With all the player movement in the NBA over the last 12 months, this season is going to be jam-packed with reunions between All-Stars and their former teams. DeMarcus Cousins’ return to Sacramento (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT) is one of the most anticipated reunions we’ll see. Cousins spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Kings before being traded to the Pelicans immediately after the All-Star game in February. And let me tell you, those seasons were tumultuous.
The trade talk leading up to Cousins’ departure stemmed from his rocky tenure as a King. He set technical foul records and scolded reporters. He cursed out coaches, announcers, and more coaches. It was an exhausting trial for fans because of narratives pushed from all sides. This trade was a long time in the making.
Cousins always maintained he didn’t want to leave Sacramento and loved the city, but management finally had enough of the eight years of Cousins’ mercurial disposition. It became a disruption for the Kings’ culture, and management, after supporting it for so long, abruptly decided to separate itself from that.
Eight months later, Cousins returns to Sacramento for the first time as the enemy. What will his reception be?
“I honestly don’t know,” Cousins via Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. “We’ll see what happens.”
Even now, Cousins has a mixed bag of supporters and detractors in Sacramento. But for those in the middle, the reaction will be determined by what has been said in the media by both sides since Cousins’ departure.
Let’s take a walk down memory lane.
Feb. 19: Cousins finds out about the trade in a press conference
That was Cousins’ response when a Kings representative seemingly broke the news to Cousins that he was traded in the middle of the All-Star game:
DeMarcus Cousins reaction as soon as he found out he had been traded to the New Orleans Pelicans. #DeMarcusCousins #NewOrleans #Pelicans pic.twitter.com/SDKuE2ZEAY— Manny Vieites (@manny_vieites) February 20, 2017
“What other questions we got?” Cousins said while being swarmed by the media, unaware that he was on the move.
This was the final bump along the road in the rocky relationship between Cousins and Kings management. The team allowed the All-Star to be completely blindsided by a trade he didn’t even think was coming.
Feb. 20: Kings general manager Vlade Divac says the trade was about ‘culture’
Divac railed hard against the thought of Cousins being traded up until just a week before the All-Star game. He even went as far as to say there was “no way” Cousins would be traded.
But the next day, Divac pivoted in the opposite direction when he addressed reporters on the trade. When asked about the change of heart, Divac pointed to a culture change that was needed in Sacramento — even if it meant taking a lesser deal.
The Kings eventually acquired Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a protected first-round draft pick and a second-rounder for Cousins. But the Pistons reportedly offered an Andre Drummond swap. They eventually took the deal they did because of their love for Hield:
Sources: Pistons engaged Kings on a Drummond for Cousins swap earlier this season. Kings declined offer then. Unclear if Pistons now in mix.— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto) February 20, 2017
Divac addressed the Sacramento press the next day and said he had better offers on the table that the organization itself chose to pass on, instead opting for the lesser deal it took. “Talk to those agents, please,” Divac said. “I don’t want to go into details.”
Yep, Vlade actually said this. pic.twitter.com/CEW7aynAZ2— Dieter Kurtenbach (@dkurtenbach) February 20, 2017
Feb. 20: Cousins says his love for Sacramento will “never change”
On-court reputation aside, Cousins was a beloved figure off the court in the Sacramento community. There are fans who feel he was wronged by the organization. They felt strongly enough that Sacramento locals gave Cousins a going away party, where he was recorded tearfully professing his love for the city:
My friend got transferred to another city because of his job. He had some things to say. Rough to watch. pic.twitter.com/iBRyMf1UP7— Carmichael Dave (@CarmichaelDave) February 21, 2017
“My love for this city will never change,” Cousins said before receiving applause from the crowd. “Even though I’m gone, it’ll still be the same. Still looking out for these kids. Every family in this city matters for me. Every soul in this city matters for me ... I’m just not in a Kings uniform anymore.”
Feb. 24: Cousins calls the Kings cowardly
Cousins was blindsided by the trade. Divac told the media that Cousins wouldn’t be traded two weeks before he was, and he apparently told Cousins the same thing a week before the trade.
“A week before the trade. The sick part about it is that Vlade came in my house with my agent [Jarinn Akana]. We sat in my theater and just talked. That was maybe three weeks ago. We sat there and [he] told me what moves he wanted to make. All of that. I just didn’t understand,” Cousins told The Undefeated’s Marc Spears.
When asked if he had any desire to talk to Kings owner Vivek Ranadive or Divac, Cousins kept his answer to the point.
“Nah. For what? It was a coward move, so I’m pretty sure I will get a coward response. For what? And I’ve seen this happen before. I’ve been there through all same types … I was there with [coach] Mike Malone’s [firing]. I’ve seen how they operate. I know what kind of answer I will get anyway. So, what is the point?”
Feb. 25: Divac says he’ll step down if he’s wrong about the trade
Just a few days after the trade happened, Divac was still making the media rounds to justify the Kings’ decision. He sat down with the Sacramento Bee to express extreme confidence in his decision.
“I totally understand why some fans would be upset,” Divac told Ailene Voisin. “They supported DeMarcus, and I like DeMarcus a lot. But I believe we are going to be in a better position in two years. I want to hear again from these same people in two years.”
“If I’m right, great. If I’m wrong, I’ll step down. But if I go down, I’m going down my way.”
March 31: Cousins is still trying to cope
Cousins really cared about Sacramento and the people who live in the city. Despite his demeanor during games and the perception people have of him on the court, he remained a pillar in the community of Sacramento and promised to still be one despite being traded.
So that explains why Cousins was so distraught after the trade. In another interview with Spears, Cousins says he was “mentally gone” and had to drive to his mother’s home in Alabama to hit the reset button.
“I was stressed out two weeks ago, and I just drove home,” Cousins told The Undefeated, with teary eyes, according to Spears. “It took two hours at the most. I saw my mom. Hung out at the house. I was mentally gone. I went back to my old neighborhood and hung out on the block. I saw some of my old people. I left there and felt amazing. I don’t know if it was being around that genuine love; it just kind of humbled me.”
Oct. 24: Cousins says he was ‘a fool’ for not leaving Sacramento sooner
At this point, both sides seem to have moved on from the process and are looking forward to their futures. Cousins says he loves it in New Orleans and is enjoying playing with Anthony Davis so far. Divac says he’s relieved by his decision with the trade and feels that it was the right one.
But just ahead of the Pelicans’ Oct. 26 showdown with the Kings, Cousins sat down with Spears on SportsCenter to clear the air about his time in Sacramento.
What was his biggest regret?
Cousins: My biggest regret is not leaving when I had the chance.
Spears: When did you have the chance?
Cousins: I had the chance. But I fought it.
Spears: Like, how long before?
Cousins: When George Karl came.
Spears: Why’d you fight it?
Cousins: I wanted to give it a chance. My representatives told me I shouldn’t stay, but then, I guess you could say stubborn and ‘loyal’, I wanted to make it work.
Karl was hired to replace Malone after just a few games into what was a great start, relatively speaking, for the Kings. Cousins liked Malone and his coaching style and was perplexed by his firing.
Karl and Cousins never jelled and, later, Karl said he never felt empowered as the Kings coach after Cousins cursed him out. Karl said he had never coached an “untradeable” player and Cousins took exception to it.
That seemed to be the most extreme turning point in Cousins’ deteriorating relationship with the organization.
Even eight months later, Cousins’ contempt for the Kings’ organization is palpable. Yet Cousins is a beloved figure in the Sacramento community, even still.
How much will that matter once tipoff comes around? Only time will tell. Regardless, it will be an emotional night in Sacramento.