Kittens and basketball players don’t have a lot in common. I don’t even think I should have to go into that any further. But at some point in my brain I can become so obsessed with an idea that i start to see it everywhere.
Looking back to 2007, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that I had become obsessed with Zach Randolph. All the rumors said that the Blazers were planning to move Randolph in a draft-day deal, and I was completely on-board with the notion. The Mavericks weren’t much removed from their loss in the NBA Finals to Miami, and Randolph had just gotten snubbed the year before from an All-Star game appearance despite averaging 20-10 for the season. A friend was acting as caretaker for the kitten of a co-worker and I couldn’t help but call the little orange feline Zach Randolph all week long leading up to the draft. When draft day came, it was the New York Knicks who ended up with Randolph. With only a blue collar added on, kitten Zach Randolph was Knicks uniform appropriate. It made sense, and was probably about as sound a reasoning as Isaiah Thomas used in some of his other decisions as General Manager.
I’m not planning on naming any animals after DeMarcus Cousins, even though the mercurial Sacramento Kings center has been the topic of much Randolphesque trade discussion after numerous on the court and off the court indiscretions. Cousins also recently switched agents to Dan Fegan, who brought the Dallas Mavericks such hits as the Lamar Odom trade (though Fegan also represented Jason Terry, J.J. Barea and Shawn Marion on the Mavs’ championship squad), in a move that many believe it a precursor to his exit from Sacramento. ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton examined the Mavericks as one of the potential suitors in a Cousins trade (as an extension of the reported notion that Dallas is among Cousins’ preferred destinations) and lays out a potential deal with the Mavericks parting ways with Collison, Beaubois, and Wright in return for Sacramento’s best player.
Jonathan Abrams wrote an excellent piece on Zach Randoloh for Grantland, detailing his ups and downs before landing in Memphis. Randolph had made NBA shore in Portland, a territory ruled at the time by athletes of such questionable character that the team acquired the nickname the Portland Jail Blazers. And Randolph fit right in, as he was arrested for various offenses and had fought his own teammates. Regardless of the circumstances and distractions, Randolph progressed as a player, and became a hugely productive player before his exit from Portland.
There’s no denying that Cousins has the skills to be a great basketball player as well. At 22 years old, he shows the same moments of dominance that Steve Kerr attributes to a young Randolph in Abrams’ piece. Cousins displays the footwork and talent of a great low-post scorer. Add in his ability to connect on long two point shots with the kind of range that Kevin Garnett or Tim Duncan have, and Cousins is a versatile offensive weapon. His game is not unlike the Chris Kaman that Mavericks’ fans have seen this season, but 8 years younger, more athletic, not injury prone, and with potential to get better as he matures as a basketball player and person.
Just this week Cousins is averaging just under 20 points and 15 rebounds per game, but earlier this season in a game with San Antonio, a moment of brilliance versus perennial all-star Tim Duncan led to some trash talking from Cousins. Former Spurs player and color commentary persona Sean Elliott chastised Cousins for his “immaturity,” as Duncan blocked his next shot and then scored on Cousins repeatedly, telling the games viewers that Cousins needs to remain humble until his team is a winning franchise and he is consistently effective as a player. Cousins took offense to the statements and waited to let Elliott know his feeling on the subject after the Spurs’ postgame show had concluded, resulting in a suspension from the league. It is events like the Sean Elliott affair and a recent halftime run-in with his coach (which led to an indefinite suspension by his team) that make one feel like Cousins would have fit right in on that Portland squad in the early 2000’s and make every GM cringe just a little when they think about trading for him.
In Pelton’s trade scenario, the Mavericks would be giving up Collison, Beaubois, and Wright to equal DeMarcus Cousins salary. But none of those players are cut from the same star-material as Cousins; Sacramento would only be taking the deal to dump salary, which is good for big market teams that might land a fish in free agency, but I’m not sure an organization in flux like Sacramento fits that bill. Instead, I could see a much more realistic deal looking like the Kings’ Marcus Thornton and DeMarcus Cousins for Chris Kaman and O.J. Mayo, with Sacramento dropping Travis Outlaw’s contract on the Mavericks in exchange for Beaubois’ expiring contract and rookie bright-spot Jae Crowder.
I find it doubtful that the Kings — who already have Aaron Brooks, little Isaiah Thomas, and Jimmer Fredette all trying to share ball handling duties with Tyreke Evans — are really interested in Darren Collison as the major selling point in a trade with the Mavericks. But the option I’ve suggested gives them a replacement for Thornton that they can choose to resign or not in O.J. Mayo, a player who has now proven he exists on that cusp of stardom (if he can learn to get out of a double team successfully), a serviceable center with a sizeable expiring contract in Kaman, a cheap, young glue guy in Crowder, and Roddy’s expiring contract in replacement of Travis Outlaw’s questionable 3 year deal. The Mavericks retain their only real PG, swap Mayo for a more traditional spot-up shooter in Thornton, and of course get all the glorious potential of DeMarcus Cousins, though they lose their financial flexibility in the process. The downside: along with all of Cousins’ potential comes his present-day baggage.
In 2007, Randolph had logged six years in the mire that was the Trail Blazers organization at the time. He had expressed disappointment in the media about not making the All-Star team, and I think it had begun to sink in with him that he was known more for being a Jail Blazer than for being an excellent basketball player. Both he and Portland both needed fresh starts, and even if the Mavs had been interested in his skill set, Dallas was an organization that was built on accountability with a dedication to winning — an organization that wouldn’t put up with the weekly shenanigans that existed on those Jail Blazer squads. Randolph could help the Mavericks with their persistent rebounding issues and combine to make a formidable big man scoring duo with Dirk. In other situations, Randolph could have slid down to the SF position and taken advantage of his size advantage, previous to the advent of small forward dominance via LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
And I believed that Randolph was ready to take that step forward. He’d had enough of losing, he’d had enough of bad situations and questionable characters as teammates. I’ll never know how it would have worked out, but I do see an echo of that scenario in the rumors spiraling around Cousins.
Sometimes a player needs a change of scenery to be able to start over. Sometimes they can embrace that new opportunity. Or maybe DeMarcus would come to the Mavericks and complain about Dirk Nowitzki taking the last shot. If it were even the end of Cousins’ rookie contract, if he’d had a little more time to mellow out, I’d be more inclined to support taking a flyer on Cousins as a pairing to close out Dirk’s career. These are the possibilities Donnie Nelson and Mark Cuban have to consider when making a judgement about a play for Cousins. With Randolph, it felt to me like the time was right, and though he still bounced around a little bit, he settled in to being one of the NBA’s best in Memphis. Though he surpasses Randolph in natural talent and gifts, I’m not so sold that Cousins is ready yet.