Given that DeMarcus Cousins has been fined and kicked out of practice by his coach some 15 games into his rookie season, that headline is pretty silly, right? DeMarcus Cousins has put the Kings in a tough spot by living up to his reputation, a reputation he (and the Kings, publicly) swore was false.
The Kings are in a tough spot, because they have promoted the Hades out of this kid, and this kid is apparently turning Paul Westphal's life into Hades on Earth. Every man is responsible for his own actions, and Cousins is to blame for acting unprofessionally at practice. But the Kings fed this when they pumped him up with extranormal attention and confidence.
In other words, there aren't banners with Derrick Favors' face hanging off the side of Newark's skyscrapers.
The Kings fed Cousins' swag, and maybe he would still feel above the (coach's) law regardless, and maybe the net impact (in season tickets sold, or whatever) is such that it's still a good bet by the franchise to overpromote a young, young rookie with some question marks.
But here's the other tough spot: the Kings are stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to handling Westphal's future going forward.
Two pieces from Sam Amick's FanHouse write-up on the latest Cousins incident are vital. They are both in this paragraph, and I have bolded them:
Westphal's coaching seat might have been red-hot right now if not for the fact that his $2 million contract option for the 2011-12 season was picked up following the Kings' 25-win season in 2009-10. As it stands, he has quite the task at hand not only to connect with Cousins but a number of his teammates who are privately grumbling about the steadily declining situation.
Had the Kings not picked up that option, the only financial cost of firing Westphal would be the nominal raise they'd offer the new interim head coach, who would almost assuredly be Mario Elie. But the Maloofs did pick up the option; now, if they fire Westphal midstream or at season's end, they must pay Westphal $2 million next year and the new coach his new salary.
Is that small potatoes? It should be -- Antoine Wright 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.
That's where that second line of emphasis from Amick's piece comes into play. If more of the team -- Tyreke Evans, specifically -- sours on Westphal, the franchise has more cover in canning the coach without appearing to cave to the rookie. It's not foolproof, because, well, Evans isn't going to get himself kicked out of practice or fined for screaming at Daniel Shapiro. That's not Evans. And, as we all know, Evans isn't exactly the most calculating speaker when the media shows up with recorders. If Evans' frustration about Westphal comes to light, it will be through anonymous sourced reports, and those will do only so much when it comes to turning COUSINS DEFEATS WESTPHAL into KINGS GIVE UP ON WESTPHAL, which is, in my opinion, necessary for the Kings to actually can Westphal.
I note again that I'm not convinced firing Westphal solves anything, though I don't think he's so good or promising that he deserves special consideration. His handling of the Spencer Hawes benching last year -- when, remember, Evans had made identical comments, but suffered no punishment -- weighs heavily as the Cousins era comes into focus. Westphal is smart enough to know which stars shouldn't be messed with, but can't quite figure out where to draw line in the grand scheme. Does anyone think he'll figure it out with this cast of characters yankin' his strings?