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George Karl's cautionary tale: Beware of DeMarcus Cousins

George Karl's cautionary tale: Beware of DeMarcus Cousins

Out of Sacramento, Ailene Voisin reported for The Bee earlier this week that Kings GM Vlade Divac finally is open to trading DeMarcus Cousins who is under contract at $16.4 million per through 2018, this summer. It might drive a some to give them a call, but most NBA-connected personnel already know what they'd be dealing with. Fired coach George Karl had a candid chat with Voisin to erase all doubt of what went wrong as he failed to get a team to a winning record for the first time in his career.

Karl was doomed by the organization’s chronic dysfunction from the start. Karl was a popular hire among Kings fans when he replaced Tyrone Corbin, who was treated like a doormat by Cousins after Michael Malone’s brutally ill-conceived firing. But Karl stepped into a situation that doubled as a septic tank long before his plane touched down.

There were enough different agendas at Sleep Train to jam the fax machine. Cousins’ agents, Dan Fegan and Jarinn Tasi Akana – the latter a member of the Denver staff who was let go when Karl was hired by the Nuggets in 2004 – lobbied hard against Karl and poisoned the coach-player relationship before the introduction. Former general manager Pete D’Alessandro signed off on Karl’s hiring only to openly engage fans in an outrageous divide-and-conquer debate: Are you with Karl or Cousins?

Karl admitted to Voisin that he was wrong for saying no player was untradeable, permanently mudding a murky situation with Cousins. By no means was Karl flawless. As a GM, Divac isn't exactly the most qualified person for that job, either, execpt that he had played for the Kings. 

Cousins, however, still hasn’t shown a shred of maturity after six years as a pro. There’s a reason as the best player on the Kings he has never led them to the playoffs (or more than 33 wins) despite playing for multiple coaches (Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin and Karl). Supposedly, if he’d gotten a coach with a track record for winning and accomplishment in Karl, an NBA Coach of the Year winner, he’d behave. That didn’t happen. Instead of going into the 2015-16 season on a good note, he childishly chose to keep the tensions high:

Divac walked into the crowded gym during the Las Vegas Summer League, accompanied by Cousins, other players and assistant general manager Mike Bratz, while Karl sat at the other side of the facility. When Karl approached, Cousins only reluctantly shook his hand and then turned away, embarrassing his coach in front of dozens of his NBA colleagues and thousands of viewers following the drama on NBATV. “Vlade thought he was helping me,” said Karl, “but that looked really bad.”

A blowup happened Nov. 8 when Cousins cussed out Karl after a game. The coach wanted a two-game suspension while Divac opted to fine him in a more diplomatic decision. Said Karl:

That night the bomb went off. Vlade was right there. When they supported Cousins instead of me, I felt, ‘OK, I’m in the compromise position. Cuz has the power. They sent that message many times, too many times sent it to the players. And the players wanted someone to stand up to Cuz, and they wanted it to be their coach. But at that point, I realized that you either  you compromise or you blow it up, and my job was to make us a better basketball team and get to the end of the year.

There's a reason why successful franchises such as the San Antonio Spurs and now Golden State Warriors are where they are. They don't consider free agents or trades with Cousins' coach-killing reputation and attitude. When the draft comes around, certain players who are more talented than others won't even make their way on their draft boards. They're not even up for discussion. And if that Trojan horse sneaks into the locker room, he's quickly shipped out for little or nothing in return. It's addition by subtraction.

That sort of perspective takes discipline from the top down. Teams that lack it tend to be in the lottery each year. For the Wizards, who fired coach Randy Wittman and brought in Scott Brooks for a fresh start after missing the playoffs, Cousins isn't an option nor should he be. Brooks' presence as a players' coach is to change the tone of a locker room that developed friction with the previous coach. Adding a volatile personality such as Cousins won't help that. It'll make it worse. And Markieff Morris, who the Wizards acquired in a trade with the Suns in February after having a blowup with his coaches, is nothing like Cousins personality-wise and has had a clean record before that (and those coaches vouched for his character to the Wizards, something Karl or previous coaches won't do for Cousins).

As Karl said, Cousins wasn't liked by a lot of players in his own locker room. Earlier this season, when the Kings were at Verizon Center, Cousins led a spirited pregame debate on whether or not Tupac Shakur was alive. Contrast this to four years ago, when I was in the Kings' locker room in Minnesota, and Cousins led a similar goofy discussion 90 minutes before tipoff while then-rookie Jimmer Fredette rolled his eyes in disbelief that he was part of such an incredibly unprofessional atmosphere. This was a group in which when Smart was coach, players would look at their phones and text during film study (yes, Cousins was one of them).

Go in most locker rooms before tip off, players are reading scouting reports, looking at scouting video on the big screen, quietly focusing in with their music, stretching in the trainer's room or studying their concepts for that particular game. In Sacramento, it always has been a comedy show much like the product put on the floor.

Marco Belinelli, who won an NBA title with the Spurs before going to the Kings this season, told this to Sportando about his eye-opening experience:

“I saw some very bad stuff in the locker room. Coming from a perfect organization like the Spurs, I was pretty surprised to see stuff like that”

The best player on a team, especially one with All-Star caliber talent, sets the tone for that and should at least be able to lead his team to a winning record once in six years. His stats should translate to something beyond fantasy league basketball wins. That hasn't happened with Cousins and in those six years there has been one constant in Sacramento. 

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After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

After getting little rest during All-Star break, Bradley Beal aims to be smart in second half

If anyone on the Wizards deserves some time off to rest it's Bradley Beal, who currently ranks fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. While his teammates were off on vacation, many of them at relaxing beaches far away, Beal was making appearance after appearance in Los Angeles as part of All-Star weekend.

The one drawback of Beal being selected as an All-Star and a contestant in the three-point contest was that he got little rest in the past week. He only made it one round in the three-point contest and played 16 minutes in the All-Star Game, but all of it was enough to soak up much of the free time he's used to getting this time of the year.

"Not as much as I needed to," Beal said when asked if he got any rest over the break. "I guess that's one of the downfalls of being an All-Star."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

The workload has really added up for Beal. He leads the Wizards in minutes (36.4/g) and is one of two players on the team who hasn't missed a game all season.

Beal did have Monday and Tuesday off, but that was after a crosscountry flight and a whirlwind of a weekend. He called the media and sponsorship appearances "overwhelming." Many All-Stars have been there before and know what to expect, but Beal was a first-time participant.

Beal and the Wizards will be given no breaks with their upcoming schedule. They have four back-to-back sets in the next three weeks and begin with a stretch of five games in seven days. Those games will feature the Cavs, Warriors, Bucks, Sixers and the Hornets. Charlotte is the only team of that bunch currently out of the playoff picture, but they have already beaten the Wizards twice this season.

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For Beal, it will be extra important to get any rest that he can.

"I will definitely be smart," he said. "I just gotta take care of my body. Listen to my body."

Beal says getting treatment from the Wizards' training staff in between games will be crucial. He also hopes to not over-exert himself in games by trusting his teammates and not trying to carry the load with John Wall out.

Though Beal may be tired from the weekend, he came out of it feeling pretty good about how he represented himself and the Wizards on the All-Star stage. He scored 14 points in 16 minutes in a game featuring the best players on the planet.

Beal now wants to make it an annual thing.

"I defintiely think it can push you more down the line. For me, it's just motivation to continue geting better," he said.

RELATED: WIZARDS HAVE BIG QUESTIONS TO ANSWER IN SECOND HALF

 

 

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Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

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USA Today Sports Images

Scott Brooks preparing Wizards for much tougher road ahead

The Wizards entered the All-Star break having won seven of their previous nine games since John Wall went down with an injury, so a natural question to head coach Scott Brooks looking ahead to their first game back on Thursday was how he and his team can keep that momentum going in the second half.

Brooks immediately pointed to the Wizards' schedule, which gets notably more difficult in the coming weeks. They have a stretch of games over the next month-plus that features the best teams in basketball and Brooks knows that will be a big factor in whether they can sustain what they have going.

"Definitely the schedule gets tougher," Brooks said. "We've got a lot of good teams coming up starting with the first one in Cleveland. It's five games in seven nights against really good teams."

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

In the next five weeks, the Wizards will play 15 of 17 games against teams currently holding playoff spots. That includes the Cavaliers, Warriors, Celtics, Spurs (twice), Raptors and Timberwolves. 

That will represent a marked shift for the Wizards, who to this point have the weakest strength of schedule. Though they boast impressive wins over the Celtics, Rockets, Raptors and Timberwolves, they are about to play teams of that caliber more frequently with few nights off to rest. They have four back-to-back sets all in the next three weeks.

The upcoming stretch has been on the Wizards' minds for a while. Several players referenced their tough schedule before the All-Star break, knowing those wins leading up to the time off could prove extra important in hindsight.

The Wizards return to action on Thursday night against the Cavaliers, a team that has already beaten them twice. Both of those games were against the old version of the Cavs before they traded much of their roster at the deadline.

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Gone are Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert, Jae Crowder and Channing Frye. But they still have that guy LeBron James.

"Shoot, they looked good the other time, right? They beat us twice with the other group," Brooks noted. "LeBron is going to go down as one of the best ever. They are younger and more athletic. They're a good team and they still have an All-Star in [Kevin] Love who hasn't played because he's hurt."

The Cavs haven't lost in three games since the All-Star break and that includes road wins over the Celtics and Thunder. They look rejuvenated and, at least so far, improved from the aging, incongruent roster they had just weeks ago.

The Wizards have also been playing better lately, of course, and this upcoming stretch will be a major test for them. Wall has been out three weeks since he had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He is likely to miss another three-to-five weeks. The Wizards will have to get through this without him.

If they can remain competitive and even beat some of these elite teams, they will only gain more confidence in their potential. That's the way Brooks plans to approach the schedule.

"We still want to be a better team when John comes back," Brooks said. "But the schedule definitely gets a lot tougher."

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