The center position in the NBA has morphed into an entirely different animal. Gone are the days when two dinosaurs would slug it out on the block. Today’s best big guys still play with their backs to the basket (some) but need to be able to step out, stretch a defense, set screens (pick & roll is the new style of basketball – pretty much at every level of the game) and either roll or, and this is a skill fans never got to see Wilt, Russell, Kareem or Walton do, pop out for a jump shot. Sometimes a three-pointer. That strategy is so prevalent some teams are eschewing the traditional center and playing with a combination of two guards and three forwards or three guards and two forwards. And since those offensive skills are necessary, it’s also mandatory for “centers” to be able to defend that type of player.
The guy who best fills out the above description is the Sacramento Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins. He has the strength of the best pivot men of the 20th century, the low post game of Hall of Famers, yet can play away from the basket, shoot from beyond the three-point line, put the ball on the floor – and has the ability to guard inside and out as well.
That’s the reason there are constantly rumors of a trade. An all-star center whose team is struggling is going to peak interest in other clubs who dream about what a player like that could do for their franchise. Yet there hasn’t been a trade. General Manager Vlade Divac, who was one of the hybrid centers back in his playing days for has been quoted on numerous occasions, most recently yesterday, saying, “We’re not trading DeMarcus. We hope he’s here for a long time. We are going in that direction.”
Without dancing around the subject, the real reason no trade has gone down is because the seven-year NBA veteran Cousins is basically a 26-year-old superstar with the talent to lead a ball club to a championship, maybe multiple championships, but one who possesses the maturity of an eight-year-old. In 51 games, Cousins is averaging 27.9 points, 10.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. If the Kings could receive anything resembling fair market value for their big guy/problem child, they’d be throwing a “re-branding” party before the ink on the deal was dry.
At the 2015 Hall of Fame induction show John Calipari was the final person recognized. He had every one of his former players in attendance and asked all of them to join him onstage. With scores of players behind him, he asked them, as he looked out over the audience, “Raise your hand if you think I held your game back?”
I happened to be at the show (my former Washington State and USC boss, George Raveling was also in the HOF class) but can’t remember how many former Calipari players had their hands up. It was because Cousins was making a spectacle of himself, smiling and frantically waving his. At that moment, Cal dropped the punchline. “I don’t know how many hands are up but I can guarantee you DeMarcus Cousins is raising both of his.” It made for a good laugh for everyone but spoke volumes about what is must have been like to coach an 18-year-old DeMarcus. Had the one-and-done rule not been in effect, Cal would have started petition for one.
Last night against the Bulls, the Kings were down by as many as 27 but came back and made the game a nail-biter. Down two, with about 12 seconds left, Sacramento ran a side out of bounds play in which the ball was to be inbounded to Cousins. Replays showed that Dwyane Wade did, in fact, grab Cousins’ jersey as he stepped in front of him, stole the pass, dribbled down and dunked to secure the victory. With seven seconds left, the Kings’ big man shot a three-pointer, attempting to draw a foul. The shot went awry, no foul was called, the Bulls controlled the ball and the Kings fouled. 1.1 seconds remained.
Cousins was so upset about the no call on the side out play that he turned and displayed so much disdain toward the referee, no one in the building, including DeMarcus himself, was shocked another tech, his second of the game, meaning automatic ejection. What does that matter, you say – there was only 1.1 seconds left and the game was essentially over anyway.
Because it was also his 16th technical foul of the season. Forget the fine – he makes 17 mil a year. According to NBA rules, that magic number means his irresponsible behavior he’ll be suspended for Wednesday night’s game against Boston. At least season ticket holders will get to see Isaiah Thomas play.
While the Kings’ announcers were critical of Cousins’ behavior, “It’s the inability of him to control his temper” and, after viewing the replay, “you can’t do this” in reference his reaction toward the official with one tick left. In between those admonishments, most likely because they know who signs their paychecks, was the phrase, “He thought there should have been a foul, that Dwyane Wade held his jersey and I agree, DeMarcus is 100% correct, but …” DeMarcus needs more of what follows the “but” and less of how “right” he is.
When Cousins was asked about his techs? “It’s kind of unfortunate that it happened. I really don’t know what to say about it. If I say something I’ll get punished, and if I don’t say something I’ll get punished. I really don’t know what the answer is anymore. I’m highly disappointed in what just happened.”
It’s highly doubtful anyone who knows him is surprised at his response. He’s a guy who’s been enabled for so long, he believes he’s … right. All the time.
He’d possibly considered an all-time great if he’d take to heart some great advice that, apparently, no one as of yet has told him: