DeMarcus Cousins on Michael Malone’s departure

Sacramento Kings' DeMarcus Cousins and Michael Malone at Team USA training camp. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

Dark clouds covered the Sacramento Kings practice facility today, both literally and figuratively.  As the sound of rain hitting the roof began to increase in volume, DeMarcus Cousins took a seat in the middle of an oversized media scrum.

“I think it was the perfect weather today for this situation,” the 24-year-old center said in a solemn voice.

The situation is an uncomfortable one.  Late Sunday night, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski dropped what has become known as a Woj-bomb on Sacramento.  In a surprising move, the Sacramento Kings relieved head coach Michael Malone of his duties.  Like everyone else, Cousins was caught off-guard by the news.

“We found out the same way you guys found out,” Cousins said.  “I found out from Twitter.”

Cousins hasn’t played in nine games due to viral meningitis, and he has already been ruled out for Monday night’s matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.  But like a true team captain, he was back at practice on Monday fielding questions from a hungry media group looking for answers as to why Malone was no longer employed.

“Everybody knows my relationship with Malone,” Cousins told a swath of media members.  “I learned a lot from him. I’m very thankful to be able to play for coach Malone.  But at the end of the day, you know, this is a business and everything doesn’t always work out the way we want it to.  I wish nothing but the best for coach.  I hate it had to end this way, but he has my respect. He’s a great coach.”

It is a business and a cruel one at that.  After a 9-6 start to the season, Cousins fell ill and in his absence, the Kings fell apart, losing seven of nine on their way to an 11-13 record.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel like it was partially my fault,” Cousins said of his prolonged illness.  “In reality, it isn’t, but me personally, I feel it is.  Me being (ill), us losing some games, I mean, I feel like I played a part in it.”

You can’t really fault a guy for getting sick.  It’s the reality of professional sports.  But without Cousins, the Kings aren’t very good.  That’s what happens when you pull a player out of your lineup averaging 23.5 points and 12.6 rebounds per night.

You lose an MVP-caliber player, and all bets are off.

This isn’t the first time Cousins has seen a coach fired in Sacramento.  Paul Westphal got the ax just seven games into the 2011-12 season, and Keith Smart joined the unemployment line last year after the Kings were sold to Vivek Ranadivé.

“Usually with situations like this, this kind of process you know is about to happen,” Cousins said.  “This just kinda happened.  It’s definitely a surprise, but like I said, it’s kind of the nature of this business.”

But this time was different.  Michael Malone was different.  The raspy-voiced Brooklyner had earned the respect of Cousins.  He had control of the locker room, and his approach with his players helped change the culture of a team with a long history of losing.

“This is more of a surprise, unexpected,” Cousins said of losing Malone.  “It’s kinda hard.  I think it’s a lot more emotional on the team this year, because so many guys believe in Malone and his system and this is so unexpected.”

“You could see it on the guys’ faces,” Cousins added.  “You could feel it in the locker room.  We got to find a way to get past this and grow.  Stay together, stay strong and keep moving forward. ”

Malone finishes his career with a record of 39-67.  It’s nothing to write home about, but after constant roster changes in year one, he had the Kings in the playoff discussion in his second season.  He was derailed by an illness, but there was plenty of time to recover and get the team back to its winning ways.

Clearly the Kings brass wanted to go in a different direction.  Against one of the toughest schedules in the league, Malone received a 24-game audition.  It’s a brutal business, but one to which Cousins has quickly acclimated.

Malone made a tremendous impact on Cousins, both as a player and as a man.  We have seen incredible growth from the Kings’ talented big man, and Malone is at least partially to credit for the improvement.  That fact isn’t lost on Cousins.

“I’m going to take what I learned from coach and continue to grow as a player, a teammate, a leader,” Cousins said.  “There’s no need not to continue on this positive path.”

That is Malone’s legacy as the coach of the Sacramento Kings.  Under his tutelage, DeMarcus Cousins began to reach his potential.  That’s a nice addition to anyone’s resumé.


James Ham

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