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Andy Furillo: Kings’ top players rest, and this fan is tired of it

Ten year old Austin Mallett, left, is a big DeMarcus Cousins fan. He got to meet his hero before Thursday’s Minnesota game to chat and got some autographs too.
Ten year old Austin Mallett, left, is a big DeMarcus Cousins fan. He got to meet his hero before Thursday’s Minnesota game to chat and got some autographs too.

At 12:31 p.m. Thursday, the Kings put out a news release that said DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo would not play that night at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It attributed the planned absences of the star center and flashy point guard to their need for rest. The two must have really been tired, because they just got a night off Saturday in Denver and a night off the previous Monday in Portland.

Along with Rondo and Cousins, another young man at Sleep Train Arena on Thursday night was tired. His name is Terrence Zwane, and he was tired of big-money players resting on nights like Thursday, when he paid $300 to sit in the lower bowl.

“I don’t think it’s cool,” said Zwane, 26, a legal assistant who attends about 10 games a year.

Zwane reasoned, accurately, that the salaries of Cousins, who is making about $15.9 million this season, and Rondo, who punches the clock for $9.5 million, are largely responsible for his high cost for a good seat. The abilities of the two, of course, are the reason Zwane was willing to spend the money. Then he came to the game and they didn’t play, and the team didn’t even make the announcement that they were not going to play until seven hours before the game, when the two players were as healthy as could be reasonably expected for the 79th game of the season.

“Yes, it is a very big problem,” Zwane said.

Resting a player for one or two games over the course of a long season, “if you need to do that,” makes sense to Zwane. Otherwise, in instances such as Thursday, “It’s really pointless, especially when you are paying them big money and we are paying big money to watch them,” he said.

Without Cousins and Rondo, the Kings understandably lost to the Timberwolves 105-97. Maybe they needed Thursday off to ensure they would be rested enough to play in Saturday’s final game at Sleep Train Arena, which is expected to be filled beyond capacity to celebrate 28 seasons there.

After Thursday’s game, Kings coach George Karl was asked what he would say to the fans, if he could say anything, about paying big money to see the game and then having Cousins and Rondo miss it to rest.

Karl was the wrong guy to take the question. It should have been directed to general manager Vlade Divac, but Divac wasn’t on hand, so the coach gave it a shot.

“I’m old school,” Karl said. “I like playing every game like it means something.”

But in the modern NBA, “everybody’s doing it,” Karl said about giving guys days of rest when it appears to people like Zwane that they don’t really need it.

“Philosophically,” Karl said, “I can see the good in why you do it, and I can see philosophically why the fans should be upset, why they’re upset.”

In addition to holding Cousins and Rondo out of the Minnesota, Denver and Portland games, the playoff-eliminated Kings rested Kosta Koufos, Rudy Gay and Darren Collison in Tuesday’s loss at home to Portland.

As Karl said, it is popular for teams to dial back on playing time for those who have been pounding the floorboards fairly relentlessly since October. Most of the time, the decisions to rest players are made collectively – between the front office, coaching staff and players – although it’s not known how the decision was made by the Kings.

Cousins might be selected for the U.S. team for this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, so maybe the Kings are doing their patriotic duty to have him take a few extra days off, to go along with the rest he gained due to his three suspensions this season.

For teams out of the playoffs, the respites for players like Cousins and Rondo, as well as for Koufos and Gay and Collison, free up time for younger players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Seth Curry, to see how they perform under the duress of added minutes.

“People are more happy to get an opportunity than anything,” Gay said of his teammates who are less-heavily worked.

You can understand why teams getting ready for the playoffs want to rest guys who log heavy minutes. They really need to give their legs some time off for postseason runs that can add another 20 games or more, if they’re on the Golden State Warriors or the Cleveland Cavaliers.

For teams that are going nowhere, resting players at the end of the season when they’re going to have the whole offseason to kick back is a very bad look.

Fans can talk about how losing can be a good thing if you’re angling to keep a draft pick, as is the case with the Kings. Organizations can’t, and they can’t even be thinking about it.

If you’re not trying to get better every day, then you are getting worse, and momentum in either direction creates its own force that affects mindsets and attitudes and perceptions that never rest.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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