There were unending warning signs surrounding DeMarcus Cousins(notes) as he left Kentucky and declared himself NBA eligible last spring, but a whole bevy of us NBAniks declared everything fine and dandy with the talented forward/center as the Kings selected him fifth overall last June. Mainly because, speaking for myself, we didn't know any better.
But the note that began, can also destroy. The same rumors and uneasiness that led Cousins to drop to fifth in the draft are now finding a home at the professional level, as it's become clear that Cousins and beleaguered Kings coach Paul Westphal just aren't getting on at all. While the Kings slide back into the lottery rankings, yet again.
FanHouse's Sam Amick has the story:
After two incidents in mid-October led to a $5,000 team fine and the revelation that Cousins had been living up to his reputation for unpredictability, he was kicked out of practice on Monday, according to the Sacramento Bee.
Kings coach Paul Westphal disclosed his decision to the newspaper but didn't disclose his reasoning. Yet three sources with knowledge of the situation told FanHouse that Cousins was booted for having numerous arguments with Westphal during practice.
The situation, according to one team source, is hardly anything new in what has been a frustrating start for the 20-year-old and his 4-11 team.
"They always fight," the source said. "They can't get along."
This is the part where I point out that Westphal has been walked on, before.
The Phoenix Suns developed, or at least sustained, a country-club reputation under his watch in the early 1990s. And while he was given a terrible situation to walk into as Seattle GM Wally Walker's guy in replacing George Karl as coach in the latter part of that decade, he didn't help himself by letting what was a volatile group of personalities ... well, act the part.
And now he's having to deal with it again. And while I don't want to tell a young man like Cousins to know his place and all that twaddle, he is just 20, and we all know how much we thought we knew when we were 20 -- and those who don't know are likely 20 (or under) and will be commenting in the section below this column. So while Westphal might be wrong in his handling of yet another team, in this instance (for all we know), he might be so, so right.
It doesn't matter, in either direction, though. Because, as Sam Amick pointed out, the Kings picked up Westphal's $2 million contract option for next season after a surprisingly successful 2009-10 turn. And to a team like the Kings, with no playoff revenue and a stadium that hardly brings in the big bucks, $2 million is no joke. So Westphal, for better or worse, is more or less ensconced.
This is where the esteemed Tom Ziller, who also happened to be a Sacto superfan, takes over:
Is that small potatoes? It should be -- Antoine Wright(notes) basically earned half of Westphal's 2011-12 salary for a whopping two points this season. Westphal's 2011-12 salary is about 4 percent of the team's payroll ... and, mind you, the Kings have one of the lowest payrolls in the league. In the grand scheme of running a modern NBA team, $2 million is almost nothing.
That's not how the Maloofs see it, of course, and who could blame them? But, Amick's almost assuredly right: that 2011-12 salary is a big barrier to replacing Westphal now, barring outright catastrophe. Does Cousins qualify?
And there's the hard place: If the Kings fire Westphal once it's widely known he severely clashes with Cousins, the decision can do nothing but embolden Bad Cousins, which is the worst thing possible for the kid's career. That may seem like Around the Horn-like overblown commentary, but really: What we know about Cousins shows that he takes a foot when offered an inch. From shot selection to these dealings with the coaches -- he's not shy about throwing his weight around, right? Vanquishing a coach Cousins clashes with won't do anything to help tamp down Cousins' ego.
This is all true. But this is all assuming that Cousins is the bad guy here. And while I'd like to believe the well-heeled gentleman who enjoyed a very successful NBA career and doesn't curse in front of his players and has coached two different teams to the playoffs is the right guy -- sorry to pull a Stan Van Gundy -- I just don't know. I'm not in that locker room, and I'm not in those huddles.
We should lean in the direction that blames Cousins, though. A good chunk of us ignored all the issues that he left behind in Kentucky to call the Kings brilliant for snatching him up after Wesley Johnson, we didn't mind the giant and presumptive banners (and there are giant banners; just watch those Kings games) featuring him that drape Arco Arena, and we hoped for the best. But he's also a 20-year-old who ... actually, just forget the rest. He's 20.
And none of us, no matter the mistakes he may be making in terms of rotation and/or game planning, should envy Paul Westphal at this point.
(Although having a $2 million contract option must be nice.)