Overshadowed by the Lakers developments the past week was the two-game suspension served by Sacramento forward DeMarcus Cousins for confronting Spurs television analyst Sean Elliott following San Antonio’s 97-86 win over the Kings Nov. 9.
Elliott, a Spurs all-time great who overcame a kidney transplant to continue his NBA career, criticized Cousins for trash talking with San Antonio star (and former Elliott teammate) Tim Duncan. Duncan finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds while Cousins scored 14 points on 4-for-14 shooting with 9 rebounds.
It was a difficult night for Cousins, who was outplayed by Duncan and then informed of on-air comments Elliott made about Cousins’s lack of respect and karma when Duncan polished off the Kings with 9 fourth-quarter points.
Following the game, Cousins returned to the court at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento and approached Elliott about his comments. An exchange ensued, but there was no altercation.
The league acted quickly and suspended Cousins, the Kings’ best player, for two games (both losses), leaving the big man to explain his actions and adding to the perception that he has a difficult time controlling his emotions.
Cousins is an intense player, a throwback because he doesn’t fraternize with opponents. He faces up against the league’s top big men and doesn’t back down, such as last year when he dominated his matchup with Kevin Garnett.
But sometimes those confrontations can be taken personally, and Cousins, at age 22, allows detractors to affect his actions.
“He just didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but now he knows,” said Cousins’s agent, John Greig. “Information is instantaneous nowadays.
“Sean Elliott made some statements saying DeMarcus Cousins was disrespecting Tim Duncan. And DeMarcus has tremendous respect for Tim Duncan. So as a guy who has had people get him out of context and say things that were incorrect, I believe that he is the type of person that would approach something candidly, look you in the eye and say, ‘Hey, why do you think this?’
“He’s not going to run from that sort of thing.”
Greig is correct in the sense that Cousins does search for the source of criticism. When Team USA was seeking a center with Dwight Howard out with back surgery and Blake Griffin sidelined by a torn meniscus, Cousins approached team chairman Jerry Colangelo about why he wasn’t considered. (Rookie Anthony Davis was chosen.)
Colangelo mentioned to reporters that Cousins needed to mature and Cousins said he was hurt by the comment, and unsure why Colangelo had that perception.
“As a leader, he has to show the utmost care for what he does,” Greig said. “But I believe he thought he would go man up with Sean Elliott and say, ‘Why do you think I’m disrespecting Tim Duncan?’ That was his intention. It wasn’t to go out there and try to intimidate him.”
Greig has defended Cousins on several occasions through his three-year career, including when Cousins was partially blamed by outsiders for the firing of former coach Paul Westphal. That issue paled in comparison to the organization’s other concerns, such as the Maloof brothers’ desire to relocate the team to Anaheim, Calif., their backing out of an arena deal in Sacramento, and the NBA’s desire for the group to sell so perhaps the Kings could move to Seattle.
The Kings are a painfully young team but have a bright future if players such as Cousins, Tyreke Evans, Thomas Robinson, and Isaiah Thomas remain as the core and continue to mature.
“This is a guy who isn’t drinking, doesn’t do any drugs, is home in his house 80 or 90 percent of the nights doing nothing,” Greig said of Cousins. “If I were a team, I would be much more concerned with guys who have substance issues, alcohol, drugs, gambling, lifestyle issues. He’s got virtually none of that. That doesn’t get talked about.
“I think he’s seeing how complicated it is to be a superstar. There’s a responsibility that comes with that, that you’ve got to stay away from things. If he thought Sean Elliott was being an idiot and did something, I can get a hold of Sean Elliott, somebody from the Kings can get a hold of Sean Elliott.
“There’s lots of ways to handle that, and although it’s a very manly thing to do to get somebody face-to-face to see what’s going on, you’re not going to get that opportunity.”
HELP FOR ANXIETY
White’s issue gets attention
The issues between the Rockets and rookie Royce White, who has yet to play this season because of anxiety disorder, are deepening. White is being fined daily because he has not reported to the team’s NBADL affiliate and wants to meet personally with the team doctors before making his next move. Also, White may be compounding the issue by tweeting updates of his feelings on the disconnect between him and the Rockets.
White played in the Las Vegas Summer League and was effective after a slow start. He told the Globe in July that the biggest misconception about his disorder is that it’s a personality problem or character issue. White also said he wanted to reach out to other anxiety disorder victims who are struggling, especially young people.
White’s campaign has yet to begin, but his story does help in bringing the issue to the forefront. White dealt with anxiety disorder while at Iowa State and is one of many college and young professional athletes who have problems with pressure, concentration, or fear.
Harvard offers a program for athletes seeking guidance in dealing with mental health, time management, and other challenges. What’s more, sports psychologist Dr. Craig Rodgers, who has coordinated AAPEX (Athletic, Academic and Personal Excellence) since 2005, said athletes are doing a better job of acknowledging mental health as a factor in their performance and well-being.
And the perception that an athlete, because of his or her physical prowess and potential popularity, should have fewer psychological issues than other people has dissipated.
“I think the media has done a pretty good job of informing the public that athletes are regular people with particular physical and mental skills,” said Rodgers. “But those skills don’t say anything either way about other aspects of their personality or character.”
AAPEX is available to any varsity athlete at Harvard, and Rodgers said the program is more preventative than therapy. He said an increasing amount of athletes have understood the importance of addressing and balancing schoolwork, money management, and their commitment to sport.
“I feel like people can often benefit from having a sounding board to figure out if they have realistic expectations of themselves and how to actualize those expectations,” said Rodgers. “I’ve noticed a general trend where there’s less and less stigma seeking help or talking to somebody in general. People tend to be pretty open about that. Many student-athletes will freely tell their teammates, coaches, and parents that [they talked with a specialist] or whether it’s getting tutoring for a class. Which is good because it’s a way of helping their younger teammates and classmates.”
ON THE SPOT
D’Antoni must answer the bell
In Hollywood, the Lakers are becoming more dramatic off the court than on it, firing Mike Brown as coach after five games, a move that was frowned upon by NBA executives because Brown never had a healthy roster to work with.
Then came the rumors that Phil Jackson was returning. Team officials and Jackson met at his Los Angeles-area home on the night of Nov. 10 and agreed to speak again the following Monday.
But late Sunday night, the Lakers announced after a victory over the Kings that they had hired Mike D’Antoni to succeed Brown. D’Antoni was not highly regarded among Laker fans but is among league officials, many of whom believe he is an offensive mastermind who made Phoenix competitive without championship-caliber talent.
Lakers officials, primarily co-owner Jim Buss, decided that Jackson’s triangle offense was not a fit for the current roster and that D’Antoni’s offense was more conducive to a team that needed to win immediately. Jackson was shocked and D’Antoni surprised that a coach with no championships was chosen over an 11-time champion.
D’Antoni had some explaining to do, especially to a skeptical Los Angeles fan base that would likely invite Jackson over for Thanksgiving dinner before many of their relatives.
While D’Antoni was lauded for his work with the Suns, what occurred in New York when he coached the Knicks was a disaster, though it could be attributed to the mismanagement of owner James Dolan as much as D’Antoni.
The Knicks acquired ball-stopper Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire was never completely healthy, and the rest of the Knicks never bought into his system, which didn’t emphasize defense. It doesn’t flatter D’Antoni at all that the Knicks won their first six games of the season with former D’Antoni assistant Mike Woodson because they are actually playing outstanding defense.
“We had a plan that the first three years, we wanted to [test] the free-agent market, and we built guys’ stats up so we could trade them, and open up space, and set yourself up for the future,” said D’Antoni. “I thought it was successful because we made a good run at free agents, but it didn’t work out. Going into the third year, we signed Amar’e. We had a nice young team and we made the playoffs.
“Right in the middle of that run, we trade everybody for Carmelo. Good trade for the organization and I thought that’s what they should have done. Now expectations are, here we go. We go into the following year and it’s a strike. We didn’t have a point guard because we had to get Tyson Chandler, which is a great move for the organization, but we had to get rid of Chauncey [Billups].
“So we’re floundering, and when you flounder in New York a little bit, it’s hard to overcome the stigma. Players are getting killed and I’m getting killed. I’m trying to fight through it, but it just didn’t work out.”
D’Antoni has a lot to prove because he is not considered an elite coach and he’s expected to lead the Lakers to elite status. The Lakers have tools, but they may not even be the best team in the city. When they made the Dwight Howard deal, they stripped an already questionable bench of talent. Chris Duhon, Darius Morris, and Antawn Jamison aren’t scaring the rest of the conference.
Unquestionably, D’Antoni’s best work will have to come with the starting lineup. While he has never had a defensive center with the prowess of Howard, he did have Chandler last season in New York and that didn’t work out. D’Antoni is going to have to come up with a defensive system, and many NBA executives have endorsed Brown assistant Steve Clifford to continue to run the defense.
“He might be able to put the ‘D’ back in my name,” D’Antoni said of Howard. “That’ll be nice. Some people have been taking that out — not fair.
“I don’t know if I’ll do anything for him offensively. Steve Nash better do something for him or Steve Blake. He’s going to be good. Our offensive philosophy — we just have a rhythm to it, open the floor up, and make things as easy as we can with some great players. You do that, things flow.”
Point guards for the taking
The Celtics may be suffering at point guard with Rajon Rondo nursing a sore right ankle. Two point guards just became available —
The Raptors are trying to take a step forward but their season is being crippled by injuries. They lost Alan Anderson, the former Michigan State player who had become a key contributor, for six weeks with a torn plantar fascia. Landry Fields, who came over from the Knicks as a free agent, is out indefinitely after elbow ligament surgery. And point guard Kyle Lowry, the key offseason acquisition from the Rockets, will miss 1-2 weeks with a bone bruise in his right foot. Lowry is an emerging point guard but his progress has been derailed by injuries . . . Peace and blessings to Grizzlies assistant general manager Kenny “Eggman” Williamson, who died last week of cancer. Williamson was popular among his NBA brethren and beat reporters . . . Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said last week that Derrick Rose (left ACL surgery) should return sometime this season, so the Bulls may actually have a logjam at point guard with Nate Robinson and Kirk Hinrich sharing time and rookie Marquis Teague emerging. Teague played key minutes last Monday in a 101-95 loss to the Celtics while Robinson watched from the sideline. (Hinrich was injured.) Teague, who left Kentucky after his freshman season, was believed to be destined for backup duty because Rose is the franchise cornerstone. But his play drew raves from Celtics coach Doc Rivers, and he may receive more minutes.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.