DeMarcus Cousins was suspended, and then he was suspended, and then he was suspended. Then he was not-definitely reinstated from that not-so-indefinite suspension, a mostly clean slate with a warning label in tiny, inconsequential print.
Don’t do it again.
Last week, post-suspension – when he was still sort of suspended – he was forbidden from traveling with the team to Portland. But through all of this, through Paul Westphal and Keith Smart, Sacramento continues to ineffectively grapple with a larger question, or really to draw a line. How much DeMarcus Cousins is worth DeMarcus Cousins?
Talent is chemistry’s great equalizer. No one particularly enjoys playing with Kobe Bryant; winning is just a nice consolation prize, or at least enough for Pau Gasol to withstand his place beneath the bus. LeBron James was nearly left off the ’08 Olympic team for his disrespectful immaturity. But he wasn’t, and only earned himself a talking to, which invariably led to him gaining bits of humility; though “The Decision” still happened. This past summer, teams were lining up to whisk away Dwight Howard’s indecisive baggage. Because morals give way to victories, especially when the latter comes in bunches. And it will always be easier to exercise our moral authority over the likes of the lesser productive. A reeling Deron Williams, say.
DeMarcus Cousins isn’t too talented, and he isn’t less talented, either. But he’s Sacramento’s best player, and the allure of potential is still too much to resist. Plenty of people have already wrestled with the DeMarcus Cousins question, failing to arrive at a consensus. He could be traded or he could remain in Sacramento. Keith Smart could be on the hot seat or he could be safe. It’s all very confusing and a lot of good and smart people just don’t know what the hell to do.
Most of these situations usually sort themselves out one way or another. A franchise does some moral grandstanding because the victories can afford it, or a player backs himself into a corner – cut, trade, reputation suicide, whatever. And so with DeMarcus Cousins, somehow, even if we can’t put our finger on it quite yet. But this isn’t about a solution or a way to deal with Problem Players or drawing the line between tolerable and rampant team-imploding. Sports are winning, or more simply, not losing. At a young age, there are soccer moms and cheering and postgame Krispy Kreme doughnuts and equal playing time. But then the little ones hit 10 years old, or 11 or 12 or whatever line your town has drawn, and adults become children and children become adults. These new adult-kids are divided and picked and classified – the good, the OK and the bad – and we go from there. Because it’s time to start winning, and fairness isn’t actually a thing. And it continues, for a while: junior varsity, varsity, AAU, Division III, Division II, Division I, never-ending stratified distributions of talent, winners and losers.
This whole thing, winning, it’s primal. Because it’s more than winning. It wasn’t just that Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks won. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, The Miami Heat, LeBron James, they all lost, defeated, the lesser, not winning. That was barbaric gratification, the pleasure of vengeance and retribution, and it felt really damn good when it happened. The other accessories, careers and trades and internet forum discussion and the ESPN NBA Trade Machine and all of that, it’s all winning, or winning-seeking. Everything sports-related is a microcosm for winning in some way. Even the dynamics of a team, which tries to win together, pushes and pulls and tugs for and against itself constantly. Who has more playing time, who has less playing time, who starts, who comes off the bench, who scores more points, who grabs more rebounds, who makes more money. Individual victories without detracting, tangibly, from Team.
The Sacramento Kings are not winning, and everyone remotely connected with the organization is really upset about it. Their record is 11-19. Their record last year was 22-44. Their record in ’10-’11 was 24-58. Their record in ’09-’10 was 25-57. Their record in ’08-’09 was 17-65. Losing breeds crazy most of the time, firings and complaining and trades and angry fans and endless complaining. Everyone’s uptight, wondering why winning can’t just happen, just like that, just like everyone else. Sacramento in particular hasn’t won in a long time. They last made the playoffs in ’05-’06, but were last championship-relevant in ’03-04. The Kings of those years with Mike Bibby, Doug Christie, Peja Stojakovic, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, they were fluidly basketball with passing and sharing and winning The Right Way. These Kings, they’re not very good. Their best player is a troubled star. Their second best player is hurt and doesn’t seem to fit into any long-term basketball plans. They’re fighting the present, compounded with the past, and emotions are going haywire.
Enter DeMarcus Cousins, pacifier of exactly nothing. He’s a guy who’s really good at his job that’s prone to irrational outbursts of anger. We want there to be more to it than that, a problem with a yet to be discovered neatly folded solution. But it is more than that too, more fundamental, the prism through which we admire and glare at athletes. That we wouldn’t be DeMarcus Cousins if we were professional athletes. We would be better. More grateful, team-oriented, humble, aw-shucks happy, content in our fortune, sports for a living. That’s a thing that everyone wants, or at the very least at some point wanted. Because there’s an inherent yet invalid assumption built in to the athlete and sport as business or job, that it is neither of these things. It’s a game played by players, and they just so happened to be paid millions of dollars.
Except sport is professional. The pressures of an overbearing boss, outperforming your salary relative to the business, cohesion with co-workers, all of that. There just happen to be a lot of people peeking into the office all the time. But the scope of the analogy applies to the malcontents too, in that plenty of people trudge to work every day unhappy with their jobs. And so should DeMarcus Cousins, they say. And then they say that he’s 22 years old and will mature, transform even, into not DeMarcus Cousins. But we want DeMarcus Cousins too, just without DeMarcus Cousins. But you can’t have DeMarcus Cousins without DeMarcus Cousins, either. DMC is a bully, physically overwhelming, a possibly crazy person with basketball shoes on his feet. In a 94 x 50 box that whole persona works – really well, in fact. Even if that means he hits O.J. Mayo where it hurts every once in a while, well whatever. It’s a part of his irreplaceable nasty and it’s the small sacrifices, sometimes.
And that is winning with and for DeMarcus Cousins. Some players don’t have an off switch, because some players are people and players all wrapped up into one. This particular can of whoopass is not resealable. DeMarcus Cousins is out there, being DeMarcus Cousins. The Sacramento Kings are out there too, but they’re just losing. If they happened to surround Cousins with good players, for winning games, the prism through which we observed his volatility would adapt accordingly. DeMarcus Cousins would still be DeMarcus Cousins, but it would be an edge. A good thing.