SACRAMENTO, Calif. — DeMarcus Cousins is like the big kid smothered at the bottom of a scrum, the oversized, obvious target who invites and absorbs a majority of the jabs. He is taking blows to the gut and to the ego. He has been fined, benched and berated. He has spent most of his young career in foul trouble.
On Monday, the 6-foot-11 rookie lashed back and smart-mouthed his coach, which was really not very smart. And all that got him was thrown out of practice.
Cousins said late Tuesday he reacted out of frustration.
"It was a good lesson for me," the rookie said. "I'm mad, and I'm frustrated about losing, and in my opinion, I think different strategies should be in the game.
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"But I was being selfish. I'm a big part of this team, and Coach (Paul) Westphal has been saying it. I've been terrible. It's the truth."
"It's not a perfect world," Cousins' mother, Monique, said Tuesday afternoon from Mobile, Ala. "These kids are used to instant (gratification), and they come into the league so young. It's hard. They have to learn. We preach this: 'Just don't say anything!' He'll get better, you'll see."
Is he listening? Is he learning? Is he getting too much blame for the Kings' disappointing season? Yes. Absolutely.
While the Sacramento Kings struggle along, the Cousins debate is only one of several hot topics inside Arco Arena. The locker room is a nasty place of late. There is more sniping than conversation.
The players are mad at the coach. The offensive system often consists of five players standing or dribbling, and seemingly oblivious to the beauty and benefits of the pass. The pace is too slow. The defense seldom creates transition opportunities.
Cousins stumbled into the mess after only one season at Kentucky, and with a reputation as an immature youngster with tremendous upside. All true. But he also joined a team that is among the youngest in the league, and one with glaring weaknesses.
Interestingly, as Cousins has gone, so have the Kings. After an impressive debut during the encouraging 3-1 opening week, the rookie has labored to stay on the floor. He entered Tuesday's game with averages of 2.4 turnovers and 4.9 fouls per game. In 23.3 minutes. As Samuel Dalembert's backup.
Offensively, he has forced shots and settled for long jumpers instead of muscling inside or showing off his passing skills. Some of this is a byproduct of that excruciating offense, and some can be attributed to inexperience.
"I don't have any rhythm," Cousins said glumly Tuesday before finishing with a season-high 20 points (and eight rebounds). "No rhythm. I don't know why. And defensively, I don't know what I can do. I asked for a DVD from the coaches so I can try to figure something out."
As for those recent emotional flare-ups and what some teammates describe as a tense relationship with his coach, neither of the involved parties is offering up details.
"He's got some issues, and we're doing everything we can to help him overcome them," Westphal said. "We'll look back on this someday and say, 'Man, those were rough days, weren't they? You were a handful, you knucklehead!'"
But not always a knucklehead. See Tuesday's Kings-Pacers game. See a shake here, a shake there, at least a little bit of rhythm. Cousins scored on stickbacks, converted open jumpers, found Beno Udrih on a beautiful backcut. He dived for a loose ball that provided another possession during the Kings' fourth-quarter rally. Twice, he even smiled.
"DeMarcus has a competitive spirit some people look at (as) a negative," Monique Cousins continued. "He's just trying to fix things, wants to win. It's not a negative. I'd rather have the ugly face than him getting techs. Just give him time."