A big man with a grudge is a precious commodity in the NBA. A dangerous commodity, to be sure, but no less precious. That's why you should ignore any and all speculation that the Sacramento Kings are even contemplating a deal involving their massively talented and highly tempestuous center, DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings, from owner Vivek Ranadive on down, realize that they have a star in the making and that the task is to help everyone else see him in that same light. Including Cousins. For now, Cousins is a 6'11", 270-pound bundle of old-school skills and new-school rebellion, acting as if he's the first player whose size and strength have posed a problem for NBA referees to adjudicate fairly. Is he receiving some guilty-until-proven-innocent treatment? No doubt. In Sunday's 115-113 loss to the Warriors, Cousins was initially called for a flagrant foul and ejected with 3:10 left in the fourth quarter for appearing to elbow Andrew Bogut in the jaw while fighting for position on the right block. As the referees reviewed the incident on a courtside monitor, coach Mike Malone worked on calming Cousins down and promised he'd put him back in the game. "I didn't know they'd signaled ejection," Malone said. "If I'd known that, he might've had to calm me down." Upon review, Cousins simply was charged with an offensive foul, which allowed him to stick around to do everything from lead a fast break to score over Bogut twice with a deft jump hook in the final minute. But the fact that a downgrade even was necessary still had Cousins incensed afterward. "I've never seen that before, ever," Cousins said. "Ever. I've never seen a flagrant II go to a regular foul." Nor did it help that Bogut appeared to catch Cousins with a similar shot as they turned to head up court in the first half, and none of the referees caught it. Then again, Cousins has a history of lashing out, whether it be at a TV analyst verbally (Sean Elliott) or an opponent physically (O.J. Mayo's groin). He'd already challenged all three referees working Sunday's game before the reviewed foul and received a technical from Brenda Pantoja for repeatedly waving at her dismissively after she offered an explanation of a call. For now, the Kings have a long list of counselors attempting to serve as Cousins' bubble wrap. Fellow Kentucky alum Patrick Patterson was acquired from Houston, in part, as a familiar voice and ear. Hall of Fame small forward Chris Mullin, now an adviser to Ranadive, has talked to Cousins about using his aggression to get position and then flipping the switch to finesse mode once he has the ball. Malone talks to him about everything from not settling for jumpers to not allowing the referees or the opposition to distract him. Media relations director Chris Clark, after two questions about the reviewed foul, abruptly told reporters to move on to the next topic. Donna Schwartze, newly hired VP of communications, monitored the entire interview from across the locker room and then chatted with Cousins afterward. Even Kings minority partner Shaquille O'Neal, who went through a similar learning curve with the officials, supposedly swings by once a month to impart some wisdom, although veteran Chuck Hayes rolled his eyes at O'Neal's assertion that he and Cousins are alike. "I don't think there's a similarity in the two at all," Hayes said. "In game, personality or character." Hayes believes Cousins, ultimately, needs to be the one communicating to the people he dislikes the most: the refs. "He needs to learn their names," Hayes said. "Their first names. Shane Battier taught me that. It's amazing what a difference that can make." Cousins clearly has a strong desire to prove who he is as a player. The Kings have to find a way to stoke that desire while helping him show who he's not as a person. "He might need to do some videos, like Chris Bosh did for his All-Star selection," says Hayes. "They need to see a different Cuz, because who they see out there is not who he really is." In the eyes of the refs, that's exactly who he is. Until proven otherwise. Which it was on Sunday.
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