Sunday Musings: DeMarcus Cousins is still an All-Star

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis share laughs at Team USA camp in Las Vegas. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

This was supposed to be the season of Boogie Cousins.  The uber talented center was leading the Sacramento Kings to a 9-6 record against the NBA’s toughest schedule through 15 games.  He was leading the NBA in rebounding and the discussion didn’t stop at “potential All-Star selection.” He was a bona fide MVP candidate.

As quickly as his meteoric rise to the top of the NBA’s player ranks, he vanished.

We all know the story now.  After being sent home early from San Antonio with the flu, he didn’t get better.  Tests were run.  A return to action was planned.  And then the 24-year-old big man was admitted to a local Sacramento area hospital for rest and treatment.

Viral meningitis may have cost DeMarcus Cousins his golden opportunity to finally take his place amongst the NBA’s elite.

It’s unfair really.  Basketball fans are being robbed of one the game’s most intriguing players.  At 6-foot-11, Cousins handles the ball like a guard.  His post repertoire is as good as we have seen in the league in decades.  He can hit a jumper, beat you off the dribble or cut through a triple team.

He has Chris Webber’s hands, Hakeem Olajuwon’s footwork and the fire of Kevin Garnett.

At 23.5 points, 12.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.5 blocks and 1.1 steals per game, Cousins not only has the numbers, but more importantly, after eight consecutive losing seasons, he had the Kings back in the playoff discussion.

Cousins wasn’t just a cog in the Kings’ machine.  He was a centerpiece on both ends of the floor.  Without its star center, Sacramento is just 2-7 after Saturday night’s loss to the Detroit Pistons.  It is a team with holes, just like any, but without Cousins, a lottery team once again.

After spending most of the summer with Team USA, Cousins came into training camp focused like he has never been before.  His commitment to improving was stunning and his commitment to changing the perception of who he is as a person showed that he was finally maturing in his fifth season as a pro.

It took Rodin 37 years to craft “The Gates of Hell,” and he was still working on the piece when he died in 1917.  For a long time, that is how I viewed Cousins.  A tormented soul that would continue to show demons from within long after he walked away from the game.

But that is not the player we have seen this season.  He isn’t Michelangelo’s David just yet, but he is a rough sketch of something special – a block of marble being carefully sculpted into a masterpiece.

The many faces of DeMarcus Cousins are legendary, but for 15 games, there was only one – determination.  Gone is the perpetual scowl.  Gone is the angst of immaturity and pain of the misunderstood.

Cousins is finally fulfilling his incredible potential.

Be it cosmic or karmic intervention, Cousins will continue to sit for the foreseeable future.  He will attempt to return to practice this week with the hopes of making it back to the court eventually as a part-time player.

The Kings will take his recovery slowly, regardless of how much Cousins wants to play.  There is a legitimate fear that if pushed too hard, his symptoms of fevers and headaches will return and the process will start anew.

This isn’t a knee injury or pulled hamstring.  There is no treatment but rest and patience and certainly no timetable for a full recovery.

As of today, it is estimated that he has lost 5-10 pounds.  More than the weight, Cousins has not been able to work out or keep his cardiovascular condition in NBA form.  A return to the court is only a starting point.  He will need major time to return to form after weeks of inactivity.

Cousins will likely have to wait until next season to get the accolades that he deserves, but he shouldn’t have to.  While he hasn’t been given the recognition in the past, Cousins has turned over a new leaf and there is no questioning his abilities.

Barring a major setback, Cousins will have logged plenty of games before All-Star selections are made.  Be it by the voters as a starter or through the selection process, Cousins is clearly one of the best basketball players in the world and deserves a spot.

With Cousins on floor, the Kings would be well over .500.  After a brutal early season schedule, the team’s December calendar was advantageous.  With its star center in tow, Sacramento would have gone into the new year with 20 or more wins.  Sacramento would have been in playoff contention, and Cousins wouldn’t have been the only Kings considered for an All-Star bid.

Without Cousins, the Sacramento Kings will likely not have a winning record at All-Star selection time.  Cousins’ numbers will probably sag due to the reduction in minutes, but that shouldn’t matter.  Before his illness, Cousins was dominating the league and his team was winning.

The All-Star team isn’t a lifetime achievement award, but it is an acknowledgement that a player is elite at his position.  Cousins’ hot start wasn’t fluky; it was the natural progression of a young star player.

The fact is, there is no one better at the center spot in the NBA than Cousins.  He is the cream of the crop.  The most dominating big man in the game today.  A 10-15 game absence, followed by a modified play schedule doesn’t change that fact, just like it doesn’t change for league-MVP Kevin Durant after he missed 17 games to start the season.

This illness is a blip on the radar screen of DeMarcus Cousins’ career, but it’s one that may cost him when it comes to All-Star acknowledgement.

The powers that be made a strong statement to Cousins last season when they left him off the All-Star team, despite having every opportunity as a selection and an injury replacement. This season, they have the opportunity to make an even stronger statement.

Cousins has done everything asked of him.  He played an integral role in Team USA’s gold-medal performance at the World Cup in Spain. He led his team to a winning record through an incredibly tough schedule, and he played at an MVP-level in the process.

A random illness shouldn’t be a reason to hold him back this time.

 

On a side note, the staff of Cowbell Kingdom would like to extend condolences to Sacramento Kings center Ryan Hollins who lost his father, Denier Hollins, on Saturday morning.  

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About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to ESPN.com and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".