Joe Kleine. Harold Pressley. Kenny Smith. Ricky Berry. Pervis Ellison.
Lionel “L-Train” Simmons.Travis Mays. Duane Causwell. Anthony Bonner.
Billy Owens. Pete Chilcutt. Walt “The Wizard” Williams.
Brian Grant. Corliss Williamson. Predrag “Peja” Stojakovic.
Olivier Saint-John/Tariq Abdul-Wahad.
Jason Williams. Hidayet “Hedo” Turkoglu. Gerald Wallace.
Dan Dickau. Kevin Martin. Francisco Garcia.
Quincy Douby. Spencer Hawes. Jason Thompson.
These are the names of the Sacramento Kings’ 1st-round draft choices since the organization moved to northern California in 1985, going to the 2010 NBA Draft. Most of the players were marginal talents in the NBA, if not just all-out busts. A few persevered, but many were found to be inadequate in Sacramento.
History doesn’t lie, though. The Kings of Sacramento have been failures for a large portion of their time in the league. It’s a place where all kinds of players have gone and been forgotten. Some, like Smith, briefly shined in Sacramento, but shined even brighter upon their exit. Even fewer, like Stojakovic and Turkoglu, actually became great players with their home franchise. Mostly, though, the losing culture and the bad decisions made by the Kings to build a winning environment have had a significant part in defining the vast majority of the careers of Sacramento’s draft choices.
Cousins could be destined to fall in with that same pool of pitiful players.
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Cousins isn’t a demon. He isn’t some kind of a devil. He’s not a career criminal or even an actual thug. Clearly, he has issues, but it’s important not to overstate or exaggerate who or what he is. He’s an energetic young man who has some emotional issues. He’s 6’11” and he’s African American, and generally, big, black men have a tendency to scare the hell out of people based solely on appearance. An unfair reality that is becoming all the more real for Cousins.
The young man has been dogged by a bad rep since high school. At LeFlore High in Mobile, Alabama, a 16-year-old Cousins was publicized for getting into an altercation with a school official that led to the beginning of his bad press. Demonized, even. It's been a downhill slope ever since.
This season alone he’s been suspended once for a still-curious confrontation with former Spurs legend-turned-commentator Sean Elliott, twice for hitting Dallas Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo below the belt, and thrice for disrespecting head coach Keith Smart in the midst of a game, Cousins is a house built on rocks – and the tide is coming in.
Despite having become the 11th center in the league to record a triple-double with at least 10 assists since 1985, Cousins has become a laborious name to utter for those close to the organization, and a large question mark for those wondering if he’ll even concede to authority and begin to play his best.
Charles Barkley said it best last January:
“Grow up. Just grow up. He’s got a world of talent…he’s not in college anymore. We’re men. NBA stands for No Babies Allowed.”
And then, Barkley followed with this, amidst the All-Star Weekend festivities in February 2012:
And then, when speaking about Cousins’ participation with Team USA as a future roster member of the Olympic squad, Basketball Hall of Fame inductee and USA Men’s Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo stated, “He has a lot of growing up to do.”
Between Barkley, Chris Webber, Shaquille O’Neal, and Colangelo expounding on Cousins’ potential, that’s four basketball legends giving the Kings center/forward a roundtable assessment of what he can do to change, with Webber and O’Neal intimating that they’ve talked with him about it. And still, Cousins’ growing pains are starting to look more like fault-line disruptions.
Now, as bad as the player commonly called “Boogie” has been, what morally obtuse person can you think of that befriends sick children or brings his best friend to live with him to give him support and guidance to avoid even worse trouble? Cousins may have problems, but he’s not morally corrupt. If he did a 180-degree turn tomorrow, the world would love him and forget all about his indiscretions on the hardwood.
The curious argument of nature vs. nurture has been going on for years and years, and we being a slightly more intelligent evolution of our past ancestors can and have reasonably come to a better conclusion of what makes people do what they do. A big part of the bottom line is that the environment in which we all live impacts us far greater than we realize.
And the evidence has shown that Sacramento, California, through no fault of its own, is currently a terrible place for young players looking to grow and expand their games. If players like Evans (a history-making Rookie of The Year), Thomas Robinson (a virtual No. 1 overall pick talent in 2012), and former blue-chip stars/NCAA All-Americans Jimmer Fredette, Aaron Brooks, and Isaiah Thomas can’t ascend with the post-Webber/Stojakovic/Vlade Divac Kings, what makes anyone think that Cousins can beat that wrap when he’s in the same pit with everyone else, losing and underachieving?
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Should Cousins be traded away from the Kings? The front office says it won’t trade him, including Kings general manager Geoff Petrie, whose reputation as a bad decision-maker has now preceded him. Cousins probably wouldn’t mind leaving – and I wouldn’t mind him going, either. The reality of the situation is that he has not developed in Sacramento for numerous reasons, but one important reason being that the lack of veteran accountability has severely hurt his progress. Head coach Keith Smart hasn’t been a top man for a long time, and even he is still learning his craft. The ownership and the management are of little authority when it comes to browbeating players to shape up, largely because players that are a minus to the team get to go free much of the time – which is exactly what players want to do.
As of right now, Cousins keeps playing, keeps practicing bad habits in a questionable environment, and his value as a player drops lower and lower – but if the Kings had the guise to move him? The argument will always stand that you shouldn’t trade a future All-Star big man for pieces, but the Kings are nothing but pieces right now, including Cousins. In order for there to be any progress and order, the team needs a rock. Maybe Cousins is just a pebble right now, needing a new environment to acquire the right kind of weathering and sediment possible to become the boulder that he’s long been projected to be.
In such a case, here are three trades best suited to acquire and nurture Cousins with the right kind of pressure to make him a diamond:
A trade to the C's would certainly be a godsend for the former Kentucky Wildcat. Kevin Garnett, Doc Rivers, and Danny Ainge would be able to pour into the center/forward everything necessary to make Cousins great, and Cousins would have no choice but to get better. Rajon Rondo would have another bond to build with Wildcat alumni and the two most vexing players in the league would have an opportunity to really become a John Stockton-Karl Malone 2.0.
The Mavericks have long needed someone to intimidate other players and keep scoring in the post at a minimum. Except for one season (championship-winning season with Tyson Chandler), the Mavs haven’t had it and still don’t, but Cousins would be the perfect complement to the team and Dirk Nowitzki, in particular. Head coach Rick Carlisle is not a pre-school teacher and wouldn’t stand for any mess (nor would Elton Brand for that matter) – Dallas would become a contender instantly.
The Rockets would finally receive their coveted future All-Star big man in Cousins, and who better than to mold him than the no-nonsense Hall of Fame big man supreme in head coach Kevin McHale? With an assortment of rising stars in Jeremy Lin and James Harden, and versatile swingman Chandler Parsons, Cousins would have the great opportunity to blossom with positive and mature players who would seek for greatness from Cousins without an air of negativity. In all of these potential trade scenarios, Sacramento would obviously ask for a lot, but in a league where impact centers are rare, it might be worth it for one of these franchises.
Bottom line: it’s not what Sacramento would lose from letting the immature and disgruntled Cousins go, it would be about them cutting their losses before they become too great. There is no guarantee that Cousins will become anything more than a volatile nuisance in the NBA, but he stands a far better chance to be more if he leaves Sacramento – just like the Kings might still do.