Despite Sacramento Kings management's public insistence that DeMarcus Cousins is unavailable in deals, coach George Karl's intense desire to trade the All-Star center has made it increasingly unlikely this coach-star partnership can peacefully co-exist next season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Karl has been recruiting Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and multiple players on the Kings' roster to unite with him in making the case to owner Vivek Ranadive that Cousins needs to be traded, league sources said.
Since the end of the 2014-15 season, Cousins has become aware of Karl's campaign to move him – including teammates telling Cousins, sources said. All around the Kings and Cousins, there is a growing belief the coach-player relationship is irreparable. Trust is a constant theme with Cousins, and he's been unable to build any with Karl, sources said.
No one in the Sacramento organization – not coaches, nor players, nor support staff – wants to imagine the combustible scenario awaiting Karl and Cousins should the Kings try to reunite them in training camp.
Ranadive has remained the biggest Kings advocate for holding onto Cousins, and several sources indicate he has become irritated with Karl's insistence that the coach doesn't believe he can manage the supremely skilled and strong-minded star. Cousins has held a firm loyalty to former Kings coach Michael Malone, whom Ranadive fired shortly into last season. Under Karl, that relationship couldn't begin to be duplicated in the final weeks of the season.
Karl and members of the Kings front office have made it clear to opposing team executives and coaches that they hope to soon have a formal ownership authorization to actively shop Cousins, sources said. Kings officials, including Karl, have discussed potential deals informally with other teams, but no other front office has felt comfortable that any deal can happen until Ranadive is fully on board.
For now, the Kings are pursuing trade scenarios for everyone on the roster, including talented forward Rudy Gay, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Sacramento officials believe it will be difficult to find a trade partner that can give the Kings the value it wants for Cousins – and has a better chance to find a deal for Gay, sources said.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had significant interest with Cousins, but their No. 2 overall pick isn't as appealing to the Kings as finding a deal that includes established, veteran players. Ranadive doesn't want to rebuild with a move into a new arena on the horizon, and Karl is chasing Don Nelson's all-time NBA career victories record. Karl's interest isn't in cultivating long-term assets, but rather compiling as many victories as possible in the near future.
Most teams trying to trade into the lottery believe the Kings are determined to package the sixth overall pick to bring back veteran talent.
Gay signed a three-year, $40 million extension that starts with the 2015-16 season, a contract that has become even more palatable to teams with the sharp rise coming in the NBA salary cap. Gay has played well in his two-plus seasons with the Kings and remains a target of interest with multiple teams, front-office executives said.
Sacramento is motivated to find a way to create more salary-cap space with possible deals, something that the Kings will need to pursue Dallas Mavericks free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo, league sources said. The Kings and Rondo have a mutual interest, with Rondo intrigued with the idea of a potential one-year deal in Sacramento that could help to rebuild his league-wide value, sources said.
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