I’m not sure about my fellow media members, but I expected DeMarcus Cousins to walk into Media Day on Monday with a giant Happy Gilmore-sized golf check reading four years/$62 million. It didn’t happen, but the 23-year old center had a little bounce in his step as he strolled from one station to the next.
Like most of his teammates, Cousins has been in Sacramento for the better part of a month. The group has been working hard with the new coaching staff on a voluntary basis and by all accounts it has been a positive situation. But before Cousins got his mega-deal, new owner Vivek Ranadivé asked for a commitment from his franchise cornerstone.
“I just want one thing from you,” Ranadivé said that he told Cousins. “I want you to be the first guy in and the last guy out, because you are going to be the leader of this organization. And he’s done that.”
Cousins said all of the right things during his contract extension press conference and even a few things that were distinctly DeMarcus.
“I’ve been a leader my whole life,” Cousins said. “It may not be the leader you guys are looking for, but I’m the leader of this team. It’s going to take time for me to get better at it, but I believe I’m on the right path.”
To get an honest assessment of Cousins’ progress, we polled two of his closest teammates to see if he was following through.
“Since the new changes – the new coaches, the new owners, the new team, DeMarcus has pretty much just became a leader,” Cousins’ former college teammate Patrick Patterson said. “He’s always the first one here. He’s always trying to do the right things on the court and off the court to make sure that everyone’s good and having fun and enjoying themselves.”
“He’s definitely changed in the positive way,” Patterson added. “And I’m hoping it carries over into the regular season.”
Patterson joined the team last season at the trade deadline deal for Thomas Robinson. He has a unique perspective on the Cousins, having spent time with the big man as an 18-year-old freshman at Kentucky and now as the Kings franchise player.
While Patterson is buying the new DeMarcus, point guard Isaiah Thomas was a little more conservative with his assessment.
“I’m not going to overdo it,” Thomas told Cowbell Kingdom. “He’s DeMarcus Cousins. He’s going to be who he is and he’s one of the best players in this league.”
The 5-foot-9 Thomas is a born leader. Over the last two seasons, he has stolen the reigns of the team from players like Cousins and the now departed Tyreke Evans.
Body language told you everything you needed to know with Thomas. He has been through the tough times with Cousins. The losing has taken a toll on all of the Kings players, but especially the Kings starting center.
Thomas knows what it takes to put a team on his back and bring the same level of intensity to the court every night, regardless of the team’s record. And more importantly, he is ready to aid in the process of developing Cousins.
“Knowing that he’s the franchise player now and he got the big money, there’s a lot that comes with that,” Thomas said.
“I’m going to be by his side every step of the way,” Thomas added. “I’m one of the biggest DeMarcus Cousins fans there is. He can be the best big man in the league if he wants to. It’s there for him.”
Cousins isn’t the only Sacramento player waiting for his pay day. Patterson, Thomas and Greivis Vasquez will all enter next summer as restricted free agents. Patterson and Vasquez are both eligible for extension between now and Oct. 31, but the former first round picks will likely have to wait until after the season for an offer. Due to his second round draft pick status, the Kings can’t even extend an offer to Thomas.
“There are some decisions to be made,” Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro told Cowbell Kingdom. “But there’s also a lot of analysis that needs to be done and I wouldn’t want to make any rash decisions without really knowing that we’ve done the work first.”
For a myriad of reasons, the Kings new ownership group and front office felt it was time to lock up Cousins now, instead of later. It is a risk/reward move that shows loyalty and a commitment to one of the leagues most polarizing figures.
The team has done everything in their power to supply the support necessary to get Cousins to the next level, including adding Shaquille O’Neal to the ownership team to act as a mentor. But if Cousins is going to grow as a leader, he needs the support of his teammates as well.