What do you do with a young star whose dazzling talent is consistently overshadowed by boorish behavior—including a suspension last year for confronting an opposing team's color commentator? If you're the Kings, you naturally hand him a four-year, $62 million extension. In casting their lot with 6'11", 270-pound DeMarcus Cousins, they are banking on first-year coach Mike Malone's succeeding where predecessors Paul Westphal and Keith Smart failed. On paper Cousins, just 23, ranks among the NBA's best centers. He's an almost automatic double double (17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds per game last season) who has improved his offensive efficiency in each of his three seasons. Malone plans to force-feed Cousins responsibility.
Defensively, Cousins will be asked to control the glass and continue to trigger a fast break that ranked fourth in the league (16.8 points per game). When the pace slows, Malone has promised to harness Cousins's considerable skills in the half court. "DeMarcus can score in the post," says Malone. "And more important, you can play through him because he's such a capable passer." Any plans for Cousins hinge on his ability to mature and apply himself consistently, but he came to camp in superior condition and Malone has been pleased by his effort, signs that Cousins could be ready to reward Sacramento's faith in him.
COACH MIKE MALONE (1ST SEASON WITH KINGS)
2012--13 RECORD 28--54 (4TH IN PACIFIC)
WHAT'S NEW Golden State assistant Malone takes over and will hope rookie SG Ben McLemore can gun like a Warrior.
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG GREIVIS VASQUEZ
13.9 PPG; 9.0 APG; 43.3 FG%; 34.2 3FG%
SG BEN MCLEMORE (R)
15.9 PPG; 5.2 RPG; 49.5 FG%; 42.0 3FG%
SF LUC MBAH A MOUTE
6.7 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 40.1 FG%; 35.1 3FG%
PF JASON THOMPSON
10.9 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 50.2 FG%
C DEMARCUS COUSINS
17.1 PPG; 9.9 RPG; 1.4 SPG; 46.5 FG%
PF ISAIAH THOMAS
13.9 PPG; 4.0 APG; 44.0 FG%; 35.8 3FG%
NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE (COLLEGE STATS)
DIFFERENT COACHES with whom Sacramento has opened a season since 2005--06, tied with the Bobcats for the most in the NBA. Of the previous five, only Rick Adelman took the Kings to the playoffs.
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE KINGS
For his body type, DeMarcus Cousins is quicker than you think. He has a really nice jump shot, and he is a skilled post player. He handles the ball better than any center in the league. But even with skilled players, if you don't have the mental aspect, you won't make it.... If Mike Malone wants Cousins to buy into the system, there will be a lot of posts and a lot of early offense that feeds to the post or the elbow. Cousins is such a good passer. The main focus will be getting movement and playing out of the post. If you don't, you are losing Cousins, and if you do that, you lose the season.... I still like Jimmer Fredette. I will not judge a player who played in Sacramento the last three years. Jimmer was jerked in and out of the lineup, and he kept his head up and kept going. Give him credit for that. This will be the year to judge him. Who knows how good Jimmer will be if he is in an offense that runs him off screens? He could turn into J.J. Redick.... Greivis Vasquez doesn't back down from anybody. He is a grit-and-grind kind of guy. He will make shots when he is open, he will get to the hole, he will get the ball to guys. He does a good job of getting you into offense quick.... Isaiah Thomas pushes, and he scores better than I thought he would. He will hopefully be a spark plug off the bench—that's what he's best at. Malone needs to give these guys consistent roles. They haven't had that, and you can see it has screwed them up.... John Salmons comes off the bench and scores, but he has to play with the ball in his hands.
ROCKY WIDNER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (COUSINS)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (THOMAS)