NEW YORK -- There is a tantalizing talent inside DeMarcus Cousins, a gifted scorer, passer and rebounder packed into a burly 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame. On any night, against any team, against any player, Cousins can dominate, posting NBA 2K-type numbers like the 31 points and 20 rebounds he put up against Toronto last Friday or the 28 points and 11 rebounds he collected against Brooklyn the next night.
"Demarcus Cousins is as tough a cover as there is in the league," said Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo. "Very few players have the talent that he has. He has the entire basketball package."
There is an immature child in Cousins, too, an angry, frustrated 22-year-old who, in 2 1/2 years in the NBA, has been his own worst enemy. He has been suspended four times in the last year, including three times this season. The NBA dinged him twice, first for confronting Spurs broadcaster Sean Elliott after a game in November and a month later for whacking Mavs guard O.J. Mayo in the groin. Last month, the Kings sat him down for "unprofessional behavior" that stemmed from an incident with head coach Keith Smart during halftime of a loss to the Clippers.
Cousins' relationship with his teammates -- shaky even before the season -- is another issue. Cousins can be demonstrative after a bad play and is often seen barking at teammates during games. And constantly having to explain Cousins behavior to the media has created a palpable tension in the locker room.
Sitting in the lobby of a Manhattan hotel last week, Cousins has an easy time explaining his talent. For so long, basketball has been his life. He was a 2009 McDonald's All-American who went to play for John Calipari at Kentucky, where, in just one season, he became the top big man prospect in the country.
The other stuff? That's not so simple.
"Sometimes I let some of the small things take over," Cousins told SI.com. "It can be a simple thing, like a call going the wrong way, and it takes me all off. I've got a real problem when I know something is wrong or I feel something is wrong, I'm going to speak about it. I get it from my mother. It's a problem I have. I don't want to say I want to change it because it helped me get where I am. But at the same time, I have to learn to be quiet."
Indeed, Cousins NBA rap sheet has catapulted him to the top of the NBA's bad boy list, linking him to the likes of Dennis Rodman and Ron Artest in the category of talented players whose behavior overshadows their tremendous skill.
Cousins is keenly aware of the perception of him. And he hates it. Badly.
"I'm not going to sit here and say I'm innocent, because I've done things," Cousins said. "But to get the reputation that I've got, I don't think I've done enough. I don't have a criminal record. Some of the guys with the cleanest image in the league have a record. I don't think I was given a fair chance. I don't know what I did in college that was so bad to get that reputation. OK, there is footage of me and Coach Cal going at each other. That happens in sports. Coming into the league, everyone said I was going to be fat, I was the next Oliver Miller. I had all these red flags. I just feel I was never given a fair chance coming in."
Among those that didn't give him a chance, Cousins said, was his own organization. The Kings tabbed Cousins with the fifth pick in the 2010 draft but, in his mind, have never made an effort to get to know him.
"They wanted to get to know me but they were scared because of my reputation," Cousins said. "I felt like it was bad on their part. I'm your player and you don't take the time to get to know me? You just go by what the rest of the world says?"
"No, I'm still not [given a chance]," Cousins said. "It flip flops. When everything is good, [the organization] is good. When things go bad, there is nothing about that good person they remember. I just want that balance. You are either with me or you're not."
Cousins scoffs at the notion that he might have anger management issues and says he was offended when the Kings suggested he seek counseling.
"I took it as an insult," Cousins said. "That's another thing, our organization doesn't even know me. They were looking for an excuse. I don't believe that is the way to solve issues. I'm an emotional guy. It's as simple as that."
Cousins says he understands that in his third year, he is at a crossroads. The Kings are not going to trade him. After his most recent suspension, Boston, Charlotte, Atlanta, Washington and Dallas expressed interest in acquiring Cousins, only to be rebuffed. Cousins is too young, too talented and plays too important a position to give up on now.
"We're trying to get all the stuff behind us as quick as possible," Smart said. "I don't hold grudges. I move on. I think he has moved on and the team has moved on. I think maybe he has turned the corner and realized that if you want to be a star in this league, all the stars allow their teammates to play and they make them better."
Despite recently hiring high-powered agent Dan Fegan -- who has made a living extricating players from difficult situations -- Cousins maintains he wants to stay in Sacramento. He talks about the talented Kings teams of the 1990s, teams led by Chris Webber and Mike Bibby and says he wants to be part of restoring that level of success.
"That's like a trophy to me," Cousins said. "Taking a team no players really want to go to, a team considered the worst in the league, and through all the struggle and all the negativity, they found the way to win. I want to put Sacramento back on the map. I want to be an instrumental part of things changing here."
To do it, Cousins will have to keep the focus on basketball, not his behavior. On the court, Nets center Brook Lopez said, "there's not really anything [Cousins] can't do offensively." Sacramento has won four of its last seven games and is only 6 1/2 games out of the playoffs. Cousins can pull the Kings closer. He can also tear them apart.
"I can't sit here and say I'll never do anything again," Cousins said. "This is a frustrating sport. There are a lot of emotions involved. It's easier said than done to just come in and be a professional. I can't sit here and say nothing will happen again because I would be lying. I really don't know. But at the same time I'm not going to go out of my way to cause an incident or a ruckus. I want to make things right."