The Sacramento Kings media day was a monumental occasion for more reasons than one.
It marked the official announcement and press conference of the team signing center DeMarcus Cousins to a four-year maximum extension. But beyond that, we got a glance at the new-look Kings and how things are already differing from previous management.
DeMarcus Cousins' Extension
The announcement of Cousins' four-year, $62 million extension dominated most of media day. The fact that the team and the center came to an agreement on the terms wasn't that newsworthy. It was expected based on everything gleaned from the organization leading up to the accord.
The biggest storyline was whether or not the contract, and the responsibility of being the team's franchise player that comes with it, would have an effect on Cousins' disposition. We're already starting to get some answers on that front.
One of the concerns was whether or not Cousins actually wanted to be part of the community, or if he was just going along with the extension to get paid. His revelation that he's donating a nice chunk of change to local charities shows there's a real commitment there.
But now that DMC is here for the long haul, he has to endear himself to Sacramento and dedicate himself to the team. His generous donation will go a long way as far as the community is concerned. Now he needs to show increased dedication the team, becoming a leader as well as its best player. Cousins seems to be saying the right things in this regard.
And he's already taking lessons from Shaq, the team's new minority owner, who has agreed to take Cousins under his wing.
Hopefully this particular lesson takes hold for the center. If it does, it will solve a lot of Cousins' problems. Most notably, the team won't have to worry about him confronting media members, like he did with Sean Elliott.
So far, so good for Cousins. He's been organizing team workouts in Sacramento during the offseason. He's also saying all the right things. The real test will be when the regular season tips off. That's when we'll find out how much he's changed.
Greivis Vasquez's Arrival and Health Coming off Ankle Injury
The Kings acquired Vasquez in the sign-and-trade deal for Tyreke Evans. The point guard is coming off offseason ankle surgery, and his recovery was one of media day's biggest storylines.
As of now, it sounds as if the ankle is healing fine, and Vasquez should be ready to go as training camp opens up in Santa Barbara, Calif.
However, he wants to take things slow to ensure he can handle the rigors of a full season, not just training camp and the earlier part of the season, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee:
I'm 85-90 percent ready, Vasquez said. I'm going to go through camp for sure, I'm going to do everything we have to do but I'm probably going to play limited minutes through the first coupile of games because I want to be playing in April. I don't want to overload my ankle right now and not be able to play later on. Coach Malone is very aware of that.
Among other things, Vasquez talked about how he's liking Sacramento so far. Vasquez, who is Venezuelan, feels like he fits in because of the large population of Spanish speakers in the Sacramento area.
The point guard also took some time to speak with Sean Cunningham of Sacramento's News 10. Vasquez talks about his recovery from injury, being back in Sacramento and the new feel surrounding the organization with the new management.
Outside of Cousins, the point guard may be the most important player on the Kings this season. It's a good thing he's almost 100 percent after his surgery. That will give him plenty of time to work with his teammates during training camp in Santa Barbara.
A Culture Change Is Coming
The Kings are in massive need of a culture change. First, they needed to change the thought process of the players when it comes to management. After toiling with the Maloofs for the last few years, players needed to see more commitment from the front office.
On the other side, the players needed to know that expectations have changed. They needed to become more like a team and less like a group of mercenaries thrown together for a sizable paycheck.
At media day, we started to see developments on both sides.
As far as players buying into the new structure, two players stood out in their comments. The first was DeMarcus Cousins, who spoke about a newfound commitment to the team that wasn't seen under the Maloofs. These guys care about winning. The moves they make are about reaching that end goal, not pinching pennies.
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, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. 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.
Unlike in years past, the management unequivocally backs the players. That, too, has made it easier for players like Cousins to buy in. Also per Jason Jones.
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.
It was also evident from John Salmons' perspective. Salmons, who is the team's second-highest-paid player in 2013-14, behind Marcus Thornton (Cousins' contract doesn't kick in until next season), didn't expect to be back. That's because the previous regime would have jettisoned him to avoid paying the high salary.
But now that the team has the backing of the organization, it needs to step to the plate. That means increased expectations. As head coach Mike Malone pointed out, the players need to change their goals.
Malone also spent time talking about how the culture needs to change and how he as a coach can help facilitate that change.
To get there, the Kings need to bond. It's true that the team hasn't performed up to its overall talent level in recent years. Yet it's also true that the talent level is still behind many playoff teams. In order to change that, everybody needs to play as one.
We started to see a lot more cohesiveness at media day. Players were laughing with each other. Playing jokes on each other. It looked like they genuinely liked being together.
In this regard, one of the most notable moments came when Ben McLemore "dunked" on Travis Outlaw.
It's moments like these that show subtle shifts in the team's disposition. It has to materialize in on-court results. But getting the guys to play for each other, as well as themselves, is the first necessary step.
It looks like the Kings are on their way.
It won't happen overnight, but it looks like the Kings are headed in the right direction. For the first time in years, they have the full backing of management. For their part, the players seem to be buying into the changes.
It's a good sign that DeMarcus Cousins is saying all the right things. In some respects, that's an improvement from years past. However, the real test for him will come during games. That's when we'll see if he can keep his emotions in check.
It's one thing to be composed in a low-pressure situation. It's another to keep your cool in the heat of battle. How he responds will tell us a lot about the team's future, as Cousins is now locked in for the next five seasons.
The biggest things to pay attention to as the Kings go into training camp will be the development of Cousins and the team's defense.
Cousins' development doesn't need much of an explanation. In terms of the defense, camp will be the first time the team really gets a feel for Malone's system. The coach has pointed out how an improvement on team defense can come without better individual defenders. For this to happen, everyone has to buy in.
That also makes the cohesiveness of the team a big storyline to watch through camp. The Kings simply aren't talented enough to show much improvement if they don't play better as a team. They don't have enough elite players to allow them to win many games with the one-on-one basketball we've become accustomed to.
Therefore, the addition of Vasquez could really help the offense. How his ankle responds in camp will give us a good indication of what to expect.
Overall, it's important to keep patient with the team. That's not what anybody wants to hear after missing the playoffs for seven years, but it's the reality of the situation. The Kings can make dramatic improvements without drastically upgrading their record.
If we see that through camp and the early part of the season, we'll know for sure that brighter days are on the horizon.
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