Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Defense, Cousins matter first to Kings' new owner, coach

Published: Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2013 - 7:03 pm

Michael Malone walked into the interview room, sat next to majority owner Vivek Ranadive and didn't dance around the overriding issues:

Defense and DeMarcus Cousins.

That's where it starts, with a two-step outline. For the Kings' annual appearances in the NBA lottery to end, Malone insisted, the defense has to be a factor instead of indefensible, and Cousins has to reward his new bosses – who are planting their feet firmly on his side of the fence – and fulfill his immense potential.

"At the end of the day, these players are all going to have a choice to make," Malone said during his introductory news conference Monday. "You're either going to embrace the change or you're going to resist."

As he approaches his fourth season, Cousins remains the great divide, which makes him Malone's No. 1 challenge. There are those who believe Cousins will benefit from the ownership and organizational changes and mature into one of the game's most dominant big men. But there are those who stare at his 6-foot-11, 270-pound frame, are scared off by his frequent outbursts and expressive demeanor, and wouldn't let him near their foxhole.

Here, though, they're all in. Malone wants Cousins as his cornerstone. Ranadive wants Cousins on the floor and in his foxhole, and he wants Cousins to become a familiar figure in his native India.

"I'd like nothing better than a billion Indians to know who DeMarcus Cousins is," Ranadive said.

Added Malone: "I will go to him with open arms, because we all know, on any given night, he's the most talented big man in the NBA. You just don't get rid of those guys."

While these intros always provide rosy pictures, Malone and Ranadive see the obvious. They will take a shovel to the team long before the big dig begins at Downtown Plaza. The task is daunting, not an undertaking for the weak or weary.

They have their center but need a point guard, a shooter and length on the front line. They still need a general manager, with Chris Wallace, Chris Mullin, Travis Schlenk and Larry Bird among those who have been contacted.

Inside Sleep Train Arena, change is definitely in the air. In the first media session in the old barn since Ranadive's group purchased the majority interest from the Maloofs, it was apparent the new owner and new head coach share philosophies. As the two sat in the crowded media room, completely at ease, they were not unlike an old married couple who complete each other's sentences and interject witty, family-based asides.

"I had the opportunity to see him at practice, to see him during timeouts, sat next to him at the draft last year, and without question, he was the best guy out there," said Ranadive, a Warriors minority owner during Malone's two seasons as a Golden State assistant. "So when I had the opportunity to make him our head coach, I jumped at that chance. Now, I'm not a person who shoots from the hip or makes quick decisions. But this was not a case where I was 99 percent sure that I had the right person. I was 100 percent sure."

Though he didn't break down the current roster and spoke extensively only about Cousins, Malone was specific and forceful when discussing his emphasis on defense. Much of this is owed to the influence of his father, Brendan Malone, along with his experiences under head coaches Jeff Van Gundy, Mike Brown, Monty Williams and, most recently, Mark Jackson.

With Malone handling most of the defensive duties, the Warriors were one of the most improved teams in the league, making the most dramatic statistical jumps in defensive rebounding and opponents' field-goal and three-point percentages.

On paper, the Kings' roster appears even more defensively challenged. Yet when asked the enduring question – Do you need great defensive players to be a good defensive team? – Malone shook his head.

"I would not agree with that," he said, speaking quickly, with a pronounced New York accent. "When we were at Cleveland, we had some players that you would not consider great defensive players. But if you have a system in place that they can trust each other, communicate with each other, help each other, you can cover up for those guys. And I believe that the players on this roster, there is no doubt they can be better. There is only room for improvement."

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ailene Voisin



Ailene Voisin, sports columnist

Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from UNLV and a law degree from the University of San Diego before committing full time to journalism.

Her career includes stops at the San Diego Union, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and time spent as the backup beat writer for Dodgers and Angels, Clippers and NBA beat writer, sports columnist, along with numerous assignments covering international events and the Olympics. Ailene joined The Sacramento Bee in 1997.

Email: avoisin@sacbee.com
Phone: 916-321-1208
Twitter: @ailene_voisin

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