Carmichael Dave: The End Of The Demarcus Cousins Era

Character Matters. 

It was an unnecessary and classless parting shot at a former franchise player, one that exposed hypocrisies on both sides of the table. In all my years of covering the NBA and specifically the Sacramento Kings, I had never met a player with more character than Demarcus Cousins.

I had also never met a more infuriating and confusing character than Demarcus Cousins.

So the statement went much deeper than the cut on the surface. I simultaneously cringed and understood at the same time.

*********************************

My first meaningful interaction with Cousins wasn’t a good one.

He kicked me out of the Sacramento Kings locker room.

I was speaking with Jason Thompson, then the power forward for the Kings. Like Francisco Garcia, Tyreke Evans, and Omri Casspi before him, I had developed a friendship with Thompson through being a guest on my old 9-midnight show on KHTK, my current employer. Thompson and Cousins had a scratchy relationship, and though I can’t remember if this was after a win or a loss, logic would dictate the Kings most likely came up short that evening.

As is my habit, I had a bowl of popcorn with me, and I was sitting on a chair next to Jason’s locker sharing said bowl of popcorn with him, discussing the game and prepping for my show the next day. My primary job is to talk about these games to the audience, and casual conversations with players have always been my preferred level of communication, rather than a media “scrum” with many reporters shooting off questions at once. I’ve always felt that talking to a player in a more private, relaxed setting (say over a bowl of popcorn), yielded answers I wouldn’t normally get.

Demarcus Cousins didn’t see it that way. He saw a goofy media guy talking with another player he didn’t particularly get along with, and doing so in a way-too-relaxed environment in the players’ sanctuary. I caught him out of the corner of my eye speaking into Kings’ PR director Chris Clark’s ear, and motioning my way. Seconds later Clark came over and politely asked me to clear out. Thompson tried to intervene, but I waived him off. The last thing I wanted was to be in the middle of anything like this, and truth be told a player’s wishes in this case should outweigh my own. As I quietly exited the locker room that had been devoid of fellow media for a while, I locked eyes with Cousins- making it clear that neither of us were very happy with each other.

That was the last interaction we would have for almost two years.

Fast forward. I was accompanying the team to China for a set of exhibition games against the Nets. As I was walking through the Forbidden City, one of many tourist stops we made on the trip, I ran into Cousins’ manager Andrew Rogers. We knew who each other was, and I suspected he knew about the locker room incident and subsequent cold war between me and his boss. Maybe he had no idea. But we struck up a conversation about the team, China, and his beloved home state of Kentucky, and simultaneously struck up a friendship at the same time.

The conversations continued over the next few days. Eventually it led to Cousins, and the issue we had, and the issues with him I still had. He was too angry, too volatile, a pox on the locker room. A guy who was me-first and everyone else be damned. Rather than respond to me with fire, Rogers began to explain to me everything that went into his friend/client, and why it wasn’t so cut and dry.

I explained over our ensuing talks that I was willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. I pointed to my friendship with another former King (Ron Artest). I always found myself drawn to players that had certain issues, because often there lay more beneath the surface. Its easy to write off people based on surface impressions, but it’s the “rest of the story” that always fascinated me.

I continued to cover the team, and also continued to learn more about Cousins. I continued to criticize what I felt was wrong, but also to make sure to document the good. As has been written and talked about over the last few days, his off-court actions are a sight to see, if you’re privileged enough to witness them. Ask anyone with the Kings’ Foundation, any of the promo people that were charged with setting up and executing a Cousins community effort, he was a dream to work with. He never said no. Ever.

Even the off-court actions that weren’t so good, while inexcusable, are understandable if you understand the algorithm that defines him:

Club incident with Matt Barnes? I wasn’t there. But I’ll just bet the altercation involved Barnes, and Cousins’ interaction came entirely out of loyalty to his friend. Having someone’s back.

His altercation with a local reporter? Again, NOT EXCUSABLE. But to him, a family member had been dragged into the fray. And he would stand up for his brother, reputation and consequences be damned.

The term “loyal to a fault” should have a picture of Demarcus Cousins hanging next to it.

One day during a preseason shootaround, Cousins approached me:

“So you really do (expletive that starts with F) with me, don’t you?”

I said “No, I DO try to be fair with you, but I don’t F with you. I don’t F with anyone.”

He picked up my arm, and for a second I was worried as to what would come next. He pointed to my skin and pointed to his with a smile, and I realized he was pointing out a loss in translation, perhaps due to different slang we may both be familiar with.

“No. I mean you take the time with me. You’re fair.”

And that was that. Him pointing out our differences in skin color was one of his ways of showing that there wasn’t always an understanding on the surface, but an understanding could be had. He used the same tactic when I berated him (jokingly) for saying he didn’t know who Paul McCartney was. I thought he was messing around. He wasn’t.

Demarcus Cousins was, and remains, an enigma. Should the media all be tasked with taking the time to get to know him? No. But it makes it more interesting.

The stories you hear about him are mostly true. He keeps a small inner circle. He trusts almost nobody, but if he trusts YOU, he would take up a baseball bat for you. His current manager was his team manager at Kentucky, drafted into the NBA by Cousins because he trusts him. His coach at UK, John Calipari, proudly says that his wife’s all-time favorite player is Cousins.

He broods on the court, but also counts The Notebook as one of his favorite movies. He listens to Adele. Rather than take in the club scene like most of his counterparts, Cousins is a homebody. He is more comfortable with a private postgame dinner with his inner circle than being out and about. Off the court, you could almost call him shy. 

And thus lies the tale of The Two Cousins.

Travel to Lexington anytime Cousins returns there annually for a UK event, and its like the returning of the prodigal son. This isn’t some local-boy-made-good for once story, the University of Kentucky boasts alums like John Wall, Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, and Karl Anthony-Towns. But none of them get the reception Cousins does. Its not close.

I have made the trek to Lexington three times now. I’ve seen firsthand why it is a college basketball mecca. They don’t suffer fools, and they are loyal to their own. Lexington and Sacramento have more in common than one would think. Both aren’t necessary vacation destinations, but both embrace their own fiercely. My experiences with the people out there have been nothing short of miraculous, talking with good, real people that love their basketball and love their city even more. Every single player that moves on, whether to the private sector or the NBA, carries their pride and passion with them. It seemed all too familiar.

And that’s one of the infuriating things about all of this.

After a week to digest, I have come to the conclusion that I am happy the Kings traded Demarcus Cousins. Personally, I am sad to see him and his people leave Sacramento, but this is a business. I get it.

He needed to go. And he was too stubborn to do it himself. He had opportunities to leave, and almost did a couple of years ago when his agents flirted with demanding a trade shortly after firing Michael Malone.

His friends around the NBA, whether visiting Sacramento or hosting him on the road, begged him to leave. They asked him why he was ok with being irrelevant, stuck in Basketball Hell. They made fun of his squad, they made fun of the NBA Outpost that is Sacramento.

What they didn’t realize? Every time a player or national media guru poked at him being a King, it strengthened his resolve.

You think I’m stupid for staying here? Ok, watch. Whether its this year or 3 years from now, we will prove you all wrong. Haters. You don’t know what loyalty is. You run and hide like cowards when the going gets tough. You don’t understand.

 Sacramento F**cks With Me.

AND I F**CK WITH SACRAMENTO. 

Fire the only coach I’ve seen eye to eye with? No problem.

Trade my point guard for nothing, while I watch him tear it up in Boston and wonder what could’ve been? Fine.

Sell the team? Ok.

Give me 100 coaches? Yep.

Fail in draft after draft after draft? I’m not going anywhere.

Yet Demarcus Cousins wasn’t a victim. 210 million is a lot of money. He couldn’t stop himself from melting down on the floor in a contract year, knowing what was at stake. 30 million extra dollars. Whether perceived or factual, his reputation with the referees was beyond repair. He was prone to massive swings of mood behind the scenes. He tore up coaches for being fake. Screamed at teammates for not trying. Threw tantrums.

The franchise gave the keys to Demarcus Cousins a long time ago. Repercussions were all but non-existent. Fines were either small or returned at the end of the season. He won every power struggle. To say they gave him free reign is a massive understatement. The Sacramento Kings thought, wrongly, that if they just hung in with him long enough, if they just took his side more often, their patience would be rewarded when he eventually got control of his emotions on the floor.

To paraphrase Crash Davis in Bull Durham- Try this in the Majors and you’re colorful. Do it in the Minors and you’re a slob.

Demarcus Cousins never saw NBA relevancy in Sacramento, outside of his all-star and Olympic berths. Whereas his transgressions were comparable to say, a Draymond Green, the difference is Green won. Cousins did not.

Green is perceived as “colorful”. Cousins is….well…..not.

So to say he got screwed by being traded is disingenuous. Much of it he brought on himself. His outbursts cost him 30 million dollars and a city he called home, and I suspect he knows that.

But the trade was bungled.

The already basement repuatation of the Kings went even lower.

The franchise is viewed as a national punchline.

Vlade Divac’s credibility took a catastrophic hit.

Whether it was indecisiveness from ownership or the front office that’s to blame, it certainly cost the team at least one first round draft pick in the haul, not to mention many other assets had this move been made months/years before.

But much like the firing of Michael Malone, the hiring of George Karl, the trade of Isaiah Thomas, the drafting of Nik Stauskas, and a plethora more of infamous decisions- we will never really know who was responsible.

Its always ambiguous, by design.

As far as this trade?

Players will remember this.

Agents will remember this.

And yes, you could make an argument that Demarcus Cousins was a symptom, but not the disease.

Both sides share blame. Both sides have very fair grievances.

I am happy for the Kings. All the excuses are gone, Vivek and Vlade now have a clean slate to work with. Should we be sitting here 2 years from today, and the team is in the same rut, we will know exactly who to blame. After years of changing directions so fast the fanbase is in a collective neck brace from the whiplash- they now have no choice but to rebuild. Do we trust this front office to do so? Not entirely. But that’s what we have to work with.

I am happy for Demarcus Cousins. I can think of worse fates than being a 26 year old millionaire living in New Orleans. He is now teamed up with the other Best Big On The Planet. He has the clean slate he so desperately needed, whether he knew it or not.

Certainly the Pelicans will have their issues, but they now have two huge (literally) building blocks. Their fanbase will have a long honeymoon period with him, and New Orleans seems like a pretty good place for a star athlete who loves helping his community. Lord knows New Orleans needs a hand from time to time.

On my radio show and on twitter, I’ve been asked if my personal friendship has clouded my emotions involving this trade. Here’s a secret: {i was closer to Omri Casspi than I was to Demarcus Cousins}.

 Seriously. Casspi was also one of my old evening show guests, and I’ve watched him grow as a player and a man through the years. We would text each other after games about family, life, and frustrations with his role or injuries.

I have never sent nor received a text from Demarcus Cousins in my life.

In this business, you are bound to develop friendships over the years with players and coaches. My afternoon counterpart (and Kings TV play by play voice) Grant Napear counts Scot Pollard, Vlade Divac, Jon Barry, and many others friends of his. Go around the league, or really any sport, and you’ll find the same. Sometimes these interactions get overblown, but if you’re doing your job- you’re able to separate the business and personal.

My problem wasn’t Cousins getting traded or the philosophies behind it. My problem was the return and the methods employed.

But there’s something deeper too, and I admit logic doesn’t sit on my side for this-

I really, really wanted things to work here with Demarcus Cousins. We’ve always used the phrase “Bigger than Basketball” around these parts, and I truly believe in that philosophy. How could I NOT be moved after witnessing all the lives affected by this man in my hometown? How could that not shake my bias?

I understand why the move needed to be made. But I think what disappoints me the most is I really hoped there’d be a happy ending in Sacramento. I hoped that Sacramento would be rewarded for its patience, and Cousins would be rewarded for his loyalty. I hoped that we would all be sitting here years from now, as a relevant title contender, thanking God that neither side gave up too soon.

The revelation that a happy ending in Sacramento involving both Kings and Cousins will never materialize is the toughest pill to swallow. I expect its similar to when a marriage breaks down, and both sides wonder if the commitment through the years was misplaced and worthless.

Much invested from both sides, so much drama from both sides, and so much promise. In the end, the team and Cousins didn’t win together, and that was that.

As for Demarcus Cousins? Whereas many see a large, brooding, angry man, what they often don’t realize is he’s smart as a whip. Obsessive. His camp pleads with his to stay off twitter, to not read what’s being written about him. Sometimes he takes a break, but the man reads everything. Everything.

He’s also smart enough to know he probably could’ve altered this direction. It’s not entirely his fault, but there is fault there. Will he use this as a catapult and learning experience? Time will tell.

So am I happy about the trade?

Yes.

And no.

But we move on, to a new and hopefully brighter future on both sides. Kings fans have been in this spot all too many times before, and more often than not it turns out poorly in the long run.

Here’s to hoping this is a rare exception. Because if there’s one truth that is undeniable in all of this- Kings fans deserve better.

They’ve deserved better for a long, long time.

More from Carmichael Dave
Comments

One Comment

  1. Jay Smith says:

    There’s plenty of happy endings in Sac, Dave. Just need to know where to look.

  2. I also “really” wanted it to work out … In the end I know Both the Kings and Demarcus will be fine … I wish “Boogie” the best .. With that said I have to wonder how long it will take for the remaining Kings to adjust to playing without a player who demands a double … There will be fewer and fewer wide open looks until SOMEONE steps into that role of a scorer .. Will it be Buddy ? Richardson ? Willie ? may be just maybe we will get another “Top 5 player” from the draft it ‘s happend before 🙂

  3. What was the unnecessary and classless parting shot you referred to?

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