Moving Demarcus Cousins was the loudest thud in what otherwise will be a muted process of turning over the Kings' weird roster. That's essentially what Vlade Divac said on Sunday.
And that makes a certain sense. The Kings as constituted, with Cousins, were trying to drag themselves into the 8th spot in the West and a first-round dispatch by the Warriors. It might've made for good (albeit brief) theater, but it was not anything other than the shortest of short-term plans, and the patch-job roster you've seen day after day this season attests to that.
So – onward. With Cousins gone, the Kings can freely contemplate whether there is anything else on the roster that can bring back a future asset in trade, especially considering the nature of the players' contracts. (And when I say "asset," I mostly mean draft picks, of which the Kings still have precious few.)
It's callous, but that's the biz. The only question right now, in terms of the roster, is whether the Kings have anything that a contending team might wish to grab before Thursday's trade deadline.
I won't post odds. I'm terrible at odds. But here are a couple of names you might be hearing this week.
Darren Collison (13.7 ppg, 48% FG, 42% 3PT, 4.2 apg). Collison has been very useful in Sacramento, especially lately, as his outside shot finally warmed up. He has been the guard of record, really, during a stretch of mostly better play leading up to the All-Star break. But Collison is an unrestricted free agent after the season, and you'd be crazy to assume the 29-year-old's big career goal is to re-sign with a team that hasn't made the playoffs since he was a freshman in college. Understanding that he'll probably walk, the Kings would do well to get anything in return for him this week.
Ben McLemore (6.6 ppg, 41% FG, 37% 3PT). Mind you, I'm not suggesting the market for any of these guys is going to be so robust that it'll drive the Kings straight to a deadline deal. But McLemore is a shooting guard who (again, lately) has heated up and showed some promise. A fourth-year pro, he has been the essence of up and down, and the Kings just added Buddy Hield to do his job. McLemore is a restricted free agent after the season, so it'd make sense for Divac to move him now IF there's any sort of decent value placed upon his services.
Arron Afflalo (7.8 ppg, 43% FG, 39% 3PT). If Afflalo's shooting range is valued by a team trying to make a late playoff push or improve its position, he could fetch a little something. He has done a nice job in a rather chaotic season, finding ways to get minutes and make them generally productive. He is due $12.5 million for next season. He probably wouldn't bring back a ton – but, at age 31, Afflalo probably is not any significant part of a Kings rebuild, so an offer of anything in return is going to be at least considered.
Wait. My bad. That's anger. Palpable, palpable anger. You don't actually sound all that confused, now that I check my Twitter timeline.
I'm of two minds here, because I've lobbied consistently for the Kings to come up with the intestinal fortitude to imagine a future without Cousins. At the same time, this deal is so underwhelming that it challenges even the upside-notion of addition by subtraction.
So let's do what we always do in sports situations that feel just a bit too big for the moment. Let's just take this one ball-peen hammer-blow at a time.
Q: Did the Kings get fair value for Cousins?
A: Seriously, you ask the most idiotic questions. (Sorry: That was me asking the question. Again, my bad.) Of course the Kings didn't get fair value for Cousins. The "fair value" market tapped out on Cousins at least a year ago and possibly two years ago, when people like Kevin Michael "Whitey" Gleason and I started openly campaigning for the Kings to move him while he was worth the most that he'd ever be as a trade piece.
There is no such thing as fair value where Cousins is concerned. He's perhaps not a unicorn as a player, but he's close – no real acceptable comps exist in the neighborhood. So the Kings will be judged in the trade not on whether they got an equal return, but on whether they got enough.
The concept of "enough" is as elusive as it sounds, but if you're going by any conventional measure, the Kings didn't get it. They love Buddy Hield and valued him as a Top 5 pick (he went sixth to New Orleans last year), but he's 23 and still learning the NBA. The clock is ticking. Sacramento added two draft choices, which are equally as important, and enter the summer with two first-round chances to improve.
Hield is having a traditional rookie season, with its attendant ups and downs. He's a good three-point shooter in a league that is going to continue to value that asset.
Q: So how did Cousins do in the deal?
A: Not all that well, actually. The good: He is going to a Pelicans team that already features Anthony Davis, and the addition of Cousins might help entice pending free agent Jrue Holliday to re-sign. The bad: That's a scrambling club trying desperately for the same 8th spot the Kings coveted – not an upper-crust team in the West – and it's led by a coach and GM who were said to be on shaky ground prior to the deal. Hardly inspiring as a career move.
Although Cousins and Davis should be fun to watch, there's no guarantee that the Pels will suddenly become dramatically better as a team. Cousins does get to play alongside another elite talent, which some people speculate could bring out the best in him behavior-wise. At the very least, New Orleans is going to be hard to guard.
Beyond that, the deal itself costs Cousins at least $30 million. Under NBA rules, only the Kings could have offered Cousins a max contract extension worth up to $209 million. The most the Pelicans can offer him now is $179 million. Cousins will survive, I imagine, but that's serious bonus cabbage to which he no longer has access.
Q: Why do the deal if you're the Kings?
A: I could write about this all day. But I won't. You've seen Cousins' act for seven years, so there's no reason to rehash. But quite simply, the Kings were steaming toward a business decision that terrified their ownership group. They had to decide whether to give all that money to a player as volatile as Cousins, and it's clear that not enough of Vivek Ranadive's partners were up for that.
Q: Did the Kings handle this badly?
A: Are they the Kings? They had Cousins announced as a guy who would not be traded, then traded him while he was at the All-Star Game in front of the national media.
Q: Wait, did Vlade decide this?
A: Golly, nope. I'm surprised how many people have bought into this notion, that Divac somehow wore down Ranadive and finally won the right to trade Cousins. Seriously? Divac publicly announced that Cousins would not be traded, and he doubled down on that by assuring Cousins and his agents/family that he would not be traded. Divac did this as recently as, well, Sunday. Bad, bad look.
Clearly, Vlade was not driving the bus. Divac has now been compromised league-wide, seen as a GM who will openly lie to his own players about their futures, their lives. He'd have to be insane to follow that sequence of events and undercut his own authority that way. No, Divac was dictated to. This was an ownership group decision.
Q: Look, all I really want to know is whether the Kings can win some games.
A: The Boston game is a lonely island, but I like the view. With Cousins sitting out his first technical-related suspension of the season recently, the Kings shared the ball, shot very well, played aggressive, up-tempo defense, and pounded a good Celtics team, 108-92.
They are not a more talented roster without Cousins, and there's no reason to take the Celtics game and declare that it's a vision of the future. I mean, the Kings are going to roll out a sub-par backcourt and pair it with Kosta Koufous and Willie Cauley-Stein.
But I would not be at all surprised to see them get a little post-trade lift. A huge weight has been lifted from the locker room, purely and simply.
It's difficult to calculate how much Cousins' moodiness, surliness, hostility to young players and defiance of the organization actually cost the team wins. That gets tricky, and it can lead to some dangerously stupid conclusions. Not only that, but Cousins the community member was almost the film negative of Cousins the player. He seems like a guy who, once he sheds his demon basketball skin, enjoys his life and wants to give back.
But understand the reality: The Sacramento Kings, one of the worst franchises in recent NBA history, mired in dysfunction, with a chance to actually make the playoffs for the first time in forever almost despite everything – THAT Kings team just decided that Demarcus Cousins, in the end, wasn't worth it.
If that's not a wake-up call to Cousins, then one will never arrive. And for the Kings, this moment represents a sea change in basketball culture. You don't have to believe in Divac, Ranadive and Co. to understand how critical it was that they at least try to switch up a viciously wrong-headed approach to basketball.
Having just snapped baseball's longest-running curse, the World Champion Cubs are probably not overly concerned about the potential ill-effects of a "World Series Hangover". Recent history, however, suggests they should be.
For all the recent focus on how Super Bowl teams seem to stumble the following season, relatively little attention has been paid to the problems World Series winners have had of late in defending their titles. Is there such a thing as a World Series Hangover? Consider the Royals: from 2015 World Champions to 81-81 also-rans last year. 2014 Giants? From trophy to atrophied, at 84-78. 2013 Red Sox? From parade to poopy, at 71-91.
Back to the Giants, whose fans all to well remember the stumble to the division cellar that followed 2012's championship. All of a sudden we've got a trend here! In fact, the last team to win a World Series and even finish first in division the next year was the 2008 Phillies.
So what's going on? Three possible explanations: World Series champs often can't afford to pay everybody, and you end up with defections -- like Dexter Fowler leaving the Cubs this winter. Two: Orel Hershiser Syndrome, whereby key players have a hard time physically bouncing back from the Herculean feats performed during championship seasons. Three: blame social media. I don't know why or how, but it seems like a popular thing to do these days.
The NL Central, however, ain't as formidable as it once was. And in addition to brand new rings, the Cubs possess roster youth, front office smarts, and superior defensive skills. Those factors should be to a potential World Series Hangover what Gatorade and greasy breakfast burritos were to the hangovers their fans dealt with on November 3rd.
I like Rob Manfred. Having Rob Manfred as commissioner of baseball like putting your nuttiest uncle in charge of the family barbecue. You know that in the big picture, it'll all work out fine, but there's also a sensational chance that something weird will happen, which the family will then get to gossip about for a long time.
A massive win-win, in other words.
So Rob Manfred says yes to expanded replay, on the "Let's Just See How This Goes" theory of implementation. And he says yes to a 20-second pitch clock being enforced in the minor leagues. And he says, "Heck, yeah! Hike that strike zone up above the knees!" And he says sure, we can talk about limiting how many pitchers a manager can even use in a game.
And he hints that the defensive overshift maybe shouldn't be allowed. And he suggests that perhaps a coach's visit to the mound last no more than 30 seconds, or that a team be allowed no more than 30 seconds to decide whether it's going to challenge a call on the field.
And he's willing to try any of it, even though he knows some of it is going to fail spectacularly.
And, right now, Rob Manfred realizes that being right isn't the point.
The point is to move the conversation in baseball away from "We've always done it this way!" to somewhere closer to the reality of a competitive sports industry. At the very least, he'd like to move it into the neighborhood of, "That's a terrible idea, but let's keep talking."
Baseball is by no means dying. Baseball's revenue is insanely wonderful right now – right now. But Manfred is the guy in charge of helping the owners to understand that there are also future riches on the line, and that if the next generation just has no interest in what it perceives as a never-moving sport, they're all cooked – every one of those rich guys cashing checks today.
Example: The pitch clock. There's almost no chance that an actual, counting-down clock is going to be implemented in the Major Leagues anytime soon. For one thing, the head of the players' union, Tony Clark, steadfastly opposes it. For another, baseball is the timeless sport, with foul lines that go to infinity, yadda yadda. You've read the poetry.
But that's not the point. The point is that Manfred got the clock put into use at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, not to mention the Arizona Fall League (where all these lab experiments first get tested) – and MLB thus is already training its future pitchers to quit screwing around on the mound and get ready to pitch.
Last week Manfred entertained the notion of truncating extra-inning games by starting a runner at second base – in rookie ball, of course, where it doesn't really hurt anything if it's an awful idea. The notion was simple: Extra-inning games kill pitching staffs without necessarily thrilling crowds. It's a notion that isn't likely to pass the smell test. But, says Manfred, we'll see.
That's how you foster a conversation about what people want out of the games they watch. If the games can't be truly shorter – and, bad news, the commercial spot-load for any given broadcast and the emergence of power bullpens and multiple pitching changes virtually ensures the games can't get a lot shorter – then baseball can at least promote the appearance of action.
People don't generally oppose a long game so much as a boring one. They're not riveted by watching a batter take 40 seconds to walk around home plate, write a letter home in the dirt with his bat, and then adjust his gloves seven times. They just want to watch the guy hit.
Pace is the operative word here. If the pitcher gets to his windup a little quicker, that's pace. If a higher strike zone results in more balls being put in play (and there is NO guarantee of that), that's pace. The 10th inning begins with a runner already at second base: goofy, but pace.
Action is pace, and Rob Manfred knows he has only a few places to which he can turn for an uptick in the perception of action.
Some of it will be nutty. Remember, he's the uncle at the BBQ who poured a whole can of beer in the sauce while the kids looked on. But you've got to go through a few bad batches to get what you want.
It's a testament to DeMarcus Cousins' abundant talent that the mere notion of the Kings trading him constantly creates such an emotional ruckus around town. Cousins is good for all of that. He's really talented and really immature and really capable of carrying a team and really capable of absolutely wrecking that same team.
He's all of it. This would be an easy conversation otherwise.
But at some point, any NBA franchise worth its fans' money has got to make the hard decisions – and what is in play here, with the Kings, is also an element of pure fear operating just below the veneer. Let's work on that.
Before the Kings can move Cousins, they have to unpack a box of such fears. These fears, by the way, are not irrational; they simply occupy too much space. So we'll take them out one at a time.
If they trade Cousins, they'll have to watch him be great for some other team.
Well, yes. That's pretty much what we're looking at. But if you're the Kings, you already know that during good times and terrible times, DeMarcus Cousins will get his stats. These stats have not helped the Kings become winners, in part because Cousins hasn't often been on good rosters, in part because the coaching carousel around him has spun way too wildly, and in part because Cousins has so consistently sabotaged even his own best efforts.
That's a strange truth to grasp: Cousins undercuts his own success. But it's real, and it needs to be faced in the cold light of day.
A better franchise, with a better roster, can probably envision Cousins being a part of great days. If you saw Cousins on the U.S. Olympic team, surrounded by quality players who understood professionalism at its highest levels, you get that.
In this franchise, with non-Olympians around him, Cousins has for seven years been unable to pursue even a mid-30-win season. It's not unreasonable to argue that whatever Cousins might become for someone else, he likely won't become that for Sacramento.
If they trade Cousins, they'll never get fair value in return.
This one you simply have to embrace, in order to get past it. Getting straight value-for-value with a player like Cousins is almost impossible, because you can't name but a handful of players who deliver the kinds of numbers Cousins does (and they aren't for trade).
But once you realize that, you move quickly to the next thought: What WOULD Cousins bring in trade? And you begin to understand that the haul could be substantial – some existing talent, some draft picks to replace the ones you've given away, etc. Spin the question positively. Imagine what might happen if multiple teams decide they need to get in on the Cousins trade talk.
And if you don't get the deal you want, don't make the deal. You're not going to jail if you walk away from a bad trade proposal.
If they trade Cousins, they'll just screw up any draft opportunities they get in return.
Now we're getting somewhere. This fear probably resides deeper down in the ranks of the franchise, whereas with the fan base it's right up there on the surface. There is very little about the Kings' recent past, or Vlade Divac's limited service time as GM, that would suggest he's about to spin draft picks into gold. Fair enough.
On the other hand, Divac now has some seasoned help in Ken Catanella, who hasn't yet spent even a full year with the organization. Divac thus is less likely, theoretically, to go into a draft underprepared, or to take a drastic reach on a player (cough cough Papagiannis cough cough) when the moment calls for adding some mortar to the Kings' house.
The draft is inherently risky. Sacramento will miss some. But when the franchise's dire draft history produces paralysis going forward, the whole thing's sunk. You've got to move past it and accept that, especially for this franchise, the draft is still the No. 1 place where a bad team can get better. You need the picks, period.
If they trade Cousins, they'll have to admit they are rebuilding.
Unquestionably the thing Vivek Ranadive hates considering the most. It's a lot easier to market Cousins ("Hey, we got an All-Star!") than a vague promise of the future ("Starting over is cool!"), and the Kings' owner never wavered from his idea of putting a playoff contender into the Golden 1 Center right from the start.
You can always argue that the Kings are doing that right now, although it's a tortured logic; Sacramento is on pace for 32 wins. In Cousins' years here, the win totals are as follows: 24, 22, 28, 28, 29, 33, and now the projected 32.
Trading Cousins would take guts, undoubtedly. No one would do it on a whim or in some emotional backlash against the latest dumb or embarrassing thing Cousins might do.
But not considering a trade is borderline dereliction of duty. This is not the time to be taking Cousins out of the conversation, as Divac foolishly did on a national scale this week. Quite the opposite – it's the time to start finding out, aggressively, how moving Cousins might help shape a competitive future.
Scott Norwood, Wide Right, yadda yadda. Malcolm Butler, goal-line interception, whatevs. Let's concede the obvious: The Super Bowl, despite its pretension and its history, indeed sometimes produces great games and great talking points.
On the other hand, it has seen its share of snoozers. Sadly, so have you. And since you don't have any choice about watching the game – you'll watch it, I'll watch it, the American People will watch it – then you simply have to hope for the best.
Failing that, we can at least offer this handy guide: How Not to Play a Super Bowl. Here's hoping both the Falcons and Patriots pay close attention.
(And if you notice a certain team showing up with maddening frequency, don't blame me. Blame history.)
The Five Most Boring Super Bowls Ever:
5. Super Bowl XXII, Jan. 31, 1988. Washington 42, Denver 10.
I happened to cover this one, in San Diego. Remember that one time when San Diego was doing its annual Fourth of July fireworks show out on the bay, the Big Bay Boom, but a technical glitch resulted in all five barges' worth of fireworks going off in one instantaneous blast? A show that was supposed to last 18 minutes was over in 15 seconds. Remember that? Yeah. This Super Bowl was like that. Denver had a 10-0 lead in the second quarter when Washington reeled off 35 straight points. In the secondquarter. I had my story written and filed by the mid-third. The second half was literally just marking time. I'd put it higher on this list but for the fact that Doug Williams became the first African-American quarterback to start a Super Bowl, which at least lends it a small historical shimmer. (This, of course, prompted someone to ask Williams during the pre-game media week, "How long have you been a black quarterback?")
4. Super Bowl XLVIII, Feb. 2, 2014. Seattle 43, Denver 8.
Unless you're one of those people who can't get enough of watching Peyton Manning lose huge, this game had almost no redeeming value. Non-competitive from the start. Perhaps the only interesting thing about this game was the week that preceded it, which is remembered as the week the NFL worried that it had really screwed up by placing the SB in an outdoor venue in New Jersey in February. The weather held up. The game didn't.
3. Super Bowl XXXV, Jan. 28, 2001. Baltimore 34, New York 7.
Oof. Now, the Ravens had a great defense, one of the better defenses ever put on display in the league. But good heavens, this game was unwatchable. The Giants' Kerry Collins got picked off four times, and New York piled up a total of 152 yards on offense. For the game. In the Super Bowl. You can only sit there and say, "Wow, great defensive stand there!" for so long.
2. Super Bowl XXXIII, Jan. 31, 1999. Denver 34, Atlanta 19.
John Elway's swan song was a Super Bowl repeat for the Broncos, who had beaten Green Bay the year before. Deeply uninteresting on all fronts. (I covered this one, too. I can pick 'em.) With the score 31-6 early in the fourth quarter, the broadcasters were left with plenty of time to discuss how Atlanta's Eugene Robinson, less than 24 hours after being honored with the Bart Starr Award for high moral character, had gotten arrested for soliciting a prostitute in Miami – the night before the game. With his family in town.
1. Super Bowl XXIV, Jan. 28, 1990. San Francisco 55, Denver 10.
What is it with the Broncos and Super Bowls? Roughly as suspenseful as guessing how long it'll take to get your car's oil changed. Oh, Joe Montana threw for five touchdowns. Jerry Rice is still running with one of them.
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