NEW ORLEANS – A chaotic, frustrating and confusing tenure had to end the way it had always been for DeMarcus Cousins in nearly seven years with the Sacramento Kings. Cousins was always surrounded by drama in Sacramento – some of which he created, some of which was thrust upon him by a franchise that would easily hold the title as the league’s most dysfunctional team if the New York Knicks didn’t always try to bum rush the buffoonery.
So, of course, Cousins would walk off the court after playing a measly two minutes in Sunday’s snoozerific All-Star Game only to be surrounded by a surprisingly large group of reporters trailing him as he walked to the back of a lounge designated for interviews. Cousins turned back and smiled, amused by all of the attention: “There must be some good [expletive] going on. I don’t ever get this much media.”
Kings media-relations director Chris Clark asked reporters to start the session with only All-Star-related questions. When Cousins asked what other questions they’d ask, Clark leaned in and whispered about the reports of him possibly being traded. “Oh, really? That’s what’s up.”
Cousins then cracked a smile, perhaps pondering that his time in basketball purgatory could possibly be ending. He spoke about the fun he had, his affinity for New Orleans from growing up in nearby Mobile, Ala., how he had asked Western Conference All-Star coach Steve Kerr to only play him a few minutes given the pounding that his body has taken and how fellow Kentucky alum and All-Star Game MVP Anthony Davis should’ve shot the ball more on a night when he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s scoring record with 52 points. “He should’ve had 70.”
Then came the question he’d been waiting for, about how he almost escaped New Orleans without having to address some predicament back in Sacramento. Cousins leaned back his head, gazed skyward and cracked an annoyed grin. “Man, give it a break,” Cousins shouted. “I just need one All-Star [Weekend] where it’s just All-Star questions. Just one. This is my third one and it’s always been something.”
Every time Cousins earned an All-Star moment, disarray hijacked it. NBA commissioner Adam Silver recognized Cousins’ overwhelming talents by naming him an injury replacement in 2015, but he spent the entire weekend addressing questions about the Kings hiring George Karl as head coach. Last year, Cousins had to address his ongoing feud with Karl. This year, Cousins avoided any upsetting questions the first two days, then the Kings put him in the awkward position of finding out that he could be traded moments before he was asked about it. “I was happy coming in, but the last day and the last couple of minutes, something had to happen,” Cousins said. “It’s disappointing.”
The Kings haven’t missed the postseason for 10 straight seasons by accident. They’ve earned their spot among places NBA players most want to avoid. Aside from that rare blip during Rick Adelman’s time as coach and Chris Webber’s prime, the Kings have been in matrimony with mediocrity or worse. And their bizarre mishandling of their time with a mercurial talent of Cousins’ caliber only amplified their struggles.
This is a franchise that – since Cousins has been in uniform – attempted moves to Anaheim and Seattle, before former NBA commissioner David Stern intervened. This is a franchise that passed on Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard to draft Jimmer Fredette; ignored Damian Lillard and Harrison Barnes to draft Thomas Robinson. This is also the franchise that drafted Isaiah Thomas – only to let him leave three years later and become a two-time All-Star in Boston.
Sacramento continued to make so many questionable draft picks and trades that when GM Vlade Divac traded out of the lottery last summer to take two more centers, a tweet – “Lord give me the strength,” with a praying-hands emoji, which Cousins swears was a response to his intense Bikram yoga class – was easily interpreted as a jab at the Kings’ front office.
When the Kings weren’t coddling Cousins and making excuses for his immature outbursts, they blamed him. When they weren’t giving him too much power within the organization, they were firing Michael Malone, the first professional coach with whom he connected, while he was in the hospital with viral meningitis. And when they told him they’d wait until the summer to hire Malone’s replacement, they rushed to hire Karl. Situations like that breed distrust and the toxicity permeates, paralyzing progress.
Cousins had his moments when he desperately wanted out of Sacramento – especially while playing under Karl – but never felt compelled to demand a trade in recent years for risk of the backlash he would’ve received. His reputation as a bad boy was set throughout the league, as he racked up suspensions and whined about officiating, but he remained beloved by Kings fans. He couldn’t betray their support by abandoning it. Plus, his frustration was always with the organization, not the city.
But in many ways, it left him feeling stuck – until he started embracing the benefits of staying in Sacramento, namely the five-year, $209 million designated maximum contract extension he was hoping to sign this offseason. Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive, once the staunchest Cousins supporter in the organization, became apprehensive about making such a commitment to a player who couldn’t avoid controversy as he so flippantly collected technical fouls, cursed out the Golden State Warriors after a huge upset win Feb. 6 and engaged in an ugly exchange with a local columnist.
Divac and Cousins appeared to have reached a better understanding during the Rio Olympics, where the two spent some time together and talked a little trash because Team USA defeated Divac’s native Serbia in the gold-medal game. While in Brazil, Cousins was asked what winning would do to repair or improve his image: “I’m not worried about it, man. I am who I am. You can either love it or hate it. I’m comfortable in my skin.”
Cousins won’t have to worry about addressing the mess in Sacramento anymore, now that the Pelicans have swooped in and rescued him. New Orleans isn’t exactly the most stable organization, but it is an upgrade over where he’s been. That’s why he sounded excited about the possibility of joining the Pelicans. “If I’m blessed enough to have a job here, absolutely,” Cousins said. “I love it here in New Orleans. I’ve been here a lot when I was kid. I’m familiar to the city. I had fun here.”
Cousins hadn’t necessarily been looking for an escape after putting the Kings within 1 ½ games of the final Western Conference playoff spot and with what he thought awaited him financially. Last month, when reports first began circulating about him being set to receive that massive contract, Cousins asked reporters in Sacramento if they wanted him to stay. “Guess what, people. Guess what,” Cousins said, grinning, “I’m here.”
When someone suggested Sunday that he could use a fresh start somewhere else, Cousins replied, “I’m happy. If it happens, that’s the decision they made.”
The Kings made the decision to deal Cousins in the most embarrassing Kings way – they got what appeared to be a minimal haul for the game’s best big man and once again spit on his shine. After the game, Cousins said he hadn’t heard from Kings management and had no plans of speaking to his agent, because he only wanted to head back home. Then Cousins’ manager, Andrew Rogers, put out a tweet with a picture of a private jet and a message that said, “We don’t even know where to go…”
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