DeMarcus Cousins’ Kings Tenure Ends In Unnecessary Chaos

NEW ORLEANS — DeMarcus Cousins’ seven-year tenure with the Kings ended in the only fitting manner: utter disarray. 

Shortly after another dull All-Star Game played out in front of a sleepy crowd, the Smoothie King Center’s media work area jolted awake with word that Cousins, who had suspiciously logged just two minutes, might be traded to the Pelicans.

While LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and other All-Stars fielded standard-issue post-game questions in a converted courtside VIP lounge, Cousins moved to the rear of the interview room with dozens of reporters in hot pursuit. Pressed to the back wall, the three-time All-Star gave no clear reason for his limited playing time and sounded irked by the trade talk, rolling his eyes and throwing back his head when pressed about the rumors. “Man, give me a break,” he said. “I just need one All-Star where it’s just All-Star questions. This is my third one and it’s always something. … Whatever happens, happens. I haven’t heard from [Kings management].”

Rather than distance himself from the rumors — the logical play if he believed them to be unsubstantiated — Cousins heaped praise on All-Star Weekend’s host city and even admitted that he could see himself being happy teaming up with fellow Kentucky alum Anthony Davis.

“I love it here in New Orleans. I’ve been here a lot when I was a kid,” said Cousins, who hails from Alabama. “I’m familiar to the city. If I’m blessed enough to have a job here, absolutely [I would enjoy it].”

A few minutes later, Davis appeared at a podium for his interview as MVP of the West’s 192-182 victory over the East. Appearing jovial, Davis cracked jokes with a foreign reporter and self-deprecatingly quipped that 50 of his All-Star Game record 52 points came on dunks due to the East’s inattentive defense. Pressed about Cousins, Davis praised him as “an elite player” but said, like Cousins, that he “hadn’t heard anything.”

Almost as soon as those words were out of his mouth, both Yahoo Sports and reported that Cousins was being dealt to New Orleans in exchange for 2016 lottery pick Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a protected 2017 first-round pick and a 2017 second-round pick. Davis, the 2012 top overall pick, would finally have some legitimate help.

Remarkably, the confirmed reports came across Twitter with Davis still milling about the press conference seating area, leading reporters to approach him to comment on what now appeared to be news rather than gossip. Sensing the unfolding situation, security shuttled Davis out of the media area and into a protected tunnel, as reporters and cameras tracked him down an extended hallway in hopes of grabbing a reaction to this career-altering development, but one never came. 

A first glimpse at Cousins’ post-trade reaction came from Andrew Rodgers, his longtime manager, who posted a picture of a private jet to Twitter with the caption, “We don’t even know where to go.” That confusion will soon be followed by the financial ramifications of the move, which will reduce the maximum size of Cousins’ next contract by tens of millions of dollars.

It’s not surprising that an organization in Sacramento’s position would decide that it was time to part ways with Cousins. But that the Kings would do it like this—without warning or regard for the All-Star Game, with Cousins thrown to the media slaughter and under a gigantic microscope, and after such a long and strained relationship—is inexplicable and patently unprofessional. It’s not clear whether the Kings were trying to humiliate Cousins or if they were simply continuing a years-long pattern of incompetent management, but they couldn’t have sold out their franchise player any harder if they had tried. Really, how could this have been worse? If owner Vivek Ranadive had announced the trade on a Facebook Live video midway through the third quarter?

Cousins is far from blameless. He’s never come close to sniffing the playoffs, he leads the league in technical fouls and arguments with officials, his mood swings are legendary, and he’s 26 now, far too old to still be stuck in his same old immature ways. But no employee deserves to find out his fate in such a back-handed and embarrassing manner, especially when reports indicated Sunday that his agent had received repeated assurances that he would remain in Sacramento.

Less than six weeks ago, Cousins sat at his locker in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center and mused at the possibility of signing a five-year maximum extension to remain in town. Sunday, he was on the wrong end of Ranadive’s version of “The Decision.” Instead of airing on ESPN from a pristine Boys & Girls Club in Connecticut, the Kings dragged Cousins into a reality show setup that even E! executives would deem too trashy and demeaning.

The Kings’ uninspiring return package for Cousins, which lacked both a top prospect and a killer draft asset, elicited multiple rounds of open laughter from the remaining media members in New Orleans. But the chuckles were replaced in short order by a second layer of disgust. It wasn’t just that Sacramento, after years of weighing offers for Cousins and cycling through coaches and executives, had finally decided to pull the plug at the most awkward moment possible. It’s that the Kings did so and still only managed to recover pennies on the dollar for an All-NBA center.

Imagine being a Kings fan and tuning into TNT on Sunday night to see Cousins take his spot alongside the game’s best, only to discover hours later that he was gone for good. Now imagine trying to gin up genuine excitement for Hield, a 23-year-old who has made a limited impact as a rookie, as the face of Sacramento’s next era.

For New Orleans, the trade opens a new era with Cousins and Davis as a fascinating big man duo. This isn’t a traditional old school Twin Towers approach, as Cousins can stretch out to the three-point line and Davis is comfortable operating far away from the hoop. Both face questions regarding their defensive impact, and pairing the two together could produce stretches of mismatches against spread lineups. But this is a gamble that a shaky ownership group, a beleaguered GM and a helpless Davis all badly needed. Cousins’ arrival should spark interest in a team that’s been stuck for years, it should improve New Orleans’ pitch to future free agents (“We’ve already got two stars”), and most importantly it gives Davis reason to believe that his heroic efforts aren’t in vain.

Although the Pelicans are no lock to earn the eighth seed given their weak backcourt depth and general lack of talent, they have transformed themselves from a depressing also-ran to must-see TV for NBA junkies. Over the next few months, Cousins will get a chance to prove that he can play winning basketball and behave himself, Davis will get to be on the receiving end of some big-to-big playmaking from his new teammate, and coach Alvin Gentry will finally have some talent to spark one of the league’s most disappointing offenses.

The Kings now move forward with a clean slate and greater control of their own destiny. Being tied to Cousins for a five-year extension was a terrifying prospect, and one they clearly determined to be unpalatable. True optimists might reasonably argue that Sacramento will experience a post-trade bump from players who felt limited or put off by Cousins’ presence. But there’s just no spinning the execution of this trade or the return. Sacramento will now pair one of the leagues’ weakest perimeter rotations with a largely untested corps of big men prospects. There’s no telling when this rebuild will end and there’s no reason to trust that the franchise’s decision-makers will make good use of their newly-acquired draft assets.

Late during Cousins’ final night of Kings chaos, he lamented that his shaky relationship with the team had once again eclipsed his achievements on the court.

“It’s disappointing that I had to go through another All-Star [Weekend] in some type of situations with the Kings instead of it being about my All-Star experience,” he admitted.

Good news, DeMarcus. An uncertain future with the Pelicans awaits, but Sunday was the last time you’ll need to worry about the Kings stopping your shine. 

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