How DeMarcus Cousins felt during practice Wednesday afternoon at Golden 1 Center was akin to having to stop by an ex-girlfriend’s house to pick up some belongings after a few months.
The house is the same, but it’s different when you’re just a visitor. You don’t have a key and where you used drop your keys has been replaced by a plant.
“This is my first time being in the facility since everything went down,” said Cousins, who was traded to New Orleans in February. “I was here during the summer, but even with that I kind of stayed out the way. It’s just a weird feeling being back.”
Cousins will take the floor Thursday for the first time in Sacramento as a visiting player. He was a three-time All-Star as a King, won an Olympic gold medal and became one of the NBA’s most dominant big men. The Kings, meanwhile, were one of the NBA’s most unstable franchises amid ownership changes and multiple coaches (he had six in six-plus seasons) and general managers (he had three).
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And for all his talents, Cousins was criticized for clashing with coaches and teammates and piling up technical fouls. Still, the trade caught Cousins off-guard.
After being assured multiple times by general manager Vlade Divac that he wouldn’t be traded and with a lucrative contract extension that would have paid in excess of $200 million on the table for the summer, the Kings dealt Cousins during the All-Star Game, which coincidentally was in New Orleans.
Cousins hasn’t spoken to Divac or anyone from the front office since the deal.
“I never heard from them,” Cousins said.
Cousins told ESPN he regretted not leaving Sacramento sooner. Prior to the 2015 NBA draft, the Kings had been in talks to trade Cousins to the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach George Karl was not a fan of Cousins and had made it known to the front office he wanted him traded.
But Cousins never really wanted to leave Sacramento. He was intent on building a winning team with the Kings. Though his agents believed a trade was best for his career, it’s hard to demand a trade when the player does not want to be traded.
Even as Cousins proclaimed his loyalty to the team, Divac had signed one center (Kosta Koufos) and drafted two more (Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis).
In retrospect, Cousins regretted thinking with his heart and not his head back in 2015.
“I’ve got nothing but love for this city,” Cousins said. “I came here as a kid and grew into a man. I’ve built a lot of relationships, gained a lot of friends. I’ve got people here I call family. Nothing against the city, the fans, anything like that. That was more from a professional point of view, doing what was best for me. That was one of my regrets.”
Cousins’ many contributions to inner-city high schools is a reason he still has many supporters in Sacramento.
He says he’s in a good place and comfortable in New Orleans.
“It’s two different worlds for me,” Cousins said. “I’m not here as a professional athlete anymore. I’ve still got mad love for the people. Those relationships still exist. Just because this ended doesn’t mean this relationship has – it’s two different worlds.”
Cousins has no idea how fans will greet him as a visiting player.
“I honestly don’t know,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”