On Tuesday, the NBA announced an automatic one-game suspension for DeMarcus Cousins for picking up his 16th technical foul of the season in the closing seconds of Monday's 112-107 loss to the Chicago Bulls. In addition, Cousins was fined $25,000 for making an inappropriate statement and gesture after Saturday's 109-106 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
In his seventh season, Cousins is having a career year, averaging 27.9 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting 45.0 percent from the field and making 36.7 percent of his threes. The Kings have not made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. At 22-30, Sacramento is 1.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the eighth spot in the West.
For the remainder of the season, each additional technical foul Cousins picks up will trigger a one-game suspension, which means unless there's a sudden change in his approach on the court, the Kings will be without their best player for several more games, which could be the difference between Sacramento ending their playoff drought and the team being out of the playoffs for 11th straight season.
Long-term, Cousins' erratic behavior on the court remains a primary concern for the franchise. Monday's game against the Bulls was a microcosm of what makes Cousins the most enigmatic superstar in the league. During a scuffle in the third quarter, Cousins and teammate Matt Barnes picked up technical fouls after getting into an altercation in which both players shoved Bulls assistant coach Jim Boylen.
On the Kings' final possession of the game, after Cousins missed a three-point attempt, he exacerbated the situation by picking up his second technical foul of the game after failing to control his emotions and making a demonstrative gesture at the ref.
Asking Cousins to control his emotions and change his demeanor on the court seems like a tall task, and would likely have a negative impact on his production on the floor, and while technical fouls will always be part of the give and take with having Cousins on your team, it's hard to argue that his 16th technical foul in the closing seconds was meaningless, in a game that was already decided, and now will conceivably cost the Kings a game in the standings.
At his best, Cousins is able to channel that energy into a frantic version that feels in control and is a plus to the Kings, as evident by his 55-point performance in a 126-121 victory over Portland in December. In the victory, Cousins was initially ejected by the referees for spitting his mouthpiece towards the Blazers' bench, but was later reinstated after the refs conferred and decided it had simply come out of his mouth.
In his post-game interview, Cousins was unrestrained about the frustration he feels toward how he is treated on the court, even after an incredible performance in which he came a point shy of matching his career high of 56 points:
With each incident -- and there have been many throughout the years, including one this season in which Cousins confronted a local reporter over a column he wrote about a nightclub incident involving his brother -- it raises the questions to the stability of the Kings' franchise under owner Vivek Ranadive, and if the Kings have an environment where they can hold their franchise player accountable for his actions, and steer him toward a direction where he can eventually not be a detriment to his own team.
The Kings have not been a model of stability themselves during Cousins' tenure in Sacramento, having cycled through head coaches almost on an annual basis, failing to land a star to pair alongside Cousins in the draft, trading away Isaiah Thomas -- who has flourished as a go-to scorer in Boston -- and not improving themselves via free agency or trade. At every turn, it has felt like Sacramento keeps making the wrong decision. Most notably, via Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN, when head coach Mike Malone -- who had built a good relationship with Cousins -- was fired abruptly in 2014, Cousins was consulted about the decision, disagreed with it, but was then told by management that the team had already made up it's mind already.
This season, Cousins and new head coach Dave Joerger has avoided any public blow-ups, and when he's been on the court, Cousins has been one of the best players in the league. Yet, the Kings' franchise player continues to be involved in trade rumors, although general manager Vlade Divac was adamant this week about where the team stands with their best player, saying Sacramento would not trade Cousins before the Feb. 23 trade deadline.
Cousins' contract expires after the 2017-18 season, but according to a report, he intends to sign an extension this summer that will be worth $200 million-plus with the team, which would keep him in Sacramento long-term. If we are to believe Divac's assurance that Cousins will not be traded, and the fact he is willing to extend his contract, then the Kings have to figure out what to do once they've locked up their best player.
The roster is still nowhere close to competing with the top-tier teams in the West, and adding to that problem, the Kings are still figuring out how to bring some consistency to Cousins' temperament that would allow him to flourish. In the meantime, the Kings will play the remaining 30 games of the season knowing that their best player will be missing games for every blow up from here on out.