DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time NBA All-Star, is arguably the most talented free agent remaining on the market.
The 32-year-old is five years removed from his reign as the most dominant center in the league when he was governing the paint for the Sacramento Kings. He has since played for New Orleans, Golden State, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee and Denver. His talent, even to this juncture, has never been in question. But NBA executives continue to have questions about his character and what he brings to a locker room.
In a phone interview with Yahoo Sports from his home in Las Vegas, the 6-foot-10 center sought to provide answers to those questions.
“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”
Cousins said he’s working out every day from basketball drill sessions, conditioning, weight lifting and body maintenance. He’s doing it all without a guarantee of ever touching an NBA court again.
But that’s his motivation.
“I’m just trying to control what I can control,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “This process can get repetitive and get to the point where it can kind of drive you crazy, but you just have to fall in love with the process. Every day I’m working out to make sure I’m better than I was the previous day. So whenever the opportunity does come about and my name is called upon, I’ll be prepared.”
Cousins’ reputation is complicated.
Most, in all likelihood, would label him a hothead with a tendency to initiate confrontations and lash out at coaches and referees. When he plays a full season, he is often a league leader in technical fouls.
He clashed with then-Kings coach George Karl in 2015, which almost led to several trade demands — from both sides. Although Karl lasted only a season-plus in Sacramento, Cousins was eventually traded during All-Star weekend in 2017 to the Pelicans as his time with the Kings had soured.
But Denver Nuggets coach Michael Malone and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr often praise Cousins’ professionalism.
Cousins addressed how he’s perceived, and why he’s requesting the latitude and grace in order to change that negative perception.
“I think the misperception of me is that I’m this angry monster that just goes around bullying people, beating people up, uncoachable, and a cancer in the locker room,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “I think it’s all false. I played for coach [John] Calipari, a legendary coach. I was more than coachable. Steve Kerr would attest to that and coach Malone. Obviously, you can always go back to my time in Sacramento. I was a young kid. I was still figuring this business out. I was ignorant to a lot of things. I handled a lot of things the incorrect way, but I’ve also learned from those mistakes.
“And some things that happened were just out of my control. The stars just didn’t align and things just didn’t work out the way we had planned. But that was seven or eight years ago. I’m a grown man with a family that I work to provide for and that’s my goal every day when I wake up is: How can I provide for my family? So, to hold my time in Sac over my head, I think that’s unfair. I believe we all should have a chance to grow and change and actually have that change be embraced. I just want a fair shot.”
At this point in the year with training camps already underway, most teams are not surveying the free-agent landscape to find a difference-maker.
Players picked up now likely will compete for rotational minutes or be end-of-the-bench prospects. For someone with the résumé and skill set of Cousins, teams could be hesitant on seriously considering the big man due to thinking he may have expectations that are not in line with the course of the franchise.
If that’s the case, Cousins dispelled that notion.
“I realize I’m not the franchise player I was when I was younger. I’ve accepted that. I understand this business. I understand how this cycle goes. I’m not ignorant to it. So whatever role is given to me, I will do it willingly and to the best of my ability,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “Obviously, me being a competitor, I always want to reach for the stars, but I’m going to do what’s asked of me. And if it’s me starting, if it’s me coming off the bench, or if it’s me having to be at the end of the bench cheering the next guy on, I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. I’m willing to do whatever is needed to win.”
As the call wrapped up for Cousins to get ready to head to the gym, he wanted to say one last thing.
“It would mean everything in the world to me to be back in the NBA,” Cousins told Yahoo Sports. “I know I belong in this league. I feel like I’ve paid my dues and earned my stripes. I’ve hit some bumps in the road with injuries and I’ve always worked my way back to be 100 percent healthy. I’ve worked my tail off to get back to this point. I just want the opportunity to show the work I’ve put in and continue to put in. I also just want an opportunity to also earn my keep and that’s all I really want. I have a lot left in the tank. A whole lot. I feel like I’ve actually become an even better player, just sharpening all my skills. I’ve had nothing but time in the gym. I’ve gotten better in all aspects of my game.
“I just want teams to get to really know me and not to believe the narrative. I’m a great teammate and great for the locker room. I have a lot of experience in this league. I have a lot of knowledge to give to these younger guys. I love spreading knowledge. I love being an OG to the younger guys. I’ve always been a big brother figure. I don’t believe those areas of my game and of my personality are ever really highlighted. It’s more so always the technicals and things of that nature. And like I said, I just don’t think that’s a fair assessment. I’m ready to help a team however way I can.”