Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins laugh about it now.
Cousins was a rookie known more for being a hothead than a hot talent. Rondo was an All-Star but also known for being a hothead.
So when Rondo’s Boston teammate Kevin Garnett tumbled and landed next to the Kings’ bench and Cousins stood over him, Rondo did what came naturally.
He shoved Cousins.
“That just was just him taking up for K.G.,” Cousins recalled recently. “I respect him for that.”
That respect has grown as the two became teammates this season.
For years, Kings management tried to find players who could mentor Cousins in the ways of being an NBA superstar. The Kings may have struck gold with Rondo, the first former All-Star added to the mix. He’s the first player who can relate to the pressure and perceptions Cousins deals with.
Cousins is often asked why he doesn’t smile more on the court and why he appears mad – whether or not the Kings are winning, whether or not he’s having a good game. Rondo sees a lot of himself in Cousins. Rondo has been called angry, moody and downright weird, especially in his first couple of seasons.
“He’s a misunderstood kid,” Rondo said. “I think that’s why I gravitate toward him so much. I love what he’s doing.”
Their connection will be the core to any success the Kings have in the near future. Cousins’ locker is next to Rondo’s at Sleep Train Arena, so he’s within earshot of advice and direction on anything on or off the court.
“I think DeMarcus wants to be a winner, he wants to be on a winning team, he wants to play playoff basketball, and I think his anger and frustration is he doesn’t want to remember the past,” said Kings coach George Karl. “He wants to forget the past and move into a better future. Any player that’s been on a winning team can tell stories and give situations to a younger player that’s trying to learn, trying to grow.”
Rondo is with the Kings on a one-year deal, but if Cousins has any say, his starting point guard won’t be going anywhere after this season.
“That’s my man,” Cousins said. “We talk a lot. There’s nothing we don’t talk about. It’s like we’ve been knowing each other for a while. There’s no other way to put it, that’s my guy.”
Rondo’s ability to show Cousins how to deal with the continual scrutiny of others could be just as vital as getting the All-Star center good looks at the basket.
Rondo has the ability to isolate himself from the opinions of others – some would say to a fault. Take his recent suspension for using an anti-gay slur toward referee Bill Kennedy.
Though most disagreed with his method, Rondo waited a week after his suspension was announced to address the issue with the media. He said he doesn’t read social media or media accounts in general, so he felt no need to say anything earlier.
Rondo doesn’t apologize for how he handled his apology, first through Twitter and then a team-issued statement.
It could be said Cousins cares too much what others have to say. Perhaps a little bit more of Rondo’s approach would help Cousins as he enters the prime years of his career.
Still, Rondo understands why Cousins often wants to respond to all the noise.
“He’s 25 out here with a lot of pressure, the franchise on his back,” Rondo said. “He’s a strong individual. Me coming in, I just want to help him along the way, make some of the right decisions, push forward and continue to be a good person.”
Part of helping Cousins is deflecting some of the attention from him. Before this season, most of the praise or criticism fell on Cousins and Rondo’s good friend, Rudy Gay.
Bringing in Rondo gives the Kings someone who is used to scrutiny at the highest levels and all that comes with it.
“With (Cousins’) leadership and responsibility, it’s a big part to our team,” Rondo said. “I can’t put all the pressure on him. He accepts the pressure and I accept a lot of the pressure. It starts with both of us. I’m the quarterback in the front, he’s the quarterback in the back.”
That’s the relationship Rondo developed with Garnett in Boston where they reached the NBA Finals twice in three years from 2008 to 2010, winning the title in 2008.
Rondo said Cousins is the best big man in the NBA and he makes it his job to highlight that whenever he can.
Cousins has had his shooting struggles this season, but Rondo is doing his part to make it easier there, too.
And Cousins appreciates it.
“This dude makes my job so much easier on a nightly basis,” Cousins said. “Throughout my career, this probably is the most easy baskets I’ve ever got. He just makes my job so much easier.”