Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Kings center DeMarcus Cousins needs to get away

Kings basketball and franchise vice president Vlade Divac talks with DeMarcus Cousins before Monday’s game. Cousins’ all-around skills impress Divac.
Kings basketball and franchise vice president Vlade Divac talks with DeMarcus Cousins before Monday’s game. Cousins’ all-around skills impress Divac. hamezcua@sacbee.com

DeMarcus Cousins desperately needs a break. His foot hurts, his body is bruised, his mind is sprinting in a million directions. His mood has darkened noticeably during the final days of this turbulent, conflicting, bizarre season.

There is much to ponder; five losing seasons would seem to prompt a healthy dose of reflection and introspection.

But the hope here is that when the sun comes up in the morning, the Kings’ All-Star center stands up, looks at his birth certificate (he turns 25 in August) and takes control of his life. The decisions, the desires, the demands, the behavior. He is old enough now. He always has had broad shoulders, a powerful personality and a keen intellect. Unfortunately, he also has far too many people – agents, friends, teammates, assorted others – in his ear, and he is consumed and influenced by social media.

It’s too much, too crazy, too much sensory overload. Cousins needs a deserted island, a palm tree and a hotel that doesn’t have cell reception. Better yet, one that doesn’t have land lines, either.

If he shuts out the white noise, he could gain the perspective that comes with age and contemplation, and then spin his life and his career forward. What would he see? What does he remember? What does he want? Does he want to stay with the Kings? And does he really think the Kings want to trade him?

Although even superstars get traded – as Kings coach George Karl noted the other night – the NBA rumor mill is a toxic cesspool. It teems with misdirection plays and bogus information. Cousins’ increasingly foul mood can be attributed partly to the surge on social media regarding his future in Sacramento.

He wants to be traded. The Kings want to trade him.

Take your pick. Both theories abound on Twitter, blogs, talk shows, etc., from those in the know and those who know nothing.

But start with this: Vlade Divac, the Kings’ new vice president of basketball and franchise operations, is mesmerized by the center’s talent. He describes Cousins as a mini-version of the Lithuanian great Arvydas Sabonis. Divac looks at Cousins and sees a commingling of muscle and finesse, enormous skills, an increased willingness to pass and the potential for greatness. Though Cousins could make his teammates better – the litmus test for greatness – more consistently, he has progressed in this facet, too.

In one of the many strange elements to this season that ends mercifully Wednesday in Los Angeles, Cousins has played his most complete basketball since Karl was hired at the All-Star break. Though a lukewarm convert to a faster tempo, he has thrived in a system that emphasizes spacing, passing and movement, not unlike Mike Krzyzewski’s philosophy last summer with Team USA. It isn’t a coincidence that Cousins had triple doubles in two of his last three games and is ranked fifth in the league in scoring (24.1), third in rebounding (12.7) and 11th in blocks (1.75).

He also cut down his turnovers, a function of better offensive spacing and his decisions when double- and triple-teamed.

“Cuz might be our best passer,” Karl said last week, “and he can play big, he can play out front, he can play on the wing. He is a great rebounder and a much better defender than people give him credit for. But we have to make changes and get better players around him. Defenders, playmakers, passers. This is going to be a very important summer.”

Again.

Cousins has a lot to mull over and a lot to lock in a vault somewhere: The 9-6 start to the season that preceded his 10-game absence because of viral meningitis; the absurd firing of coach Michael Malone on Dec. 14; management’s inability to repair the damage by immediately hiring the accomplished Karl; the ensuing two-month player revolt under interim coach Tyrone Corbin; Darren Collison’s season-ending hip injury; Divac’s arrival; and Chris Mullin’s departure.

And on it goes, with Rudy Gay suffering a concussion and Cousins sitting out the final days mainly because of a sprained ankle. Cousins wouldn’t have visited a specialist in Los Angeles last week if there wasn’t legitimate concern. He has complained about soreness in his feet and ankles throughout the second half of the season, afflictions that make executives squirm and recall the shortened careers of fellow big men Bill Walton and Yao Ming.

So Boogie needs to get well, engage in the whole mind-spirit healing process, and then schedule conversations with members of the front office. Divac and Karl seek clarity and will find it. There will be more demands on all of the players next season.

Cousins, who has three years remaining on his contract, has two choices. He can make life so miserable for his teammates and coaches that the Kings pursue a swap. Or he can give his new coach and the new vice president some time to clean up a mess they inherited, evaluate the team after what figures to be a very active offseason, and then buy in or force his way out.

His first meeting should be with Karl, with the precondition that both men table their enormous egos. Perceived slights have to be forgotten, the input from agents or Kings officials ignored. Face to face. Can they develop a relationship that succeeds and endures?

But now? Get on the island. Cousins should distance himself from his agents, coaches and bosses. Avoid social media. Analyze and evaluate. Amid all the chaos, the bad decisions, the belated recovery, Cousins won a World Cup gold medal, was named to his first All-Star team and excelled in the closing weeks of the season.

So it hasn’t been all bad. Kings fans ignored Cousins’ reputation and embraced him from the start. And anyone who tells him differently? Tune them out and be true to oneself.

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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