Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Cousins right at home among basketball’s biggest stars

West Team’s DeMarcus Cousins, of the Sacramento Kings, dunks during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in New York.
West Team’s DeMarcus Cousins, of the Sacramento Kings, dunks during the first half of the NBA All-Star basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015, in New York. AP

N It took DeMarcus Cousins a while, and when you’re in your early 20s, a while can feel like a lifetime. The Kings center has outlasted four coaches, overcome suspensions, endured exhaustive and repeated relocation threats, recovered from a nasty bout with viral meningitis, dropped the baby fat and coaxed the NBA into giving him another look.

That’s a lot of living crammed into four-plus seasons. And don’t forget his contributions for Team USA in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, his career-best scoring (23.8) and rebounding (12.5) averages this year with the Kings, and his growing reputation as perhaps the league’s elite big man.

Former players. Current players. Team executives. Hall of Famers. The NBA has become a league of believers.

“I think Cousins and Anthony Davis represent the future of big men in the NBA,” Hall of Fame center Robert Parish said before the West defeated the East 163-158 in Sunday’s All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. “DeMarcus, I like his tenacity. He has a mix of dominant and finesse. He can take you inside with a power muscle game, but he can go out there on the floor and shoot the jumper. The only thing is ... the turnovers. He takes a lot of chances. He’s too long to dribble through little guys when he’s double-teamed, and he loses the ball. When the double-team comes, the answer is to pass the ball and re-post. That’s the next step, and George Karl will be great for him. (Karl) reminds me a little bit of Bill Fitch because he will push DeMarcus to be great every night.

Cousins, 24, has enjoyed – no, demanded – more do-overs than a theatre makeup artist. But something is definitely clicking. Here he was Sunday, in the mecca of professional basketball, making plays and making friends, blending in with the NBA’s best as if he belongs. Boogie on Broadway was a hit, his only complaint having to do with the frigid temperature and biting wind.

During the game, he talked trash and playfully competed for rebounds with Tim Duncan, whom he has long admired, and scored two field goals on assists from Chris Paul, whom he has long disliked. He finished with 14 points and seven rebounds, jogged more than sprinted up and down the court, and said afterward that he was exhausted. Physically, emotionally, in every way. These are eventful days for the Kings, who will introduce Karl to the Sacramento community on Tuesday, and especially for Cousins.

It’s true what the players say. The best part about All-Star Weekend is being named to the team and sharing space with famous rappers, hip-hoppers and, on occasion, even a former president of the United States. In one of the most energizing moments, Bill Clinton received a rousing ovation from the sellout crowd when he was shown on the overhead scoreboard.

But the All-Stars have little down time. Since he arrived Thursday afternoon, Cousins participated in a clinic for Special Olympics, an NBA Cares event in Staten Island, appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” attended a fashion show, went to practices and was approached by players and league executives who wanted to discuss the Kings drama and/or his new coach.

He spoke with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and vice president of operations Rod Thorn. Late Sunday, Cousins said he spoke with Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks star who previously played for Karl in Denver.

Though Cousins declined to offer details of any of the conversations, he said he was preoccupied with Kings business throughout the weekend. “It was a goal of mine (to be an All-Star) since I came in the league,” he said. “This was a good experience, but now it’s back to reality. Finish the season off strong.”

The Karl-Cousins dynamic figures to be fascinating. These are two emotional, passionate men with outsized personalities. But Cousins, who desperately wanted to be named to the World Cup team, who desperately wanted to be an All-Star, also desperately wants to win. Rest assured that by now, he has read up on Karl and noted the accomplishments.

“Everyone knows he’s a great coach, and I’m excited to move forward,” Cousins said the other day. “There were games – myself included – that we came out and didn’t give great effort. Hopefully, he’ll stabilize everything. At least, that’s the plan.”

His plan, the Kings’ plan, Karl’s plan.

The next do-over starts Tuesday.

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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