SACARMENTO, Calif. (AP) After spending two weeks on the road with the Sacramento Kings in his new front office role, Vlade Divac said he believes center DeMarcus Cousins is the most talented big man he has ever seen.
And that includes his longtime nemesis Shaquille O'Neal, who bested Divac in many battles between the Kings and Los Angeles Lakers more than a decade ago.
''I've been in basketball a long, long time and I have to say he's the most talented big guy I have ever seen,'' Divac said Monday. ''Shaq wasn't talented, he was just strong. I was talented, but I wasn't strong.''
Divac went on to call O'Neal one of the most dominant players ever. O'Neal, who knocked Divac and the Kings out of the playoffs in three straight seasons from 1999-2001, is now a minority owner with the team and one of Divac's bosses.
''He always was my boss,'' Divac said.
Divac rejoined the team earlier this month as vice president of basketball and franchise operations. Divac said he hopes to help the European scouting so Sacramento can find a new ''Peja Stojakovic'' and work with the big men.
Divac spent much of a recent eight-game road trip with the team and said he believes there is enough offensive talent but the team needs to improve defensively. The Kings are finishing up their ninth straight losing season.
But Divac senses optimism because of the construction of a new arena and the presence of Cousins, who is averaging 23.7 points and 12.3 rebounds and made his first All-Star team.
''I want to see him be a leader of this team, truly the leader and make everybody better,'' Divac said. ''He can do it with his passing, with the ability to score. He can do everything.''
Divac was one of the most popular Kings, leading the team to the playoffs six times in six seasons with the franchise. The most successful of those seasons came in 2001-02, when the Kings had the best regular-season record in the NBA but lost to the Lakers in a seven-game Western Conference final.
Divac left the Kings after the 2003-04 season and the team has struggled ever since.
''My six best years of my career happened to be here with the excitement we had here,'' he said. ''I think these fans deserve that again.''
Divac averaged 11.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.4 blocks over 1,134 career NBA games with the Lakers, Charlotte and Sacramento. Divac is one of only four players in league history with at least 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 1,200 steals and 1,600 blocked shots, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin Garnett.