On Monday, DeMarcus Cousins spoke to the media about his four-year, $62-$64 million extension. Flanked alongside Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Pete D'Alessandro, Cousins kept his comments brief, but was frequent with smiles and what seemed to be genuine enthusiasm about the future of the franchise.
Dude is quite a bit richer now, so smiling is probably pretty easy at the moment, but money doesn't seem to be the only thing he is happy about.
"It's a relief. It's a relief just to know what tomorrow brings," Cousins told the media. "I mean, you don't really know, but you have an idea now. That's something we've never had since I've been here."
The Kings drafted Cousins in the summer of 2010. Tyreke Evans had just averaged 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per game the previous season on his way to winning the NBA Rookie of the Year Award. So at the time, Evans was viewed as the centerpiece of the franchise (and a direction was never established as to who was the top dog up until this summer when the Kings let Evans sign with the New Orleans Pelicans).
Midway through Cousins' rookie season, the relocation saga heated up as the Maloofs set their sights on becoming the third NBA franchise in the Los Angeles market. Every Kings player began getting bombarded by the media with questions about the possibility of the team relocating.
Cousins was busy racking up his fair share of incidents - from being kicked out of practices to getting into a fight with former teammate Donte' Greene in the locker room. And with the Maloofs having one foot out the door and Geoff Petrie already enjoying an imaginary cocktail on retirement island, the coaching staff (Paul Westphal and later Keith Smart) was left to clean up the mess of a lineup created from the top down.
Cousins' flare ups were expected before he was drafted (likely the reason why he slipped to the 5th pick), so you can hardly blame all of his incidents on the uncertainty surrounding the future of the franchise, but it couldn't have helped. It definitely played a part in the team's record (74-156 over Cousins' first three season), and that indirectly had an impact on the morale, specifically of Cousins, who hates losing.
There was no better example of the dysfunction between the Maloofs and the Kings' front office than Cousins' "indefinite suspension" that was overturned shortly thereafter. That, coupled with the distractions of Anaheim, Virginia Beach and Seattle left things with no direction or goals - likely one of the main reasons Cousins was so gleeful on Monday about the future.
"We all have the same goal, which is winning games eventually. And, I mean, I can't really say that was the goal before, but I know we're on the right path now," Cousins told the media.
Ranadive knew what he was walking into when he bought this franchise - ESPN The Magazine reminded him recently with last year's data. He knows he has some work to do with the battered nature of both the Sacramento community and the players in the locker room that the previous regime left. That is probably why when he met with Cousins for one of the first times he provided him with a mission statement, his values and vision for the Kings.
Cousins says he has bought in to all of it and is already seeing a difference in the team.
"I don't think I've ever seen this many smiles around here in a long time," Cousins said. "The energy in the building, I mean, is extremely positive. Guys are willing to work, guys want to work. They want to change things around ... it's a good feeling around here."
From live broadcasts in India, to working amenities in Sleep Train Arena to a new focus on the court without distraction, it seems everyone is in for a change. If Cousins, who Ranadive calls the "prototypical 21st Century player," is going to be the cornerstone of the Kings franchise, then you want him motivated, focused and willing to accept a leadership role.
He now has more than 60 million reasons to buy in to all of that.
You have to question whether someone with his track record can turn things around and suddenly learn to regulate his emotions. He's got Shaq in his corner now though and he did say something interesting on Grant Napear's radio show on Monday: Instead of blaming others for his past mistakes, Cousins acknowledged that it is something he needs to work on.
"In no way shape or form do I think it is OK for me to be getting ejected or suspended," Cousins said. "Of course I know it hurts my team, but that's something I've got to fix within myself and I'm working on that."
As is brought up quite frequently in Sacramento, none of Cousins' past issues have been off the floor and he remains an active participant within the community. At the end of Monday's press conference, he announced that he will be donating $1 million to Sacramento charities, as well as Mayor Kevin Johnson's organization.
With the relocation distraction out of the picture and the keys to the franchise now in his hands, it seems, so far at least, that the big man out of Kentucky is on the right track and believes in what his new front office is trying to accomplish.
Click here to watch Cousins' entire press conference.