HANG TIME WEST – This is why the Kings have steadfastly waved off serious trade talks. This is why they have refused to sell low to cut their losses. The last 4 ½ weeks are why.
DeMarcus Cousins is on a rebounding tear. He’s moved up to No. 5 in the league at 11.2 a game, despite playing fewer minutes than anyone in the top 10. Cousins always has had the talent that projects him to be an All-Star center. In case there were any doubts, there were the 20 boards Saturday and the 14 two games before that and the 15 two games before that.
Cousins has posted at least 13 rebounds in six of the last nine games and has topped 15 boards in a game five times in January and the early days of February. Plus, he is at 15 points a game. Beneath the immaturity, through the inability to show up to camp in proper shape both years as a pro, this is what was always possible.
His recent tear is not, however, a chain reaction to Paul Westphal being fired on Jan. 5, four days after the Kings wrongly allowed the release of a Westphal e-mail statement that took Cousins to task. Cousins is many things. He is not (so far) a coach killer, though. Westphal got the gate primarily because his team was getting blown out on a regular basis. If being on the opposite side of Cousins’ flash temper was the standard for employment, half the organization would have pink slips.
Cousins averaged 9.3 rebounds in just 25.8 minutes in six games with Westphal on the bench, so that’s proof the production since Keith Smart took over is a continuation, not a celebration of a coaching change.
“I think he’s in better shape now,” Smart said. “I think he’s in better condition. To be a rebounder, you’ve got to be in shape, because they don’t just come to you. Those are things where it’s not like an offensive player, where someone is passing you the ball. You don’t have to be in great shape to be an offensive player. But to be a rebounder or a defender, it requires you to be in much better shape. And I think because of that, he has much better conditioning now. That’s helping a whole lot. And he’s also rebounding out of his area. He has great hands. He can rebound the basketball not just when he’s near the basket, but he rebounds out of his area, which is a huge difference.”
Cousins being Cousins, even the compliments are conflicted: He’s very good because he finally got in shape. But that’s a conflict that the Kings have chosen.
Cousins’ second season is nearly halfway complete. If you still have to ask why he was available at No. 5 in the 2010 Draft — even though he was projected by some as the best or second-best talent on the board (behind Kentucky teammate John Wall) — pay attention now. The last 4 ½ weeks are why.