How do you coach DeMarcus Cousins? It's a question that has baffled Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, and now, it seems, George Karl. There's still time for Karl to figure it out. If he's going to, he should heed the words of the one man who did it successfully: Michael Malone.
Malone recently sat down for an excellent Q&A with Grantland's Zach Lowe. It's a wide ranging piece that you should definitely check out, but the part of Cousins is what stands out the most.
The story goes that you won over Cousins by praising him publicly — "he's our All-Star, he's an All-NBA player" — but getting on him hard in practice. Is that true?
I don't believe in throwing players under the bus. Some coaches will coach through the media. I don't believe in that. I'm gonna protect our guys. But in practice, and in meetings, if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, I'm gonna let you know it. DeMarcus and I are similar. He's a big African American guy from deep down south, and I'm a skinny Irish guy from New York City. But we had the same makeup. We're very competitive. We hated to lose. When things weren't going right, I wasn't afraid to get on him.
The stories of DeMarcus's practice tantrums are legendary. Were you ever worried that things might go too far?
No. I have to be who I am. When people ask DeMarcus about me, I think the things he respected about me was that I was always honest. If you're dishonest, you're done. You're out. I never tried to B.S. him. I was real. If he messed up, I got on him. If he did good things, I praised him. I believed in him.
That relationship was constant work. Constant. But we came to a deep respect.
This tells us two things.
First, it tells us that DeMarcus can be coached. You earn his respect and trust, and he will respond. And you don't have to handle Cousins with kid gloves. Anyone who has seen Malone coach knows he doesn't do so with a gentle touch. He's fiery, he's demanding, he yells. That style can work for Cousins. That's great news for George Karl, and by extension for Kings fans.
Second, it tells us you need to be direct and honest with DeMarcus. He doesn't respond to "coaching through the media", as Malone puts it. We've known this since Westphal coached the team. Praise Cousins in public, criticize him behind closed doors. It's the simple.
So far, this second piece has been the source of friction between Cousins and Karl. Karl is stubborn, but he's smart. We Kings fans just have to hope that he can learn from the one man who successfully reached DeMarcus.