The Sacramento Kings have lost five straight and 11 of their past 12 games. They are 4-12 overall and an incredibly poor 2-8 at home.
Friday night, the Kings travel to play the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers who (in the words of late comedian Robin Harris) will be ‘pissed to the highest of pisstivity’ (no, that’s not a word) after losing four straight games.
The next night the Kings host the Dallas Mavericks, who currently share the NBA’s longest winning streak (with Utah) at seven.
Coach Paul Westphal felt the need Monday to kick the team’s first-round draft choice, DeMarcus Cousins, out of practice.
Tyreke Evans, last season’s Rookie of the Year, for the first time of his 21 years, is having difficulty scoring.
Moreover, judging Evans from his words, he’s feeling like some of his teammates think he’s at times playing selfishly.
“I’m thinking team-first,” Evans said. “If I score and guys (aren’t) getting touches then that’s when they just stop playing and think I’m selfish. So I try to go out there and get my teammates involved and to play hard.
“I’m just trying to figure out, whether it’s score or get assists, how to get us going.”
That some of his teammates feel Evans plays selfishly comes as no surprise because at times I’ve felt the same way.
Evans clearly is feeling the weight of the constant losing. Evans is a talent trying to lead when in a best-case scenario he would be the one being led. As we know, though, this is far from a best-case scenario.
Cousins, meanwhile, is another talent attempting to find his way. He’s in a new place and time. He’s a first-time professional dealing with, and seeing new situations.
A lot is made of Cousins’ immaturity and at 20 years and three months he’s hardly a finished product. He’s got a lot to learn and he doesn’t know as much as he thinks.
The kid should be focused only on himself and improving his game. Yet, he thinks he knows so much he feels entitled to question his coaching staff. Looking back on my life, one of the most important things to learn is when to shut up.
And 55, I’m much better at it, but sometimes I falter.
Cousins said Tuesday before the game he’d said nothing to Westphal and the coach had said nothing to him.
“I haven’t said (anything) to him and he didn’t say anything to me,” said Cousins, who then scored 20 points on nine of 16 field-goal attempts and grabbed eight rebounds in nearly 23 minutes of the 107-98 loss to Indiana.
“It’s a new day. I didn’t dwell on it. We’ve got to move on.”
When asked why he didn’t talk to Cousins the day after tossing him from practice, Westphal said with a laugh, “He heard enough from me (Monday).”
That may have been true, but it may not have been the whole truth. There is the possibility that the rookie doesn’t like the coach. Cousins probably doesn’t know Westphal well enough to know if he likes him or doesn’t.
Truthfully, it’s neither here nor there. Cousins is an employee and has to find a way of dealing with his boss respectfully. I haven’t liked each of my supervisors but I never was intentionally disrespectful. That’s unprofessional and learning to be a pro is one of the new obstacles Cousins faces.
It might help the young boy to realize Westphal wants nothing more than to consistently help him uncover more of his talent.
Westphal was asked if dealing with Cousins will compare with any past player-coach relationships.
“Oh, yeah,” the coach said with an incredulous look. “Have you looked at who I’ve coached?”
I hadn’t, but I now have. Over the years while coaching Phoenix and Seattle, Westphal had 3½ seasons of Charles Barkley and 2½ seasons of Gary Payton. Throw in Tom Chambers, Oliver Miller, Dale Ellis, a sometimes intoxicated Vin Baker, Ruben Patterson and my main man, the incendiary Vernon Maxwell.
That’s one special group of players and hardly a mouth monitor between them.
Yeah, Cousins has a long, long, long way to go before he gets into that neighborhood of mind-speak.
Westphal says neither he nor the organization had blinders on when they drafted Cousins. The Kings knew Cousins was a vocally emotional talent.
“I love the guy,” the coach said of the player. “We’re going to have ups and downs and we’re going to have some more downs. We’re going to butt heads.
“We knew that when we drafted him. He’s our guy. We’re going to keep working with him. And he’s going to get better. And someday, we’ll look back, hopefully, and I’ll say, ‘You sure were a knucklehead.’
“And he’ll say, ‘I know, but thanks for sticking with me.’
“I mean, he’s got passion. And he also can be impatient and misplace his passion. And we’re trying to help him.”
But you also have to be respectful.
“I’ve heard a lot worse than DeMarcus has given me, believe me. I love DeMarcus and he’ll either love me know or he’ll love me soon again.”
In my opinion, Westphal Tuesday in that loss to Indiana went way beyond sensibility in the third quarter of the loss to Indiana, to show Evans he had his back during these tough times.
The Kings were going through one of those once a game tough stretches that kill them. Evans was turning the ball over and generally playing poorly. Luther Head scored the team’s only field goals during first 10 minutes of the quarter.
The situation called for Beno Udrih, who made each of his six first-half field-goal attempts on the way to 15 points, to replace Evans. Yet, the coach waited nine minutes before he subbed in Udrih.
Personally, I’d have squatted Tyreke’s butt with the quickness while the Kings were being outscored, 17-2, to start the quarter.
Said Westphal, “How can a young guy get to know how handle situations until he plays the minutes. I’m not going to take Tyreke out if misses a couple of shots or makes a couple of bad plays, like he’s no good., because I think he’s very good.”
Meanwhile, Evans says his team has to find a way to play a solid 48 minutes, and a team meeting last week didn’t help. Yet, he believes the team remains confident.
“Definitely,” he said. “We’ve got the players. (A lack of) execution is what is killing us. We’ve got to stay together.
“We’ve had a meeting, but it was like in one ear and out the other. It was without the coaches. I think it was Sunday.
“We’re just frustrated right now and we’re trying to find a way. It’s tough right now.”
On an entirely different front, Lebron James goes back to Cleveland for the first time and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.
If I was James, I’d be trying to get 50 in our victory. If I’m playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there’s little I wouldn’t do to drop an ‘L’ on his way out of town.
Intense feelings on both sides – not to mention the crowd - should make for a great game.