Monday, December 31, 2012

A Tale of Two: DeMarcus Cousins and Royce White

DeMarcus Cousins has decisions to make. (

Sacramento is in flames. It used to be easy to key in on the reasons behind the fire, but a new barrel of gasoline seems to be added with every game that the Kings play. Not literally, of course, but its also not tough to imagine a pile of Kings gear going up in smoke at the hands of a fanbase in the throws of near perpetual discord.

In 2006-07, the franchise finished just outside the top half of the NBA in regular attendance, ending the season at 16th out of 30. No one wanted to see a team that, with more and more regularity, became ineffective in their lone goal of winning basketball games. Attendance dropped and the Kings lost a net of nearly 130,000 live viewers at their home court the next year, finishing 11 slots lower in season attendance than in the year prior.

Another season, another drop, this time to 29th due to a loss of around 60,000 spectators, some of whom returned during Tyreke Evans' stellar debut season just in time to see the young guard earn Rookie of the Year honors. On the scale, though, the Kings remained at 29th in attendance until last season, when they managed to finish one spot higher.

The Kings ownership maligned by now from wishy-washy commitment to retain the Kings and to keep the franchise in northern California — noticed the numbers and, without saying as much, seemed to go into complete "Sell! Sell! Sell!" stock market mode. Evans was nagged by injuries and his front court partner, 2010 draft pick DeMarcus Cousins, was a near constant headache away from the court and a temperamental talent on the hardwood.

The Kings are sitting at 21st in attendance for this season, but, unfortunately for the fan base, the struggles faced by this squad — and the trouble created by its members — have not undergone such positive changes.


By comparison, the Houston Rockets have been an almost pristine franchise. With Yao Ming altering both the way his opponents played and the basketball world at large, the Rockets made multiple playoff appearances in the mid-2000s. Even with Ming often sidelined by injuries, players like Shane Battier, Tracy McGrady and Luis Scola made the team respectable. Other times, production came from surprising sources like Aaron Brooks or Goran Dragic.

Those names can no longer be found on the Rockets' roster, though. Management either let walk or traded (amnestied, in Scola's case) players with the hope of making a push for a major free agent that never came along. Houston never made that particular addition, but they did come away with Jeremy Lin (thanks to a back-loaded contract offer) and James Harden.

Those two, primarily the Bearded One, have a previously unheralded Rockets team in the top half of a very competitive Western Conference, and could make a playoff push if the remainder of the season plays out the right way.

Make no mistake: the right way is not the ideal way. The right way is winning games with the current roster, continuing to gel and utilizing these pieces to create a larger sum. The ideal way would have Lin and Harden creating while also being able to space the floor for the first-round draft pick that was supposed to terrorize big men with an offensive acumen far more polished than what most rookies bring into the Association.

More than one-quarter of the way into the season, the Rockets have had to rely on doing things the right way.


There were questions about Cousins in the lead-up to the 2010 draft. He had been hugely important to Kentucky's success in his only season of collegiate hoops — if John Wall was reason No. 1 for the Wildcats' accomplishments, Cousins was No. 1b but his commitment to finishing every play, keeping his attention on the game when he was not directly involved in a play, and his focus on staying in proper shape to play on the highest level of professional basketball all contributed to Cousins sliding down draft boards. Though he only had to wait until the Kings-held fifth overall pick, Cousins was snubbed by the New Jersey Nets, who opted to go with the known quantity of Derrick Favors with the No. 2 pick rather than take what they perceived as a gamble.

Favors is now developing as a member of the Utah Jazz's monstrous front court after being acquired in the Nets' trade for point guard Deron Williams. It could have been Cousins jumping from the East Coast to the mountainous West, but the entirety of the his career has been spent in Sacramento, and it has not been the easiest two-plus years, to say the least. Here's the laundry list of Cousins' infractions from this season alone: getting suspended for confronting an announcer "in a hostile manner"; claiming to have lost any semblance of confidence; getting suspended for punching O.J. Mayo in *ahem* a sensitive area; getting suspended indefinitely for having a verbal argument with Kings head coach Keith Smart; being reinstated after one game and having Smart decide to leave him home rather than include Cousins in a road game in Portland; storming out of an interview; and recording his first career triple-double in a 118-96 fileting of the Boston Celtics.

Of the items on that list, only one is positive. The 12-10-10 line against the Celtics is a holdover from last season, when Cousins put up star-like numbers with averages of 18.1 points, 11 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. The difference between his outstanding performance from 2011-12 and his big night against Boston is that, while passing through the Celtics' defense, Cousins looked disaffected; disinterested in actually moving the ball, as if his interest was wholly invested in an individual stat line rather than teamwork.

This outburst was preceded, naturally, by unnamed sources (likely Cousins' own camp) saying that Cousins is interested in being traded to the Washington Wizards. Trade rumors are nothing new when it comes to the Sacramento big man, with common thinking working along the get-rid-of-a-problem-while-you-can-get-a-high-return lines. Boston, Charlotte, Dallas, Detroit, Orlando, and of all teams Houston are other cities that sources (again, probably Cousins' agent) have cited as having interest in the problematic (for his own team and others) player capable of filling productive minutes at the power forward and center positions.


White (Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)
Royce White hasn't played a single meaningful minute in the NBA. His time in the summer league begat averages of 8.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. White's numbers dipped in four preseason games on a combined 27.3 percent shooting, and it is likely his numbers would have been inconsistent in any regular season action.

Who knows, though? The Rockets recently assigned White to the D-League, a motion the forward rebuffed by refusing to report to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Accepting a role in the D-League would have allowed White to play at Vipers home games and possibly even travel to road games on bus, given the smaller circumference he would have to navigate due to the farm system's less hectic schedule. This is similar to what White wanted when, before the season began, he asked the Rockets to work with him and make concessions to accommodate his obsessive compulsive and anxiety disorders.

A flat-out "no" was probably not the best answer for either party involved in this situation, even as White wages an ongoing not-quite-war on Twitter in the name of those who suffer from the same disorders as himself. As SBNation's Tom Ziller wrote

"This is where I think White is missing the point on purpose. The Rockets want Royce White to play basketball. Royce White wants to play basketball. But he wants to play only on his terms. As it turns out, playing on his terms appears to be an increasingly difficult target. It doesn't appear that the Rockets can meet that target. C'est la vie. The dream's over. White is not going to stick in the NBA."

Anyone who tracked White's college career — or even did a bit of research before the Rockets selected him with the 16th overall pick of the 2012 draft — knows that he had a bit of trouble as an undergraduate. Incidents of alleged theft, assault and trespassing led White to announce his departure from Minnesota and an eventual transfer to Iowa State, after a panic attack caused White to miss a flight that would have landed him in Kentucky, signing with John Calipari — the man responsible for signing some of the best high school recruits year in and year out; the man who reigned in Cousins for one season before making him one of five teammates taken in the first round of the NBA's 2010 draft.

The Midwestern surroundings did wonders for White, who was one of several transfers on the Cyclones' 2011-12 iteration. So high were expectations that White was selected as the Big 12's Preseason Newcomer of the Year, one of a bevy of accolades he would win before declaring for the NBA draft while his name was hot.



It may be ironic that the last game of White's college career came against the team he could have been a part of, the team with a head coach so enamored in White's talent that he was willing to forgo the constraints of a system so reliant on freshman that he regularly has to reload it with the next crop of one-and-dones just to have a starting five that he deems fit.

Kentucky won the NCAA National Championship while held a-high by the lanky arms of Anthony Davis, now with the New Orleans Hornets. That group lost just two games last season, steeped in the noises of Assembly Hall as the Indiana Hoosiers exclaimed their return to national relevance by stealing away a one-point victory against and falling to the Vanderbilt Commodores, one of college basketball's most consistently inconsistent programs, in the SEC championship game.

White would have added an extra dimension to that already dangerous group. His versatile scoring could have placed an undefeated record in the annuls along with a national championship celebration strewn with nylon nets fraying from so much nervous handling while waiting to be announced as the best in the land.

That's the kind of machine that White was in college, and that was the powerhouse that the Rockets thought they drafted in June. That is who they drafted, undeniably, but since White held himself out of training camp because of a disagreement with the team over means of travel. The issues have snowballed since that seemingly innocent act of self-preservation, and White's reintegration into the Rockets organization — and the NBA at large — seem less likely with each passing day.

Instead, the Rockets are relying on SEC products and former rivals Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson to handle starting forward duties. While Parsons is a long-range shooter and is making much more progress as a professional this year than he did last year, Patterson has traded rebounding for scoring this season, averaging four more points per 36 minutes than he did last season but grabbing 5.8 rebounds per 36 as compared to 6.9 during his sophomore year, and 8.3 as a rookie.

Whether White would improve on any of Patterson's numbers is unknown, just as it is unknown what kind of package Houston could assemble if they were to make a move for Cousins. To lay the truth bare, though, neither White nor Cousins will play for the Rockets this season, and Cousins could very well see himself out of Sacramento by the All-Star break, especially with the Kings beginning to see small amounts of success (winning seven of their last eight at home; being 5-0 at home with crowds over 15,000 this season; Jimmer Fredette entering the beginning stages of becoming JIMMER FREDETTE by being No. 16 in the league in True Shooting percentage and owning a Win Share per 48 Minutes of .154, well above the league average .100).

White and Cousins are two players on similar career trajectories, but their hang-ups have occurred at different times. Whereas Cousins has produced tangible results and shown his worth making him appealing for suitors ready to exercise their patience in order to perform alchemy and turn the 22-year-old into solid gold — White has done nothing of the sort, not on a stage that matters to NBA executives weighing the merits of a player who has already been drafted.

It is possible that these two could have shared a piece of the Kentucky pedigree. The possibility also remains that the they could be traded for one another, although that is a long shot, especially if the Kings decide to rid their organization of Cousins' drama and the Rockets' easiest option is to buyout White's relatively small contract to effectively end any chance White has of a career in the NBA.

The only certainty is that neither Cousins nor White will be able to fully capitalize on their respective abilities until they are willing to meet their teammates, coaches and, yes, their bosses at a middle point at which both parties can happily accept a compromise. Theirs are two separate stories with one overarching theme: that of the talented but troubled; that of those who can either enrich or deprive those around them. Make no mistake that the time is coming that White and Cousins will have to make just that decision, and that both the Kings and Rockets will be willing to go on with or without them.

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