SACRAMENTO (AP) — Vivek Ranadive has made a fortune in the software industry by betting on the right people.
The new owner of the Sacramento Kings is now betting big on DeMarcus Cousins.
The Kings signed Cousins to a four-year maximum contract extension worth a reported $62 million Monday, saying the 23-year-old center is the foundation the franchise will build on to lead a struggling team into a new era.
Sacramento hasn’t had a winning season since 2006, but the new Kings management is comfortable investing in a player considered one of the NBA’s best young big men but who also has drawn multiple suspensions from both the team and the league for his behavior.
“From my perspective, it isn’t really that much of a leap of faith,” said Ranadive, whose purchase of the team from the Maloof family was approved by the NBA in May. “I’m just doing what I do in my business every day, just betting on the best. And he represents the best.”
The fifth overall selection of the 2010 NBA draft, Cousins led the Kings last season with averages of 17.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals and also averaged 2.7 assists. He ranked ninth among the league’s leading rebounders.
But the Kings once again finished among the worst teams in the Western Conference at 28-54, Sacramento’s fifth consecutive season with fewer than 30 victories, and Cousins was reprimanded several times for his conduct.
The 6-foot-11 veteran said those problems are behind him and he accepts the accountability that comes with his lucrative new deal.
“I’ve got big shoulders, so I can handle that,” Cousins said. “I consider myself a leader on this team, so I take all the responsibility that comes with it. I’ve had pressure from the beginning, so I don’t have a problem with it. I was doing it in the beginning, so I definitely don’t have a problem doing it now.”
Cousins’ tumultuous 2012-13 season was marked by several incidents during which his behavior and discipline came into question.
Cousins was suspended one game by the Kings on Dec. 22 for “unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team” after an incident involving then-coach Keith Smart in the locker room during a loss at the Los Angeles Clippers.
He was suspended by the NBA for one game without pay for striking O.J. Mayo in the groin during a loss at Dallas on Dec. 10. Following a loss at San Antonio on Nov. 9, the league suspended Cousins two games without pay for confronting Spurs announcer Sean Elliott in a “hostile manner.”
But Ranadive began his push to make Cousins a centerpiece of Sacramento’s future as soon as he became owner. The Kings had until Oct. 31 to come to terms on an extension to prevent Cousins from becoming a restricted free agent next summer.
“I consulted people way smarter than myself and there was never a doubt in my mind that he was going to be the foundation of this franchise moving forward,” Ranadive said. “People have said a lot of things about DeMarcus, but he’s a fine young man. I think of DeMarcus as really the prototypical, 21st century player. He’s one of the most talented big men in the business and has an understanding of the game that is truly unique.”
Cousins already is working on improving his image. He will donate $1 million from his new deal to “the families and community of Sacramento,” he said. Cousins also will donate money to several organizations launched by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
“That’s something I have to get better at,” Cousins said. “I mean, I’m the type of guy, if I know you don’t like me, I’m not going to just be able to smile in your face and say everything is cool. But I’m blessed to be in this situation, I believe in this organization and I’m glad they gave me this chance to prove it to them and this team.”
The Kings will begin their first training camp under a new regime that includes coach Michael Malone and general manager Pete D’Alessandro with their first practice Tuesday morning on the UC Santa Barbara campus. The team will train there for a week before it begins the preseason Oct. 7 against the Golden State Warriors.
The signing of Cousins came hours before the Kings’ annual media day at the team’s practice facility in Sacramento. With a new downtown arena set to open in 2016, and NBA great Shaquille O’Neal now on board as a minority owner and new mentor for Cousins, Ranadive said Cousins’ new deal is the latest example of the team’s recent progress.
“It’s a good day for the new-era Sacramento Kings,” he said. “We always knew this is where we were heading, so we are exactly where we want to be. Now we head off to training camp, and we’ve tied a bow on this (deal) and we’re excited to move forward.”