There isn't a lot of in between in the narrative surrounding Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins - people either latch on to his success or lash out against his shortcomings.
He's praised for his All-Star nod, thundering dunks and fancy footwork, then ridiculed in dramatic fashion when he blows a defensive assignment. It comes with the territory as a star in the NBA, and he is a star, a well-deserving one who has openly welcomed Sacramento as his basketball home - loyalty is love is his mantra, after all.
Sometimes love hurts.
It isn't his numbers, his effort on defense or his All-Star appearance that matter right now. The underlying story with Cousins is that the weight of the Kings franchise is on his shoulders. The coaching switch from Michael Malone to Tyrone Corbin in December has made that weight even heavier. The Kings continue to spiral out of control as Cousins is tasked with performing at a high level and being the leader who makes sure his teammates fall in line.
The wins aren't there, but the way Boogie is handling it right now (go check out the NBA technical foul leaders list) may be the most impressive aspect about the 24-year-old, who has seen far more downs than ups over his five-year career with the Kings.
In his postgame comments on Thursday, Cousins sent a strong message with one word.
When asked if this is the most frustrated he has been in his five-year career in Sacramento, he responded with, "Absolutely."
That is saying something ladies and gentlemen. And it is something that his teammates and the front office needed to hear. The Kings had a combined record of 102-210 in the four previous seasons and for the better part of Cousins' time with the Kings, there was no money laying around for free agents and the future of the franchise was uncertain due to relocation rumors. He also had a well-documented feud with Paul Westphal and a falling out with Keith Smart. But all of that doesn't compare to where things are at right now?
Cousins has no other choice than to lead by example and hope his teammates fall in line, that is all he can do at this point. The problem is the rest of the team still looks confused. There doesn't appear to be much understanding of the direction of the franchise from the players, mainly Corbin's attempt at implementing the up-tempo style that the front office wants to play.
After the Dallas Mavericks ran the Kings off their home floor without Dirk Nowitzki and Rajon Rondo, Cousins called his teammates out, urging them to play with some pride and take their job seriously. It wasn't that long ago when the entire locker room was buzzing with excitement and taking pride in a system that was resulting in wins. Back in November, the chemistry was there. You saw it on the floor, on the bench and in the comments after the games. We will never know if the Kings would have been able to sustain those winning ways if Malone would have remained the coach, but something tells me it wouldn't have gotten to this point.
The firing of Malone and its impact on the direction of this team has been discussed to the point of nausea, but Cousins' comments on Thursday may be the most telling example of that impact, even though he didn't want to delve into the topic with reporters.
When asked about the the coaching change Thursday, Cousins quickly said, "we're not going there." In reality, he didn't need to go there because indirectly, he already had. He was calling out his teammates to play with heart, but the team hasn't had much spirit or fight in them since December. It should be the responsibility of the players to move beyond the coaching change and find it within themselves to play with more passion. There just doesn't seem to be much buy-in and unfortunately, most of the players are beginning to look like they are worried about their individual games more than the team.
The big man expects more.
"Same team that was winning is the same guys in the locker room now, ain't nothing changed but the attitudes with these guys in the room, everybody in this room, that's the only thing that's changed - our attitudes," Cousins told reporters Thursday.
That attitude shift began after Malone coached his last game in December against the Detroit Pistons. Cousins' frustrations on Thursday were an indirect result of that.
Boogie has had to deal with a lot in Sacramento. He still has his flaws and admits he needs to improve his body language, but he is far from the guy who had run-ins with Paul Westphal. He is attempting to lead by example, which was illustrated on this block Thursday in the midst of a manhandling by the Mavs (check out the score in the lower right corner).
This, and the fact he is willing to call out his teammates in a constructive manner are positives.
With Tyrone Corbin essentially serving as a lame duck coach at this point, much of the burden for the team's effort falls on Cousins. He is doing all he can to right this ship and he should be commended for that because the lost sense of identity of the Kings as a whole continues to place the weight of the kingdom on his shoulders.
Something has to give.