Executives in the potato chip industry must be in mourning. They're losing a very valued customer. While DeMarcus Cousins hasn't completely kicked the habit, he interpreted the term "NBA lockout" to mean he was barred from attacking the cupboards, the fridge, the nearest fast-food joint.
He is leaner. He is lighter. He is quicker. Really, his new body has to be seen to be believed.
"Marcus told me the other day that he was feeling very sexy," Cousins' agent, John Greig, said Saturday after the Kings' first official practice of training camp. "Now, I don't think of him as sexy, but he's certainly feeling very good about himself.
"I'm sure a lot of people were surprised."
Surprised. Pleased. Encouraged. While Geoff Petrie continues manipulating a roster that includes newcomers John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and rookie Jimmer Fredette, there's no denying that Cousins' development how quickly and extensively the immensely talented young center progresses figures to dictate whether the Kings make a big leap forward or become one of the favorites in the annual NBA draft lottery.
With prospects for re-signing Samuel Dalembert decreasing by the hour, Cousins is back in the center of everything, including a new offensive scheme intended to cure the Kings' chronic dribble-itis.
"We're changing it," coach Paul Westphal said, citing the addition of ballhandlers and passers. "It's going to be a system that gets us away from the one (point guard), two (shooting guard), three (small forward) stereotypes."
Barring a major trade, Westphal projects a starting lineup of Salmons, Hayes, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and Cousins, the second-year center who a year ago was confounding and fascinating and dramatic, sometimes during the same possession. His conditioning and behavioral issues are well-chronicled, so there is no need to revisit the dust-ups with his coaches and trainers, except to note that as the stormy season progressed, his stamina and attitude improved, as did his performances. His rebounding. His jumpers. His post moves. His passing. Especially his passing.
Moving forward, Westphal wants Cousins to get into even better shape, cut down his turnovers and control his emotions, reducing the number of times he stands and pouts when he gets fouled, misses a shot or doesn't get the ball.
"He's showing a willingness and hopefully trending that way," said the coach. "He's not in game shape, but it's a pleasant sight to see the shape he's in."
Because teams weren't allowed to contact players during the lockout, no one knew quite what to expect when Cousins ambled into the practice facility. And while I'm not sure he's ready for that People magazine cover, he is leaner, quicker and noticeably lighter on his feet.
Unlike last season, when he routinely was the last player down the floor, Cousins committed to running the floor Saturday, once busting ahead for a resounding dunk on Francisco Garcia. Cousins moved like someone who had increased muscle mass and trimmed his body fat to 15 percent, within two points of his stated goal.
Afterward, the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins, who can be ridiculously funny and engaging, was in one of his playful moods. Though he wouldn't reveal his vital stats, he clearly enjoyed the reaction to his tighter physique, even joking he spent the offseason emulating Shawn Kemp, a spectacular athlete whose ballooning weight ruined his NBA career.
In a rare serious moment, he added, quietly: "I knew what the team wanted. This is probably the hardest (summer) because you didn't know how long the lockout would last, didn't know what to expect. Working out got boring. It was probably the hardest mentally."
To break the monotony, Cousins alternated his weekly workout schedules among his hometown of Mobile, Ala.; Lexington, Ky., where he attended the University of Kentucky; and Washington, D.C. According to his trainer, Keith Williams, the two met twice daily in a small college gym and followed Karl Malone's old offseason regimen: The hotter it is, the more you sweat, the more weight you lose.
With temperatures often exceeding 100 degrees, Williams put Cousins through a routine of boxing, sprinting and distance running. To prod Cousins into playing at a faster pace, the sessions often included fullcourt one-on-one dribbling matchups.
"I trained him more like a guard," Williams said from his home in Washington. "Big men don't like to run, and he never has to carry the ball downcourt. So by him dribbling up and down, it makes him a lot quicker. Now he just runs to his spot. That was the main thing. But he worked at it. This was something he wanted to do."
The Kings will take that. More running, more passing, more rebounds. Less of the chips and dip. Less of the chip on the shoulder. If Cousins can keep it up, that would be some serious progress.