What will Boogie do for an encore? That is the question. The issue is not whether DeMarcus Cousins will earn a technical for cursing out a referee while pursuing an Olympic gold medal, get benched for refusing to run the floor, earn a suspension for engaging in behavior detrimental to team or country.
No, no, no. Cousins, 25, is in the perfect place right now. He is paying a temporary visit to hoops heaven. The seventh-year center is surrounded by talented colleagues, is a veteran of the national team program and is coached by a Hall of Famer. True, he has had his tussles with USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo – and the Team USA czar was not sparing in his criticism of the All-Star center’s poor conditioning in previous summers – and yet, to Cousins’ everlasting credit, he has taken his punishment and come back for more, summer after summer after summer.
Terrorism threats. Zika virus. Seasickness. Nothing was going to scare Cousins away from next month’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Barring some earth-shifting development, the Kings’ best player will return to Sacramento with a gold medal in his baggage and a swagger in his step. Prepped by Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski in recent offseasons for this Olympic moment – his introduction to the global stage – Cousins will thrive.
He will start some games and come off the bench for others, and it will matter not at all. He will rebound, run the floor, share the ball, protect the interior and, in essence, prove he deserved a spot on the 12-man roster. The first hint that he was ready, able and willing was the most obvious one: his terrific physical condition.
The 6-foot-11 center, whose weight is listed at 270 pounds but fluctuates wildly, and hovering around 300 toward the end of this past season, arrived at Team USA’s training session in Las Vegas last week in superb shape.
I swear. Watching him Tuesday night in Team USA’s exhibition against China, half of him was missing.
But what will he look like when NBA training camps open in early October? The question is not what DeMarcus will do for his country, but what DeMarcus will do for his Kings.
“Cousins looks great, doesn’t he?” Colangelo asked before tipoff. “He has been criticized a lot, maybe rightfully so. But he is the best he has ever looked, and that’s a big plus for us. Everything he is saying and doing shows how important this is to him. And he has been much more conversant.”
While watching Cousins warm up before tipoff, Krzyzewski added, “He has been really good with us, really good. And he is a very smart player.”
As it pertains to Cousins, peer pressure appears to be a wonderfully effective whip-cracker. He has been the dominant basketball story since his arrival in Sacramento, but here in Oakland, he moves to the inside pages. Three Golden State Warriors are also on the Olympic team, including the recently acquired Kevin Durant, who is either a savior or a villain, depending upon one’s particular ZIP code.
Here’s a clue: This is Oracle Arena. A large gathering of fans and media types crowded the baselines and lower seating areas while assistant coach Monty Williams put Cousins and Durant through pregame shooting drills. But when Durant started walking up the tunnel leading to the locker room, preparing for his unofficial Oracle Arena home debut, the vast majority of observers chased after him.
Krzyzewski, watching the exodus from the sideline, just grinned. Despite the defection of several players originally named to the Team USA roster, some of whom cited injury, others concerned about Zika, the current roster is deep, talented, and with the presence of Cousins and Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, bigger than in recent Olympics.
“In the past, we’ve always had to answer the question, ‘Who are our bigs?’ ” said Colangelo, revealing the plan is to alternate starting centers throughout the exhibition tour. “Now we have a couple of very legitimate bigs, and they give us very different looks.”
Jordan’s role is somewhat more limited. Though one of the league’s premier rim protectors, interior defenders and open-court dunkers, he is far less skilled offensively than Cousins, who started against China in a lineup that also featured Warriors Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Durant and Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving. In his previous two exhibitions, Cousins averaged 13 points, 11 rebounds and succeeded on his one three-point attempt.
“We’ve always known DeMarcus is an amazing talent,” said Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive, who attended the game with General Manager Vlade Divac. “There is no question about that. What he’s showing now is that he can be a good teammate, and that’s important for the world to see. He looks very fit. He cares about his teammates. He cares about his coach. I see a person maturing, and I’m very happy for him.”
Team USA tuneups
- July 22: United States 111, Argentina 74
- July 24: United States 106, China 57
- July 26: United States vs. China, late
- Friday: vs. Venezuela, 6 p.m., NBA TV
- Monday: vs. Nigeria, 5 p.m., NBA TV