Now that he's back, what do you do with DeMarcus Cousins? Coddle him? Ignore him? Trade him?
You don't trade him. You monitor his behavior, maintain certain standards and keep a velvet hammer within reach, but you don't trade him. The Kings' front office folks regardless of whether Geoff Petrie re-signs or retires need to do their jobs and let Cousins learn how to do his.
While there is no question he deserved to be spanked for chewing out Keith Smart during halftime of that game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center, it's too easy to take whacks at the third-year center. Here, too, is a lesson to be learned from the formerly pathetic and suddenly mighty Clippers: Even the most dysfunctional organizations can become winners with the right combination of talent.
And the Kings have been close, remember. Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Bobby Jackson, Brad Miller, etc., ran and executed and passed with the precision of the 1980s Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. They played beautiful, exquisite basketball, and entertained even when they infuriated and choked away Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, a series that's still one for the record books and for the video archive.
Yet here it is, almost 2013, and the Kings are still stuck at square one without a facilitating point guard. They remain an undersized, dribble-drive-obsessed squad that lacks length, but is most in need of a floor leader to make sense of an offense, to make the proper pass, to involve and exploit teammates' talents.
Cousins is 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds. He is not a point guard. And he's only 22. The damage of the NBA's one-and-done rule allowing college players to turn pro after their freshman year is evident almost nightly at Sleep Train Arena. The lack of structure and discipline. The temptations of the road. The friends and family who see millions and want a cut. The world-class competition, grueling schedule and physical demands. The NBA makes fools of dozens of young stars.
Cousins, who could be a senior at Kentucky, is admittedly overwhelmed by his basketball career, but also by his life.
"Stress," he said, his voice rising, "it's the stress. I really do care. I wish people understood how much I hate losing. Honestly, the losing really gets to me."
In a quiet conversation Friday following his return from a two-game absence, Cousins, who is complex and often contradictory, addressed a number of topics. He said his mother, Monique, strongly influenced the decision to replace John Greig with the high-profile Dan Fegan as his agent, but denies he wants to be traded. He is consumed by critical stories, blogs and tweets, and bristles when characterized as "immature." He is troubled by the recurring hits to his reputation, yet doesn't understand how his negative body language (frowns, head shakes, etc.) and verbal outbursts alienate teammates and harm his image.
"But I can do better," Cousins continued in the near-empty locker room. "The first thing I have to do is keep my mouth shut even when I'm right. But I'm not depressed. Do I look depressed? I'm rich, I'm healthy. I'm very grateful for the situation I'm in. I'm telling you, it's the stress."
Cousins, who refused the team's request that he undergo counseling after his latest dust-up with Smart, wonders why his good deeds receive so little attention. And, to be fair, he is extremely generous with children and known for frequently visiting hospitals, dressing as Santa Claus at department stores and taking dozens of youngsters on shopping sprees.
"It seems like the negative is almost emphasized with me," he added, shaking his head, "and I pray that changes."
That can be done. Cousins, who made significant progress a year ago, and who answers the questions about bad deeds or bad performances, can be charming, funny and thoughtful. He has that Webber kind of charisma, a teddy bear personality when in the mood, and his hands are terrific, too. James Johnson doesn't hit the game winner against the Knicks if Cousins doesn't steal Jason Kidd's lob to Tyson Chandler.
"I felt I had to get this thing behind us," Smart said when asked about reinserting Cousins into the lineup. "What are you going to do? Wait and wait and wait, keep holding his hand to the fire?"
No, if you're the Kings, you resolve your front office issues before the Feb. 21 trade deadline regardless of the chronic arena uncertainty. (Sell? Move? Stay? Renovate?) Decide if Petrie stays or goes. His refusal to meet with the media regarding Cousins' most recent suspension speaks to his increasingly strained relationship with the Maloofs. It also adds to Smart's already heavy burden and creates an almost chaotic environment around the organization.
And DeMarcus? You don't trade DeMarcus. You work with DeMarcus. You keep challenging DeMarcus. You take your biggest asset and provide a better supporting cast before you even think about trades.