How many seven-foot centers average at least 16 points, 10 rebounds and two assists for their career, and leave their team in their third season at the age of 22? None.
After four all-star appearances and winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 1993, Shaquille O’Neal left the Orlando Magic in free agency for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1996. O’Neal was 23, and in his four seasons as a Magic averaged between 23-29 points, 11-13 rebounds and two to three blocks. The Magic maxed out at 60 wins with O’Neal in four seasons including an NBA Finals appearance.
The Magic received nothing in return for O’Neal’s departure to Hollywood, and never won more than 50 games or made a Conference Finals until they drafted some guy named Dwight Howard eight years later.
In Los Angeles, O’Neal created a legacy, winning three NBA championships, three NBA Finals MVP’s and one regular season MVP.
A year before Shaq bolted the Magic, 24-year-old Alonzo Mourning was traded by the Charlotte Hornets to the Miami Heat. In three seasons with the Hornets, Mourning averaged around 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
The Hornets traded Morning due to a gap in contract negotiations. The Hornets received a big-time scorer in Glen Rice and a first round pick among other pieces in return for Mourning. In South Beach, Mourning became the face of the Heat organization, spending 11 years there as a player. The Heat never won more than 42 games before his arrival. With him, they had multiple 50 win seasons including an Eastern Conference Finals appearance.
DeMarcus Cousins isn’t quite the player O’Neal and Mourning were before leaving their respective teams. However, he has gained a reputation for being, as ESPN analyst Jalen Rose called him, the most talented big-man in basketball. At seven-feet, his potential to play inside-out, as well as be a dominant rebounding force, effective passer, and defend inside is a rarity among today’s centers.
The Kings have never questioned his talent, which is why they quickly quieted trade talk around Cousins when he had issues in the past. The Kings see a player who’s attitude has been a detriment to their team, but Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and our own Charlotte Bobcats reportedly see an opportunity to acquire a premium talent through trade, and change a tiger’s stripes. If successful, Cousins new team would have a franchise big man to build around and a team on a quick track to winning a lot of games.
But how likely is that to happen?
O’Neal and Mourning weren’t considered detriments to their former teams and largely were considered culture changers. Cousins isn’t completely at fault for what’s become a losing culture over the past several years in Sacramento. However his character, low field goal percentage and efficiency haven’t helped matters. If acquired by the Bobcats, Cousins would be going from one losing culture to another, and it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect similar issues to occur.
Does Cousins have it in him to really be the leader of a winning team? Can he inspire players to play better, work well with coaches, and set the bar of an organization?
Cousins paired with Kemba Walker, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a high draft pick from this year and a lot of cap space could make up the nucleus of a good, young, up and coming Bobcats team. MKG isn’t even 20 yet, Cousins just turned 22 and Walker turns 23 in May. With those three covering three key positions with their youth, athleticism, and undeniable talent, it’d be just what general manager Rich Cho has in mind for this team.
Then again it wasn’t long ago that Kings fans were excited about building around Tyreke Evans and Cousins, and now it’s realistic that both could be gone from the team by next season. Acquiring really talented scoring big men can change the direction of an organization if they’re acquired early in their careers, but have we ever really seen an example like Cousins?
Maybe you can point to Zach Randolph, who was traded multiple times in his career before landing with the Memphis Grizzlies and maturing into the player teams wanted him to be. Randolph though was 28 when this happened. Cousins is 22 and the Grizzlies didn’t take much of a risk by dealing Quentin Richardson in exchange for him.
Acquiring Cousins should take a combination of big assets. It could be draft picks, or other high potential young players. Whatever it may be, a team is going to place a lot of hopes and dreams on the former Kentucky Wildcat recruit. Cousins could see a signficant career turn around, and hopefully be the piece the Bobcats need to kick things into fifth gear.
Or as we’ve seen throughout the league, hopes are simply just that, and some tigers never change their stripes.