A year ago, the Western Conference coaches refused to vote DeMarcus Cousins onto the NBA All-Star team despite his prodigious statistics and obvious, unique abilities. And a year ago, that was fine.
But if not a travesty – there are simply too many elite players in the West – Cousins’ absence from the league’s annual lovefest this year would be a shame. Shame on the Kings, too.
While the franchise is in free-fall, and the team is en route to the most disappointing season in almost a decade, the fifth-year center has the numbers, the stature and the backing of several high-profile peers. His experiences with Team USA last summer caused him to skip a few grades, accelerating his development from troubled young star to evolving, emerging superstar.
Boogie still has miles to travel. He hasn’t mastered the two-step dance of when to be reactive and when to walk away. Teammates grumble about his absences at post-practice media sessions, leaving them to answer the tough questions. His body language isn’t an art; it’s a sculpture in the molding.
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But these are minor blips when placed in context of what Cousins produces nightly amid the chaos. Entering Friday’s game against Golden State in Oakland, he is fourth among league leaders in scoring (24.0 points), third in rebounding (12.7) and 11th in blocks (1.67). Though he averages a ghastly 4.2 turnovers, he also is a more willing, creative passer (3.2 assists) and committed defender.
His improvement has been widely acknowledged, with coaches Rick Carlisle, Scott Brooks and Brian Shaw among his All-Star advocates. The major obstacle to his selection – besides the intense competition for the seven remaining spots following Thursday’s announced starting lineup – is the Kings’ continuing slide.
The current free-fall – this mudpit of a season – is a monster managerial failure. Yet the sins of the father, of Kings executives, aren’t inherited by the sons. Impressive offseason moves to shed salary and gain cap flexibility, reach a contract extension with Rudy Gay and acquire a point guard (Darren Collison) whose skills complement those of Cousins and Gay have been trumped by a coaching sitcom without the laugh track.
Michael Malone, who was 9-6 before Cousins caught viral meningitis and missed 10 games, was fired Dec. 14 without any blueprint on the premises. Assistant Tyrone Corbin was given the job without any long-term security, leaving him vulnerable to the whims and whispers within the locker room. The lack of clarity created a sense of uncertainty, which has led to lingering, at times overwhelming, mass confusion.
The hottest topic among the players: Who is going to be our next coach?
Golden State Warriors assistant Alvin Gentry was approached last summer and given a wink-wink hint that he would replace Malone at the first blip; the classy Gentry declined. Since Corbin’s promotion, Kings executives have spoken informally and/or formally with former Warriors coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, whose internal issues during his stint in Oakland accompanied him during his recent visit to Sleep Train Arena. High-ranking Kings executives insist he is not a candidate, his longstanding friendship with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro and adviser Chris Mullin notwithstanding.
The plan is to get into the offseason and choose a replacement from a list of candidates that includes George Karl and Nate McMillan, among others, and would expand to Tom Thibodeau (Chicago), Brooks (Oklahoma City) and Monty Williams (New Orleans), if any of the three became available.
Given the timing of Malone’s dismissal, the obvious move was to immediately introduce Karl and empower him to establish a sense of direction and a semblance of order, all of which would have provided Kings fans with one good reason (other than the new arena) to attend games and renew season tickets.
Management’s subtle and premature acknowledgement that 2014-15 is a lost season is beyond inexplicable. The players are flailing. Fans are furious. The term “Maloofian” has crossed more than a few lips. The perception that the Kings backed away from Karl when Cousins’ agents objected on the grounds their client would clash with a dynamic, demanding personality continues to earn scorn and derision around the league.
And by the way? Cousins hears his agents but says he has never met George Karl.
The overriding point is that Cousins, who is 24 and coming off a gold-medal experience with Team USA, has shown enough to warrant serious All-Star consideration when the reserves are selected next week. He wants to win, he wants to be great, and increasingly, he cops to his mistakes.
“The coaches have to put DeMarcus on that team,” an impassioned Collison said. “We have had a lot of unfortunate things that didn’t go our way, and it’s not fair to punish him. If you look at it objectively, he’s the best center in the league. He gets double- and triple-teamed every single game, and yet he still produces. That means he’s a dominating player. If you go down the All-Star roster, nobody gets that kind of attention.”
Who knows? With LaMarcus Aldridge and Kobe Bryant injured, Cousins’ prospects surely have improved. But he deserves better than that. He deserves that berth.
Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.