Thomas Robinson says he feels worse than Jonas Jerebko, the Detroit Pistons forward he elbowed in the throat Wednesday night, and, well, he should. Cheap shots aren't cheap.
The two-game suspension will cost the rookie $82,308 in salary, keep him out of tonight's game against the San Antonio Spurs and Sunday's against the Los Angeles Lakers, and hurt his reputation.
Are we talking long-term damage? A hint of more to come? Or a one-time banishment that modifies his behavior but doesn't curb his enthusiasm?
"I knew I was wrong," Robinson told reporters Thursday after practice. "Hopefully this doesn't stick with me, because I'm not a bad kid. I just made a mistake. You have to learn to control your emotions. Somehow, (Jerebko) found a way to get under my skin."
The sequence started harmlessly enough. With 10 minutes remaining and the Kings clinging to the lead, the two 6-foot-10 forwards became entangled in the lane. As the ball scooted out of bounds near the baseline, with the play appearing to be over, Robinson lifted his right elbow and tagged Jerebko flush in the throat.
The gangly Swede, his right eye already swollen from an inadvertent poke earlier in the game, dropped to the floor with a thud. He was choking and gasping for breath as the Pistons' trainers ran onto the court. Fortunately for the Kings and Robinson, Jerebko recovered quickly.
It also helps that Jerebko plays for the Pistons, a team very familiar with physical collisions and contact. This is the organization, remember, that in the 1980s wrote the manual on how to agitate opponents, how to grab and shove and bump, how to set brutal blind picks at midcourt, preferably when the referees were looking elsewhere. They were known as the Bad Boys for a reason. Bill Laimbeer. Isiah Thomas. Dennis Rodman. John Salley. Rick Mahorn. The late, great coach Chuck Daly.
The leader of the group the massive, wide-bodied Mahorn was in Sleep Train Arena, calling the game for Pistons radio, and he thought Robinson went over the edge.
"That was dirty," Mahorn said Thursday when reached on his cellphone. "We all have mental lapses, but you don't take your frustration out in a way that will hurt somebody. I didn't have the physical gifts or the flight of a Dominique Wilkins. I used my body and my width to position. I would use my big (butt) to clear some room.
"But we never tried to bust somebody in the mouth. You don't hit somebody in the face. You don't want to be that guy, because now everything he does is going to be looked at. The referees remember."
Robinson, who was apologetic Thursday, lost his cool at an inopportune time in terms of his career trajectory. Though erratic throughout training camp and during the first few games of the regular season, he was emerging as a consistent and increasingly important contributor off the bench.
Outlet passes for dunks. Rebounds in crowds. Steals in the passing lanes. He was earning minutes, his energy and effort making up for his tendency to launch ridiculous three-point attempts or try to take defenders off the dribble.
More than anything, though, Robinson's anticipation and leaping ability were helping him steal minutes from veteran power forward Jason Thompson, whose rebounding numbers continue to underwhelm.
"The main thing with Thomas right now is that he doesn't finish around the basket," Kings assistant Clifford Ray said. "Eventually, he's going to get a lot of those 50-50 balls, second-chance balls. The equivalent would be the short game in golf. Sometimes he turns his wrist when he releases the ball. But he is very active, and in some ways he reminds me of Dennis Rodman."
The Kings would love for Robinson to be the next Rodman minus the offcourt issues, of course.
Mahorn, who once was ejected for tossing Doug Collins over the scorer's table during a heated Bulls-Pistons encounter, is impressed by Robinson's talent.
"He is gifted vertically, and he has pieces that will help him be a player in this league," Mahorn said. "Rodman was a special player. And what was interesting, he learned not to let things bother him on the floor."
The idea is to incite rather than retaliate, to be smarter and induce advantageous responses, and when necessary, reach for the earplugs.
"Basketball isn't golf," said Mahorn, laughing. "Players are never quiet. He'll figure it out."