The Sacramento Kings continue to be the best day-to-day drama in the NBA, and Monday night was no exception. The Kings were knocking down shots, playing tough basketball, and had a lead on the best team in basketball, the Golden State Warriors. All they had to do was keep from having an emotional meltdown.
They had an emotional meltdown.
After picking up his fifth foul against Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins lost it, went supernova, and wound up being ejected. He was so heated that Kings GM Vlade Divac believes Cousins will likely face further discipline. It was the one thing the Kings couldn't afford. The Warriors promptly went on a 15-0 run followed by an 11-4 run to end the quarter. And that was it. Another opportunity wasted.
Every time things seem to be going well for the Kings, something happens. Cousins gets hurt. Cousins goes on a tirade against George Karl in the locker room. Rajon Rondo is ejected for what is later determined to be a homophobic tirade against gay official Billy Kennedy. Trade rumors. Locker room unrest. A GM that seems to excuse everything Cousins does. They can't get out of their own way.
And yet, there's a flip side to everything. When rumors that the Kings were looking to trade Cousins erupted before the draft, which set the big man off, the Kings waited out the storm, shut down all the noise and resolved to correct the situation. They broadcast all summer that they had moved past the drama between Cousins and coach George Karl. Then the locker room tirade happened.
And yet, after that, they recovered. They moved past it, even as the Kings elected not to discipline Cousins beyond his apology to the team. They won five of eight at one point. Then the Celtics game happened in Mexico where Rondo was ejected. They lost two more.
And yet ... you get the idea.
The Kings always manage to crawl back from total disaster but never stray far from total chaos. They're always a stones throw from anonymous sources espousing how someone, somewhere is unhappy with the team yet always within arm's reach of a win streak.
At the center of all this is Cousins, who is never portrayed in the full, accurate light. Ever. Those that make him out to be a cancer that you can't win with him ignore his off-court community contributions which are downright inspiring, and they ignore his All-Star-caliber play. Those that want to act like there's not a problem with outbursts like Monday's incident ignore the fact that these are games the Kings need Cousins to be there for his team. They had a lead on the Warriors for crying out loud. A win of that caliber could spark something. Instead, Cousins flat-out couldn't control his emotions.
Cousins' defense is often blasted for its effort, and his advocates will charge that he's an underrated defender. Guess what? He is ... when he's not moping, pouting or focused on whatever happened on offense. When locked in, he can shut down pick and rolls, challenge at the rim and battle opponents in the post. He's a monster.
When he's worried about the call he didn't get, or the pass that wasn't thrown his way? He literally walks up the floor and compromises his team's chances.
You can't talk about Cousins honestly unless you focus on both sides.
The Kings shouldn't alienate Cousins with tough love because it won't work; that's been proven before by all of his coaches before Michael Malone. They also shouldn't excuse his behavior and act like his antics -- at age 25 no less-- are something to overlook. This isn't "Cousins being Cousins." These are incidents that hurt the team.
Consider what he told SLAM Magazine about leadership:
SLAM: So the focus is on winning, and you have to move from being a great player to being a winner. How do you embrace that mindset?
DMC: The biggest things is, it’s easy to lead when you’re winning. It’s easy to say all the right things. When you’re going through all the adversity and you’re losing and you’re at the bottom, that shows who the real leader is, in my eyes. It’s easy to lead when you’re winning. What’s tough about it—you’re already winning. So, I feel like the true leader comes out in tough times.
Source: Antidote | DeMarcus Cousins.
Except he was winning against the Warriors. That's when he failed the most. He says in that same interview that everyone's perception of him will change if he starts winning, and there's some truth to that. But he also won't start winning if he can't get out of his own way, if he can't stop disrupting the locker room, battling with the coaching staff and costing his team with techs. All of the things Cousins does that are good are great. All of the things Cousins does that are bad aren't just "not great" but can be downright detrimental and even crippling to a team badly in need of stability.
Consider what Kings blog Sactown Royalty wrote after the Warriors loss:
This game is the ultimate microcosm of this year's Sacramento Kings. Everybody knew about their wildcard talent. They gave hell to the best team in basketball on their turf in the first half by carpet bombing them so hard it took a vintage Steph Curry, I'm-The-Best-Shooter-Ever explosion to keep their team within striking distance. Everyone knows that side of the Kings. But everyone knows the flipside of the coin too. They're unstable. You can take them out of a game emotionally. The next meltdown is just around the corner. And tonight, again, its the headline for this story.
I fully realize that the Kings probably would have lost the game anyways, even had Boogie stayed in the game. But damn, was it such a terrible thing to find out on their own? It isn't just the L that they racked up in the standings that hurts, its the way they lost that's so emotionally draining. In the grand scheme of things this was just another loss that the Kings were supposed to lose. But if a DeMarcus Cousins-led team ever wants to take that next step into playoff contention, this game is as good as any for the talented big man to take a long hard look at and reflect on.
The Kings have a good team, hidden somewhere in there. That's why their fans were so defensive in the preseason towards all the criticism, but they also missed the point of that criticism, which has come true in every way: the Kings talent is overshadowed by their unstable, combustible nature, and until that changes, they're not going anywhere.
Cousins has the keys to drive this franchise to the playoffs, but they're not going anywhere until he stops sabotaging the vehicle. That's on Cousins, but it's also on the team. The Kings have to demand Cousins be better. He's no longer a youngster. He's the franchise, and he's got to act like it.