While USA Basketball is mired in scrutiny following the horrific injury of Paul George on Friday, a curious report has somewhat flown under the radar. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, Mason Plumlee is likely to make the team over DeMarcus Cousins.
Should there be any doubt over who the better player is, let us look at the tale of the tape.
Cousins: 4 years in the NBA, 22.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, 2.9 APG, 26.1 PER in 2013/14
Plumlee: One year in the NBA, 7.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 0.9 APG, 19.0 PER (only 18.2 MPG) in 2013/14
Plumlee had a solid rookie season as he eventually took over the starting center position for the Nets after Brook Lopez was lost to injury.
Cousins, on the other hand, has steadily improved throughout his four professional seasons, culminating in his monstrous 2013/14 campaign. Very few NBA players can even approach Cousins' level of production.
There is just one problem.
While Plumlee is a squeaky-clean white kid from Indiana, Cousins is just as well-known for his combustible temper as his play on the court.
When Jerry Colangelo is making the decisions, these things matter.
In Phoenix, Colangelo fostered a high standard of character for professional athletes that, at least with the Suns, is still practiced today. His conviction was only emboldened by the ugly drug scandal of 1987, which eventually led to the decision not to offer all-time leading scorer Walter Davis a competitive contract the following year, in essence letting him walk.
While he has been widely commended for his business practices, they often have presented a direct conflict to putting the best teams on the playing field, and there have also been some curious contradictions along the way.
The High Cost Of Standards
In 1983, Colangelo traded mercurial but talented guard Dennis Johnson to the Celtics in what is widely considered one of the most lop-sided trades in NBA history. Johnson often clashed with coaches during his time both in Seattle and Phoenix, and after three stellar seasons as a Sun was shipped to Boston for center Rick Robey.
Johnson became a key cog for two championship Celtics teams with his fierce defense and clutch playmaking. His jersey number 3 was retired by the Celtics, and he was posthumously elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010.
In three miserable seasons in Phoenix, Robey never played more than 61 games in a season or averaged more than 14 minutes per game, due to injuries that some suggested were a result of suspect conditioning.
In 2001, Suns star Jason Kidd and teammate Clifford Robinson both found themselves in legal trouble, Kidd for domestic violence and Robinson for marijuana possession.
Colangelo acted swiftly, trading the All-NBA Kidd to New Jersey and ushering in the woefully uninspiring Stephon Marbury era.
Despite the seriousness of Kidd's domestic violence incident, the joke was on Colangelo again. While Kidd led the invigorated Nets to the first of consecutive Finals appearances in 2002, the Marbury-led Suns ended a 13 year streak by missing the playoffs in the West.
As for Robinson, despite being a decorated NBA veteran, valued teammate and a renowned defensive player, he was sent to Detroit for lowly-regarded reserves Jud Beuchler and John Wallace.
While Robinson was a key-contributor for the playoff-bound Pistons, Beuchler and Wallace combined to play 52 games for the Suns.
As the luster was slowly being drained from the Suns franchise, Colangelo had again made his point quite clear. Only players of the highest quality of character would wear the uniform of the Phoenix Suns, even if it hindered the success of the team.
In light of his clear willingness to place character standards over the quality of the team on the floor, how ironic then were the times that he used his considerable power and reach in the community to protect those close to him when certain unfortunate incidents arose.
Like in 1997 when the Suns' poster child Kevin Johnson found himself under police investigation for alleged misconduct with a minor. A year after Colangelo engaged in a public squabble with Charles Barkley, the ugly KJ scandal went untouched by every media outlet in Phoenix aside from those meddling kids at the New Times.
Colangelo responded by re-signing Johnson for the 1997/98 season at $8 million, and to date neither have ever publicly addressed the scandal.
Or in 2003 when Colangelo's daughter was arrested for an extreme DUI in which she even topped recently-busted P.J. Tucker by producing a blood-alcohol level of .238. According to an investigation again conducted by the pesky New Times, Jerry responding by arranging a fundraiser for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio which raised $50,000 for the controversial lawman.
Presumably as a result of Colangelo's generosity, his daughter was able to avoid the grueling environment of Tent City in exchange for a ten-day stay at Arpaio's alternative facility, derisively dubbed the "Mesa Hilton", where she enjoyed such amenities as air conditioning, her cell phone and take-out meals. According to the report, she was also only required to spend 12 hours per day in the facility.
Of course, to establish a direct link between Arpaio's fundraiser and the preferential treatment shown to Colangelo's daughter would be a serious accusation of public corruption. Surely that would be beneath the scrupulous Colangelo.
As DeMarcus Cousins is learning, if you're fortunate enough to be close to Colangelo, you'll find him to be quite magnanimous. If not, you're at the mercy of his ever scrutinizing judgement of character.
Cousins Learns The Hard Way
While Cousins' behavioral issues have been well documented, he has led a quiet life away from the court and has thus far never had an instance of criminal behavior. He is not by any means an ideal personality type for a basketball team, but he is one of the best active American basketball players and is at least a top-five big man on any refutable list in terms of sheer production.
What's more, he has exhibited a genuine desire to represent his country, which should be specially noted in light of the Paul George incident, not to mention the tendency of a number of high profile players to forgo the honor of international competition. When asked by the Sacramento Bee how disappointed he would be if he indeed is left off the team, Cousins replied, "I would be crushed. Everyone knows how much I want to do this. This is my third year here, and I don't run from any challenge. I would be crushed, but I'm not a quitter."
During USA workouts in 2012, Cousins reportedly drew the ire of Colangelo for his heated, physical style of play, which unfortunately for Cousins included trash-talking and complaining about refereeing.
Despite this, or perhaps partly because of it, he garnered the respect of the veteran players at the workouts. Kobe Bryant said of him, ""European basketball is extremely physical, and he brings a physicality that really changes the energy of the game. He's not afraid to upset guys, and he kind of makes the game uncomfortable."
Colangelo was not impressed, and Cousins was left frustrated by their exchange, stating "I had a conversation with him, I asked him, 'How was I being immature?' He never really gave me an answer. I mean, I really wanted to know. I took offense to it. It definitely bothered me."
One thing you cannot take away from Cousins is that he takes basketball very seriously. It appears that his passion and his elite play at the center position will not be enough. Once you find yourself on Jerry Colangelo's "naughty" list, you're essentially a non-entity to him -- unless you happen to have a close and personal relationship with him, of course.
We also know from the Barkley fallout how seriously it grates on Colangelo when one publicly airs details about disagreements with him.
Enter Mason Plumlee, the rich man's version of every center Jerry Colangelo has ever brought to the Suns. Quiet, hard-working, squeaky-clean, and golly wouldn't you know it, used to play for USA coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.
Small world, innit?
I would tell you not to take it personally, DeMarcus, except for the fact that it appears to be 100% personal. Anyone that can identify a basketball out of a lineup knows that you're a better player than Mason Plumlee, and USA Basketball should be grateful to have a player of your caliber that possesses your desire to represent your country.
If it makes you feel any better, Suns fans have suffered many times on many different occasions under the weight of Colangelo's character standards.
Join the club.