Say What’s Real

For six and a half seasons in Sacramento, all we ever heard was criticism of DeMarcus Cousins. With a fresh start in New Orleans, we decided to compile the opinions that matter most: those of his All-Star peers.
by March 01, 2017

This was supposed to be a story about DeMarcus Cousins’ frustrations in Sacramento. About how the media’s portrayal of Cousins has been unfair, about how Boogie’s poor reputation was forever a reflection of the Kings’ failings as a franchise, and not an accurate depiction of the man. About how anonymous quotes slandering DMC aren’t that hard to trace back to old front office dudes out of touch with what’s happening on the court, lobbing criticisms while sipping Diet Cokes in the owner’s suite. About how fans are fed a steady dose of bullshit about Cousins’ attitude, without the full context of what’s been going on around him.

The plan: Go to All-Star Weekend and let a jury of Cousins’ peers be the judge. After all, when it really comes down to it, whose opinion would you want? The men in suits who make bad draft picks and stupid trades? The cranky overworked beat reporters who cover them? Or the best players in the NBA? You know, the guys who have to deal with Boogie’s terrifying blend of overpowering physical skills and supposedly unpredictable behavior on the hardwood, face-to-face.

Of course, that the weekend would end with Cousins staying in town was a twist. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)

Not every All-Star has a tight relationship with DeMarcus Cousins, you might be thinking. And you’d be right.

Utah’s Gordon Hayward really hadn’t spent any time with Cousins until All-Star, beyond facing the Kings over the years. “I think we realize that in the heat of the moment, things happen that maybe you wouldn’t want to have happen if it wasn’t competitive like that,” Hayward said of Cousins during his media session in NOLA. “For us, as players, everybody’s been in those situations and he’s definitely an emotional, competitive guy.”

He’s just saying that, you’re thinking, so Boogie doesn’t strangle him next timeout. Fair enough. How about some more All-Star opinions?

“He’s a beast on the court,” said Atlanta’s Paul Millsap. “Definitely a beast. His competitiveness can be taken out of context, so I think that’s really what it is. He’s so competitive, he wants to win so bad, sometimes you can take it the wrong way.”

Indiana’s Paul George used the word “misunderstood,” and echoed the sentiments of Hayward and Millsap. “Nobody really knows DeMarcus outside of basketball. He’s one of the best guys to be around, to be honest. I think what people don’t understand is just how bad he loves the game and how bad he loves to win. I think he gets judged off that, and I feel bad for him, because it comes from a good place, it comes from his heart. He plays with his heart, and I don’t think he should get criticized for it.”

The Warriors’ Draymond Green, who earlier this season called Boogie the “best big man in the game,” doubled-down on that statement, despite a recent ejection after getting tangled up with DMC. He called Cousins “one of the best players in the League” and “one guy you hate to see that you’re lining up against.”

Sunday night, Western Conference head coach Steve Kerr said he was delighted to find out over three days of being in a locker room together that “DeMarcus was hilarious.”

Likewise, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan called Cousins a “great teammate,” not the cancer that so many “sources” have pegged him to be. “He’s super funny, he’s a prankster, he’s always laughing and smiling and joking. And that’s fun to be around.”

They have to say that to the media, you may say, but they don’t mean it.

Starting to look like a group consensus, no? But let’s check in, lastly, with the superstars who know Boogie best. His real friends in the League. Guys like Isaiah Thomas, Anthony Davis, DeMar DeRozan and John Wall.

Thomas, who played his first three NBA seasons in Sacramento, told reporters that Cousins is “the total opposite of what people think of him.”

Davis called Cousins “one of my closest friends in the League” on Friday of All-Star Weekend. “People got their own opinions and their own perceptions of him,” AD said, “but I know the guy he is and what I see off the floor, just being around him and knowing him for so long—I don’t get that perception at all.”

DeRozan, whose friendship with Cousins dates back to playing in Nike camps together and against each other on the summer AAU circuit as teenagers, said, “People who don’t know him get their own perception of him, which is 85 percent of the time wrong. He’s always been a great dude from every aspect that I’ve known him.”

The brotherhood between Wall and Cousins, born in their one shared season at the University of Kentucky, is unshakeable. If you know anything about either player, you know this to be true. It’s why the pair is constantly asked about a hypothetical reunion in the League. So why is it, in JW’s eyes, that Boogie is so polarizing?

“For one, he’s already bigger than everybody—he looks like a bully. He plays with tenacity. He don’t back down from anybody, he plays with so much emotion. Sometimes he don’t get the benefit of the doubt and it goes the wrong way—like, certain people might get this call but he might not, and he reacts. When you get a bad rep, everybody keeps that and holds that toward you. Hopefully, he can keep trying to change it around,” Wall explains. “He’s a great person, everybody don’t see that unless you’re really around him. He’s one of those people that’s all about first impressions. If you don’t give him a first impression—if it doesn’t go well, you probably won’t talk to him ever again.”

That final point, about first impressions, is key. And in this instance, from Wall, it was downright prophetic. Because two days later, after the dust had settled and the West had taken home a 192-182 win in Sunday night’s All-Star Game, Cousins was no longer a frustrated King. He was a new, New Orleans Pelican.

Within minutes—hell, it might have been seconds—after the last of the players had wrapped up press conferences inside the Smoothie King Center that night, Adrian Wojnarowski dropped his biggest Twitter bomb of 2017: Sacramento trades Boogie.

So ended a long, strange, sometimes ugly marriage. And, should you choose to align your outlook on the divisive Cousins to that of his All-Star peers quoted above, the Kings had committed a colossal mistake.

“Sunday, it was a wild day,” DeMarcus said in his introductory press conference with the Pelicans, seated between Omri Casspi, the other player given up by the Kings in the stunning deal, and New Orleans GM Dell Demps. “Just a lot of mixed emotions. It was very unexpected. I sat in the airport for a minute and my mind was racing. I didn’t really know what to think. I’ve tried to understand the situation and what I came to is, this is a business.”

The business of basketball can be a cruel and unforgiving one in instances like Boogie’s. Of the trade, the 6-11 beast said he was initially disappointed, even going so far as to call out the Kings for the team’s “dishonesty.” Safe to assume that comment was pointed at the repeated public assurances from Vlade Divac, the team’s GM and vice president of basketball operations, that Cousins would not be dealt. Sunday, DeMarcus got the word from his agent, and while his mood quickly flipped to excitement once he got a text from Davis, he never had any contact with anyone from the Kings organization after his All-Star responsibilities were completed.

“I haven’t talked to anybody. Vlade, he tried to call after everything was done but, it’s done,” said Cousins, who is wearing No. 0 because it represents new life. “My concern is coming in, help building a winning culture. Myself, AD, Jrue [Holiday], help try to build a winning culture. My mind is still on making the playoffs, with whatever situation I ended up in, so that’s it. I’m here to win and that’s it. I don’t care about the rest of it.”

AD, for his part, didn’t believe the deal was real when he heard it. Boogie Cousins, in exchange for Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway, Tyreke Evans and a first- and second-round pick? No way. Thomas, observing from the East, even tweeted: “I don’t even think NBA 2K would let that trade happen even with the trade override option off LOL.”

For AD and the Pelicans, who entered the All-Star break with a 23-34 record that had them lingering a few spots out of the 8-seed in the West, acquiring Cousins’ services is a godsend. Davis and Cousins are the only players to average 27+ points, 10+ boards and 1+ blocks in a season since Shaquille O’Neal—they’re both doing it this season, and now they’re on the same damn team.

Will it work long-term, Xs- and Os-wise in New Orleans? Who the hell knows. So far, they’re 0-3 with Boogie in uniform. But still, to say the Pels are excited would be an understatement as big as their new Twin Towers.

“It’s been a crazy weekend,” Davis told the media once DMC touched down again in NOLA later in the week, this time officially as a Pelican. “Once I found out we got him, I was up all night thinking about how far we can go, and what we can do on the court together. I ended up texting him at like 3 in the morning, like, Bro, I’m excited. And he responded. I was like, Oh, he’s up, so we were texting back and forth about the team.”

“I think we can wreak havoc on this league,” Cousins added at his presser. “Will it happen overnight? Probably not, but the potential is scary.”

Abe Schwadron is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.

Photos via Getty Images

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