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  • DeMarcus Cousins has never wavered in his desire to stay with the Kings.

  • Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Time for Cousins to show Kings he means business

Published: Saturday, Sep. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C

DeMarcus Cousins got what he wanted, which is to say a massive financial commitment from the Kings, coupled with the chance to transform an organization that has been down, been on the verge of relocation, and after a series of dramatic, improbable developments, been given another chance in Sacramento.

Now it's on him. Not the world on his shoulders. That would be unreasonable, potentially even debilitating. But it's time to resolve his lingering issues and start digging a franchise out of the rubble.

Does he commit to improving defense? Reclaim his passion for the pass? Stop playing emotional games and start comporting himself as a leader? Adhere to a conditioning routine that has stripped several pounds off his 6-foot-11, 290-pound physique, leaving him almost shockingly svelte as training camp approaches?

If Cousins does all of the above, the rebuilding process accelerates and the celebration continues. Then there are all the side benefits, too. He can be bigger than Shaq in Sacramento, can dunk on his critics and clobber his reputation, can be a larger-than-life personality who supplements his income with commercials and endorsements and all the other perks NBA superstars enjoy.

He can be the king around here.

"When I look at DeMarcus Cousins, I see a young Shaquille O'Neal, a guy who was very talented, very stubborn, liked to do things his own way," said O'Neal, the Kings' newest minority owner. "He's a very intelligent kid, and he hates to lose. When you hate to lose, sometimes you can't control the things that you say or the things that you do. That's called passion. Now we have to control that passion. When he goes out and does the right things, Isaiah (Thomas) and all the other guys will follow."

The "right" things. That's the operative term.

This deal is not without risk. Four years and $62 million is a serious commitment to a fourth-year veteran who has missed more games to suspension (eight) than injury (three).

The Kings could have proceeded more cautiously, tabling negotiations and evaluating Cousins throughout the season, then matching any offer he received next summer as a restricted free agent.

Instead, the parties put it all on the table and quickly compromised on an extension. The fact Cousins received maximum money for four years – he was eligible for five – is a tacit acknowledgment that the team's best player isn't yet deserving of a superstar salary. Indiana's Paul George, for instance, recently was rewarded with a five-year, $80 million max deal.

Cousins, 23, remains the great divide. League executives are split on whether the Mobile, Ala., native will ever mature and fulfill his enormous potential or just be another in a long list of under-performing, overpaid players.

The Kings, who were motivated partly by their unique and rapidly evolving circumstances, and by a roster with gaping holes and mismatched parts, bought into the good DeMarcus scenario.

Cousins not only is the team's major asset, he remains a very tradeable commodity. The combination of size, talent and youth intrigues his critics and advocates alike. If his behavioral and conditioning problems persist, plenty of teams would still contact the Kings and pursue a deal.

And based on what we know of the new owners, if Cousins regresses, his volatility untempered, he won't be around long.

Principal owner Vivek Ranadive expects a return on all his investments. He expects his young center to flourish in a stabilized environment, under the direction of a new general manager and a new head coach, with the presence of a pure point guard (Greivis Vasquez), and with occasional input from the Kings' one-time superstar rival (Shaq).

We'll wait. We'll see. But early reports about Cousins are encouraging. He is in superb physical condition – no more love handles – which will enhance his mobility and allow him to become a more committed defender, particularly against the pick-and-roll.

There are other reasons to keep him around, too. Missing only three games to injury in three seasons is old school. He consistently flirts with double doubles (he averaged 16.3 points and 9.8 rebounds last season) and has been unwavering in his desire to remain with the Kings. Even during the organization's most uncertain moments, amid speculation about possible relocation to Anaheim or Seattle, Cousins never threatened to leave the Kings.

His inspired season finale, he said, was for the fans. His salute to the crowd? That was for the fans, too. And his loyalty to the franchise has not gone unnoticed by the new owners.

Ranadive is fast becoming Sacramento-centric. His executives and employees are all in – and quickly – or he looks elsewhere.

So now it's back to DeMarcus and his fresh start with a dramatically altered organization. He can follow Chris Webber's example, recasting his image and changing his reputation.

He can be a king, or just another wealthy King.


<• Monday: Media day

• Tuesday-Oct. 6: Training camp at UC Santa Barbara

• Oct. 7: First preseason game, at Warriors, 7:30 p.m.

• Oct. 14: First preseason home game, vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 7 p.m.

• Oct. 30: Opening night, vs. Denver, Sleep Train Arena, 7 p.m

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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