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DeMarcus Cousins Is Not A
Role Model, Charles Barkley

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The Suns Are Once Again Considering Trading For a Talented Big Man With Questionable Character, But This Time It’s Not The Right Choice

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 6, 2016 — The Phoenix Suns currently sit in a relatively enviable position, at least as enviable position a team with no hopes of making the playoffs in the near future can sit in. The team has fielded an exciting product on the court for much of the 2016-17 season, despite winning fewer games, and also has a ton of assets in the form of young players and draft picks that it could potentially use to speed up its playoff timeline by dealing for a superstar.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the trade market for those elusive superstars is notoriously weak every year because teams simply do not make a habit of shipping out game-changing talent, no matter what the haul. Any player worth the superstar moniker that a team is willing to deal to Suns will likely have baggage of one form or another.

Enter DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins, the aloof Sacramento Kings big man with talent for days and an attitude to match. Cousins’ mixture of size, ball handling and shooting ability makes him a matchup nightmare for other 5s around the league. He has the talent to be named the best center in basketball, and he arguably is, but Cousins’ notorious fiery temper and lack of motor have dogged him his entire career, as has the King's lack of success with Cousins on the court. Still, he’s averaging a career high 28.1 points this season to go with 10.6 rebounds and is always a lock to fill up the stat sheet.

Recently, word broke that the Suns are pursuing a trade for Cousins that could cost the team some combination of future first round draft picks (including what could be the second overall pick in the loaded 2017 draft) and young talent such as TJ Warren, Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and/or Alex Len.

Opponents of the trade argue that Cousins is not worth the risk. The Suns should not give up all of the assets the team accumulated so carefully for a hot-headed player who has already proven he does not have what it takes to lead a team to the playoffs. A player like Cousins, with his temper and off court issues, would undermine the positive environment Phoenix head coach Earl Watson has cultivated and be detrimental to the growth of potential superstar Devin Booker and the Suns’ other developing players.

Proponents of the trade compare it favorably to the deal that brought another troubled star, Charles Barkley, to the Suns in the early 1990s. They believe that now is the time for action for a Suns organization that has spent several seasons stockpiling draft picks and young talent. Now is the time to turn all of those assets into something tangible rather than continuing to stock the roster with young guns without ever having a plan in place to capitalize on those assets.

The Barkley comparison makes the trade seem like a good idea. After all, the Suns would be acquiring a temperamental big man oozing with talent who is dogged by personality issues. The gamble on Barkley worked as the 1992-93 Suns had the best record in basketball and nearly won a championship.

But the trades—and more specifically the two teams—are not the same.

In the 1992-93 season, the Suns were coming off four straight 50+ win seasons that included two Western Conference Finals appearances. Barkley was seen as the piece to put the Suns over the top. He was coming into a veteran locker room that included steady veterans like Kevin Johnson and Dan Majerle. In his own words, Barkley was not a role model and the Suns didn’t need him to be.

Today’s Suns are different. The team is coming off two straight losing seasons and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2010 and has the seventh youngest roster in the league at 25.7 years of age. Any superstar added to the roster, Cousins included, would need to not only perform well on the court, but also not hinder the development of the team’s young talent, especially Booker.

The Suns do have some leadership in point-guard Eric Bledsoe, forward PJ Tucker and center Tyson Chandler, but the locker room is not as solid as the 1992 Suns. The self-centered attitude Cousins has repeatedly put on display in Sacramento could damage the locker room, hinder player development and result in Phoenix becoming Sacramento 2.0, a team with one star and a bunch of young players that never develop.

The thing is, the Suns don’t need to trade for a superstar because it already has one on the roster in Booker. He has not reached his full potential yet, but Booker is well on his way to becoming a perennial all-star. Trading for Cousins would take shots away from Booker, which is not a good thing for a developing shooter who has shown flashes of being a legitimate top-five scorer in the NBA, having scored 20 (or more) points in each of the last 16 games.

Add to Booker a peak-level Eric Bledsoe (who could conceivably keep this level of play up at least through his age 30 season) and any of the Suns’ slew of other talented young players in Chriss, Bender and Warren—who also have all-star potential—and the Suns already have the foundation of the next great Phoenix team. It should now use its assets to add players that, while not as talented as Cousins, can add depth and also aid in the development of the future stars.

The Suns will likely have a top-two pick in the 2017 draft and this strategy will let them keep it. The smart money has the team drafting one of the top point guards in Washington’s Markelle Fultz or UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, both considered the best point guard prospects in recent memory. However, the team should stick with its current top-10 point guard and instead invest its first round pick in Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen, a stretch forward with a killer long range shot who could potentially develop into a Dirk Nowitzki type at the four or five.

Rather than trading for top talent, the Suns need to continue to develop from within while adding role players when the opportunity arises a la the Oklahoma City Thunder teams of the past few seasons. While those teams never won any championships, they got very close last year with mostly homegrown talent before Kevin Durant defected to Golden State.

The Suns are losing now, but not by much as the team is regularly in the close contention until the final quarter before letting the game slip away. In a few seasons, the Suns talented youngsters will have the experience, and hopefully the roster depth to help them pull out those close games and 16-35 could quickly become 35-16.
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