The NBA is full of enigmas, but there's none more perplexing than Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, who was recently suspended by the NBA for punching Houston Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley on Tuesday night.
Not only that, but Cousins was also fined $20,000 for berating officials after he was called for a ticky-tack foul on Dwight Howard.
Unfortunately for Cousins and the Kings, immature outbursts and the resulting discipline are a familiar refrain that have come to define a player who should be lauded for his All-Star caliber skills and not his often infantile demeanor.
However, Cousins now sits atop the league leaderboard when it comes to technical fouls, and is just one away from an automatic suspension after his latest infraction.
So where do the Kings go from here? They just inked Cousins to a four-year, $62 million extension, and while his numbers are spiking, his attitude doesn't resemble that of a franchise centerpiece.
Possessing a resume loaded with violent reactions and temper tantrums, it's time to go explore just how much patience the Kings should have with their troubled center.
Cousins' history of infractions
As mentioned previously, Cousins' statistical brilliance this season has been overshadowed by a penchant for losing his cool.
With 15 fouls of the technical variety, Cousins is two clear of Blake Griffin for the league's top spot and five fouls ahead of both Lance Stephenson and Markieff Morris.
Sadly, this isn't a new trend.
Dating back to his rookie season, Cousins has ranked among the league's top five in terms of technical fouls each year and earned the esteemed title of league leader in the dubious category last season with 17. In fact, since 2010-11, Cousins hasn't compiled fewer than 12 techs in a single campaign.
But the fun doesn't end there.
Cousins ranked tied for first during his rookie season with three ejections and has compiled six over the three seasons since, including four last year (No. 2 overall behind Larry Sanders).
The bad news is that this isn't simply a matter of Cousins losing his cool and barking at refs. It has to do with physical altercations, as well.
Beyond Tuesday's incident with Beverley, Cousins has a track record for getting into it with opponents.
Just ask Kris Humphries.
Or Mike Dunleavy.
In addition, NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper notes that Tuesday wasn't the first time Cousins decided to ball up his fist and attack an opponent:
Now he has been suspended for punching a player for the second time in as many seasons, following the one-game hit in December 2012 for striking O.J. Mayo of the Mavericks in the groin. And that is on top of Cousins leading the league in technicals in 2013-14 and, thanks to Tuesday’s ejection, being one T away from an automatic one-game suspension, with the possibility of more to follow.
"Let me just be honest," Cousins said. "A lot of technicals I receive aren’t (deserved). So I really can’t say what I can do different. Maybe just not show up for the game. I really can’t answer that question."
Talent too good to ignore?
Truthfully, it's a shame that Cousins has given us so many instances to evaluate his immaturity, because his talent is so unique that we should be celebrating its brilliance.
In his fourth season, Cousins has evolved into a bona fide superstar at center, averaging career highs in points (22.3), rebounds (11.5), assists (2.9), steals (1.6) and field-goal percentage (48.3).
And as if those figures weren't impressive enough, Cousins' player efficiency rating has jumped more than five points from last season, and his mark of 25.7 has him ranked behind only Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Kevin Love, Chris Paul and Anthony Davis. Among centers, Cousins ranks No. 1 overall in PER.
A rare offensive talent whose defensive rating sits at a career-best mark of 102 under first-year head coach Mike Malone, Cousins has displayed tremendous growth in just a few short months.
The fact remains, though, that we'd rather lament Cousins' inability to keep his temper in check than pore over his statistical excellence and ponder his seemingly limitless ceiling.
It may seem unfair, but it's hard to evaluate such a bewildering specimen without digging into his troubled past.
Will Sacramento's patience wear thin?
Even if it does, Cousins isn't going anywhere. He just signed a new deal that effectively made him the face of the franchise and has been piling up numbers that justify the payday.
So what are the Kings to do? Fines and suspensions only accomplish so much, and the league's punishments have been more than fair.
In order to evolve into the level-headed superstar that the Kings so desperately want him to be, Cousins needs to take ownership of his actions.
Consider the following words from Malone, per The Sacramento Bee, which indicate that the Kings are willing to be patient with their stud big man:
He’s a talented, emotional player, which is fine, but how do you handle that emotion? There’s going to be adversity, so you can’t look to avoid adversity. He’s going to have to look to find a way to get comfortable with adversity, handle it and control it. When he gets that, we’ll have a hell of a player on our hands.
And guess what? The Kings aren't the only ones who have a vested interest in Cousins undergoing an attitude transformation.
According to Howard-Cooper, Cousins recently fell back into favor with Team USA brass, although this latest blemish could have some far-reaching effects:
This won’t get Cousins removed from the mailing list for invitations for the Team USA camp in Las Vegas after the summer league schedule, but it’s an obvious setback at the very wrong time. If he could have gone from putting up All-Star numbers this season to a positive review from the most impartial judges possible, Chairman C and Coach K, Cousins would have positioned himself as a legitimate dependable star.
If Cousins is ultimately dropped from the player pool, perhaps that will serve as the wake-up call he so desperately needs.
The good news for the Kings is that Cousins is still just 23 years old, with plenty of room for improvement, both physically and mentally.
And considering how much time and money Sacramento has already invested in him, the Kings really don't have any other choice but to exercise patience.
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