefully chosen words DeMarcus Cousins had for Tim Duncan.

It was a young prodigy with a limitless future giving proper due to one of the best ever, and it got me thinking. What if Cousins somehow ended up in San Antonio next season, playing the role to Duncan that Duncan once played to David Robinson. How awesome/strange/watchable would that be?

This scenario isn’t The Da Vinci Code. I’m sure many people have already thought it up. But how much sense does it make for the Spurs to go into their next era by acquiring a big man talent to take over once their current era runs its course? No player who’s possibly attainable could better keep San Antonio’s train of consistent success rolling. The Kings might feel Cousins isn’t worth the headache, and like Washington did with Javale McGee, may want to deal him before they’re forced to sign him long term. Cousins is a much better player than McGee, but the fundamental similarities regarding their contract situations, age, and unpredictable personalities exist. It’d be really interesting to see how much Sacramento’s willing to put up with if the team continues to lose and Cousins begins to act out…again.

In his last four games, all losses, Cousins has grabbed 61 rebounds and scored 113 points. (A brief comparison: In his last four games Kevin Love scored 149 points and grabbed 65 rebounds. The brilliant stretch will probably earn him a few votes for MVP.) Cousins is one of basketball’s three best rebounders. He has 20 more offensive rebounds than Dwight Howard and is second in the league in rebounding percentage. Also, he’ll be 22-years-old when next season starts. When he’s on the court the Kings offense averages about 2.5 more points per 100 possessions, and the way he’s attacking defenses as the game progresses shows a maturing basketball player. His percentage of points from mid-range jumpers goes from 21.6% in the first quarter to 16% in the fourth quarter, and his percentage of points scored on free-throws goes from 16.2% in the first quarter to 34% in the fourth. This is smart basketball , and a great sign that Cousins is starting to get it—at least on the court.

Here are a couple Pros and Cons regarding how this hypothetical situation might play itself out.

Pros:

  • The biggest reason why placing Cousins on the Spurs would be beneficial to everyone involved is Gregg Popovich. Now that Phil Jackson is out of the league, he’s probably the best coach at reaching players with off-color personalities and getting them to buy in with what he’s selling. If Popovich could make it work with Cousins, he’d have a franchise center to build his team around moving forward; one of the league’s most brilliant players, just beginning what could be a Hall of Fame career.
  • With Tim Duncan’s contract coming to an end after this season, it’s probable he re-signs for a year or two at a much cheaper price. If Cousins comes along, and the two play alongside one another, Duncan’s career could be extended an extra year or two, with him acting as a cliched mentor.
  • It’d be absolute MUST SEE television to see Pop’s reaction the first time Cousins caught the ball in the high post, pivoted, blindly steamrolled his way towards basket, got called for a charge, then received a technical foul for arguing. I’d watch every Spurs game just so I didn’t miss this moment.

Cons:

  • Neither side needs the other. For all we know, San Antonio could win the championship this season. Their current roster is deep in both the front and backcourt, and, when healthy, talented enough to match up with every team in the league. They’re incredibly smart and have built a roster that has every piece interacting well with one another. Almost everybody is extremely versatile and there appear to be no major weaknesses. If they were to add Cousins, a volatile player who touches the ball a ton (his 29.3 USG% leads Sacramento, and is higher than Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and LaMarcus Aldridge), there’s no promise he’d seamlessly fit into a Spurs offense that moves the ball and has six guys with a USG% higher than 20%.
  • Another problem is that pulling off this trade would be incredibly difficult. Cousins may have been a tradeable piece earlier this season when he appeared to be a malcontent coach killer, but right now things are rolling a bit smoother. Apart from Tiago Splitter, San Antonio really has nothing to offer that’s attractive. A third team would probably have to get involved, with Sacramento wanting draft picks and someone willing to take John Salmons off their hands.

 

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