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  • Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    DeMarcus Cousins, center, at today's news conference with Vivek Ranadive and Michael Malone.

  • Jose Luis Villegas / jvillegas@sacbee.com

    Shaquille O'Neal and Kings center DeMarcus Cousins embrace outside of Zocolo restaurant in Midtown Sacramento on Monday, September 23, 2013. O'Neal joins the Sacramento Kings ownership group led by majority owner Vivek Ranadive.

  • DeMarcus Cousins feels valued, involved and will be key to the Kings' resurgence.

VIDEO: Cousins' contract built on trust, leadership

Published: Monday, Sep. 30, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013 - 10:42 am

It's not easy earning DeMarcus Cousins' trust. By nature, he's skeptical of new people and situations.

So over the summer, new Kings majority owner Vivek Ranadive and his front office and coaching staff began connecting with Cousins, their talented but sometimes ornery center who they expected to be the centerpiece of the team's rebuilding project.

During that process, Cousins found Ranadive to be a man of his word, and Cousins convinced the Kings' management team he was committed to the franchise and wanted to become a leader.

The sides liked each other enough to agree on a four-year contract extension worth $62 million that will be finalized in time for today's 10 a.m. news conference.

"What I've learned about (Ranadive) so far is he has a strong passion, and when he puts his mind to something he wants to get it done," Cousins said. "That alone makes me very confident with him being our leader. I'm excited about this group, I'm extremely confident with them, and I think we're going to do a lot of things."

No one would have faulted Ranadive had he waited to offer Cousins an extension, considering the run-ins Cousins has had with coaches and teammates that has left some league observers wondering if he deserved such a large salary. And Cousins could have been wary after some experiences in Sacramento that left him wondering if management truly supported him, such as private team incidents becoming public.

The Kings' new management team worked to build a relationship with Cousins and address those concerns before finalizing the extension.

Cousins was the first player Ranadive contacted after completing the deal to purchase the franchise. General manager Pete D'Alessandro, adviser Chris Mullin and Ranadive met with Cousins shortly after D'Alessandro was hired in June.

That meeting began what became constant conversations between Cousins and team management.

D'Alessandro, coach Michael Malone and minority partner Junior Bridgeman even visited Cousins in his hometown of Mobile, Ala.

"A huge part of that was getting down to Alabama and getting to meet his family," D'Alessandro said. "I think he could see our intent was pure. We wanted to forge this relationship."

Ranadive, fellow owner Mark Mastrov, minority owner Mitch Richmond and the entire front-office staff traveled to Las Vegas to support Cousins during the Team USA minicamp in July.

Ranadive promised Cousins that kind of support, and management also kept its word to get to know the center away from the court.

"I'm glad they wanted to see outside of where they always see me," Cousins said. "That let me know they wanted to know me beyond what they see on the court. That also helped a lot with the situation."

Chances are Cousins, who never has expressed a desire to leave the Kings, still would have been with team after this season, even if he hadn't agreed to the contract before training camp, which opens Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara.

Cousins would have been a restricted free agent after this season, and if Cousins signed an offer sheet with another team, the Kings would have had the right to match it.

In July, when he was working out with Team USA, Cousins refused to discuss his contract situation, but he said he supported the new ownership group's vision.

The Kings weren't making trades simply to save money, and they pursued high-priced free agents.

Beyond that, D'Alessandro made Cousins feel included in a way he never had in the NBA; they exchanged text messages about possible roster moves.

It's something teams often do with top players, but Cousins hadn't experienced it.

"Pete has been incredible," Cousins said. "It's something I see other organizations do. Pete actually asked me what I think about this player or this situation, and I think that's a good thing. With us working together like that, I believe we can get some things done."

D'Alessandro said Cousins was so quick with his takes on players that it was like chatting with a scout.

"I don't think the league will let me designate him as a player/scout, but he's pretty good," D'Alessandro said. "He's very smart. It's clear from the analysis he gave me on a lot of our messages back and forth."

As offseason moves slowed, Cousins began showing more leadership traits.

He has been a catalyst for voluntary offseason workouts, with the support of the front office. Cousins called his teammates, asked them to return to town early and even arranged get-togethers away from the court.

"It's just having those guys back me," Cousins said. "Anybody can come in and say I'm going to lead and start yelling and say I need you to do this and that. But if the guys at the top don't support you as well, it's kinda hard to get that done. They've supported me, my teammates have supported me so far, and we're on the right page so far. I like where we're going."

Now that his contract situation and the organization's future are settled, he looks forward to doing more in the community, knowing he and the Kings aren't going anywhere.

"I love Sacramento," Cousins said. "I've built relationships out here with a lot of people, and it would have been a disappointment if we had to leave. Luckily, we still are here. This is home to me. I'm glad to be here."

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Jason Jones



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