On Friday morning, DeMarcus Cousins was scowl-deep in a standoff with Sacramento Kings head coach Keith Smart, having been reinstated from an indefinite suspension yet kept on ice for reasons his coach wouldn't share, and feeling less than talkative about the subjects of when he'd actually return to the floor and how it'd all work when he did so. On Monday morning, he's coming off having contributed 27 points, 20 rebounds and 15 assists in consecutive Kings wins — the first an unlikely walk-off against the New York Knicks, the second a 22-point hammering of the Boston Celtics — and recording the first triple-double of his three-year NBA career.
What a difference three days can make, huh?
Check out the highlights of how DMC put up 12, 10 and 10 on the floundering C's, thanks to our friends at the National Basketball Association:
The 10 assists were a career-high, but to hear Cousins tell it, he had a bigger goal in mind. From Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
The emphasis on finding open teammates has been a big part of practices lately. Cousins figured Sunday would be a good night to go for a big assist total.
"I kind of had an idea (a triple double was within reach), so I was like, I'm going to try and get 15," Cousins said. "I really didn't know what the exact number was, but I was going to try and get 15."
Oh, well. I'm sure Coach Keith Smart wouldn't mind if you kept passing like that in pursuit of dimes next game, too, DeMarcus.
As was the case in the final-seconds win over a short-handed Knicks team, when the second-unit scoring of James Johnson, Jimmer Fredette and Aaron Brooks played a major role, Cousins wasn't the Kings' top gun on Sunday. Often-overlooked point guard Isaiah Thomas (27 points on 15 shots, five assists, four rebounds, just two turnovers in nearly 40 minutes), embattled swingman John Salmons (23 points on 12 shots, six rebounds, four assists, no turnovers in 32 1/2 minutes) and stalwart big man Jason Thompson (20 points on 11 shots, six rebounds, two blocks in 32 minutes) all starred for Sacramento against a Celtics team that is having serious, serious problems both offensively and defensively these days — Boston's dropped to 21st in the league in points scored per 100 possessions, ranks 26th in the league in points in the paint, has been a bottom-10 defense over the past 10 games and has just allowed three consecutive opponents to score 100-plus points for the first time in nearly two years ... and back in late February/early March 2011, they won those games. (And while the reintroduction of young perimeter stopper Avery Bradley into the lineup should help matters, C's fans would be wise not to view the kid as the water-into-wine type.
So, yes, there have been many other reasons why the Kings have gone 2-0 in Cousins' first two games back. Still, though: The Kings' ability to run things through Cousins in the post, and his ability to draw double-teams, read the defensive rotations and kick out to open teammates for rhythm jumpers or secondary penetration — abilities he hasn't shown so much this season, frequently choosing to try to force his own offense rather than look to facilitate for others — has gone a long way toward helping Sacramento look like a legitimate offensive threat throughout the past couple of games, which it hasn't all that often this season. Through last Thursday, the Kings ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency, averaging 99.7 points per 100 possessions; against the Knicks (115.2-per-100, according to Hoopdata) and Celtics (121.6-per-100), they've scored at rates that would make the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder jealous, which has bumped them all the way up to 16th, just below league-average. The past couple of games have offered a snapshot of a part of Cousins' game (offensive fulcrum, low-post distributor) that exists in sort of a larval stage, and a reminder of an established skill-set that shows why, despite all the disciplinary issues, he remains such a highly sought after commodity: There just aren't a lot of guys who are enough of a low-post bull and scoring threat to require double-teams against many opponents, and that sort of matchup advantage can wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
And, to be sure, Cousins' name continues to be bandied about in trade talks, with the latest rumors putting four teams in the "most likely to make a deal" category — the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Charlotte Bobcats and these self-same Celtics, which tracks with a recent Marc Stein report and makes Cousins' all-around performance against Boston all the more perfect, narrative-wise. It's worth noting, as Tom Ziller does at Sactown Royalty, that it's extremely unlikely that any of these teams would be willing to trade an established star for Cousins, and that the Kings would be willing to move Cousins for any role-player/second-tier types, because that wouldn't seem to make much organizational sense. (Then again, these are the Maloof-run Kings.)
As Ailene Voisin of the Sacramento Bee sees it, performances like Friday's and Sunday's offer compelling evidence for why, regardless of how many packages of Charlotte-flavored flotsam are reported to be heading west in exchange, the Kings braintrust would be out of its collective hivemind to move the talented but thus-far troubled 22-year-old big man before getting the rest of its cluttered house in order:
Cousins, who made significant progress a year ago, and who answers the questions about bad deeds or bad performances, can be charming, funny and thoughtful. He has that [Chris] Webber kind of charisma, a teddy bear personality when in the mood, and his hands are terrific, too. James Johnson doesn't hit the game winner against the Knicks if Cousins doesn't steal Jason Kidd's lob to Tyson Chandler. [...]
If you're the Kings, you resolve your front office issues before the Feb. 21 trade deadline regardless of the chronic arena uncertainty. (Sell? Move? Stay? Renovate?) Decide if [general manager Geoff] Petrie stays or goes. His refusal to meet with the media regarding Cousins' most recent suspension speaks to his increasingly strained relationship with the Maloofs. It also adds to Smart's already heavy burden and creates an almost chaotic environment around the organization.
And DeMarcus? You don't trade DeMarcus. You work with DeMarcus. You keep challenging DeMarcus. You take your biggest asset and provide a better supporting cast before you even think about trades.
And in the meantime, you give that big asset the opportunity to keep helping his supporting cast look a little better every night, one mindful dish at a time.