Kentucky basketball fans’ love for DeMarcus Cousins runs deep through their pores, there’s no denying that.
Whether it was the “call me” game, the putback layup as time expired to send the SEC championship against Mississippi State to OT, or dancing at midcourt after leading the Wildcats to their NCAA record 2000th win in program history, Boogie was a fan favorite from the start and gave the John Calipari era at Kentucky one of the most entertaining kick-starts you could possibly ask for.
Now that Cousins is dominating the NBA ranks, however, his reputation has taken quite a beating.
Opposing fans call out his temper tantrums, bad attitude on the court, knack for piling up technical fouls, immaturity, existence as a locker room cancer, etc. Every negative aspect of Cousins seems to be put under a microscope, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.
Now how could a guy that was loved by so many in his time at Kentucky become such a villain in the professional ranks?
Cousins is averaging 27 points and 12 rebounds a game, absolutely dominating the game of basketball. His low-post offensive moves are a thing of beauty, as he can score on anyone in the NBA. He has developed a consistent jump shot extending beyond the three point line, can rebound with the best of them, and has become a great defender, averaging 1.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. Many are calling him the best big man in the game right now, some of which claiming he has what it takes to become one of the greatest big men in league history.
But what exactly does he have to show for it?
Before you throw the “he’s making millions of dollars a year to play a game, he can get over it” card, understand his history.
Cousins grew up dominating each stop of the way in winning environments. Grade school, high school, college, and now the pros. He led his high school to back-to-back semifinal appearances in the Alabama state tournament. He led the 2009-10 Kentucky team to a 35-3 record and an Elite Eight appearance. At each stop he won games at a pleasing rate, all except for in the NBA, when he’s actually getting paid to play the game. He’s worked his entire life to get to the point he’s at right now, and the organization he plays for isn’t doing their part to create a winning atmosphere despite countless top ten draft selections and money to spend in free agency.
Let’s say you’re in his shoes for just one day. You’re drafted into a Sacramento Kings organization that has yet to prove in recent years it knows which end is up. The front office has proven itself time and time again it lacks competency or ability to put the team in position for success in the future. The Kings haven’t won more than 33 games in a year since Cousins has been on the roster and they have drafted in the top ten each of the last seven seasons. They have had five different head coaches since Boogie was drafted, and finished 19th overall in terms of fan attendance this past season. No one wants to play for them, no one can coach them, and no one wants to spend money to watch their games.
Any major success for the Sacramento Kings doesn’t seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.
Oh, and let’s go back to the money thing. The NBA salary cap is spiking at an alarming rate, thus players are getting paid ridiculous sums of cash that doesn’t quite translate to their production on the court. Timofey Mozgov, the guy that averaged a whopping 1.2 points and 1.6 rebounds in roughly five minutes an outing for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Playoffs, received a contract of four years, 64 million dollars this offseason. Cousins signed a four year, $65,619,700 extension with the Kings back in 2014, meaning he will be making roughly the same salary as Mozgov till 2018.
If that’s not a punch in the stomach for Cousins, I don’t know what is. Frankly, anyone that wouldn’t be at least halfway upset with his situation in Sacramento is lying to themselves.
He’s spending his prime in a place that can’t seem to win games. When he vents his frustrations or lets his emotions get the best of him on the court, he becomes a media target and gets criticized. No matter the countless hours of charity work he puts in or dollars he gives away to those in need, his “immaturity” and “temper tantrums” gets highlighted on the daily ESPN talk shows and plastered all over the internet rather than the good he does.
He’s frustrated, and has every right to be.
Imagine him in a winning situation around a coaching staff with half a lick of stability, where he could spend his nights in early summer dominating the Playoffs, rather than sitting at home on the couch. Where fans could watch his growth into superstardom on primetime television, rather than at 10:30 p.m. on a no-name channel or League Pass during the regular season.
What reason would he have to act up on the court? He’d have the money, the teammates, the coaches, and the winning culture. His brand would change, his image would improve, his attitude would completely spin 180 degrees, and he could finally become the Boogie in the pros we all came to love in his time at Kentucky. The script on his career would flip entirely.
So next time you hear someone call Cousins a thug, crybaby, chemistry-killer, or whatever hot garbage spews from the latest hater’s mouth, remind them of the situation he’s in and where he came from. Remind them that he’s wasting away his prime years in an incompetent organization, not making the money he deserves, for a coach that probably won’t be the same as the previous year.
Sacramento, please do this kid a favor and trade him.
Follow me on Twitter at @JackPilgrimKSR