by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

Roughly 18 months ago, I had a conversation with uber-talented Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. At the time, DMC was optimistic about new Sac-Town head coach Keith Smart. He raved about their relationship, about how they both loved seafood. He said he would be passing Dwight Howard as the best center in the NBA soon. He stressed to me he was misunderstood.

Fast-forward to the present, and DMC has yet another new coach—the Kings’ third in as many seasons—and Cousins still has the same question marks about talent vs attitude lingering around him. They’re not even questions anymore, actually. Cousins doesn’t care what people think of him. “I’m always somebody that’s going to speak my mind. That usually gets me in trouble, but at the end of the day, I’m going to speak my mind,” he said in that same interview.

But what’s troublesome is that now that we’ve all basically dealt with his “misunderstood” title, what’s left is a guy who, on raw talent alone, should be much, much higher on this list. There’s no reason, given his physical gifts and his youth (he turned 23 in August), that Cousins should be ranked behind some of the other centers yet to come in the SLAM Top 50.

Despite his deficiencies in terms of his demeanor, we’ve collectively agreed that his talent itself is enough to make him a better player than the likes of Zach Randolph, Brook Lopez, Al Horford, Kevin Garnett and Pau Gasol. And yet, the reality remains that every single one of those players has done more to prove themselves as consistent, productive, reliable players in the NBA than Cousins has. Like, way more.

Last season, DMC’s numbers dipped from 18.1 ppg and 11.0 rpg to 17.1 and 9.9—a nominal difference but not the direction we expected prior to last season, when he ranked No. 28 on this very ladder. A year more experienced, how is it that Cousins is moving in the wrong direction? Or… is he? How long can we blame his inability to jump into the level of superstar—heck, just to make an All-Star team—on the ever-present and somewhat valid “the Kings are just dysfunctional” excuse?

For a guy who said he wanted to be like Tim Duncan, “it” just hasn’t happened yet. And given the constant turnover and turmoil in Sacramento, is it for certain that it ever will?

It’s all these questions and more that make DMC one of the most polarizing players to rank each season. The dude dominates on certain nights, then disappears on others. Looks like an unstoppable powerhouse down low on one possession, then spaces out on defense the next trip down. He’s as maddening as he is capable.

The Kings believe in Cousins. We know this because he just inked a four-year, $62 million contract extension. With great power, though (er, cheese) comes great responsibility. What comes next for Cousins will be a big test—can he lift the Kings to new heights, or at least, say, a winning season? A season of more than 28 wins? Or will he continue to tease fans with his abilities and torment coaches with his antics?

A year from now, DMC won’t fall between 25 and 30 in the SLAM Top 50. He’ll either get his **** together and at long last be a top-15 player or begin a disappointing slide toward the back of the bus, in which we all finally agree the light bulb will never go on for him.

This season, he’ll have the help of a true pass-first point guard in Greivis Vasquez, who is not a worldbeater but does know how to get teammates the ball in the right spots. He averaged more than twice as many assists (9.0) last season than any player on the Kings.

I, like most of you (I think), am rooting for DeMarcus to flip the switch this season and just start dominating underneath. Enough finesse, Cuz. Just back ‘em down and dunk on their asses. OK, so it’s not that simple, though sometimes, for DMC, it feels like it should be. We say it every single year, because it’s the truth: If his coach (the latest: Mike Malone) can summon, and harness, the utmost effort from Cousins, he’ll be one of the scariest players in the L. If not, he’ll be one of the biggest salary cap albatrosses we’ve ever seen, and he may be looking for a new home come the trade deadline.

Where should DeMarcus Cousins rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
Rank Player Team Position Pos. Rank
50 Monta Ellis Mavs SG 5
49 Luol Deng Bulls SF 10
48 Ricky Rubio TWolves PG 14
47 Greg Monroe Pistons PF 12
46 Kawhi Leonard Spurs SF 9
45 Mike Conley Grizzlies PG 13
44 Al Jefferson Bobcats C 9
43 David Lee Warriors PF 11
42 Jrue Holiday Pelicans PG 12
41 Anthony Davis Pelicans PF 10
40 Joe Johnson Nets SG 4
39 Serge Ibaka Thunder PF 9
38 Kevin Garnett Nets PF 8
37 Rudy Gay Raptors SF 8
36 Paul Pierce Nets SF 7
35 Ty Lawson Nuggets PG 11
34 Pau Gasol Lakers PF 7
33 Al Horford Hawks C 8
32 Andre Iguodala Warriors SF 6
31 Brook Lopez Nets C 7
30 Zach Randolph Grizzlies PF 6
29 DeMarcus Cousins Kings C 6

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.