The blockbuster trade that sent All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans has dominated NBA discussion over the last two days. From the moment the swap was finalized — which may or may not have been moments before Boogie learned of it himself, just after taking a seat in front of a gaggle of reporters shortly after the conclusion of Sunday’s 2017 NBA All-Star Game — the basketball-watching world has sought to unpack the deal and evaluate what it all means.
What it means for a Pelicans team that now boasts two of the NBA’s very best big men, in Cousins and All-Star MVP Anthony Davis. What it means for a Kings organization that comes away from the trade looking like a laughing stock (especially after general manager Vlade Divac claimed Monday afternoon that he’d received a “better offer” for Cousins two days earlier) and that now moves into a total rebuild. And what it means for Cousins himself, who now draws a line under seven years characterized by rampant and wide-ranging dysfunction, and begins to move into the next phase of his career, still in search of his first playoff appearance.
Part of what it means for Cousins is that he’ll be leaving Sacramento, the city he’s called home since the Kings drafted him with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft. And as much you might think that’d leave Boogie elated — though it’s worth noting the Pelicans don’t exactly have a smooth and settled front office and ownership situation right now — it became clear Monday night that the exit stirred a more complicated set of emotions in Cousins:
My friend got transferred to another city because of his job. He had some things to say. Rough to watch. pic.twitter.com/iBRyMf1UP7
— Carmichael Dave (@CarmichaelDave) February 21, 2017
During a going-away dinner/party on Monday night, Cousins spoke to a small crowd about his feelings on leaving the city. His emotional remarks were captured on video by Sacramento sports talk radio host Carmichael Dave.
“My love for this city has never changed,” said Cousins, his voice quaking before he turned away from the microphone and the audience, seemingly overcome. After a cry of “We love you, Boogie!” followed by a round of applause, Cousins got back to it.
“My love for this city’ll never change. Even though I’m gone, it’ll still be the same,” he said. “I’m still looking out for these kids. Every family in this city matters to me. Every soul in the city matters to me. Everything’s the same. I’m just not in a Kings uniform anymore, which is OK, because the love is still here. It’s still going to go on. Thank you.”
Video of Cousins’ emotional farewell spread like wildfire on the Internet late Monday night and early Tuesday morning, earning plaudits from a variety of sources, including fellow Western Conference All-Star and Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry:
— Stephen Curry (@StephenCurry30) February 21, 2017
Cousins’s emotional farewell continued on Tuesday, as well. He thanked Kings fans again in an interview with ABC 10 News:
A portion of our chat w. former King DeMarcus Cousins, saying goodbye to Sacramento – for now. "Thanks for dealing with this knucklehead" pic.twitter.com/pGBY4O78to
— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) February 21, 2017
He also posted a long note to the city on Instagram:
Words can't even express how hard it is for me to have to leave the city of Sacramento and all of the amazing people that I have met while out here. I gave it my all for you and you gave it right back. The most amazing fans on the planet and I just want you to know that your support has meant everything to me. It's hard to believe that it was seven years ago that this young kid from Alabama showed up in Sacramento scared and not knowing a soul. As I look back upon my time here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I have met so many amazing people, many of whom went out of their way to make me feel right at home from day one. Each and every one of you have played such an important part in my life and helping me become the person I am today. I don't just consider you all as fans, you all are my family…and a couple thousand miles aren't going to change a thing. Thank you Sacramento. #LoyaltyisLove
A post shared by DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) on Feb 21, 2017 at 2:32pm PST
That Cousins spent much of his tenure with the Kings working to put down deep roots and build a strong connection to the city of Sacramento generated far fewer headlines than his frequent histrionics … due in part, as detailed in a tremendous January feature by ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, to Cousins himself.
And then there exists one more possibility — that none of us knows the real DeMarcus Cousins at all. And if there’s evidence for that notion, it resides in the testimonials from those in the Kings’ locker room and front office about the constant but quiet nature of Cousins’ charity. One Kings exec notes that the PR department has tried on more than one occasion to get Cousins to be more vocal about his good deeds in the community. Case in point: In fall 2015, Cousins tried to keep quiet the news that he covered the funeral expenses for a slain local high schooler — but word of the donation was leaked by a city councilman who felt Cousins should be recognized.
“That act was not done in any braggadocious way and wasn’t done with any press release,” says Derrell Roberts, who runs Roberts Family Development Center, where he says Cousins is “quietly” supportive. “You can tell the difference between the person whose PR person sends you a press note or suggests how you might want to orchestrate the event. That’s not DeMarcus.”
Or consider the awkward moment at the conclusion of the news conference when Cousins signed his contract extension in 2013. The event had appeared to be wrapping up. [Owner Vivek] Ranadive and [then-general manager Pete] D’Alessandro, on either side of Cousins at the dais, had risen from their seats. But just then a Kings public relations rep approached and whispered something to Cousins. Ranadive sat back down. And Cousins, now more than 13 minutes into the news conference, sheepishly announced that he was donating $1 million over the course of the contract to family and community organizations in Sacramento — something he’d intentionally omitted in his initial statement.
When told, years later, that it’s standard operating procedure for agencies and teams to send out press releases and take a bow when they perform charitable acts, Cousins responds, “It just shows you how fake this f—ing league is. Everything is about, ‘How can I make myself look good?’ This isn’t a pure-hearted league, and there aren’t a lot of pure-hearted guys. I wasn’t raised that way. My mom would kick my ass if I helped someone across the street and said [handing over his phone], ‘Here, record this.'”
As much as it seemed like poor form for Kings play-by-play man and sports-talk radio host Grant Napear to launch into a tweetstream about how trading Cousins removes a “dark cloud” from over the heads of a franchise that hasn’t needed much help from Boogie to stay planted in the shade over the years, it does seem like there’s something to the argument that the situation as a whole is more complicated than “Boogie is blameless and the Kings are trash.”
You can, and almost certainly should, find real fault with the Kings’ management of the situation, the return they received in exchange for an All-NBA talent, the lack of an overarching organizational plan that prompted them to base every decision for the last several years on the goal of winning now built around Cousins before promptly throwing all of that away for Buddy Hield and a first-round draft pick they don’t control, and the uncalled-for shot across the bow (“Character matters,” but only sort of) fired by Sacramento on Monday. That doesn’t preclude you from thinking Cousins’ well-documented history of on-court explosions, locker-room outbursts and front-office questioning (however justified) helped create an environment in which fostering a winning culture became extremely difficult and that there is at least the possibility that removing Cousins rather than paying him nearly $210 million over the next five years will present an opportunity for addition by subtraction. When something goes this bad in this big a way, there’s plenty of blame to dole out, and plenty of room for nuance in parsing it all.
Within that consideration, though, it’s important to remember to find room for the human element in all this — that the pieces moving around the chessboard in these deals aren’t actually pieces, but actual people whose lives, routines and relationships get thrown into upheaval every time a deal gets done. Leaving the Kings might not be hard for DeMarcus Cousins, but leaving Sacramento certainly seems to be … which, in turn, promises to make it all the more difficult for for Kings and Sacramentans to make peace with his absence.
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• Kings’ GM Vlade Divac says he turned down a ‘better deal’ for DeMarcus Cousins
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