How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love DeMarcus Cousins
It's a stupid title, I know, but timeless. This saga has happened a hundred times before; that gives me comfort, and also serves to blunt some of the shame I feel. I am an NBA expert, or at least some version of one. I have also, in the past, been an avid draft junkie. This year, one man has ruined all that, and his name is DeMarcus Cousins.
To you, Cousins is a highly-regarded big man who Ziller says should go second on Thursday. To me, he's a source of constant irritation, even blind rage. He bothered so much -- or rather, his ever-rising stock bugged me so -- that I got distracted.
However, all that's come to an end. Today, I formally announce the end of this dark obsession. Some of my opinions have changed. Others, muted. And there remains a third group, of those that I've stashed away to run in people's faces if everything goes horribly wrong. But my dislike of Cousins, his game, and how others see him is eating me alive.
It simply must come to an end, if I am to have the slightest chance of pulling off my annual draft night funnies. First, though, its story deserves to be told.
The first time I saw DeMarcus Cousins (cue the De La Soul clip there) was at the 2009 Nike Hoop Summit. That was the year that the Rest of the World won, which almost never happens. It was also, for more than a few writers, their first chance to see John Wall perform against high-level competition.
Wall's mastery was what I promptly stuck in my photo album, but the loss was almost as important -- not because it brought embarrassment unto our nation, but because it was almost entirely due to the slovenly, uncoordinated efforts of lone USA bigs Cousins and Renardo Sidney. Without throwing around too many cliche, the pair looked disoriented, bored, and not exactly capable of coasting on size or sheer physical tools.
Cousins, in particular, just didn't seem that big. Okay, he was thick in the chest, and in many ways, had the same kind of eye-popping physique that made Kwame Brown a lottery pick (were those small hands I detected?). But he looked very much the 6'9" the program listed him at, he was lacking in athleticism, his rhythm and timing seemed off, and in the paint, he kept his head down and scared no one. Granted, much of this would soon be disproved, and questions about his attitude became the red flag du jour.
One game in-person is hardly adequate data, especially during a time of year when blue chippers are being run ragged with All-Star events and subject to all sorts of off-court stress. And yet as much as John Wall had made a believer out of me, Cousins had left me carrying something like a grudge, or at least some deep-seated skepticism.
Good thing they were both headed to Kentucky, a team I had already resolved to watch all year in defiance of my self-imposed ban on college basketball. Wall was the future of the game; Cousins, a headache who on a good day, would be some college fool's gold.
You all know what happened next. After some initial hiccups, including problems with fouls and some troubling fits during games, Cousins became arguably Kentucky's primary weapon. Of course, Wall was the superstar in training. But that team's bread and butter wasn't Wall creating, it was Wall finding ways to set up Cousins inside.
I don't know if he was in better shape, or simply looked bigger on television, but in the NCAA, Cousins was a freaking colossus. They went and added two inches to his height, and suddenly, someone I had pegged as a lurking disappointment was only a couple picks worse than Wall.
Cousins still couldn't defend, or get off the ground much. What he could do, though, was rebound like the dickens, as well as find a way to put the ball in the basket if he got it anywhere in the vicinity. Cousins had the feet of a sherpa, soft hands that controlled any pass, and a laser-like bead on the rim at any given time. Whether he got all the way in for the dunk, or had to lay it in, Cousins had a seemingly endless array of brief, quick, advanced moves to get his two.
It was everything Dwight Howard could only dream of being -- minus, of course, the earth-shattering athleticism.
I redoubled my anger. Here was John Wall, who should have been enjoying a one-and-done campaign that set televisions aflame like Kevin Durant in 2007 or Carmelo Anthony in 2003. And instead, he spent a fair amount of time making life easier for Cousins.
At the same time, the more I watched, the more I saw that Cousins made Wall's life easier, too. It was like Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, circa this year. And I've heard several people suggest that the willingness to recognize the advantage Cousins offered did a lot for the NBA's view of John Wall. I knew this, and yet held my ground, bordering on incoherent when asked to discuss DeMarcus Cousins.
This only got worse as his draft stock rose, and pretty much everyone I know came out in support of him. The lack of size bothered no one, since apparently I had made it all up, his attitude had held up, many of the deficiencies I had observed at the Hoop Summit were complete aberrations.
So here we are, on the verge of seeing DeMarcus Cousins -- scoring machine, bruiser, master of rebounds, big body, spirited baller -- headed to some team expecting great things of him. At various times, I've suggested he would give a team some combination of Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph. Curry is irredeemable. But Randolph was an All-Star last season. And the younger Z-Bo? Only one of my favorite players, ever.
DeMarcus Cousins, I extend my hand in friendship. I can only hope that it's not too late.