Kings guard Ben McLemore, who spent his first three and a half seasons in the NBA as a teammate of DeMarcus Cousins, said he already knows how he’ll greet the now-Pelicans forward when their teams meet Friday in New Orleans.
“I’m going to give him a big hug,” McLemore said.
As for how he expects Cousins to approach the reunion?
“What do you think?” McLemore said, grinning. “You never know what to expect from DeMarcus.”
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Friday marks the first time the Kings will see Cousins since they traded their erstwhile franchise cornerstone to New Orleans over the All-Star Break, parting ways with the volatile three-time All-Star in a startling move that general manager Vlade Divac later said was made to change the “culture” of the team.
Divac had previously stated the Kings, who were still in the playoff race at that point, did not intend to trade Cousins. The move surprised teammates and divided fans, some of whom had tired of his repeated on-court outbursts, others of whom were disappointed to see one of the most productive frontcourt players in today’s NBA go.
In a press conference after the trade, Cousins told reporters in New Orleans that he was disappointed by “The dishonesty that came with it.” But he also said he held no grudges toward the Kings.
“I’m not sour, I’m not mad, I don’t have any ill feelings,” Cousins said on Feb. 22. “This is a business and these type of things happen.”
Still, Kings guard Garrett Temple said he expects Friday’s game will be “emotional” for Cousins, who spent his first six and a half NBA seasons in Sacramento.
Forward Matt Barnes had been with the Kings less than a full season when they released him shortly after the Cousins trade. Preparing to face the Kings as a new member of the Golden State Warriors earlier this month, Barnes told the San Francisco Chronicle: “I’m trying to kill them, plain and simple.”
“If I was in (Cousins’) shoes, I’d come out trying to take it to us,” Temple said after the Kings’ loss to Utah on Wednesday night.
“Just like Matt said he wanted to kill us, I’m assuming DeMarcus has the same mindset. And that’s what makes him one of the best players in the league.”
Cousins, who is averaging 26.8 points and 10.9 rebounds this season, poses a difficult cover for any opponent with his range and versatility – especially when paired in the Pelicans’ frontcourt with Anthony Davis, another 6-foot-11 forward who can stretch the floor. The two combined for 59 points Wednesday night in a win over Dallas.
“Them being as skilled as they are, obviously it’s going to be tough,” Temple said. “But we know (Cousins’) tendencies, so it should be a little easier for us.”
Kings forward Willie Cauley-Stein, who may find himself matched up with Cousins on Friday, wasn’t so sure.
“Nah, because you’re not going to stop him,” Cauley-Stein said. “You’re just going to have to get in his way and pray to God he misses.
“You’ve just got to keep on coming back at him and just be competitive. Don’t lay down and just keep on coming. He’s going to get his numbers. But you’ve got to make it difficult. I expect him to get his numbers, but I’m going to try to make it as difficult as possible.”
Cauley-Stein, who went up against Cousins often in practice, said he’s looking forward to experiencing that in a game setting.
“I was kind of his apprentice here,” Cauley-Stein said. “And it’s going to be cool to go against the big bro and to have that.
“In practice it’s not like that. I’m going to get to see him in a whole different light, and it’s going to be cool. I can’t wait.”
Cousins had missed two games prior to Wednesday with a sprained ankle. Before that, in his first 13 games in a New Orleans uniform, he was averaging 22.5 points and 11.7 rebounds, shooting 43.8 percent from the floor and 36.8 percent from three-point range.
The Pelicans’ adjustment period following the trade was evidenced by their losing six of their first seven games with Cousins in the lineup. Since then, however, New Orleans has won seven of 10 to remain at least mathematically in contention for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Cousins returned Wednesday to have one of his best games with the Pelicans, scoring 29 points to go with 16 rebounds and six assists – a preview of what his former team might be able to expect Friday night, assuming he’s healthy enough to play.
McLemore, the longest-tenured King along with injured Rudy Gay, said the last time he talked with Cousins was via text. Cousins used to tease McLemore about an old pair of shoes he often wore. So when McLemore bought a new pair, he texted Cousins a picture.
“He got a kick out of it,” McLemore said.
Cousins too will be clad differently when the two see each other Friday in New Orleans – new uniform, new number (0), new team.
“It’s going to be strange for a minute,” McLemore said. “But at the end of the day we’ve got to go out there and play against each other.
“It’s going to be definitely love to see him, vice versa, things like that. At the end of the day, I can’t wait to see him.”