With the 2015 NBA Draft fast approaching, the Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly interested in acquiring DeMarcus Cousins. There are conflicting reports as to whether the Sacramento Kings are interested in parting with one of the best scoring big men in the league, and if they would seriously consider sending him to Los Angeles.
The Kings’ front office has publicly stated that they aren’t looking to deal Cousins, but Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reports that new head coach George Karl isn't opposed to trading the team’s top scorer. The Lakers have the No.2 pick in Thursday’s draft, perhaps giving them an advantage over most possible suitors, but it's unclear if the struggling Kings would be willing to let such a talented commodity go to a division rival.
Cousins was drafted fifth overall in 2010, and is coming off his best season as a pro. In 59 games, he averaged 24.1 points, 12.7 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.7 blocks per game. The 24-year-old made his first All-Star team and was the only NBA player to rank in the top five in both scoring and rebounding.
The Lakers are coming off their worst season in franchise history and are desperate to add talent. After going 21-61, the Lakers have only four players under contract heading into the start of free agency, including Kobe Bryant, who enters his 20th season. The Lakers have a great deal of salary-cap space to take on Cousins' contract, and still add a free agent.
Making a deal with the Kings might not be easy, and Sacramento is reportedly seeking veterans in exchange for Cousins. It may take careful maneuvering by general manager Mitch Kupchak, and a third or fourth trading partner to make a deal happen. The only veteran the Lakers could offer is Nick Young or Jordan Hill, and the Kings would almost certainly want more if they are going to give up Cousins.
Trading the No.2 pick and other assets for Cousins should provide a significant boost to Byron Scott's squad. Bryant, who has missed 123 games over the past two seasons, is expected to be back at full strength and would be teamed with a healthy, high-scoring big man for the first time since Pau Gasol's 2010-2011 season. The Lakers also own the No. 27 and No. 34 picks, and welcome back promising young forward Julius Randle, who missed all but one game last season has completely recovered from a foot injury. The possible addition of Cousins would also help make L.A. a better destination for free agents.
However, there are also drawbacks to trading for Cousins. Despite his impressive numbers, Cousins has not been a winning player in the NBA. In five seasons with the Kings, Sacramento has consistently been one of the league’s worst teams, never winning more than 29 games. But that’s largely been a result of playing on a poorly constructed roster, since Cousins has ranked in the top 10 in PER in each of the last two seasons.
While adding Cousins would make the Lakers a better team in the short term, trading the No.2 pick for Cousins and his large salary might negatively affect Los Angeles down the road. Kupchak has plenty of room under the salary cap to land free agents, and may not be quick to sacrifice the No. 2 pick and other assets for a high-priced player. Last season, Cousins signed a four-year extension worth $62 million. He’s set to make nearly $16 million for the 2015-2016 season, but the No.2 selection in this year’s draft will earn a little bit more than $4 million.
It isn’t known who will be taken second overall, but Jahlil Okafor is the considered the favorite. The Duke big man is no guarantee to be a star in the NBA, but has a lot of potential and possesses some of the same qualities as a young Cousins. Letting Okafor develop while maintaining cap flexibility might be a smarter strategy than adding Cousins.
Though Cousins adds a strong presence in the paint, he may need to refine some aspects of his game. He averaged 4.3 turnovers in 2014-2015, which was far higher than any big man in the league. Cousins has also averaged just 1.1 blocks per game in five seasons. He also has just one season of playing 80 games or more.
Another possible drawback to Cousins might be his perceived poor behavior. In 2012, the Kings suspended Cousins "for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team."
Overall, the Lakers can overlook some of Cousins' shortcomings. He is only 24, and has plenty of upside. But should the Kings demand Randle along with the No. 2 pick, it might be wise to pass on Cousins and pursue free agents.