Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller are previewing all 30 teams via conversation. Next up: the Sacramento Kings. Find all of the Flanns and Zillz previews here.
FLANNERY: Let's talk about Boogie Cousins. Man's going into his seventh season. He's a two-time All-Star, a two-time All-NBA performer, and now an Olympic gold medalist. He's the most physically-dominant big man of his generation ... and he still hasn't come close to sniffing the playoffs.
As the internet's foremost expert on DeMarcus and the Kangz, what gives?
ZILLER: As with all things, there are multiple causes and the interrelatedness of those causes is nigh impossible to decipher.
There has been persistent coaching instability. How much of that is due to Boogie's frequent clashes with coaches?
There has been pervasive drama among players. How much of that should be pinned on Boogie's anti-leadership? How much of that anti-leadership should be blamed on woeful roster management by all three of Cousins' GMs?
Defense is an annual issue. How much of that is on your starting center? How much of his deficiency in that realm is due to the ultra-heavy offensive load he carries? How much of his ultra-heavy offensive load is due to his ego? How much is due to woeful roster management?
You see why the issue is so thorny. I'm reminded of the riddling debate Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves have at the beginning of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Their band, Wyld Stallyns, sounds like trash. Winter's Bill S. Preston, Esq. argues that the Stallyns won't be great until they convince Eddie Van Halen to join the band. Reeves' "Ted" Theodore Logan suggests that recruiting Van Halen will be impossible without a triumphant video. Bill counters that there can be no triumphant video unless the Stallyns procure better instruments. Ted retorts that there is no use for better instruments until the duo learns how to play. That, Bill replies, is why they need Eddie Van Halen. Ted concludes that this is why it is imperative that they create a triumphant video.
So it goes with Boogie Cousins and the Kings. To be truly great, Cousins needs stable coaching and better teammates. But to get stable coaching and boost his teammates, he needs to be truly great. That's why I propose that the Kings should have signed Eddie Van Halen in the offseason.
Alas, it was Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple, and Matt Barnes.
FLANNERY: I ... don't know what to say in response.
ZILLER: Let's talk about whether Dave Joerger is the Eddie Van Halen here. I posit: yes. He has experience working with idiosyncratic personalities and defense is his calling card. The talent is not nearly as good as Peak Memphis and there's no Mike Conley, but it's a helluva lot better than what preceded it. Right?
Sactown Royalty season preview
Sactown Royalty season preview
FLANNERY: It's fair to say Joerger is the best coach Cousins has had during his career -- George Karl was obviously more accomplished and Michael Malone may get there someday — but there are only so many things a coach can do to make things right. There's no Conley. Hell, there's barely a point guard. I'll grant that the rest of the roster looks like the work of someone who has an idea of what they're doing, but this still isn't a playoff contender.
So let me put this back on Boogie. How much of this is on him to lift everyone up? For all the criticism he's taken, no other superstar gets a pass for not making the playoffs, mainly because every other superstar has done something in the postseason.
ZILLER: I don't think he really gets a pass at this point. Only sycophants believe him totally blameless. I think that without at the minimum playoff contention — that is, being in the race into late March — the franchise will seek to find him a new home next summer, a year prior to free agency.
The Kevin Love comparison is all too real. I really don't see a way around it.
We're among the generation of writers who look to environment more than individual accomplishment when preparing our indictments of failed teams and eras. To be sure, the Kings' environment has been mediocre in the best of times and toxic during the worst. This can't all be on Boogie because duh, take a look around.
Still, I can't help but think of another ex-Minnesotan when assessing Cousins' tenure in Sacramento.
Kevin Garnett had some real bleakness around him, and yet he still elevated his game and his team well beyond those barriers. It's only in retrospect that we grant KG's Minnesota greatness, and even that is still a tough sell for those who don't believe he was the best player in the league during the mid-2000s. Now, KG is one of the greatest players who ever lived, but I believe Cousins has a level in him that could approach those peak Garnett levels.
Is that wrong?
ZILLER: I'm afraid to answer that question because I'll either be branded a homer or I'll be burned at the stake in the Sacramento Witch Trials after Boogie wins MVP this year. I get scorched either way.
I think there's a real core of excellence within Boogie. He is DAMN GOOD right now and for the last three years. But he's earned little benefit of the doubt. And there's a huge difference between flaming out of the first round every year (see Melo along with early KG) vs. never making it to begin with (Boogie and Love).
We do embrace nuance and consider the environment as important. There are no bootstraps Boogie can tug on when Jimmer Fredette and John Salmons are bringing the ball up. But at the end of the day, there has to be some team success or the doubts of your singular greatness can be nothing but valid.