DeMarcus Cousins had conceded he would not be a part of this year’s NBA All-Star Game.
Even though most pundits and even NBA players believed Cousins, along with Portland point guard Damian Lillard, were the two biggest omissions when the Western Conference reserves were announced Thursday.
Cousins was wrong. The NBA announced Friday that he will replace injured Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant on the Western Conference roster for the Feb. 15 game, giving the Kings their first All-Star since Brad Miller and Peja Stojakovic in 2004.
“The crazy thing is me and Dame were texting after the results came out, and I was telling him, ‘You know you’re going to make this team,’” Cousins said.
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Cousins had reason to doubt he’d be selected by Commissioner Adam Silver to replace Bryant, who had season-ending shoulder surgery Wednesday.
Lillard was an All-Star last season and plays on one of the best teams in the West. The Kings, again, are near the bottom of the standings.
Never mind that Cousins ranks in the top five in scoring and rebounding this season and is on track to become the sixth player in the last two years to average at least 23 points and 12 rebounds in a season.
Cousins entered Friday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 23.8 points and 12.3 rebounds.
“I was hoping I would receive a lucky text or something,” Cousins said. “I really didn’t want to watch (the reserves being announced). I didn’t want to get my hopes up, and I didn’t expect to make it from the beginning.”
But Cousins had support from teammates and even Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley, despite the verbal jabs the two have exchanged.
“DeMarcus Cousins deserved to make the All-Star team ... the kid is a hell of a player,” Barkley said Thursday on TNT.
Cousins appreciated Barkley’s stance, even if he knows the two are unlikely to exchange hugs anytime soon.
“It takes a big man for Charles to (have) my back like he did,” Cousins said. “I appreciate that.”
Kings minority owner and TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal added: “All-Star is singular. Cousins is an All-Star; he’s playing like an All-Star and like the best center in the league.”
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro informed Cousins early Friday afternoon that he had been added to the team.
Cousins said the first person he called was his mother. Throughout the day, congratulatory calls and text messages continued, he said.
“It’s about time,” said Kings forward Rudy Gay. “He’s been lobbying for it for a while. He deserves it.”
Cousins said his selection is an opportunity to bring respectability to the Kings as they try to become a playoff team again.
“I think it’s a steppingstone not just for myself but for the whole organization,” Cousins said. “We can’t go anywhere but up from here. This is a building block, and let’s continue to build.”
Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said the experience, like playing on Team USA last summer, will benefit Cousins.
“He has the opportunity to be around his peers who are some of the best in the game and understand how they communicate and work,” Corbin said. “And those guys tend to get together and talk about their season and what they do to get better, and they feed off each other. As he sees what he’s doing, he can see what his peers are doing and see how they continue to get better and grow their game on the court for themselves and for their teammates.”
Cousins has longed for this recognition. He was openly upset last season when he didn’t make the team.
Now that he’s an All-Star center, Cousins said he can’t change his approach.
“I think the biggest thing from it is me just staying on my path,” Cousins said. “No matter how hard I think it gets or how far I think my goal is, (I’m) just staying on that path and continuing to strive for success. I’m thankful.”