DeMarcus Cousins is ready to tear the Sacramento Kings’ locker room apart, and it’s Ty Lawson’s fault.
Lawson missed the four games before the All-Star break with a strained thigh, so he had some free time. Too much free time.
“Ty is out of control,” Cousins bellowed. “He stole my drawers, dog!”
Nearby, Darren Collison was speaking to the media about how poised Cousins had been lately. Lawson could only laugh at the irony.
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In the end, everyone was laughing.
This is the Cousins his teammates have come to know this season. He feels good about the Kings’ postseason prospects and wants to stay on the team. He’s eligible to sign a five-year contract extension worth up to $219 million this summer.
The Kings have not won a lot in Cousins’ seven seasons, but he’s not ready to walk away when his contract expires after next season. Like the Kings, Cousins is a work in progress as he learns to be a leader, coexist with referees and reach his potential as a player and teammate.
And he wants to do all of that in Sacramento.
“For one, everyone knows I’m all about loyalty — I’m loyal to this,” Cousins, 26, recently told The Bee. “I was brought here, I believe in myself, I believe in my abilities. I’m committed to this team, this city — it’s been noted, and I don’t want it no other way. I want to be with one team my entire career; I want to finish my career here in Sacramento. That’s what it is.”
Cousins, one of the game’s elite talents, made his third All-Star appearance for the Western Conference on Sunday.
Charlotte Coach Steve Clifford recently described Cousins as a small forward in a center’s body, a player who can do things that defy logic for someone who is 6-foot-11, 270 pounds.
But like his game, Cousins the man is hard to categorize. Some see the scowl on the court and demonize him. Others love the man who quietly invests time and money in Sacramento.
And Cousins cares what you think about him, perhaps too much. It’s why he can’t ignore a negative story written about him if he believes it’s off-base or unjustified.
Cousins said “a lot of (stuff) bothers me about what people think of me,” but he’s getting better at paying less attention to it.
“Tuning it out? Yes,” Cousins said. “Accept that there are some (expletive) idiots out here? Yes. And then accepting there are people that don’t have your best interests at heart. There’s evil-ass people out here. It’s apparent, they have their own intentions, their own things that drive them. They support who they support. It’s no different than a damn Trump supporter and a Clinton supporter. It is what it is.”
The opinions Cousins cares about the most are his teammates’. For years, Cousins reputedly was uncoachable and too hard on his teammates.
The Kings seem to have the coach part figured out this season. Cousins likes Dave Joerger and his staff. And before the season, General Manager Vlade Divac encouraged Cousins to be more welcoming and encouraging with his teammates.
“My big thing has been learning how to talk to people in certain situations,” Cousins said. “I think I’ve gotten better at that. But as far as being a teammate, a player on the floor, I think I’m the same person.”
Some who have been around Cousins would disagree. He’s not the same person, but a better one.
“He’s much more poised,” Collison said. “The thing about DeMarcus is he’s very misunderstood. ... (He is) trying to win any way possible. Now he understands how to deliver the message, and he’s matured in a lot of different areas. You can see that he really wants to win and he’s trusting his teammates a lot more.”
Washington guard John Wall, who has known Cousins for more than 10 years, agrees Cousins is misunderstood.
Wall said he didn’t have problems with Cousins as a teammate at Kentucky because he’d known him since he was 14. But if your first time seeing Cousins is during a game, you might have a negative impression.
“I don’t think a lot of people understand him,” Wall said. “He’s already big enough to look like a bully, and I think just how angry he plays and the competitive nature he plays with, people might read that the wrong way. But I think if you sit down and get to know him, he’s great. But if you don’t have a good first impression from him, you probably won’t talk to him again.”
Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan has seen that angry side of Cousins. Cousins’ disdain for the Clippers, particularly Chris Paul, has been documented. Cousins once stopped former teammate Isaiah Thomas from shaking hands with Paul.
After spending the summer with Cousins on the U.S. Olympic gold-medal team, Jordan called Cousins a “great teammate,” and watching the two poke fun at each other during All-Star activities, you’d think they’d been friends all their lives.
Jordan laughed when the back-and-forth between Cousins and Paul is mentioned.
“He’s just competitive, man,” Jordan said of Cousins. “Everybody in this league wants to win. You’re going to bump heads, but that’s what happens when you have two competitors who want to win a game. We see those guys four times a year in our division, so there’s always going to be some heated battles.”
Joerger got his first glimpse of Cousins’ growing leadership before the season. Cousins and Joerger have developed a solid relationship, and Cousins says Joerger has been “unbelievable.”
“I think he’s really improved from even before camp when he came in after he won the gold medal and two days later he came in and was playing pickup ball,” Joerger said. “Sometimes you can say things and sometimes you can do things, so his approach has been terrific, and he continues to get better.”
When Arron Afflalo signed with the Kings last summer, he knew little about Cousins. Afflalo said he’s seen a lot of growth in Cousins’ dealings with teammates over the course of the season.
“I think it’s a two-way street,” Afflalo said. “Every guy is going to have his own personality. Certain guys are going to take things a certain way, but it just depends on how you carry yourself and how you interact with your teammates in general. We’ve got some good guys on the team this year, and we’re all adjusting to each other, so he’s been great about getting his point across when the time calls for it.”
Cousins is often compared to Rasheed Wallace, a four-time All-Star who was called for 41 technical fouls during the 2000-01 season. League rules have changed, with a one-game suspension for every two technicals once a player reaches 16.
Cousins became the first player to be suspended for technical fouls before the All-Star break earlier this month.
Afflalo played two seasons with Wallace in Detroit but said Cousins and Wallace aren’t the same.
“Not in personality, no,” Afflalo said. “Maybe toward the refs. When it comes to the referees, Cuz has a little bit of the thing that Sheed had. But Sheed was more a laid-back kind of guy. When I came to the team, he was a little bit older, too — 33, 34. I’m not sure how Sheed was at 26, 27.”
Cousins’ 17 technicals lead the NBA, and another would land Cousins a second one-game suspension. He’s done his best not to draw the whistles, but they’ve come at a record rate this season.
“My relationship with the officials, it’s over,” Cousins said. “I don’t think it’s a thing coming from both sides. I think it’s bigger than basketball — that’s my personal opinion. I’ve just got to go play. Whatever happens, happens. I’ve just got to accept it.”
Cousins said he doesn’t speak to anyone about dealing with officials. Same goes for leading the Kings out of their decade-long playoff drought.
“Honestly I don’t,” he said. “A lot of people like to try to compare situations, but I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like I’ve been in. It’s not a lot of people that can relate; it’s not a lot of people who can give advice. It just is what it is. I’m trying to figure it out. It’s hard, but I believe in myself, and I believe I’ll figure it out.”
Kings minority owner Shaquille O’Neal was one of Cousins’ favorite players growing up, and it’s often suggested Cousins should communicate with him more.
Cousins, however, still feels he’s on an island, considering he has dealt with two ownerships, six coaches and three general managers.
“I can get ahold of him, but this is a situation I don’t think any player has ever experienced,” Cousins said.
Yet Cousins remains committed to Sacramento. And he cares what people think about him as he tries to become a better DeMarcus Cousins.
“I’ve just got to be myself, man,” Cousins said. “These guys in here know me, believe in me, so that’s all that matters. These are the guys I have to deal with every day. It would be different if these guys felt that way — then I’d have a real problem. I’ve just got to tune out the damn haters and keep pushing forward. That’s my only option.”