The deal has been met with a wide range of opinions, and it becomes even more interesting to examine when comparing it to the other 2010 big man extension: Larry Sanders.
Cousins and Sanders really couldn't be more different. Cousins is an elite offensive talent with all the tools to be a dominant center, although he hasn't put it all together on that end. The 23-year-old is also a good rebounder, but his effort on the defensive end is lacking and his maturity issues contributed to him leading the NBA in technical fouls last year. (Not to mention multiple flagrant fouls and suspensions).
Meanwhile, Sanders is a defensive monster, a pogo stick down low who provides elite rim protection and similar rebounding production as Cousins. Sanders' offense is still quite raw, but his defense is so good that it makes up for his deficiencies on that end. The Bucks were 6.8 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Sanders on the floor last season per NBA.com, and he boasted the third best defensive RAPM (regularized adjusted plus-minus) in the NBA at +6.1.
Compare that to Cousins, who actually impacted the Kings negatively last season. Sacramento was better both offensively and defensively last season when Cousins was on the bench, according to NBA.com.
But despite this noticeable difference in overall impact last season, plus the behavioral issues, Cousins is the one getting the max extension, while Sanders "only" received a respectable four-year deal worth $44 million. Why? The difference in the two deals points to the fact that teams still value offensive production over defense.
Cousins averaged 17.1 points last season, which was fifth-best for centers, while Sanders averaged just 9.8 points. Cousins could be even better given improved shot selection, as he shot only 46.5 percent last year despite his size and considerable talent.
The Kings clearly think they can work with Cousins on his defense and poor attitude, and if he improves those facets, perhaps that will also help him fulfill his potential on the offensive end. Shaquille O'Neal is now on board as a minority owner, and the legendary big man plans on taking Cousins under his wing in order to help him reach that vast potential.
O'Neal has already likened Cousins to a younger version of himself, and the similarities are certainly evident. Shaq was always a bit of a goofball, but he was able to harness that on the court and used his talent to dominate on the court. If O'Neal can help Cousins do the same thing, the sky is the limit for the young big man and this extension will be worth it.
Until that happens, there will be plenty of questions surrounding the deal, although in this case, the Kings may have had little choice if they wanted to keep Cousins around for the long haul given how teams value offensive potential. While it has become easier to measure the impact of a great individual defender like Sanders, based on the differences between the two contracts, teams still tend to place greater value on offense.