Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, as wonderfully misunderstood as ever

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins sits on the bench in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2014, in Dallas. The Mavericks came back from 24 points down to defeat Sacramento 106-98. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In an article penned by Bleacher Report senior NBA scribe Ric Bucher entitled, "Meet the Real DeMarcus Cousins: Strong-Willed, Maturing, Misunderstood," we're being convinced of the Sacramento Kings center's progress, even as Boogie refuses to acknowledge Charles Barkley's presence in person, throws his former coach under the bus and takes a veiled shot at Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

It's all as confusing as ever. Take these two Cousins quotes from Bucher's piece — on the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder's apparent evolution during USA Basketball service this summer — as Exhibits A and B.

"It's funny, I'm seeing stories about 'Cousins grew up so much' and I'm like, I just played basketball like I've been doing," he said. "They just finally saw me on a national stage, which most people have never seen. The only time some of them have seen me play is when it's something negative. All I did was be myself and now they're saying 'I grew up.' But, hey, I'll take it."

...

"I can't really say anything about basketball has changed, but my mind has grown," he said. "It's just my way of thinking. I can understand situations better. I understand the league better. I understand the politics of it."

Well, then, that clears it up. Glad we had this talk.

Statistically, at least, Cousins is correct about playing "like I've been doing," since his per-game averages of 22.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks are right in line with his numbers from a year ago. Yet, something does seem different from Cousins and the upstart Kings (5-3) this season.

He has career highs in true shooting percentage (57.9), rebounding percentage (league-high 21.2) and player efficiency rating (26.9), and his on/off numbers are roughly 30 points better this season than last, per Basketball Reference. He's committing himself to earning fewer technical fouls, enjoying some sweet chemistry with his teammates and even cooling coach Mike Malone off when things get heated.

Still, Cousins earned his reputation as a hothead for a reason. When he was a Mobile (Ala.) LeFlore High senior in 2008-09, a local reporter described him to me as "the worst thing about high school sports," and he lived up that stigma when he fouled out of his final game in the state semifinals loss on a technical. His actions at Kentucky and the first few seasons in Sacramento didn't do much to shed that reputation.

It was that same prep game when Boogie's rift with Barkley blossomed. As Charles explained in Bucher's piece, he went down to see his fellow Alabaman play, only to witness: "Cousins complained to referees incessantly, fouled out and picked up a couple of technical fouls in the process." Afterwards, Barkley dubbed the effort "very disappointing. I'd never seen him play in person. I was excited to see him. But he didn't do anything to dominate the game in any way. He's big. But big don't work in college or the pros."

For a while there, it seemed like Charles might be on to something, especially when former Kings coach Paul Westphal — who ironically butted heads at times with Barkley on the Phoenix Suns during their only season together — suspended his former No. 5 overall pick for conduct detrimental to the team in 2012.

All the while, though, Cousins took notes, as we learned in a few jabs aimed at Barkley in Bucher's piece.

"I have no respect for you and I never will. We have nothing to talk about. So, yes, every time we see each other, there will never be words."

...

"Coming up as a kid and hearing that from one of the best players ever to come out of Alabama," Cousins said, "a guy people grow up looking up to, to hear him say, 'Well, he's not that good...' I remember it like it was yesterday. Then, coming into my rookie season, you take up for your ex-coach and say I'm the worst thing that ever happened to Sacramento on national TV. Yeah, I'm going to remember."

...

"As of right now, I have no respect for him and don’t really care to forgive him, so I don’t have the answer to that."

Seven games into this season, a "matured" Cousins is as strong-willed as ever, also pulling no punches when asked about Westphal ("The man got himself fired. He was losing before I got here.") and Paul.

When he prevented teammate Isaiah Thomas from shaking Chris Paul's hand after Cousins missed a last-second shot for a one-point defeat last November, he was immediately tagged as a poor sport. The real reason: He couldn't abide a teammate helping Paul, whose choir-boy image off the court belies one of the biggest trash-talkers and ruthless competitors on it, glossing that wholesome image.

It still irritates him that perception is not always reality.

"It really gets under my skin. Sometimes I feel like (the media) has so much control over what kind of person you can be, no matter what the reality is. You see guys they praise who they think are the greatest guys in the league, and they're a--holes—they're the worst people ever. And then there are people they bash, for whatever reason, and you meet them and they're the coolest people ever. I just hate that fact. Some of what I get, I deserve; I do some dumb stuff sometimes. But I do not deserve the perception that I have."

That may very well be true, but it's going to take a lot more than two weeks to rewrite his narrative. Perhaps Cousins is misunderstood simply because he's impossible to understand, and that's OK. Often, the game's greats are the toughest to figure out. Here's hoping he stays in that conversation.

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Ben Rohrbach

is a contributor for Ball Don't Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!