DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time NBA All-Star, is arguably the most talented free agent left on the market.
The 32-year-old is five years away from his reign as the most dominant center in the league when he managed paint for the Sacramento Kings. Since then, he has played for New Orleans, Golden State, Houston, Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee and Denver. His talent, even up to this point, has never been questioned. But NBA executives continue to have questions about his character and what he brings to the locker room.
In a phone interview with Sportzshala Sports from his home in Las Vegas, the 6-foot-10 center tried to answer those questions.
“Did I make mistakes? Absolutely,” Cousins told Sportzshala Sports. “Did I do something wrong? Absolutely. For this I am very sorry. But I did more right things, and I did more positive things than my negative ones. I just don’t want these positives to be overlooked. And obviously, when it comes to the negatives outweighing the positives, you should probably move away from it. This is how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in this boat. I’m just asking for the opportunity to show my growth as a person and as a player.”
Cousins said he trains every day, doing basketball workouts, conditioning, weight lifting and body grooming. He does all this with no guarantee that he will ever touch the NBA court again.
But that’s his motivation.
“I’m just trying to control what I can control,” Cousins told Sportzshala Sports. “This process can get repetitive and get to the point where it can drive you crazy, but you just have to fall in love with the process. Every day I train to make sure I am better than the previous day. So whenever the opportunity presents itself and my name is called, I will be ready.”
Cousins’ reputations are complex.
Most, in all likelihood, would call him a short-tempered man, prone to conflict and lashing out at coaches and referees. When he plays a full season, he often leads the league in technical fouls.
He clashed with then-Kings coach George Karl in 2015, which nearly led to several trade demands – from both sides. Although Carl only lasted one-plus season with Sacramento, Cousins was eventually traded during the 2017 All-Star Game to the Pelicans as his time with the Kings soured.
But Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr often praise Cousins’ professionalism.
Cousins addressed how he is perceived and why he asks for the latitude and grace to change this negative perception.
“I think the misconception about me is that I’m such an angry monster that just walks around bullying people, beating them up, being non-learnable, and being a locker room cancer,” Cousins told Sportzshala Sports. “I think it’s all lies. I played as a coach [John] Calipari, the legendary coach. I could be more than coached. Steve Kerr would confirm this and coach Malone. Obviously, you can always go back to when I was in Sacramento. I was a small child. I was still versed in this business. I was ignorant of many things. I did a lot of things wrong, but I also learned from those mistakes.
“And some of the things that happened were just out of my control. The stars just didn’t align and things didn’t go the way we planned. But that was seven or eight years ago. I am a grown man, I have a family that I work to provide for, and every day when I wake up, this is my goal: how can I provide for my family? So to keep time in Sake over your head, I think it’s unfair. I believe that we should all have a chance to grow and change, and that change should be accepted. I just want a fair shot.”
At this point in the year, with training camp already underway, most teams aren’t investigating the free agent situation to find someone who can help make a difference.
Players selected now are likely to struggle for rotational minutes or become prospects at the end of the bench. For someone with Cousins’ resume and skill set, teams may be hesitant to seriously consider the big man, thinking he might have expectations that don’t fit the course of the franchise.
If so, Cousins dispelled that notion.
“I realize that I am no longer the franchise player I was when I was younger. I accepted it. I understand this matter. I understand how this cycle goes. I know about it. So whatever role I’m given, I’ll do it willingly and to the best of my ability,” Cousins told Sportzshala Sports. “Obviously I am an athlete and I always want to reach for the stars, but I will do what is required of me. And if it’s me who starts, if I’m coming off the bench, or if I have to be at the end of the bench, cheering on the next guy, I’ll do it. All that is needed. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to win.”
When the call for Cousins ended and he was about to head to the gym, he had one more thing to say.
“For me, returning to the NBA will mean everything,” Cousins told Sportzshala Sports. “I know I belong to this league. I feel like I’ve paid my dues and earned my stripes. I’ve had a few bumps along the way due to injuries and I’ve always come back to be 100 percent healthy. I worked my tail off to get back to this moment. I just want to be able to show the work I have put in and continue to put in. I also just want to be able to earn my living and that’s all I really want. I have a lot left in the tank. A lot of. I feel like I’ve actually become an even better player just by honing all my skills. I had nothing but time at the gym. I got better in every aspect of my game.
“I just want the teams to really get to know me and not believe the stories. I am a great teammate and I do a great job in the locker room. I have a lot of experience in this league. I have a lot of knowledge to give these young guys. I love spreading knowledge. I like being OG for young guys. I have always been an older brother figure. I don’t believe these areas of my game and my personality have ever really come to the fore. It’s more so always technical and stuff like that. And like I said, I just don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I’m ready to help the team in any way I can.”