WASHINGTON — Down goes Durant, back comes Boogie.
Kevin Durant, of #KD2DC fame, did not sign with the Wizards, as you may have heard. Neither did Al Horford, or Nic Batum, or any other “stars.”
The Wizards did bolster their bench in free agency, and there’s something to be said for that, but this is largely the same team that went 41-41 and missed the playoffs a year ago. The biggest move they made was re-signing Bradley Beal to a max contract — it was all but guaranteed they would do so, but it still needed to be done if he was to remain in Washington.
Beal is often injured and might never reach legitimate full strength, but he’s also just 23 years old, entering his fifth NBA season and already has more than 4,000 points in the pros under his belt (including the postseason). His upside remains tremendous, and he’s already shown the ability to put up points in a hurry, but he’s also an enormous gamble as he simply cannot stay on the court.
One of the other huge gambles in the NBA is DeMarcus Cousins, the star center of the Sacramento Kings.
Cousins, who turns 26 in August, has dominated throughout most of his career, averaging 20.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game over six seasons. He is coming off perhaps the best season of his pro career, in which he averaged a career-best 26.9 points per game to go with 11.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game.
He also developed a 3-point shot this past season. Through his first five seasons, Cousins had attempted just 69 3-pointers, hitting 11 of them (.159). Last year, he went 70-for-210 (.333) from beyond the arc. For comparison, Beal, considered one of the better shooters in the NBA, went 105-for-271 (.387) from 3-point range last season.
Cousins has had some injury concerns of late, having missed 40 games over the past two seasons, but he’s generally managed to stay on the court.
His value takes a hit with his personality, however.
Cousins routinely is among the league leaders in technical fouls, and he’s developed a reputation for being hard to work with. The Kings have rotated coaches frequently since owner Vivek Ranadive bought the team in 2013, and, fairly or not, Cousins has often been cited as a reason for the high rate of turnover at the coach and general manager positions.
The center very publicly feuded with coach George Karl last season, and Karl was fired after the season. He was then replaced by former Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger.
Whether Cousins is to blame for the Kings’ chaos is up for debate, but ultimately irrelevant for the moment. The subject at hand is whether or not the Kings should sell high on Cousins and attempt to rebuild, and whether the Wizards would swing a trade for the mercurial big man.
If the Wizards have interest in Cousins, which they should, considering he’s a difference-maker at a position that few teams have legitimate difference-makers at and had great success playing with Wizards point guard John Wall at Kentucky, a trade would be tricky to orchestrate, mostly because the Wizards don’t have many pieces that Sacramento is likely to covet.
Beal would almost definitely be the centerpiece of any potential trade, as SI NBA editor Matt Dollinger points out.
“I think it’s time to sell high on DeMarcus, try to get as much value as you can,” Dollinger says. “You need to get a franchise-type player in return, though. I think if you were to send DeMarcus to maybe the Wizards, and try to target Bradley Beal, that could be something the Kings can benefit from. They’ve got a lot of centers on the team…they need guards. Ben McLemore has not delivered for them, get Bradley Beal in there, and pair DeMarcus Cousins with John Wall — a happy Wildcat reunion.”
Marcin Gortat, who currently holds down the starting center role in Washington, would likely have to be traded away, as well, but it’s unclear if Sacramento would have any interest in bringing him aboard. Not including Cousins, the Kings have four players on the roster listed at 6-foot-11 or taller, as Dollinger mentions.
Perhaps the Kings would be willing to take on Gortat, or maybe even recently-signed Ian Mahinmi, and the Wizards could bring Cousins in to start while the remaining of Gortat and Mahinmi would man the bench. But a Cousins-for-Beal swap would have to involve other moving parts — the Kings could surely get better value for a player of Cousins’ caliber than just an injury-prone guard who has tremendous boom-or-bust potential.
The Wizards might have to include Kelly Oubre, Otto Porter, a future first-round pick or some combination of the three. And if the Kings do take on Gortat or Mahinmi, they would likely force the Wizards to accept somebody else in return, such as Rudy Gay.
Whether the Wizards would be willing to gut the core of the team they’ve so frequently hyped up remains to be seen, but the pairing of Wall and Cousins would likely form the most powerful duo in recent franchise history. With a little help around them, Wall and Cousins could transform Washington into a top-four team in the Eastern Conference, possibly even a top-two team.
No trade is imminent and won’t even be possible until at least Dec. 15, when Beal becomes trade-eligible. The Kings have also refused to trade Cousins over the years, despite persistent rumors that he wanted out, the coach wanted him gone, other teams wanted him, etc.
But if Washington doesn’t look like a top-tier playoff team by December and the Kings again falter in the West, this trade, or a similar one, could start to look intriguing once more.