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DeMarcus Cousins: ‘I was mentally gone’

A drive home proved restorative for the Pelicans center, just in time for visit from Kings

The stress of being traded, personal pressure to succeed instantly with his new team and the craziness of Mardi Gras took a toll on New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins.

In search of a mental escape, the Mobile, Alabama, native took a two-hour drive to his hometown about two weeks ago during an off day. That home cooking was just what Cousins needed to get back to playing basketball on his NBA All-Star level and put his “rags to riches” life in perspective.

“I was stressed out two weeks ago, and I just drove home,” a teary-eyed Cousins told The Undefeated after practice on Thursday. “It took two hours at the most. I saw my mom. Hung out at the house. I was mentally gone. I went back to my old neighborhood and hung out on the block. I saw some of my old people. I left there and felt amazing. I don’t know if it was being around that genuine love, it just kind of humbled me.

“I see these guys, how it used to be and where I’m at now. It just put me in a better place. Being able to do that will always keep me in a good place. It will help me see the blessings I’ve been able to receive over the years, what I came from, where I’m at now. I hate to say it, but what I was reminded about is how I went from rags to riches. You basically see what you left and how far you’ve come. I’m like, ‘How can I complain? How can I be mad about anything?’

I’m mad about my job or whatever the case may be, and these people are struggling with real-life situations. They don’t know if they will be able to eat tomorrow. Just thinking about it in that perspective, just being able to laugh and talk about old times, all that put me in a great place. It’s been a lot. There was pressure coming in here and making things click right away. I believe after [visiting Mobile] I’ve been playing some pretty decent basketball. It helped out.”

Cousins certainly had his ups and downs as the face of the long-struggling Sacramento Kings from 2010-17. He was named to two NBA All-Star teams and won a gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, but he also combated team personnel and referees with a straight, no-chaser tongue. The Kings’ sixth all-time leading scorer had dreams of playing his entire NBA career for a franchise riddled with ownership and coaching changes, and he believed the Kings felt the same. But on Feb. 19, the Kings stole the spotlight from the night’s NBA All-Star Game by trading Cousins to the franchise hosting it, the Pelicans.

Cousins was emotional about being traded from his beloved Sacramento and expressed disdain toward Kings general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive for making the move without warning him. The trade also cost Cousins $30 million in possible extension money.

Cousins will get a chance to play his old team for the first time Friday night when the Kings visit New Orleans.

“It is what it is,” Cousins said. “I can sit there and hate on them, but it would be holding myself back. Sitting there focusing on something that is already done is pointless. I’ve moved on. It’s happened. I’ve got to accept it. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason. I’m just using this as a new opportunity.”

In a Q&A with The Undefeated, Cousins talked in-depth about the trade, playing with Anthony Davis, life in New Orleans, being close to home and more.

The Pelicans can only offer a five-year, $180 million deal, which is about $30 million less than what the Kings could have offered. How much does the potential financial loss hurt?

It was never about the money. I don’t play this game for money. Anyone that knows me knows that I don’t play for the money. I had money before. I’m perfectly fine. To say it doesn’t help me would be a lie. Of course I want it. It wasn’t about the money. It never was.

I wanted my legacy to end in Sacramento. I invested so much time and energy. Everything I had, my whole heart was into that city. Just for it to end the way it did, that was the part that was f—-. But it was never about the money. I don’t give a s— about the money.

Have you spoken to anyone managementwise with the Kings?

Nope.

Should you?

For what? Honestly, Vivek tried to reach out. It was about two weeks later [after the trade]. I just told him, ‘Look, why are you reaching out to me two weeks later? There is no point. If you feel like you’re doing the right thing now, it just shows who you really are as an owner.’ That was my message back to him. And I haven’t spoken to him about it since.

You said a contingent of people are coming from Sacramento to New Orleans to support you in your first game against the Kings. Who is coming to see you?

Some of the [Kings’ minority owners]. Some of the biggest fans in the city. I got friends out there, guys that I’m close to and consider family. People that are a part of my circle. It’s about 25 people from Sacramento.

I got a suite for everyone. I’m doing a dinner with some of the staff from Sacramento [on Thursday night]. I still got a great relationship with some of those people as well.

How do you reflect on the Kings trading you, to your surprise, before the deadline? Anything the Kings could have done better?

The main thing was if there was anyone who knew how I felt about being in Sacramento, it was those guys. It’s been talked about. They knew. If you felt that way, I know and understand it’s a business, but just let me know and prepare myself.

But how would you have taken it if the Kings were up front about wanting to trade you?

Of course, I would’ve been mad. But I still would have respected it. Come to me like a man. I’m a human being at the end of the day. Don’t treat me like a f—ing piece of cattle.

Will it be a lot more emotional when you play the Kings in Sacramento next season rather than Friday night in New Orleans?

I’m pretty sure it will be. But that’s next season. I haven’t really thought about it, honestly.

Would it mean something to you if the Kings showed you some sort of appreciation, i.e., video tribute, when you play in Sacramento for the first time next season? A Kings source said to expect that.

I kind of expect it. The city was always great to me. The fans were always great to me. So I kind of expect it. It wouldn’t be a surprise.

What would you tell Pelicans fans nervous about your future plans with the franchise? (Cousins can be a free agent in 2018.)

I’m more just excited about the moment. We’re all living in the moment right now. That’s all we can do. But as far as my [situation], I’m going to do what is best for me at the end of the day.

How do you like playing with fellow NBA All-Star Anthony Davis?

I’m loving it. It’s one thing to face a guy. But once you’re behind the scenes and you can see the work that is put in and everything that comes in, you grow to appreciate it a lot more. It has been well-documented that I’ve always been a fan of A.D.

He’s probably one of the only big men I’ve ever truly respected. To be able to team up with him, it’s been good. I think we can do some special things.

Has Davis taken pressure off you and made it easier?

We’ve taken pressure off each other. Shots are coming easier. We’re both seeing defenses that we’ve never seen before. It’s all types of weird stuff now. There are nights where they have to pick their poison and we’re enjoying it.

I’m enjoying seeing him flourish. I know he feels the same way. The guys around us are coming along. We’re all playing better now. We’re understanding each other better now. The process has been fun. We can see where this thing could actually go. It’s exciting times. I’m excited.

What has it been like playing for coach Alvin Gentry?

Gentry has been great. He’s all eased into this thing, but he’s pushing us at the same time. Gentry is cool as a fan. It’s hard not to get along with Gentry. They’ve made this whole transition for me so easy. I appreciate them for that. I guess they kind of knew how it all came about for me and how I felt coming in. But they made this process for me super easy.

DeMarcus Cousins (No. 0) of the New Orleans Pelicans reacts with Jrue Holiday (No. 11) of the New Orleans Pelicans after an assist against the Memphis Grizzlies during the second half at the Smoothie King Center on March 21 in New Orleans. The Pelicans won the game, 95-82.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

What do you like most about the city of New Orleans?

The genuine love. This is what I’m used to. This is what I grew up with. It’s more of a family-oriented style of love. This is no shot at any other fan base or the one I left. They genuinely love you for you. It’s not about what you do.

You can just hold a conversation with somebody on the street and it’s all love. You don’t really get that a lot of other places.

You got your go-to restaurant in New Orleans?

I’m trying to stay away. I came down here and put on a quick 10 [pounds]. I got my chef here now. I’m trying to stay away. I’m trying. But the food is so good. It’s amazing down here.

You were big in giving back to the community in Sacramento and Mobile. Have you had a chance to give back to New Orleans yet?

I haven’t had a chance. Of course, it will start. I want to get to know the communities. Get to know the people. Let them know that I am here for them. It will eventually happen.

What is the good and bad about being in driving distance of your hometown?

The good is I get to see my family, my mom, my baby sister. I get to see my grandma, who is up in age. It’s good. I’m able to come home.

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.