LAS VEGAS -- For the better part of the summer, DeMarcus Cousins let a few photos do his talking.
Following a meeting here a week ago with Vlade Divac, Mike Bratz and George Karl, the All-Star center posted images of all four parties smiling, which at least hinted at a thaw in the relationships.
Well, it’s true.
On Tuesday, Cousins acknowledged a truce.
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“There were some things that had to be ironed out,” he said after the opening session of the Team USA minicamp at UNLV, “but at the same time, I wouldn’t make it as big as it was made out to be. Me and him (Karl) are on the same page, working on our relationship, and getting better every day. That’s all that matters. Things are a lot better. We’re trying to understand each other better. We’re going to make things happen, positive things happen.”
The peace pipe apparently made its way around the room. Cousins endorsed the flurry of offseason moves – including signing free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo and drafting 7-foot Kentucky center/power forward Willie Cauley-Stein – and he was upbeat about the upcoming season.
The timing of a Karl-Cousins or Kings-Cousins rapprochement is beneficial for all concerned, especially Cousins. USA Basketball executives – even longtime executive director Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski – would rather run laps in the 105-degree desert heat than confront the distractions caused by unnecessary drama.
Paul George’s injury during last summer’s FIBA World Cup training was an unfortunate accident. Kevin Love withdrew because of his NBA contract uncertainty. Cousins, who played a reserve role, subbed for foul-plagued starter Anthony Davis in the finale and stole the show for the Americans.
“We went a little bit bigger last August and September, thinking we would need it (size),” Krzyzewski said, “and we did against Serbia. We were down 15-5 and Cousins comes in and turns the game around. That’s what we need to do, have guys who can come in and might be game changers.”
But who are those guys? When Colangelo sent out 34 invitations and announced that attendance at the minicamp was mandatory for players coveting a roster spot for the Olympics, he received only two rejections. Damian Lillard said he was not interested because he was snubbed for the World Cup squad. Derrick Rose, whose chronic injuries continue to hamper his MVP talents, decided to stay home and tend to his health.
And while there is some suspicion LeBron James might skip his fourth Olympics if the Cleveland Cavaliers make another deep playoff run next spring, the league’s premier player remains in the mix. So do Carmelo Anthony, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, along with New Orleans’ Davis, a lock if he remains healthy and committed.
The competition among the “bigs” is deeper and more formidable than in the past few years, with centers Dwight Howard of Houston and DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers participating, along with World Cup holdovers Mason Plumlee of Portland and Andre Drummond of Detroit. If Krzyzewski decides on a smaller, more versatile roster, with power forwards doubling as centers, the list expands with Love, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.
Players historically withdraw because of injuries, personal issues and contract uncertainty. But at least partly because of the wealth of talent, Colangelo is re-evaluating his approach to the selection process.
“We may just use the NBA season as the final look-see, and go with our 12 players without a minicamp,” he said after Tuesday’s session. “A lot has to do with timing, the end of the NBA season, the playoffs, how quickly we have to turn that around for Rio. We told the players that today. We will not be an All-Star team. It was important for them to be here to show a commitment, and for us to let them know what we’re thinking. We’ll be watching with microscopes all year long.”
Colangelo said the changes include a more intensive use of analytics and information to help determine the most compatible, effective and unified squad.
As for Cousins and the number of open spots for the bigs, Colangelo said he and Krzyzewski “remain wide open” and encouraged the sixth-year veteran to work himself into the best possible shape, improve upon his first All-Star season, influence the fortunes of the new-look Kings and avoid outbursts with referees. Again, those USA Basketball eyes will be everywhere.
With training camp not opening until Sept. 28, Cousins’ emphasis this week is on strengthening his prospects, and he’s confident he belongs. He’s full steam ahead for Rio de Janeiro next summer.
“No doubt at all,” Cousins said before leaving the gym. “This is an opportunity. I don’t see why you would turn it down. As long as I can move, I plan on being part of it.”