SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento Kings' already-frustrating season evolved into an utter mess on Sunday, when coach
"When a player continually, aggressively, lets it be known that he is unwilling/unable to embrace traveling in the same direction as his team, it cannot be ignored indefinitely," Westphal said in the statement. "DeMarcus Cousins has demanded to be traded. In the best interest of our team as we go forward, he has been directed by me, with the support of management, to stay home from the New Orleans game [on Sunday night]."
Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said Westphal's decision to send Cousins home was approved and supported. "We back the coach," Maloof said as he sat courtside watching Sunday night's game."
Cousins' agent, John Greig, denied the claim that his client demanded a trade.
"DeMarcus never demanded a trade," Greig said by phone. "I'm surprised the Kings -- if they believe the player wanted a trade -- wouldn't have made a phone call to his representative. Maybe Westphal is just feeling the heat early this season."
While sources with knowledge of the situation said Cousins twice indicated he wanted to be traded -- the first time coming after a Dec. 24 practice and the second after Saturday's loss to Knicks -- Cousins' contention is that it was said in response to continued assertions that he was part of the team's problem and not the solution.
"If you think I'm such a cancer to this team, then trade me now," one source claimed Cousins said while leaving a meeting with Westphal in his office Saturday night.
Cousins met with Greig and Kings president Geoff Petrie on Monday morning at the team's facility, but a source close to the situation said there was no real resolution regarding the issues at hand before the decision was made. While Cousins will return to his team and the floor, his long-term future with the Kings is seriously in doubt and his relationship with Westphal is clearly fractured.
Cousins issued a statement to the media Monday evening through his agent saying: "I want to address my missing the New Orleans game Sunday. I have not demanded or requested a trade. I don't agree with the actions taken but will give my sincere effort to put it behind me and compete the best I can for my team."
While the Kings have made it clear that Cousins is not available for a trade, numerous teams with potential interest in him began doing their research on the big man not long after Westphal's statement was released. The Rockets have long been known think very highly of Cousins and they are convinced they could handle his personality, and the Wizards and Nuggets are known to have interest as well. According to SI's Chris Mannix, the Nets reached out to the Kings regarding Cousins.
Petrie made it clear that the decision to publicly announce Cousins' trade demand was an attempt to send a strong message to the 21-year-old with the hope that he changes his ways. It wasn't, Petrie insisted, a sign that Cousins is now on the trading block.
"I think in the larger picture of things he's just got to find a way to swallow those things and learn to grow up," Petrie said. "Learn to be more professional, learn to put in the effort and time, grow as a player. Help him help himself and help the team."
Cousins, the fifth pick in the 2010 draft out of Kentucky, has battled Westphal for much of his time in Sacramento and was fined one game's pay (approximately $41,000) late last season for a locker-room fight with teammate Donté Greene. He had run-ins with assistant coaches and the team's trainer last season as well, and admitted to SI.com during the offseason that there were
While Cousins' rebounding has improved to 11.3 boards per game this season (up from 8.6 last season), his scoring (13 points) and assists (one) are down and he's shooting just 32.1 percent from the field in four games. Westphal, who has gone 49-115 in his first two seasons with the Kings, is in the final year of his contract.
There was support for Cousins among his teammates, but numerous players talked openly about the changes they believe he needs to make. Recently added big man Chuck Hayes, whose free-agent signing was partly due to the need for a respected veteran voice on the league's youngest team, said Cousins simply must learn to control the emotions that might have played a part in his decision to talk about being traded.
"I've known him since '09 when he was going into his freshman year [at Kentucky]," Hayes said. "He's a tremendous talent. Maybe it takes a couple more years for him to get it or for him to figure out this game and how he can best dominate this game.
"But right now, the guy -- as good as he is talented, that's how much he is emotional. He'll show everything. And in this game, you have to have short-term memory. Learn to forget about it and move on. ... I've talked to [Cousins] so many times on the practice court, in the games, during the middle of the game, just so he doesn't have an outburst, just so his mood and his spirits will stay up and he'll see the brighter picture."
Kings forward Jason Thompson concurred that maturity issues remain for Cousins.
"The way you take it is, obviously he's a good talent, but you don't want the situation to be a distraction," Thompson said. "I don't want to say the word of 'cancer-like situations' -- I'm not saying he is that but it's those types of situations. You don't want those bad situations to keep occurring, because it has a bad effect on the team.
"Obviously guys have maturing to worry about and as you grow into the league, you learn that you can't do the same stuff that you used to do when you're in high school and college. Hopefully when you have building blocks like that, you can learn from it. It can't keep happening [if you're going to be] successful."
Kings swingman Francisco Garcia said the team is better off with Cousins in tow.
"It's tough for him," he said. "He's still a kid, still learning the game, and he's got a lot of things to learn about this business. Sometimes that's what it takes. At the end of the day, he's a good kid. We missed him today [against the Hornets]. We got the W, but we know he's a big part of our team."
The Kings were all smiles after a season-opening win against the Lakers, but lackluster losses to Chicago, Portland and New York followed before they downed New Orleans, 96-80, without Cousins on Sunday night. Numerous players expressed frustration after the loss to the Knicks on Saturday, but Cousins was the most pointed with his comments as he repeated, "Just gotta do what coach say," seven times in his interview with the media.
"Certainly you've heard of the cliché, 'the tip of the iceberg.' Well, this is certainly the tip of the iceberg [with Cousins]," Westphal said before Sunday's game. "You can only have so many chances before something has to be done and this time something had to be done.
"I hope that DeMarcus has a change of heart and joins up with full reinstatement. ... This will give him the best chance to do that, and if he chooses not to do that, then we'll be better off going forward in the same direction. ... I think DeMarcus has to do some soul searching and decide if he's going to join me in a way that's desirable and acceptable to this organization."