Posted Jan 3 2012 12:27AM
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- At least he didn't let loose with the punch that could have blasted a tunnel through Pau Gasol, and at least he didn't arrive at training camp as out of shape as last time, and at least he didn't complain after every non-call the first four games.
This is the Kings' world of emphasizing the encouraging moments of the talented-but-tempestuous DeMarcus Cousins while leaving cracks to let the honesty in. That has been the clear approach since they drafted him in 2010. Support Cousins, but do not cover for him.
So it was Sunday that the team announced he had been told not to report to the home game that night against the Hornets. Not only that, the statement, which strangely was from coach Paul Westphal and not Geoff Petrie, the head of basketball operations, or owners Joe or Gavin Maloof, said Cousins had "demanded" a trade. Still more: "Everything that happens on a team does not become known to the public. This is how it should be. However, when a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely."
Translation: Cousins' difficult transition to the NBA is much worse than what's been reported.
Cousins' agent, John Grieg, told Sam Amick of SportsIllustrated.com there had been no such trade request, and confusion reigned. The night ended with the Kings beating New Orleans and Westphal saying, not via written statement, that Cousins is free to join the team on the flight Monday to Memphis if he wants to be part of the team.
If Cousins stays behind as the team jets away, the Kings have a mounting issue in a season when they need everything to go right to reach respectability in the standings. If Cousins is on board, literally and figuratively, they'll chalk it up to a "learning experience."
Everything with Cousins is relative and always has been. Teams wouldn't touch him in the Draft despite being the second-best talent on the board at worst and maybe No. 1 ahead of John Wall. But off the court, red flags were everywhere with Cousins as his maturity level and professional focus were questioned.
Thursday, three days before sending Cousins to his room, Westphal was sitting on the Kings' bench about an hour before tipoff against the Bulls and talking about how the 21-year-old starting center was, or was not, handling himself better in the second season.
"I think he's really trying to address the things that need to be addressed to see him take a big leap forward," Westphal said. "He's making steps in the right direction. I think he's controlling his emotions a little bit better. He's working on his conditioning a little bit better. He's picking his spots a little bit better. I think he's making progress. I wouldn't say there's any night-and-day transformation, but he's making progress."
How about Cousins' work ethic? How was his conditioning at the start of camp?
"Better than last year," Westphal said.
Which put him where? Good conditioning? Bad conditioning?
"Better than last year," he repeated. "Improved."
That could just mean there was a lot of room for improvement.
"He's making progress."
And the season opener against the Lakers, when Cousins claimed he got elbowed by Gasol and responded by cocking his arm as if preparing to hit Gasol?
"It certainly was good self control that all he did was bring it back," Westphal said. "That was great. And when you watch the film, he's trying to go get a rebound, and you had Pau grabbing one arm and I think it was Matt Barnes or (Metta World Peace) grabbing the other. Literally, just holding him with two hands on each arm. You can see where a guy would get a little frustrated when that happens."
Around the league, a grand total of zero people are surprised. This -- the dedication issues, being told to stay away, the fuse -- are why some teams doubt Cousins will ever come close to the All-Star potential of a 6-foot-11, 270-pounder with strength, moves and skills. It is why 13 months ago, when six executives were asked to choose which rookie power forward would have the best career, Blake Griffin understandably got the most support and Derrick Favors was second, while one said of Cousins that "I definitely don't take the other guy" and another called it "Favors 1, Griffin 2, Cousins way behind at 3" and a third replied "I wouldn't want to coach him."
Around the same time Westphal was read-between-the-lines revealing, Cousins was in front of his locker in Power Balance Pavilion, preparing to face the Bulls. He was insightful as well.
"I could have handled situations a lot better," he said. "But at the same time, I don't regret it because it made me a better person and a better player."
Can you put the problems in the past, though? Can you eliminate the problems?
"Eliminate?" Cousins said. "I'm going to continue to be myself. I'm going to be continue to be the player that I am. At the same time, I'm just going to try to handle situations better."
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