DeMarcus Cousins is still in a daze.
Only days after Kings general manager Vlade Divac told him he would not be traded, Cousins shook his head in somewhat disbelief Tuesday morning at Sacramento International Airport as he and Omri Casspi prepared to board a private jet, along with Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry and general manager Dell Demps, to New Orleans.
Hours later, Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway – the players the Pelicans dealt to the Kings with two draft picks – landed in Sacramento equally as surprised by the trade.
“I was shocked when I heard it,” said Cousins, who learned of the trade after playing in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans. “It seemed like I was going to wake up from a dream. It didn’t seem real. It was shocking, but I’ve had time to kind of think about it a little bit.
“I still don’t think it’s really hit me yet. That’s how it goes.”
Cousins leaves Sacramento as a polarizing figure. In 6 1/2 seasons, he established himself as one of the best big men in the league, one who could dominate inside and score from the perimeter.
I’ve got nothing but love for you. Thank you for all the memories. Thanks for dealing with this knucklehead for six-plus years, and I’ll see you guys soon.
DeMarcus Cousins’ message to Kings fans
But his moody demeanor and emotional outbursts on and off the court, often directed toward teammates, coaches and game officials, overshadowed his performance. Through the years, some teammates became irked at his behavior.
Many fans and league observers blamed Cousins for the Kings’ inability to become a winning team amid several seasons of coaching changes, front-office shuffling, franchise uncertainty and questionable personnel decisions.
But through it all, Cousins’ love for the community was as undeniable as his talents.
He held free basketball camps at Sacramento High School, where he bought the gym a new scoreboard. He also paid for the funeral of Jaulon “J.J.” Clavo, a Grant High football player who was shot in 2015. Cousins was always willing to give of his time and money to disadvantaged youth. Cousins said he plans to continue his camps and charitable work in Sacramento.
But he admitted he feels as if he’s leaving Sacramento with his work incomplete, unable to turn around the franchise that drafted him in the first round out of Kentucky in 2010.
“I may not have impacted (the team) in wins and losses the way I wanted to, but I did in a lot of other ways,” Cousins said. “I can kinda leave satisfied with that. Just because I leave doesn’t mean anything changes. I’ve still got love for the city, I’ve still got love for the fans; that’ll never change. I still consider this place a home. The only thing that changes is the name on the front of the jersey.”
Statistically, Cousins leaves the Kings as one of the best players in their Sacramento era and a three-time All-Star. Still, he contemplated what he might have done differently after arriving as a 19-year-old Alabama native who was just getting his driver’s license.
Cousins had six head coaches, two ownership groups, three general managers and countless teammates. He also picked up plenty of technical fouls and suspensions.
“I think everybody does that throughout life, but at the same time, I don’t regret anything,” he said. “Everything I’ve been through has helped me grow as a person. I’m good. I’m in a good place. I’ve learned from mistakes. I’ve learned from every hill and mountain I’ve been through in my life.”
After the trade became official Monday, Divac said in a statement, “Winning begins with culture and character matters” – not-so-veiled shots at Cousins. His agents were blamed for making it impossible for the Kings to get a better deal, as they were blamed for the team’s hesitation to hire George Karl as coach two years ago.
Cousins said he hadn’t spoken to Divac since the trade and did not take the comments personally.
“I’m OK with it,” Cousins said. “I kind of expected it. I’ve seen this before. I’m moving on.”
Cousins said last week he wanted to finish his career in Sacramento, so the trade stung. But the reception from Demps and Gentry has made things easier. Also, the Pelicans are only 2 1/2 games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, and Cousins is excited about the chance to reach the postseason for the first time.
“They’ve been great,” Cousins said of Demps and Gentry. “They made the situation a lot more comfortable. They actually flew in town to see me, and we’ll fly back together.”
I may not have impacted (the team) in wins and losses the way I wanted to, but I did in a lot of other ways. I can kinda leave satisfied with that.
Casspi felt the same way. He said for years Gentry has complimented his game.
“He was like, ‘I’ll get you to my team one day,’ ” Casspi said. “And he called me (Monday) and said, ‘I told you one day you were going to play for me.’ ”
For Casspi, the trade offers a fresh start after he was in and out of the Kings’ rotation this season and dealt with a calf injury for the past month. He said he’s glad his “brother” Cousins is also going to New Orleans.
“I’m excited because, obviously, things were tough more for me this year in Sacramento,” Casspi said. “And now I’m going to have an opportunity to play, and play for probably one of the best frontcourts in NBA history, so that would be great.”
Before departing, Cousins had one final message for Kings fans.
“I’ve got nothing but love for you,” he said. “Thank you for all the memories. Thanks for dealing with this knucklehead for six-plus years, and I’ll see you guys soon.”
The Pelicans will not return to Golden 1 Center this season, but the Kings will play in New Orleans on March 31.