AP Photo/Brandon Dill

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

4 Comments

When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

image

Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

image

Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top 10 to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

image

Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Report: Jimmy Butler to miss Minnesota media day, not participate on court to start camp

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The dumpster fire in Minnesota just got a little hotter.

What had been reported as something that could happen — Jimmy Butler missing the start of training camp — has come to reality. Butler has been given permission to miss media day and will not participate on the court to start camp, reports Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Skipping media day is an effort to dampen the circus… good luck with that.

Not participating to start the camp is Butler’s way of exerting pressure and trying to get traded sooner rather than later.

In a meeting last Tuesday in Los Angeles, Butler asked for a tradespecifically to the Clippers/Nets/Knicks. That was the start of a week where things devolved quickly in Minnesota, including social media drama with Andrew Wiggins and rumors about Towns’ girlfriend being at the heart of the problem.

Thibodeau has forcefully shot down any other team that even tried to start a trade discussion, and would rather quit than move him for a rebuilding package of picks. Part of that is good negotiations, right now offers are not going to be that good, and part of it is Thibodeau realizes his job on the line and this team is not as good without Butler.

With Thibodeau wanting no part of trading Butler, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor — who has a rocky relationship with Thibodeau — is fielding trade offers and is taking charge of the situation, a bad sign for Thibodeau.

Looming over all of this is the future of the franchise — Karl-Anthony Towns has a $158 million contract extension sitting on the table, but told management he can’t coexist with Butler and reportedly will not sign the new deal until the Butler situation is resolved.

Sources around the league think Butler will get moved, but the demand for him is not as strong as the Timberwolves would hope. Teams that want him think they can get him as a free agent and are not offering much, others will not throw in much for a potential rental. Beyond that, teams are worried that if they sign or re-sign Butler next summer to a deal (the team with his Bird rights can offer five-years, $190 million, others can offer four years at $139 million) they will regret the finals year or two of the contract, because while Butler is just 29 he has Thibodeau miles on him and has battled some injuries, including last season.

Adam Silver defends penalty to Cuban for Mavericks’ misconduct

Associated Press
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says he didn’t suspend Mark Cuban because the Mavericks owner was never directly implicated in the misconduct toward women within his organization.

Silver acknowledged Friday that Cuban should have been more aware of what was going on, but felt a suspension wasn’t warranted being that Cuban wasn’t accused of anything by any of the more than 200 people interviewed in a report into the team’s workplace that was released this week.

Silver also cited Cuban’s response to the original “Sports Illustrated” report detailing years of examples of a hostile workplace for women on the business side of the team, and the organization’s cooperation with investigators afterward in choosing not to hand down further punishment.

Cuban agreed to contribute $10 million to help further the cause of women in sports and raise awareness about domestic violence. Silver could have only fined him $2.5 million under NBA rules.

 

Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic tweaks knee in FIBA qualifying, to have surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is why NBA teams don’t love it when their players go off to the national team over the summer.

Sacramento’s Bogdan Bogdanovic tweaked his knee playing for Serbia Monday, and now is going to have to have surgery on his left knee. It’s described as minor, but it’s still surgery. Here is the Kings’ release:

Sacramento Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic exited Serbia’s 91-65 World Cup Qualifying victory over Estonia on Monday after experiencing left knee discomfort early in the first quarter. Further evaluation revealed a minor injury to his left knee. On Monday, a minor arthroscopic procedure is scheduled at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, to be performed by Dr. Riley Williams. Bogdanovic is expected to make a full recovery and an update will be provided when it is available.

Bogdanovic had surgery on this same knee just after the season, and while this is considered less serious it’s still something to watch. Don’t expect to see him on the court preseason. The Kings have media day Monday and open training camp on Tuesday.

Bogdanovic, a 6’6″ sharp-shooting wing, averaged 11.8 points a game and shot 39.2 percent from three last season, making second-team All-Rookie.

Suns officially sign De’Anthony Melton for two-years, $2.3 million

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Phoenix Suns are very high on De’Anthony Melton — he was the guy for the future they wanted when they took on Ryan Anderson‘s contract from Houston.

Friday, the Suns made it official and signed Melton.

If you’re wondering about the money…

Melton is a 6’4″ guard who could be a future backcourt mate with Devin Booker. Unless you’re a recruiting junkie, you probably first heard his name as the player in the middle of the NCAA/FBI recruiting scandal. He fell to 46th in the draft. However, at Summer League he showed why he was highly recruited and what he could become as a pro, averaging 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, showing potential as both a three-point shooter and defender. It’s just Summer League, and Melton looked like a guy who missed a season of play at times, but the potential is there.

The Suns are going to get to explore that potential at a reasonable price for a couple of seasons.