July 7, 2012; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Team USA guard Kevin Durant, guard Russell Westbrook and center DeMarcus Cousins during practice at the UNLV Mendenhall Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
As I watched Sunday's gold medal game between the United States and Spain, I kept watching the Gasol brothers own the paint. I watched as Team USA struggled to match up. Tyson Chandler and Kevin Love did enough, obviously, and this is in no way a knock on them. I like those guys. Hell, I love Kevin Love and his game. But he's no defensive stalwart, and there's no scenario where Rick Adelman will be preparing for a game against the Grizzlies and think to himself "you know, I think I'll have Love guard Marc all night."
And that led me to think about DeMarcus Cousins. It made me think about how, after Team USA lost potential players such as Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge, they really could have used someone of Cousins' size and experience. The selection of Anthony Davis was defended as a defensive choice, but he was used sparingly throughout the Olympics. Davis is still very raw, and sat on the bench as the U.S. struggled to control the paint Sunday.
And then I started thinking about LeBron James, and his growth. I was thinking about how this was clearly LeBron's squad. He was the player you expected to take over down the stretch. Gone were the days of 2008 when LeBron was all too happy to defer to Kobe Bryant down the stretch. 2008 was called the Redeem Team, but these Olympics were the culmination of LeBron's personal redemption. Leading the Miami Heat to the championship, winning a much-deserved MVP, finally embracing the post game, and now leading his peers on the world stage and becoming the star on a team of stars.
Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski had an excellent article on Monday about LeBron's growth and emergence. I highly suggest reading it in its entirety.
As I read that article, I kept thinking about Cousins.
The article talks about how LeBron was given an ultimatum by the Team USA program after 2006. He had to shape up, take it seriously, or he'd be out. But this is the specific quote that got me thinking about Cousins:
"LeBron James is a different player and a different person than he was in '06," Colangelo said in a private moment after the United States' 107-100 gold medal victory. "And I say that with exclamation marks. He's matured incredibly as a person, player and leader."
We've discussed in great depth the problem with Colangelo's flippant remarks about Cousins' maturity. Colangelo lost a lot of respect in my book when he wrote off his comments as simply "not feeling well". Colangelo even went on to praise Cousins as camp progressed. Nonetheless, Colangelo should serve as a wake-up call to Cousins.
Cousins went into camp taking it seriously, there's no question there. He was the most intense player, fighting and scrapping and banging to prove he deserved to be there. He showed that fire. He realized he belonged among players of All-Star caliber. His wake-up call has nothing to do with how seriously he takes the game.
The wake-up call for Cousins should be how he is perceived. Colangelo was wrong in what he did. He blasted a kid he'd never spoken to, never directly interacted with. But he did that based on a reputation attached to Cousins long before camp.
Most of us around here understand Cousins, and we've seen enough of him to look past some of the on-court antics. We see his faults, but we also see his strengths. We've seen enough of him to know that we like the person underneath those on-court antics. As James Ham once said, Cousins is "an acquired taste." But Cousins needs to be more than that.
There's no excusing what Colangelo did. With the talk of implementing an under-23 rule for the Olympics, there's a chance that Colangelo's prejudices could cost Cousins his only chance to represent his country in the Olympics. I doubt that happens, but there's a chance. Even without an under-23 rule, Colangelo owes it to the Team USA program to be better than that. He owes it to the program, to his country, to get to know the candidates for the team before he decides their fates.
But while there's no excusing Colangelo, I hope it serves as a wake-up call to DeMarcus in the same way Team USA delivered a wake up call to LeBron. Cousins has never lacked the fire, but I hope the Select Team experience taught him just how hard he needs to bring it to be truly elite. In 2016 or 2020, I want Woj writing about Cousins' growth and dominance.
Cousins has the potential. We know he's willing to work. Now I want him to overcome. Overcome his reputation, overcome his foul trouble, overcome his shooting percentage. Become a player that isn't an acquired taste, but that is impossible not to admire.