Posted by: natehughart | June 24, 2010

Why DeMarcus Cousins scares me (unfortunately)

Let’s get a few things straight before I dive into this.

1) On talent, I think DMC is the 3rd best player of the draft behind John Wall and Derrick Favors (although I would take Favors over Wall as I’ve said) and some of the red flag discussion.
2) I don’t hate DeMarcus Cousins or won’t be rooting against him regardless of whom he’s taken by the Kings and the rest of the red flag discussion.
3) I don’t mean that I think DMC & Ron Artest are the same kinds of person; just similarities in on court play as I see it.

The first part

This part is simple. I know I’ve said things like “I wouldn’t take him and let another team take that risk”. That’s my opinion, and I’m not budging off it. I’m not curious or upset or anything else if the Kings take DeMarcus Cousins today (or Greg Monroe for that matter) assuming that the pundits have gotten that end of the draft right. (Just a note: Draft Express picked Quincy Douby, Spencer Hawes, missed JT because they thought GP was going to take Anthony Randolph and GP took JT instead–it should be noted that JT was slated to be going to the Warriors though–and Tyreke Evans a year ago. Chad Ford has also nailed several of these years dating back to Hawes–just based off personal memory here–and also missed Thompson. He had the Kings taking Bayless who ended up being taken by the Pacers at 11 and being traded to the Blazers.) These pundits don’t usually pick the high picks of the draft wrong let alone the middle of the draft all that wrong either.

That doesn’t mean I think DMC should be the pick. I would much rather the Kings try & trade up for Favors. But, that isn’t going to happen for 2 reasons. A) the Kings may not feel it’s worth it to trade that high (which I can understand) and B) the team in front of the Kings probably aren’t going to trade the pick they got for a reasonable package anyway.

So that being said, I know what DeMarcus Cousins is as a player. He’s an offensively skilled (very skilled as it were) big who uses his brute force to get buckets. He’s a great offensive rebounder and defensive rebounder while at Kentucky. How brilliant he is at the NBA level in terms of rebounding will depend on his conditioning, competiveness and willingness to defend. He blocked shots at a high level, but I’m not going to be holding my breathe on that one. His size is how he mostly got his blocks on the college level, and Cousins is not a majorly big dude like Roy Hibbert is. (Roy Hibbert is not a player I’m fond of btw. I would take Cousins in a heartbeat because a crazy talent is still better than a Mona Lisa.) Anyway, I’m not convinced Cousins will protect the rim well at the NBA level. He can do it I’m sure, but I’m not sure how EFFECTIVE DMC will be at protecting the rim at this point.

Low post wise, and shooting (but not Free Throws), DeMarcus Cousins is tremendous. In fact, only a fool would deny it. The problems are everything else.

He has problems with double teams (as will Favors) and that’s a problem every young big man has in the NBA. It takes time to adjust to NBA double teams, and Cousins will be no exception. He’s young and he’s a big. There is also an issue of being foul prone and that’s an issue that won’t go away for awhile. Cousins will have foul issue’s periodically just because he’s a big. A big’s job (particularly defensively) is to protect the paint. That’s the mentality (as it should be) and that alone will pick up fouls. Also, as long as DMC is learning how to utilize his offensive tools at the NBA level, he will pick up offensive fouls until he picks up the finer points of the NBA game.

What concerns me though is his defense, and response to not having the ball. Cousins mentality is that he will score on you every time. (Sound familiar?) He needs the ball to do that. Since big’s don’t bring the ball up the court, this is likely going to be an issue between Evans and Cousins despite whatever claims are made to the contrary. Both guys are scorers and it’s their mentality. Even if the clashes aren’t Kobe/Shaq epic, they will be enough that the drama and clandestine aspect of this whole affair will get people up in arms & taking sides. And that’s if things go well for Cousins and he becomes the prospects most are projecting him to be. That doesn’t even mention that Cousins has his own difficulties with shot selection (although he’s probably a bit better shooter than Tyreke Evans is at this point) at times or that he will get frustrated when he doesn’t get the ball. These are all issue’s that Cousins, even if he overcomes them, will have to combat.

Oh, and the issue with elbowing the Louisville player. Yawn. It happens. Whether Cousins is at fault I don’t know. I know it was a poor response and those happen. Chris Paul slapped Julius Hodge in the nuts while at Wake Forest. I don’t think any NBA team would hesitate to trade for Paul. Of course, Paul never had any other altercations with faculty members of schools either. (That’s something I do wonder about actually. What grown man is crazy enough to go at an emotional man child and not think that something rash would ensue? Regardless of DMC”s churlish and immature reaction–of which I’m sure there was some of that at the very least–the fact was that as an adult you have to be beyond that.) Other than these incidents though, Cousins’ red flags are more about his emotions and whether he’s on “meds” or not. (Strangely enough, since seeing that written that hasn’t come out during the draft process. Wonder why? Either it’s not true–this is more likely–or NBA teams don’t think it’s a big deal. If the 2nd part is true, I hope so.)

Here’s the problem with the elbow. Was DMC hit first? The TV camera’s never showed the backside angle that could clearly see the Louisville player and what Cousins claimed he did. The good news that a manchild the size of Cousins’ zip code will be easier for NBA refs simply because they’re used to ridiculously sized men running around in shorts and playing for NBA teams. And as much as people hate the way NBA games are reffed, it’s hardly as bad as NCAA games are reffed. Not even close really. The NBA games are also far more difficult to ref than NCAA games are. (Better players than the NCAA mainly is my reason for this. Also, the players aren’t unknown to the refs and familiarity can help with officiating and players in my view.)

Either way, what I know about Cousins is that as talented as he is, and he is oh my lord talented, he’s also an enigma. In some ways good, and some ways not. I don’t want to make the comparison to Gilbert Arenas, but the fact is that all the issue’s of Arenas have come true over time. It’s just that Arenas has also managed to not always be hindered by those issue’s. Will Cousins? Only time will tell. And it’s a tough risk if you’re going to commit major long term money beyond a rookie contract to a guy like Cousins if his head isn’t completely on straight most of the time. (Everybody’s a little crazy from time to time.) The difficulties of projecting Cousins based on his body of work make this a total toss-up.

If I was a GM, this guy would scare me. To the point where, if nothing else, I’d like to point out this little factoid: I have said I wouldn’t take DMC if it was up to me. However, that’s not the total truth. Let’s say I was Geoff Petrie. Regardless of my feelings of DMC, I have to feel that handling an unique talent and personality like DMC (which Kings fans will embrace AND love–see Scot Pollard, Jon Barry, Bobby Jackson among others) will be a popular fit in Sacramento. Hell Ron Artest was popular initially until the team stopped winning consistently after the E-Muss hire. Then, suddenly, Artest wasn’t as popular as he was before. If the Kings are successful, DMC can roast babies on an open bonfire and as long as people aren’t aware of it they’ll love him. It’s just that simple.

The reality, though, is if you’re GP and you’re saying to yourself why I can pass on taking him today, you also have to deal with the reality that the NBA’s chief credo is that “talent is king”. You can’t replace talent, and you damn sure can’t replace talented size like Cousins. There just isn’t a lot of guys out there like him. So while it’s easy for me to say that I wouldn’t take Cousins, I probably would anyway. Because, if I didn’t take him and Cousins blew up, I’d be fired within a year for letting my emotions and personal distaste get in the way. And because quite often things are judged by hindsight in the NBA (and if Cousins blows up that absolutely will be the case), not to mention that I can’t justify that players like Greg Monroe, Al-Farouq Aminu (it still blows my mind he didn’t work out for the Kings), Wesley Johnson (who almost certainly won’t be available with Cousins at the 5th pick), and others at the moment who have the same levels of possible impact at the NBA level.

Cousins only really separates himself from the others with his tremendous size, but everyone else does impressive things that Cousins doesn’t do. Aminu and Johnson are the best defenders (by far) of the 4 players I just named, and Johnson is one of the top shooters in the draft. Aminu is one of the best athletes of the draft, and Monroe has a high amount of skill and possesses the highest bball IQ. The best possible package is probably Cousins, but Johnson and Aminu also have quality packages that with the right teams will likely see them improve. If Johnson goes to Jersey or Minny, he’ll be successful if he plays with a guy who can get him shots that he doesn’t have to create for himself. If Aminu goes to the Clippers, I think that would be the perfect situation for him playing next to Blake Griffin, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman, and Baron Davis. (That’s true of Wesley Johnson too, but he isn’t dropping to 8.) Cousins could be perfect for a number of teams including the Kings, Warriors and Pistons. Those are just the teams picking 5, 6 & 7. This is why Cousins value is so much greater. More teams need great size than great wing players. The only area where wing players have a higher premium is if they are franchise players. Only franchise players trumps size in value in the NBA. Period.

There are no perfect prospects in the NBA draft, and this is no exception. The reason why Cousins isn’t going higher in the draft isn’t just his “red flags” but also his talents. Frankly, and I”m not sure fans have caught onto this, is that Cousins being a low post bull of sorts is not something NBA teams value at the same rate as they once did 15 years ago. It’s no longer enough to be a low post scorer and little else. If Al Jefferson was playing in the 90′s, he’d be a star. But he doesn’t and his knee injuries keep him from playing better. Still, he’s ineffective defensively against most 4′s in the NBA let alone 5′s. Let’s say Cousins is every bit as good as Jefferson. Jefferson isn’t always healthy, but when he is, how good are his teams? Good players make their teams better. Tyreke Evans made the Kings better by 8 games. And that was with a young overturned roster and a new coaching staff. Al Jefferson has never made his teams better. Maybe Cousins is different, and he probably is personality wise actually. (I’m not a fan of Al in case you haven’t noticed by now.)

The question I have: Is Cousins so valuable at this point because of his skillset and size? Or is he valuable because he’s a quality player? Or, is he valuable because numbers often drive these debates and that the defensive side of the game (the part most don’t realize John Wall is good at or that Favors excels in) is the part where Cousins has issue’s. I’m not doubting Cousins talent on the offensive end. I’m not doubting his rebounding prowess, although I don’t think he’ll be dominant rebounding the ball at a Dwight Howard level or anything. He simply isn’t athletic to defend players AND get back to grab the boards. (And people wonder why I’m high on Favors.) Defense isn’t about statistics but about disruption. Favors disrupts other players when they are trying to score on him. He isn’t perfect, and every flaw he has was on display on Georgia Tech in their hectic system. (As Haubs pointed out briefly in his piece about Evan Turner. Great read if you have not read it.)

Cousins played with pass first PG’s in Wall & Eric Bledsoe (a mid to late 1st round pick), and Patrick Patterson (a solid mid 1st round pick) whose versatility often allowed Cousins the room to operate he needed. Cousins is a better low post OFFENSIVE player, but low post offense doesn’t translate to better defense. A player can learn to score more effectively, but a player doesn’t become a disrupting defender unless those natural skills and attitudes are present. This Kings team needs that regardless of Sammy Dalembert’s presence. (Oh, and if the draft isn’t effected by the Dalembert trade, that isn’t a cause to say that Favors shouldn’t be drafted anymore than Cousins shouldn’t be. Draft the BEST player. In my view that’s Favors. If the picks ends up being Cousins, how Cousins fits in with the Kings bigs is an interesting development everyone will have to follow.)

What I know is that you can’t ignore Favors to hype Cousins. Favors flaws (or Cousins for that matter) aren’t enough to downgrade him in favor of DMC. Position? Jesus, who gives a shit? Favors is basically the same size as Dwight Howard at the same age. Howard played Center from day one. Favors size is not really the issue here. Cousins is almost certainly a Center too even though he says he likes to play PF. (This is because, I think, he likes to take a break from banging and shoot J’s. I wonder if John Thompson knows this.) At any rate, because when Cousins is at his best he bangs in the low post. But he’s not always at his best. The point here is that Cousins isn’t always consistent with his on court play for a variety of reasons. I’ve seen it suggested by Jonathan Givony that Cousins hasn’t always matched up with competition well. That’s either a bad opinion or a dangerous one upon your point of view. I see it as a bit of both.

Right now, I see Cousins as the 3rd best talent (and the best “pure” offensive talent) of this draft. John Wall is the best player combining both ends, and Favors is the best defensive player who has offensive talent. (Size trumps a guy like Wesley Johnson. Every time.)The difference between Favors and Cousins, as I see it, is that Favors offensive talents are better than Cousins defensive talents. The problem? Offensive talents are easy to measure and defensive talents are not easy to measure using numbers. So that distinction will get lost. But as the years go by, and that happens, don’t think of me. Just hit yourself for not recognizing the signs.

However, assuming Cousins doesn’t miss a beat, and does all the things he does well, and improves, I say he can join Favors and Wall as the great players of the 2010 draft class. I’m not going to say he’ll leapfrog either guy, but he’ll definitely be right there. Wall & Favors have all the talents to be the elite players for a long time. Cousins does too, but his emotional makeup I think has kept him from reaching that full potential. His conditioning has hurt him defensively a bit too. As John Calipari said, he’s the most unfinished product in the draft. And, either he keeps getting remarkably better as he ages, or he doesn’t and he flames out. I’m hoping for the former, but don’t believe the latter is highly unlikely. This amount of uncertainty scares me, and when you’re talking about a top 3 prospect in any NBA draft (regardless of draft position), you should be ecstatic. I’m not.

The 2nd part

Jay Z once made famous a line about putting his money on longshots. DMC is, in a lot of ways, that kind of player. Even though I hate what he represents in a pragmatic sense, my emotional side wants him to succeed if for nothing else to flip the bird at all the people who are saying (including, ironically, me to an extent) he can’t do it. (If Favors is on the board, and the Kings take Cousins at the 5th pick, I’m going to be hating life. But, if Favors isn’t on the board? No problem.) In fact, I hope DMC makes it regardless of the Kings taking him or not.

Why? Because the kid is an interesting personality, and in real ways, like another Huntsville area product, honest to a fault. Sometimes his honesty, like Charles Barkely, isn’t always received well, but that’s what Cousins is. John Calipari had a great line about DMC in the Outside the Lines piece: “DeMarcus you need to smile more.” DMC: “Coach I am who I am.”

That’s the kinda personality I like. And, as I pointed out in the novel directly above this novel, Kings fans will love him too. DMC is gregarious (in the best ways), emotional, and a potential catalyst in many ways. A relationship with a stoic star (more like Favors) won’t matter much because Tyreke Evans is already that way. What Kings fans care about most is winning. But an engaging honest personality like DeMarcus Cousins will please Kings fans around the world to no end. I can promise you that. And, if DMC taps his immense talent and becomes the amazing player more than a few believe he can, I’ll be right along with them rooting for him. I don’t want him to fall flat on his face and suck ass at the NBA level. Given some of the disturbing issue’s he has though, I’m not going to hold my breath. Unfortunately, I’m only a dreamer a small part of the time. The world is just far too cynical for me to want to believe that there is a huge lot of people (especially the media) who won’t have a bigger story to sell if DMC falls flat on his face. He’ll answer questions and it will always hound him. Maybe this happens less than other players with similar issues, but, like Barkley, I hope DMC learns immunity to some of this stuff. Maybe he does. Watch this interview:

I like this guy. He’s engaging, thoughtful and interesting. This is one side of DeMarcus Cousins. This is the other side:

Which Cousins are you going to get? The one where he’s tired or irritable? Or the one where he’s funny interested and engaged? The 2nd one I like, the first I don’t, and I expect him to be a mix of both. Most NBA players are after a loss or a win depending on whichever the case may be. Some adopt an indifferent attitude to the losses and enjoy the victories.

What I know is that Cousins, if he keeps it together, has all the makings of a media darling and a great NBA player if he can put it all together defensively/offensively. He has all the talent, and truthfully all the smarts and passion, to put it together. But, in a way, he reminds me of Allen Iverson.

Iverson was often believed to “keep it real”. He made his teams better, was a ballhog and a perfect asshole and was so good for the bottom line of the 76ers that all his antics fed into the Iverson machine. Iverson also drank, slept around (a lot–which is not uncommon for NBA stars regardless of alcoholism), and was in general a primmadonna. Part of his insistence in doing this was that he was “keeping it real” and wasn’t receptive of change. He never changed his lifestyle. Will DeMarcus Cousins listen to folks when it’s necessary? Will he make lifestyle changes that support making his NBA career a continued possibility? Or will he simply rely on fate to allow him to eat whatever he wants or anything else and still have a NBA career?

I hope DeMarcus Cousins makes the right choices now, continues to make them, and thrives. The NBA needs players of his talent and personality. He’s a goofy lug who wears pink shirts & glasses. He’s also a scowling menace to any big men roaming the NBA paint. This is a very good marketing and basketball combination. As Jerry Reynolds once said, “the NBA is almost as much about top flight basketball as it is about top flight marketing.” This is no doubt true.

So, while I’m not against DMC succeeding, know that with so many knocks against Cousins (and there are a lot of real and fake knocks against him), it’s hard to overcome them all and be successful at the NBA level. Barkley overcame them, but he was an alien similar to Iverson. Few players have supernatural bodies, and it’s hard to hold up over a long term career without a commitment to your body. Does Cousins have that? Throughout the workout process, he’s worked to get better. Will he keep it up?

I want to believe Cousins can and will do these things. I’m hoping he proves me wrong. I won’t be writing to prove I’m right about Cousins or sitting on every one of his bad days. If he misses defensive plays, I’ll note it. If he makes an excellent offensive play or has a great rebounding game, I’ll note it too. I don’t have an agenda against DMC. I’m just wary of guys with his history and body of work that comes with it. I hope I’m wrong, but history says I’m not. But quite often history can be changed and the way we view a player often is better said in hindsight than real time. Maybe DeMarcus Cousins is one of those players. I’m hoping he is.

The 3rd part

I don’t mean that Cousins is like Artest. For one thing, Cousins home life is far more stable if you believe statements that Cousins mother made about needing an agent who would push DMC to a “high standard of conduct & professionalism”. Like Tyreke Evans, it is one area of his life that I think DMC actually has a great head start on: His mother truly cares about him. Whether it’s about the millions that she’ll have access to, it’s probably a bit more than that. DMC made a great comment yesterday in the round of interviewing he did about not caring about money but wanting to play basketball cuz he loves the game. If that’s the case, and he has that passion, DMC can be very successful.

Like Artest, though, there are some skeletons. DMC gets rough, and plays a position where big men get physical on almost every play. How big men are officiated, and as Kenny Smith once said on “Inside the NBA”, big men are simply ref’d differently and stars get more leeway than an average player. Why? Because if they don’t, the overall product is hurt. That was the point. Star big men who are on another universe in terms of talent are the hardest athletes to gauge when they are committing fouls and what not. (That was what Smith said. But the first sentence was really what Kenny was aiming at. I hope.) Anyway, the point is that big men who can draw fouls (DMC is one of those guys) and have low post skills are not common. (One reason I like DMC better than Al J. Al doesn’t draw fouls nearly that often.) But getting Cousins to do this might be difficult if he finds that he won’t get the calls he should. He may end up not being willing to take the hits. This is a lot like Artest in several ways.

I like Ron Artest a lot as a player, and as a human being. Ron is unique and uber talented as a basketball player. I appreciate him even if he’s not totally trustworthy at all times. He’s not reliable. He’s very up & down as a basketball player. Some games, he’s very up. Some games, he’s very down. There is an inbetween, but for the Kings it wasn’t enough steadiness. And, while Ron was on the team, there wasn’t anyone to balance those quirks out. Thankfully, there is Tyreke Evans who is very steady (my favorite thing about Reke that doesn’t get discussed about from a national point of view is his steadiness), and there is the fact that DMC has the possibility to be paired with a young stud like him from the get go from his career. Ron didn’t get that opportunity when he was with the Bulls. The Bulls were a lot of things, but a stable organization in those years under Krause and Reinsdorf they were not. Whether or not it kept Artest from better things, he went to a stable organization in Indiana who was successful. For a time he did well. Then, he was part of the brawl and in the subsequent season he was traded. It’s hard to say how his Indy tenure would have changed given the brawl, but I know it effected the Pacers very dramatically if nothing else. It certainly hurt the franchise in conjunction with the Reggie Miller retirement (unique fact: Pacer fans, the same who revered him by the end of his career, boo’d the pick on draft day in 1987) has hurt them since. It’s a misconception that the Pacers have struggled solely because of the brawl; more of that had to do with the Reggie Miller retirement. (Which is unfortunate, because not only Pacer fans have been miserable since then, but so are NBA fans who have to listen Miller analyze NBA games in the most painful fashion. Dual misery is apparently the only sign of a true NBA fan’s existence.)

Artest, though, came to a stable organization with the Kings for awhile. Until Eric Musselman came around. And, then predictably, he went under again. Since playing in Houston for Rick Adelman (for the 2nd time) and Phil Jackson this past season in LA, he’s been more stable. But Artest hasn’t changed: The dealing with him has from a coaching standpoint. Adelman and Jackson have major status as head coaches in the NBA; Reggie Theus and Eric Musselman did not.

The question is: Are the Kings stable? Yes, I would say they are. Regardless of how you feel about Paul Westphal’s philosophy on basketball (and I’m not convinced this past season told us much in that regard; this season very much will), he’s a stable man in an unstable profession. The NBA head coaches job is very volatile. PW knows this, and plays the part. But, he and Geoff Petrie are united. It’s one message, and that makes it difficult for players to say they don’t understand where the organization is coming from. Even though players don’t like to admit it, part of the reason franchises are so unstable is that players quite often create that level of instability. Franchises don’t do it all themselves. And since most NBA stars are deluded and have no real grip in reality, sometimes they forget this aspect of things. It’s quite often a 2 way street, and most of the time delusion masks that fact easier to ignore. Tyreke Evans said they need a veteran who will help this team stay serious when it counts. Except, I don’t remember anybody really goofing off during a close game down the stretch. And being serious in the locker room before the game doesn’t guarantee that you miss FT’s down the stretch of games in the 4th qtr. Watch this interview if you haven’t seen it. (H/T JZiadeh.)

Question: Will DeMarcus Cousins belief that he’s the best player on the court keep him from recognizing his value as a NBA player? Will he live with not getting the ball on one possession? Will he pout? Will he take enough bad shots and make a few of them that it seems okay? Artest was always a guy who was a good offensive player. He was a good shooter who was a brilliant offensive player down low. Except when he wasn’t taking poor shots because Artest didn’t always take advantage of his opportunities appropriately.

How DMC goes about posting up is as important, IMO, as anything else. Andre Miller is one of the best post players of the past decade despite whatever perception there is of him. Yet, one of the ways Miller is so effective at it is that he knows when to spin, when to go up and the like. He has a feel for the post game you simply can’t teach. DMC has those instincts, as does Ron Artest, but sometimes Artest’s lack of leaping ability (or athleticism depending how you define it) hurt him when trying to make his moves. Against lesser athletes, Artest was fine because he was stronger than everybody. Artest isn’t very long and that hurt him against the leaner longer athletes at the 3 position. In many ways, playing against 4′s provided Artest more matchup difficulties because his lack of athleticism was less of an issue playing against bigger guys.

Artest didn’t want to bang all the time and wanted to play on the perimeter. He has great passion and great intensity. He also has stupid moments that don’t result in a dog being neglected or getting into a fight with his wife while his 2 year old infant is present. Dumb moments on the court that an 8 year old veteran shouldn’t have. I didn’t watch a single Kings game after the trade deadline because of Ron Artest. He almost killed my Kings fandom (I figured after the bad season with E-Muss, and a season later plus a long off-season I was right), and I don’t want it ruined again because the Kings franchise hinges on an enigmatic kid who has all the tools but can’t figure out to use them to the best of his ability. This is also the same Artest who spent fighting with Mike Bibby for supremacy of the Kings during E-Muss’s lone season. Actually, I should probably thank Ron-Ron for that one. One season of E-Muss was bad enough, and I hardly payed attention to it. Two seasons of the Musselman/Artest/Bibby trio would have been ridiculously awful.

That’s something that truly scares me about DMC. This potential not only exists, but in some ways looms. It’s one thing to point out that DMC played with John Wall, but Wall is also more of a pass first lead G the way Tyreke Evans is most definitely not. (It’s also why Wall is so loved by NBA teams and analysts of the college game alike. Wall is that player everyone loves to talk about is being what’s “right” about basketball. Whatever the fuck that PR bullshit means.) At any rate, Tyreke Evans first inclination is to score. While I’m not worried about DeMarcus Cousins being the 2nd scoring option for the Kings down the road, I am worried that DMC might not understand why. I’m worried that this could foster less attention to defense and create undue frustration. I’m worried that this can create tension among other area’s of the team where harmony could otherwise very much exist. NBA teams, even championship teams with high level stars, are often competitive, and quite often contentious entities. None of these things worry me, but the championship teams often rise above this due to their outrageous talent level. Unless DMC either rises above these potential problems (which are better problems to have than winning 25 games and being happy as people are screaming right about now reading this), this is going to be an issue. Why? It’s an issue for every NBA team. Every player wants all the minutes and the shots. It’s their nature. It’s partly why these guys are so good. Balancing an angry DeMarcus Cousins, and getting him to buy in will always be a challenge. I’m not saying this is good or bad; I’m not even complaining about this. I hope this is what happens. My point is this is the best case scenario. And, that’s assuming that some level of disagreements are mediated and moved upon after they happen. This is not always the case.

I want a productive and healthy relationship between the Kings and their players. Henry Abbott pointed out that DMC is a great opportunity to mentor players and have the NBA change it’s stance on said idea. (Also read this William Wesley aka Worldwide Wes piece if you haven’t. It’s worth understanding if you’re all into the summer of ’10 thing.) But I have several issue’s with this. One, is that Greg Oden is used as an example as a mentoring issue. I have a problem with this for 2 reasons. 1) Oden’s problem isn’t they physical side of the game but the mental side. He has more issue’s with the psychological effects of his injuries than anything else. How does having a mentor help him perk up? How does having a mentor make him more mentally prepared for handling crushing injuries? The 2nd is obvious: Mentoring is more about influence than anything else. Oden doesn’t have negative influences on his life that I’m aware of, and thus I’m not sure what exactly a mentor can do.

My 2nd problem though is regarding Cousins himself. How does mentoring him going to change his behavior? Having a special person deal with Cousins emotions seems a bit over the top IMO. After all, Cousins is just one player. It’s one thing to give a player special perks or something like that, but it’s quite another to have special requirements for a player who has issue’s. What does that say to your other players who have issue’s and are forced to deal with them, like, well, men? This paragraph by Abbott is what struck me:

A lot of people see this as the pressure being on Cousins to step up his game and produce in the NBA. But there’s also a ton of pressure on the team that drafts him to build a relationship that he believes in. What are the chances he’ll have a great relationship with his next team? The NBA’s track record in connecting to young NBA players is spotty at best.

You mean like the relationship aspect doesn’t matter with Donte Greene, Omri Casspi, or Tyreke Evans? What about Jon Brockman or Sam Dalembert? I mean, I don’t wish to be discourteous to Abbott or his fine piece of writing, but that’s complete crap. Cousins perceived instability, true or not, realistic or not, is the issue here. Not the mentoring or the strength of the franchise unity. Cousins is getting paid to play basketball. He’s being paid to play basketball. I don’t doubt that mentoring is important, but stable players often ask for input from outside sources at their own discretion. Kevin Martin for instance does that with David Thorpe. The Kings have never been put off by it (regardless of what they say), nor does it present a problem. After all, you have a player who wants to get better and is putting resources towards doing so. So, why wouldn’t Cousins be different? Why not get outside feedback? The problem I see with Abbott’s piece is that it assumes some level of instability in Cousins inner circle. I don’t really see that although a few choice quotes from an SI piece & Rivals piece are hardly the best way to distinguish that. The issue really is that a NBA team’s job? And, I think it’s not the teams, in this case the Kings if they pick him, to do that for DMC. That’s his job to find people he trusts and who will give him solid feedback. You can’t make a player trust you or everyone around him. The amount of instability that players go through with the little things, let alone career issue’s like how well you’re playing and the like, are issue’s that NBA teams go through. Every player and team handles players differently.

I know, though, the Kings won’t need to mentor DMC. It’s not their job to coddle him and tell him everything will be okay. The Kings organization job is to try and be successful. That definition of success would vary from person to person and organization, but any professional franchise should always be trying to win a championship. That is ultimate success. However, in the long run, you have to think more realistically like getting to the playoffs as a first step. Or, not being the worst team in the NBA if you’re talking about the Kings specifically last season. (You can talk all you want about the Kings being the 3rd worst team in the NBA, but the 7th worst team had 27 wins. The Kings had 25 wins. When 5 teams, and 7 when you factor in the Clippers & Knicks, are all within 4 games of each by the end of the season, that’s more like parity and dumb luck as to which draft spot you end up picking after the coin flip of teams. The Kings merely graduated from awful to bad with a young team feelings it’s way in the NBA. Next year? No such excuses.)

What I know is that DMC shouldn’t change the order of business for a NBA team. I don’t mind Henry Abbott’s suggestion because, quite honestly, I wouldn’t have thought about a mentor for DMC or any Kings player. In my view, that’s incumbent upon a player taking his career seriously to choose his outside influences carefully and make sure those influences have the best interest of him at all times. NBA teams can’t do that, and that breeds mistrust. (Which is probably why most NBA teams don’t really bother other than they don’t want to pay more money for things that probably would make little to no difference in the long run. As it is, there is many expenses.) I understand what Abbott is saying that a team has to help a player succeed, and I don’t disagree. But a player has to be willing to do it himself and take it to a new level. That level of commitment is not something teams can foster. Either a player has it or doesn’t.

Not only that, Abbott’s point in this paragraph is just as striking:

Very few employees of NBA teams see it as their job to inspire young players to get better. They see it as young players’ job to already be inspired by the setting. If they can’t deal with that reality, off they go to Europe or the D-League or whatever. And fair enough, that ought to work. But very often it doesn’t. How many hundreds of amazing talents simply didn’t become productive NBA players? Far too many to count!

Here’s a point I’m not sure Henry Abbott has thought of: If the NBA did a better job rescuing NBA players who flamed out, why have a NBA draft every year? Why not have them every 5 years? Because if you have so many players who don’t flame out, wouldn’t they still be playing and now there would be less jobs which would create less need for a draft?

Plus, most players don’t fall out of the league’s view because they’re crazy or enigmatic like Cousins. I’m not worried about Cousins having a 10 year career. I’m worried about how well that career goes. Cousins will be good enough to hang on, but will he do just enough to hang on? Or will he just end up flaming out too early? Or will he scratch the surface of his talent and finally realize it? None of this mentions that an injury or an outside circumstance could be truly detrimental. But this is true of everyone and your normal standard disclaimer on any athlete.

Players don’t fail in the NBA because the NBA has a hands off policy. Vernon Maxwell was a loose cannon everywhere he was, but in Sacramento he managed to be effective and help the team a bit in more than just his on court play. For instance, Maxwell scared J-Will into doing certain things he didn’t end up doing his next 2 seasons in Sacramento nearly as often. Not surprising, J-Will had his best season (for more than one reason but Maxwell was one of them) that rookie year. Players don’t fail because they’re enigmatic or unique personalities. (Hello? Vernon Maxwell? Jason Williams? Scot Pollard? These guys were fruit loops that are going for a 2nd go round still.) Plenty of these guys come around all the time. A few even become stars. The question at this point is that do players flame out because of personality, or their inability to truly make their games work at the NBA level the way they did at High School or College? Me? I say it’s because players can’t translate their games at the NBA level. Quincy Douby, please step up. Workout Wonders on line 1 is calling you.

The thing is, and this isn’t a small thing, DMC is a rare talent who has all the tools to do special things. The question isn’t just his mental makeup, but whether or not allow can he allow himself to succeed. Does he have a driving force to prove that he can change the world like Allen Iverson, simply be like Daffy Duck and do what he does like Ron Artest, or is the DeMarcus Cousins show an entertaining production that also features high level basketball? Does anybody know? Nope.

******

Rignt now, much like Ricky Rubio, DeMarcus Cousins is at the center of draft debate. And, amazingly enough, a lot of people don’t seem to have a ton of interest in John Wall other than he’s going to be great. Strangely enough the NBA draft, like too often the NBA, is all about the most compelling media story and player who provides that story. It’s not about the best players, talents, or the less sexy idea’s that NBA teams scoff at routinely and ignore despite opinions to the contrary.

DeMarcus Cousins is an interesting human interest story right now. But in a few years, he’ll be the Kings problem, or most likely the Kings problem provided you believe the Jonathan Givony/Chad Ford’s of the world, and how the Kings handle him is just one of the many issue’s that comes about.

Spencer Hawes was an unique personality. He didn’t fail due to the personality. He failed (up to now) because he wasn’t able to match the potential he showed coming out of Washington after his freshman season. The growth that needed to happen simply didn’t after a time.

DeMarcus Cousins has a better body and is far much more of a physical specimen than Hawes is. He’s both stronger NOW and longer than Hawes will ever be. He’s working to get in shape and get at an ideal playing weight. And body fat be damned, there was no way that Cousins would get all the way down to an ideal playing weight in 2 months of working out. In fact, if that happened, what would the incentive to be keep working?

Sometimes an organization can push a player to get better. Here’s the nugget from Jason Jones piece that I thought was interesting:

Blake compared Cousins to Amar’e Stoudemire in one regard. Many said Stoudemire didn’t work hard enough when he jumped from high school to the NBA.

Hmmm. So organizations don’t have a role in player development huh? Riiiiiiiight. (That’s the 2nd thought on Abbott’s piece. Or maybe it’s the 3rd. I lost track I think.)

Great thought from John Calipari in Sam Amick’s Fanhouse piece:

“I coached him like he was my son, and he needs that,” he said. “In fact, he and my (13-year-old) son (Brad) would play video games and I’d say (to Cousins), ‘You guys are the same age.’ He’s one of those kids that needs to be hugged, loved. Don’t act like he’s a grown man. He’s a growing man.”

He’s a growing man is a perfect way to describe Cousins. Growing into manhood, and maturity happens at different rates for different individuals. That cliche is going to be used a lot in the years moving forward so become impervious to it because this is inevitable with DMC wherever he ends up. If DMC makes it a lot of people will view his childishness as being guarded against the heavier cynical view adults often have. I don’t think cynicism is all that bad, but being cynical all the time isn’t that useful either. Pragmatism has a great application for an adult than anything else. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses and how you can improve at various things is always something every adult does without necessarily thinking about it on those terms. After all, why else go to college or law school or medical school? Or make decisions about what we wear, eat or drink at any given point or any number of decisions that come our way?

What I know about DeMarcus Cousins is that wherever he goes, he will always be the topic of conversation. What I know is that his talent is tantalizing to the point that debates about it will always be had whether or not Cousins reaches his basketball peak at the next level. This isn’t going to change whether it’s today or 4 years from now. If Cousins doesn’t make it, should the team that drafts him be more involved and blah blah blah. Or did Cousins ultimately fail? Or did injuries or some mysterious outside influence from the Orient come in and hypnotize Cousins to be a fat slob?

If you like clandestine drama and up’s & downs, DeMarcus Cousins is your guy. If you like tantalizing talent and possible amazing returns. DeMarcus Cousins is your guy.

Just know that consistency is what I prefer, and consistency is what ultimately made me giddy over Tyreke Evans. Reke just gets it done every night. This is’nt always achieved with flair or seemingly anything great. He just goes out and gets it done. Cousins is flashy and talkative. He’s moody and difficult. He’s physically tough and overly emotional at times. Because Cousins is literally a compendium of much of the human range of emotions on the court, it’s not a compelling feeling for me.

The tortoise and the hare raced as the story goes. The tortoise won because the hare was stupid and the tortoise kept moving. The last part of the story is the prominent part of the fable, but the first part of the fable is equally true. Had the hare been less concerned with playing the part of the fast hare, and merely winning the race, winning the race would have been the outcome. Question is in this analogy: Who is the tortoise and the hare? The NBA has been around since 1954 in it’s modern form. The league, or it’s predecessors, have been around since 1946. DeMarcus Cousins was born in 1990.

If DeMarcus Cousins wants to have a successful career, he’ll have to believe in the team that picks him. Will he? I don’t know. Pre-draft interviews and saying he will doesn’t guarantee anything. I don’t believe that John Wall or Derrick Favors will automatically do that either. Nobody does anything automatically unless they’re enticed to do so.

******

If 8000 words hasn’t convinced you that I’m wary of DMC for very valid and non-superficial reasons, than I can’t help you. I want to root for him and will do so if he becomes the Kings pick with the 5th pick today. I won’t pout or hyperventilate for 15 minutes. (Unlike last year.) I won’t tell I told you so if DMC doesn’t become the dominant player that many believe he will become. I won’t tell I told you so if DMC improves in a way nobody saw coming but in a way that few see as being a star. I won’t tell you anything about DMC from here on out that I don’t say about other players. As I’ve said, I don’t have an agenda here. I’m a Kings fan and I want the Kings to win a championship. I’ll be as happy if that happens with DeMarcus Cousins or Derrick Favors or Greg Monroe.

One thing that I really have difficulties with, is hyperbole. For every person who tells me about DMC’s per minute stats (which I know are great), I can easily point out that if he’s that good in 24 minutes, why didn’t he play 30 minutes? i have difficulties in cutting down Derrick Favors to hype DeMarcus Cousins. If you think DMC is that good, saying Favors post game offensively is not a way to evaluate a player whose primary worth at this point is defensive. I’m pretty sure having low post moves has nothing to do with being able to keep other players from scoring the ball near the hoop.

There are counter-arguments to everything, and for every person who wishes to tell me in the future that I doubted DeMarcus Cousins talent I’d like to send you off with this picture:

This is me telling you to fuck off. You're number one though!


Responses

  1. [...] Many of Cousins issue’s I outlined on draft day about why I felt scared about him. And, fortunately, or unfortunately (I prefer unfortunately), I was right in many respects. [...]


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