He certainly seems to have lost some weight. A slimmer Cousins showed up for Sacramento Kings media day Thursday with all the same antics and oddities as a year ago: doing interviews in sunglasses, making fun of teammates and dodging questions about his new diet with jokes.
"I was eating candy. Ice cream. Pizza. Whole pizzas. When I went to New York, that's all I ate," Cousins said. "Pizzas, funnel cakes. I love gummy worms. Love fried food. Fried shrimp, fried fish, fried chicken. It was beautiful."
And how often did he work out?
"I probably did like 30 minutes a day," he said. "The rest of the time I probably sat there and feasted. My fingers got very strong this year, a lot of video games. I won't be getting swiped as much this year. Hands are pretty strong. It's going to be a good season."
And why is that?
"We got black jerseys. We scare people now," he said. "We're more intimidating. Can't scare nobody with purple, running on the court looking majestic."
All kidding aside, Cousins is ready to make opponents the only punch-line this season. The Kings are expecting big things from the second-year center, starting with showing improved maturity — on the court, anyway — after a strong rookie campaign that also had its share of temper tantrums and blow-ups. While the comical Cousins isn't going away, the team is hopeful that its up-and-coming big man can learn to control his emotions.
Cousins' behavior has been well documented going back to high school and his one season at Kentucky, mixing in dramatic and astonishing plays with outbursts against players, coaches, trainers and referees. His conditioning has been questioned and so has his work ethic.
At the very least, the latter seems to be solved.
"We want to see Marcus continue to mature," Kings coach Paul Westphal said. "We want to see him cut down on his turnovers. We want to see him control his emotions a little better, and I believe he's dedicated to doing those things."
The 21-year-old big man is sleek and slender, reporting to training camp with a ripped physique he never quite had last season. He is officially listed as 6-foot-11, 270 pounds — but how many pounds he dropped is unclear.
Cousins averaged 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds in only 28 minutes per game last season, playing power forward alongside center Samuel Dalembert. With Dalembert gone, Cousins is expected to move to center and see an increase in minutes — and performance.
"I know what to expect now, so it's not as much pressure," Cousins said. "Last year, I came in with a lot of pressure. A lot of people were looking for me to save the team and this and that. But I'm a lot more relaxed now and having fun and we're going to play ball and win."
With the team unable to contact Cousins or any players during the prolonged NBA lockout, nobody quite knew what kind of shape he'd be in once training camp began.
Cousins sprinkled in workouts in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., the University of Kentucky and Washington, D.C. Already, it's almost impossible not to notice.
That is, when nobody's looking at — or listening to — the animated Cousins.
"He's always cracking jokes, funny guy. Sometimes you want to kill him because he plays too much, but he's good money," Kings forward Donte Greene said. "He has calmed down a lot since last year. Everybody had to do some growing up this year, especially with the lockout. But I think he's ready and looks good."
Injuries are always a concern with Cousins.
He had a strained left shoulder that limited his progress a year ago, and he's planning to wear a brace around his shoulder and side again to start this season. He sprained his right ankle in practice this week after landing awkwardly on a teammate's foot and will likely sit out Saturday night's preseason opener at the Golden State Warriors as precaution.
Cousins, teamed with 2009-10 Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans, will anchor a young and emerging roster that could surprise some teams in the deep Western Conference. Sacramento finished 24-58 last season and missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year, although a late-season surge behind a healthy Evans provided hope that maybe the Kings aren't that far off from making the postseason again. Marcus Thornton and new veterans John Salmons and Chuck Hayes are projected starters with former BYU sensation Jimmer Fredette supplying some much-needed backcourt depth. But, as last season showed, the Kings will need a focused Cousins to finish with a winning record or more.
"We feel real positive about his progression and his future," Westphal said, "as long as he does that."