The calls, the texts, the pleas, the anger, the questions. The sense that a defining line has been crossed. That, too. DeMarcus Cousins incited Kings fans late Monday like a Christmas tree afire.
Here he was again, in a big moment in a significant game, complaining vociferously about fouls – some questionable, others obvious – throwing a tantrum, confronting a referee, shoving teammate Rudy Gay and assistant coach Corliss Williamson as they tried to shield the official and save the center from himself.
The scene at Oracle Arena was a replay of a too familiar cartoon, a reminder the NBA’s most talented big man is also its largest headache. This is Cousins’ sixth season and his fifth coach. What happened in the third quarter against the Golden State Warriors was only the latest in a series of countless, chronic outbursts.
The Kings can’t continue treating a 25-year-old man with kid gloves. The All-Star center should have been suspended instead of merely fined for his profane locker room eruption following the Nov. 9 loss to the San Antonio Spurs. He absolutely should be suspended for his latest actions, either by the league or, preferably, by the organization.
Principal owner Vivek Ranadive, general manager Vlade Divac and coach George Karl have to stop enabling and take a firmer stand. Discipline is not a four-letter word. Punch back, for heaven’s sake. Cousins’ persistent bullying reflects horribly on the franchise, strips his teammates and coaches of their emotional equilibrium and contributes mightily to a losing culture.
In a game where backup centers Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos were unavailable, leaving 6-foot-7 Quincy Acy as the only option behind Cousins, the Kings stormed into a halftime lead and were ahead 66-64 when Cousins was assessed the fifth foul that ignited his reaction and ensuing ejection.
The effect on the outcome was undeniable. It looked bad and felt worse. As Cousins walked down the sideline and toward the locker room, the reserves on the Warriors’ bench appeared stunned, even embarrassed. Imagine how his own teammates felt. Their stirring effort and Omri Casspi’s magical shooting were ruined when the Warriors seized the momentum and busted out for a 15-0 run and the eventual 122-103 victory.
Later, while Ranadive quietly left the arena, Divac approached Cousins near the team bus. The two spoke quietly for several minutes. At one point, Divac gestured with his arms and nudged his hips into his center, demonstrating a defensive technique.
“He was wrong,” Divac said. “I told him he can’t do that. But it was emotions. The referees did not do a great job. First three minutes, right? Three fouls. It’s hard to keep your emotions, especially if you are underdogs.”
Asked if he planned to discipline Cousins, the first-year general manager shook his head.
“I’m not going to do it,” he said, anticipating a league-imposed suspension. “I hope the NBA looks at it a different way.”
Members of the league’s officiating department spent much of Tuesday reviewing video to assess the interaction between Cousins and referee Mitchell Ervin and, among other things, determine if profanity was used. Cousins, who has been called for six technicals this season – one fewer than leaders Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Draymond Green and Kyle Lowry – has been ejected 10 times and suspended six times (once by the Kings) in his career, begging a question that hovers over both the old and new arenas: What do you do with him?
Besides imposing a suspension, what about hiring a full-time sports psychologist? Phil Jackson introduced the concept decades ago. The Dallas Mavericks’ therapist travels with the team.
Cousins’ talent is never the issue. Seething, apparently deep-rooted anger is the issue. Yet Ranadive is extremely fond of his center and continues resisting trade overtures for fear the Kings never can get equal value in return – a reasonable, legitimate concern. The opening of Golden 1 Center in October complicates matters; fans want to see stars almost as much as they want to win.
And when healthy and in relatively decent shape, Cousins is a 6-11, 270-pound big man savant. Despite a lack of explosiveness or exceptional athleticism, he can lead the fast break, shoot threes and exploit defenses with muscular, quick-hit low post moves. He can stretch and steal rebounds in a crowd and ignite transition opportunities with textbook outlet passes.
Again, when healthy and in shape. We haven’t seen enough of that Cousins this season, and opponents game-plan accordingly: Attack the Kings in transition because Cousins routinely lags, creating a 5-on-4 disadvantage. At the other end, swipe at his dribble and utilize aggressive interior double teams that frustrate him and result in forced, off-balance shots.
The Kings, of course, have other problems, including the need for a legitimate starting shooting guard and an elite defender. Gay appears miserable and disengaged, and many scouts/executives believe a Gay-Cousins tandem is terminally incompatible because neither is a ball mover.
But back to Cousins, who can be a loveable, embraceable Boogie when he chooses. The mood is shifting, the fans increasingly restless. Many of Cousins’ most impassioned advocates are checking out. The Kings have to catch his attention somehow, and soon. A suspension would be a start.