SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — One of the pivotal points in the development of DeMarcus Cousins occurred in a private area of the Sacramento Kings locker room after a home loss to Charlotte last Saturday night.
There, Cousins cornered point guard Isaiah Thomas and spoke candidly about Sacramento's skid. The two decided to call a players-only meeting to air out frustrations and fix problems.
"We were just trying to figure out what we can do to make everybody else around us better," Cousins said. "And what we needed to do better."
In years past, Cousins lacked that leadership initiative.
Of course, little about him this season has resembled the Cousins of old.
The 23-year-old center, who most teammates and coaches just call "Cuz," is having the best season of his career and blossoming into one of the NBA's best big men. He's averaging career highs of 23.5 points, 11.5 rebounds, three assists and 1.9 steals per game. He's also shooting a career-best 49.1 percent.
LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal have said Cousins should make his first All-Star team. Even Sacramento Mayor and former NBA All-Star guard Kevin Johnson is trying to lend his strategic skills to Cousins' campaign, releasing a comical video this week advising Cousins to take a grassroots approach and earn "one vote at a time."
Whether Cousins ever earns All-Star status will likely depend on how he leads the Kings (11-22), who are still buried near the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Fair or not, Cousins knows his reputation around the league will rest largely on Sacramento's record — now and in the future.
"I'm trying to come out and lead by example," he said. "Just come out and play with a high energy, and I take the fall for it. I'm not doing a good job of leading these guys. I'm not doing a good job of having my teammates prepared to come out and play every night. As the leader of this team, it's going to fall back on me."
Cousins' behavior entering this season had been well documented going back to high school and his one year at Kentucky.
He mixed in dramatic and astonishing plays with outbursts against players, coaches and referees. He dazzled at times during his first three NBA seasons, and other times struggled with defense and discipline. Just last season, Cousins was reprimanded multiple times for his behavior by the league and the team.