The Kings story of the week is that they are thinking about offering a five-year, $200 million contract extension to a player who has been the centerpiece of 6 1/2 years of losing basketball.
DeMarcus Cousins might have the talent to make what the market will bear, and one day in his career he might demonstrate that he has the character to make him one of the top earners in his profession.
So far, he has not.
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He is not a winner, and shouldn’t that be the test for a sports franchise that is about to make that kind of an investment? Another problem is how Cousins plays – with a lack of dignity, childish petulance, crass demeanor, disrespect, intemperance, an abject lack of self-control.
The Kings must decide if they want to reward the kind of behavior that has become embedded in the mind of anybody who has watched him play.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac declined to discuss the reports on ESPN and Comcast SportsNet Bay Area about a long-term deal they say is in the works.
“There’s nothing I can say now,” Divac told The Sacramento Bee after the Kings’ 100-94 win over the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday night.
Divac said he’d be able to discuss it “when the time comes.” Under the terms of the NBA’s new labor agreement, that would be in July, when the contract will allow teams to bestow tens of millions in additional cash on designated stars they have developed.
Cousins also declined to discuss his future with the Kings, except to say he wants to stay in town.
28.0 DeMarcus Cousins’ scoring average, fifth in the NBA this season.
“I love Sacramento,” he said.
Cousins, of course, can be funny, and he showed his humor while sitting in front of a scrum of reporters in the team’s locker room Tuesday night. He took a microphone and asked me and fellow Bee columnist Ailene Voisin whether we’d like to see him continue his career here.
He’s had a couple of problematic experiences in nightclubs recently, and he’s known to get angry over newspaper articles he dislikes, but he’s otherwise been a good citizen. He does some very good things in the community. He expresses a profound sense of love and loyalty to his family, friends and fans, who return the feeling in kind.
With all due respect to them, many of us assess Cousins based on the behavior we see on the court. Most recently, we saw him kick and punch a chair when a call went against him, resulting in his 12th technical foul this season. We see the constant complaining to the referees, the disrespect he shows to opponents, to some of his former coaches.
Maybe the Kings’ management noted the reaction of the fans Tuesday, when they booed Cousins when he returned to the floor after sitting out for 11 minutes.
He turned them around with a couple of 3-pointers and an assist to help the Kings rally from an 18-point deficit for the victory. But the booing reflected the blistering he has taken in recent days on some local fan boards and sports talk radio. In both venues, spot checks showed responses coming in against him at about 75 percent.
12 DeMarcus Cousins’ technical foul total, tied for first in the NBA this season.
When Kings management parses the numbers on Cousins, there are a few they need to keep in mind besides his 28.0 points, 10.1 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game this season.
Let’s start with the fact that of the 449 players in the NBA, DeMarcus Cousins is the absolute slowest. This is according to the Players Tracking Speed & Distance statistics category on NBA.com. In a game built for speed these days, it hurts to be slow, and it’s even worse when Cousins turns the ball over, whines about not getting a call or gets his shot blocked.
We don’t have a number on the times Cousins flails in the backcourt while the action races off in the other direction. But the nbaminer.com blog has a “nasty stats” page that showed Cousins leads the league in having his shot blocked this season with 68 – 14 more than the second-most jammed-up player, Jeff Teague, and 13 more than No. 3 Isaiah Thomas, who is 14 inches shorter – entering Wednesday’s schedule. Cousins twice has led the league in getting his shots blocked and always has been among the league leaders.
As of Wednesday morning, he was second in personal fouls with 139 and sixth in turnovers with 115, but only tied for 33rd in offensive rebounds with 74 while being tied for first in technical fouls with 12.
The reward of a max deal like $40 million a year should be a reflection of an athlete’s greatness. In the world of sports, greatness is mostly measured by winning, which, in the minds of great football coaches like Red Sanders and Vince Lombardi, was the only thing.
For 6 1/2 years, there has been no winning by DeMarcus Cousins. In fact, the only constant to the Kings losing during that time among players, coaches, owners and basketball operations executives has been DeMarcus Cousins. There is no reason to believe anything would change in the next five years based on the record of the past 6 1/2 .
Whether Cousins is worth the $200 million will come down not to Kings management, but to the fans. It’s their money, and it will be interesting to see if they’re willing to pay it.