After missing the cut in each of his past two invites to Team USA camp, DeMarcus Cousins is on the verge of learning the third time is definitely not the charm.
And a potential cut ahead of the FIBA World Cup, if it happens, will hurt worse than any before.
Long story short, Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins may be in danger of missing out on the final cut. Krzyzewski didn't come out and say it, but he did make it clear that the fourth-year player's style (wildly-talented offensively but subpar defensively) isn't as preferable as some of Team USA's other options.
ESPN's Brian Windhorst first raised the possibility of Cousins' exclusion on Twitter:
2 things from Team USA: post practice games between Durant/Harden/George are epic; Mason Plumlee likely to make team over DeMarcus Cousins— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) July 31, 2014
Cousins' reputation is no secret. In fact, to casual fans, he's defined first by his on-court blow-ups and generally put-upon demeanor—a shame, really, because a 6'10" giant who moves like a guard and lacks any visible ceiling from a talent perspective should be known for other things.
But Cousins has led the NBA in technical fouls twice, amassing more total violations during his four-year career than anyone else in the league.
His outbursts: too common to register as shocks anymore.
The constant questions about his maturity: earned.
Oddly, though, it doesn't seem Cousins' looming dismissal will owe to the behavior problems he's had throughout his career. Instead, style of play is the explanation on offer from head coach Mike Krzyzewski.
Per Amick, Coach K explained: "In DeMarcus' case, the style we play lends itself to what Anthony does, or even what a Plumlee is doing. ... DeMarcus' game is different, so he has an adjustment to make and he's trying to make it."
That's vague, but we can safely assume Team USA's coaching staff would prefer to use their backup big spots on better defenders who are lower-usage players. Guys who fit into the "catch ball, dunk ball" category don't take shots from guys like Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and James Harden.
And even if Cousins improved significantly by some defensive metrics last season, he's still prone to bouts of inattention, and he can always be counted on to give away possessions because he's busy scowling and shouting at officials.
The unstated implication of Coach K's comments is that in terms of both game and attitude (perhaps with an emphasis on the latter), Plumlee is simply a better fit. That's not an indefensible position, and on a team loaded with the best talent in the world, maybe there's no need to take on Cousins' baggage when he's only going to fill a backup role.
Of course, any justifications sound suspect because Krzyzewski coached Plumlee from 2009-13 at Duke.
Going forward, exclusion from this year's FIBA roster might feed into the reputation Cousins has crafted for himself, making it even more difficult to shake in the future.
A point of order here: Cousins has put himself in this position. No mischievous spirit occupies his body and forces him to whine and scream like a child at referees. And no worldwide conspiracy is hard at work making up rumors about his immaturity or how difficult he can be to coach.
Say what you want about the influence of the Sacramento Kings' poisonous dysfunction and its destructive impact on player development, but don't make the mistake of using it to excuse Cousins' behavior. After all, not every King piled up the technicals, suspensions and fines Cousins has over the past four years.
By all accounts, though, none of the big man's baggage came with him to Team USA camp. Instead, he gave his best effort and avoided the mistakes that have haunted his NBA career.
"I came in, did what I could do, controlled what I could control. So, everything's in the air. We'll see what happens from here," Cousins told reporters (via Amick) while reclined on a training table.
It appears Cousins' best, most mature efforts weren't enough.
And here's the thing: This isn't even the Olympic team we're dealing with. If Cousins can't make the FIBA squad, which boasts relatively soft frontcourt competition (Kevin Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge aren't involved), it's fair to assume he'll never break through.
Every team Cousins has ever been a part of has made concessions about his attitude because he was so insanely talented. Team USA doesn't have to do that . It has enough talent.
The biggest concern of all, of course, is that Cousins' reputation—even if it may not be the cause of his dismissal—could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. To some extent, that's already happening: He comes into any Team USA camp with a strike against him because of his past, which could be a serious source of frustration.
We all know how Cousins has reacted to frustration in the past, and if he sulks or complains about unfair treatment, everyone watching will look at one another and say something along the lines of "See? I told you he wasn't ready."
We already look for the worst in Cousins because his track record creates that expectation. It's hard to be sympathetic because Cousins is an adult and responsible for his actions—and the way they shape people's perceptions of him.
But it's hard to argue he'll ever get a fair shake from here on out.
Realistically, if Cousins is cut from the FIBA roster, it will probably be the death knell of an international career that never came to life in the first place.
Missing out on the World Cup won't be a significant blow to Cousins' NBA career, though it certainly hurts the narrative that he's grown up—even if it might be increasingly true.
Cousins is still just 23, and while he's a long way behind most of his peers in the maturity department, that doesn't mean he won't someday catch up. God help us all if our own emotional and mental progress came to a halt at age 23.
It's easy to forget how young Cousins is. And while youth doesn't excuse his behavior, it provides context. He can change; there's still plenty of time for that.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like any amount of growth will ever be enough to earn Cousins a spot on the national team. Instead of the third time being the charm, Cousins' third strike will render him permanently out.