Kings' Cousins, for one, doesn't expect to be dealt

If the Kings continue to struggle, questions will only get louder about DeMarcus Cousins' future in Sacramento. Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With 77 days to go before the NBA’s annual trade deadline, brace yourself to hear the following question at least 77 more times between now and Feb. 23:

Will the Sacramento Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins before he completes the second-to-last year on his current contract?

Cousins himself, to name one prominent party in this long-running drama, doesn’t expect it.

“Unless you know something I don’t,” Cousins said with a chuckle earlier this week during a brief postgame visit in Dallas with ESPN.com.

The truth is that we don’t. Not yet.

Sources with knowledge of Sacramento’s thinking say the Kings believe it’s still on the too-early side to seriously entertain the idea of parting with Cousins, even with the clock ticking toward the final season of Cousins’ four-year max extension from 2013 and his unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018 looming.

Interested teams out there, of course, continue to contend that Sacramento will be staring at the unavoidable prospect of yet another season with less than 40 wins come February. The Kings will then ultimately feel compelled, along the lines of such thinking, to submit to the suggestion that it’s wisest to part with Cousins before he enters his contract year, since keeping him beyond February could theoretically make it even tougher on them to get something resembling equal value for the polarizing big man.

What we can share more definitively at this juncture is that Cousins appears to be thoroughly unfazed by the non-stop trade speculation. He’s averaging 28.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks for the 8-13 Kings and insists that the supposed uncertainty surrounding his future is “easy to tune out.”

“I talk to management a lot,” Cousins told ESPN.com. “We’re on the same page. I’m not worried about it.

“To know that you’re wanted throughout the league ... I’d be worried if nobody wanted me. Then I’d have a situation on my hands. But I’m happy where I am. I’m happy with this team. I’m in a great place.”

The primary on-court worry for Cousins at the minute is the task of leading an unremarkable roster -- as well as his fifth coach in Dave Joerger -- into the playoffs for the first time in his pro career. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive is known to thirst for a taste of the postseason, especially in Year 1 for the franchise in the sparkly new Golden 1 Center, but Cousins wants it as badly as anyone in the California capital.

How badly?

Playing the best ball of his life according to the numbers, with some unexpected 39.6 percent shooting from 3-point range thrown in, Cousins nonetheless gave himself a “C” when asked by ESPN.com to grade himself so far through the first quarter of the season.

Cousins, who ranks fifth in the league in PER at a handy 28.4, was then asked: So what don’t you like?

“We’re not winning,” he said.

And that’s on you?

“Wouldn’t you say that?” Cousins replied. “At the end of the day, when it comes out, who’s it about?”

Cousins certainly has his detractors who are bound to point to the big man's fresh legal woes or, more commonly, focus more on temperament than talent. The 26-year-old has racked up a league-leading six technical fouls in 21 games, which has him on a pace to finish in the league’s top two in T's for the seventh successive season.

Yet it’s notable that Cousins is taking responsibility for his team’s sub-.500 start when some league observers would wonder aloud whether Boogie, like his Kentucky pal John Wall in Washington, is actually surrounded by enough of the help and stability he needs to get to the playoffs.

“I can’t speak for the next man,” Cousins offered. “I’m speaking for myself. What can I do better on a nightly basis? I know I can be better every night.”

When the league’s looming new labor agreement is finally ushered in -- with some new rules embedded that are expected to enhance the ability for teams in Sacramento’s position to offer a lucrative extension with much more favorable terms than the current rules would allow – you’d expect the Kings to see if Cousins has any interest in signing a new long-term deal to stop that ticking clock.

If not?

Questions about Cousins’ future will only get louder, more frequent and more pointed.

Next-level questions such as: Would a good young player, paired with a future first-round pick, be enough to tempt the Kings into parting with their franchise player?

Or: Would Mark Cuban’s Mavericks, known to be longtime admirers of Cousins, consent to surrendering what’s increasingly looking like a top-five pick as the foundation of a trade offer to try to pry him out of Sactown?

Just don’t expect Cousins to play along with league-wide curiosities. He’s ignoring the scuttle as much as he can and likewise shows little interest in trying to sway dissenting opinions on what he brings to the floor.

Asked if he’s misunderstood, Cousins says: “Absolutely. Absolutely. You already knew the answer to that [question].”

Yet when he's asked if he’s actively trying to change external perceptions, Cousins added: “I’m comfortable in my skin. So comfortable. I know who I am as a person. I stand by that. I’m a very prideful man. I’m at that point where I could care less what the next person says.

“I think I get better every year as a player, as a person, as a son, a father, all of that. I think I grow every year. That’s part of life. Absolutely.”

We didn’t have room for everything in this week’s Kevin Durant efficiency extravaganza. So we saved his interesting thoughts on the Warriors-Clippers rivalry and how excited he is to jump into it, shared before Golden State’s 17-point Wednesday night, for this forum.

“That’s a healthy rivalry,” Durant said. “I feel like [the Clippers] didn’t like this team before they were the Warriors, you know what I mean, before they were a 73-win team. I felt like it was a genuine rivalry.

“I think a lot of these other teams don’t like the Warriors [now] because of the attention they got last year. But this team, you could tell [the Clippers and the Warriors] didn’t like each other from four or five years ago. DeAndre Jordan’s my best friend in the league, and I don’t like him when we play. And when I played with the Thunder, we didn’t like the Clippers and they didn’t like us. So I feel like I can just plug myself in.

“You can just tell it’s a genuine basketball type of hate between these two teams. It’s fun for fans, fun for us as players and definitely going to be a great game.”

Boston has already emerged as a team interested in trading for Dallas center Andrew Bogut and here’s another one that makes sense: Portland. The Mavericks have yet to make Bogut available for potential deals, per ESPN’s own Tim MacMahon, but the Blazers are a natural suitor given their clear need for a defensive anchor at the rim as the league’s 30th-ranked defense as of Friday morning. ... To follow up on a topic touched on last week: We're hearing now that the NBA will not be changing the timetable for contract extensions on rookie-scale deals. ‎First-round picks are currently eligible for such extensions after Year 3 and are on course to remain so. This is ‎after rumbles that a change could be forthcoming in the new labor agreement that would enable teams to offer such extensions after Year 2. ... ‎The NBA's advance scouting community has established a Giving Page in hopes of raising at least $5,000 to donate to the V Foundation for Cancer Research in honor of longtime scout and former NBA champion Greg Ballard, who passed away last month at the age of 61. The popular Ballard, who won a ring as a rookie with the then-Washington Bullets in 1977-78 after being drafted No. 4 overall, was known throughout the league as one of the nicest and most upbeat souls you could ever wish to meet.

Lest we get too far into our weekend prose without mentioning Russell Westbrook’s audacious triple-double quest, heading into his latest duel with old friend James Harden on Friday night in Oklahoma City, here’s a chart to show just how rare it is (as in never before) for an aspiring Oscar Robertson to get this far:

Charlotte Hornets guard Kemba Walker was our latest guest on the TrueHoop Conversations podcast. A link to the full chat is enclosed, but here, as always, are a few highlights:

Walker on the best way to describe him positionally:

“I’m a point guard. Not a combo guard, I’m a point guard. I just score. There are makeups of that position, different types of point guards, but for the most part I’m a point guard. I just have the highest scoring average of a lot of other point guards. I definitely prefer being called a point guard.”

Walker on not getting discouraged by Cleveland’s status as the overwhelming favorite in the East:

“I’m a competitor. I really don’t get discouraged. I just go out there and compete and really just try to control what I can control. They do have a great team. They have one of the best players in the world in LeBron [and] Kyrie, another great player. But for the most part, I think we can compete with those guys. We just try to go out there and give it all we got. They are the defending champs. There’s a reason why they get penciled in so easily. They’re a great team.”

Walker on how much a college championship rings counts for on an NBA player’s resume:

“Huge, huge. It’s a huge deal for me. Not many guys can say they won a college ring, man. It’s really hard to do. Melo ... he did it in one year. He did it his rookie year and it was impressive. For me, it took me three [years]. I’ve been to two Final Fours, got one championship ring and did it in great style. It’s a huge deal for me. I think it looks really good on my resume. ... There’s always one or two UConn jerseys in every arena that we go to each and every night, and it always brings back memories. We have some great fans.”

Walker on what it’s like to have Michael Jordan as his team owner:

“It’s cool, man. I love it. He’s a great dude. I’ve always felt that we have the greatest advantage being on the Hornets because we have a guy who’s been through everything in his basketball career. Me individually, I always felt like I can go to him and ask him any kind of advice, I can talk with him about anything, and I can get great feedback any time. It’s unbelievable. It’s still surreal at times, being around him, because [he’s] just one of those guys that all of us ... I don’t think there’s one person in our league that didn’t idolize MJ.”

Walker on having the gumption to bring up the “Crying Jordan” phenomenon to his boss:

“Did somebody ask him? I felt like somebody asked him about that. ... He has to know [about] that. I don’t know, I think he’ll laugh about it. I think he’ll laugh, but I don’t think anybody has the guts to ask him.”

Saad Yousuf of ESPN Radio in Dallas (103.3 FM) contributed to this report.