The Kings began the Vivek Ranadive ownership era with a picture-perfect season opener on Wednesday night, saluting the fans for their loyalty in an extended pregame presentation before defeating the Nuggets 90-88. Healing old wounds, savoring the present and turning the page all at the same time is no easy task, but Sacramento -- at least from the outside -- sure looks like it achieved all three goals on opening night.
All of the organization's offseason changes -- new ownership, new GM, new coach -- are starting to sink in for franchise center DeMarcus Cousins, who provided this candid assessment of what the first three seasons of his career felt like under the cash-strapped Maloofs, who repeatedly explored the possibility of relocating the franchise.
"It felt like an AAU team," Cousins told Sacramento's News 10. "Everything [the critics] were saying before, I believe it's true. We were the worst. We weren't building for the future, we were just living in the moment. That's why we were that bad. ... Honestly, I feel like I wasted time. I hate the fact that it took everything we went through to get to this. I guess you could say it makes that much better."
Cousins, the No. 5 pick in the 2010 draft, is regarded as one of the league's most promising young big men, and he was rewarded with a lucrative four-year rookie contract extension in September. Getting to this point wasn't easy: The Kings were 74-156 (.322) in Cousins' first three seasons, and he was suspended on multiple occasions while also regularly placing among the league's leaders in technical fouls. Meanwhile, the Kings were nearly relocated to Seattle earlier this year before Ranadive and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson scrambled to put together a group that would purchase the Kings from the Maloofs and agree to construct a new arena for the Kings. The Seattle effort followed a previous dalliance between the Maloofs and the city of Anaheim, Calif.
"We actually believe and we know things are right now," Cousins told News 10. "It was tough to deal with it before because we really didn't know where we were going; it was just another day at work. We didn't know what was ahead."
Wednesday was anything but "another day at work." The Kings held an extended pregame show for fans, handing out glow sticks before running a video montage that summarized the franchise's turbulent past and the fan base's fight to keep the Kings in town. Just before the starting lineup introductions, Ranadive took the court to address the Sleep Train Arena crowd, and cheers rained down on him. What a difference a year makes.
"I have just one thing to say to all of you and let's never forget that one thing. This is your team and it's here to stay," Ranadive said, to more applause.
As for Cousins, 23, this is his best chance yet to rewrite a reputation that's taken a beating over the years. Day 1 couldn't have gone any better for him personally, as he finished with 30 points (on 13-for-26 shooting), 14 rebounds, two blocks and two steals in 39 minutes.
There seems no doubt that the Maloofs reaped what they sowed during the late stages of their ownership group, but their departure doesn't guarantee immediate, sustained improvement. It will be up to Ranadive, the new tone-setter, and Cousins, the franchise's biggest investment, to take the Kings from "way better than before" to "better than league average," a journey that could take years to unfold.