DeMarcus Cousins was dead wrong. His behavior was inappropriate and inexcusable, so let's start with that.
You don't walk out of a locker room in the heated aftermath of a game to confront an announcer for his on-air characterization of your skills, your demeanor, your conditioning, your haircut, your whatever.
You just don't do that.
You stay in the locker room. You take a shower, calm down, ignore the agitating text messages on your cellphone friends and loved ones are rarely the most objective sources and let cooler heads prevail.
Does Cousins have a cooler head these days? We think so. Excluding his opening practice with the USA Select Team last July in Las Vegas, when he was chided for being overly aggressive against the Olympic team, his reputation as an immature hothead has taken a real spanking.
He has dropped weight, improved his conditioning and openly expressed the desire to change his demeanor and become a better, more mature teammate. He has taken instrumental, often massive steps in his development as one of the game's most gifted and valuable young centers, as a player who is not the reincarnation of the volatile Rasheed Wallace.
But Cousins' behavior following Friday night's Kings-Spurs game regardless of what he specifically said to Spurs analyst Sean Elliott should remind the Kings to keep the antenna up. The kid is a lightning rod. Until he modifies his behavior, his reputation will remain as formidable an opponent as Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard and the league's other elite players. It will continue to be Cousins against the world, or even more unfortunate, Cousins against Cousins. His actions will be perceived one way and one way only, almost never in a manner that cuts him slack.
This latest incident disrupted an improving image and favorable momentum. While his agent, John Greig, and the players' association are appealing and attempting to reduce his two-game suspension before tonight's game against the visiting Portland Trail Blazers, his history makes this story a hard sell.
Did he threaten Elliott when he approached the former Spurs star near midcourt? Was he confrontational and acting in a "hostile manner," as NBA officials determined before announcing the two-game suspension Sunday? Or was this Cousins being Cousins which to those of us who spend considerable time with him, a 6-foot-11, 270-pound giant of a man who can be entertaining, engaging and insightful, and moody and sullen and infuriating, yet invariably, oblivious to his intimidating, outsized physical presence.
So what was it?
Reached on his cell late Monday afternoon, Elliott refused comment. But he wouldn't have complained to the Spurs organization if he wasn't unnerved. And, for the record, his on-air critique of Cousins was ridiculously mild. "Some humility is in order," Elliott said in part. "Don't start talking and flapping your gums against one of the greatest players (Duncan) ever."
A two-game suspension seems harsh. Cousins might have been all bluster and macho. He is extremely sensitive and obsessed by criticism, consumed by a desire to be liked and appreciated. And he was applauded last summer for approaching Jerry Colangelo and asking the USA Basketball czar to list what he was doing wrong.
But he was wrong, wrong, wrong. Now, can his reputation be repaired? Can he shift the momentum?
Of course, eventually. Charles Barkley overcame far worse.
But while Cousins' advocates attempt to have his punishment reduced, he should go back and listen to what Elliott said about humility. And then listen to what contrite teammate Thomas Robinson said Monday about his own recent two-game suspension for elbowing Detroit's Jonas Jerebko.
"I'm not going to stop being a tough player," said Robinson, a rookie, "but I'm not going to continue elbowing people, either. You have to take the good and the bad when you mess up. I wouldn't say it's a good thing, but I'd rather make these mistakes now than later on in the season."