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The (Not-So) Great Debaters: The Cousins Conundrum

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In this column, Exhibit G and I debate the recent situation around DeMarcus Cousins. G has already eloquently defended Cousins in a post earlier today, while I share some differing opinions. The following is our debate.

ExG: Based on my post earlier today, I believe you know my general position. From what I gather, you don't agree. Let's start by you explaining your position to me.

A16: First off, I have to clarify that I did not like Westphal's public airing of DeMarcus' heat of the moment trade demand. That being said, I also take issue with what I see as a grown man acting as a petulant, entitled child in asking for a trade before his second year has even started (Westphal said that Cousins first made this demand on Dec. 24th). DeMarcus is immensely talented. That talent has not yet turned into consistent production to warrant capitulating to his every whim. Cousins has issues with the offense, yet Cousins is also the main cog of the offense, if you look at his team high Usage rate during his short tenure. Over that time DeMarcus has been exceedingly inefficient, turnover prone and displayed a bad attitude on the court (something that to his credit he seems to have worked on this year).

I don't think Westphal is on a power trip or anything here. I think he legitimately wants to teach DeMarcus a lesson and try to help him to grow up. Is Westphal the right person to do this? He probably isn't. But you can't fire Westphal because DeMarcus has issues with him. If you do, you're showing DeMarcus that he's in control of this franchise and that if he complains enough, he'll get his way, and I don't think that's the lesson we're trying to teach DeMarcus here.

ExG: Let's back up for a moment. Part of your argument is that DeMarcus first made this demand on December 24th. Paul Westphal has stated this and emphasized this. It is a key factor in his justification to suspend Cousins. Do you consider a player, in frustration, shouting "If you don't like me, trade me!" a legitimate trade demand?

A16: That's semantics. The fact is that DeMarcus at two points in the last week, has asked to be traded in some way. Players get heated and complain all the time. But demanding a trade is something else entirely, and it shouldn't be used flippantly. Luckily, the Kings seem intent on not trading him and trying to tame this wild horse. They knew what they were getting into when they drafted him (these kind of issues are why were even in a position to draft him where we did anyway).

ExG :I'll agree that "trade me!" should not be shouted recklessly. No argument there. But I also believe that 21-year-olds tend to inappropriately shout things in anger that shouldn't be.

I'm glad you brought up the draft. They knew what they were getting into. They knew they would need to work with him, work with his temper and his attitude, and help him grow as a person. This is why he was available with the 5th pick. Which makes me ask who deserves blame here? On one hand we have a 21-year-old kid with known attitude concerns. He's had outbursts, and we've seen his attitude impact his play on the court last season. This seasons his attitude on the court has been improved, and he has kept his frustrations private. That, to me, shows progress in his maturity.

On the other hand we have a coach with a public history on not being able to manage players with attitude issues, and who has a default response to suspend players who don't respond to his style. He's done it with Spencer Hawes, and he's done it with Gary Payton. Although neither side has commented directly, the argument seems to be over the lack of an apparent system (in Cousins' view), or the player not being willing to buy into a system (in Westphal's view). The coach decided to take this public.

I know you've stated you disagree with Westphal airing this publicly. But given that, how is this Cousins' fault?

A16: I'll give you that over the course of the 4 games DeMarcus has played so far this season, his on-court demeanor has been greatly improved (Small Sample Size Insitute approved). As for keeping his frustrations private, I don't believe that is the case when you take into account his post-game interview after the New York game where he consistently and sarcastically kept saying "Gotta do what the coach says".

As for Westphal taking this publicly, he stated that if he had not released anything, the media would have been clamoring for an answer as to why DeMarcus has not been playing. Even if he had just stated that he had stayed home for "conduct detrimental to the team" or something, some reporter likely would have dug up something, and rumors would start swirling. This way it came straight from the team and they at least have a chance to control the story. I think that if you have a player who consistently misbehaves and who consistently doesn't follow direction, something has to be done eventually.
I may not like exactly how Westphal has handled this, but if I was in his position, I don't know if I could have done any better.

ExG: You're right, by Westphal giving details the team has a chance to control the situation. But does it seem like it was controlled?

Westphal told some of the story, but not the whole story. If someone came up to me and asked me to explain why exactly Cousins was suspended, I couldn't construct an accurate narrative of what went down. None of us can, because the information has been kept quiet. The organization is not in a good position either way. Either they explain what happened (or at least one side of what happened) and throw Cousins under the bus, or they say nothing and let the story leak. I suppose my biggest issue is that this approach attempts to straddle both approaches. Why not go the tight-lipped route, and then have a controlled leak to the media explaining what caused the issues? Tried and true.

A16: I think the point behind all of this was to teach DeMarcus a lesson in humility. That's one reason I think they included the fact that he demanded to be traded. I actually think that part of the statement is the clearest evidence that the Kings do NOT intend to trade him (since it effectively kills his value if they do). Geoff Petrie and even the Maloofs have also come out and stated that the team does not intend to trade Cousins. Cousins is going to have grow up one way or the other, and maybe exposing some of his bad behavior helps. Maybe it doesn't. Either way, his future with the team depends on how much he tries to fit in, instead of being his own man.

Another reason I think the Kings are taking the wait and see approach on DeMarcus aside from his youth and potential is the fact that this is Westphal's last year. He's not going to be retained if the product on the court doesn't improve. If that is the case, you hire a new coach and move on. But that's the only reason you should fire or not retain Paul Westphal (that is, if the team has a crappy record and has not improved), not because DeMarcus doesn't like him or the plays he runs. Who knows, maybe DeMarcus is really not buying in and that is causing a lot of the offensive cohesion problems we're seeing. He's certainly using up a ton of possessions so far this year without much to show for it.

ExG: I agree the team isn't looking to trade him, that much seems clear. I think you hit the hidden nail on the head. Westphal is smart enough to know how important this season is to his continued coaching career. He needs the team to make a leap forward, or he's done as the coach of the Kings. Given how long he had to wait after Seattle to get another coaching job, he also surely realizes that if the Kings fail to improve, it is likely the end of his coaching career anywhere in the NBA.

I hope this tactic works. I honestly do. I'd be shocked if it does, but I hope it gets the team moving in the right direction. I hope Cousins and Westphal can look back on this as a positive turning point in their relationship, and laugh about it as they embrace each other and hoist the O'Brien Trophy. But I feel it is far more likely that Westphal has simply expedited his eventual departure.

A16: I don't think many Kings fans think Westphal is the guy who will carry us to the promised land, but Cousins possibly could if he lives up to his potential. The Kings need to find a way to rein him in though, and Cousins himself needs to find a way to play nicely with others, because if he doesn't, it won't matter what other coach we bring in. My greatest fear with DeMarcus is that he'll become a player who finally grows up and lives to his potential, but on another team. I don't want to see that happen, and it's going to take a lot of work from both the organization and DeMarcus to ensure it doesn't.