BOSTON – For nearly two years now, DeMarcus Cousins has been a potential trade target in the minds of Celtics fans and it's easy to understand why. The former lottery pick is signed to a reasonable contract for the next two seasons while playing for a dysfunctional franchise in Sacramento. He's amongst the league leaders in points, rebounds, and free throw attempts per game and has even added a reliable 3-point shot to his arsenal this season.
With that said, the Kings have not come close to the postseason during Cousins' six-year NBA career. A lot of those struggles aren't strictly on Cousins. The Kings have gone through countless head coaches, players and general managers during his tenure in a loaded Western Conference.
Still, there's no denying Cousins has plenty of warts for a superstar and those flaws were on display Thursday night in the midst of a 114-97 blowout win by the Celtics over Cousins and the Kings.
The poor performance on the floor is one matter. Cousins had his worst shooting night of the year, going 4-for-17 from the field with four turnovers while battling foul trouble in 25 minutes of action. Bad nights will happen and are excusable for every player in the league, especially when the Celtics front line did an admirable job defending the big man by committee all night.
The bigger problem Cousins showcased in my mind though is why many people around the league consider a huge red flag for the 25-year-old: A lack of effort.
It wasn't apparent from the opening tip. Cousins played hard for much of the first quarter, but once the Celtics started building a double-digit lead and Cousins' shots weren't falling, his hustle went south in a hurry. Jogging back on defense became the norm rather than the exception. Whining about any call to officials developed into a necessity. Making up for mistakes by trying to get back into the play? Not even an option.
The fact that Cousins has developed a track record of going into this apathetic mode at various points of the season is a disturbing cue for any potential suitor in the long-term. NBA players often take their cues from the effort of their best players and Cousins has not been a strong role model in that respect.
Would a fresh start in a place like Boston reverse that trend? It's certainly a possibility, but also a big risk for any franchise that would be need to give up all kinds of assets just to land the potential franchise changer.
The Celtics have a full cupboard of trade assets to shop around in the months ahead as they explore how to add the next core piece of the team's future. One option is keeping a likely top-5 from Brooklyn in the 2016 NBA Draft.
As Danny Ainge weighs whether to go that route or deal that selection for an established NBA performer, the performance from Cousins last night will likely give Boston even more reason to balk about pursuing what likely could be the top big man available in the trade market.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.
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