Former Kings All-Star Chris Webber has been in DeMarcus Cousins’ situation before, a star player returning to play in the city whose team traded him.
Webber did not downplay the emotions of that situation with the cliche of it being just another game.
“No, it’s not another game,” Webber said.
Webber will be courtside Thursday when Cousins returns to Golden 1 Center for the first time since the Kings traded him in February to the New Orleans Pelicans. Webber, TNT’s color analyst for the game, predicts Cousins will have a mixture of emotions.
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“He’s going to think about that’s the arena that he christened, he took the mantle from myself as far as trying to have a successful team in Sacramento and win there,” Webber said. “He’s going to think about the fact he wanted to recruit players and have his own team, and he believed in his team, and he believed he could put a championship in Sac, and I think you have to appreciate that loyalty.”
Cousins was in town in June for his annual basketball camp at Sacramento High School and many in the community still support him.
“The community in Sac loves him,” Webber said. “Definitely the urban community where he put his time and his resources. So he’s loved there by the people, and I think he’ll go in there and play like it. It’s very frustrating to get traded from a team where you want to be at, period.”
Webber said it will be fun to watch as Cousins tries to dominate while his former teammates look to slow him. The Kings played at New Orleans last season and Cousins had 37 points and 13 rebounds in a 117-89 thrashing of his former team on March 31.
But coming back to Sacramento will be different.
“At the end of the day, you want to drop numbers, silence the crowd and get on to the next,” said Webber, whom the Kings traded to Philadelphia during the 2004-05 season. “It’s like, get this over and get it over the best way possible. It’s not fun.”
Webber said he loves being his at his “second home” of Sacramento, even though some fans did not like that he said he would not have traded Cousins.
But he does like how general manager Vlade Divac is trying to move the team in a new direction.
“I told Vlade this earlier, I like his focus and what he did over the summer and looking forward,” Webber said. “Expectations of the playoffs, expectations of winning, throw that out the window. It’s not going to happen. It doesn’t matter if you make the playoffs by one game, lose in the playoffs and then come back the next year worse. Rather, you build with the right trajectory needed, with the right people to set the right culture so that even when you’re losing, you do that with dignity and set it up so that you learn how to win.”
It matters, too, that Divac is being given the chance to implement his changes, Webber said. The instability of recent years has hurt the Kings in many areas, and Webber said “anybody that comes into a terrible situation deserves a chance to see their vision.”
Webber said that Cousins having to endure six head coaches in his six-plus seasons is “just downright wrong” and an example of what Divac is charged with fixing.
“That’s just wasting the guy’s young years of his career; that’s not supporting his teammates,” Webber said. “It’s just terrible. And you look at the terrible draft picks the Kings have had, players that aren’t even in the NBA today drafted in the top spots. So anytime you go into a terrible situation, unorganized, lack of communication and people that don’t know the game that want to make decisions, you’re going to be in that situation.
“So it’s good to see anyone in that situation with their job get a chance to implement their ideas and not just be the scapegoat for the problems previous owners, current owners have had.”
With Golden State, San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City poised to be atop the Western Conference for the next few years, Webber said now is the time for the Kings to build their foundation, aiming to be a solid team in a couple years.
Webber is also high on rookie point guard De’Aaron Fox and second-year shooting guard Buddy Hield, who was acquired in the trade from New Orleans. He thinks their future is bright, as long as the Kings continue to add pieces around them.
“I love (Fox’s) speed and his getting other guys involved,” Webber said. “I think his upside is incredible. I’m a big fan of his. ... I was happy when Vlade picked him. I love Buddy Hield. I think he’s going to get better in this game and continue to be an outstanding scorer.”