O.J. doesn't think the 'I'm not touching you' game is very mature, DeMarcus. (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)
It wasn't even halftime, and already the Sacramento Kings were down 27 points to the Dallas Mavericks. A game that had been tied at 29 with 1:46 remaining in the opening quarter had completely spiraled out of the 7-12 Kings' control, as Dallas ended the first period on a 9-0 run and opened the second with a mammoth 22-2 stretch that rendered Monday night's matchup at the American Airlines Center all over but the shoutin'.
And, as luck would have it, there would be some shoutin', because getting outscored 31-2 over the course of 10 minutes is the kind of thing that makes DeMarcus Cousins a bit miffed. So while battling Mavericks guard O.J. Mayo on the block with about 3 1/2 minutes left before intermission, the cranky Sacramento center cranked back his right arm, then swung and hit Mayo right in the ... nether regions. Behold:
After the game, which the Mavs won in a 119-96 laugher, Cousins told reporters that his low blow on Mayo "wasn't intentional" and that the subsequent double-technicals the two received while jawing down the other end of the court were just the result of "a lot of trash talk."
As you might expect, Mayo didn't buy what Cousins was selling, and discussed his anger toward the Kings big man at some length after the game. From Tim MacMahon of ESPN Dallas:
"Man, I was so pissed," Mayo said [...]. "It's just, where does that come in in the game, you know what I mean? He's a talented player, has a chance to be an All-Star. But you do stuff like that, it takes you down a class." [...]
Mayo considers the incident to be an example of what is preventing Cousins, who was suspended two games earlier this season because of a postgame confrontation with San Antonio Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott, from achieving his potential.
"That guy has some mental issues, man," Mayo said. "He's a talented player. He has an opportunity to be the face of that organization, but I don't think he wants it. ...
"He's immature, man. Big maturity problem. Hopefully, he'll grow up out of it and become great. He definitely has the talent to."
The focal point of this verbal back-and-forth, of course, is and will be the term "mental issues." Personally, I read it as Mayo noting that for all Cousins' athletic ability, he's yet to be able to maintain the proper level of focus and restraint required to become a consistently dominant and reliable force on both ends of the floor, which, all things considered, seems like a very accurate assessment of where Cousins' career stands at this point. But it's easy to think that, really, Mayo was calling Cousins a crazy person, because, fairly or unfairly, this tends to be the dominant public perception of the 22-year-old Cousins.
As BDL's Eric Freeman detailed following Cousins' two-game suspension for confronting Elliott, the portrait started to be painted following "questionable recruitment by high school coaches and an incident with a bus driver as a high school sophomore," took shape thanks to occasional hot-tempered outbursts during his lone season at Kentucky, and became confirmed in the pros through his volatile relationship with Kings coach Paul Westphal, which led to Westphal's firing, Sacramento's front office betting on a better bond between Cousins and new coach Keith Smart.
That more or less worked out down the stretch last season, as Cousins played the best ball of his NBA career and entered this season eager, looking to take on more of a leadership role in the Kings locker room. But after he and the team suffered some early season struggles, and he got sat down for two games for jawing with Elliott, Cousins recently admitted to having lost confidence in his play, which is the kind of situation that could turn dangerous with so much season left and so little hope of virtually anything resolving positively in Sacramento these days.
So, there's your context on how DeMarcus Cousins might be misunderstood, how that makes him easier to consider crazy than it is many other NBA players, and how there are arguments that his issues to date have been, if not caused, then exacerbated by external forces. Now, that in place: DeMarcus Cousins reared back and smacked a dude in the nads on Monday night, which is hard to blame on street agents, Paul Westphal or the Maloofs (much as we'd like to pin everything on them). Then, he said it wasn't intentional, which doesn't really pass the smell test and seems like just trying to avoid taking responsibility for doing something crummy, which probably won't help that lighten that shaded public perception very much.
On-court passion, intensity, competitive drive ... these are all things that people love to see in their team's players, especially their team's most talented players. But if you can't rein it in — or at least own up to the instances in which it boils over — you're going to have a hard time convincing people that you're a viable commodity worthy of the benefit of the doubt.
Now, all that said: Maybe chill out a tick, O.J. Mayo.
Obviously, it's very understandable that O.J. would be very displeased after being jacked in the nards, and eager to vent about it. And we're aware that watching Mayo blossom in a starting role in Dallas has been one of this early season's cool storylines — he's averaging just under 21 points, four rebounds, 3.5 assists and a steal per game, shooting nearly 49 percent from the field and a league-leading 53 percent from 3-point range, and dishing assists more frequently without turning it over more often, and has been a legit bright spot for an 11-10 Mavericks team doing its best to tread water while awaiting the return of Dirk Nowitzki, who's yet to play this season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee back in October.
But we're not that far removed from the days when Mayo got 'nuffed on a team plane for becoming "increasingly belligerent and antagonistic toward [Tony] Allen when asked to settle [a card-game] debt," and to hear NBA.com's Fran Blinebury tell it, Mayo's exit from Memphis this offseason "has made the Grizzlies' offense and locker room happier places" by removing a "cliquish" atmosphere "that often froze out [Rudy] Gay and made it tougher for [Mike] Conley to be the unifying quarterback and leader." I don't doubt that Mayo has grown himself as he's entered a new chapter in his life and career, but maybe someone whose own reputation around the league wasn't quite so shiny before this season would do well to pump the brakes on grand pronouncements about somebody else's maturity and mental/emotional development.
If that can happen, and if everybody can remember the lesson learned during the 2012 Summer Olympics from Facundo Campazzo-on-Carmelo Anthony and Nicolas Batum-on-Juan Carlos Navarro — namely, that hitting dudes in the testes is a big thumb's down, coolness-wise — I think we'll all be a little happier.
Video via MrBasketUSA.
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