NBA AM: Kings Banking On Cousins Breakthrough
After putting together an impressive playoff run during the late 1990s and early 2000s the Sacramento Kings find themselves in the midst of a six season playoff drought and ongoing rebuilding project.
The team has been able to onboard talented pieces through the draft such as Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and Thomas Robinson in recent years, but the lack of experience has hurt the franchise from stepping back into the Western Conference playoff landscape. The 2013 season will likely mark the seventh season in a row the Kings won’t make an appearance in the playoffs, but the expectation is the team’s win-loss record will reflect significant progress over years past.
For this to happen, Cousins, one of the team’s most talented players must make the leap to the next level, not physically but mentally explains Sacramento’s head coach Keith Smart.
“My whole focus was to get him to understand that mentally he has to make a jump, just as well as his game,” Smart told HOOPSWORLD. “We know his game is going to come along because as you play more you mature more, but we want his mind to grow more to be able to handle all of the circumstances around him – not just his points. As the leader of a team, or the top player on your team offensively or defensively, you have to absorb more than the normal guy. But you’ll also get rewarded for it too when things go very well for you.”
The problem is things haven’t always gone smoothly for Cousins off the floor since reaching the NBA, noted for clashes with his former coach Paul Westphal, but on the floor the soon to be third year player is oozing with All-Star potential and is rapidly becoming the league’s next 20 point and 10 rebound per game nightly threat. .
Smart, who became the Kings’ coach seven games into last season, has spent his time advising Cousins that as the face of the franchise he’s going to have to learn how to take the good and the bad from fans and media alike.
“He’s also going to be the lightning rod,” Smart said. “When things are going well, he’s going to get a lot of credit. When things aren’t, he’s going to get a lot of [criticism] coming his way.”
Smart says from day one he’s been working on his relationship with Cousins by trying to helping him grow not only as an emerging player, but channeling his emotions into the right path to ultimately become the team’s unquestioned leader.
“Our training camp with him started the day I took over [as coach],” Smart said. “Started to work with him, developing him and getting him to understand how hard he’s going to have to play every night, understanding that’s he’s going to be the leader.”
While the mental adjustment may take some time to be noticeable for those outside of Sacramento, the Kings’ selection of Thomas Robinson with the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft should help Cousins’ game on the floor immediately.
Smart says Robinson should be in the rotation from day one and believes he’s ready to compete physically at the NBA level right now unlike some rookies who need time to develop their bodies for the rigors of the NBA.
“A guy who is pretty much pro ready,” Smart said of Robinson. “What I mean by that is he can play the game from a physical standpoint first. Now skill wise, little tendencies [he’s] going to have to learn how to play in the NBA. But as far as from a competitive standpoint, that’s there already. That’s a positive for us going into the season to have a guy who just has to learn the NBA. Right now we have a player that we know coming into camp he’s going to do one thing well already and that’s compete.
The Kings also made their mark in free agency this summer, signing point guard Aaron Brooks to a multi-year deal. Brooks played overseas last season but averaged 19.6 points in the 2010 campaign, winning the NBA Most Improved Player award as a member of the Houston Rockets.
Brooks was a coveted free agent and reportedly had a larger offer on the table but decided to join the Kings’ youth movement which Smart says shows a lot about the guard’s character and desire to truly be in Sacramento.
“It was a surprise,” Smart told HOOPSWORLD about landing Brooks in free agency. “Based on what we had heard from his standpoint is that he had a contract on the table with a lot more than we could offer him. And yet knowing the situation where we have a team, we’re trying to develop to get ready to start being in playoff contention and he didn’t hesitate. He thought about it for a while and within a couple hours he called right back and said he wanted to be a King.”
The signing of Brooks shows the Kings are headed in the direction according to Smart, because guys are leaving money on the table to join a potential team on the rise.
“To have a guy who had an offer on the table for more money and decided he wanted to come to Sacramento and do the things we’re doing and wanted to be involved in that, it’s big for the franchise,” Smith added.
Mavericks Emerge In Race For Dwight Howard? Another day, another report involving the future of All-Star center Dwight Howard. What has been become even clearer over the past few weeks is that the six-time All-Star has no intentions of ever signing a long term deal with the Orlando Magic.
To date, the Magic have had in-depth trade discussions regarding Howard with the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers but have yet to find a deal that fits their appetite. Earlier this week newly hired Magic general manager Rob Hennigan met with Howard in California and the center reportedly reiterated his desire to be traded.
Howard’s preferred destination at the start was Brooklyn but they’re out of the mix until at least January when center Brook Lopez will be eligible to be included in a trade package. Howard has also reportedly added the Lakers to his short list of teams he’d sign a long term deal with. While the Lakers have also expressed interest they’re not in desperation mode and already possess a team capable of competing for a championship this season as it stands currently.
However, according to a SI.com report, the Mavericks are also on Howard’s preferred list behind Brooklyn and Los Angeles. The Mavericks have long been rumored to be seeking a second star to pair next to Dirk Nowitzki during his final years in the league.
The Mavericks will have a significant amount of cap room next summer and will enter this season with almost half of their roster with one year remaining on their respective deals. But the math gets tricky on how they’d be able to offer Howard a max level deal starting at over $20 million per season.
Wayne Ellington Victim Of Numbers Game In Minnesota? Coming into the league Wayne Ellington was regarded as one of the best shooters in the 2009 draft. After three seasons in the league Ellington was unable to lock up the Minnesota Timberwolves starting shooting guard spot – one of the team’s weaknesses.
But now entering his fourth season Ellington may have an opportunity to make his mark as a three-point marksman with the Memphis Grizzlies playing with low post standouts Zach Randolph and March Gasol.
“When you look at the roster you see a lot of opportunities for a lot of open shots, especially from the perimeter,” Ellington told Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal. “That’s one of my strengths so I think I’ll be able to help us in that area for sure.”
The T’Wolves traded Ellington in exchange for reserve forward Dante Cunningham earlier this week and the guard is welcoming a change of scenery he felt was necessary
“It was a tough situation in Minnesota,” Ellington said. “We were a really young team. We had a lot of people in the same position. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the best opportunity that I would have liked to have in Minnesota. But I’m happy to have a fresh start in Memphis. I think I’ll be a piece that can fit in well.”
In Minnesota, Ellington’s minutes were at times sporadic. He feels his shooting will become more consistent in Memphis if given the opportunity for steady playing time.
“Playing more consistently,” Ellington said of what’s needed to improve his shooting. It’s tough to get in a rhythm when your playing time is up and down if you play at all.”