LAS VEGAS Regardless of whether DeMarcus Cousins emerges as an All-Star or suffers through another season disrupted by scoldings and suspensions, he can't complain about a lack of support.
The group hugs just keep coming. Kings officials just keep showing up.
Mike Bratz and Shareef Abdur-Rahim have attended both Team USA practices this week. General manager Pete D'Alessandro expects to arrive in time for today's practice. So does Junior Bridgeman, one of the NBA's most respected former players and a business associate and confidant of Kings principal owner Vivek Ranadive. (Take a bite out of a Wendy's hamburger and Bridgeman probably gets a cut.)
But when the boss blows in with the wind?
Then it gets serious.
Because his private flight was delayed, Ranadive showed up midway through Tuesday's practice. Bratz greeted Ranadive in the parking lot and escorted him toward the entrance.
"I'm here to see DeMarcus," a wind-swept Ranadive said as he walked into the Mendenhall Center. "I want to encourage him, maybe talk to him for a few minutes after practice."
After he slipped into the overflowing bleachers alongside Bratz and Abdur-Rahim with Cousins' representative, Jarinn Asana of Dan Fegan's agency, only yards away Ranadive was exposed to USA Basketball's bizarre but increasingly important summertime festival: Face time is almost everything.
Two courts were jammed with many of the league's best young players attempting to impress USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo and coach Mike Krzyzewski.
John Thompson and other legendary coaches watched from the baseline. Unemployed coaches and scouts mingled in the lobby and hallways, eager for a chance encounter with a potential employer.
As the players gathered their belongings after practice, Ranadive lingered near the stands to chat with media members. Asana approached, and the two men proceeded to the far corner of the gym, where Cousins was cutting off his ankle tape and chatting with reporters.
When the media scrum ended, Ranadive eased into the empty chair, repeatedly leaning into Cousins' shoulder to be heard above the occasional pounding of a basketball. Asana joined the conversation and at one point chased off a television crew.
"I didn't know he (Ranadive) was here," Cousins said later, "but I was glad to see him. I really appreciate his support. We just talked, but not about anything big. He just told me how much he wants me to be with the Kings, and I told him I want to be with the Kings."
Though neither side will discuss it publicly, Cousins' contract status is near the top of the new regime's agenda. As a fourth-year player, he is on a short list of emerging stars (Paul George, John Wall) eligible to sign five-year, $80 million extensions by Oct. 31. The alternative is to wait until next summer, when fourth-year players can become restricted free agents and entertain offers from other teams.
Ranadive jokingly deflected contract inquiries to D'Alessandro.
"DeMarcus is a great kid," he said with a smile. "I have two boys, and they grow differently. We just want to be here for DeMarcus and to let him know that he has our support. We want him."
While Cousins was irritating Colangelo and Team USA coaches a year ago with his overly expressive demeanor and excessive physical play, the Maloofs and their executives were nowhere to be found. This year, Ranadive is sending his folks at Cousins in waves, with today's shift manned by Bratz, Abdur-Rahim, D'Alessandro and Bridgeman.
But before jetting off to New York for business, Ranadive had one more play: As the gym emptied, he reintroduced himself to Colangelo, standing alone at midcourt. The connections between the men certainly can't hurt.
Colangelo is Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson's longtime mentor; Ranadive is the principal figure in Johnson's attempts to build a downtown sports and entertainment complex; Cousins plays for the team that needs a new arena, and he wants a Team USA berth. On and on it goes.
"I thought DeMarcus looked good from what I saw," Ranadive said, sounding encouraged.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin (916) 321-1208 and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.