DENVER — DeMarcus Cousins has undergone quite the transformation during the last few months.
Even during the 2013-14 season with the Sacramento Kings, he was operating with a short fuse, prone to checking out of a game after a call didn't go his way. Not only did he pile up technical fouls (a league-high 16, in fact), but he didn't do much to shatter the public perception that he could derail his own game with whatever was happening between his ears.
Not in 2014-15, though.
Chalk it up to natural maturation, as well as the time spent playing for Team USA and head coach Mike Krzyzewski at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain. While steering the Kings to a 3-1 record to start the season, Cousins has been both a fantastic contributor and an impassioned leader.
During his Nov. 3 contest against the Denver Nuggets within the hostile confines of the Pepsi Center, Cousins was subbed out by Mike Malone with 6:50 remaining in the third quarter and the score tied at 61. It was a typical rotational sub, not caused by foul trouble (he only had two at the time) or anything of that sort.
Despite the Nuggets and Kings failing to gain any separation on one another, Cousins didn't re-enter the game until there was just 5:31 left in the fourth period. The score was tied at 90, and it was a testament to the play of Ray McCallum, Ramon Sessions and the rest of the bench that the Kings had staved off Denver's best attempts.
In those 13 minutes and change he remained on the pine—cheering on his teammates all the while—Cousins may have done a better job convincing the world that he's matured into a leader, one capable of carrying his team through a brutal Western Conference, than he did by putting up 19 points, five rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block in only 25 minutes of action.
"They [Cousins and Rudy Gay] were supporting their teammates," Malone explained to the assembled reporters shortly after the victory. "I went to put DeMarcus back in the game at one point, and he said, 'Coach, give 'em another minute. Let them play another minute to build up that trust.' We have a lot of guys that believe in each other, and we're really coming together as a team right now."
Shortly thereafter, Cousins confirmed this mentality:
"It doesn't really matter who it is, as long as we get the win at the end of the day. And that's how it should be. That's just showing signs of us growing as a team, being happy with the main goal, which is winning the game, and not too much worry about everything else, such as stats, or playing time or whatever the case may be. When your name is called, you're ready to go."
Except Cousins himself wasn't ready to go when his name was called, as Malone had previously expanded on. He was hell-bent on his teammates getting those minutes and growing on the court during an important situation.
"Absolutely," the big man said when asked if his desire to stay on the bench was another sign of the team's burgeoning chemistry. "I really wanted to stay with the second group. They kept us in the game. They played incredible in those last minutes, in the beginning of the fourth."
Winning in Denver is never easy, especially when it's on the tail end of a back-to-back slate that also featured the Los Angeles Clippers. But now, the Kings are 3-1, rebounding nicely from their opening-night beatdown at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.
"For a franchise like the Kings, stuck in not mediocrity, but downright awfulness for a decade, you have to start somewhere," CBS Sports' Matt Moore wrote after the Monday night contest. "The Kings have started somewhere."
And Cousins, who has been right at the center of the push with his 26.6 points and 12.4 rebounds per game, isn't going to take this for granted.
"It does [feel different]. But this feels so amazing," he said before pausing briefly and allowing a smile to sneak across his face. "I love this feeling."
*All quotes, unless otherwise indicated, were obtained firsthand.