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December 27, 2012
Critical point for relationship between Smart and Cousins

Friday is the next chance for Kings coach Keith Smart to play his starting center that has missed the last 2 ½ games for disciplinary reasons.

Monitoring when Cousins plays is one thing. The relationship between and Cousins and Smart is something else to watch.

Smart made progress in building a relationship with Cousins after the center's strained relationship with Paul Westphal. Once Cousins didn't trust Westphal, it didn't matter what the coach said, he'd lost Cousins.

So Smart did all he could to build a bond. He visited Cousins at home. Got to know him on a personal level and tried to get to know Cousins as a person, not just a player.

Smart has to be wary of the same situation Westphal dealt with. Not that he'll be fired, as Westphal was after his final spat with Cousins. But with the Kings at 9-19 the locker room is already on edge after every loss.

Add an important and angry player to that, the mix could be toxic.

Also add that Cousins is very big on loyalty. His final straw with Westphal was the press release about his request for a trade (which Cousins maintains he never made).

Cousins felt he tried to be mature with Westphal and he was embarrassed in return.

Not sure how Cousins will deal with being reinstated on Monday only to be told that night he wasn't traveling with team on Tuesday to Portland.

That could be just as embarrassing as being sent home by Westphal for asking to be traded.

Cousins maintains he doesn't want to be traded. But two bad coaching experiences could make the center's new agent, Dan Fegan, put pressure on the Kings to get him out of Sacramento.

How Smart navigates this will be interesting. It doesn't sound like he'll be devoting inordinate time to Cousins.

"You can't tax yourself focusing on one player because you'll get burnt out," Smart said.
"You've got other guys you've got to be responsible for also."

Smart acknowledges this isn't easy. In sports the more talented players get away with things a player at the end of the bench can't attempt.

Smart used the example of a player like Carmelo Anthony being allowed to take shots another player would be benched for attempting.

Cousins presents Smart with challenges not just in that area. But it's also in how he interacts with teammates and coaches.

This all began with an argument between Smart and Cousins that became too personal.

"The focal point for us is to keep having our base coverage rules and when guys step over those particular lines it's going to be tough," Smart said.

*As for tomorrow's game against the New York Knicks, Smart said after practice he knew if Cousins would play but hadn't told him yet. Of course, Smart didn't tell the media, either.

*Tyreke Evans (sore left knee) plans to try and play Sunday when the Kings host the Boston Celtics.



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