What's next for DeMarcus Cousins?
Kings announce DeMarcus Cousins has been reinstated effective immediately from his indefinite suspension. He missed a practice and a game— JasonJones (@mr_jasonjones) December 24, 2012
The move comes just two days after the team suspended him indefinitely for a verbal altercation with head coach Keith Smart during Sacramento's 97-85 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Dec. 21.
But what happens when the next outburst comes, and the losses continue to pile up?
This latest incident was the third of note for Boogie through the first 26 games of the 2012-13 NBA season. He'd already been slapped with a two-game suspension for confronting San Antonio Spurs broadcaster and former player Sean Elliott on Nov 9. A month later, the league sat him down again, this time for one game after Cousins sent a shot to the groin of Dallas Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo on Dec 10.
Now, he's run afoul not only of someone who's a member of the same organization but also happens to be his staunchest supporter.
Keith Smart has gone above and beyond the call of duty to build a strong relationship with his volatile star ever since replacing Paul Westphal—whose firing may well have been Cousins' fault—just seven games into the 2011-12 campaign. In essence, DeMarcus bit the kindest feeding hand he'd yet seen since his pro debut in 2010.
Keep in mind that Cousins didn't exactly engender himself with the head honchos at Team USA over the summer. USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo had some stern advice after DeMarcus' time scrimmaging with the USA Select Team prior to the 2012 London Olympics (via Sam Amick of USA Today): "[He] has some growing up to do...He needs to mature as a person (and) as a player if he's going to have an outstanding NBA career."
Which is to say, this pattern of behavior is nothing new.
According to former NBA head coach and current ESPN analyst Flip Saunders, Cousins made it known during his interviews prior to the 2010 NBA draft that he had some emotional issues with which he's long grappled. Sam Amick reported on Dec. 24 that the Kings have encouraged Cousins to consult with a mental health counselor, but he has thus far refused.
Meanwhile, DeMarcus has opted for a change in representation. Per Sam Amick, Cousins has dumped long-time agent John Greig to join forces with Dan Fegan. The renowned basketball power broker has had a contentious history with the Kings—he represented Ricky Rubio in 2009, when Sacramento opted for Tyreke Evans with the fourth pick instead, and subsequently helped engineer Kevin Martin's move to the Houston Rockets.
Of greater note, though, is Fegan's most recent bit of NBA "homewrecking." He was the agent of record who advised Dwight Howard through his messy divorce from the Orlando Magic. Fegan was the one who informed the Magic of the teams to which Howard wanted to be traded and likely had a hand in orchestrating the series of miscues that turned his client's extraction into a full-fledged "Dwightmare."
It would seem, then, that Cousins is angling for an exit. He's burnt bridges left and right and appears to have charted a path out of Sactown with Fegan by his side.
And, perhaps, the Kings are prepared to oblige. The team pulled out a 108-96 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Dec. 23 sans Cousins. As Sam Amick noted earlier that day, Sacramento has indicated that DeMarcus isn't "untouchable" in trade talks but isn't actively shopping his services on the open market.
Nor should they. As much of a head case as Boogie may be, he's a truly talented player, one on whose shoulders the future of the franchise is riding, whether the Kings like it or not.
To be sure, DeMarcus' play this season has been nothing short of disappointing. His scoring and rebounding numbers have regressed from those posted during a promising sophomore campaign in 2011-12. He's shooting 41.4 percent from the field, which would be bad enough for a guard but is nothing short of abysmal for a manchild who stands nearly seven feet tall and weighs (upwards of) 270 pounds. His effort has waxed and waned with far too much volatility, especially when transitioning from offense to defense.
But the talent is still there, and it's as tantalizing as ever. He can operate in the low post, be it as a scorer or a facilitator—better than the vast majority of bigs in the league today. He can step out into the mid-range for a jump shot or deliver pinpoint passes from the high post.
Oh, and he can do this:
What's more, Boogie's only 22 and doesn't turn 23 until next August. He's still incredibly young with both the unlimited potential and frustrating immaturity that one might expect from a kid who's been given so much—in terms of money as well as responsibility—so soon and so quickly.
By all accounts, he's a pleasant person with a good heart, albeit one with a Hulk-like tendency to go off the rails when his emotions aren't held in check.
With time, patience and the proper support, Cousins can outgrow this tantrum-filled phase and allow his true ability to shine through. Whether the Kings can afford him those luxuries is another story.
Though, frankly, they can ill afford to deny him those, either. He's the only player on the current roster to whom Sacramento seems at all willing to hitch its wagon. Tyreke Evans is the "next best thing," but he's been on the decline since his sensational Rookie of the Year season in 2009-10. Evans' stagnation, injury problems and off-court concerns led the Kings to deny him an extension and, in turn, will allow him to wander into restricted free agency in July 2013.
That may well leave Cousins as the lone "star" to carry the Kings through what has been (and probably will be) another tumultuous period in the history of the NBA's most migrant franchise. They're on track to miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season, ever since longtime coach Rick Adelman was shown the door. Smart is the fifth coach to attempt a turnaround in California's capital in that time.
The pressure on him and Cousins to do so is greater than ever. The Maloof family, which has owned the Kings for some time, has seen its finances take a turn for the worse in recent years. Their poor luck—along with plummeting attendance and the disrepair into which the Kings' arena has fallen (and the city's inability to fund construction of a new one)—has prompted the Maloofs to seek asylum for their squad in a new market.
They nearly got their wish in 2011 when commissioner David Stern announced that the Kings had indeed discussed moving to Southern California to become the Anaheim Royals. Sacramento mayor and former All-Star point guard Kevin Johnson managed to stave off abandonment by pledging $10 million in sponsorship funds from local businesses, promising to work out a deal for the construction of a new facility and round up the support of billionaire businessman (and potential franchise buyer) Ron Burkle.
The city and the team managed to work out an agreement, the outline of which was approved by the Sacramento City Council in March 2012. However, the very next month, the Maloofs bailed on the agreement, thereby opening up a fresh round of relocation speculation.
This time, it appears as though the Pacific Northwest is calling. Seattle already has a plan in place to build a brand-new sports and entertainment complex and provide upgrades for Key Arena to serve as a suitable home while the new facility is under construction. It's no secret that the Kings are among those franchises most likely to be courted to revive the SuperSonics, if not the No. 1 option to do so.
What does DeMarcus have to do with any of this?
He's the only player in Sacramento with the talent around which to fashion a winning operation. He may not have the mental maturity to handle that task, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone else on the Kings' payroll capable of carrying the team on the court.
Simply put, this team needs to win or at least start showing signs of improvement, and Cousins is the only player who can turn this sad mess around. He's under contract through 2013-14 and is eligible for an extension during the upcoming summer but seems unlikely to garner such a commitment unless he steps up himself.
In any case, if the Kings continue to slide, they can only expect fans to continue to stay away from what's now known as Sleep Train Arena, for the sponsors to flee and for Bill Walton to...well, be Bill Walton.
All of which would leave them ever more vulnerable to relocation.
DeMarcus Cousins is hardly guaranteed to quash all of that. If anything, he may be too much of a wild card to expect that he'll get his act together and ignite a miraculous run to save basketball in Sacramento.
But, at this point, he's all the Kings have. Teams will come calling about Boogie's availability prior to the Feb. 21 trade deadline. Chances are, though, they'll lowball Kings general manager Geoff Petrie with their offers in an attempt to fleece the team in pursuit of its most important asset.
The reasoning behind that strategy is simple: He's a supremely gifted player with oodles of potential, but any team looking to acquire him is also taking a considerable risk in doing so. That risk—the outbursts, the verbal spats, the physical confrontations and so on—drags down DeMarcus' value. As such, if the Kings are to "sell him off," they'll have to do so for pennies on the dollar.
They can't afford to do that. For better or worse, DeMarcus is the Obi-Wan Kenobi to Sacramento's Princess Leia.
The Kings need help, and he's their only hope.