When is it time to pull the plug on an experiment? It’s a question that has plagued the Sacramento Kings since they chose DeMarcus Cousins with the fifth overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft.
GM and Vice President of Basketball Operations Vlade Divac is new to this story, but he’s already chosen his side. He is pro-DeMarcus. He sees the enormous talent in his prized center and he believes that there is a pathway to success.
In case you missed it, Cousins lost his cool during the Kings’ 120-111 defeat to the Cavs on Wednesday night. Cousins broke protocol and blew up head coach George Karl while cameras and 17,314 fans watched on.
Divac was summoned from his executive office to sit in the hot seat following Thursday’s Kings practice. His media relations staff had just sent out a press release telling the world that he had suspended his star player for Friday night’s game against the Orlando Magic.
“I think DeMarcus is doing very well this year, and playing really hard,” Divac said. “This is something (where) he was emotionally overwhelmed. Something that he shouldn’t do. We (needed) to send a message about what kind of organization we’re going to build. It’s (not a) big deal about it.”
Divac fielded questions, but mostly skated around the serious issues at hand. What little we could glean from this situation is that Cousins still has the backing of the Kings brass.
Cousins and Divac have grown close over the season. They have open lines of communication, but even your favorite son has to pay the price sometimes.
“He’s a good kid, I hate doing this, but I’m the general manager that has to sometimes do hard stuff,” Divac added. “I don’t blame him for the emotions he had, but it’s the wrong thing to do.”
It’s an interesting statement to make. Divac doesn’t blame Cousins for being emotional at the situation at hand. It was obvious that Cousins wasn’t the only Kings player wishing their coach would step in and pick up a technical as the game against the Cavs shifted out of control. But sitting courtside during a timeout is just the wrong time and place to let the crazy out of the bag.
This isn’t the first time this season that Cousins and Karl have been at odds. It’s more like the fourth or fifth time. They have clashed over rotations, plays, pace, schemes and a myriad of other issues as the Kings season has spiraled down the drain. With 19 games remaining on the schedule, this may not be the last time Mount Cousins erupts.
The Kings have some tough questions to answer during the offseason, but it begins and ends with the relationship between coach and player. Both Cousins and Karl are under contract for two more seasons. Cousins is the team’s most valuable asset, but do you trade a star-level player in order to keep a coach that is long in the tooth?
“I don’t think so, I think he’s a very talented kid that improved this year big time and we’ll still work with him together,” Divac said when asked if he intended to trade Cousins this summer. “I believe in this team. I think we have the talent. Yes, we’re not happy with the results, but with some improvements we can definitely be the playoff team we want to be.”
The fact is, there is never going to be a good time to send Cousins packing. You can’t do it when he’s at the height of his game. And you can’t do it after another situation like the one the Kings are currently in.
Sacramento will struggle to find another player with this type of talent and skill. While he can drive people crazy, Cousins has Hall of Fame potential and if his team was knee deep in the playoffs, he would be recognized for his production as well.
Cousins knows that he has been a distraction at times, but he also knows that Sacramento is a place that deserves a break. He loves the city and he loves the fans who have embraced him from the time he was 19 years old. He has said countless times that he wants to be part of the team that breaks the Kings’ 10-year playoff drought.
Keep in mind that while Cousins can be a distraction, he’s not the one who tried to relocate the Kings two or three times from 2010 to 2012. He didn’t draft Thomas Robinson over Damian Lillard, or Jimmer Fredette over Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. He didn’t trade Isaiah Thomas for a trade exception and he certainly didn’t fire Michael Malone while his best player was down with a prolonged illness.
The Kings have a lot of other issues not named DeMarcus Cousins. But at some point the experiment has to pay off or you have to scrap it. Six seasons in and the Kings have never won more than 29 games with Cousins. Even if they rally and surpass that number this season, they will still likely fall short of the ultimate goal of making the playoffs.
But Divac likes the build of his team and Cousins is the centerpiece. The bond between he and Cousins has grown. It’s hard to imagine the Kings not giving this one more go next season with a new coach and a new arena.