The interview lasted more than 12 minutes Monday at Team USA's first official practice. The topics ranged anywhere from Carmelo Anthony’s fourth Olympics to what playing for Team USA’s Select Club will mean for second-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein. But the only quote bites you read from DeMarcus Cousins’ first day of Olympic minicamp are about the Kings offseason to date.
Cousins, like everyone else, sat stunned when the Kings moved from No. 8 in the 2016 NBA Draft down to No. 13 and No. 28. But things got a little more uncomfortable for the star big when the Kings passed on guards Wade Baldwin and Denzel Valentine in favor of a 7-foot-2 center that plays his position.
“I do my job, I can’t control that. I can control what I can control,” Cousins said to a group of reporters. “I don’t really understand it, but like I said, I do my job.”
When pushed about the Kings adding big man Georgios Papagiannis and even Skal Labissiere with 28th pick on draft night, Cousins didn’t take the bait. He made it clear, as he always has in Sacramento, that he is a player, and the decision making process is up to Vlade Divac, Ken Catanella, Mike Bratz, Peja Stojakovic, Vivek Ranadivé and a number of other faces that make up the Sacramento Kings front office.
“I let them do their job,” Cousins said.
If you want to call into question how much input Cousins has on the direction of the team, look no further than the Kings’ decision not to chase point guard Rajon Rondo during free agency. This was Cousins’ guy and Sacramento let him skip town without any semblance of a fight.
Cousins is the face of the Sacramento Kings franchise. He is the man they will build a marketing campaign around this season, especially if he brings home the gold in Rio. He is the only hope the team has of snapping a ten-year playoff drought. And he’s confused.
Maybe everyone is confused why the Kings have cruised through both draft season and the first two-plus weeks of free agency without adding a point guard. But the summer is young. There are still a few able bodied ball handlers on the market and Rudy Gay is being dangled as a potential trade piece.
Cousins, 25, is under contract for another two seasons in Sacramento. He has had the opportunity to leave in the past, but stayed loyal to the team and city that drafted him and turned down the chance to relocate.
With Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors, a new round of rumors have popped up, but most of it is nothing more than click bait fodder. No, the Kings aren’t taking Kevin Love and a bag of magic beans for the game’s best big man. And no, he isn’t heading to Boston for a package of Brooklyn Nets draft picks, at least not right now.
But what exactly are the Kings doing and how much of Cousins’ career is he willing to waste during the process?
The first question is easy. The Kings made two moves on draft night that yielded three first round selections and a big-time European prospect. With their picks, the Kings drafted players they wanted and then aggressively pursued players in the free agent market to support the team while the young talent develops.
No one is throwing a parade for Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple and Matt Barnes. In fact, the team isn’t even hosting a press conference. But the group of veterans are upgrades over the players that held their place on roster last season. And in addition, each of these players are known for their presence in the locker room.
Sacramento might be better this season than the team that won 33 games under George Karl last year. They might even be substantially better when you factor in the addition of head coach Dave Joerger and the eight or nine new faces added to the roster.
But that doesn’t mean they will be a playoff team and they certainly aren’t ready to compete for a title anytime soon.
So that leads us to the second question. How much time is Cousins willing to wait?
If things go as planned, he will win Olympic gold in August, something that has driven him for most of his career. He will hopefully return from the experience a better leader and more determined than ever.
But he will also return to a reality that neither he, nor the Kings can escape. Cousins is entering his prime and the best of all possible hopes is that Sacramento sneaks in as a seventh or eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
Cousins is about to get a taste of the good life and he is only going to want more. The Kings have to find a way to support that hunger or get out of the way.
This is the current path for Cousins and the Kings. Build with youth while supporting with quality veteran influences. But the clock is ticking. This plan might make sense for the organization, but it will come at a cost of precious years of Cousins’ prime.
The two-time All-Star can sign a mega extension next summer and be a Kings lifer. But he is going to need to see something pretty special from this front office and this group of players to make that happen.
The Kings have worked with Cousins through his youth. They have watched him grow from a difficult young player with immense talent to one of the best players in the game. It is now their duty to surround him with the team that is worthy of who he is as a player. Hopefully that is in Sacramento, but if it’s not...