DeMarcus Cousins deserves to be an All-Star. Of course he does. He ranks third in the league in rebounding, fifth in scoring, 12th in blocks. Only a few months ago, he helped rescue Team USA in the gold-medal finale against Serbia. This season, on a “knucklehead” scale of 1-10, the fifth-year center has been off the charts.
His four technicals place him 23rd, well below Russell Westbrook with 11.
But NBA coaches, who select seven reserves from their respective conferences, are old school when it comes to passing out midseason awards. They routinely reward enduring old souls (Tim Duncan) and give a pass to the superstars (Kevin Durant), and when all else fails – when there are more deserving players than available All-Star berths – often turn to the bottom line.
Boogie got beat by that rock-bottom line. The Kings are 16-28 and mired in a seven-game losing streak. Worse, they are so confused and depressed, the locker room has morphed into a palace of blank stares, slumped shoulders and pointed fingers.
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That 9-6 start looks and feels like a mirage. But of greatest significance is this: That 9-6 record occurred with Cousins in the lineup, before the team’s best player missed 10 games with viral meningitis, before Michael Malone was dismissed, before management failed to provide a workable Plan A – or even a Plan B or Plan C – to kick-start a recovery that has yet to materialize.
There are two reasons to attend Kings games for the duration of this Lost Season. The first is to secure favorable seating for the downtown arena that is scheduled to open in the fall of 2016. The other is to watch as Cousins continues to mature, develop, moderate his behavior and establish himself as the game’s most dominant big man.
Excluding his ghastly turnovers, most of which occur when he tries to do too much, either forces shots against double and triple teams or attempts to dribble his way out of a crowd while the offense stagnates, every facet of his game is improving. He is a more willing and at times astonishing passer. His weakside defense, the use of his left hand, even his body language, are trending upward.
Despite the lingering effects of viral meningitis, which often leaves him struggling to catch his breath, he is increasingly committed to running the floor.
“(Cousins) has had a tremendous year,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said last week. “He’s a handful. You have to game plan for him, and there are not a lot of games where you have to establish a game plan especially because of (a single) player. So there is no doubt he is an All-Star-caliber player. But it’s musical chairs. There are only so many spots.”
Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis, Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant were voted into the starting lineup by the fans. By omitting Cousins, the Western Conference coaches essentially preferred Duncan – praising the beauty and longevity of the San Antonio Spurs – and Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar who has been limited to 21 games because of injuries but who is widely regarded as the league’s premier scorer.
In something of a surprise, Cousins’ most impassioned advocates are members of the media, his frequent critic Charles Barkley among them. With Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal concurring, Barkley led the “Cousins wuz robbed” chorus when the rosters were revealed Thursday during TNT’s pregame show.
“The kid’s a helluva player,” said Barkley. “He doesn’t like me … but the kid should have made the All-Star team.”
There is still a chance that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will choose Cousins to replace Bryant, who is sidelined for the duration of the season with a shoulder injury. Then again, Damian Lillard, the Portland point guard who missed the Team USA cut last summer, is enjoying a terrific season with the Northwest Division-leading Trail Blazers; he is considered Cousins’ main competition for the remaining spot.
Cousins, of course, should arrive at his first All-Star Game – this year or in the future - through the front door. But the man is unfailingly stubborn. It took three tries to make Mike Krzyzewski’s U.S. national team, and yet there he was last summer, stepping in for the foul-plagued Davis, embracing his role and pushing Team USA toward another gold medal.
This should have been his breakout All-Star season. His only option is to continue wearing out opponents, amassing the accolades, and, somehow, badgering the Kings into winning.