The post-DeMarcus Cousins era began for the Kings on Thursday night – but Anthony Chan, for one, had yet to fully move on.
Chan, a 39-year-old Kings fan from Stockton, wore a jersey with Cousins’ name and old No. 15 on the back as he watched warmups before the Kings played the Denver Nuggets at the Golden 1 Center.
“DeMarcus will always be a King, man,” Chan said. “Just showing the support.”
One row back, season-ticket holder Guy Neal was feeling less nostalgic.
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“I’m excited,” said Neal, 61, of Sacramento. “(Cousins) had his chance. He had seven years of not taking us to the playoffs. Let’s try something else.”
Feelings remained mixed Thursday as the Kings returned to the court for the first time since the All-Star break and the blockbuster trade that sent Cousins, the turbulent All-Star and erstwhile face of the Kings franchise, to the New Orleans Pelicans.
A smattering of Cousins jerseys could be seen in the stands at tipoff. Otherwise, signs of the departed star were conspicuously absent.
All Cousins merchandise – jerseys, T-shirts, posters – had been removed from the team store at Golden 1 Center, rather than being sold at discount. The lone exception was a handful of jerseys that were waiting to be picked up after being preordered – after the trade happened last Sunday.
Several hours before the game, the scoreboard above the court most prominently featured a photo of guard Darren Collison, flanked by images of Garrett Temple and Ty Lawson. In the Kings’ locker room, the spot formerly occupied by Cousins held the belongings of new arrival Tyreke Evans.
“It’s like a whole different feeling just knowing that he’s gone,” said fan Eric Banford of Elk Grove. “Every time he would step on the court he would bring so much energy, and I felt like he would just bring the team together and hold the team.”
Predictably, even that stance was debatable.
“Good talent, hate to see him go,” said Hector Atayde, 50, of Sacramento. “But I think it’s good for us because he kind of held most players down as far as their talent. Love the guy, but his attitude just wasn’t there for us.”
None of the three players the Kings acquired in the trade started Thursday. But Evans, a returning King, received a loud ovation when he checked into the game partway through the first quarter, as did rookie guard Buddy Hield, the Kings’ prize in the deal.
Hield’s acquisition was a bonus for Chad Crowder of Rancho Cordova, who attended the game wearing Hield’s Oklahoma jersey. Crowder said the real Hield fan, though, was his 5 1/2 -year-old son Langdon, who watched Hield intently during warmups.
“First I was a little disappointed,” Crowder said of the move. “But I think it needed to be done. It was just time.”
It echoed the tone of vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac, who this week said the move was about culture and building toward the future. Along with Evans and Hield, the Kings acquired guard Langston Galloway and two picks in the upcoming draft for Cousins and fan favorite Omri Casspi.
The Kings did not make any other trades before Thursday’s deadline, but the waiving of veteran Matt Barnes after the trade underscored the Kings’ intent to rebuild – a plan some questioned with the Kings sitting just 1 1/2 games out of the eighth seed in the West.
“I think it was a bad move, just cause of the fact that we’re close to a playoff seed,” said Javier Zesati, 19. “But we’ll see how it goes.”
Brock Estes, a 67-year-old fan and season-ticket holder from Valley Springs, questioned the timing for a different reason. When news broke last month that the Kings intended to sign Cousins this offseason to a long-term extension, Estes said it was around the time fans were being asked to renew their season tickets. Since Sunday, he said, the trade had not really been acknowledged.
“Everybody feels like we got suckered,” Estes said. “And that’s not a way you want to feel when you’re putting in $10,000 every year. So that’s a huge, huge mistake.”
Estes added that while he did renew his tickets, he did so for a less expensive seat in the upper deck.
“I hedged,” he said. “I wasn’t going to drop them. But I wasn’t going to pay $100 (per game) to see the 76ers, either.”
The Kings are not expected to be a factor in the playoff race over their final 25 games following this week’s moves. Still, as they closed the first quarter Thursday leading the Nuggets by three points, some fans stood and applauded.
“I have faith and confidence,” Banford, 21, said a couple of hours before tipoff. “But my thing is it’ll take years to get where they’re looking to go.
“I’m willing to be patient,” he added. “I’ve been waiting on the team my whole life. So why not keep waiting?”