DeMarcus Cousins isn't just an enigma, he's a provocatively prolific talent who's potential has been stifled on his own accord.
And he knows it.
In an interview with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated, Cousins opened up about a number of things, none more introspective than the acknowledgment of his own flaws:
"Sometimes I let some of the small things take over," Cousins told SI.com. "It can be a simple thing, like a call going the wrong way, and it takes me all off. I've got a real problem when I know something is wrong or I feel something is wrong, I'm going to speak about it. I get it from my mother. It's a problem I have. I don't want to say I want to change it because it helped me get where I am. But at the same time, I have to learn to be quiet."
Quiet. It's not a word often (or ever) associated with Cousins. His boisterous on-court demeanor coupled with his capricious off-court disposition has rendered him a wild card.
On a daily basis, no one—least of all the Sacramento Kings—knows what version of the 22-year-old their going to see at practice or the games.
Will it be an angry Cousins who views referees, coaches and teammates as mere collateral damage when he's angry? Or will it be the dominant big man, who will willingly carry his team on both ends of the floor?
The ambiguous nature of his character and resolve is nothing short of both captivating and perplexing.
Why would someone so young, so full of potential risk what we believe to be most important to him? Why has he allowed this self-inflicted senselessness to taint what should be a career on the cusp of greatness?
Clearly, Cousins doesn't care.
Except that he does:
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm innocent, because I've done things," Cousins said. "But to get the reputation that I've got, I don't think I've done enough. I don't have a criminal record. Some of the guys with the cleanest image in the league have a record. I don't think I was given a fair chance. I don't know what I did in college that was so bad to get that reputation. OK, there is footage of me and Coach Cal going at each other. That happens in sports. Coming into the league, everyone said I was going to be fat, I was the next Oliver Miller. I had all these red flags. I just feel I was never given a fair chance coming in.
Cousins' continued admittance of the black cloud that has become his reputation is astonishing.
Given that very reputation, one wouldn't hesitate to conclude that the center gives a damn about how he is portrayed. If he did, the repeated offenses we have bore witness to wouldn't exist.
But they do. For all his talk about not having a criminal record, he fails to acknowledge that his list of NBA-related transgressions extends well beyond that of most veterans.
Punishable by the law outside of the Association or not, what's wrong is wrong. And this want, this borderline expectation of his that he be held to a different standard because his conflicts don't incorporate handcuffs is justifiably ridiculous and slightly perturbing.
It's a sign of immaturity, a sign of 22-year-old kid not fully grasping the magnitude of his situations. Thus, when he attempts to deflect blame toward the Sacramento franchise, he has failed, once again, to unconditionally own up to every one of his flaws as a person.
More troubling, though, is the fact that he's right.
A healthy portion of Cousins' shortcomings as both a player and person can be attributed to the failure of the Kings to develop him properly. It was their responsibility to take a kid out of college and assist in his becoming a man.
Yet they haven't, something Cousins takes exception to:
"No, I'm still not [given a chance]," Cousins said. "It flip flops. When everything is good, [the organization] is good. When things go bad, there is nothing about that good person they remember. I just want that balance. You are either with me or you're not."
Cousins scoffs at the notion that he might have anger management issues and says he was offended when the Kings suggested he seek counseling.
"I took it as an insult," Cousins said. "That's another thing, our organization doesn't even know me. They were looking for an excuse. I don't believe that is the way to solve issues. I'm an emotional guy. It's as simple as that."
Sacramento hasn't brought in—or even attempted to bring in—a savvy veteran to help ground the volatile Cousins.
Some youngsters, like a Kyrie Irving, are brought in and expected to reverse the narrative of an entire franchise on their own, without guidance. And those that are asked can sometimes. Others, though, can't.
Cousins is a part of the latter. He is need of mentor, someone who believes in him; someone who can help him believe himself.
Not only is he not afforded such a luxury, but he plays for perhaps the most self-destructive organization in the NBA. The Kings aren't known for player development. Just look at how they continue to misuse promising young guns like Tyreke Evans, Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas. Hell, they're not even known to maintain a fundamentally sound relationship with their fanbase, the one that they're openly trying to escape.
I'm not saying that Cousins isn't responsible for his own actions, because he is. As much as he's owned up to, he needs to own up to even more. He has begun to say the right things, now it's time for him to do the right things.
It's time for him to lead by example:
"That's like a trophy to me," Cousins said. "Taking a team no players really want to go to, a team considered the worst in the league, and through all the struggle and all the negativity, they found the way to win. I want to put Sacramento back on the map. I want to be an instrumental part of things changing here."
Somewhere in that 6'11", 270-pound body of Cousins' is a leader, a role model just waiting to come out. He just hasn't been provided with the right resources to actualize them.
From a tarnished reputation coming out of the draft, to a lack of direction on a team without one, Cousins isn't in an environment that's built for him to succeed. If it were, we wouldn't be question the Kings loyalty to him. Not when he's openly committed to making this team better.
And that's what troubles me. For all the crap Cousins forces us to wade through, we now know that he wants to do better. And believe it or not, he has done better.
The Cousins of one year ago wouldn't have been so forthcoming in his assessment of himself. He would have bottled up and lashed out. We must remember that he has made progress, that he isn't some malignant tumor that exists for the sole purpose of ruining the lives of those around him.
He wants to be liked.
Are the Kings the team to help him do that? Are they an entity that can aid in his maturation, show the faith in him that he needs to reach that next level?
Right now, they aren't. And considering how they've dealt with Cousins up until now, I'm not sure they will ever be.
"I just want to make things right," Cousins had said.
Unfortunately for him, he may not be able "to make things right" until he escapes the franchise, the environment that is the embodiment of all that is wrong.
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