It was ironic, at least to me, that Kings players DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes were allegedly involved in a New York nightclub fight the same week I had to make my latest Kings season ticket payment.
Let’s just say the experience of writing the check was galling in the extreme.
Like thousands of others, I am paying the salaries of these gentlemen and, at least right now, I am not even close to being a satisfied customer. The Kings’ dismal record remains indicative of a franchise whose basketball operations are a grease fire. We can’t yet determine the guilt or innocence of Cousins and Barnes in the alleged assault of a man and a woman in New York last week, but it’s not unfair to say that both players have been dogged by behavioral issues and bad publicity for years.
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If there were strong ownership or executive leadership on the Kings, a civil lawsuit filed against two key players would not be as troubling as it is. But the Kings don’t have a strong owner in Vivek Ranadive or a strong executive in general manager Vlade Divac.
Discord and off-court disruptions are not uncommon within leadership vacuums, and that’s what we have here.
The Kings are stumbling and bumbling while trying to figure out who they are and how to win. Despite some improvements and some glimmers, the Kings remain a discordant collection of personalities still giving the impression that they are in over their heads.
As a paying customer, it’s been beyond frustrating to have watched them cough up winnable games, as they did last month against an uninspired Washington Wizards team.
Then a game in Philadelphia was postponed because the court wasn’t playable, and we saw Barnes and Cousins say on social media that they were going out on the town. In a video, Cousins smiled for the camera with a bottle of cognac. Do winning teams and winning players do that?
Then came a loss in Boston, a loss in New York, and then ... more trouble.
Cousins and Barnes deserve their presumption of innocence for allegedly assaulting a couple at a Manhattan nightclub on Dec. 5. The facts are not yet established, though at least one newspaper – the New York Daily News – cited unnamed sources on Friday saying that New York police were close to filing an arrest warrant for Barnes. We’ll see.
But Barnes and Cousins were named in a civil lawsuit filed in New York last week by Jasmine Besiso, 26, and her boyfriend, Myrone Powell, 35. Besiso and Powell are requesting a jury trial and are asking for damages in excess of $75,000. When the couple appeared at a news conference, Powell sported a black eye.
Besiso claims that Barnes choked her and Powell claims that Cousins punched him in the face. The couple also allege that Barnes and Cousins both kicked Powell while he was on the ground.
A lawyer for the two players said: “We don’t believe a crime was committed, and we’re continuing to cooperate with the authorities.”
The legal proceedings are going to go where they go and take as long as they take. The sinking feeling for me – and I would wager for others investing our money in the Kings – is a lack of confidence that this situation will be managed as a functional, efficient organization would.
Ranadive and Divac have to prove that they are up to the task, and so far they haven’t done enough to prove that they are.
They hired a capable coach in Dave Joerger who seems to have the respect of the players. But one hiring isn’t enough to undo years of losing and poor decisions that predated Ranadive and then continued under him.
Cousins is one of the best players in the NBA, but there is nothing to indicate that he has the temperament to be a winning player or franchise leader. Divac was a beloved player but he never had been an NBA executive before Ranadive handed him the reins a year ago. Ranadive hired and fired coaches fast enough to destabilize the organization further before hiring the unproven, untested Divac.
And then there was the bizarre tussle between the Kings and Mayor Kevin Johnson last week over whether the Kings should retire a jersey in Johnson’s honor for his role in keeping the team from relocating to Seattle.
On Tuesday, the city of Sacramento said in a resolution that the city and the Kings would “partner” on retiring a jersey for Johnson and hanging it in the rafters at Golden 1 Center. But then the Kings released a statement saying – as diplomatically as they could – that they would do nothing of the sort. “We do not have any immediate plans to retire his jersey, however our organization continues to look for ways to honor the mayor and all of those who were integral to the building of Golden 1 Center,” the statement read.
Both the city and the Kings looked disorganized, to say the least. It was a strange, somewhat sad way for Johnson to end his final week in office.
The nightclub incident, the jersey flap, the losing, the alcohol-tinged social media post, the years of dysfunction – it’s all part of the same narrative. Sadly, all of this and more have contributed to making the Kings a persistent laughingstock in the NBA.
You have some good people working for the Kings, particularly Joerger, team President Chris Granger and others.
But who is in charge of the big picture? Who is making smart, solid, mature decisions to mitigate the nightclub incident, the jersey flap, the chronic losing?
Until those people step up, distracting incidents like the one involving Barnes and Cousins will continue.
It will be disappointing, galling and frustrating. But no, it will not be surprising.
I’m still paying for my tickets and plan to continue for the short term. The Kings have been Sacramento’s signature team since 1985; they are an important civic amenity and supporting them supports a downtown revitalization. But it’s time for the “leaders” of the Kings to make the on-court product equal to the faith and investment behind it.