As DeMarcus Cousins Nears Return, Warriors Will See If Summer Gamble Pays off

Ken Berger@@KBergNBAFeatured Columnist IDecember 18, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  DeMarcus Cousins #0 of the Golden State Warriors during warm up before the game against the Los Angeles Clippers on November 12, 2018 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
Robert Laberge/Getty Images

In what seems like another lifetime, DeMarcus Cousins made a statement during the 2016 All-Star weekend in Toronto that resonated to the Bay Area two years later like a message in a bottle.

It was a time of turmoil for the Sacramento Kings, and Cousins, as usual, found himself squarely in the middle of the chaos. He was feuding with then-coach George Karl, and the Kings were losing and spiraling further into toxicity. People wondered during that frigid All-Star weekend whether Karl or Cousins would be the first to go.

"I prefer to be in a perfect situation," Cousins said at the time. "But that'll never happen."

Lo and behold, Cousins has found himself in the happy place that he had grown to believe was unattainable: a team, environment and culture so perfect for him that it's almost too good to be true.

We may be only weeks away from Cousins, a four-time All-Star selection, playing with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriorswho will have the opportunity to put five players who were All-Stars last season on the floor at the same time.

Will he be healthy? Will he behave? Will he fit in? There may be no more importantor fascinating"mid-season acquisition" in the league than this one.

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"This summer, I found that to be a surprising and interesting signing, and what I considered a risk on their part," an Eastern Conference scout told Bleacher Report. "But at the same time, with their culture and all the talent that they have, how bad a risk can it be?"

Cousins has been practicing with the Warriors' G League affiliate in Santa Cruz as he ramps up from an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the last two months in New Orleans last season. According to a team source, Cousins is willing to play in a G League game or two before joining the Warriors, though there are no plans for that as of yet.

The arrangement is arguably perfect. With the rigors of the NBA schedule, five-on-five, full-contact practices are few and far between. That's what Cousins is getting in Santa Cruz, a 90-minute drive from Oracle Arena.

"The Achilles has healed," the team source said. "Now it's just a matter of getting him in basketball shape."

DeMarcus Cousins has recovered from his Achilles injury, says a team source, and is working with the Warriors' G League affiliate for a return that may be less than a month away.
DeMarcus Cousins has recovered from his Achilles injury, says a team source, and is working with the Warriors' G League affiliate for a return that may be less than a month away.Noah Graham/Getty Images

It's also about finding out how Cousins will fit in with the star-studded Warriorsboth basketball- and personality-wise.

"His understanding of the game has always caught me," the Eastern Conference scout said. "His understanding was too good and it caused him to get frustrated with others. I've always felt that if Cousins were in a strong environment with guys that can rebuke him, he'd probably be in a lot better place."

"With guys like [Kevin] Durant, Klay [Thompson], Steph [Curry], Draymond [Green] and even Andre Iguodala, who are smart basketball players, Cousins can fall in line with guys like that because he seems to gravitate to them," a prominent agent said. "From his small sample size of playing with intelligent players, he does better that way."

But in any environment, technical fouls are part of Cousins' DNA. He even managed to get tossed from a game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden before this season was 10 days oldand before he'd even suited up or played a minute with his new team. It was the most Cousins thing ever, and a sign of how much work coach Steve Kerr will have to do if he's going to keep Boogie's emotions in check.

And this has been a season when the Warriors have already had their own share of drama, with Durant and Green going at each other and demonstrating just how difficult it is to repeat, much less three-peat, when you're managing so much talent and so many egos in the NBA.

"To me, a guy like that whispering in Draymond's ear or whispering in KD's ear probably is not the best thing," the Eastern Conference scout said.

Despite his reputation for sometimes being a divisive locker room force, Cousins has fit in well with the Warriors in his first few months with the team.
Despite his reputation for sometimes being a divisive locker room force, Cousins has fit in well with the Warriors in his first few months with the team.Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

But according to a person familiar with the team's dynamics, Cousins has caused zero trouble in the locker room; in fact, he's made a point of mentoring the Warriors' young centers, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and Jordan Bell.

Of course, those are the kinds of placeholders—from Andrew Bogut to Zaza Pachulia to JaVale McGeethe Warriors have long deployed at the position during their current five-year run. Cousins is not one of them. One longtime Warriors official suggested that the team hasn't had a center with the offensive abilities of Cousins since the venerable Joe Barry Carroll in the 1980s.

"He will give them another weapon on the floor that's not just a placeholder, a screener or a guy that's afraid to shoot," the Eastern Conference scout said. "That's not to say he won't pass the ball, but if he thinks he has an advantage, he's going to look to score. He's going give them another dimension from that standpoint."

The basketball fit makes even more sense when you remember that Cousins is a willing passer, too. When Cousins was healthy last season, he was second among NBA centers with 5.4 assists per game. Imagine a world in which the Warriors can throw the ball to Cousins in the post and have Curry, Thompson and/or Durant waiting for the kickout on the perimeter.

Once Cousins is ready to make his Warriors debut—and team sources say that day is less than a month away—how they deploy him will be one of the most interesting dilemmas that Kerr has faced at the helm of the NBA's reigning superteam.

Sources say the Warriors are planning to start Cousins, a move that would give them that feared five-All-Star lineup. It would also stroke Cousins' ego, as he may not take well to coming off the bench.

Nonetheless, the optimal substitution pattern for the Warriors may involve Cousins starting but logging the majority of his minutes with the second unit. That would give a shot in the arm to the Warriors' bench, third-worst in the league with 30 points per game, according to NBA.com.

"In a roundabout way, he'll be playing more with the reserve unit, though he'll start and he'll have KD, Klay or someone else out there with him," the person familiar with the team dynamics said.

Cousins' Achilles injury couldn't have come at a worse time for him, in a contract year. But it was a stroke of luck for the Warriors, who were able to get him for the taxpayer mid-level exception of only $5.3 million. Now, the stakes couldn't be higher for Cousins to produce more than just technicals and ejections.

"He desperately wants to get paid," the agent said.

It's pretty simple formula: If Cousins can prove he's healthy, produce and avoid upsetting the Warriors' winning culture, getting paid is a lock.

"It's a great opportunity for him," a Western Conference executive said. "If they win another title and he plays well, he's going to get paid. And if they don't, and he gets a bunch of techs and gets ejected a bunch of times, that won't look good for him."

In the end, the "perfect situation" that Cousins thought didn't exist came calling at the perfect time. It's almost time to find out what he does with it, and if the Warriors were right to take a chance on him.

        

Ken Berger covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KBergNBA. Stats are updated through games played on Dec. 16.