I’ve seen some random writing on the Internet and heard some random chatter on talk radio about the possibility of Bud Selig stepping in and blocking the Marlins-Blue Jays trade on some “best interests of baseball” grounds. But let’s be clear about this: he won’t do it, and he probably shouldn’t. Let’s take the “shouldn’t”…
Out of Sacramento, Ailene Voisin reported for The Bee earlier this week that Kings GM Vlade Divac finally is open to trading DeMarcus Cousins who is under contract at $16.4 million per through 2018, this summer. It might drive a some to give them a call, but most NBA-connected personnel already know what they'd be dealing with. Fired coach George Karl had a candid chat with Voisin to erase all doubt of what went wrong as he failed to get a team to a winning record for the first time in his career.
Karl was doomed by the organization’s chronic dysfunction from the start. Karl was a popular hire among Kings fans when he replaced Tyrone Corbin, who was treated like a doormat by Cousins after Michael Malone’s brutally ill-conceived firing. But Karl stepped into a situation that doubled as a septic tank long before his plane touched down.
There were enough different agendas at Sleep Train to jam the fax machine. Cousins’ agents, Dan Fegan and Jarinn Tasi Akana – the latter a member of the Denver staff who was let go when Karl was hired by the Nuggets in 2004 – lobbied hard against Karl and poisoned the coach-player relationship before the introduction. Former general manager Pete D’Alessandro signed off on Karl’s hiring only to openly engage fans in an outrageous divide-and-conquer debate: Are you with Karl or Cousins?
Karl admitted to Voisin that he was wrong for saying no player was untradeable, permanently mudding a murky situation with Cousins. By no means was Karl flawless. As a GM, Divac isn't exactly the most qualified person for that job, either, execpt that he had played for the Kings.
Cousins, however, still hasn’t shown a shred of maturity after six years as a pro. There’s a reason as the best player on the Kings he has never led them to the playoffs (or more than 33 wins) despite playing for multiple coaches (Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin and Karl). Supposedly, if he’d gotten a coach with a track record for winning and accomplishment in Karl, an NBA Coach of the Year winner, he’d behave. That didn’t happen. Instead of going into the 2015-16 season on a good note, he childishly chose to keep the tensions high:
Divac walked into the crowded gym during the Las Vegas Summer League, accompanied by Cousins, other players and assistant general manager Mike Bratz, while Karl sat at the other side of the facility. When Karl approached, Cousins only reluctantly shook his hand and then turned away, embarrassing his coach in front of dozens of his NBA colleagues and thousands of viewers following the drama on NBATV. “Vlade thought he was helping me,” said Karl, “but that looked really bad.”
A blowup happened Nov. 8 when Cousins cussed out Karl after a game. The coach wanted a two-game suspension while Divac opted to fine him in a more diplomatic decision. Said Karl:
That night the bomb went off. Vlade was right there. When they supported Cousins instead of me, I felt, ‘OK, I’m in the compromise position. Cuz has the power. They sent that message many times, too many times sent it to the players. And the players wanted someone to stand up to Cuz, and they wanted it to be their coach. But at that point, I realized that you either you compromise or you blow it up, and my job was to make us a better basketball team and get to the end of the year.
There's a reason why successful franchises such as the San Antonio Spurs and now Golden State Warriors are where they are. They don't consider free agents or trades with Cousins' coach-killing reputation and attitude. When the draft comes around, certain players who are more talented than others won't even make their way on their draft boards. They're not even up for discussion. And if that Trojan horse sneaks into the locker room, he's quickly shipped out for little or nothing in return. It's addition by subtraction.
That sort of perspective takes discipline from the top down. Teams that lack it tend to be in the lottery each year. For the Wizards, who fired coach Randy Wittman and brought in Scott Brooks for a fresh start after missing the playoffs, Cousins isn't an option nor should he be. Brooks' presence as a players' coach is to change the tone of a locker room that developed friction with the previous coach. Adding a volatile personality such as Cousins won't help that. It'll make it worse. And Markieff Morris, who the Wizards acquired in a trade with the Suns in February after having a blowup with his coaches, is nothing like Cousins personality-wise and has had a clean record before that (and those coaches vouched for his character to the Wizards, something Karl or previous coaches won't do for Cousins).
As Karl said, Cousins wasn't liked by a lot of players in his own locker room. Earlier this season, when the Kings were at Verizon Center, Cousins led a spirited pregame debate on whether or not Tupac Shakur was alive. Contrast this to four years ago, when I was in the Kings' locker room in Minnesota, and Cousins led a similar goofy discussion 90 minutes before tipoff while then-rookie Jimmer Fredette sat there in disbelief that he was part of an atmosphere that was incredibly unprofessional. This was a group in which when Smart was coach, players would look at their phones and text during film study (yes, Cousins was one of them).
Go in most locker rooms before tip off, players are reading scouting reports, looking at scouting video on the big screen, quietly focusing in with their music, stretching in the trainer's room or studying their concepts for that particular game. In Sacramento, it always has been a comedy show much like the product put on the floor.
The best player on a team, especially one with All-Star caliber talent, should at least be able to lead his team to a winning record once in six years. That hasn't happened and in those six years there has been one constant in Sacramento.
You hear it all the time when it comes to the playoffs. When teams play those first two games on the road, the goal is also to walk away with at least a split. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to earn that split in Washington by way of a 2-1 win in Game 2 on Saturday.
"We wanted to go back at least with one," Sidney Crosby said. "We played well the last couple games so I think we deserved at least to get a split."
"It's huge, I think," Kris Letang said. "It's a big momentum game that we're going home with."
For the Penguins, it was mission accomplished. Now the pressure falls on the Caps to do the same thing in Pittsburgh: take at least one of the two road games. To do so, they will have to have a much better start to Game 3 than they showed Saturday.
Through two periods the Caps were out-shot 28-10. Somehow, the deficit was only 1-0 and the Caps were able to tie it with a strong third period, but the game could have gone much differently if the team had battled as hard for the first 40 minutes as it did in the final 20.
"We have to be better, plain and simple," head coach Barry Trotz said.
While he was not satisfied with the play of his team in the first two periods, he was also not surprised by how strong Pittsburgh looked at the start.
"What you see in the playoffs a lot of times is you go into a sereies and a team wins Game 1, there's a sense of heightened desperation on a team that lost that game and I sense that they had a heightened sense of desperation."
Now the Caps will need to feel that desperation heading into Pittsburgh. By losing Game 2, Washington has yielded home-ice advantage. Both teams need three more wins, but three of the remaining fives games of the series will be in Pittsburgh. If the Caps don't feel that "heigthened desperation" in Games 3 and 4, they could find themselves down 3-1 in the series when play returns to Washington on Saturday.
Where do the Caps need to improve? Well, that's not too hard to figure out.
Said Karl Alzner, "You need leave more of a mark early in the game."
MORE CAPITALS: WILLIAMS: 'WE WERE GETTING EMBARRASSED OUT THERE'
BALTIMORE— A month ago, the Orioles were angry with Hyun Soo Kim because he didn’t want to go to the minor leagues. Now, he’s batting .600.
Kim had three more hits in Saturday night’s game. He’s 9-for-15 in four starts, and he’s 2-for-2 in pinch hitting appearances.
Manager Buck Showalter likes to say about players who campaign for more playing time: “You want to play more? Play better.”
Showalter says it’s true in Kim’s case.
“That’s why I’ve played him,” Showalter said. “That’s how it works. Whose place should he take?”
Both Kim and Pedro Alvarez, who has three multi-hit games this week, have hit recently, creating a happy dilemma for Showalter.
“I like that challenge,” Showalter said. “I haven’t quite figured out how it works mathematically. It’s kind of hard.”
The left-handed Kim has had all his at-bats against right-handers.
“You get an idea about guys, kind of who they might match up against well initially,” Showalter said. “You don’t know. I still don’t for sure. I know he’s had some good at-bats off certain guys. We’ll see if he can go to the next level against some other guys.”
Showalter feels that Kim has made the most out of not playing most of the first month. He’s had quite an adjustment to U.S. baseball from South Korea.
“I think Kim’s benefitted a little bit by being able to step back and watch something unfold that he didn’t know what was going to happen, the stadiums, the fields, the pitchers, all the things we do differently here,” Showalter said.