Likely Season-Defining Stretch Upcoming For Kings

demarcus cousins kings

Monday, January 2, 2017 2:19 PM GMT

If the Sacramento Kings want to make the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, what happens on a season-long homestand starting this week likely will play  a big role in deciding that.

So let's say you are Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac (yes, the former Kings center). You know that small forward Rudy Gay, your second-best player, already has said he's not going to re-sign when he hits free agency after this season. Do you trade Gay, who is averaging 18.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, to at least get something before he walks away or do you keep him in an effort to see your franchise try and make the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06? Gay wouldn't bring much in value at the moment as he has missed eight of the past nine games with a right hip flexor strain.

And really how important would it be to get the West's No. 8 seed over the likes of Portland, New Orleans or Denver? That just means a probable first-round sweep at the hands of the Golden State Warriors. I believe that Divac might make his call on Gay and any other potential trade pieces over the next couple of weeks with the trade deadline on Feb. 23.

That's because the Kings, who are 14-19 entering this week (17-16 ATS on NBA odds), start a season-high seven-game homestand at their brand-new Golden 1 Center on Wednesday. If the Kings are around .500 after that and still in position for the No. 8 seed then Divac probably keeps Gay around. Sacramento is 7-7 at home thus far (8-6 ATS on NBA picks). But if the Kings go something like 2-5 in those seven, Divac might have to consider dealing because then his team goes on a really tough eight-game road trip. Sacramento, which is 7-12 away from home (9-10 ATS), is probably only favored in one of those eight games: at Philadelphia on Jan. 30. That's a makeup game. Those two were to play in the City of Brotherly Love on Nov. 30 but it was postponed because of unsafe court conditions.

Keep in mind that perhaps missing the playoffs would actually benefit the franchise because the Kings would have to give their first-round draft pick to the Chicago Bulls if it's outside the Top 10. That is actually from a January 2014 trade in which Chicago sent Luol Deng to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum and three first-round picks. One of the future picks conveyed by Cleveland in that deal came from the Kings ‎in the June 2011 trade that sent Omri Casspi to the Cavs for J.J. Hickson. Casspi is back with the Kings now.

If Divac really wanted to be bold and overhaul the franchise, he would finally listen to offers for All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins, a Top-10 talent but also a Top-10 headache at times. He already has 10 technical fouls this season and once you get to 16 you are suspended for one game. Then he would be suspended an additional game for every two technicals after that.

One can't dispute Cousins' talent as he's averaging 29.0 points and 10.2 rebounds. In a win over Portland on Dec. 20, he became the first player in NBA history to have at least 55 points, 10 rebounds, five made 3-pointers and three blocks in game. He also has 23 games of at least 30 points and 15 rebounds over the past five seasons, the most in the NBA in that span.

Cousins ripped his teammates following a New Year's Eve home loss to the Grizzlies when Memphis hit a franchise-record 17 3-pointers. The Kings also saw point guard Ty Lawson suffer a non-displaced maxillary sinus fracture in the game. Lawson has rejuvenated his career in averaging 8.1 points and 4.3 assists in 25.3 minutes per contest both as a starter and off the bench. He is listed as day-to-day.

One Kings player you may start seeing more of going forward is rookie shooting guard Malachi Richardson.

“I think that it's time for Malachi to get into the rotation, especially with Rudy (Gay) out,” first-year Coach Dave Joerger said after the Memphis loss. “That's something that you'll see, probably, going forward.”

Joerger hasn't gotten much out of the shooting guard spot from the likes of Ben McLemore or Arron Afflalo, who is now hurting. McLemore is averaging 6.1 points on 40.7 percent shooting in 16.9 minutes and Afflalo 7.2 points on 40.7 percent shooting in 23.8 minutes. He has missed the past three games with an elbow injury. Richardson, who has bounced between the Kings and their D-League team this season, had seven points in 10 minutes vs. Memphis. It was his first NBA action since Dec. 18, and Richardson has played only five total games with the Kings. He was averaging 21.5 points with the Reno Bighorns in the D-League.

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