There is never a simple day in the shared life of the Sacramento Kings and superstar center DeMarcus Cousins. But even for this volatile marriage, Tuesday stood out as a memorable day among many.
Within the span of this single day, Cousins had:
- Been fined a reported $50,000 by the team for a video taped run-in with a columnist from the local paper, The Sacramento Bee, earlier this month.
- Issued an apology that expressed regret to everyone but the columnist with whom he was initially upset.
- Got ejected from Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento against the Portland Trail Blazers for getting a technical for spitting out his mouthpiece at Portland’s bench following an and-one layup that put the Kings ahead by two inside the final minute of the fourth quarter.
- After sprinting back to the locker room following his ejection, the officials then conferred and decided his mouthpiece accidentally came out of his mouth, and summoned Cousins back from the locker room to finish the game.
- The Kings then won the game, 126-119, with Cousins finishing with 55 points and 13 rebounds to move Sacramento into a tie with Portland and Denver in the loss column for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
- In his television walk-off postgame interview, Cousins said the word “ridiculous” about a dozen times in a minute, and accused the league’s referees of conspiring against him.
Talk about an action-packed day.
But for all of the insanity that took place in Sacramento on Tuesday, the truth is that it simply reinforced the Cousins Conundrum for the Kings: When a player is this talented, is there ever a threshold where enough is enough?
If anyone will reach that threshold, it’s Cousins, who is a ridiculously talented player. An ox of a man who can both barrel through any defender to the basket and also be a threat beyond the three-point line, there’s nothing Cousins can’t do offensively. And he can be an effective defensive presence when he’s focused and engaged.
There’s never been any doubt, however, about Cousins’s talent, going back to when he was John Wall’s teammate at Kentucky. What there have been plenty of doubts about is his temperament. Wall was the obvious top pick in the 2010 NBA draft, after he and Cousins declared following their freshman seasons. But while Cousins was clearly the second-best player from a talent standpoint, he wound up going fifth to the Kings, as the Philadelphia 76ers (Evan Turner), the then-New Jersey Nets (Derrick Favors) and Minnesota Timberwolves (Wesley Johnson) all went in other directions.
While various reasons were stated at the time, the truth was obvious: Cousins was deemed too risky to take with such a high pick. So, of course, he went to the team owned by the Maloof family — which owned The Palms Casino in Las Vegas.
It’s been a roller-coaster ride ever since, with Cousins turning into a monster talent — one good enough to make multiple all-star and all-NBA team appearances, as well as be named to Team USA for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics.
But there has been controversy at nearly every turn. His career has been dogged by run-ins with every coach he’s had, from Paul Westphal up through George Karl last season (at least so far, things have been all right with current Coach Dave Joerger through the first 28 games). At the same time, the Kings have arguably been the most chaotic franchise in the league, changing owners and burning through coaches and front-office personnel. This is partly how Sacramento turned six consecutive top 10 picks since drafting Cousins into exactly zero surefire NBA rotation players — let alone quality starters — to play alongside him, an almost unheard of lack of success even in the inexact science of the draft.
That, along with Sacramento doing everything it can to climb into the eighth seed in the Western Conference, has the Kings where they are now: on a treadmill of mediocrity, with no clear path up or down.
Part of that also includes what to do with Cousins himself. After six years of missing the playoffs with him, it would seem like a divorce would be inevitable before his contract expires in 2018. But the new collective bargaining agreement, which was agreed upon last week, gives both sides a reason to keep things going: the new designated player rule, which will allow Cousins to be given a five-year contract extension by the Kings on July 1 that will be worth more than $200 million.
Now, even if the most realistic thing for everyone involved is a fresh start, it’s impossible for the Kings to do so when they have the potential of locking up one of the game’s most talented players for the next six seasons in six months.
Players of Cousins’s talent — even with everything else that follows him — don’t come along every day. And this is precisely why Sacramento finds itself with the Cousins Conundrum on its hands. Is he a player that’s too good to give up on, or is everything that comes with having him too much to deal with?
Before the Kings can solve their many other problems, they have to decide what the right answer is to that question. Only the franchise’s future depends on the answer.