Friday is April Fools’ Day, but cool it with the jokes. This is no longer a laughing matter. The most talented center in basketball, the two-time All-Star who should be a lock to make the U.S. Olympic Team, keeps tripping over his own two feet.
And DeMarcus Cousins wonders why they hurt?
For the third time in his six seasons, the Kings center has been given a one-game suspension for exceeding the league limit (15) on technical fouls. When the Miami Heat visits Sleep Train Arena on Friday for the final time, the Kings’ leading scorer and rebounder – and we are not referring to him as a leader – will watch the game on TV somewhere, probably brooding, undoubtedly convinced he is a victim.
His latest transgression adds a twist to a familiar pattern. This time he had an accomplice: With 6.7 seconds remaining in Wednesday’s victory over the Washington Wizards, point guard Rajon Rondo responded to a five-second violation by sarcastically applauding referee Marc Davis; Cousins rushed over and joined the party, earning his 16th technical as a result.
Cousins, 25, is playing an increasingly dangerous game. Cursing out the coach on multiple occasions. Directing a profanity-laced outburst at a team employee at the Toronto airport. And on the night the underachieving Kings win their 30th game for the first time since 2007-08, he ruins it with another absurd reaction.
In the short term, this latest development does two things: It strengthens the argument that Cousins should be traded before his value plummets and he inflicts further damage on a franchise he grips by the throat; and it diminishes his prospects for the U.S. Olympic team.
Kings general manager Vlade Divac and whomever he hires as his top front office executive will work double shifts this offseason. No player on the roster is untradeable. The phones will ring with inquiries about Cousins; they just won’t ring off the hook. But there will be suitors, and somewhere out there is a good deal to be pursued. Patience is a virtue … in small doses. That’s on Divac.
Cousins’ inclusion on the Olympic team is on Jerry Colangelo. The chairman of USA Basketball will oversee the selection of a 12-man roster after the NBA Finals, and in contrast to the past two Olympics, when prospects competed at tryout camps in Las Vegas, the NBA season serves as the audition.
Colangelo anticipates the most difficult cutdown process since he became czar a decade ago.
Of the list of 30 finalists that includes Cousins and Rudy Gay, only Anthony Davis (knee surgery) and Chris Paul (fatigue) have withdrawn. Health issues and contract status is likely to determine the availability of other stars, while three-time Olympian LeBron James is tabling his decision until after the season. But there will be no dearth of interested participants, among them Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kawhi Leonard and Dwight Howard.
“I feel very comfortable with the depth of our group, and we will continue to make adjustments based on who is committed, who is healthy,” Colangelo said. “And we’re not concerned about smalls or bigs. We have guys who can play multiple positions. It’s just a matter of going through the screening process.”
Ah, yes, the screening process. With a heavier emphasis on analytics than in the past, Colangelo and his staff are studying various combinations, assessing the physical condition of the candidates, and monitoring interaction between teammates, players and coaches, players and referees.
Cousins, who participated with Team USA for four consecutive summers, enhanced his Olympic prospects with a solid performance in the 2014 World Cup finale against Serbia. But while the World Cup tournament is the more prestigious event elsewhere, the Olympics has far greater allure for the league’s superstars in the United States.
Given the competition, this was the season for Cousins to be on his best behavior and in the best shape of his career, and yet he has faltered on both counts. His weight and stamina have ebbed and flowed. Only days ago, he revealed plans to undergo a procedure to alleviate the constant pain in his feet. He expects to be immobile for four to six weeks but healthy if chosen for the Olympics.
“We’re aware DeMarcus has had problems with his feet, and we’ll see how that unfolds,” Colangelo said. “We’re also aware he put up enormous numbers this year, even though the team didn’t win as many games as they had hoped. We’re trying to keep things in perspective. We weigh everything. ”
Davis’ withdrawal and the limited number of big men should work in Cousins’ favor. But coach Mike Krzyzewski often favors faster, smaller lineups, and he is a stickler for conditioning. He isn’t inclined to tolerate nonsense, either.
Cousins needs to avoid another suspension, take care of his feet and hope his self-inflicted behavioral wounds haven’t knocked him out of the Games.
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins’ technical fouls and that season’s leader:
Russell Westbrook (17)
Kendrick Perkins (13)
Dwight Howard (18)