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2017 NBA Africa Game

DeMarcus Cousins can’t wait for NBA season to start

Pelicans forward has lost weight, thinks his team will be much improved, plus there’s that trip to Sacramento

JOHANNESBURG – There will be notable games when the 2017-18 NBA schedule comes out as expected this month, beginning with the NBA Finals rematch between the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Paul George, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler and perhaps Kyrie Irving newcomer debuts and return games will be of interest. The Warriors’ championship banner raising game is big. And the debut of Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers with rookie Lonzo Ball will have eyes on it as well.

For New Orleans Pelicans All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, the game he is most looking forward to is playing against his former Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, California, for the first time since his controversial trade.

“I can’t wait. Oh, my God. I can’t wait. I’m praying it’s the first game. I just got a lot to get off my chest. I can’t wait,” Cousins said at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Africa camp on Wednesday.

Cousins averaged 21.1 points and 10.8 rebounds during 6½ seasons with the Kings. The two-time NBA All-Star’s tenure in Sacramento certainly had its ups (playing success and community service) and downs (losses and combustible moments with coaches, teammates, referees and media). The Kings oddly agreed to trade Cousins on the day of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans and the center found out only after he’d participated.

Cousins would later tell The Undefeated that he was disappointed about the way Kings general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadivé handled the trade as he hoped they would have been more open about their intentions to move him. Sacramento could have offered Cousins a supermax long-term deal that would have paid him more than $200 million if he were still there.

“I miss the community. I miss the people. I miss the fans. That’s it,” Cousins said.

Making matters tougher on the Kings and the rest of the NBA is that Cousins appears to be in the best shape of his career while in his prime.

DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans chats with The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears during the Basketball Without Boarders Africa press conference.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Cousins is listed at 6-feet-11 and 270 pounds, but he has lost a significant amount of weight. The Mobile, Alabama, native has been in Los Angeles this summer adhering to a new strict diet that he declined to reveal along with a strong workout regimen. Cousins was already versatile and strong for his size, and the weight loss should make him even more intimidating to defenders. He added that he also did more weightlifting than ever this offseason.

“I just try to improve every season in some type of way. This was another area I thought I could improve in,” Cousins said.

How much does Cousins weigh now?

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Cousins said. “I lost a lot of weight. I did my little training program in L.A. and I like the results. I’m good. I feel lighter on my feet. I’m moving a lot better than I have in previous years. It doesn’t hurt to wake up in the morning and the aches and pains have kind of gone away. It’s definitely benefited my body a lot more.”

On Cousins’ weight loss, New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said: “No one forced him to have weight loss. Obviously, we’d like him in great shape. He called the guy up and got in the program that he is in right now. He’s been great at everything I’ve asked him to do in terms of being ready for next [season] and being ready to play. I think he is going to have a great year.”

The Pelicans struggled and didn’t make the playoffs last season after the arrival of Cousins as he and fellow All-Star Anthony Davis weren’t enough to lift an injury-plagued supporting cast. Cousins, however, believes the Pelicans will be much improved next season.

The Pelicans re-signed combo-guard Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $125 million contract. New Orleans signed veteran point guard Rajon Rondo to a one-year, $3.3 million contract after Cousins played a strong role in getting his “big brother” and ex-Kings teammate to sign by recruiting him “easy” over a couple of texts and one phone call. Gentry said that Holiday and Rondo will share the starting backcourt together.

New Orleans also signed sharpshooting free agent guard Ian Clark, who won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, to a one-year minimum contract. Cousins described the Pelicans supporting cast as “great” and said Rondo and Holiday were underrated. Gentry added that the Pelicans can play “small ball with 7-foot guys.”

Cousins said the Pelicans have a “very good chance to shock a lot of people.”

“We see that we can do something special regardless of the reports or what the so-called experts think about our team,” Cousins said. “We’re very confident. We think we have a chance to shock a lot of people. I’m excited. I wish it was starting tomorrow. I’m excited about this season.”

Said Gentry: “It’s safe to say I’m excited about the team and I’m excited about the possibilities.”

The Pelicans will have an entire training camp to prepare with Cousins alongside Davis.

“A.D. is like a little brother to me. Of course, we got that Kentucky connection,” Cousins said. “Of course, our relationship has grown since we’ve become teammates. We’re working our tails off. His mindset is to win. My mindset is to win. Whatever it takes. We’re doing defensive slides in the summer right now. We’re all in. Like I said, y’all keep counting us out and we’re going to shock a lot of people.”

The elephant in the room for the Pelicans is whether Cousins will stay long term.

Cousins will be an unrestricted free agent next offseason and is expected to be one of the top prospects available. New Orleans can offer a five-year deal paying $180 million, which is a lot less than Sacramento could have offered. By the sound of Cousins in Africa, don’t expect him to reveal much about his free agency situation once he returns to the States.

“That’s not the focus,” Cousins said. “The focus is on the here and now and that’s the upcoming season and how we are going to come out and perform. That’s our main focus. That’s for later on. We will deal with that later on.”

Cousins’ agent Jarinn Akana also declined to comment. When asked how he will deal with the pending free agency question over and over next season, Cousins said with a laugh: “The way I just did.”

The good news for the Pelicans is Cousins can make more money there than anywhere else, playing with Davis is a major plus, the team is expected to be improved, he’s close to Mobile from New Orleans and he gets along well with general manager Dell Demps. Cousins added that he appreciates that Demps asks him for feedback on players and possible personnel moves.

While just 26 years old with a lot of NBA hoops expected ahead of him, Cousins is already preparing himself for his dreams of being an NBA general manager when his playing career ends. He said he has been excited and encouraged to see more blacks get hired in the NBA front offices of late.

“I appreciate Dell a lot,” Cousins said. “Through this process, he can see that I’m really invested in this team, trying to get the best out of the team. … We’ve also had discussions about how I want to be a future GM. He’s kind of showing me the ropes of how to do this thing. This is the first time in my career since [ex-Kings GM] Pete D’Alessandro has kind of shown me what it takes.

“I’ve always liked to evaluate talent. I like putting teams together. I feel like I could be the best at it and I really enjoy doing it … I’d be GM of the Year every year.”

Cousins is making his first trip to Africa as one of the counselors at the Basketball Without Borders camp, which includes the top 80 boys and girls ages 17 and under from 26 African countries. He is also suiting up for Team World against Team Africa in the second NBA Africa Game on Saturday. Cousins hopes to visit Cape Town and other parts of Africa before departing.

“I’ve always wanted to visit Africa,” said Cousins, who arrived Tuesday. “They presented it to me and it was a no-brainer. This is my first time. It feels good. I haven’t really done anything yet. I’m a little off with sleep. I’m excited, but we are going on a safari [Thursday] morning, so I’m superexcited about that.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for The Undefeated. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.