Alvin Gentry knows what a lot of people think of DeMarcus Cousins.
The All-Star center, who is routinely among the NBA’s leaders in technical fouls (averaging 15.4 per season) and highlight-worthy eruptions, is often held up by his critics as a poster child for immaturity.
But the Pelicans head coach said his experience with Cousins is opposite from the chatter preceding him. After spending much of the past six months together, including a current trip to South Africa, Gentry is convinced Cousins' colorful reputation simply doesn’t match the man.
“When you get to know him as deeply as I’ve gotten to know him, and we talk about a lot of things, not just basketball, and I think he’s a caring guy,” Gentry said on a conference call to promote the NBA’s Africa Game, which happens Saturday in Johannesburg. “He very much wants his teammates to be successful, and he very much wants to know who his teammates are going to be. I think he wants success and I really feel like he’s going to be very coachable.
“Are there going to be some outbursts? Yeah. Of course there is, because he’s an emotional guy. But when you know where that emotion is coming from, it’s a whole different story. I feel good about him being on our team and wouldn’t want it any other way.”
It’s a level of belief from the bench Cousins said he’s rarely experienced in the NBA.
During 6½ seasons in Sacramento, Cousins played under six head coaches, experiencing an unprecedented level of turnover. So it’s understandable if Cousins’ guard was up when he first interacted with Gentry, following an unexpected trade to New Orleans in February.
However, it didn’t take long for the duo to mesh, thanks largely to Gentry’s demeanor.
“It’s a credit to him, being the easygoing guy,” Cousins said. “He always lightens the mood. He’s an easy guy to be around who is super cool and super chill. He’s a players’ coach, and it’s always about the players with him. He always puts himself second. That’s a rare quality in coaches.
“All of the credit should go to him. He’s the most easygoing coach I’ve ever been around.”
It’s why Cousins was happy to sit for hours with Gentry this summer in Las Vegas, kicking around ideas and strategies with Anthony Davis, hoping to enter training camp in stride.
Their current journey abroad has only brought Gentry and Cousins closer together. The Pelicans’ duo traveled on the same flight for 15 hours to Johannesburg, where they are working together to mentor young players and evaluate talent during the NBA’s African outreach program.
“We’ve been able to just sit down and talk some about our team and the goals that we have and some of the things we are trying to do and change offensively,” Gentry said. “It’s been really good to have him here and it’s been really good to see his interaction with the other players. I think everyone is going to realize what a popular player he is with the other players in the league.”
It has already paid dividends for the Pelicans.
Gentry said Cousins did “a phenomenal job” of recruiting free-agent guards Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark to New Orleans this offseason, each signing one-year contracts for less-than-expected salaries. And Cousins doesn’t intend to stop there.
“We need as much talent and as many pieces as we can get,” Cousins said. “I’ve reached out to everybody. I mean, I don’t want to throw names out there, but some of the biggest names that are on the block right now I’ve reached out to. It’s just about getting better.”
Those actions reflect the type of team-first attitude Gentry believes people overlook in Cousins. While it’s true the three-time All-Star has never experienced a winning record in his seven NBA seasons, his words reveal a player eager to flip the narrative.
And his coach is confident Cousins will change some minds in the process.
“I think we can shock some people,” Cousins said. “I’m excited.”