DeMarcus Cousins did well to laugh it up for part of Thursday, in anticipation of his reunion with his ex-teammates from the Sacramento Kings on Friday evening. The New Orleans Pelicans star, traded to Sac after six and a half frustrating, playoff-less seasons with the Kings, told reporters that he was set to merely “go in, play hard and try to get a win” repeatedly in a cheery segment with both California and New Orleans press, before insisting that he wasn’t “trying to make this personal,” against a cast of ex-teammates that he mostly got on well with, relative to their own curiosities regarding Mr. Cousins.
DeMarcus wasn’t giving the press a front, in this instance, because even these pointless games (New Orleans is mostly out of the playoff race, the Cousins-less Kings are tanking) are rather complicated. If you’d like any further proof, read what DMC told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears a little later on Thursday:
“I was stressed out two weeks ago, and I just drove home,” a teary-eyed Cousins told The Undefeated after practice on Thursday. “It took two hours at the most. I saw my mom. Hung out at the house. I was mentally gone. I went back to my old neighborhood and hung out on the block. I saw some of my old people. I left there and felt amazing. I don’t know if it was being around that genuine love, it just kind of humbled me.”
But how would you have taken it if the Kings were up front about wanting to trade you?
“Of course, I would’ve been mad. But I still would have respected it. Come to me like a man. I’m a human being at the end of the day. Don’t treat me like a f—ing piece of cattle.”
Cousins was dealt to New Orleans only after the Kings, a team that signed DeMarcus to a massive contract extension in 2013 prior to being rumored to be in line for another, told Cousins repeatedly that he wasn’t part of any trade discussions. After being kept in the dark, prior to being informed of his complete and utter lifestyle switch while in the middle of working through an exhibition game on national TV, it’s understandable how one could feel like “cattle” considering the inhumanity of the whole process.
We can all understand a few simple truths about day-to-day existence when it comes to NBA trades.
Trades are no fun, for most involved, because even the most unhappy of players (this includes Cousins, in Sac) are going to want to try to make it work with their incumbent team, and even the unhappiest of players from star (still Boogie!) to scrub does not want to have to relocate to play on a new team midseason.
However, all players give up the right to dictate their year-to-year permanence with a particular team, unfortunately for them, when they decide to sign guaranteed contracts that last for longer than a season.
If a player truly wants to be in charge of his own fortunes, to stay on a club without the added benefit of a no-trade clause (only given to players who have been in the NBA eight seasons, and who have the bargaining gravitas to chase one), then he should sign a series of one-year contracts every summer so as to legally move the trade option off of the table. Few NBA players, understandably, want to mix that sense of location security (if only for a season) with the uneasiness that comes from seeking out a new contract every year in a league that counts career-killing injuries by the pantload, Chet.
All players, when being dealt from club to club, will be treated like cattle in ways that even the jumpiest of coaches or general managers just will never be able to fully relate to or empathize with. The trick is to be considerate of the fellow human who is not only your co-worker but employee, an actual person that you could treat as an asset in concert with another franchise to make your life and job way, way easier.
The trick is to be the best rancher, which can often be hard even in a society that’s more connected than ever. Expectedly, Sacramento’s Kings didn’t even show up to the dude ranch with a hat, much less a saddle.
Making things stranger for all involved is the NBA and the NBA’s players union’s role in this. They’ve collectively bargained their way into making it exceedingly preferable for star players to want to stay with incumbent teams, to the point where Cousins will be probably miss out on tens of millions of dollars due to NBA rules limiting the amount that he can make in any contract extension with the Pelicans.
Even after missing out on $30 million, though, Boogie doesn’t appear to be swayed too much by that end of it:
“It was never about the money. I don’t play this game for money. Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t play for the money. I had money before. I’m perfectly fine. To say it doesn’t help me would be a lie. Of course I want it. It wasn’t about the money. It never was.”
“I wanted my legacy to end in Sacramento. I invested so much time and energy. Everything I had, my whole heart was into that city. Just for it to end the way it did, that was the part that was f—-. But it was never about the money. I don’t give a s— about the money.”
Money turns into “money” when you don’t have it, and Cousins (by his own admission, shook into perspective by visiting those in Mobile that “are struggling with real-life situations,” fans back home that “don’t know if they will be able to eat tomorrow”) has concerns that to his credit run far deeper than the potential cash lost as a new member of the New Orleans Pelicans. The club, thankfully, closest to his hometown.
The guy wanted to see it out in Sacramento, working in a community that Cousins truly loves, for a fan base that he wanted to do right by. DeMarcus Cousins’ time in Sac was not only bought up and marked by six coaches, three general managers and two groups of team owners between 2010 and early 2017, but by the legitimate fears that had the franchise playing its last games in Sacramento during Cousins’ first few years with the club. The Kings could have moved away from Sacramento far sooner than Cousins did.
Cousins not only saw the team and his own personal relocation story play out on the look of the faces of the Kings fans he worked in front of, but also the fans that in real life were dealing with much worse than the idea of a basketball club or basketball player leaving town. Fans that tended to value the anxiety over losing a team or player to cheer for over, say, yet another 30-win season from the struggling club, fans that were trying to forget everything going on outside the team’s arena, new or old.
Through all this, DeMarcus doesn’t want anything to do with the team’s new majority owner, the much-maligned Vivek Ranadive, while pointing out to The Undefeated that he counts several of the Kings’ minority owners as good friends and supporters. That’s significant, as is this:
Have you spoken to anyone management-wise with the Kings?
“For what? Honestly, Vivek tried to reach out. It was about two weeks later [after the trade]. I just told him, ‘Look, why are you reaching out to me two weeks later? There is no point. If you feel like you’re doing the right thing now, it just shows who you really are as an owner.’ That was my message back to him. And I haven’t spoken to him about it since.”
Cousins should call the guy back, just to be That Guy, and Vivek Ranadive should not have waited a bloody fortnight before reaching out to the supposed franchise star that was supposed to be the face of his operation for ages to come. Nobody looks good here, but the (much older) boss that failed to even contact the employee in this instance looks far, far worse.
It is that sort of inaction, the absence of professionalism and tact, that leads DeMarcus Cousins to reasonably conclude that he was being treated like “cattle” by the Sacramento Kings. Something about months if not years’ worth of trade chatter, always sloughed off by the team’s front office to not only the press and fans but to Cousins and his agents themselves, being revealed as a bit of a lie in one long weekend. Possibly only because the All-Star Weekend was held in New Orleans that year.
The Sacramento Kings, in so many ways dating back years, had everything they needed to make a cogent and thoughtful point in dealing DeMarcus Cousins to another squad. There were so, so many logical points behind trading Boogie, for reasons that were everyone’s fault.
Somehow, only the Sacramento Kings could wind up making DeMarcus Cousins look like the champion in this case.
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