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If DeMarcus Cousins Stays In Sacramento, Who Wins?

DeMarcus Cousins could be set to sign a contract extension in Sacramento. Would this mean five more years of tension and mediocrity?

A DeMarcus Cousins extension isn't even signed yet, and we're already past the point at which Boogie in Sacramento is interesting. The Kings exacerbate his worst tendencies on and off the court, and that's been clear for several years. Cousins takes a lot of criticism now, but he'd probably take even more if mainstream fans actually watched Kings games. And obviously, the team has failed year after year to build a coherent roster around him.

We should be honest about this if it's going to happen this summer. ​All an extension ensures is that we're all going to be stuck spending an extra few years feigning interest in this third world relationship. The other night's postgame scene was a perfect example. After the extension news broke, we got classic Kings Boogie, which is to say: kinda funny, but kinda mean, and all coda to a game that nobody watched. 

I want Boogie to succeed for a number of reasons. He's got a preternatural gift for unnerving some of my least favorite people in sports, and I don't want them to be proven right. He's also got John Calipari on his side, and I don't want John Calipari to be wrong. He's one of the six or seven most gifted players in the league. If he maxes out his potential, it makes the whole sport more entertaining. When he chooses to play along in interviews, he can be funny and thoughtful, but still allergic to bulls**t, which is refreshing. In general, basketball is more interesting because of players like him. 

But every season now, the Kings plod forward toward eighth or ninth place, and at least a handful of times each year, Boogie's given to public eruptions of frustration and/or hot sculpting. Then the front office will scramble to make a shortsighted move that will cost them flexibility without yielding many benefits, and then everyone watches them do it again the following year.

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The Kings could deal Cousins next month, or next June, and they'd likely bring back at least one lottery pick. Couple that with a top 10 pick of their own, plus a 2018 first, and there are at least three lottery picks as a foundation, along with Dave Joerger coaching. That's a start. It's not a flawless blueprint—especially not with Kings management in place—but it seems like a healthier option than chasing the eighth seed year after year, all to appease a superstar who's angrily asking reporters if they're happy to have him around. For Cousins, a move would give him a fresh start, and ideally, a winning team that could hold him more accountable. Likewise, playing with another star could give all basketball fans an additional contender—which is why there's been so much trade buzz over the past few years. An extension presses pause on all of that.


Since the rumors surfaced—thanks to this report from James Ham at CSN California—there have been several reactions explaining why this deal could happen. A good one explained: DeMarcus Cousins re-signing with Kings isn’t just the best choice, it’s the only choice. Basically, the collective bargaining agreement's new "designated player exception" allows the Kings to pay him more than any team in the league—at least $30 million more over four years, and an $80 million difference if you compare the five-year deal in Sacramento to the four-year deals he'd sign elsewhere. So that's the rationale from Boogie's side. Likewise, the Kings are able to secure their most valuable asset to help make money in the short term, and the added years on the end of the deal will probably mean they can bring back more value if they trade Cousins a few years from now. That's Sacramento's incentive.

Strictly from a basketball perspective, though: why should either side want to continue this experiment? If Cousins decides to stay in Sacramento this July, who does that actually benefit? Is a slightly better trade in two years really worth it if it means two more years of tension and mediocrity?

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The questions are interesting enough as a continuation of the same Cousins/Kings take purgatory we've been occupying for years. But the answers are most interesting in the context of the NBA's latest CBA, and what it means for the league.Any CBA has unintended consequences. The NBA's last deal, in 2011, was designed to protect small markets, but wound up hurting the Thunder more than any team in the league. It's too early to say how the new CBA will shape player movement over the next few years. But the most meaningful reform was obviously the designated player exception, designed to give teams an advantage keeping their stars. And as we try to imagine the consequences of that rule, Boogie's situation could be telling.

This is a case where the smartest business decision under the new CBA—for both the Kings and Cousins—probably prolongs a doomed era for the team, probably limits the growth of a star who needs a new environment, and makes the rest of the league less entertaining in the meantime. It's financial sanity at the expense of actual sanity for everyone involved. And if Boogie's extension is the first example of what the NBA's designated player exception looks like in the real world, let's be clear: it's not looking all that great.