Earlier this week, news broke that former Laker great Shaquille O’Neal bought a stake in his former rival, the Sacramento Kings. After first meeting with new majority owner Vivek Ranadive at his home (where he reportedly spoke to his children about dating and social media as well… remember Shaq is a man of many talents), the former NBA All-Star formerly got involved with the team he once referred to as the Sacramento Queens.
Although his official role will most likely be “advisor” (like Hall of Famer Chris Mullin), the Big Diesel is interested in helping revive the energy that once made Sacramento one of the most imposing arenas to play in. However, his main objective will be mentoring extremely talented/troubled center DeMarcus Cousins.
[RELATED: The Top 20 Centers In The NBA Right Now]
Can the Big Aristotle (I’m trying to get all his names into this column.) reach the 23-year-old big man? Nobody (and I mean nobody) is challenging the notion that Cousins has enough talent to be an All-Star and franchise cornerstone, but they are weary of giving out big money to a player whose on-court issues (constant threat of receiving a technical foul for arguing with the refs and known to be pouty when the ball doesn’t run through him) mix with his reputation for being a coach-killer (sorry Paul Westphal), and finally mixing with his off-court issues, like confronting Spurs announcer/former player Sean Elliott, and demanding a trade. In a way, all of this almost dropped DMC from franchise cornerstone to possible trade bait come February. (Remember he was almost dealt to the Cavs last year.) Reportedly, Cousins is nearing an extension with Sacramento.
All these negatives mask the fact that with averages of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds at age 20, Cousins was one of only three players to average those kind of numbers as a center at that age (Shaq-Fu himself and Dwight Howard are the others). While Cousins is still raw offensively, his physical size and freakish athleticism make him extremely valuable. Big guys shouldn’t be able to do this:
And while Cousins isn’t a fantastic defender, he’s 6-11 and 270 pounds, with agile feet and stellar quickness. He doesn’t have to be technically sound just yet to make a difference. No, Cousins issues stem from his mental outlook on the game.
If Shaq really wants to improve the Kings, he should start with teaching Boogie Cousins a thing or two.
Shaq is almost universally loved by fans and players, mostly because of his outgoing personality. While Cousins may not have the same personality, simply TALKING to the Big Cactus, a player whose been in the limelight for over 20 years (and has successfully remained within the public eye’s good graces, which is nothing to scoff at) could make a major impact on his career. Cousins has quickly developed a reputation for being lazy, and being a “baby” when things don’t revolve around him.
Although it might be forgotten now, Shaq was once thought to be much the same. Remember the whole Shaq-Kobe feud, which included multiple rap songs and public bashings, leading to Kobe forcing Shaq out of Los Angeles? Or what about Shaq’s questionable work ethic early on, where he seemed to care more for being a successful actor or rapper than a champion? Throughout the course of his long career, Shaq matured and understood what he could and could not act like in front of the media. Helping Cousins work through his own demons would be a great start.
On the court, Shaq, simply put, built a living in the paint. Cousins has all the tools to be just as successful — the problem is he’s a floater. He floats. Cousins, like many young, talented big men, has a tendency to loaf around the perimeter for the first 15-20 seconds of the shot clock before calling for the ball and forcing a low quality midrange jumper. Shaq on the hand, never, ever, ever had that problem. Shaq used his phenomenal size (7-1 and at least 325 pounds) to simply exert his will over opposing defenders. While Cousins isn’t as big, he’s possibly quicker and is facing generally smaller defenders in this era.
Shaq was famous for understanding the context and moment of each game, saying in an interview with USA Today‘s Sam Amick, “Dominique Wilkins told me, “Shaq, don’t try to score all 28 (points) in the first half, you’re going to tire yourself out for the second half. Seven points a quarterâ€”three jump hooks and a free throw.”
Making Cousins understand simple things like this is essential in his development. Instilling this leader mentality is Cousin’s biggest issue, and yes, he is the Kings’ leader with the Tyreke Evans era coming to an end this summer.
O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage 10 times, whereas Cousins shoots 44.8 percent for his career. (Shaq stood at 58.2 percent.) If that doesn’t tell you something about the kind of shots he’s taking, then your more naÃ¯ve than Lakers fans who think they still have a chance this year.
As for the other end, I’m going out on the limb here and say that I don’t think Shaq was a technically sound defender, more so he was simply too physically imposing to NOT make an impact. He made three NBA All-Defensive teams, which seems just a tad bit low when you have three inches and 40 pounds on every center. But Shaq knew when and how to make an impact on the game. He saved his energy for when it mattered and did his best to avoid foul trouble. It seems like Cousins, on the other hand, has a goal to rack up as many fouls as possible whenever he’s in the game, especially if he’s not getting the ball offensively. It’s as if he’s saying, “If I don’t get the ball, I don’t want to play.” He lead the league in personal fouls twice, coming in fourth last year.
Cousin’s issue, again as is the theme here, is less about ability and more about effort:
The worst part of it all is the Kings were actually a little under two points worse with their 6-11 center on the court. When you’re making a negative impact on the game while defending players whose feet often times never leave the ground, we have a problem. Cousins, simply based on his athletic talent, should be a capable defender.
The point is, Cousins has the talent to become a game-changer for Sacramento. There was a reason why he was once hotly debated as the NBA Draft’s No. 1 pick before, you guessed it, his personality turned the top teams off. The talent was never the question. The work ethic was and still is.
Finally, with owners who want to win, it looks as though the Kings are on the way up. (Getting rid of the Maloofs should be good enough for five or six more wins.) But, it all comes down to Cousins. As you read this, reports are that the new Kings brass is negotiating a massive contract extension with him. If he lives up to those dollar signs and puts behind his selfish attitude, the Kings suddenly have a nice foundation to build around along with rookie Ben McLemore.
If Cousins proves to be something else entirely, expect this new regime to waste no time finding someone to take him off their hands.
With Shaq entering the fold in Sacramento this year, we can’t expect anything less than big things from the man of many names and his new pupil.
Will Shaq help DMC get better?
Follow Ian on Twitter at @Ian_Flick.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.