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Why DeMarcus Cousins is in line to stay with the Kings for a long time

The new collective bargaining agreement practically ensures a new long-term deal in Sacramento, even with Cousins’ tumultuous history.

San Antonio Spurs v Sacramento Kings Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The Sacramento Kings are 16-22, on pace for just 34 wins. That would be the team’s highest win total since 2008, two years before DeMarcus Cousins arrived as the No. 5 pick in the NBA draft.

Cousins not only quickly became the Kings’ best player, he might have already become the top player of the franchise’s Sacramento era. Within a week, he’ll move past Peja Stojakovic to No. 2 on the franchise scoring list (behind Mitch Richmond). He’s already No. 1 in rebounds by a massive and growing margin. He’s played 75 more regular season games for the Kings than Chris Webber.

What all three of those players have over Cousins is playoff games, though Richmond’s postseason experience in Sacramento was limited to a single series. Cousins hasn’t been to the glory land yet. But it would appear to be only a matter of time.

Why? The quite reliable James Ham of CSN California reported late Tuesday that Cousins intends to sign a $200 million extension with the Kings this summer. This follows a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein on Friday that the Kings were planning to prepare such an offer.

Locking up Cousins for six seasons after this one gives plenty of runway for the Kings to finally take off and make the playoffs. At some point. Perhaps even this decade!

Cleveland Cavaliers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Cousins and the Kings so often seem like a match made in hell. Continuing the relationship through 2023 would indicate something else is at play. Cousins and Kings franchise owner Vivek Ranadive have no beef, and have never been at loggerheads.

Cousins has battled with two Kings coaches: One (Paul Westphal) who preceded Ranadive and the other (George Karl) who suddenly finds himself the least-popular man in the NBA. Ranadive was said to be responsible for Karl, and there is some trust there.

For better or worse, that is not a stain on Ranadive for Cousins, and Boogie trusts those who show faith in him. One of Ranadive’s first acts as franchise owner was to pay Cousins handsomely despite a tumultuous start to his career. Ranadive did that, and the duo have meshed since.

Cousins has always maintained that he loves Sacramento. For all of his clashes with local scribes, he knows the media glare is relatively dim in a non-glamour market. Look at him joking with two of his most frequent critics on Tuesday night, asking them in a media scrum whether they want him to stay or go this summer.

There aren’t many markets in the NBA where you can do this and no one is worse for the wear.

Cousins and the Kings are only able to renew their vows this summer because of the new NBA labor deal, one that responded to Kevin Durant’s decision to sign with the Warriors by helping teams keep their own star free agents. Cousins qualifies for a designated player extensions of up to five years at 35 percent of the salary through two straight All-NBA nods — he’s eligible even if he should miss the cut this year. (He won’t miss the cut this year, barring injury.) That’s where the fat $200 million figure comes from.

Why is Cousins interested in staying?

Despite the Kings’ failures, despite Sacramento not being a particularly glamorous home base for a wealthy 20-something, $200 million is an incredible amount of money to turn down. By the end of this season, Cousins will have earned $61 million in seven years, with $18 million more on deck for next season. The opportunity to lock in $200 million for five more seasons of work must be too attractive to turn down. He likes the city, he loves the fans, he likes the franchise owner, he likes his coach Dave Joerger, and he likes at least one or two of his teammates.

Why are the Kings interested?

Cousins is a top-10 player and he’s only 26 years old. Despite his foibles, he’s a talent you’d kill to have. The only reason the Kings have considered trading him is because he can become a free agent in 2018. Given the team’s inability to be competitive over the course of his reign, the Kings could not risk letting him make a decision when there was no real financial incentive to stay.

Thanks to the labor deal, there is now a real financial incentive to stay, and the Kings can lock in that financial incentive a year before free agency arrives, de-escalating the entire drama. If Cousins or the Kings get cold feet in July and the agreement isn’t made, there is the entirety of summer and the first half of the 2017-18 left to trade him. No real harm is done to the Kings.

Getting early word from Cousins that he plans on signing the re-up lets the Kings chase the No. 8 seed with that in mind. Sacramento is essentially a game behind the Blazers in that race, owing to Portland owning the tiebreaker. The Kings are supposedly shopping Kosta Koufos and Rudy Gay, the latter of whom expects to leave as a free agent in July. Sacramento desperately needs wing help (particularly at shooting guard, where Garrett Temple has been way more reliable than Arron Afflalo).

Having a strong sense that Boogie will be here for the long-term allows Kings GM Vlade Divac to be more bold in the trade market with offering Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, and future picks (a few of which are actually unencumbered). Divac, of course, has already been plenty bold in trading youth for the cap space to chase veterans, most of whom (Rajon Rondo, Afflalo, Koufos, Marco Belinelli) have fizzled. Divac needs no further encouragement on that front. But it’s certainly reassuring all the same.

Beyond Sacramento, though, if this contract extension happens, it makes clear that the NBA’s plot to bolster small markets who fear losing their stars in free agency was successful. If new contract extension rules can save the marriage of Boogie and the Kings, anything is possible.