You could see it coming from a mile away.
The Houston Rockets were destroying the Sacramento Kings behind all-points-everything dominance from James Harden, who outscored Sacramento by himself in the first quarter, 22-17, with a deluge of ill-defended drives that resulted in either finishes at the bucket or trips to the foul line. Add in some help from Chandler Parsons (eight points, three rebounds, two assists) and Dwight Howard (five points, seven rebounds), and Houston led by 25 entering the second quarter. The game was over nearly before it began, but DeMarcus Cousins' frustration was just beginning to mount. From Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
It started in the first quarter, when James Harden pulled him down by his shoulder while fighting to get around Cousins and Harden wasn’t called for a foul. Cousins made a point to speak to the officials about that during a timeout.
Cousins spoke to the officials again at halftime before heading to the locker room. His yelling became too much with 8:21 to play in the third quarter [...]
And that's when this happened.
Cousins disagreed vehemently — duh — with a call by referee Courtney Kirkland that sent Rockets forward Terrence Jones to the free-throw line and gave him five fouls. He loudly protested the call on the court, resulting in his first technical foul. After a pair of trips down the floor that ended with a Cousins miss and a Howard hook, the Kings were back down by 25 and head coach Michael Malone wanted a timeout.
The center, though, wanted to get back at Kirkland, so he popped up from the bench, went over the top of his coach to argue his own case with the refs. He promptly got slapped with a second tech, leading him to lose it, be restrained by assistant coach Corliss Williamson and teammate Carl Landry, and head back to the locker room for good with 8:21 left in the third quarter. He finished with 16 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes, as the Rockets breezed home to a 129-103 win behind 43 from Harden (who could have had a career-high if he hadn't sat the entire fourth quarter) to lead six Rockets in double figures.
After the game, Cousins' coach and teammates tried to put the outburst behind him, according to Jones:
“No one in our organization has said he’s a finished product by any means,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “He’s making the effort to try to get better. Obviously (Tuesday) he let his emotions get the best of him. We just have to try get back on track and try not to let it get to that point.”
There had been moments where Cousins had to be restrained this season. But none of them ended like they did Tuesday with Cousins being escorted to the locker room by team security as he flung his headband in disgust.
“I know we needed him out there, and he knows it,” Kings forward Rudy Gay said. “I had a little conversation with him, and I’ve lost my cool while I’ve been here. It happens. It’s just a matter of how you’re going to make up for it.”
Cousins began his attempt to "make up for it" by showing precisely 139 characters worth of contrition:
Disappointed with the way I acted out on the court tonight. I want to apologize and say sorry to my team and the fans for letting them down
— demarcus cousins (@boogiecousins) February 26, 2014
That is nice! It is good to apologize when you did something wrong and are sorry for having done it. Another good thing, though, would be for Cousins to ... um ... stop doing this? Maybe?
The outburst gave Cousins a league-leading 15 technical fouls on the season, two more than Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin and five more than Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson. If you're keeping score, Cousins led the NBA in technicals last season, and has ranked in the top five in the league in each of his four NBA seasons.
Cousins can afford the fines that come along with each T, thanks to the long-term maximum contract extension he received during the offseason. The Kings, however, can't afford to take Cousins' undeniably productive offense and rebounding out of the lineup, and that's exactly what's going to happen the next time he earns a technical — according to the punishment schedule laid out in the NBA rulebook, a player's 16th technical foul carries with it a $5,000 fine and a one-game suspension, with each tech afterward costing $5,000 apiece and every second tech afterward (the 18th, the 20th, the 22nd, and so on) costing Cousins another game on top of the $5,000 fine.
And while Cousins can say he's disappointed in himself for his actions and promise to do better, the reality is that he's picking up techs at a much faster clip this season than he has in the past:
• 2010-11: 14 technicals in 81 games, an average of one every 5.8 games
• 2011-12: 12 in 64, one every 5.3
• 2012-13: 17 in 75, one every 4.4
• 2013-14: 15 in 49, one every 3.3
To be fair, Cousins is averaging more minutes per game than he did in those first three seasons, and at least some of the technicals were likely informed by the reputation that Cousins has developed over the course of those three seasons. Still: This is not only still happening after more than 8,000 NBA minutes, but it's now happening more often.
That's not exactly what you want to see from the guy you just elected to pay as much money as you were allowed to under the collective bargaining agreement to be the face of your franchise, and it's a problem that neither Cousins nor the Kings have yet figured out how to deal with, as Malone said after the game, according to Jones:
“We’ll talk about what happened (Tuesday). There were a couple calls where he was very frustrated, and I understand his frustration. But somehow, some way, he’s too important to this team to be thrown out of a game. We have to find a way to control and harness those emotions and use that frustration in a positive way. When he’s able to do that, he’ll really take a turn for the better, and I look forward to that day.”
As will Kings fans, and Kings coaches, and Kings brass, and anyone else who would like to see the 23-year-old big man learn how to turn down the volume on his now infamous histrionics, leave behind the ref-directed aggression, and develop the capacity to regularly respond to whistle-based adversity without flipping his lid.
The Kings made their bed this past summer by betting big on Cousins' talents, and he's responded with his best season in terms of on-court output, showing an advancing collection of offensive skills (and even somewhat improved defensive work) that made him a legitimate consideration as a potential Western Conference All-Star reserve. Given the commitment they've made, the Kings can only hope that Cousins comes through with emotional maturation to match, and the sooner, the better.
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