DeMarcus Cousins showed up in the best shape of his NBA career. It's a good thing, too, because Kings coach Keith Smart is setting the bar even higher for the third-year center.
Smart is focusing on defense for this training camp and is asking Cousins to take a bigger role in leading the Kings from the bottom of the league in points allowed and field-goal percentage allowed.
"One thing I've already put to him is, 'You should be honorable-mention All-Defense this year,' " Smart said. " 'If you put your mind to it, you should be honorable-mention All-Defense.' "
The last player to earn any All-Defense distinction from Sacramento was Ron Artest, who was named to the first team after the 2005-06 season.
Cousins averaged 11 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks last season and led the NBA with 49 charges taken.
"I feel like I'm a real underrated defender," Cousins said. "I may not have the highlight blocks, but I do feel like I'm a pretty good defender."
Last season, the Kings did a poor job of talking on defense, which led to more breakdowns and their poor rankings.
Smart has told Cousins he has to be more vocal to play up to his potential on defense and begin earning recognition on All-Defense teams.
"I've shared with him that's where I expect your name to be this (season)," Smart said. "And that's just with defending people in the post, communicating, talking-wise and even getting him to the (Kevin) Garnett (level), communication-wise. That'll be great, because I think he has the ability to do those things."
Cousins included those elements in his offseason workouts. He's about 15 pounds lighter than he was at the start of last season.
"I'm going to come into each season better than I was the last, so conditioning-wise, I wanted to be in even better shape," Cousins said.
"If you're trying to make a step and a statement, that's where it starts," Smart said.
Testing time Tuesday's workout at the Kings' practice facility served two purposes.
One was to begin implementing some of the defensive principles the Kings want to use this season.
But before that, Smart put the Kings through their conditioning test. He wouldn't reveal what his test entails, but the coach said he was pleased with the results.
"You have to be in very good shape to get somewhat close to (passing) it," Smart said.
Smart said "close to 100 percent" of the players passed, but he didn't say who didn't pass. Players that didn't pass won't be held out of practice but have a month to pass the test.
"We're ahead of the schedule from a conditioning standpoint," Smart said. "Now it's a matter of I can focus on the basketball part and not so much on trying to get guys in shape and all that stuff."
The Kings' first set of two-a-days is today in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Fully staffed Clifford Ray, who joined the team as a consultant last season, is now on the coaching staff.
"He's full time," Smart said. "He's all the way in from a player development standpoint."
Ray will work with the post players and help Smart with his goal of improving the Kings on defense.
"This guy has a wealth of knowledge from a defensive standpoint because he played the position from center," Smart said. "He sees the floor from that angle, and he's been around one of the top defensive teams in the league, the Boston Celtics."