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DeMarcus Cousins Trade Would Offer Answers We All Crave

Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

I want the Kings to trade DeMarcus Cousins.

Not because I have a vendetta against the greater Sacramento area. (I’ve lived in one of its suburbs for over a year, and it is lovely.) Not because I want the Kings to serve a penance for their years of mismanagement. Not because a blockbuster trade would fill the adrenaline void vacated by the end of the Warriors’ winning streak.

Because I want an answer.

This is about getting to the truth, and we may get it if recent reports are to be believed.

We need a control in the DeMarcus Cousins Experiment — something to eliminate variables and get us closer to proving one of two competing, divisive hypotheses, which are:

  1. DeMarcus Cousins is the problem.
  2. DeMarcus Cousins is not the problem.

To date, we haven’t been able to separate Boogie — immature, victim-card-playing, megatalented malcontent — from the organization he’s stuck with. Are the Sacramento Kings, a tire fire on a train wreck in a sulfur-spewing crater, the cause of his persistent dissatisfaction and poor leadership?

Or is he just that way naturally?

People are situational characters. They act differently in different surroundings, and judging them for the way they act in one particular place is to overlook powerful outside influences.

It’s true, though, that we’ve seen a handful of variables stripped away over the years. Cousins has remained the same scowling figure under different coaches and alongside different teammates. Saying his demeanor is more a product of nature than nurture feels reasonable. But it’s just too hard (and probably not totally fair) to say his crummy attitude will categorically prevent him from being a leader on a good team.

Capricious ownership, inexperienced executives and organizational courses charted in crayon make the Kings a breeding ground for infighting and instability. If Cousins wasn’t like this when he arrived, it’s not crazy  to think spending years in Sacramento would’ve made him this way. The counter, of course, is that the obviously super-skilled big man slipped in the draft precisely because teams feared he was too much of an emotional hassle. Too unpredictable. Not enough of an adult to lead in a way his talent suggested he should.

“The questions about Cousins’ character date back to high school,” ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote back in 2010. “Midway through his sophomore season at Erwin High School in Birmingham, Ala., Cousins got into a physical altercation with a faculty member on a bus after a game.”

Every stop after that featured conflict — not necessarily physical but always between Cousins and someone with whom he didn’t see eye to eye. The pattern has yet to break, and it calls to mind an old adage, scrubbed of its original NSFW noun: “If you run into a jerk in the morning, you ran into a jerk. If you run into jerks all day, you’re the jerk.”

Cousins has been running into jerks every day for years.

But it’s not necessarily fair to hold his high school days against him. And everyone’s an idiot in college. I know I wouldn’t want to be judged by what I thought or said or did in those days, so we can give Cousins a pass for his immaturity when he was, naturally, immature.

Cousins doesn’t get that pass now, though. And if we’re ever going to find out what he’s really like, what he’s really worth as a basketball player, we’ll need to see him play someplace besides Sacramento. As long as he’s there, we won’t be able to separate him from the bigger mess.

Could Cousins reveal himself to be a calm, positive presence whose sparkling attitude matches his sterling talent in Boston, Chicago, Houston…anywhere else, really?

Probably not, but don’t you want to know for sure?

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