It was going to happen eventually. The Sacramento Kings were going to face the New Orleans Pelicans at some point, which means they’ll see their former franchise cornerstone and all that entails.
“It’s just another chance for us to come out, play hard and get a win,” DeMarcus Cousins told media members when asked about his Friday matchup against his former team.
Cousins gave the same exact answer the next five times reporters asked about the Kings, grinning as he played possum in front of rolling cameras.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Cousins eventually said. “I developed a lot of relationships. It will be good to see the guys again. I haven’t seen them since before the break, so it will be a good chance to see those guys and laugh a little bit.”
To say there is bad blood is an understatement. Cousins wanted to spend the rest of his career in a Kings uniform. He had already discussed parameters on a potential $200+ million extension. He wanted to be the player that ended the franchise’s decade long postseason drought - and then he was traded.
Cousins wears his emotions on his sleeve, which more often than not has gotten him into trouble. After just a few months with the team, Matt Barnes wanted to “kill ‘em” when asked about the Kings. You can only imagine what Cousins is really thinking.
“If I was in his shoes, I’d come out trying to take it to us,” Garrett Temple said. “Just like Matt said he wanted to kill us, I’m assuming DeMarcus has the same mindset. That’s what makes him one of the best players in the league.”
The deal that sent Cousins to New Orleans cost the player tens of millions of dollars and his parting gift on the way out the door was a strongly worded press release about the Kings looking for a cultural change.
“It was time for a change and I decided this was the best direction for the organization,” Divac said in the team’s press release. “Winning begins with culture and character matters. With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in a decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward. We thank DeMarcus for his contributions and wish him all the best in New Orleans. The fans in Sacramento are the best in the world and we are all committed to building a team that will continue to make Sacramento proud.”
At the time of the trade, the Kings were just a game and a half out of the eighth seed in the playoffs. Since the trade, they’ve gone just 5-13 as they’ve pushed towards a complete youth movement.
The Pelicans have struggled with the transition as well. Adding another high usage player on the frontline alongside All-Star Anthony Davis has taken an adjustment period. They are 9-9 since the deal, but 7-3 over their last 10 games.
Cousins’ numbers are down across the board, but he is beginning to adjust. In 14 games with New Orleans, he’s averaging 22.9 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks in 33 minutes a night. He’s missed three games due to injury and one due to suspension. The Pelicans are 3-1 without him on the court.
With seven games remaining in the season, the Pelicans sit 4.5 games behind the Trail Blazers for the eighth seed. They finish the season in Portland, but that’s a lot of ground to cover with so few games to play.
This is the first time that Kings players will see Cousins in a different uniform. After playing against him in practice and alongside him for plenty of games, Sacramento’s players know the reality of facing a motivated Cousins.
“You’re not going to stop, you’re not going to stop him,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “You just have to get in his way and pray to God he misses. Other than that, you’re not going to stop him from doing what he wants to do. You just have to keep coming back at him and just be competitive and don’t lay down.”
Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos and even rookie Georgios Papagiannis will take turns defending Cousins in the post. The trio have 18 fouls between them and if Cousins is motivated, he will try to get all three out of the game.
“I expected him to get his numbers, but I’m going to try and make it as difficult as possible,” Cauley-Stein added. “That’s going to be fun for me just because, I was kind of like his apprentice here and it’s going to be cool to go against a big bro.”
Friday night’s matchup should be a lively affair. You’ll have a motivated player, seeing his former team for the first time while embroiled in a playoff chase. Hopefully the Kings brought plenty of ice packs, they’re going to need them.