Stop me — oh, oh, oh, stop me — if you've heard this one before, but all is not splendid and calm in the world of DeMarcus Cousins.
The Sacramento Kings center — whose most notable accomplishments this season have been arguing with a color commentator, losing his confidence and getting suspended for punching a dude in the stuff — was suspended indefinitely by the Kings last Saturday "for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team," a punishment stemming from a verbal altercation with head coach Keith Smart during Sacramento's Dec. 21 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers that resulted in the 22-year-old big man being benched and sent to the locker room for the entirety of the second half. Cousins apologized for his outburst after the game, but was held out of the Kings' Dec. 23 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, after which he emphasized that he wants to stay in Sacramento.
Now, here's where it gets tricky. (As if it was simple before.)
The Kings reinstated Cousins on Monday, after just one game on the shelf. But despite bringing Cousins back to the active roster, Smart chose not to bring Cousins to Portland for the back end of the home-and-home set on Wednesday, then said after Thursday's practice that he had made a decision as to whether he'd play Cousins in the Kings' Friday home game against the New York Knicks, but that he wouldn't share it “because that’s my prerogative to keep it where I want to keep it right now,” which, given Cousins' reinstatement four days earlier, seems weird.
Later Thursday, Smart said in a radio interview that he is "leaning toward" playing Cousins against the Knicks, so it's likely he'll return tonight. But that information had not been shared with Cousins as of the time he was compelled to speak with reporters on Thursday, which was, um, pretty terse. Like, Pop-on-Sager-level brusque.
On whether he'd been told anything about his chances of playing on Friday: "Nah."
On Smart saying a decision had been made, and whether he'd been let in on it: "I haven't."
On whether he expects to play against the Knicks: "I don't expect anything. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't."
On what he'd like to see happen: "I would like to play. That's not my decision."
On his thoughts about his suspension, reinstatement and relationship with Smart: "Nothing."
On whether he has any regrets: "Moved on from it. That's it."
On whether he sees how much the team needs him on the floor when he watches them play without him: "Absolutely."
On whether this has been one of the tougher weeks in the NBA for him: "I've had tough weeks before."
On whether he's learned anything from the experience: "Have I learned anything? Yeah."
Such as? "What I learned."
Which was? "The lesson I learned."
On how he's trying to remain focused in this situation: "I mean, through it all, just trying to stay positive. I mean, it's easier said than done ... it's been a rough week."
On whether he's spoken to new agent Dan Fegan about extricating him from Sacramento: "I'm focused on being a Sacramento King."
(Fegan, whom Cousins recently hired, is known for getting unhappy stars, like former King Kevin Martin and Dwight Howard, out of their situations and onto new teams.)
On whether he is angry: "Next question."
And, off Cousins storming out stage right ... scene. Great job, everybody.
Now, I'm no occupational therapist or sports psychologist, but to my untrained eyes and ears, that looks and sounds like a bad situation getting worse. CBSSports.com's Zach Harper agrees and — while not absolving Cousins, who's clearly not handling this whole deal too admirably — thinks that it's incumbent on the head coach to not only be the one to act professionally, but also stop making it worse:
When Cousins was suspended "indefinitely" for blowing up at his coach between the first and second quarters and again at halftime, Smart was teaching his young player a lesson. There is a certain line you can cross when talking to a coach who has had your back at all times this season, and DeMarcus apparently crossed it. You teach him the boundary and then you move on from the situation. It's a basic parenting/mentoring tactic.
What you don't do is lift the suspension and then leave him at home against the Portland Trailblazers the next game. You don't hem and haw about whether or not a guy is going to play when the only reason he shouldn't play is because of injury or suspension. If the suspension has been lifted and he's healthy, you're doing everybody in this situation a disservice.
It's not that Cousins' actions aren't punishable. They definitely are. It's that the punishment has to be clear. You can't string the guy along if you're hoping to repair the relationship.
That relationship — which seemed so strong last season, when Smart replaced Paul Westphal with a clear need to connect with Cousins, seemed to succeed in that capacity and sparked the best play of the young big man's career — seems to be hanging by a very thin thread right now, putting Smart, Cousins and the Kings at a pivotal point in their collective development, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
Smart has to be wary of the same situation Westphal dealt with. Not that he'll be fired, as Westphal was after his final spat with Cousins. But with the Kings at 9-19 the locker room is already on edge after every loss.
Add an important and angry player to that, the mix could be toxic.
Another bad loss against a visiting opponent — and a short-handed one at that, as the Knicks will again be without leading scorers Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton, plus reserve big man Rasheed Wallace and the still-injured tandem of Amar'e Stoudemire and Iman Shumpert — would only figure to make things worse, especially if Smart shifts course and leans away from playing Cousins. If that happens, it's probably a decent bet that the few terse words Cousins chooses to express himself will be a little more colorful than "Nah" and "Nothing."