SACRAMENTO, CA - DECEMBER 26: DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates after making a basket against the Los Angeles Lakers at Power Balance Pavilion on December 26, 2011 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
When news broke yesterday that Paul Westphal had suspended DeMarcus Cousins, two camps became immediately vocal. There were some who jumped to "I told you so", "he's a locker room cancer", or Derrick Coleman jokes. Those who jump to this camp are in the national media, and right here at Sactown Royalty. Their position is understandable. DeMarcus is a volatile player who exhibits a great deal of emotion on the court. Last season, a lot of that emotion was negative. Getting the benefit of the doubt is something you earn, and Cousins hasn't earned it. I get that.
I'm not here to explain why those people are wrong. I'm here to explain why I immediately went to the other camp, the side that is defending DeMarcus as loud as I can.
I believe that DeMarcus wears his emotions on his sleeve. I believe the reports that this might be an issue in the locker room. I believe that, yes, DeMarcus needs to grow up, be more mature, and be more of a professional. But I am going to continue defending him because I believe this situation has been mismanaged in the worst way.
DeMarcus Cousins feeds on emotion. Whether that emotion is positive or negative, he is going to feed off of it. As a coach, you can ask him to stifle that emotion. I mean, good luck with that, but you can certainly ask. Or, if you understand that he feeds on emotion, you can challenge him to focus his frustrations. Personally, I feel Cousins has done this pretty well early this season. His on-court attitude has been significantly improved. He has not taken himself out of games mentally. This is a huge step forward from last year.
Behind the scenes, Cousins still has issues dealing with his frustration. But that's ok. I don't want any player on the roster to be happy with how things were going after that Knicks game. I want the players to be upset. And I want the players to voice those concerns in the locker room. Not in the media, in the locker room. And I expect the coach to handle his player issues in the same way.
When Westphal got into his pissing contest with Spencer Hawes, he punished Spencer for airing concerns in the media. Westphal ignored the fact that Hawes was hardly the only player publicly voicing those concerns, but the coach's position was that Hawes should have kept the issues in the locker room. Just like Cousins did this weekend.
Cousins is still young. He's immensely talented, but still has work to do. He's hardly the first young player with maturity issues. But he's improving. The issues are not being expressed on the court or in the media. That's a step in the right direction. The next step is determining the right way to express his frustration.
The situation is a mess. Cousins is not without some measure of blame, but the lion's share is on Westphal. Westphal knows how the media works. Cousins has a reputation as a headcase, and knows that this will be added to that narrative. If Cousins was a beloved player, this would "demonstrate his passion for the game". Westphal is manipulating the situation.
This incident adds to a track record of Westphal's inability to manage the locker room personalities. I honestly believe that Westphal is doing what he feels is necessary, and what he believes is right. I'll give him that much credit. But that doesn't mean he's handling it right. The move reeks of a desperate attempt to reign in control. Perhaps the desperation stems from the warmth of Westphal's seat. If the move works, maybe Westphal buys himself a little more time.
If it doesn't work, and I don't think it will, I'm guessing Westphal's seat gets a little bit warmer.