By Ben Golliver
The NBA has suspended one of its most polarizing young stars for confronting one of its most polarizing local television analysts.
The league announced Sunday that Kings center DeMarcus Cousins has been suspended two games without pay for seeking out Sean Elliott to dispute comments made by the Spurs television analyst on the broadcast of Friday night's 97-86 Spurs victory in Sacramento. The league ruled that Cousins "confronted" Elliott in a "hostile manner."
Cousins will miss Sacramento's game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on Sunday and a Monday game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento on Tuesday. Cousins is on the books for $3.9 million this season; the two-game suspension will cost him roughly $94,000.
Straight from the "You can't make this stuff up" file, the San Antonio Express-News reports that Cousins, 22, waited around after Friday's game to exchange words with Elliott, who had criticized him for talking trash to Tim Duncan, 36, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“That’s why some humility is in order,” Elliott said on the air. “You think you’re dominating Tim Duncan, you get it stuffed right back in your face. Timmy doesn’t like to talk trash. But if guys start talking mess to him, he’s going to respond. All that trash talking was premature. I’m not about to let these guys off the hook. Young ballclub should learn from this. Don’t start talking and flapping your gums against one of the greatest players ever. He’s going to make you pay. Tell me who got the best of this exchange.”
Apparently informed postgame of Elliott’s remarks, Cousins appeared on the court in his uniform and confronted Elliott after he and broadcaster Bill Land completed their postgame show.
An "animated conversation" ensued, according to one witness.
Immediately after Friday's game, Cousins called Elliott "immature" for his comments, according to the Sacramento Bee.
"Trash-talking is part of the game. I have the utmost respect for Tim Duncan. So me trash-talking Tim Duncan is not being disrespectful.
"I understand he's going to be a Hall of Famer. He's the greatest power forward to ever play this game. But for (Elliott) to go on TV and say the comments that he said, that's immature."
Cousins, the No. 5 pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, has dealt with questions about his emotions and attitude since high school. A hyper-talented low-post scorer and rebounder, Cousins is averaging 17.3 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.0 steals through six games. During his three seasons in Sacramento, Cousins has had his share of minor incidents, getting benched for flashing a "choking" sign to an opponent, getting thrown off the team plane after a dispute with a teammate, getting fined by the organization for undisclosed reasons and getting into arguments with former coach Paul Westphal, including rumors of a possible trade request.
Elliott, 44, spent 11 of his 12-year NBA career with the Spurs, winning a title with Duncan in 1999. He is generally regarded as one of the least apologetic homers on local television broadcasts. The Spurs have retired his No. 32 jersey.
Over the summer, Cousins participated in USA Basketball's Select training program, where Chairman Jerry Colangelo told reporters in July that Cousins "has some growing up to do" and that he "needs to mature as a person." USA Today reported that Cousins was surprised by that characterization, calling it "messed up.
"I asked him how I was being immature," Cousins said. "He never really gave me an answer. He just said it was his opinion. I told him I'm just trying to come out and play hard. I'm not trying to be any of that. I have respect for every veteran in here, so at the end of the day, I'm really just trying to play hard."
"I went out of my way to ask," Cousins said. "I wanted to know, and I kind of took offense to it. I really came here trying to play hard and just be above that. … For him to say that, it was kind of messed up."
Cousins' sensitivity to these questions and assertions is understandable. He's been hearing them for five years now and they are surely tiresome, especially considering the dysfunctional Kings have a 48-106 record since he joined the team. That's a lot of losing to put up with day in and day out. The advice in this case is clear: you simply can't re-shape your image by confronting people about it, especially angrily. Cousins will only see the narrative about him change through an extended period of time free of off-court incidents and/or a major turnaround when it comes to wins and losses. The adage "respect is earned and not given" certainly applies. More immediately, it's time to put an end to the "animated conversations" with anyone who buys ink by the barrel or buys television time by the hour. More harm than good is the only possible result.