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Paul Flannery | December 4, 2016

Sunday Shootaround: What do you do with DeMarcus Cousins?

The saga of Boogie Cousins

What do you do with DeMarcus Cousins? Man, that’s a loaded question.

The short answer: nothing. Already an established All-Star and now an Olympian, Cousins is off to the best start of his career. He’s averaging over 28 points a game to go along with his usual 10 rebounds and 3 assists, and is arguably the best player the Sacramento Kings franchise has ever seen (shout out to Chris Webber). Cousins is also clearly in his prime. You don’t trade players like DeMarcus Cousins. You do everything you can to build a solid foundation of talent around them.

Because Cousins plays for the Sacramento Kings, the long answer is … complicated. Boogie and the Kings haven’t come close to the postseason during their six-plus seasons together, topping out a mere 33 wins last year. They’ve burned through five coaches during that span and spun their wheels repeatedly in search of a quick fix when a patient approach would have done quite nicely.

So, here we are again. As the calendar turns to December, the winds of winter bring with them the annual season of Boogie trade rumors. At the moment they are mere speculative whispers. But Cousins has another year left on his contract beyond this season. If the Kings ever did get serious about moving on, now would be the time.

Trading Cousins would certainly give the franchise a jolt and a new direction. But on the other hand, why would they? They just opened their new arena and dudes that average 28 and 10 don’t come around very often, if ever. Teams in Sacramento’s position who have a talent like Cousins hold on tight to the very end. Yet, most teams in their position have shown tangible signs of progress.

Per usual, the Kings are on the fringes of playoff contention, roughly equidistant between the 8th spot and the 14th in the West. Their roster is once again transitional. There are three rookies who barely play along with a grab bag of veterans and holdovers for a team that turned over half its personnel in the offseason. Seven years into the Cousins era, the Kings are running an ultramarathon on the treadmill of mediocrity and the finish line is still miles away.

There is perhaps a new hope, though. Boogie has formed a solid bond with new coach Dave Joerger, who built a strong resumé with the Grizzlies and comes into the picture with a long-term contract and the respect that comes with it. Joerger knows there is a long-term situation that involves modest gains and his intention is to build methodically. In the interim he’s come up with creative ways to feature his big man. This has the potential to become the player-coach partnership that has eluded Cousins throughout his career.

"He’s a sweetheart," Joerger says without a hint of irony. "We get along great."

"He’s amazingly talented," Joerger continued. "We watched his talent get better every year from the other sideline. Like man, this guy just keeps getting better. And then when I got to coach him, I’m like, holy cow. He is incredibly talented. And then, the way that he has gone about his business and grown. Again from the other sideline to now here, he has really grown in the way he handles his business. Whether it’s practice, shootarounds, games, dealing with officials, handling adversity. Those two things have impressed me."

So again, what do you do with Cousins? On the court, there’s almost nothing you can’t do with Cousins. He can shoot from distance or dominate inside. He can pick and pop or put it on the floor and drive. He’s too powerful for just about everyone in the league in the post and too quick for most. When teams double, he’ll pick them apart with passes to cutters or open shooters on the wing.

"You don’t really appreciate it too much when you’re on the other team but when you get here you realize how good he actually is," Ty Lawson said after the team’s shootaround. "I like to get him in pick-and-roll, take his defender away from him for one or two seconds throw it back and he can basically do whatever he wants. Take the shot, get into the paint. To be that big and do that much stuff on the court? James (Harden) could do a lot but DeMarcus, I don’t think anybody can stop him."

So far this season, no one really has, despite the fact that he’s playing with a broken finger. Not that his aching digit has stopped him from piling up Xbox numbers. Coming into Friday night’s game with the Celtics he had scored 141 points and grabbed 55 rebounds over his last four contests. And it’s not like he’s had a ton of help, Rudy Gay’s solid campaign notwithstanding. As good as Cousins has been, the Kings have been brutal offensively without him, scoring just 95 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the bench per NBA.com.

Key to his evolution as a player this season has been trading inefficient long twos for higher-efficiency threes. It’s an evolution that’s not specific to Cousins as all across the league big men who used to set up shop between the circle and the arc are now drifting beyond the 3-point line.

"With him and the rest of the league, everyone’s playing so far off in pick and rolls with their centers," Joerger said. "You can see now the adjustment is being made where fives are picking and popping to (the 3-point line). All you gotta do is make one out of three to shoot 50 percent from two."

That was his percentage last season, but this year he’s making them at a 39 percent clip. Boogie’s long-range marksmanship has been a boon for a Kings’ club that lacks consistent outside shooting. Of course, there’s a balance that needs to be struck for a player who can so readily dominate in the paint.

"It’s an effective tool for us," Joerger said. "For a guy like DeMarcus, it’s just picking and choosing your spots when you can attack. Sometimes guys are going to dare you to shoot that because that’s better for them to pick that poison then you driving and getting an and-one. He worked on it over the summer. It’s not like it just started for him."

That’s essentially what went down on Friday against the Celtics. The C’s dared him to shoot from the outside and their strategy was effective. In the second half, Cousins moved closer to the basket and bully-balled his way to a tough 28 points on 26 shots. When the inevitable double-teams came, he fired off nifty passes for layups and open threes.

But the Kings faltered in all too familiar ways. They were stagnant at the beginning, which has been a season-long malady, and dug themselves a 13-point hole. They rallied but came undone whenever Cousins was off the floor. When he had to go back to the locker room after catching an elbow near the eye, a four-point spread became eight and the Kings went scoreless during that span. He returned, sans stitches, and nearly pulled off the comeback. But afterward, there were the all-too-familiar laments.

"If we don’t figure this thing out we’re going to continue to have these types of games and just another losing season," Cousins said. "Like I’ve been saying all season, if we want to change the whole thing around then we have to hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for our effort."

What do you do? What can you do? The saga of Boogie Cousins continues.

The ListConsumable NBA thoughts

The Most Valuable Player debate is shaping up to be a fascinating exercise this season. What will voters value more: overwhelming individual statistics propping up good but not great teams, or eye-popping numbers on championship contenders? The twist this year is there are multiple players who fit each category and none of them may wind up being the two-time defending award winner. Here’s a snapshot top five that will be subject to change throughout the season.

LeBron James: The best player of his generation and one of the greatest of all time sits on the doorstep of MVP immortality. James owns four MVPs and one more would tie him with Bill Russell and Michael Jordan for second behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s six. That’s a killer narrative before you add in the raw numbers: 23 points, 8 rebounds, and 9 assists for a team solidly in first place in its conference and on track for a third straight Finals appearance. LeBron is (still) the best player in the world. That’s his argument and it’s a compelling one in a crowded field.

Kawhi Leonard: The Spurs’ baton has been passed, and it rests in Leonard’s oversized hands. He’s scoring at an elite level with proper efficiency and he’s already the game’s best wing defender for a team that will win 60-plus games. Leonard finished second in the voting last year, vaulting past the other names on this list, so his value is well established. The case is being made that he’s still getting better as an all-around performer and an emerging team leader. The Spurs won’t go out of their way to make it and Leonard is the furthest thing from a gloryhound, but his game more than speaks for itself.

James Harden: A funny thing happened to Harden this season: he’s become likeable. While his uber-efficient game was always respected, there was a grimness to his approach that left many (myself included) feeling cold. Now unlocked as the primary everything in Mike D’Antoni’s free-flowing system, Harden has a shot at leading the league in points and assists for the first time since the great Tiny Archibald turned the trick in 1973. Harden’s scoring has always been sublime, but his brilliant passing has turned Clint Capela into a sensation. It’s fun to watch Harden dominate and the Rockets are a little bit better than we suspected. That’s a strong combination.

Russell Westbrook: The dude is averaging a triple-double. By doing literally everything, he’s keeping OKC in playoff contention. This really comes down to how you feel about the triple-double and whether you think it’s an unimpeachable milestone or a freak statistical blip. Much like Miguel Cabrera’s triple-crown, this pursuit will generate a thousand thinkpieces between now and April. My own feeling is that triple-doubles are cool as hell but not nearly as important as they’re made out to be, much like triple crowns. That doesn’t take anything away from what Westbrook is doing, but in this tight field even that may not be enough.

Kevin Durant: Durant’s averaging 27 points per game with a True Shooting percentage of .681. That’s higher than Steph Curry’s .669 mark last season and way above his career average of .607. Durant hasn’t had to sacrifice much and the Warriors are even better offensively than we thought they’d be. That shouldn’t be taken for granted. Many a star player has struggled with the transition to a new team. Still, the Warriors’ success in general and KD’s numbers in particular have been taken as a given. They, and he, have to do extraordinary things to shock us this season. That holds for Steph Curry, as well. That will be difficult in this environment for many reasons, not the least of which is the presence of other deserving players doing extraordinary things under more trying circumstances.

Others: Curry, Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins.

ICYMIor In Case You Missed It

Say WhatRamblings of NBA players, coaches and GMs

"It’s obvious that we have done everything to stay competitive. Ownership has given us the financial commitment for our intent to be competitive at a high level over the past several years. That just doesn’t stop with the injury to Mike Conley." -- Memphis GM Chris Wallace.

Reaction: The Grizzlies’ first-round pick goes to Denver unless it falls in the top five, so even if the Grizz wanted to tank, they’d really have to tank hard. Conley’s injury (he’s out 6-8 weeks with a transverse process fracture in his vertebrae) is the nightmare scenario for a franchise that spent huge amounts of money to continue riding out an aging core with a history of injury problems. That’s not to second-guess the decision: It was a no-win situation for a small market with a boom-or-bust margin for error.

"You have special players that we come across, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan. You’ve got different players that are rare and I think Giannis is one of those rare birds that we'll be able to enjoy for a long time." -- Bucks coach Jason Kidd on Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Reaction: This is the breakout we’ve been waiting for from the Greek Freak who’s averaging 23 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists per contest while shooting over 52 percent from the floor. Sure, there are minor concerns -- turnovers, long-range shooting -- but those can be smoothed over in time. Giannis’ emergence is real and it’s spectacular.

"Once you get over that, people writing and saying you’re arguably the best player in the game, what does that do for you? How many years can you go into the summer early and say, ‘Oh, he’s one of the best players in the game’ if your goal is to win." -- Bulls guard Dwyane Wade.

Reaction: One of Doc Rivers’ many pet phrases is about "the ability to get over yourself." That’s what separates great individual performers from great teams. Wade’s career arc can’t be fully measured yet, but in time and with a proper evaluation he will go down as one of the handful of truly great players.

"I can’t afford to be quiet all the time. I learned that." -- Former Sixer GM Sam Hinkie in Chris Ballard’s excellent profile.

Reaction: It’s time for another round of Hinkie Hot Takes and I’ll be honest, I’m all Taked out at this point. But I do think that one element that undermined his tenure was his unwillingness to engage the press, and by extension, the public about his team’s direction. Media demands may be an irrational part of the job, but there’s an easy and quite rational solution.

"I didn't even know I was in the game. My bad." -- Cavs guard J.R. Smith.

Reaction: This the most J.R. quote ever. We can all go home now.

Vine Of The Weekfurther explanation unnecessary

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About the Author

After covering everything from 8-man football in Idaho to city politics in Boston, Paul came to SB Nation in 2013 to write about the NBA. He developed the Sunday Shootaround column and profiled players such as Damian Lillard, Draymond Green, and Isaiah Thomas. When not in arenas, he can usually be found running somewhere.