There is no question that rookie Dennis Schroeder should have been called for a flagrant foul during the Sacramento Kings’ loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night. His shot below the belt to DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t a quick pop. In fact, it brought back memories of my yearly high school sports physical – “please turn your head to the left and cough.”
Cousins was incensed. If he had a chair, he probably would have thrown it. But instead, he got called for chucking Al Horford off his line on the other end a few plays later, which drew a quick flagrant from the officials.
The refs went to the tape and rescinded the flagrant against Cousins, but the damage was done. Once again, Cousins was the bully and the guy singled out for misbehaving.
How did the officials miss the Schroeder call on the court? And how did they miss a 6-foot-10, 270-pound man screaming bloody murder while another player violated him?
“I took a cheap shot to my lower area,” Cousins said following the game. “They (the refs) just blew it off. I guess because it was me. But as soon as something happens on the other end, because it’s me, they run to the camera.”
Cousins might be right. The refs may have “blew it off”, ignoring the fact that not only was he was being fouled, but in an egregious manner. Or maybe the refs just missed the foul.
The tape is damning. Enough so that Schroeder got the call from the NBA telling him that he will lose a game check for his actions. And rightfully so.
This is another learning lesson for the Kings’ 23-year-old franchise cornerstone. At least hopefully it is. He is always going to be the center of attention, because he makes himself into the center of attention.
Was Cousins wronged? Yes. Is there a process for dealing with that situation? Yes. But that process does not include retaliation or berating the officials.
This isn’t a piece intended to slam Cousins as a player or person. It is more to point out a harsh reality.
Being DeMarcus Cousins isn’t easy and no matter how upset he gets, things aren’t going to change. This is the bed that Cousins made. And while he would like to be treated like everyone else, that is not how the world works.
Paul Westphal was the first to try and impart this knowledge into the talented young big man. Cousins felt like he was being singled out by Westphal and he probably was. Westphal got the 20-year-old Cousins fresh out of Kentucky, along with a roster filled with misfits. Tough love was needed, but Cousins would have none of it. So Westphal lost his job and Keith Smart took over.
Smart tried to be Cousins’ friend. He had him over for dinner and tried to treat him like a son. At first, it worked, but you can’t treat everyone the same, because not everyone acts the same.
Cousins looked like a new man until the losses piled up. When the losses piled up, Smart had no answer. The franchise was sold and Smart lost his job, but he was out either way.
Now the new Kings regime has anointed Cousins the face of the franchise. They gave him a $62 million extension and handed him the keys to the Kingdom. But that does not buy him respect on the basketball court from players, coaches or referees.
Respect is earned and unfortunately for Cousins, he is three years behind the curve. He is now tasked with rebuilding his own reputation, one game at a time. It is difficult and tedious work, but that is how he must go about his business.
There is also the possibility that Cousins cannot rehabilitate the way people view him. He may have to live through the remainder of his playing career with the understanding that he is a marked man.
New Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal may be able to help him come to grips with this reality. O’Neal was marked for a different reason. Do you remember “Hack-a-Shaq”?
Shaq is one of the most amazing physical specimens that professional sports has ever seen. At 7-foot-1, 325 pounds, O’Neal could run and jump and had incredible agility. The only answer for his opponents was to hammer him and send him to the free-throw line where he shot 52.7 percent for his career.
Teams began carrying extra centers on their roster just to foul O’Neal all game long. Shaq had to learn to play through the abuse and so does Cousins.
Like it was for O’Neal, the scouting report is out on Cousins. It’s no different than taking away a player’s left hand or forcing a player to put the ball on the floor. The scouting report for Cousins says to slap him, grab him, whisper nastiness in his ear – do whatever you can do to get in his head. If you don’t, he will beat you at the game of basketball.
Unfortunately for Cousins, he has put himself in a position where no one is coming to his aid. The refs come into the game knowing that he is going to be on them all game long. They know that he’s a volcano ready to erupt. But their job is to watch the play of 10 men, not one.
So when the refs aren’t looking, he is fair game. Even when the refs are looking, every bench in the NBA has a player willing to go in and give six hard fouls and maybe even pick up a technical or two.
As Cousins improves as a player, he is only going to become a bigger target. If you can’t slow down his game, you have to take him out of the game mentally. It’s what every coach in the league is preaching to their players. Until Cousins learns to play through it, he will continue to get singled out.
It’s not fair, but it’s the reality of being Cousins. He’s treated differently because he acts or reacts differently. The quicker he learns that, the quicker he becomes the player everyone knows he can become.