News10's Sean Cunningham (left) sits down with Sacramento Kings star DeMarcus Cousins.
SACRAMENTO, CA - DeMarcus Cousins might be the exception to the old adage that "leaders are born, not made."
As he enters his fourth NBA season, the enigmatic 23-year-old center of the Sacramento Kings is ready to take the reins and lead his team into a new era, leaving behind a past littered with frustration, losing and uncertainty.
"Honestly, I feel like I've wasted time," Cousins told News10 during a lengthy sit-down interview just before the first game of the 2013-14 NBA season. "I mean, I hate the fact that it took everything that we went through to get to this, but I guess you can say, it makes it that much better."
Since his first NBA season, the Kings haven't won more than 28 games in a season. Overall, the franchise has suffered seven straight losing seasons.
The losing, which Cousins takes about as hard as any player in the league, coupled with the years of uncertainty about the franchise possibly relocating, took a toll on him and his team.
The Kings, previously owned by the Maloof family, agreed to a deal with a Seattle based ownership group last season. That group planned on moving the Kings away from Sacramento to the Emerald City.
But long before that, rumors of the team relocating to Anaheim, Virgina Beach and even Las Vegas, plagued the troubled franchise.
"It was tough to deal with it before because we really didn't know where we were going," Cousins said. "It was just another day at work. We didn't know what was ahead."
Cousins agreed with one player's assessment of last season, who said it felt like the Kings weren't really in the NBA.
"That is so true, we felt like an AAU team," Cousins said. AAU stands for Amateur Athletic Union, which is one of the largest, non-profit, volunteer sports organizations in the United States.
The losing, uncertain future and Cousins being one of the more emotional players in the league were a perfect storm for mistakes that added fuel to the perceived notion of him being a bad teammate.
Cousins is quick to dismiss that notion, and so do his teammates, but that doesn't mean he makes excuses for his actions. He is the first to admit that some of his actions can't continue.
"I'm always going to be myself, I'm always going to be the same player - just less mistakes," Cousins said. "Not so much the technicals, because that's part of the game, but getting ejected and letting my team down, those things I can't continue to do.
"I believe I'm past that and I'm ready to accept responsibility and be this team's leader."
Enter Vivek Ranadive, the Silicon Valley software tycoon of TIBCO, who purchased the Kings from the Maloofs, after the NBA blocked the relocation to Seattle, thanks to the heroics of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
After purchasing the team, Ranadive immediately reached out to Cousins and made it clear to him that he wanted to start fresh, with him as the centerpiece of the franchise. A gifted player with career averages of 16.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game
Just before the start of preseason, Cousins agreed to a four-year contract extension worth the maximum he could receive for that stretch - $62 million. That deal will begin next season.
Rather than wait it out and enter free agency where he could be lured by other teams, Cousins opted to remain in Sacramento to finish what he's started, and turn things around. He voiced during the off-season that Sacramento was home and he wanted to stay.
"I've always been a loyal guy, like always throughout my whole life," said Cousins, a native of Mobile, Ala. "That's how it's going to be, I'm in it. There's no running away from problems; I'm all in.
"Honestly, I love the city. I'm a small town guy myself, so this is just like home to me."
Last season, Cousins was named the team's captain by then head coach Keith Smart, a role his previous coach, Paul Westphal balked at for his talented, but young big man.
But as captain, leading by example was difficult. Cousins helped lead the league in technical fouls with 17 last season and was ejected four times.
Despite a few setbacks in his maturation process, Cousins feels he has turned a corner, and part of his growth can be attributed to fatherhood.
"It's calmed me down a lot, my son and my daughter," Cousins said. "When you see all the energy they have, it just makes you feel like an old man. It's calmed me down a lot.
"You think a lot more before you act, and you know you've got two little ones just looking up to you now. And not to say I didn't have kids looking up to me before, but I have my own now looking up to me. You just think a lot more now."
A different approach as a leader coupled with a different approach as a player. Cousins admits he looks at the game a lot differently than before. He studies more and looks at more of the details in the game.
"It's more than putting the ball in the basket, you look into more of the small things now," Cousins said. "I guess you could say that comes with maturity as well."
Aside from his new mentor Shaquille O'Neal predicting playoffs, Cousins said he likes the role of underdog that the Kings have coming in, and puts faith behind the new look organization.
Ranadive, new general manager Pete D'Alessandro, new head coach Michael Malone, and even O'Neal have publicly praised him as a person, and pledged faith in him. This type of support was a new type of feeling to Cousins.
"I don't want to let them down because this is a first and I'm very appreciative of what they're doing," he said. "Instead of just throwing out my mistakes, they're also (acknowledging) the things I do right. And that's something that was never done before, it was always about a mistake."
That support and stability has brought the team together on the court, and it seems as if everyone is buying in.
Cousins is looking to silence critics, and prove that this team is headed in the right direction this season. He echoes his teammates expectations that he will be in the conversation as an All Star this year, although he says he put that expectation on himself each year.
"I'm ready to get this thing rolling and I'm ready to turn this around and it starts now," Cousins said. "It's going to be exciting, it's going to be a good year."
By Sean Cunningham, SCunningham@News10.net