DeMarcus Cousins should be seated at the dinner table right now, elbowing for space and fighting for the entrees alongside Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond.
But is there really another big man you would rather build a franchise around? The Lopez twins? The fragile brothers, Pau and Marc Gasol? Tyson Chandler? Or the center, Roy Hibbert, who gets hives when he moves more than five feet from the basket?
No, Cousins messed up. He said something when he should have said nothing. He was within one game and 1 minute, 13 seconds from finishing his fourth season with a flourish, with a dominant, inspiring performance against the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves. This was the 6-foot-11 Cousins at his best: Blocking shots and controlling the ball. Pushing the pace and involving teammates. Throwing precise one-bounce passes. Grabbing rebounds from all angles. Displaying an expanding offensive repertoire that now includes spin moves and crafty left-handed scoop shots, inside crowds of two and even three defenders.
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Not there yet.
Cousins, 23, knew he was doomed the minute he heard J.T. Orr’s whistle. He reacted like a bank robber surprised by security officers at the front entrance. His features drooped in defeat. He tugged at the front of his jersey, exhaled in frustration, then stared at the ceiling and walked to the bench. As he stood near coach Michael Malone, the fourth-year center looked like he couldn’t decide whether to kick a chair, kick himself, or break down in tears.
But if you’re the Kings and you’re looking for progress? With Cousins it’s all about huge feet, small steps. His development this season has been noisy, eventful and undeniable, his absence Wednesday against the Phoenix Suns notwithstanding. A year ago, he would have kicked that chair. Or worse.
Instead, he regained his composure, walked back onto the court, and danced along the baseline for a nifty two-handed drive that Malone later said helped secure the victory. “I feel for him,” the coach said afterward. “He made a concerted effort to handle his emotions and not pick up that last tech.”
Both the Kings and Cousins’ agents appealed the technical, though not surprisingly, to no avail. League officials are maintaining a tough-love approach to their immensely gifted young star; they realize he’s a huge personality who won’t suddenly and quietly go away. The sense is that if Cousins can play 22 consecutive games without a technical – since his last infraction Feb. 25 against Houston – then he can suck his thumb or suck it up, or do whatever else is necessary to remain in their good graces. In fact, if Cousins doesn’t play his way onto Mike Krzyzewski’s World Cup team this summer, he should be sent to his room without his supper … and breakfast and lunch … for about a year.
“DeMarcus, when he got ejected that last game (against Houston), he said he was sorry for disappointing me,” principal owner Vivek Ranadive said. “But overall he has had a very good year. We just have a lot more work to do this summer. We have to get him some help.”
Ignoring the familiar histrionics for the moment – and just for the moment – Cousins, in fact, this season established career bests in points (22.7), rebounds (11.7), field-goal percentage (.496) and assists (2.9), often while double- and even triple-teamed. And particularly of late, he pushed the pace and tried to prod his teammates out of their chronic, slow-dribble snooze control.
As former King Doug Christie reminded me during a conversation the other night: “When we were good, Webb (Chris Webber), Vlade (Divac), Mike (Bibby) and Bobby (Jackson) would just get the ball and go. Now in the league you see guys coming back for rebounds, and it takes four, five seconds off the clock. That’s too much time. It’s so much easier to score when you’re not having to work against set (defenses) all the time.”
That’s a topic for another day. Wednesday, Cousins is back in the classroom enduring another tough NBA lesson. For someone who loves to play and compete ferociously? Who loves the drama? The crowd? He was here for the sobfests and the Chopin funereal marches of these past three seasons, and now, when a season finale is just a season finale, he will be sitting on his couch, a spectator to his favorite show. Oh, yeah. He’s in pain.