DeMarcus Cousins is nothing close to perfect. He blew up at a local columnist last week, causing a distraction for a team that otherwise had good vibes going. The incident cost him $50,000 and a hit to his already bruised reputation.
His defense remains inconsistent. He has a league-leading 10 technical fouls in 28 games. On Tuesday, with one tech already on the books, he spit his mouthpiece at Meyers Leonard. The officials initially gave Cousins a second technical and ejected him.
Cousins scored 55 points in that game, and the refs brought him back once they determined he didn’t throw the mouthpiece at Leonard. Cousins helped the Kings win. He’s averaging 29.3 points (third in the league) and 10.3 rebounds per game, and is No. 11 in the league in ESPN’s real plus-minus and No. 4 in PER. He’s hitting 37 percent of his threes while taking nearly five per game.
The Kings are 11-17, on pace for 32 wins, which would be one fewer than last season’s 33, which was Sacramento’s high-water mark since Cousins was drafted in 2010.
It’s easy to blame Cousins for the Kings’ woes, because he has been literally the only constant over the past six years and change. Ownership has changed, the front office has changed twice, the coach has been replaced five times. The roster has been a constant churn.
But those Kings’ woes extend to a time before Boogie, and have a helluva lot to do with the fact that every Kings general manager of the past 10 years has struggled mightily to put talent around Cousins.
The Kings have made 10 straight lottery picks. Check out how those have gone.
Ten straight lottery picks, nearly all of them in the top 10. One NBA All-Star. Even the solid picks — Jason Thompson, Tyreke Evans — were wasted in the long run. (Thompson was in Sacramento long enough to get high on some franchise all-time record lists. The Kings tried to replace him just about every year, and are still searching for a power forward.)
The best Kings draft pick of the best 10 years other than Cousins isn’t represented on that chart because he was the No. 60 pick in 2011 draft: Isaiah Thomas. Former GM Geoff Petrie made that pick. Three years later, after Thomas averaged 20 points per game at age 24, the Kings under Pete D’Alessandro let him walk in free agency for nothing. He signed a modest deal with Phoenix and has since become an All-Star in Boston. (He’s averaging 26 points per game this season.)
One of the great, depressing bar debates in Sacramento right now is determining which of the Kings’ three GMs of the past decade is the worst.
The case for Petrie: Needing a defensive wing in 2011, he traded down in the draft to acquire an aging John Salmons and to pick Jimmer Fredette. (Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard were left on the board for well-run franchises to nab.) A couple days after that boner, Petrie traded Omri Casspi and a protected first for J.J. Hickson. Hickson lasted half a season before being waived. The Kings still owe that pick, now to Chicago.
The case for D’Alessandro: He let Thomas walk, he picked Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas back to back and he had a hand in firing Michael Malone while Cousins recovered from a bout of meningitis. He may have also been involved in hiring George Karl later that season — this is disputed. D’Alessandro also alienated enough people (by openly lying, allegedly) that you will struggle to find a single person in Sacramento to say a nice thing about him. (This is not the case with Petrie or our next contestant.)
The case for current GM Vlade Divac: In the halcyon days of July 2015, he traded Stauskas, contract filler, two pick swap options and a future unprotected first to Philadelphia for ... cap space. Divac then used this cap space, as described in the graphic above, to sign Rajon Rondo, Kosta Koufos, Marco Belinelli, and Omri Casspi.
Rondo lasted one year and the Kings made no effort to re-sign him. Belinelli lasted one year and the Kings, against all odds, flipped him to Charlotte for a late first that they used on raw-as-sushi Malachi Richardson. Koufos is starting next to Cousins but playing reserve-level minutes. Casspi has fluttered in and out of the rotation, and might be requesting a trade behind the scenes.
Cutting Rondo and Belinelli loose plus the revenue spike actually opened additional cap space for Divac this summer. He used it to sign Arron Afflalo (disgruntled and benched), Matt Barnes (we’ll get to him), Garrett Temple (shockingly useful), and Ty Lawson (decent to date).
My heart wants to give Petrie the win, but Isaiah Thomas’ excellence gives D’Alessandro a boost three nights a week. Meanwhile, Divac has amazing growth potential thanks to those picks still outstanding to Philadelphia. They’re all winners in this battle. They’re all winners.
It’s Kings fans who are the losers, and no one has lost more than DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins is an adult, and when he does something adults ought not to do in the workplace, he should be reprimanded and suffer consequences. The Kings were right to fine him, and given Cousins past run-ins with media — see Sean Elliott a couple years ago — the league would have a reasonable case to suspend him a game. This is not in dispute among reasonable people. Cousins, generous and kind in the community, needs to treat people in the organization and the media better.
Let’s not absolve the Kings of blame for Cousins’ inability to stay on the straight and narrow, either. Divac signed Barnes — Matt Barnes — to be a mentor and “big brother” to Cousins. Barnes has a fairly well-known history in the NBA. He has been arrested twice, struck an opposing coach during a pro-am game, and drove some distance to fight Derek Fisher, who had the temerity to date Barnes’ estranged wife. If you ranked all 450 or so NBA players by quality of character, it is unlikely Matt Barnes would break the top 446.
The Kings signed that man to be a good influence on Cousins. Six weeks into the season, Barnes and Cousins were involved in a bar fight in New York City. Reports suggest the NYPD are prepared to bring charges against Barnes for his role.
Cousins is responsible for his own actions. He’s responsible for the technical fouls, the media confrontations, the locker room squabbles, the fights with coaches.
But let’s be real. The Kings haven’t been bad every year because of those things. The Kings aren’t terrible because of DeMarcus Cousins. They are terrible in spite of him.
That doesn’t mean he’s perfect. That doesn’t absolve him of criticism. But keep it straight. He is not the problem in Sacramento. The Kings are the problem, and not even a player of Cousins’ quality can fix it alone.