Posted on: January 6, 2012 6:44 pm
Edited on: January 6, 2012 8:00 pm

3-on-2: The Cousins Complication

3-on-2 explores the answers to two questions from each of our three bloggers on EOB. This week's topic? DeMarcus Cousins and the firing of Paul Westphal. 

1. Is DeMarcus Cousins worth the hassle for the Kings, specifically?

Ben Golliver: This was an excellent question to ask... before the 2010 NBA Draft. Now it's pretty much too late with things having evolved along a worst case scenario since the Kings opted to take the plunge. Cousins hasn't matured, he hasn't produced in such overwhelming volume that would make his pouting and off-court distractions worth putting up with and he hasn't played either so well that he is truly tradeable or so poorly that, a la Hasheem Thabeet, Sacramento can just cut ties and move on without him. Sacramento is stuck with him now whether he's worth the hassle or not. A new coach can bring a second lease on life to players who act out like he has. It's a possibility worth praying for in this case but don't bank on it.

Royce Young: Yes, for now. Cousins isn't guaranteed to be the problem. Sometimes players and coaches simply don't get along. Players with attitudes like Cousins can be successful in the league as long as they fit in and are part of a culture they fit. See: Wallace, Rasheed. Cousins has enough talent to wait it out. Keith Smart will be more of a players' coach than Westphal so if Cousins clashes with him and is clearly disrupting the locker room and bringing down the attitude and development of the team, that's when you part ways.

Matt Moore: Not for this team, I'm convinced. Cousins has the potential to be an NBA All-Star but he needs rigid structure. He has to have a team that puts very specific limits on his behavior, without doing so confrontationally. He needs veteran leadership to set an example for him. (COUGH* BOSTON* COUGH.) The Kings are in too much flux to hang on to him. He has great value, and you never want to give up on a player on a rookie contract with talent. The Kings don't need further headaches. They've created enough of their own.

2. Does firing Westphal after the Cousins incident this week set a dangerous precedent? If so, why, if not, why not?

Golliver: Firing Westphal was Sacramento taking a not-particularly-expensive stand against ineffective coaching and terrible relationship management. It was clear from Sacramento's second game of the season that the Kings weren't playing for him. Bigger than any individual player who winds up looking like a coach-killer or feeling like he can do whatever he wants with no repercussions is the message that you send to every player if you keep Westphal around as a lame duck. That message would be: "We're totally cool with totally sucking." New coach Keith Smart will need to work immediately to lay new ground rules for both DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, who hasn't played to his capabilities this year, or Sacramento will be coach-hunting again before they know it.

Young: It only seems that way because Geoff Petrie for some reason allowed Westphal to send out that trade demand press release last week. Without that, we're probably talking about why Westphal was fired because over two-plus seasons he'd only won 50 games. You never want the appearance that a player got a coach fired, but remember, Jerry Sloan kind of sort of retired partly because of Deron Williams and that situation. It's not really anything new. It's an ugly situation and it kind of scares Cousins' already tarnished reputation, but it happens. It's a players league. Always has been and always will be.

Moore: Allowing the entire debacle paints the picture. Cousins didn't want to play for Westphal. Now he won't. The better approach would have been to recognize that Cousins was a bigger part of the Kings' future than Paul Westphal. Because the result is a situation that may have been justifiable, and yet still looks bad and makes management seem weak with regards to the next time a player becomes disgruntled.
Posted on: November 18, 2011 6:32 pm

3-on-2 Fast Break: Dwight Howard vs. Chris Paul

By EOB Staff

The 3-on-2 Fast Break is three bloggers debating two players. We evaluate them on three different questions to provide context. So that would actually be 3-on-2-on-3, but that doesnt' happen in basketball, so we're stuck with this. This week's topic is Chris Paul vs. Dwight Howard.

Queston 1: Which player would you take right now to start a franchise with?

Royce Young:  Dwight Howard. And I'm not just picking him because of the "big men win championships" cliche that's not at all true. He's a year younger but also hasn't had to deal with any major injuries. He's consistent and with his body, he's not really all that likely to ever suffer a significant injury. It's hard to determine who the better basketball player is because they're so much different, but some of it certainly depends on if you value a center or point guard more. Howard's a force on both ends and while CP3 is the best point man in the game, Howard impacts everything. And I don't think he's a finished product yet.

Ben Golliver: The single most underrated statistic put up by Dwight Howard is that he has missed just seven regular season games in his seven-year NBA career. That's ridiculous durability, especially for a player his size, and it's a key determining factor when you're deciding who to select as a franchise building block. Your franchise guy has to be marketable, he has to be reliable, he has to have a good head on his shoulders, he needs to both offense and defense and he needs to log heavy minutes. Howard aces those criteria and, much like Paul, he makes role players better simply by his presence. Put all of that together and consider Howard's age -- 25 -- and Paul's history of knee issues, and it's no contest.

Matt Moore: Dwight Howard's healthy. That's a huge element. Paul's meniscus situation is enough to warrant the reigning Defensive Player of the Year taking this one. Howard is the one you have to build around, given his all-around ability and health. But to add a little bit of a shakeup, I'd argue that you need more built around Howard due to his limitations in the post. A mediocre offense around Howard? That team would get knocked out in the first... oh, I see you've heard that joke before, with the punchline being "... the Hawks!" 

Question 2:  Which player do you take right now if you want to win a championship as soon as possible? 

Royce Young:  Howard. It's simple: Howard needs a whole lot less on a roster than Paul does. CP3 makes everyone around him exponentially better, but still, he needs four other players on the floor with him that can score, defend and rebound. I mean, look at that Orlando team that Howard dragged into the NBA Finals. Hedo, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis, J.J. Redick -- not exactly a group of All-Stars. Give Dwight Howard something better than Vince Carter or Hedo Turkoglu on the wing and you're really just a player or two away from a title. CP3 can carry a team, but he's easier to stop than Howard. 

Ben Golliver: Although Orlando's 2010-2011 Magic campaign -- especially how it ended -- was discouraging and the rise of the Miami Heat was doubly deflating, Howard's Magic are never far from competing for a title. Five straight playoff trips, one visit in the Finals and another to the Eastern Conference Finals is a hell of a run for your team to go on when its star is between 20 and 25 years old. By comparison, Paul has won just one playoff series in his career and the Hornets have missed the playoffs three times in his career. Howard and Paul excel on both ends of the court but the gap between Howard and the rest of the NBA's centers is bigger than the BRI gulf. Paul is an elite, proven point guard but there are others at or near his level. Howard is in a class by himself and his game is predicated on doing winning things: shooting a high percentage, rebounding at both ends and playing active defense.

Matt Moore: Chris Paul. I'm extremely nervous about this, given that elite point guards, despite the glut of them in the league, have not won a title since Isiah (unless you count Tony Parker, who wasn't the best player on that team). But Chris Paul can do things and be unsolvable in a way Dwight Howard cannot. The model for Howard is pretty simple. Chris Paul is more complex. If you put Chris Paul in a Game 7 with everything on the line, you can count Paul's going to put in a heroic effort. Dwight Howard had the incredible Game 7 vs. Boston in 2009, we're not talking a huge gap here. But I believe Paul's combination of scoring, passing, and key play ability sets him up as the better option to win a title. Howard is solvable, even if that solution is the Hawks': "Let Howard go bananas, foul him a lot, and live with it as long as you shut down the rest of the team." With Chris Paul the answer is "hope the rest of his team is made up of mediocre players and he's missing his near-All-Star power forward." You have to go with the more complete player. 

Question  3: Which one do you take to win you a game in the 4th quarter? 

Royce Young: Chris Paul. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd want ANY player in the league more than Chris Paul to win my team a game in the fourth quarter. First, he's always got the ball in his hands. He's making every decision. He doesn't have to rely on anyone to get him involved. He scores points without even shooting. CP3 carried his Hornets against the Lakers in the playoffs by owning the fourth. Dwight Howard disappears from crunch time, but it's not always his fault. He has to have someone get him the ball, while CP3 can take over all on his own. 

Ben Golliver: Dwight Howard is a 59.8 percent career free throw shooter. Chris Paul is an 85.3 percent free throw shooter. I don't want to make that my sole determining factor but it's definitely a major deciding factor given that both players are perennial All-Star candidates who have been in their fair share of big moments. Combine Paul's dead-eye freethrowing and his excellent decision-making, play-making, and his ability to score off the dribble and from deep, and you've got a prototypical late-game point guard assassin. There's no flaw there. Howard's still got the Achilles Heel and it will dog him until he gets his numbers up or -- like Shaquille O'Neal -- wins a title to silence the detractors.  

Matt Moore: When I say Dwight Howard, you're going to flip out. And I get that. Bear in mind that if you ask me "who do you take to win you a game in the last five minutes of a tied ballgame in the playoffs" I'm going to go Chris Paul all day, every day, for the reasons my colleagues noted. But There are another seven minutes in the game. And in a close game in the fourth quarter, you know what you want to avoid? A tied game in the final five minutes. You want to build a lead, take the lead, extend the lead, remove all hope. You don't want it coming down to roleplayers hitting miracle threes. You don't want it coming down to wing players for either side trading off-dribble ISO pull-up jumpers. You want it done. And the way to do that is to build a lead. A great way to do that is to gather fouls. Howard's free throw shooting is a nightmare, one I've ragged on and have argued is a viable reason not to vote him as MVP last season (thought I thought he was worthy of sharing the honor with Derrick Rose). But drawing fouls throughout the final frame puts pressure on the other team and forces in worse defensive personnel.  Howard shuts down the opponent and puts them on the bench. I want Howard for the whole final frame, even if I don't trust him with the shot or at the line inside five minutes. It's a subtle difference, but an important one.
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