The season is nearing its All-Star break, and DeMarcus Cousins has games to play that actually count. This is a first for him as a pro, as the Sacramento Kings center has yet to work this deep into an NBA February while still in a playoff race. It took an overtime victory against the tanking Philadelphia 76ers just for the team to line up at 10 games under .500 at the All-Star break last season, but this time around the Kings have a chance to be tied for the No. 8 seed in the West when the break hits after Thursday night.
With every game so vital, and with Sacto two games in back of the eighth-seeded Denver Nuggets entering Tuesday night’s road game against the Los Angeles Lakers, it was massively disappointing to spy Cousins earn his 15th and 16th technical fouls (and the resultant one-game league suspension) during a recent game against the hapless Chicago Bulls. Both were avoidable, unlike No. 17, earned on Sunday:
Yeah, that’s not a foul, much less a technical foul. But this is life when you’re working with 16 mostly well-earned technical fouls after 52 games.
For every second technical foul beyond No. 16, Cousins will earn a game’s suspension. But even if the referees don’t want to play a big role in Sacramento’s outlook by forcing Cousins out of the lineup, there will likely be times where they just can’t get out of the way and give Boogie the benefit of the doubt. They’ll try not to bench him, but sometimes neither side can help themselves.
DeMarcus, as is often the case, has us thinking as he looks ahead:
“It’s obvious I can’t be myself,” Cousins said. “Me playing how I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to, you know, do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”
Before we deaden ourselves in trying to untangle the meaning of one’s sense of self, whether you’re achieving full realization in basketball shorts or something else entirely, let’s credit Cousins for his composure in the wake of what was clearly an unearned technical foul on Sunday, one that was even upheld upon review:
“I just tried to gather my thoughts, get myself together,” Cousins said afterward. “The last couple of days have been very frustrating for me. I’m looking for it to ease up at some point, and it just doesn’t seem like it wants to or is going to happen.”
Cousins returned to contribute seven points and four rebounds in eight minutes before the half after finding a sense of space. He went on to post 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists (albeit alongside seven turnovers) with two steals and a block in the 105-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, even holding his composure after rookie Buddy Hield tumbled around amidst his gentleman’s vegetables.
That’s more or less the story of Cousins’ season, and career: brilliant individual performances revealed in the midst of chaos, with the impetus for the tumult (whether DeMarcus himself or encroaching influences, like perhaps “these guys” with the whistles) left to the discerning nature of the beholder.
Witness what our Eric Freeman wrote, after watching Cousins pointlessly chase (literally, in the first instance) two different technical fouls in a winnable game against Chicago, with a suspension and potentially lost appearance against the visiting Atlanta Hawks on the line:
I am a Cousins superfan and apologist for life, so I absolutely believe that referees sometimes hand him technicals based more on reputation than on his actions. But he has only himself to blame for these two techs and his absence on Wednesday. He could have walked away from each situation (or just not walked into the first) without much effort. This is who he is, to a certain extent, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for good decisions within that basic framework.
My friend Eric, perhaps because he is typically watching Kings games during what for him ranks as “local time,” is far more charitable than I when it comes to tolerating Boogieisms from the man I prefer to call “Mr. Cousins” while watching Kings games well past my bedtime.
The game that Mr. Cousins played against Chicago in January was clearly on his mind when he played Chicago earlier in February – the contest in which he earned technicals No. 15 and 16. And that suspension for what turned out to be a Kings win against Atlanta.
In that loss, Cousins was called for a phantom foul against Dwyane Wade in the final seconds, a non-reviewable call that referees had to unofficially “uphold” even after everyone watched this on a high-definition television:
(Those are Chicago announcers Neil Funk and Stacey King, typically homers in a notoriously grating way, agreeing throughout that Cousins had been robbed.)
That call was so bad that even the YouTube commenters got it right:
You might recall that Cousins reacted to that blown call – one that cost Sacramento a win – by avoiding a fine by also avoiding telling the truth at the same time:
The Fugazy Life might have to be Mr. Cousins’ approach, as he sees it. That NBA basketball sense is somehow a simpler sense than he’d prefer, but in order to survive, he’ll dumb down his game as he sees fit. As long as everyone else is getting things wrong.
Which they often are. Cousins has been failed by the Kings franchise – from differing owners to coaches to general managers – since he was drafted in 2010. They’re the reason that no February has counted for him thus far. And NBA referees, perhaps more so with DeMarcus than any other player, are quick to credit Cousins with a foul or (usually) technical foul that he doesn’t deserve.
Those misses pale in comparison to the fouls of every variety that Cousins has wholly earned, in spite of his ongoing protests. Those protests (unlike the ones pictured above) reinforce the knowledge that while Cousins was completely correct in reacting to the blown whistles that tend to dot his life, he’s not exactly a reliable judge of what is really wrong, and what is really right when it comes to calling a game in which Cousins plays.
Even for basketball, though, this got serious a long time ago.
The leader of a franchise, and hoped-for $207 million-contract man, cannot cost his team appearances for any fixable reason, much less suspensions earned through repeated technical fouls. Hell, in the context of most of these games (say, the most recent loss to Chicago), just costing his team technical foul free throw points is inexcusable.
The Kings are trying to make the playoffs since the last time Bonzi Wells was a key rotation staple. Cousins has to be the reason why the team strides into the postseason, not the reason they’ll slip out of it for the 11th consecutive season. He cannot earn many, or any, more technicals. He cannot be suspended.
How this relates to his sense of self will be up to him to figure out. The NBA has established that it doesn’t exactly expect Cousins to live the life of an ascetic, and he should wholly take advantage.
More on Yahoo Sports:
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• Tom Izzo lashes out at ESPN analyst over tweets
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